It wasn’t all that shocking when Dana White announced that the expected Georges St. Pierre vs. Anderson Silva fight wasn’t going to happen this spring, like many had thought, and instead announced GSP vs. Nick Diaz. That was a bit of a surprise, as Johny Hendricks seemed to be the #1 contender and has the credentials to back it up. And the outrage was palpable among MMA fans and media, as Hendricks credentials are unimpeachable especially next to Diaz’s at this juncture. At this point the narrative is clear. Nick Diaz is a bigger money fight than Hendricks because it’s a grudge match with GSP as opposed to another challenger rising to lay his claim to the throne.
But there’s another way to look at. It’s a contrarian viewpoint, I freely admit, and one I’m thinking of because I think it’s applicable to this scenario. My vantage point is that this is a money move, as opposed to one from a sporting perspective, another perspective deserves merit and intellectual consideration. It’s one that’s oddly understandable in a certain light and makes everything come into focus as to Zuffa’s thinking in trying to arrange the fight.
GSP is being allowed to pick his next opponent because he has never been the squeaky wheel needing oil.
Over the years the one thing that’s been a constant is that when you wanted to pattern someone as a champion after one guy it was Georges St. Pierre. He was the professional athlete that showed up in a suit for every media event he did. Now, when we see most of the marquee in dress clothing it’s an oddity after years of sponsors t-shirts and jeans. One can see his direct influence in the way many of the athletes from Tri-Star carry themselves; Rory MacDonald among others seemingly has modeled himself after the way GSP handles himself in many ways. When dealing with the media, something he admittedly is not a fan of doing, he is the consummate professional and goes out of his way to be a decent human being to them in open workouts and beyond.
It may be a joke when GSP discusses how his current opponent is his most dangerous yet but there’s genuineness to how he discusses his opponents that makes you think he could lose. It would’ve been much easier for him to lambast Dan Hardy as not in his league but GSP discussed his striking and that deadly left hook; he may not have had a chance in the fight but GSP certainly convinced you otherwise in the way he spoke of him. You can repeat that with Jake Shields’s grappling, Thiago Alves and his deadly striking game, Josh Koscheck’s amateur wrestling credentials and others. We can joke about it but he was always as serious as a heart attack about it.
Georges St. Pierre has taken on all comers, sold them as genuine threats and then disposed of them without breaking a sweat it seems.
When it comes to selling his opponent GSP does exactly what the UFC has wanted and he lives his life in the way you’d want a champion to. He has never said anything controversial nor have an extensive history of criminal behavior. He’s a champion’s champion and there’s a reason why he’s been the public face of the UFC for as long as he has. Zuffa can trust GSP to take whatever fight they put in front of him, sell it and make him (and them) a lot of money in the process. He is the Michael Jordan of his time in terms of winning and has been by all measures the easiest fighter to work with on the roster.
So far the only concession he’s asked for is to fight in his native Canada, where he’s a national icon and massive draw. It’s not all that shocking the UFC doesn’t mind this as GSP is a bigger attraction in Canada than anyone else on the roster. He gets to fight in his native Canada and the UFC makes a ton of money up there; not all that surprising the UFC wouldn’t rock the boat and ask him to fight outside the country. And one imagines if they did he’d probably go along to get along.
This is why when their welterweight champion and biggest draw asks for one concession, to face an opponent that has managed to crack the veil of professionalism he brings to everything he does; they give him this because the dollar signs are greater in the spectacle argument against the sporting one. Zuffa is rewarding a model employee who doesn’t rock the boat by letting him call his shot against an opponent that’ll odds on make everyone involved more money than an equally as tough (but not nearly as marketable) opponent in the Oklahoma wrestling product.
Is Johny Hendricks the rightful challenger to the welterweight throne? Of course he is. Nick Diaz hasn’t earned a title shot and flaked out a year ago when he had his opportunity. There’s no guarantee he won’t do it again, either, but at this point the contrarian in me can argue that GSP has done enough good things for the UFC for them to allow him to call his own shot for once.
Is it less sporting and more spectacle to do so? Absolutely. And in a couple months, once the date is announced, we’ll be salivating at the match up.