UFC Aftermath: Georges St-Pierre needs a new dance partner
With Michael Bisping seemingly set to face Robert Whittaker in a title unification bout later this year, who will Georges St-Pierre face in his return?
Despite holding a press conference to announce the contest and both parties still holding a great deal of interest in making the fight come to fruition, it appears as if the UFC has indeed moved on from the plan to have Georges St-Pierre return from his extended hiatus and challenge Michael Bisping for the middleweight title.
Over the weekend, Robert Whittaker rallied to defeat Yoel Romero and claim the interim middleweight title at UFC 213. Following the contest, colour commentator Joe Rogan proclaimed the 26-year-old Australian was now next in line to challenge Bisping, who entered the cage, congratulated Whittaker on his gutsy effort and then cut a classic heel promo as a means of igniting the interest in their impending showdown.
After clearing out of the Octagon, Whittaker joined Bisping and the rest of the FS1 analyst team at their broadcast position to further discuss his performance and potential future clash with Bisping, where “The Count” urged his young counterpart to quit being so nice and give him something to work with in order to hype their fight.
While it’s entirely possible the UFC still decides to move forward with a bout between Bisping and St-Pierre because it would likely generate more money at the box office and on pay-per-view, rolling out an interim title and the current state of the division makes it unlikely. There is no reason to have Whittaker defend the belt he won on Saturday night in Las Vegas and even if that were something the company was considering, the delay in getting Bisping into the cage for his second title defense has resulted in the once robust crop of middleweight contenders being whittled down to nothing.
Whittaker has turned back Romero and Jacare Souza already this year, Luke Rockhold still hasn’t fought since losing the belt to Bisping 13 months ago and former champ Chris Weidman is on a three-fight losing streak heading into his main event matchup with Kelvin Gastelum next week on FOX. Gegard Mousasi would have been a solid choice, but the melancholy contender inked a six-fight deal with Bellator MMA earlier this week, so that ship has now sailed as well.
Pairing Bisping and Whittaker together next is undeniably the correct fight to make at this time – it unifies the titles and establishes a true, undisputed champion going forward while also creating a one-year window to re-establish contenders and bring order to the messy middleweight rankings.
But what does that mean for St-Pierre?
Less than a week ago, the French-Canadian superstar issued a formal challenge to Bisping, setting the UFC’s still-unofficial return to Madison Square Garden in early November as his preferred fight date, so he’s clearly holding out hope that the bout comes together.
While all signs point to the UFC having moved on from the matchup, no one should be surprised if the promotion did another about-face and pivoted back to the original plans, despite all of last week’s public declarations to the contrary.
But let’s just say the UFC holds firm and moves forward with a Bisping-Whittaker title unification bout, as it should – where does St-Pierre turn his attention?
The obvious choice is a welterweight championship fight with the winner of this month’s title bout between Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia, since St-Pierre never lost the belt and pitting the greatest fighter in the history of the division against the current champion is easy to sell. Additionally, welterweight is kind of thin on contenders at the moment, so pairing the Woodley-Maia winner with St-Pierre would create the same opportunity in the 170-pound ranks as matching Bisping and Whittaker will have at middleweight.
While it hasn’t been discussed as much in the last few months, this still feels like a really opportune time to have St-Pierre and Anderson Silva fight one another. Although it would no longer determine the best fighter in the sport today and probably doesn’t carry the same “greatest of all-time” appeal as it would have five years ago, when both were lording over their respective divisions, St-Pierre appears keen on competing at middleweight, Silva is coming off an uninspiring victory and largely seems interested in matchups that interest him, as opposed to fighting the best in the division and climbing the rankings once again.
Down at the “unlikely, but can you really rule it out?” end of the spectrum is a pairing with Conor McGregor. Though the reigning lightweight champion is currently in the midst of a press tour for his boxing debut opposite Floyd Mayweather Jr. and has no reason to return to the Octagon after cashing that heavyweight pay check, but perhaps another headlining turn at MSG against an all-time great with a cut of the pay-per-view profits getting wired to his bank account might be enough to entice “Mystic Mac” to make one more trip into the UFC cage.
And if you’re looking for another wild card option, there is the ever-so-slight possibility that all the delays and changes and drama and nonsense over the last nine months makes him rethink his decision to return, especially if the Bisping fight has, in fact, fallen through. That bout and a massive pay day opposite McGregor have been the two matchups Team GSP have talked about since talks of his return really heated up last November and if neither option is available, would it really be crazy for St-Pierre to say “forget it” and walk away?
St-Pierre’s return had a lot of steam last winter when he volunteered to face Bisping at UFC 206 in Toronto and carried some interest over into the New Year, but it started to lose momentum when the Bisping fight was made and got stale in a hurry when the matchup was delayed until the fall.
Now with “The Count” seemingly destined to face Whittaker in a title unification bout, the former welterweight champ is without a dance partner and excitement for his return is in short supply.
Can the right matchup reignite interest in his comeback or has the moment passed?