UFC 129 is one of the best cards in UFC history, hands down. A guaranteed massive crowd at Toronto’s Rogers Centre is getting Couture vs. Machida (told ya so), Jose Aldo making his UFC debut (finally!), and a stacked card of Canadian talent in relevant, exciting matchups. Its an utterly fantastic card, top to bottom.
Its a shame, then, that most fans view the main event of the evening as just another GSP title defense. The truth is that George St. Pierre vs. Jake Shields the best fight on a night of outstanding fights, a meeting of world champions (Jake is the lineal Strikeforce 185 lb and Elite XC 170 lb champ) and surefire P4P top-10 fighters, meeting in the absolute prime of both mens careers. It is the best possible fight that can be made in the welterweight division. Period.
There’s also a strong argument to be made that the winner of this fight is the greatest welterweight of all time.
Yeah, I just went there.
As a sport, MMA is relatively young. Only a decade seperates today’s MMA media juggernaut from the "dark ages" of unregulation and mainstream ignorance. It lacks the deep, decades long history of something like Boxing, or Football, or the like. In short, crowning a "Greatest Ever" – a daunting task in any sport – in any weightclass of MMA is difficult, and in all likelihood premature.
And yet, in spite of that, the welterweight division already has an undisputed "Greatest Ever" fighter, and his name is Matt Hughes.
Anyone who knows MMA knows the name Matt Hughes. For almost a decade, the Illinois country boy made the 170 lb class his personal pigpen, hogtying one contender after another with his superior wrestling and bullish determination.
His unbelieveable record speaks for itself. 45 wins against only 8 losses. Nearly a decade of dominance in the sport.
Yet as the sun rises, so must it set. The last few years have seen Hughes tumble off his championship perch and in spite of some rousing performances, its clear that the old master of the welterweight division is gone. The king, as they say is dead – long live the new king.
That new king is Georges St. Pierre, the man who ended Hughes’s reign atop the division and has gone on his own incredible run of championship dominance. He is undoubtedly the #1 welterweight in the world currently. He may also be the P4P best fighter in the sport. Yet there is still hesitation to crown him the greatest of all time at welterweight.
Its that damn Matt Serra loss. Critics will never let him off the hook for that upset, it seems. He’s inconsistent! He doesn’t have a champions heart! He’s afraid to lose nowadays! He’s boring! ANGRY VOICES!!!!
Say what you will of St. Pierre’s cerebral, low-risk style, but not a day must go by where he’s not reminded of the Serra fight, that his biggest loss helped define the "anything can happen" mantra in MMA. That loss is the blemish on his record critics still skewer him with, and his greater proclivity for decisions since is also a sore point to some fans and pundits.
But even the most ardent GSP haters have to admit that such reasoning no longer puts him behind Hughes in the "greatest ever" calculus. Hughes had his share of plodding decision wins, after all. I also recall him losing his title in a shocking blowout to a natural LW.
Feces, as the Buddhists say, occurs.
So the knock is inconsistency, then. Hughes had a lengthy reign of dominance that St. Pierre hasn’t yet matched. In his career, Hughes racked up an amazing 9 victories in title fights. St. Pierre in spite of his recent dominance can’t match that statistic.
Were he to defeat Sheilds on April 30th, GSP would have -check it – 9 victories in UFC title fights on his ledger. He would have matched Hughes accomplishment, and against far more distinguished opposition.
BJ Penn. Jon Fitch. Dan Hardy. Thiago Alves. Josh Koscheck. Matt Serra. Hughes himself, on two seperate occasions. These are the men GSP has defeated in world title matches, all elite fighters, and he wasn’t in a second of danger or trouble against any of them.
Contrast this to Hughes ledger of title victories that saw him almost choked out by Frank Trigg, actually choked out by Carlos Newton, battered and almost triangled by an out of shape BJ Penn, and struggle mightly for decisions over natural LW Sean Sherk and .50 world beater Renato Verissimo, and the case becomes clearer.
I’m not trying to rewrite history here or demonize Hughes’s phenomenal record. I know context is everything. But the bottom line is GSP has equalled Hughes run of championship consistency, and has a far better collection of scalps to show for it.
If he wins on the 30th, he’s the greatest of all time at welterweight, hands down. But what about his opponent?
Ill admit that Shield’s case for the greatest of all time title is a much tougher sell. To most fans, Sheilds is the guy who gassed hard against Martin Kampmann in his UFC debut and barely squeaked out a win. That guy’s supposed to the best ever?
Supposedly, the weight cut to 170 was tough on Jake after fighting above his natural weight in his last few fights. Also, since when has Martin Kampmann been an easy win for anybody (the Daley abbreation aside)?
No, there’s no doubting the BJJ black belt is one of the sports true elite level fighters. Jake will be bringing a 15 fight undefeated streak with him when he faces off against GSP. Among those 15 names are Carlos Condit, Yushin Okami, Dave Menne, Paul Daley, "Mayhem" Miller and Robbie Lawler. His biggest win is a dominating, (almost) shutout performance over Dan Henderson at a weightclass above his own that cemented his place on the P4P list. His resume is as impressive as anyone in the game.
Hate him for his attitude, hate him for his style, hate him for his akward standup or hate him for his "pillow fists", there’s no denying what he brings to the table. If GSP can find a way to stop him from his game of dogged takedowns and positional control, he will be the first man to to accomplish the feat in almost 6 years.
If he can’t – if Jake does to Georges what he did to Hendo, or Mayhem, or even Kampmann – then his resume would merit at least discussion of him as the best ever at welterweight. If he manages to submit GSP (something no one has ever been able to do) I think that accomplishment combined with his multi-divisional dominance makes him a pretty easy pick for greatest of all time at welterweight.
That’s why I’m so excited for this fight. People give the UFC flack all the time for booking fights less with an eye to legitimacy and more with an eye to makin’ moolah. That simply isn’t the case here.
It would have been more lucrative in the short term (and likely more entertaining to the casual fan) to make the GSP/Silva superfight, or book another GSP/Fitch prison beating, or even do GSP/Penn 3, then give Jake his shot in what will likely be a slow, plodding decision, one way or another.
Instead, the UFC stuck to its guns and have Jake the shot they promised him, and the shot he’s more then earned. This is a victory for title legitimacy, for the UFC matchmaking, and for the fans. The winner of this fight is possibly the #1 P4P fighter in the sport. He also very well could be the greatest 170 lb fighter in MMA history to date.
By Elton Hobson