We've had a few weeks to recover from the hangover of UFC 129, and so far most of the feedback regarding the two champions who competed in the Canadian event has been far from positive. There are detractors and defenders of both the featherweight and reigning welterweight champions, but the large amount of media response has been that both Georges St-Pierre's and Jose Aldo Jr.'s auras of invincibility took perceivably large hits. Having not yet seen the fights, and only having read the breakdowns and resulting coverage of the title bouts, I feel that I can add a unique angle, yet uncovered by many fans, journalists, and pundits alike.
Georges St-Pierre, though completely dominant in his win streak, took the biggest hit to his legacy in the unanimous decision victory over Jake Shields. From what I've read, his standup looked sloppy and telegraphed, which is far from the norm for the dynamic champion. Jose Aldo, despite coming off a scary surgery to his upper vertebrae and the longest layoff in his career, was thoroughly tested by the slick striking "Machine" in Mark Hominick. In both defenses, the challengers were anything but paper tigers- Hominick is a very experienced striker with above average ground skills, and Jake Shields had been riding a win streak 2/3s the length of his adversary's career. Above anything I've learned in this sport, I've realized that a man is simply a man- capable of being beaten, at any time, in any sort of manner- even those who are considered pound for pound greats.
And thus we come to the theme of this post, the pressures and expectations of UFC champions. UFC 129 was far and beyond the largest event, in terms of spectators, in the company's history. GSP, a national hero to the Canadian MMA populace, could have felt nothing but the most intense pressure a person competing in a non-team sport has ever felt. Not only was he defending his title and legacy- he was doing it in his country in front of 50,000+ people, as the main event of the largest event his company had ever put on. Jose Aldo Jr. had to have felt a similar amount of pressure, as the inaugural defense of his WEC/ UFC belt had been put on hold by his aforementioned injury. One also forgets that even though he is a bad, bad man, and a 145 lbs. wrecking machine, he would not yet have the ability to rent a car in the US of A. Aldo is still very young.
From the post-fight coverage, we've learned that Aldo had a serious enough infection to require antibiotics. His performance had to have suffered immensely from the trying physicality of the fight game in combination with his affliction. What if Aldo lost? With the MMA culture nowadays, a person is only as good as their last performance- (see Machida, Lyoto). Jose's entire legacy was on the line, and not wanting to pull out of the fight at the last minute, after all those tickets had been sold, could've possibly jeopardized his ability to make top dollar in the short career span most fighters have. So far we've heard nothing about GSP being injured before the fight, and only during. But what if he went in injured, as Anderson Silva did in his title defense against Chael Sonnen?
In a sport where a champion is the main event fighter and one of the main reasons that fans buy tickets, how much goes on behind the scenes to ensure that these men don't get injured before their defense? And in the case that they are injured- hypothetically, do you think there is anything short of a bulging vertebrae or torn cruciate ligament that would have stopped Georges from defending his title in front of his people? I would not want to accuse Uncle Zuffa of behind- the- scenes payouts to ensure these main event fighters don't pull out, but how often does this possibly happen? The obvious recent example of the reverse situation becomes Edgar vs. Maynard III, but in this case the card had an established name as the co-main event to become the main draw, and they also weren't going to be fighting in front of 55K people. Where does the line get drawn for a fighter? We know that quite often fighters go into their fights "injured," with the recent example being Chris Lytle and his knee. It's one of those common knowledge things, that fighters all fight with small injuries and are never a hundred percent. But how does an established champion and main eventor draw the line between competing injured and damaging their company's brand by pulling out of a fight with so many tickets sold? Would anyone be completely surprised if it came out later that GSP was, in fact, suffering from some sort of injury that kept him from from competing as his highest level of ability?
In other words, what kind of pressure would YOU feel to persevere through injury if you were defending your title, legacy, and homeland in the "biggest" main event in history?