Boy does it suck to be GSP. I'm being facetious, of course, as he is an incredibly talented mixed martial artist earning millions of dollars, and most people would gladly walk in his shoes. However, the amount of flack being thrown his way is baffling, as it's difficult to see what he's done to deserve this lack of respect.
The GSP double standard
As many GSP fans are no doubt well aware of, the way people extract perceived effort, heart, toughness, and even more tangible things like skill and power seem to have special rules when considering GSP. Maybe it's all a holdover from his shocking loss to Matt Serra, but the double standards are shocking. GSP is a quitter because he tapped after trying to stay alive on stanky legs for some time, yet Shogun is a warrior for doing the same, despite both unknowingly holding off until the refs already stopped the fight to protect them. Why is it that his comeback win over Penn in their first fight together is always overlooked? How about battling through a torn groin at UFC 100? Now, GSP is somehow being disparaged for merely being in control of a fight with only one functioning eye, while Hominick and even Koscheck get praised for their heart in a losing effort. Nevermind that Hominick's hematoma was a blood filled sack with no effect on the fight aside from maybe freaking out Aldo and the audience, that Koscheck's eye was still fine behind that swelling, and that neither of the two come close to evoking the fear that one feels when his eye suddenly stops working. Never mind that Koscheck lost a year of competition and still feels pain for his "courage" and/or the ringside doctor's incompetency, that Alan Belcher nearly lost his career due to the eye injury, or for us Canadians, the terrifying memories of what happened to Bryan Berard and the great Steve Yzerman.
Also related to the Serra fight is bizarre myth that GSP has a weak chin, echoed by so many of his opponents and detractors. Aside from being wobbled by that power shot from Serra landing just behind GSP's ear, AFAIK we've never seen GSP get rocked once in his entire career, let alone knocked down. He's taken his share of hard punches without any ill effects at all. Of course, that GSP did plenty of standup against Fitch and Alves doesn't counter the claim that he's been afraid to stand up since the Serra KO. Aldo's takedowns, far less active top control against Hominick, and his cruising to the finish line in this fight and against Faber of course, be excused since he's not GSP.
Left: GSP's chin is just fine as he takes a punch from Alves at UFC 100.
Right: Fitch thinks he's landed a good left hook, but GSP's impending devastating counter is undeterred.
And now educated writers are even questioning GSP's standup skills for the damage he took while losing half his vision for half the fight? In the last two years, FightMetric tells us that from striking distance GSP has avoided 93% of the 424 total strikes aimed at his head, with only 7 out of 146 power strikes landing. This is astounding, and he is arguably the hardest to hit fighter in all of MMA yet is rarely if ever promoted as such. I suppose that's consistent with the reluctance to market his dominance. I think when Sheilds' mediocre striking bloodies GSP's face when suddenly landing almost 20% of his "power" shots, it's clear something is badly wrong with his vision.
It's as if GSP would be better off if he did a little acting in the fight. Instead of brushing off hard shots as if nothing happened, he should drop down and instantly recover, so that we can see his "heart". Instead of continuing to attack Shields, he should have done a little embellishment from the nasty eye pokes.
A Rational View of Excitement
Our boring, dry-humping champion... NOT
Lets go beyond this fight and look at the broader claim of GSP's "boring" fighting style. It's not hard to come to the simple realization that it's easy to have exciting fights when your get opponents who haven't gone 18 months without being submitted since 2002, are offensive minded and kindly freeze in front of you to get KO'd, who aren't good enough for the UFC, etc. Okay, now I'm being an ungrateful bastard for Silva's spectacular moments, but it's unquestionably easier than being exciting against guys that make the P4P all-boring list. (I actually don't consider these positional battlers boring, but I'm not writing this fanpost to myself...)
Let's take a look at how other fighters have fared in generating excitement when facing Shields, Koscheck, Hardy, Alves, and Fitch. Before we begin, I must emphasize that nobody should get credit for getting their own ass beat down. If you attack your opponent, the excitement gets credited to you, but if you happen to be in a dogfight, excitement from the damage you received gets credited to your opponent.
Thiago Alves: I'm not sure why anyone would think that this wasn't a good fight, and with GSP tearing his groin in three places going for the finish, he certainly tried to avoid the decision. About half the fight was quality standup, and nobody has brought more offense against Alves than GSP, although Lytle did well until he took too much damage to continue. The explosive Howard couldn't do much either, but served well as a punching bag for three rounds.
Dan Hardy: Okay, GSP is definitely at fault here for abandoning damage in favor of BJJ, but even then, only Condit has brought more offense to him. Besides, many people thoroughly enjoyed the multiple near-submissions (I saw it in a theater and there was plenty of roaring going on). The exciting Anthony "Rumble" Johnson didn't bring any more excitement than GSP other than the head kick.
Josh Koscheck: Again, GSP brought more offense and way more damage than any of Koscheck's other opponents. Props to Paulo Thiago for the KO, but Koscheck wasn't going to throw such an awful leaping jab with his exposed head facing the floor ever again. Rumble had a somewhat exciting fight with Koscheck, but mostly because Koscheck attacked and finished him. The exciting Daley couldn't do anything but get laid on, and Lytle mostly suffered the same fate but gave us a little blood.
Jake Shields: Dan Henderson, one of the most exciting fighters ever, gave us a great nice first round, but in the end landed two knockdowns and 16 power strikes for the whole fight, less or equal to GSP. Condit, Daley and Lawler, two other exciting fighters, couldn't create much offense at all against Shields. The man knows how to stifle attacks and minimize damage taken, which is great for him, but not for fans.
I think the point is clear. Exciting fighters like Hendo, Rumble, Semtex, Paulo Thiago, and Chris Lytle were unable to have more exciting fights against these guys than GSP did, despite having the freedom to go balls out because they didn't have millions in endorsements, a belt, and a legacy on the line. The only welterweights left who has a small chance of being more exciting than GSP against these opponents is Carlos Condit (I don't see him executing much offense against Fitch, Shields, or Koscheck) and up and comers like Jake Ellenberger and Rory MacDonald. Of course, they would not be of much help in the last few years, which brings me to my final point...
What would WW be like without GSP?
Matt Hughes is an all time great, and like Couture, many fans embraced his often grinding style. GSP had some exciting fights back then as contender and champ, so it's hard to make a case that in his absence we'd get more excitement out of Hughes-Serra, Hughes-Koscheck, or Hughes-Fitch. If we got the Nov 2010 BJ Penn (how sad is it that I have to be so specific?) vying for the WW title, we may have had one or two good title fights, but he's been a star for the LW division. Moving forward, we would likely wind up with 5-round title bouts like:
Alves-Fitch: Well, we all saw how great that 3-round decision was. Imagine another two rounds.
Alves-Koscheck: Take their existing 3-round decision, replace Koscheck with one that had more than two weeks notice, and you probably get the same fight with more Koscheck top-control and no early knockdown. Less exciting than GSP-Alves and GSP-Koscheck.
Alves-Shields: Hard to say who wins, but decision for sure. Less exciting than GSP against either.
Koscheck-Fitch: Yeah right...
Fitch-Shields: An intriguing matchup that ended up with a Shields submission in a grappling setting, but still highly unlikely to have anywhere near as much excitement as GSP-Fitch or GSP-Shields. If you're lucky, you'll see some ugly standup from both sides.
Koscheck-Shields: Koscheck's right is unlikely to land cleanly, and his wrestling and BJJ defense is solid, so another low damage decision.
Hardy vs nobody: He probably doesn't get a title shot, because the UFC wouldn't be desperate for a contender.
So for everyone who thinks GSP is boring, let me know which of the above appeals more to you than a GSP title fight. As much as I'd love to see GSP-Silva, and as curious as I am about who comes on top between Alves, Fitch, Koscheck, and Shields in 5 round affairs, the WW titles fights are going to lose a lot of pep.
Thank you, GSP, for bringing so much excitement to the inevitably decision-laden UFC welterweight division.