Following his controversial split decision victory over Johny Hendricks at UFC 167, Welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre told Joe Rogan during the in-cage interview that "A lot is going on in my life. I have to step away. Right now I have to go away for a little bit."
That didn't sit well with UFC president Dana White who went off at the post-fight press conference:
"Did he say he wants to retire? He didn't say 'I'm going to retire. I'm going to hang it up. It's been great everybody. Thanks a lot for all the years. See you later. He said 'I'm going to take some time off.'
"No...You don't just say 'I'll take some time off, maybe I'll be back, maybe I won't.' You owe it to the fans, you owe it to that belt, you owe it to this company and you owe it to Johny Hendricks to give him that opportunity to fight again.
"There's no 'I'm going to go on a cruise. I'm going to be gone for two years. I'm going to take a hiatus. I'm going to take a leave of absence,'" White continued, building to a crescendo of impotent rage. "Whatever the hell it was that he was saying. That's not how it works. It doesn't work that way.'"
White's remarks didn't sit well with some members of the MMA media.
Bloody Elbow alumni Jonathan Snowden let rip in a piece entitled Dana White, Georges St-Pierre and the Sour Stench of Promoter Greed:
A decent human being would be worried about St-Pierre's well-being, especially after a fight that left him clearly discombobulated. But it seemed like that was the farthest thing from White's mind. No one at the press conference, except St-Pierre himself, seemed concerned about the gruesome beating he had just experienced or its physical and emotional costs.
There was only one question everyone wanted answered: How soon could they lure the reluctant champion back into the cage?
I'd hate to think that St-Pierre is fighting for fans or the promotion or anything other than himself and his family. He has a long life to lead after his fighting days are done. To give up even a little bit of his long-term physical and mental well-being is a decision no one should take lightly. And it's certainly not a choice that should be made under duress.
The Octagon is the last place in the world for a man with problems big enough to cost him even a little bit of focus. St-Pierre clearly doesn't belong anywhere near the cage right now. But we'll see him soon enough. There's money to be made. And in the world of combat sports, that's going to trump safety and decency every time.
Tomas Rios was even less nuanced:
UFC President Dana White reacted to the news in the manner one would expect of a slavemaster. His comments (post-fight) cleared up any confusion as to whether UFC fighters are entertainment chattel.
Some confluence of issues has forced St-Pierre into semi-retirement and White mostly can't believe that one of his prized punch-monkeys has the nerve to exercise free will. Meanwhile, human beings capable of sympathy will take note that St-Pierre is clearly and rightfully concerned with the possibility that head trauma and brain cells don't get along. A mid-week headline reading something like Dana White Takes GSP Out Behind The Old Shed, Says It's For The Best is something everyone should be prepared for.
Chuck Mindenhall was more even-handed:
Maybe White was caught up in the maelstrom of events. After all, later on, once he talked to GSP just before his media scrum, he seemed to have calmed down a little bit. But the sentiment was there. Surely St-Pierre wouldn't walk away after a fight like that. In the heat of the moment, with Twitter and White still raging about the fight he just "lost," St-Pierre looked like a thief with the belt glinting there in front of him, reflecting his own battered face and secrets.
Then again, maybe St-Pierre could walk away. And maybe he should. As White has pointed out many times, he has plenty of money. Though there's always something more to prove (starting with beating Hendricks more emphatically), GSP has proved more of himself than is human to ask. He is 20-2 in the UFC. He's won a dozen fights in a row with no soft lobs in the bunch. Who's to say he can't walk away if he wants to?
The real matter on that dais Saturday night wasn't the cuts and bruises that told everybody that the champion had indeed lost, even if the scorecards said otherwise...it was the zipper on GSP's lips. White knew as much as the rest of us about St-Pierre's plans, even if those plans remain mysterious. It wasn't just the bad judging -- it was St-Pierre, the Sphinx, whose plans live in conjecture and often don't require the bossman's approval. White was bothered by the things going on under the surface, out of his control.
Tim Marchman reminds us that we're all complicit in GSP's decline:
The problem with criticizing White is that anyone who knows enough about this sport and how he controls it to care is every bit as complicit as he is. I've talked to fighters who are clearly suffering the effects of having competed; I know that the sport is probably as dangerous as football or boxing, and perhaps more so, and all this makes me aware that spending money on it, or writing about it as anything other than an atavism, is indefensible save on some lines about how people can do what they like with their bodies as long as it's consensual, which is true enough but also an evasion of the question, which isn't about whether people have the right to do this but whether they should, and whether anyone should watch it. White is horrifyingly crass, but it's hard to discern any real moral difference between his assertion that there will be a rematch and my willingness to watch one, and he at least has the virtue of sparing everyone any feigned concern.
Zach Arnold says it's all about money:
When UFC loses leverage on a fighter, they panic in both public and private. The meltdowns can be ugly to watch.
Without St. Pierre, UFC's PPV numbers are hitting a ceiling of around 400,000 buys. Jon Jones and Cain Velasquez aren't going to save the day. Brock Lesnar isn't walking through that door any time soon. Tim Bradley, not exactly Mr. Personality, drew more estimated PPV buys with his fight against Juan Manuel Marquez than Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos III drew. Without St. Pierre as the PPV ace, UFC is in a world of trouble - and their reaction speaks volumes right now about how concerned they are with the company's growth. The Fox Sports 1 platform has driven up their negatives.
The issue is about money. It always is in the fight business. And now the UFC is interested in booking St. Pierre vs. Hendricks II in Dallas, which means the UFC is about to go back to a state with an even worse regulatory body than Nevada.
The UFC has been able to control & manipulate fighter behavior for so long because their contracts are hard to beat in a hometown court system. If the UFC and Bellator had to live up to Ali Act contractual standards, their business models would be forced to dramatically change. In combat sports, the television networks hold the cards for the promoters who have a choke-hold on fighters, who themselves often possess little knowledge of legal or union protections that could help balance the playing field. The cautionary tale of UFC's behavior towards Georges St. Pierre should be a warning siren to everyone that it's time to change the venue in which MMA contracts are adjudicated. Shift the fight contracts to out-of-state jurisdictions and move them into federal jurisdiction. It would be a good first step in adjusting the balance of power in an MMA industry sorely needing reform of the rights of fighters.
Ben Fowlkes won't get quite that cynical:
The cynical answer is, it's a big deal because there's serious money in a rematch. A slightly less cynical one is, the champ doesn't get to just abscond with the belt because his girlfriend broke up with him and he's sad now (or, you know, whatever GSP's personal problem is, and hopefully it's better/worse than that). But that's what seemed crazy about White's rant to me, was how willing he was to blast the guy before asking why he wants to take a break or for how long.
If GSP wants three years to go find himself in Tibet, OK, he might have to be stripped of the title. But if he wants to do a semester at sea and come back in nine months' time, would that be so unreasonable? I don't think so. If the UFC disagrees, let it take his belt away. But please, let's not get all indignant and act like a man who just got his skull pounded on by one of the division's heaviest hitters is being selfish or ungrateful by asking for some time off. I also got the sense he was going to say that no matter what the outcome. How much of the outrage do you think was misdirected anger at the decision, which we both agree should have gone the other way?
Luke Thomas takes the side of GSP:
Combat sports is a place where triumph is exhibited alongside abject frailty and failure. They sometimes exist within the same moment. But such contrasting outcomes are only possible when the business you're in is the manipulation of the human experience. Not 'beings' as such, but their accompanying dignity and mortality, which naturally requires we import our empathy. It's ultimately up to the athletes to safeguard their interests and lives, but one cannot ethically be in the humanity business without having profound respect and adherence to the moral strictures related to use of athletes' talents and bodies for business ends.
Without question, there was a frightening moment in time on Saturday evening where this was all lost. We - the media, fans purchasing goods and services, promoters and other members of the mixed martial arts community - are vultures who take from the athletes in this business of professionally-executed, semi-regulated beatings. The systemic safeguard is that this entire operation of blood and bone is consensual agreement between the athletes and the promoters. We don't allow anything except under the explicit terms by which we allow it. Those are defined as much by monetary compensation as the realities of the human condition, be they incredible and inconvenient.
On Saturday, however fleeting, the sanctity of GSP's agency and vulnerable humanity were ignored under the non-existent pretense that what he should contribute - what he must contribute - is something that renders his agency and troubling human condition irrelevant. If his threshold of sacrifice on the altar of athletic glory, reverence of his agency and worrisome biological state aren't enough to satisfy business demands, none of us deserve to have this thing we call a sport.
Beau Dure adds:
...the issue here for the UFC is the prospect of GSP, one of the last true stars of the sport, to walk away and leave a messy void. Unfortunately for the UFC, GSP has every right to do that. His body has failed him in recent years, and now things look bad in other aspects of his life - Joe Rogan has become the voice of reason in suggesting that he should simply move on. No one has the right to demand that he go into the cage and suffer any more. The fact that people think otherwise is a sad commentary on the state of the sport.
There are no shortcuts in MMA training. And there are no shortcuts in MMA promotion. If the UFC has to go through a rebuilding period without its major stars, so be it. Those stars don't need to "step up." It's time for other people to do it. And those people can start by acting like they're worthy of the fame, fortune and respect that come along with crowning a champion and being one.
Frankly the whole thing makes me haz a sad. GSP's abilities are clearly in decline. Hendricks' performance was very impressive but under the awful 10-point must system fights are scored round-by-round and not as a whole and under those criteria, Hendricks left it too close. That means we have a fading champ and a much lesser uncrowned champ.
GSP's distress after the fight was very upsetting to anyone who has been a fan of this remarkable athlete. Dana White's post-fight behavior was revealing and not of anything good about the fight business.
All-in-all it's a sad chapter in the history of the sport.