With the news that Georges St. Pierre has decided to step down as the UFC's welterweight champion, the division is now absolutely open. All of the welterweights (well, those still relevant at least i.e. not Matt Hughes, Jon Fitch, Dan Hardy) that GSP beat for the title now have a new lease on the opportunity to get the title. Even though St. Pierre will still be in the debate as of to who is truly the worlds greatest welterweight, he is going to (obviously) be out of the title picture... at least for a little while. As a result, the title picture is going to be exceedingly exciting!
Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler have been tabbed to fight for the vacant belt at UFC 171 in March. And it is hard to disagree with this match-up. It was inevitable that Hendricks would be in the next welterweight title match (barring injury) regardless if GSP decided to come back for another defense considering the amount of controversy surrounding the decision from his title match with GSP at UFC 167. Lawler won an upset decision over contender Rory MacDonald that vaulted him near the top of the division. Only Carlos Condit is thought to be ranked ahead of Lawler by most pundits. But Condit is 1-2 in his last three matches including a loss to Hendricks and the other to GSP. He needs at least one more win to be back in the title talk and word is that Dana White is working to get him a match on the same PPV. It is likely that the winner of the fight with Condit and whoever he faces will get the next title shot after Hendricks and Lawler determine who that might be.
Jake Shields has a new lease on his title hopes considering he had a title shot once before against GSP and came up short. With one or two more victories he could have a legitimate claim at a title shot. Jake Ellenberger is the only other fighter in the UFC to beat Shields and he is coming off of a loss to MacDonald who claimed he would never fight his friend St. Pierre who is now out of the picture... You get the general idea of where this is going. Demian Maia, Matt Brown, Martin Kampmann, and a few other darkhorses (Tyron Woodley, Thiago Alves if he can get healthy and discover his pre-2009 form) all could end up stepping into a title shot in the next year. I'm sure some of you would rather call bullshit on that claim... but did anyone think that Robbie Lawler would be in a title match at any point in his UFC tenure just one short year ago? Yeah... I didn't think so.
There is one other wild card that could very easily enter the picture: Nick Diaz. Everyone knows that Diaz was soundly beaten by GSP to the point of Diaz asking for a rematch was absolutely ludicrous. Since he didn't get what he wanted, he remained retired and has been in that state ever since. With GSP out of the way though... hmmm. If Diaz comes back it is certainly arguable that he would be the biggest draw in the division as he has his army of loyal followers and every one knows that controversy creates cash. And Diaz is full of controversy. I could be wrong (but I really don't think that I am), but I'm sure Dana White will be trying exceedingly hard to pull Diaz out of his retired state. He wouldn't be able to promise him a title shot right away (and Diaz should know that considering he is coming off of two failed attempts at titles), but if Diaz plays it right, he could have another shot in about one years time if he takes care of business. If Diaz can get the title, I believe he would also be most likely to pull one Mr. St. Pierre back into the fight game sooner than anyone else would be able to. I'm not exactly keen on seeing that fight again, but Diaz has shown that he knows how to get into GSP's head and it is more than plausible that he could do so again.
I want to commend GSP on his decision. It certainly had to be a hard one to make as he had a lot of weight on his shoulders and the easy thing to do would have be to find a way to lose his match to Hendricks (though I have heard it said that he tried to, I don't believe it though) and avoid the controversial decision to walk away on top. Let us not forget that he wasn't just the golden boy for the UFC, he was also the golden boy for Canada. Outside of hockey there aren't too many top notch athletes that come out of there and the country truly latched on to him and made him theirs. He is absolutely right when he said that none of us have any idea of the amount of weight that was on his shoulders. GSP never gave less than 100% to anything he did. He never missed a press conference. He never made any rude or controversial remarks to put himself in the eye of a media storm (or have his Twitter account "hacked"). He never represented the UFC or Canada in a negative way. When he was able to fight he did so and never sold himself short. Sure, there has been controversy over his inability to finish fights as late due to relatively safe game plans... but remember that he was also on the wrong end of the greatest upset ever seen in this sport. Tell me you wouldn't play it safe after that. It doesn't mean he isn't giving his all. And also ask Josh Koscheck how fun it was to have his orbital bone broken by repeated jabs from GSP or Dan Hardy how painful the armbar GSP put on him was.
Just a quick note that I believe is worth mentioning. The greatest example that we have to compare the weight that GSP bore is Anderson Silva. Perhaps we should have seen this coming. Remember Anderson's post fight response after losing the title to Chris Weidman? He stated that he was done being the champion. He didn't want the title anymore. No rematch. Though the rematch is happening for Silva, it seems his immediate response was more telling than we knew at the time.