Fight Business: What GSP and Jon Jones Losses Would Mean to the UFC
In the land of mixed martial arts, welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and light heavyweight champion Jon Jones are more than the sport's foremost champions—quite honestly, they're the UFC's invaluable, prime real estate.
Arguably the purest form of competition, cage fighting is established, carried and progressed by its athletes to such an extent that it would be tough to imagine the sport's continuation without the shoulders of the elite champions who carry it. The value in watching MMA is undoubtedly rooted within the roster of fighters striving for championships and beyond.
The UFC is well aware of this principle; though Zuffa has always invested in the brand before the fighter, they've done so in the knowledge that stars could only be established when the UFC identity had become virtually synonymous with MMA.
With a deeply entrenched network of television, sponsor and cross-promotional ties, the organization opens the window for transcendent stars to lead the sport forward.
Enter St-Pierre and Jones.
Stablemates at the famed Jackson's MMA training center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, both champions have evolved into ambassadors of this subset of professional sports.
With his iconic loss now firmly entrenched in the minds of every fight fan, recently deposed middleweight champion Anderson Silva relinquished the distinction of holding the longest title reign of any current champion. That badge of honor now belongs to St-Pierre, with Jones trailing just behind him.
Thankfully, Jones seems to harbor no delusions of invincibility. During the UFC 165 pre-fight press conference, he made it adamantly clear that Silva's loss would serve as an haunting reality check:
Martial arts is traditionally a sport that is based on honor and integrity and treating people with respect, and he somehow lost sight of that and he paid the ultimate price for it. I think he just got disrespectful, and the war gods just made him pay for it... It actually motivates me a lot, too, to watch somebody who I look up to lose. It's just a reality check. I try to keep my ego in check when it comes to the fight game, and watching Anderson lose like that—first of all, it's something I would never do, put my hands down and fight my opponent that way. But watching Chris Weidman's dream come true, I have to make sure to be a dream crusher.
In some bizarre way, Jones translates his whirling dervish of spinning elbows inside the cage into crossover assets when out of it. For the UFC to continue to back him, he'll need to ensure that the only loss on his record continues to be mentioned with an asterisk and a disclaimer.
Both fighter and organization are banking on "Bones" evolving into MMA's magnum opus. The rush of sponsors and interests from outside of combat sports originates from Jones' status as the fiercest fighter currently competing for the UFC.
It's clear, then, that each and every Octagon outing for either of these champions is a gamble of the highest magnitude—and the UFC knows it.
But is unrelenting domination truly a requirement for the kind of status that St-Pierre and Jones currently have with the UFC? Would there really be upheaval if they lost?
If history is any indicator, the answer would be a resounding yes.
Now residing in the UFC Hall of Fame, former light heavyweight kingpin Chuck Liddell was once the UFC's prized effort towards the creation of a breakout superstar. But as soon as his chin started to betray him, Liddell's world, along with the UFC's promotional push, came crashing down around him.
Though he stands proudly as the incumbent light heavyweight champion, Jones is perpetually walking the tightrope that separates adoration from obscurity—likely the very same balancing act Liddell experienced before him.
In light of his unprecedented run, the UFC has anointed Jones one of MMA's chief ambassadors.
The expectation to represent an entire sport on a global stage as prominent as the UK's BBC is nothing to be scoffed at. Yet note how calm and collected Jones is as he delivers his responses. The charm he summons in his current media affairs is no doubt the result of his aura crafted inside the cage.
In light his September title defense against Alexander Gustafsson, it's a good thing he's so objective about the possibility of defeat. With a recent promotion to the UFC's vaunted No. 1 pound-for-pound distinction, pressure and expectations are at an all-time high for the budding champion.
St-Pierre's position isn't any easier.
Undefeated for over 2,300 days—with over 1,930 of those days representing his present title reign—the French Canadian has long been MMA's golden prodigy. Put simply, an unblemished record of that magnitude means that, on the casual MMA fan's radar, you may as well be undefeated.
Always polished and ever presentable, GSP knows that the UFC's investment in his particular brand hangs in the balance when he faces off against Johny Hendricks during November's UFC 167 title fight. Whether his income is active or passive, St-Pierre's value to the UFC is, in principle, based upon the gold that's been wrapped around his waist for over five years and 11 straight bouts.
Which loss would be worse for the UFC and MMA as a whole?
In spite of their awe-inspiring string of victories paired with championship-material performances, St-Pierre and Jones are still subject to the same truism as any other MMA combatant: You're only as good as your last fight. The consequence of sitting on a throne and breathing such rarefied air is that, if they happen to slip up, they've got an unimaginably great distance to go crashing down.
GSP has long been the UFC's most lucrative pay-per-view draw. Not surprisingly, Jones is following suit. So long as they continue to be unstoppable, the organization that ushered them into the limelight will ensure the number of eyes on them continues to increase.
The mutual success shared between the UFC and these two titans is founded in their auras as longstanding, nigh-invincible champions. If Silva's defeat at the hands of Chris Weidman was any indicator, a St-Pierre or Jones loss would be felt throughout every wrinkle and fold of the UFC.
Artem Moshkovich is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for MMA news and more.
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