Well, it's not official, but it's getting pretty close to it: Georges St-Pierre is on his way out of the UFC.
Dana White doesn't want to accept it because of the controversy of his last fight and the money he'll leave on the table by walking away, but those in the know seem pretty confident that the greatest welterweight in MMA history is leaving the sport, which is exactly what St-Pierre's mentor Kristof Midoux told Le Journal (via Bloody Elbow).
That's going to leave the mantle of top UFC pay-per-view draw available for the taking, but more importantly, it makes a big, gold belt available as well. There are more than a few guys that will be interested in that.
At the top of the list is Johny Hendricks, the man that many felt beat St-Pierre clean at UFC 167. There's been so much hoopla over Hendricks and his perceived robbery that some people claim just giving him GSP's title is a fair avenue for the UFC to take, which is what UFC commentator Joe Rogan told the Opie and Anthony Show (via MMAFighting.com).
It's not, but you have to appreciate the sentiment.
Hendricks is the consensus No. 2 welterweight on the planet, and however the title picture breaks, it's going to involve him. If St-Pierre comes back, it'll be to fight Hendricks. If he doesn't, you can count on it that Hendricks will be fighting someone else for an interim title.
But who will it be? There are a few guys with claims to that slot.
Carlos Condit will fight Matt Brown in a couple of weeks time, and if he wins, as it's reasonable to assume he will, he's the top choice. He's a former interim champion who very nearly beat St-Pierre and Hendricks in his last two losses. Plus he's exciting, which is an underrated descriptor for a top-end welterweight after years of St-Pierre's polarizing performances.
Interim welterweight champion: who ya got?
If it's not Condit, the next guy in the mix has to be the resurgent Robbie Lawler. Lawler beat Rory MacDonald at UFC 167 and has looked like a new man since returning to the promotion earlier this year, smashing his way to a 3-0 record in 2013. Again, he's exciting, and he's also got the marketable story of a prodigy finally hitting his stride after years as an MMA nomad.
The waters are muddier once you're clear of those top three contenders. Names like Shields, Maia, MacDonald and Ellenberger are all in the mix and guys like Hector Lombard and Tarec Saffiedine are dark horses.
With a win each, any one of those guys could be in a title fight given the propensity of the UFC to give guys big fights after impressive performances.
What it boils down to is that, for the first time in a lifetime, the welterweight division is in flux. If St-Pierre leaves town, there are a collection of guys all looking for the crown, none of whom is head and shoulders above the rest.
The only certainty right now is that the future will involve Hendricks, one way or another. Everything else is up in the air, and it's hard to imagine anyone running 170 the way GSP has for the past few years.
A lot of guys are going to try though, that much is for sure.