Heaving for breath and covered in his own blood, things were not looking up for Georges St-Pierre (26-2) in the UFC 217 main event. The former welterweight champion, best known as GSP, had done everything he does, popped his precise jab, thrown his spinning karate kicks and even secured several takedowns.
It had all been for naught.
His opponent for his first bout back in the Octagon in almost four years, middleweight champion Michael Bisping (30-8), had taken all St-Pierre had to give and returned calm and collected fire. As the fight was moving into its third stanza, it seemed all but inevitable that his superior conditioning and size would slowly, surely win the day.
That's when the left hook boomed in, right over the top of Bisping's nearly blind right eye—the kind of shot that pulls fans to their feet and moves fighters, even exhausted ones covered in their own blood, to do increasingly horrible things to their foes.
There was a time, late in his first UFC run, when St-Pierre would have hesitated. He would have weighed the risks of charging in, with his mind doing Octagon calculus, perhaps missing the moment altogether. An all-out effort to finish could fail. Bisping could be playing possum. The correct decision is to sit back, to accumulate points, to win on the scorecards, to never risk greatness.
That was the old GSP, the one who walked away with the sadness in his eyes, the one who no longer seemed comfortable in his vocation.
The new GSP charged in like a one-man SWAT team, with his eyes gleaming, Bisping's glazed expression the chum in the water that inspired a frenzy of elbows and punches.
And then, as if by magic, he was on Bisping's back. His arm, made slick by the blood, was snaking under the champion's chin. Soon consciousness, the only hope Bisping was holding on to, had abandoned him as well.
St-Pierre was middleweight champion of the world.
"I thought I was doing well," Bisping told Fox Sports after the fight. "He caught me with a good shot and wobbled me. He was strong. God bless him. Good for him. ... This is a difficult sport. Respect to Georges. He beat me tonight. One team wins, and one team loses. Tonight was his night."
In team sports, such a triumph is followed by downtime, an opportunity to unwind and process all that has just happened. Not in the UFC Octagon. Mere moments after having his hand raised, attention turned, not to what had transpired, but to what was next.
Welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, in the Fox Sports studio, staked his claim. Every middleweight contender looked at St-Pierre's small frame, age and wear and all but salivated. UFC President Dana White said GSP would remain at middleweight. The fighter himself told Joe Rogan this wasn't his weight class but just an opportunity to challenge himself in his return.
"He's not going to stay at middleweight," former middleweight champion Chris Weidman opined on Fox Sports. "He'll go back down now."
No one said the only name that makes sense. No one mentioned Conor McGregor.
There are many reasons a fight between the two superstars is potentially a bad idea. The first 30, perhaps, are each pound that separates lightweight (where McGregor is the champion) from the middleweight class.
|By the Numbers: St-Pierre vs. McGregor|
|Georges St-Pierre||Fighter||Conor McGregor|
|76 inches||Reach||74 inches|
But while fanciful on the surface, the size difference isn't nearly as extreme as it might seem. St-Pierre is no middleweight—not truly. Instead, he's an enormously talented welterweight, a man whose skill, not his size, carried him to victory after victory. And McGregor, despite making his name at 145 pounds, is no small man. Only one inch in height and two inches in reach separate the two—hardly an insurmountable obstacle for a fighter of McGregor's caliber.
St-Pierre would be the bigger man should the two meet at 170 pounds—but not so much bigger that the fight would be a farce.
GSP would, most likely, be a heavy favorite. Not only would his size pose problems for McGregor, but his skill set is strongest where the Irish superstar is weak. It's easy to imagine the new middleweight champion, a man who just survived flush punches from a 185-pound man, walking through McGregor's vaunted left hand, blasting a double leg takedown and hitting The Notorious until someone decides to find mercy in their heart and stop the fight.
But while the 30 pounds make a compelling case, the millions and millions of dollars a fight between the two men would generate surely make their own loud argument. Earlier this year, McGregor got a taste of the income a superstar fighter can generate in a superfight when he boxed Floyd Mayweather Jr. in Las Vegas.
It was a ludicrous contest, one wherein the odds were stacked against him and the only victory likely to present itself was the trip to the bank to deposit one enormous check after another. Sound familiar?
The bout between Bisping and St-Pierre worked in part because of how beautifully their personalities interplayed. Bisping is the sport's most likable jerk, a scamp with mischief glowing in his eyes, willing to say or do anything to keep things interesting. GSP is the consummate gentleman, the kind of man who apologizes for saying the word "balls" after a cage fight.
McGregor, at his core, is the Uber Bisping. Cocky beyond reason and articulate beyond compare, he would destroy St-Pierre in the weeks leading up to the fight. GSP, as is his wont, would smile awkwardly, grimace and plot his revenge in the cage.
It would be the greatest spectacle and biggest fight in the history of mixed martial arts. Surely not even the UFC, the company that missed out on GSP vs. Anderson Silva, Randy Couture vs. Fedor Emelianenko and Ronda Rousey vs. Cris Cyborg, would be foolish enough to mess this up.
There are no more Mayweathers on the horizon for McGregor. Nine-figure paydays are likely a thing of the past. The closest he could come is St-Pierre. They should make that fight immediately and never look back.
Jonathan Snowden is the author of The MMA Encyclopedia and covers combat sports for Bleacher Report.