The MMA world appears to have reached a consensus that it would be a bad idea for Georges St-Pierre to return.
This is understandable—if a bit awkward for the subtext it reveals about the sport we all watch so eagerly.
We like St-Pierre, he seems like a good dude, and we don’t want to see anything bad happen to him. When he announced an indefinite departure from competition near the end of 2013, it was clear that MMA had dragged the affable French Canadian champion to a very dark place.
With GSP now 34 years old and coming off another knee surgery conducted during his time away, it’s OK to feel uncomfortable with the prospect of a comeback. As Bleacher Report’s Mike Chiappetta put it last week:
Color me conflicted. On one hand, it is always interesting to see how legends walk back through the door. On the other, it is concerning to see him risk the dream of leaving the sport on top after leaving on his own terms.
It was hard enough the first time around. It was uncomfortable hearing him talk about his inability to remember parts of his fights, confessing to blurry vision, admitting that he got so obsessive about competing that his mind would get dark, that he feared damaging his brain. The champ, always guarded in his comments, was bluntly telling us his world was closing in on him. So it makes me uneasy to hear he might want to come back for more of the same.
I’m not dismissing these feelings—I’m cosigning them. Like Chiappetta, I’ll be torn if the day soon comes that St-Pierre announces a full-time comeback.
But I also understand it would be hypocritical and dishonest of me to pretend like I wouldn’t be excited, like I wouldn’t watch. In addition to that, I have to admit there’s a layer of intrigue around a potential St-Pierre comeback that has me monitoring the situation closely.
If GSP returns and makes even a remotely successful go of it, it could solidify his place as the greatest MMA fighter of all time.
I know, I know—the sloshing sound I just heard was you spitting your Monster Energy drink all over your Reebok-branded Anderson Silva T-shirt, right?
Sorry to disappoint the Silva people out there, but the truth is, your guy left the door wide open for St-Pierre to pass him up in the history books. In fact, the race for MMA GOAT status is closer now than ever before, as many of the candidates have fallen off the pace in recent years.
Fedor Emelianenko is likely out of the running after losing three straight fights between 2010 and 2011 and his recent decision to likely play out the rest of his career fighting cans in Japan. Jon Jones is still the odds-on favorite to eventually lock down GOAT honors, but he’s out on indefinite suspension. Even when he returns, his career will feel more fragile than ever.
For the time being, that makes this a two-horse race between Silva and St-Pierre.
Statistically, the two men are roughly in a dead heat. St-Pierre stands at 19-2 in the UFC, with a .905 winning percentage. Silva is 16-2-1, with a .842 winning percentage.
Based largely on style points, Silva has been the chic pick as the best MMA fighter in history for as long as anyone can remember. Unfortunately, things have gone poorly for him lately.
Even before his decision win over welterweight Nick Diaz was converted to a no-contest, he was just 1-2 since the end of 2012. He lost his middleweight title in embarrassing fashion to Chris Weidman at UFC 162 and then lost the rematch at UFC 168 when he suffered a career-threatening broken leg.
To make things worse, Silva is currently banished on a yearlong suspension after testing positive for steroids while training for his comeback fight against Diaz.
Can a guy who used performance-enhancing drugs even still be considered the greatest athlete in his sport? Something tells me Silva apologists will still try to make the case, but it has to be viewed as a major a stain on his legacy.
As it stands, St-Pierre has suffered no such out-of-the-cage shame. He spent nearly a decade as the UFC’s biggest pay-per-view draw and an unimpeachable ambassador for the sport. He never lost his title, instead walking away after a hard-fought but victorious effort over Johny Hendricks at UFC 167.
St-Pierre needs just one welterweight title defense to equal Silva’s promotional record of 10. If he is able to come back from semi-retirement and recapture the 170-pound title for a third time, it’d be hard to see how he wouldn’t be regarded as the best ever.
If Silva continues to slip into obscurity—taking easily winnable carnival fights like his bout against Diaz—while St-Pierre jets back to the top of the 170-pound division? That would make it case closed.
The argument for The Spider over GSP has long been based on fighting style.
During his tenure as arguably the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world, Silva knocked a lot of people out. That made him preferable to many fans than St-Pierre, who—with no significant amateur wrestling background to speak of—transformed himself into the sport’s best grappler and beat the lion's share of his opponents by lopsided unanimous decisions.
But style points start to feel useless once a guy tests positive for steroids. It starts to feel pretty flimsy after he gets unseated by the best middleweight fighter of the next generation. Twice.
Meanwhile, St-Pierre boasted a far better strength of schedule during his time as welterweight champ. Owing to the fact that his division was simply deeper, he fought the better crop of competition. Actually, he didn't just face tougher competition—he took on the best at his weight class and rendered them helpless round after round, fight after fight.
Aside from a single freak loss to Matt Serra back in 2006—a defeat he avenged a year later—no one has been his equal. If he is able to return to the cage at or near the same level, he stands a good chance of doing the same to anyone in the current 170-pound title picture.
There is even a possibility that the long-awaited superfight between Silva and St-Pierre could finally happen. Silva’s suspension will lapse next summer and—in a weird way—the timing for their bout finally feels right.
If St-Pierre won that one, it would be nearly impossible to deny his claim to the throne.
It would also be good to have GSP return and take up a role as one of the sport’s most respected elder statesmen. While always taking pains not to cross his bosses at the UFC, St-Pierre has consistently led the charge for progressive changes such as enhanced drug testing.
In an era when there is a groundswell of support for the formation of a fighters union, a class action lawsuit pending against the UFC and the tougher PED testing he lobbied for finally looking like a reality, his voice is sorely needed.
So, yeah, a St-Pierre comeback may inherently come with great risk, but it would also hold great promise.
If he returns to the cage, solidifies his reputation as the greatest of all time and walks away again on his own terms, it would be hard to argue with the results.