Opinion: GSP’s Return Couldn’t Have Come at a Better Time
By Tom Taylor
UFC 154 goes down on November 17, from Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and will mark the return of pound-for-pound great, welterweight champion, and UFC superstar, Georges St. Pierre. It has been over a year since we have seen St.Pierre compete, as a knee injury has kept him on the sidelines since he fought Jake Shields at UFC 129, in April of 2011. The fight wasn’t St. Pierre’s most thrilling, as his conservative strategy against Shields drew the ire of many fans, but there is no denying that his return will mark one of the UFC’s most significant events of 2012.
His absence from the sport, after all, has left the welterweight division a stagnant mess, as a laundry list of contenders are chomping at the bit, eager to earn their shot at UFC gold. This is especially difficult, though, when the man who holds the gold has been M.I.A. for so long. To counteract this problem, the UFC put Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz in the cage together to crown an interim champion and allow the division to keep developing. This plan was rendered fairly pointless, however, when the victor, Carlos Condit, opted to wait for St. Pierre’s return rather than defend his interim belt.
But none of that matters now. St. Pierre is healthy again and all signs point to his long-awaited return in less than a month. And in a time where the majority of the UFC’s divisions appear to be tied up for one reason or another, his return could not come at a more opportune time.
While the heavyweight, lightweight, and flyweight divisions all seem to be running smoothly with title fights planned for the near future, the same cannot be said for the UFC’s other divisions.
At light heavyweight, Chael Sonnen’s ludicrous title shot, and coinciding coaching job on The Ultimate Fighter Season 17 against champion Jon Jones will lock up the 205 lb title for the foreseeable future. At middleweight, Anderson Silva has bulldozed his way through a pile of legitimate contenders, and now, in the twilight of his career, is seeking super fights in other divisions. Unless Silva surrenders the belt, his inter-divisionary ambition could very well tie up the middleweight belt for some time. At featherweight things are equally congested, as champion Jose Aldo recovers from an injury. When he has healed, it is likely that he will face former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, which leaves a long list of featherweight contenders, including Erik Koch and Chan Sung Jung, in an uncomfortable waiting game. Beyond the featherweights, the bantamweight division is also at a standstill, as divisional king Dominick Cruz is recovering from an injury. Sure, Renan “Barao” Pegado won the interim title by beating Urijah Faber at UFC 149, but no title defenses have been announced for Barao, and all signs point to his waiting for the return of Cruz.
Overall, the resounding theme throughout the UFC’s eight divisions is gridlock. A significant portion of them appear to be in the midst of, or on the verge of a significant standstill as their champions are sidelined for an array of reasons. Such has been the case in the welterweight division for some time. Finally though, St. Pierre will return to the cage, as he and Condit unify their belts and get things moving again. The deal is only sweetened by UFC 154’s co-main event, a welterweight fight between Johny Hendricks and Martin Kampmann, which will provide us with an opponent for the winner of St. Pierre and Condit.
In a time where the UFC’s pay-per-view buy rates are seeing all time lows, and many fans are growing weary of shallow, watered down cards, what the UFC needs is titlefights. Not titlefights where the challengers are re-entering the division for the first time in years, but pure, unadulterated champion-versus-challenger bouts. When St. Pierre returns to action, that’s what we’ll get, and with his return, we’ll see the long-frozen ice of the welterweight division begin to break up, clearing the way for the fleet of contenders who await their shots. Hopefully, the other divisions of the UFC will all be in similar situations soon.