What is it with Dana White? And what is it with Georges St-Pierre?
They admire one another as professionals and fill each other’s pockets with money, and yet…and yet they don’t (exactly) communicate. Something’s up with the welterweight champion and PPV king. Something’s vexing the UFC president and PPV bank truck. It took a Johny Hendricks beating, a brain-addled in-cage confession, and a pack of "incompetent" Nevada gavels to open up a line of conversation. That’s when Champion and Prez finally got on the same page, behind the scenes, after all the teeth gnashing and "crazy" talk in public.
But let’s start with GSP’s emotional state, which has been sort of descending a dark spiral staircase for a little while now.
Before his previous fight against Nick Diaz at UFC 158, the running joke was about his "dark place." This was a part of St-Pierre’s mind, accessible only to himself, that was far more sinister than anything coming out of the scatterbrained 209. We knew about St-Pierre’s obsessiveness, and his almost neurotic stronghold against complacency, but the "dark place" was meant to be a caution. Don’t judge a book by its cover, Nick Diaz. There are inconceivable evils in the mantle.
Of course, it ended up a punch line.
With St-Pierre, though, everything is under the surface. Even heading into his fight with Hendricks on the UFC’s 20th anniversary show at UFC 167, speculation roamed into similar territory. What is it, exactly, that’s on St-Pierre’s mind? He was hinting at retirement. His camp was hinting at retirement. There was "big news" on the horizon. Yet was he retiring?
St-Pierre, who was going for his ninth title defense against Hendricks, masterfully sidestepped the question of his walking away all week, even treating it as good-natured rumor as he went about the media rounds. With GSP the surface and the inside never quite match. It’s the great divide that the media has long learned to accept (for the most part). Before Saturday we were concerned with whether or not he’d fight his Tri-Star training partner Rory MacDonald if the eventuality came up, and even there we were given another dose of the cryptic unknown.
Then UFC 167 happened, and the now you see it/now you don’t paradox was complete. St-Pierre lost, which was monumental, before he won, which was unbelievable. It was a lot to process on the fly.
And in the postfight interview St-Pierre told Joe Rogan he was going to step away for a bit, which realistically, when dealing in Montreal’s most famous son, could mean about anything. St-Pierre could be retiring, he could be fighting on, he could be planning a mission with the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone. But he’d just lost a fight in the court of public opinion and yet the belt was still his, which made the timing of the sojourn announcement that much more bizarre. It was one heck of a crossroads right there on the spot.
But were these the words of a just beaten man, or was it premeditated?
In the postfight press conference, St-Pierre showed up, looking like the lone survivor in a slasher film, and elaborated an inch further. He said he was going "crazy," that there were things in his personal life, and he needed to step away.
"I just came out of a freaking war," he said. "The guy hits like a truck. My brain got bashed left and right inside of my skull. I need to think. I get very emotional. My right eye became blurry, and it's still blurry right now. He punched very hard. He's the hardest puncher I’ve seen. He hit like a truck. I was hurt. I’m not an egomaniac. I say it when I’m hurt. I’m hurt. He hurt me tonight. Look at me."
Dana White, fuming at the "incompetent" judges and threatening to keep the big fights out of Nevada unless the Governor finds it in himself to intercede, was also peeved that St-Pierre would voluntarily take himself out of action indefinitely.
"You don't just say, I'll take some time off, maybe I'll be back, maybe I won't," he said. "You owe it to the fans, you owe it to that belt, you owe it to this company and you owe it to Johny Hendricks to give him that opportunity to fight again."
Maybe White was caught up in the maelstrom of events. After all, later on, once he talked to GSP just before his media scrum, he seemed to have calmed down a little bit. But the sentiment was there. Surely St-Pierre wouldn’t walk away after a fight like that. In the heat of the moment, with Twitter and White still raging about the fight he just "lost," St-Pierre looked like a thief with the belt glinting there in front of him, reflecting his own battered face and secrets.
Then again, maybe St-Pierre could walk away. And maybe he should. As White has pointed out many times, he has plenty of money. Though there’s always something more to prove (starting with beating Hendricks more emphatically), GSP has proved more of himself than is human to ask. He is 20-2 in the UFC. He’s won a dozen fights in a row with no soft lobs in the bunch. Who’s to say he can’t walk away if he wants to?
The real matter on that dais Saturday night wasn’t the cuts and bruises that told everybody that the champion had indeed lost, even if the scorecards said otherwise…it was the zipper on GSP’s lips. White knew as much as the rest of us about St-Pierre’s plans, even if those plans remain mysterious. It wasn’t just the bad judging -- it was St-Pierre, the Sphinx, whose plans live in conjecture and often don’t require the bossman’s approval. White was bothered by the things going on under the surface, out of his control.
And if there’s anything that St-Pierre guards against more than complacency, it’s those things.