The moment the mixed martial arts world has awaited for a year and a half is finally here: The return of UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre. Whether you're rooting for the champion to put in a vintage performance or lose an upset to Carlos Condit, the sport is simply better when one of its biggest starts is around.
Of course, there's been as much talk about a potential superfight between St-Pierre and middleweight champ Anderson Silva than there has about GSP vs. Condit at UFC 154. So my colleague Luke Thomas and I discuss those rumors, Silva's threats to walk away for a year, whether Rich Franklin should retire, and more in this week's edition of The MMA Roundtable.
1. Is there any circumstance where a GSP victory doesn't result in his next fight being against Anderson Silva?
Thomas: Frankly, I find it unlikely. Nothing is ever a guarantee, but it seems the gravitational pull for the GSP vs. Silva superfight is already so far in motion almost nothing can change the course of the inevitable.
But unlikely isn't the same as impossible. I suspect the likeliest scenario where the UFC gets cold feet about moving forward would require two things to happen. First, GSP would have to look more than vulnerable against Condit; he'd also have to appear unready. That is, he might barely get by Condit, but look so feeble that UFC had concerns about St. Pierre's return to the game as well as their ability to sell this fight. Second, whoever wins in the Hendricks vs. Kampmann fight would have to look phenomenal. I don't mean win by stoppage, although they'd need that, too. They'd also need the kind of fight that managed to do something that so far it hasn't done: engage audiences beyond the hardcore. Hendricks vs. Kampmann is a fantastic scrap, but to the casual fan the stakes aren't exactly clear. Somehow, someway, the winner would have to bridge this gap with a spectacular performance.
Again, none of this is likely, but in MMA truth is often stranger than fiction.
Doyle: You know, my first instinct was to say "no way anything could get in the way of this fight." But then, I stopped and considered the fact that a year ago, I never would have guessed that: 1. We'd go the next 12 months St-Pierre; 2. Ronda Rousey would emerge as a potential superstar; 3. A major UFC event would be canceled; 4. Chael Sonnen would lose a middleweight title fight and then get a light heavyweight title fight in his next bout; 5. Frankie Edgar would come out on the wrong end of two decisions against Ben Henderson, then get scheduled for a featherweight title shot; 6. Well, you get the point here. Anything can happen.
I know that Silva has said he doesn't plan on fighting again until the end of 2013. But that just sounds like a Silva negotiating ploy to me. If you're in Silva's shoes, what else is there for you to do? He's not going to be able to fight up to his own standards forever. He no doubt wants to maximize his paydays. The only person who as of now, has a marquee name at middleweight whom he hasn't already beaten is Michael Bisping, but he's far from a clear-cut No. 1 contender, not with Chris Weidman out there.
Silva's said he doesn't want to fight Jon Jones. That leaves one surefire, big-money super fight, GSP. So, could there be circumstances that keep the fight from happening? Sure. Maybe Silva isn't bluffing about holding out. Maybe St-Pierre wins and unexpectedly retires after the fight. Barring that, I'd be amazed if we didn't see Silva vs. GSP next, assuming the latter wins on Saturday,
2. Should Rich Franklin consider retirement?
Doyle: I understand that the decision on whether to retire is a fighter's alone to make, but I also know this: It's just not fun watching someone who has done nothing but good for the sport of mixed martial arts go on a sharp decline. Did anybody truly enjoy watching Chuck Liddell get starched so many times in his late career?
I don't know that Franklin's quite at that point yet, but his knockout loss to Cung Le last weekend was every bit as jarring as was Liddell's at the hands of Rashad Evans, which was the KO which started Chuck's slide in earnest. And it's hard to see where Franklin goes from here. He had said he wanted to attempt another run up the middleweight ranks, but I shudder to think of what, say, Chris Weidman would do to him at this stage of the game.
He could probably continue to go back to his fill-in/tweener role as the fighter who comes off the bench when the UFC needs someone with a name to fill a slot. I wouldn't begrudge him for doing so. But at the same time, Rich Franklin has been a model for the sport of MMA: A hard worker, a good human being, and a fighter whose place in the sport's history is secured. He's a former champion who never backed down from a challenge. You can say all of the same about Liddell, but in Franklin's case, as of now, he doesn't have to tough career finish on his record. I personally wouldn't mind if he kept it that way.
Thomas: Dave's right. It should almost always feel uncomfortable when asked if a fighter should retire from professional competition. That's especially true in the case of Franklin. As Dave points out, the guy's
done a lot for the sport and can still likely win fights against decent opposition.
I don't know what he'll ultimately do, but should he at least consider the possibility? Yes, he should at least consider it. I interviewed him about a year and a half ago and asked how he deals with still maintaining performance while not being in his prime. He suggested to me he wasn't sure if he was out of his prime. I found that surprising. Franklin was 36 years of age and had just finished telling me about all the different things he needed to do now to make sure he could exert himself like he was in his 20s. That's the very definition of not being in your prime for everyone not named Anderson Silva and yet, Franklin seemed to willfully deny it was happening.
The knockout loss to Le is not the first time Franklin's been stopped. But in many ways it is the worst stoppage loss. Losing to Anderson Silva twice is nothing to be ashamed of. Neither is getting stopped by Vitor Belfort. But Le is not the caliber of fighter either Silva or Belfort are. Worse, Franklin was never stopped with that type of extreme, one-punch brutality by either guy (although the Silva stoppages were admittedly pretty rough). Franklin's been hit before and been able to recover, even in similar fight positions like when David Loiseau rocked him in the third round of their fight. Something seemed different this time. This was a new Franklin and not an improved one.
3. Anderson Silva reportedly told Tatame he doesn't plan on fighting again until late 2013. Two-part question: a. Should we take Silva at face value, and b. If yes, what should Dana White do with the middleweight title?
Doyle: First things first: I don't believe what Silva's saying for a second. Silva and his management have quite a history of pronouncing that Silva wants to do whatever happens to be the exact opposite of what
the UFC might want at the moment. It's a negotiating tool and one he's effectively utilized.
But let's take this at face value, and let's assume that Silva really is going to sit out for about a year or so. The UFC usually only crowns interim champions when a champion is injured, but there is precedent for interim titles in other situations: The company had an interim heavyweight champ during its legal dispute with Randy Couture, for one.
The UFC doesn't need to rush into a decision either way with this one. The company has several key middleweight fights on the upcoming docket, including Weidman vs. Tim Boetsch on Dec. 19 and Michael Bisping vs. Vitor Belfort in January. It has seemed a natural that the winners of these fights meet with the No. 1 contender's slot at stake, anyway.
By the time the winners of these fights come are determined, and you set them up to meet sometime in the spring or early summer, we'll have a better read on whether Silva is serious about his latest idea. Worst-case scenario, you turn it into an interim title fight instead of a number one contender's bout.
But that's if you really believe what Silva says, and when push comes to shove, I'm not buying it.
Thomas: How on earth can people take these claims seriously? He wants half of the UFC to sit out huge periods of time with no injury? Dave's right: you have to be extremely gullible to accept that any of this is what he wants to do. These are negotiating ploys and while they're extreme positions, the point is to start high so when you reach a middle ground it's reasonably favorable.
As for what to do with the middleweight title in the event Silva does somehow manage to sit out much of 2013, my rule about the interim title is this: you should be allowed to fight for it on the condition you defend it. In boxing, this is fairly typical. Jorge Arce defended his vacant WBC flyweight a whopping four times. That seems a bit extreme and the reasons boxers defend their interim titles is a bit different, but if the UFC is going to borrow from the boxing world, then they can't half step it. You want to wear the crown? Defend the crown. If Bisping wants the interim title fight in Silva's absence and happens to earn it, fine. The next move is not a fight with Anderson Silva, but a defense of that interim title. Bisping might retract his words then or he might decide to move forward. Either way, at least
we'd get some usefulness with the interim title.
4. Who should headline the UFC 157 show in Anaheim?
Thomas: I have two words for you: Nick Diaz.
Admittedly, he isn't a SoCal guy, but he is from California and could arguably draw better than most. His return is also a subject of huge curiosity for the MMA world, not so much in the same way GSP's is, but still nevertheless intriguing. His case has been at the intersection of lawsuits, commission battles and suspensions and his identity as a medical marijuana user. If that isn't red meat for the press and fans, I'm not sure what is. There's the issue of who he fights and I've long thought a bout with Josh Koscheck makes little sense. But it is available as is a bout with Jake Ellenberger, Jon Fitch or others.
I'd also say the rumored bout between Dan Henderson and Lyoto Machida makes sense. While initially projected for UFC 156, that card is fairly stacked and doesn't need much more help. UFC 157 does. While I don't know how much this bout would help at the box office, it would probably be decent draw for the pay-per-view market. And hey, if you put Diaz vs. Fitch and Henderson vs. Machida on the same card, I can't imagine a ton of fans would complain.
Doyle: Let's go down the list of UFC headliners, here: Junior dos Santos is defending his heavyweight title against Cain Velasquez on Dec. 29; Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen are off the list until well into 2013; Anderson Silva sure isn't fighting on Feb. 23; GSP is fighting this weekend, Benson Henderson and Nate Diaz are booked for Dec. 8; Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar will throw down on Feb. 2; and Demetrious Johnson defends his flyweight title at UFC on FOX 6. Those are just the champions, we're not even starting to go into big-name co main-eventers who are already booked, or non-tile main events like Vitor Belfort vs. Michael Bisping in January in Brazil.
That leaves us with a few names. The one fighter left out of that list of champions was bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz. Hypothetically, if he was to be cleared soon, perhaps Feb. 23 would make a doable date with Renan Barao. Barring that? Dan Henderson vs. Lyoto Machida is out there. What do Cruz, Henderson and Machida all have in common? They all have Southern California ties, with Cruz in San Diego, Henderson in Temecula and Machida now residing in Redondo Beach. Fights in Anaheim makes sense for all of them.
As for Diaz, that, too is an intriguing option, but it's also worth noting that Diaz is under suspension until early February, well after the UFC would have to begin advertising the show. And given the acrimony of Diaz's battles with the Nevada Athletic Commission, if I was the UFC, I wouldn't announce a Diaz fight until he's officially re-licensed.