There are a lot of different ways to look at Georges St-Pierre's doing a six-week test training camp to see if he will come back next year to fight in UFC or, if not, formally retire from the sport.
Freddie Roach broke the news on Wednesday of St-Pierre's first real move when it comes to a decision that he's put off for two years regarding if he is or isn't going to fight again.
On one hand, St-Pierre has accomplished all that anyone could hope to accomplish in an MMA career. If you look at the most important records in UFC history, he's at or near the top in all of them:
- He's in first place all-time for most UFC victories with 19.
- He's tied with Jon Jones in second place for most consecutive victories with 12, trailing Anderson Silva's 16.
- He's in first place all-time for most wins in championship matches with 12.
- He's in second place all-time for most consecutive wins in championship matches with nine, trailing Anderson Silva with ten.
- He's in second place all-time for most UFC championship fights with 14, trailing Randy Couture's 15. But GSP is 12-2 in title fights, as compared to Couture, who went 9-6.
- He's in second place for most time spent inside the Octagon, at five hours 28 minutes, and 12 seconds, trailing only Frankie Edgar at five hours, 35 minutes and 23 seconds.
Along with Brock Lesnar, St-Pierre is also one of the two biggest pay-per-view draws in company history. His influence on the sport — besides obviously being the greatest welterweight the sport has ever seen — is such that the popularity of both UFC and MMA in Canada has declined significantly since he vacated the welterweight title and went on "sabbatical' after his controversial decision over Johny Hendricks on November 16, 2013.
He doesn't appear to be in need of money. Unlike most in the sport who fight from paycheck to paycheck, St-Pierre was making millions per fight in the latter stages of his career, and as Canadian sports hero with a clean image, he's had some of the best endorsement deals of anyone.
At his peak, his avowed goal was to be considered the greatest fighter in history, a mythical crown that will always be subject to debate. But as far as long-term accomplishments go, St-Pierre, Silva and Fedor Emelianenko would top most lists, with the only debate being in what order.
On the flip side, GSP's 34, only one year older than current welterweight champion Robbie Lawler, an exciting and dangerous fighter whom he has never faced. St-Pierre is more athletic and more well-rounded than the champion. When St-Pierre was ruling the roost, Lawler wasn't even on his list of challengers even though they were contemporaries.
Of the top contenders in his weight class, all but Rory MacDonald and Tarec Saffiedine are within three years in either direction of his age. The same competitive drive that made him a clear-cut all-time great in still somewhere in his body. Mentally, he knows how to be a champion. Physically, he's in great shape as far as keeping his weight under control, and he's likely healed up from nagging injuries. But there is no escaping there will be ring rust from time off. The reality is he was not the same fighter in his three fights after a late-2011 knee injury required major surgery, but was still good enough that nobody ever beat him. Only the Hendricks fight was close.
But one questions exactly what he's trying to find out in doing the camp that trainer Freddy Roach talked about earlier this week. At his current point in life, fighting has to be something that he's either all-in on or not at all. A test camp would indicate he's not really sure. That's not the mentality he should have if he is looking to fight dangerous men inside the cage.
While not getting as much talk, Lesnar did the same thing earlier this year. But Lesnar had something to prove, in the sense he believed his prime years were stolen from him due to an illness (diverticulitis). Lesnar had no financial need to come back, but he felt he had unfinished business and didn't leave the sport the way he wanted to. Lesnar also had misgivings, given his age and other business options. In the end, the camp told him "no," and he mentally closed the book on a comeback.
St-Pierre had his healthy prime years. There is no legacy left to build, no point to prove, no naysayers to prove wrong. His status in history is secure and can't be taken away. But unless he believes he can be better than he was, and wants a third championship, that same legacy won't be improved upon either.
If it's just competition he's looking for, there are safer avenues, whether it be grappling, jiu-jitsu, Tae Kwon Do, or even wrestling. Years ago he toyed with the idea of leaving MMA while champion at his peak to try out for the 2012 Olympics as a wrestler, something Canadian wrestling officials were all for because of the attention it would have brought the sport. But the odds were great against success trying it then, and would be even greater now.
There isn't any money in that direction, either. If he's looking for money, a title chase comeback would make for a great story and would reignite the Canadian marketplace. It would also put him on the same path as teammate and sometimes training partner Rory MacDonald.
MacDonald recently hinted of a GSP comeback, but gave the impression it would be more along the lines of what Anderson Silva is doing, which is taking name fights but not pursuing the title.
But that brings up the money situation. GSP is used to making millions, and to do that, he has to be in a fight that captures the public's attention in a big way, particularly if no championship is at stake. "See GSP fight again" as the draw could work once, and even then, as a pay-per-view, the opponent would need to have some name value.
For a guy used to getting a cut of pay-per-views that drew between 600,000 and one million buys every time out, to make the money he's used to making, it has to be with fights that would pull those kind of numbers.
There is the obvious answer here in Anderson Silva.
It's a fight that would work for both men. Silva is physically bigger, to the point they'd probably have to agree to a catch weight. But at this point, with Silva six years older, the age aspect is more in GSP's favor than it was a few years ago when they were the sport's two dominant fighters, and the fight could never be put together.
But after that, then what? There would be intrigue in MacDonald, but that's a fight that is likely never to happen, as GSP has said on multiple occasions that he would never fight a friend. Then again, as we've seen with Urijah Faber and T.J. Dillashaw, sometimes the concept of friend can change in this sport. There would be hype around the Nick Diaz when Diaz's eligible to come back after suspension. Diaz was his most successful pay-per-view opponent, but that's not exactly fresh match-up. There would be a story with Hendricks, but I'm not sure it would do the kind of numbers GSP is used to without a title at stake.
The GSP comeback decision and what goes into it really points out just how different MMA is from most sports. If a superstar individual sport player in tennis, golf, or even amateur wrestling, burns out, going back is a simple decision of whether you want it or not.
With MMA, like boxing, there are long-term risks of that decision, past just losing matches, that have to go into it. You can be hurt physically. Worse, you can be hurt mentally.
GSP himself said it himself years ago when asked about fighting someone who was his friend, that he'd never do it because you play a football game, but you don't play MMA, and it's not a game.
Unless it's financial, or the need to fulfill some sort of a goal, there is no reason for him to come back and fight. But if he decides there is still something he wants to prove, he is young enough, and talented enough, that this is far from many of the often sad comebacks for financial scraps of older fighters we've seen so much of in recent years.