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Fightweets: Is Georges St-Pierre still an A-list drawing card?

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If it seems a little slow right now, don’t worry: We’re kicking off a stretch of 11 UFC events in as many weeks to finish the year, and that’s before we factor in Bellator and everything else that comes our way.

So, with another blitz of events on the way, let’s take stock of where things stand in another edition of Fightweets.

How big is GSP?

@kameron672: Does GSP still enough draw to make 217 big? It’s been 4 years and Conor and Ronda have taken the PPV draw by storm. 217 won’t break 500K imo

When Georges St-Pierre enters the Octagon at Madison Square Garden to face UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping on Nov. 4, he’ll be a couple weeks shy of four years removed from his previous fight.

For perspective, back then, Conor McGregor’s stature was such that Cole Miller was angling to fight him, and this seemed about right; Ronda Rousey had already fought Liz Carmouche at UFC 157 and was getting ready to rematch Miesha Tate, but there was still a large contingent insisting this whole women’s MMA thing wasn’t going to work; Anderson Silva was expected to get his middleweight title back when he rematched Chris Weidman; and Bisping was in the middle of a 3-4 run which ultimately included losses to Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort, Tim Kennedy and Luke Rockhold, certainly not looking like a future champion in the process.

Now, let’s go back from Nov. 2013 to Nov. 2009. Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz were headliners a week apart at UFC 105 and 106, respectively; Fedor Emelianenko continued his decade-long win streak with a knockout of Brett Rogers; and Lyoto Machida was UFC light heavyweight champion as part of the “Machida Era” which was supposed to continue for years on end.

The point here is MMA seems to advance in dog years. Four years is practically a generation.

Fans, whether they came into the sport during the Royce Gracie era or Liddell/Ortiz/Chuck Liddell or GSP/Matt Hughes/BJ Penn or the current era, seem to view the time they started watching as the best era, and have little regard for what came before it.

The most passionate fans these days seem to be the ones who came aboard during the McGregor/Rousey era, the peak of which happened after GSP fell off the radar. So asking whether St-Pierre has juice as a draw is very much a fair question.

When all’s said and done, while I don’t expect this fight to do McGregor-level business, I expect it to be the biggest UFC event of 2017, surpassing UFC 214.

For one thing, the recent media UFC 217 media junket in Canada made it clear GSP’s still a gigantic deal in Canada. The reaction to GSP at a Montreal Canadiens game was so distinctly Canadian, they may as well have also had a Mountie swigging maple syrup while riding a moose as “Tom Sawyer” by Rush blared over the loudspeakers. The Canadian market dropped off badly when St-Pierre left and it’s clear they’re coming back for this one.

Add in the fact that Bisping has a unique knack on fight week for talking his fights into something bigger than they should be on paper, and I think by the time the hard sell comes around for this one, the fans who are on the fence, who have been turned off for whatever reason or who haven’t tuned in for awhile, are going to come around and make this the one they buy after sitting out everything since UFC 214.

I would rather gouge my own eyes out than watch this fight ...

@jorgerabelo: Let’s say they do McGregor x Malignaggi. Even if it makes money, wouldn't it be HORRIBLE for UFC as an MMA organization?

Paulie Malignaggi, whose 15 minutes of MMA fame should have expired sometime around Aug. 26, popped back up in the news this week, conveniently planting the notion that talks are underway for a fight with McGregor.

Look, I can understand why Paulie is trying to angle to get the next meeting with McGregor. His career is basically over, and he sniffs a chance at a larger payday than any he’s ever gotten. Any fighter in his shoes would do the same if he saw the opportunity.

I can also understand why McGregor’s camp wouldn’t immediately shoot down the idea of a Malignaggi fight. The more options it appears McGregor has, the better the chance of getting whatever he actually wants next on his own terms.

But beyond that ... no. Just no. This is not McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather, part two. The appeal of MayMac was that the two biggest stars their respective combat sports, two guys who transcend their sports and capture the general public’s imagination, were going to collide for the first time.

There’s no such audience this time, at least not enough of one to make this option bigger than McGregor vs. Nate Diaz, or McGregor vs. Tony Ferguson.

Not only would this lack the uniqueness of the first crossover matchup, but Paulie Malignaggi is no Floyd Mayweather. A fair number of boxing fans, who had initially turned up their noses at MayMac, tuned in anyway, simply because it was one of the greatest boxers of all-time returning after a two-year absence. Malignaggi has no such appeal.

As for MMA fans, Mayweather played the heel role to perfection. Fans wanted to see Conor shut up the brash loudmouth, the guy who reverted to his “Pretty Boy” persona. There’s a difference between having the type of crowd disdain that makes you want to spend money to see a beatdown, and the type that makes you want to shut your TV off instead.

The controversy over the McGregor-Malignaggi sparring incident was a hot item for a day or two in the leadup to the Mayweather fight. It unquestionably pushed interest forward at a time when you wondered if the World Tour hadn’t done more bad than good. But by fight night, the act had already worn thin, and when Paulie kept pushing things in the day after the fight, it came off like someone dressing up in bell bottoms long after disco was dead.

There’s a certain type of crowd heat pro wrestling fans call “X-Pac heat,” named after a wrestler they just want to go away. In MMA, we might call that “Travis Browne heat.” Sounds like “Paulie heat” is an item to add to this list.

More Conor

@PitbullLove1970: If Nate beats Conor, Conor loses his luster. If he loses to Tony, the Nate fight will sell. Tony has to be next, no?

I don’t have much else to add about “Who will Conor fight next?” that I haven’t already said over the past couple weeks, but this is a solid point I hadn’t considered. McGregor-Diaz 3 makes money with or without a title belt, and McGregor-Ferguson is distinctly enhanced by the aspect of unifying the titles. At the end of the day, though, Diaz is still the biggest money option out there, so I suspect that’s the fight which will be made. But it’s a calculated gamble.

2020 GOATS

@briancoswald: Who will we say is the greatest male fighter and greatest female fighter come 2020?

Wait a minute, Bleacher Report MMA editor Brian Oswald, can’t you have one of your guys do a slideshow on this? (Sorry, couldn’t resist). But hey, I’ll take a swing at this.

If I had to pick my GOAT right now, I think I’m not quite ready to put Demetrious Johnson ahead of Anderson Silva. Yes, Johnson has broken Silva’s record for most UFC title defenses, but Silva went up and finished several light heavyweight during his run (As for Silva’s PED bust, sure, I’m using the fact it happened well after he lost the title as a bit of a convenient reason to shove it aside).

But that said, Johnson isn’t far off, and if he keeps doing his thing, yeah, by 2020, Mighty Mouse could very well be the undisputed GOAT. The only potential mitigating factors I see are whether Jon Jones gets a short-ish USADA suspension and somehow redeems himself; or if McGregor focuses on a long run, but he doesn’t seem as motivated by GOAT status as he does the green.

As for the women’s side of the sport? All due respect to Cris Cyborg, they just don’t make them like Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Champy’s 14-0. Cyborg was 12-1 with an NC at this point, and fighting the likes of Fiona Muxlow and Charmaine Tweet while JJ is taking on killers. Jedrzejczyk is already closer to women’s GOAT than she gets credit for, and come 2020, I suspect there will be little doubt.

Uninspiring Usman opponents

@shmcgi: Why aren't they giving Kamaru Usman better fights? I feel like he's ready for a highly ranked opponent?

Yeah, that’s a question more than a few people asked when news broke Friday that the blazing-hot welterweight will meet the talented but unheralded Emil Meek at UFC 219.

But it’s not as simple as it sounds on paper. You can’t force people to accept fights they don’t want. Usman, with seven straight wins and some nasty finishes along the way, is plainly going to be a welterweight title contender. The 170-pound division, underneath champion Tyron Woodley, happens to have a bunch of guys who have long since made their name, who are getting just old enough that one bad loss could start the downward spiral, and they’re going to postpone that as long as they can. Why take a fight with a dangerous, lesser-known guy and help that guy potentially take your spot? Both Robbie Lawler (who is an Usman training partner anyway) and Rafael dos Anjos are better off fighting each other than Usman. Usman called out Demian Maia and Maia strangely decided Colby Covington was the fight for him. Carlos Condit was very smart not to take up Usman after being out of action for more than a year.

Some people get the Sage and Paige treatment, some have to take the long road. Usman, fair or not, is one of the latter.