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Fightweets: Will Michael Bisping vs. Georges St-Pierre sell?

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The Countdown to MayMac is on. Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor is just two weeks away.

And, with McGregor’s media day in Las Vegas on Friday a solid hint that MayMac is about to swallow the combat sports world whole, let’s take a look mostly at what else is going on, with the biggest item on the agenda being what appears to be the shaping up as the UFC’s next megacard.

How will Bisping vs. GSP sell?

@jakedanx: How is Dana going to sell the GSP fight when we all know what he thinks about Woodley?

When UFC president Dana White is mad at one of his champions, he has a peculiar habit of accentuating their weaknesses while glossing over their strengths, which doesn’t exactly help your own cause when you’re trying to promote these fighters and make the company money. Just ask Demetrious Johnson, or Amanda Nunes how that sort of thing works out.

Most recently, of course, White went off on UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, although granted, in this case, he was basically echoing what the entire crowd at Anaheim’s Honda Center thought of Woodley’s title defense against Demian Maia.

Still, I think I get where you’re coming from. If White is asking why fans would want to tune in to Woodley’s future fights when he competes in a safe, defense-first style, how can White then turn around and sell Georges St-Pierre, who not only pioneered the style, but went the distance in each of his past seven fights before going on hiatus?

Well, first off, White went from saying Jones will never headline another card again less than a year ago to calling him the GOAT after UFC 214. When Woodley defends his title next, he’ll be able to turn it on all over again, as if his post-UFC 214 words never happened.

Beyond that, don’t forget St-Pierre has a status with the fans that Woodley has yet to attain. GSP is a beloved figure in MMA history. The entire nation of Canada blew up as a giant MMA hotspot during his rise, peaking with the 55,724 who showed up at Rogers Centre in Toronto for his UFC 129 title defense against Jake Shields (and pretty much cratered once he want on hiatus).

GSP embodied the virtues everyone claimed to love about the martial arts ethos in MMA which was more of a selling point in the days before it devolved into the culture that his taken hold today, in which trash talk and relentless complaining is often given highest priority. The love for St-Pierre overshadowed the fact that, once the cage door shut, toward the end, there was minimal suspense in most of his fights.

Right now, we’re hearing from many quarters that there’s a fatigue for the Bisping-GSP fight, which is scheduled for UFC 217 at Madison Square Garden. But we also heard that for several months going into UFC 214 with Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier, and you saw how that turned out, with a buy rate that nearly doubled predictions going in.

So, you’re talking the return of one of the most popular fighters in UFC history, one who hasn’t lost a fight since 2007, returning from a four-year absence. You’re adding another attempt at joining the short list of fighters who have held title in two weight classes, after Conor McGregor joined the club a year prior in the same venue. You’re talking what figures to be a loaded card in the New York market. And that’s before you add Bisping, whose gift of gab in the runup to fights has an uncanny knack for taking “meh” fights on paper and turning them into happenings.

Add all that up, and you have the makings of a monster fight. Which was why the bout was floated in the first place, and why they stuck with it even when the public seemed to sour on it. When all’s said and done, particularly if the company loads up UFC 217 the way all indications are they will, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see GSP’s return surpass a million buys.

Nurmy vs. Fergy re-do?

@sigep422wesg: Is @TonyFergusonXT & @TeamKhabib going to actually fight in NYC?? Just read Khabib turned down the fight... whats to make of this??

I mean, the first thing I think is “oh God, no,” because we’ve been teased with this fight so many times and it’s never come through. And never did it fail more spectacularly than when Khabib Nurmagomedov had to shut down his weight cut the day before UFC 209 and pull out, leaving Tony Ferguson stranded.

But then you take a deep breath and realize 1. McGregor isn’t going to be returning to the UFC in the short-to-medium-term future; 2. Both of these guys need to fight and get paid sooner rather than later, as neither has fought since last November; 3. Nate Diaz is pretty plainly holding out for Conor; If they are going to go ahead and create that interim lightweight belt, 4. These guys are the two most obvious candidates; 5. Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje are doing The Ultimate Fighter, which sidelines guys who you could potentially also suggest for a spot in an interim title fight; 6. You remember that, oh yeah, on paper Nurmy vs. Fergy is awesome; and 7. Hey, Cormier-Jones 2 finally came off, so maybe, similarly, it’s about time this one will actually come together; and yeah, all of a sudden, despite your initial reservations, this seems like a pretty solid fight to make, doesn’t it?

Women’s 145 TUF?

@mmajapjunkie: Is it too late for UFC to do a women's 145 TUF? How are they going to build up this division?

Oof. The idea of an all-women’s featherweight season of The Ultimate Fighter just sent chills down my spine. You do understand that when Megan Anderson had to drop out of the UFC 214 title fight with Cris Cyborg, they had to call up Tonya Evinger from bantamweight just to have a warm body on the other side of the cage from Cyborg, right?

They have used/are using TUF to stock the women’s 115 and 125 divisions and introduce the fighters to a wider audience, but the featherweight division simply isn’t deep enough at the moment to justify a full TUF crew, and doesn’t seem like it will any time soon.

Now, if you wanted to take a pair of women’s featherweight prospects and put them on the Dana White Tuesday Night Contenders Series, I’m sure you could at least find two fighters ready for the majors. In fact, I don’t think anyone would complain at this point if you junked TUF entirely and replaced it with two seasons per year of DWTNCS instead. But that’s another topic for another time.

Weight classes

@jasonthehart: Tried this before & maybe I've missed it since, but why are weight classes so different between MMA & boxing. Appropriate timing to answer.

Tackling this might make people who have been around forever roll their eyes. But not everyone has been following MMA from the get-go, and you’re right, this is a solid time to revisit this topic, with the changes in weight classes recommended by the ABC.

The early UFC, of course, started out with no weight classes. In 1997, it divided things between heavyweight (200 pounds or more) and “middleweight” (199 and under). The latter eventually became set at 205 pounds, allegedly because that was an easier weight for Tito Ortiz to make. A class then called lightweight -- now the welterweight belt held by Woodley -- was created in 1998, with Pat Miletich the first champ.

Eventually, in order to help save the dying UFC and get mixed martial arts sanctioned, which was the only potential path forward, the Unified Rules were created, and both the weight class system and the 10-point must scoring were put in place in order to make the sport palatable to the commissions.

Part of the UFC’s rise in the previous decade was the appeal of championship simplicity. For several years during the first peak, there were five UFC champions: Heavyweight, light heavyweight, middleweight, welterweight, and lightweight (which sat vacant from 2002-05). Bantamweight and featherweight weren’t added until the WEC was absorbed at the end of 2010 and flyweight added in 2012.

I’m ambivalent about the UFC adding the new weight classes. I completely understand there are sound health reasons why they should be implemented. I also shudder at the notion of the UFC adding, say, a 225-pound cruiserweight class, which would be about as deep as women’s featherweight. Having 11 UFC champions (eight men, three women) has already diluted the drawing power of a title fight in and of itself, adding more will simply continue the trend.

Then and now, there wasn’t enough talent at each potential class to merit an exact replica of boxing’s system, which has 18 weight divisions (add further to the confusion, various sanctioning bodies call the weight class by different names at several weights). So that’s why weight classes don’t precisely mimic boxing, and, quite frankly, it would be a surprise if it happened in our lifetime.

Conor burning bridges?

@chjobin: Is Conor McG burning himself in the fighting community? He's got money, but what about after that? He's burning bridges everywhere...

I mean, we’re only a few years removed from McGregor pissing off the lower ranks of the featherweight division, with unranked guys swearing they were going to shut him up and we’d never hear from him again. How’d that work out?

The more bridges McGregor seemed to burn, the bigger he got, and the more money everyone made (including the objects of his ridicule: Chad Mendes might have had a bad night against McGregor, but he also got the payday that justified the years he put into this sport in the process).

As I type this, I’m watching McGregor do an open workout in a ring which has “McGregor Promotions” plastered all over the mat. This, as he gets set to make more money in one night than any mixed martial artist in history. I would say McGregor’s learning the precise opposite lesson about burning bridges than conventional wisdom would seem to hold.

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