By Matt Saccaro
UFC 167 left the welterweight division in a violent tailspin from which it might not recover.
Heading into the PPV, the UFC trotted out the tired “If you were to build a fighter that could beat [insert champion], it’d be [insert challenger]” marketing formula. True, challenger Johny Hendricks‘ great wrestling and powerful hands were a great stylistic matchup against champion Georges St.Pierre‘s takedowns and iffy chin. But the MMA world said the same things about Josh Koscheck. His wrestling was too good for GSP to take him down, and since GSP couldn’t take him down, Koscheck would make use of his advantage in striking power. This, of course, didn’t happen. GSP jabbed Koscheck’s orbital bone into splinters for 25 minutes.
So why should we have expected anything else from GSP-Hendricks? GSP was the dominant champ. Hendricks was the Guy to Beat GSP™ of the month; a challenger who was, in reality, no challenge at all.
Do you think it was a coincidence that Rory MacDonald and GSP were fighting on the same card? The UFC was likely hoping for both MacDonald and St.Pierre to be victorious. Dana White could fulfill his sick fantasy of watching teammates fight, and the UFC would have a highly bankable future title fight: Georges St.Pierre vs. Rory MacDonald, the fight that sells itself. The biggest star (according to Dana) in the UFC’s history would fight his protegee over the holy grail of MMA: A UFC title. Dana White insisted before UFC 167 that the fight was going to happen.
But you know the saying about the best laid schemes of mice and men (and fight promoters)…
Robbie Lawler, a resurgent holdover from the earlier days of the sport, consistently beat Rory MacDonald to the punch and even floored the Canadian a few times en route to a decision victory. The next big thing’s hype train was officially derailed. Lawler’s nickname might as well have been “Kratos” since he battered “Ares.”
The main event didn’t go the UFC’s way either.
Georges St.Pierre did win, but in utterly undecisive fashion. GSP won via split decision, but even Dana White himself refused to believe that he won the fight. Hendricks neutralized GSP for most of the fight. Everything the various sales pitches said about Hendricks having the skills to match and even exceed GSP were true.
Yet we’re not getting the (highly profitable) rematch that follows many controversial title fight decisions. GSP announced a vague, pseudo-retirement after he fought, throwing away the welterweight division’s paddles as well as sending it up the creek.
St.Pierre was supposed to beat his “biggest threat ever” and look like an unstoppable superman who could only be bested by Rory MacDonald, a young gun and the one man who knew him best—a storyline so formulaic that it could’ve spewed from the power book of the laziest Hollywood hack.
If Dana White can’t force GSP into an immediate rematch (that happens within the foreseeable future), then the welterweight division will be rudderless. Should they book Hendricks vs. Lawler? Maybe Woodley vs. Lawler? What about Lawler vs. the winner of Brown vs. Condit? And does the UFC strip GSP of the belt? Or do they just create an interim title so they can market a “champion vs. champion” fight when he comes back?
But even if the UFC makes any of these matches, the division is now starless in the wake of GSP’s departure. The company’s biggest draw is gone, fleeing the sport after “winning” in name only. And judging from his skiddish, emotionally exhausted demeanor at the post-fight presser, he might not be coming back for a long time.
Considering the UFC’s suspect ability to create new stars, the future of the welterweight division as one of the UFC’s main attractions seems doubtful. The casual fans are going to leave with GSP, and the current welterweight cast of characters might not be able to get them back.