Just 13 weeks after walking away from his title, Georges St-Pierre is not forgotten. But he is devalued.
Once ranked among mixed martial arts’ pound-for-pound elite, the former UFC welterweight champion from Montreal is finding past glory doesn’t last long.
Fighters have short memories. So do fans.
“I can’t think backwards,” said top 170-pound contender Johny (Bigg Rigg) Hendricks. “I’ve got to think forwards.
“Look at our division. It’s a pretty stacked division. Very talented people in the top 10 and now that Georges has walked away, it’s time for one of us to make our own mark.”
Hendricks, who lost a controversial split decision to St-Pierre at UFC 167 last November, gets another shot at the welterweight crown March 15 when he faces veteran (Ruthless) Robbie Lawler at UFC 171 to decide St-Pierre’s successor.
The 32-year-old St-Pierre vacated the title in December, saying he needed time away from the sport. St-Pierre (25-2) left a 12-fight winning streak and a string of UFC records behind him.
But his last seven victories came by decision. And in a sport that celebrates sudden, violent finishes to fights, going the distance is not a plus.
While some saw only St-Pierre’s ability to blunt his opponent’s strengths, others criticized the champion for not taking risks.
Facing St-Pierre was death by a thousand cuts. Fighters like Hendricks and Lawler offer one-blow blunt force trauma.
In MMA, you’re only as good as your last fight. And St-Pierre’s last offering was gritty but unconvincing.
Hendricks (15-2) told a media conference call Thursday that he sees Lawler (22-9 with one no contest) as a more dangerous opponent that St-Pierre.
“Georges, you knew that he was going to throw a jab, a high kick, a low kick and try to take you down,” he said. “That’s his game plan.
“Robbie, if you make a mistake, we’ve seen it time and time again that he can knock you out. So you really have to make sure that you stay focused, cross all your Ts and dot all your I’s, and make sure that you stay solid. And that’s a lot more dangerous fight.
“With guys who can knock people out, you’re one punch away from losing. But those are also the more fun fights for me. You don’t know what’s going to happen. All you know is you’re going to step into an Octagon and hopefully you get your hand raised.”
Carlos (The Natural Born Killer) Condit, one of the more thoughtful fighters in the UFC, said GSP leaves “some big shoes to fill in one respect.”
Then Condit (29-7), who lost a decision to St-Pierre at UFC 154, agreed with Hendricks on GSP.
“I think people have wanted to see a little bit of excitement,” said Condit, who dragged St-Pierre into rare deep waters with a head kick when they fought. “And I think Georges, from time to time, later in his career he had some spurts of excitement. But for the most part people kind of knew what was going to happen.
“And now the division has been infused with some energy. There’s a lot of buzz — you know, what’s going to happen? There’s a lot of really really tough guys bottlenecking at the top spots of welterweight.
“I think it’s an exciting time. We all get the opportunity to get in there and try to put that welterweight belt around our waists. It’s just a perfect storm. The fans ultimately are going to be the ones that benefit with some really really exciting fights.”
The 30-year-old Hendricks is the top-ranked contender in the 170-pound division while Lawler is No. 3.
No. 2 Condit, who lost to Hendricks at UFC 158, takes on No. 11 Tyron Woodley (12-2) in the UFC 171 co-main event. Condit says he has been told a win will earn him another title shot.
Hendricks, a former two-time NCAA champion wrestler, is currently No. 10 in the UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings. Lawler does not figure in the top 15.
St-Pierre seems to deserve better.
The decision over Hendricks was a record 19th win in the UFC for the Canadian, moving him past former welterweight champion Matt Hughes at 18.
The Hendricks victory also moved GSP past former middleweight champion Anderson Silva for most wins in UFC title bouts at 12.
St-Pierre holds the record for career fight time in the UFC at five hours 28 minutes 12 seconds.
And he owns the UFC mark for most championship rounds fought (52). UFC 167 was St-Pierre’s 14th championship fight, one behind Randy (The Natural) Couture.
St-Pierre also leads the UFC records in total strikes landed (2,523), significant strikes landed (1,254), takedowns landed (87) and takedown accuracy rate (73.7 per cent), according to FightMetric.