UFC needs Georges St. Pierre, not vice versa

The absurd pressure on Georges St. Pierre to come back to the Octagon tout suite and defend his title against Johny Hendricks one more time sounds like the act of a desperate Ultimate Fighting Championship.

The overwhelming consensus is that GSP should have lost Saturday’s fight to Hendricks by every measure except two of the three judges’ scorecards. (I confess I had to skip this one, but every reporter and pundit I trust has agreed with the mob: 48-47 Hendricks.) GSP then babbled his way through postfight interviews, hinting at major trouble outside the cage.

Fight fans had every right to be saddened at the sight. St. Pierre has been one of the fight game’s classiest champions for years, combining rare athleticism with sophistication and charm. I covered a couple of his fights, and the crowd’s “G-S-P!” chants still ring in my ears. Few fighters have had such respect.

After his dubious title defense Saturday, that respect was lost. Dana White ranted that GSP “owes” everyone a rematch.

I’m sorry Luke Thomas’ #GSPOwesMe hashtag didn’t take off.

(Luke also has an eloquent summary of the cruel demands placed on GSP.)

And I’m sorrier to say the situation has deteriorated from there. TMZ quickly got into the fray with some reports on what may be causing GSP’s problems. A few others did as well.

I’m not sorry to see Johny Hendricks isn’t holding the belt. By all accounts, he fought a stupid fifth round. Dana White reminds fighters not to leave it in the hands of the judges. Hendricks did, and he left a bad final impression. A quick check of the numbers shows he should never have been so cocky.

Now his manager, Ted Ehrhardt, is making it worse. “No respectful champion would want to go out on those terms,” he says. Then this:

I would hope GSP would come back and do the right thing. If he’s going through stuff, of course you feel bad for a guy for that. But he’s made a lot of money in this sport. Like Dana said, he owes it to the sport, not just Johny and the UFC.

Remember when the UFC wasn’t riddled with former wrestlers who have no concept of the values of martial arts? I do, but those memories are starting to fade.

And that’s the bigger problem.

The UFC has already had a big changing of the guard. The pioneers — Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, the Shamrocks — are mostly gone. Even Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar, who ushered the UFC into its peak years with their frenetic finale of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, have moved on.

Six months ago, the UFC had three champions who were clearly among the all-time greats — St. Pierre, Anderson Silva and Jon Jones. Silva recklessly threw away his belt against Chris Weidman in July. Jones squeaked his way past Alexander Gustafsson in September, though that fight was an instant classic. Now St. Pierre is down, possibly out.

And if not for two judges’ iconoclastic view of the first round Saturday, one of the most popular and likable champions of the sport would have been replaced with someone who sounds like Matt Hughes without the jokes.

Hendricks can evolve, of course. It won’t be the end of the world if he grows up and eventually takes the belt without the attitude. But the issue here for the UFC is the prospect of GSP, one of the last true stars of the sport, to walk away and leave a messy void. Unfortunately for the UFC, GSP has every right to do that. His body has failed him in recent years, and now things look bad in other aspects of his life — Joe Rogan has become the voice of reason in suggesting that he should simply move on. No one has the right to demand that he go into the cage and suffer any more. The fact that people think otherwise is a sad commentary on the state of the sport.

There are no shortcuts in MMA training. And there are no shortcuts in MMA promotion. If the UFC has to go through a rebuilding period without its major stars, so be it. Those stars don’t need to “step up.” It’s time for other people to do it. And those people can start by acting like they’re worthy of the fame, fortune and respect that come along with crowning a champion and being one.

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