The Rear Naked Column 11.20.13: A Thankless Sport
Posted by Samer Kadi on 11.20.2013
Georges St-Pierre faced strong backlash from UFC president Dana White when he revealed after UFC 167 that he wanted to take some time off for personal issues! Was White justified? 411's Samer Kadi takes a look!
"…the winner, and STILL…"
…and with that, the MMA world braced itself for that ever so familiar uproar. Marred by controversy, 25 minutes of beautiful violence were sure to become an afterthought, as MMA judging reared its ugly head once more. Things however, were about to take a big twist.
After Georges St-Pierre had finished struggling through words and received his deserved praise by Joe Rogan in the post-fight interview, the champion chose to hang on to the microphone. Channeling his inner Rousimar Palhares, Rogan was reluctant to release the grip. St-Pierre hesitated, let go, and seemed to turn away for a brief moment, before Rogan asked him to state his piece.
"Listen everyone, there was a lot of talk about what was going to happen …" St-Pierre said, "I have a bunch of stuff in my life happening, I need to hang up my gloves for a little bit." Rogan questioned whether St-Pierre was officially retiring, to which the Canadian said that he needed to "go away for a little bit" due to personal issues. One last attempt to dig out a definitive answer on whether this would be the end saw a non-committal St-Pierre reiterate his desire for an extended leave.
True to form, Dana White was livid. Few escaped his wrath, as the post-fight press conference saw him go on a gigantic rant (even by his standards), ripping the Nevada State Athletic Commission for the first time, demanding the governor to step in (which ludicrously prompted a literal round of applause by the ever professional MMA media), blasting Georges St-Pierre for his desire to take time off, and even directly reprimanding Johny Hendricks for "leaving it in the hands of the judges." White of course, conveniently ignored that the two judges who scored it in favor of St-Pierre – Tony Weeks and Sal D'Amato – are regularly chosen by the UFC to serve as judges for overseas events.
Of course, one could simply chalk up White's meltdown to being understandably frustrated with the sad state of MMA judging. However, far more dubious decisions – some of which in title fights – have failed to draw this sort of reaction from the UFC president. In reality, St-Pierre's "announcement" triggered Dana White's panic button, whose track record of dealing with tricky situations on the spot is hardly stellar. Had the champion simply committed to a rematch, White would have likely spent a little less time in rage-mode, and a little more time counting the money he was going to make.
Instead, St-Pierre became the latest high profile UFC fighter to be thrown under the bus by Dana White when he feels he's losing leverage. Like Jon Jones and Anderson Silva before him, St-Pierre was now the center of White's criticism, with the UFC president feeling GSP "owed" the UFC, the fans, and Johny Hendricks a rematch. Comically, White stated that he only had the champion winning one round (round 3), somehow managing to produce a worse scorecard than two of the judges.
Despite White informing the media that St-Pierre had been "rushed to the hospital," the Canadian later joined the press-conference, presumably forcing the ambulance driver to take a detour. White's tone changed, and his attitude became less confrontational. Naturally, none of the questions directed at St-Pierre dared recanting White's harsh words, as the MMA media has been well-conditioned to refrain from challenging Zuffa authority. That however, did not stop White from vetoing any question that aimed to get to the bottom of St-Pierre's issues after the UFC golden boy had noted that he was going through personal problems.
A more levelheaded approach would have simply granted St-Pierre some time to recover and get his head straight before ripping his decision apart. White could have then assured the media that he would be later meeting with the champion to figure things out. Instead, he predictably opted for a premature "take no prisoners" approach in which he came off as insensitively greedy.
"I can't sleep at night now. I'm going crazy. I have issues. I need to relax. I need to get out for a little while. I don't know what I'm going to do" St-Pierre said. He added that he occasionally experiences blurry vision in his right eye.
For most, hearing any human being -- let alone a professional fighter -- mention the above, is quite worrying. For Dana White, a five-minute conversation with the champion was enough to determine that St-Pierre was in fact fine, and that his issues were "not as big as he thinks they are." White added that he feels confident "all is on track" for a rematch -- one that St-Pierre owed the UFC, of course.
For nearly 10 years, St-Pierre has been the model employee for Zuffa. With a rare mixture of talent, professionalism, dedication, and media friendliness, Georges St-Pierre became the perfect ambassador for the sport. Beyond his in-cage accomplishments, he almost single handedly turned Canada into arguably the UFC's most lucrative market. On PPV, he was the company's top draw, and made them more money than any fighter in history. At a time in which the UFC is going through a rough phase on PPV, St-Pierre continues to deliver monster numbers. In other words, Georges St-Pierre owes the UFC absolutely nothing. Like any mutually beneficial relationship, both parties played their part. The difference of course, is that St-Pierre is the one putting his health on the line every time he steps inside the cage.
That, unfortunately, seems to be lost on most. Predictably, St-Pierre's issues became the center of wild speculation, with reports of an ill parent (which have since been refuted) and unwanted pregnancy recently circulating. The truth however, is that whatever personal issues St-Pierre is going through, his problems are his own. It is not anyone's place to turn into an armchair psychiatrist and wonder whether an alleged pregnancy warrants a two-year sabbatical.
What should be of concern is the apparent impact of St-Pierre's issues, rather than their nature. It matters little whether the 32 year old is upset over a romance gone wrong, a serious illness to a family member, or a pet hamster dying, if said problem is troubling him enough to where he is contemplating retirement and seeking an extended leave (and if comments like "I'm going crazy" and "I'm not sleeping at night" are any indication, it is), then he has no business being anywhere near a cage for the foreseeable future.
The reaction to this rather eventful weekend perfectly highlights the shortsightedness, and at times, outright selfishness of the MMA world. Most were preoccupied with a potential rematch, what becomes of the title picture, and whether St-Pierre would "hold the belt hostage" (even though the title seemed to be the last thing on his mind). Others were more concerned with whether St-Pierre's issues are severe enough to warrant a sabbatical, and whether he was justified in his decision. Lost in the hoopla are the clear signs of burnout after years of intense training, obsessive tape-study, strict dieting, media obligations, and the pressure of performing at the highest level year after year while trying to meet some impossibly soaring expectations.
Equally ignored were the years of blows to the head, injuries, and wear and tear. The fact is, a man who gets punched, kicked and kneed in the head for a living hardly needs to justify his desire to take a break. The reasons should be fairly self-explanatory. After all, this is the same man who, months ago on Joe Rogan's podcast, genuinely theorized that he is being abducted by Aliens due to having no recollection of long stretches of his day (somehow, this triggered amusement, rather than red flags).
We are trained to believe that MMA is an infinitely safer sport than boxing, while conveniently ignoring that "safe" is a highly relative term in this particular context. In quite an alarming statistic, Georges St-Pierre has absorbed more shots in his last 3 fights than he did in his entire career up until that point. The knee surgery has definitely hampered his mobility, with his previously unstoppable wrestling having lost quite a bit of its dynamism, kicks becoming increasingly absent from his striking arsenal, and his footwork regressing considerably.
Perhaps St-Pierre realizes this, and finds it gradually more difficult to perform at the level he's accustomed to, especially in the face of the personal issues he's alluded to. Perhaps St-Pierre is smart enough to walk away while he's still on top, even in the face of unreasonable backlash, rather than needlessly extending his career only for fans to hypocritically lament his "staying for too long" once he starts staring at the ceiling one too many times. And perhaps St-Pierre is one of the few to realize that risking any long term injuries that would ruin his life is worth avoiding in a sport in which he's accomplished everything, even in the face of an angry boss, a challenger who feels hard done-by, and blood-thirsty fans with a misplaced sense of entitlement.