We are a little over three months into the new ownership taking over the UFC.
Let’s be honest. This transition period has not gone as smoothly as the new management group would have hoped. The idea of a fighter union seem to be gaining momentum. There’s been a canceled event. High-level athletes like Rory MacDonald have left the organization as free agents. Fighter pay has been one of the hot topics within the fighting community. These are just a few things the new owners have had to deal with in such a brief time on the job.
We haven’t even mentioned Chael Sonnen signing with Bellator out of nowhere. Or José Aldo, the greatest featherweight in the company’s history, asking for his release. Needless to say, it could have gotten off to a better start for WME-IMG, the new ownership group.
However, all those issues might seem minor when compared to the news that came out earlier this week. Former UFC welterweight champion and arguably the greatest fighter in the history of the sport Georges St-Pierre went on The MMA Hour on Monday afternoon and claimed he is no longer under UFC contract. He considers himself to be a free agent. There are already comments from the UFC refuting GSP’s claim, but, if true, this could be a game changer in the sport in more ways than one.
The impact of a Bellator or World Series of Fighting getting its hands on a fighter like St-Pierre would drastically change the landscape of MMA for many years to come. Yet, the real change would come within the UFC itself.
If the UFC is playing hard ball and won’t give St-Pierre what he is asking for — it honestly doesn’t sound like a whole lot — then what will the company do with any other fighter on the roster? GSP is arguably the league’s biggest star ever. According to UFC President Dana White, the Canadian fighter is the UFC’s all-time pay-per-view king. His presence on the card leads to major revenue for the company. St-Pierre is also the biggest star in the very passionate market of Canada.
During his long and very successful UFC career, GSP was arguably unrivaled as a company man and champion. He was — and still is — a role model in every sense of the word. In a sport that is still craving acceptance from the general public and mainstream media, the importance of GSP in winning over the masses can’t be underplayed.
Not only is St-Pierre the quintessential poster boy for the company, but he took on any and all challengers without questioning the promotion in the slightest. He fought and beat all the top talent the UFC had to offer, and he did so by using his impeccable skills. He was always ready to go when the UFC called. He was one of the most active champions the UFC had ever had at the time. As the biggest star in the sport, GSP didn’t need to go on The Ultimate Fighter as a coach, but he did so anyway because of his loyalty to the organization.
This is why this entire situation of St-Pierre’s free agency is one almost every fighter on the roster should keep a close eye on. The UFC is playing hardball with its biggest pay-per-view draw is clearly not a good sign for any fighter in the league. How the company handles this fiasco heading forward will tell fighters a lot about where the company stands now and the direction it is heading with the new ownership at the top. Depending on the outcome, it might be time for everyone on the roster to take a long, hard look at what the new future might hold. Perhaps they even start exploring any and all other options, a fighter union included.