UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre stirred up some waves recently when he mentioned that he is considering trying to make the Canadian Olympic wrestling team.
The UFC champ routinely trains with the Canadian national team and has been praised by the team's management and coaches for his skill and dedication to their sport.
St-Pierre is also often praised for having the best take downs in MMA, which while impressive, doesn't necessarily carry over to freestyle wrestling.
St-Pierre has done all he can to defuse this situation, stating that he is firmly focused on his upcoming March 27 fight against Dan Hardy but the questions persist.
First and foremost it needs to be clarified that St-Pierre would not simply be a walk-on for Team Canada. He would need to qualify first for the national team, a process that would take upwards of 18 months of dedicated training before the Olympics even begin.
Even if St-Pierre decides to undertake this challenge there are no guarantees that he'll compete in the Olympics. He could end up failing to make the team or attend the games as an alternate despite his hard work.
There are also questions of which weight class he would compete at. Freestyle wrestling has two weight classes that St-Pierre could conceivably compete in, 74kg/163lbs or 84kg/185lbs. St-Pierre has admitted to weighing somewhere in the neighborhood of 194 pounds recently, so a cut to 163 might be nearly impossible without a severe change in his exercise regimen.
UFC President Dana White seems to be supportive of the idea, saying that he and the champ would need to sit down and discuss it.
The question at hand for MMA fans is naturally if St-Pierre would step down as the welterweight champ? Here things get dicey but I say he shouldn't.
While it seems that the UFC's unofficial policy is to allow for a year's respite between title defenses, this opportunity falls outside of the normal parameters. St-Pierre has earned the right to keep his belt while he takes an extended leave as he will have cleaned out the division.
Without disrespecting Dan Hardy I think we can safely say that the UFC has reached the bottom of the barrel in terms of finding challengers for their champ. In years past a fighter had to string together five or six victories before the title shot discussion began. Not so much today.
If St-Pierre does indeed best Hardy in March he'd likely have enough time (barring injury) to defend his title one more time before he chases his Olympic aspirations. If the welterweight standings were to stay largely the same until then there are three opponents who could potentially lay claim to that fight. Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch, and Paul Daley.
While Jon Fitch has won three fights since his loss to St-Pierre, no one is in a hurry to see a rematch. Koscheck on the other hand has looked impressive since his loss to Paulo Thiago. Daley enters the conversation because the knockout artist has put down two contenders and will likely fight either Fitch or Koscheck around the time that GSP defends his title against Hardy.
Unless Fitch finishes his next fight in spectacular fashion I think it's safe to assume he won't be getting another title shot yet. If Koscheck fights Daley, one fighter will be eliminated and we have ourselves a challenger.
If GSP wins both of these fights he will have gone on an eight-fight win streak and will have truly cleaned out the division. He should be allowed to take an extended leave and an interim title can be created. If we're looking for a precedent for this we need look no further than Randy Couture and his "retirement" from the UFC.*
During Couture's retirement and ensuing court battle he retained his title for over a year, eventually returning to defend it against Brock Lesnar.* While the UFC had ulterior motives for keeping Couture on as their champion, keeping a champion as highly regarded as St-Pierre would show loyalty to their number one welterweight.
(Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow)