The rumors of Georges St. Pierre’s return to the world of mixed martial arts just won’t stop.
For two tiresome years since he walked away from the UFC following a narrow, somewhat controversial victory over Johny Hendricks, the rumors have stayed consistent.
Will GSP return? Arguably the greatest ambassador the sport has ever seen, St. Pierre walked away for a variety of reasons, including concerns about his long-term physical and mental health, as well as being unhappy with the drug testing system in place. With that issue seemingly on its way to being settled through a more advanced, UFC-produced drug testing procedure, is the door open for his return?
While St. Pierre avoided the rumors for a while, he’s started to feed them himself. In an interview with a Quebec TV station, St. Pierre was quoted as saying, a�?I’m starting to get the feeling, more and more, to come back.a�?
When I attended a GSP question-and-answer session in Montreal in April, he towered over Rory MacDonald, who fights in the same weight class. St. Pierre clearly has not lost a desire to stay healthy and in shape.
And while the sport could use a personable pay-per-view star like St. Pierre, you can’t help but wonder what possible motivation there is to continue fighting. At 34, and arguably the greatest champion the UFC has ever seen, St. Pierre cannot walk down the streets of Montreal without getting mobbed. I’ve seen people scream and cry in his presence. His legacy is intact.
Of course, St. Pierre is not the first fighter to ponder a return from retirement, and certainly won’t be the last. Just recently, rumors were rampant that famed Mexican-American boxer Oscar De La Hoya was considering a return to the ring at 42 years of age, seven years removed from a savage beating at the hands of Manny Pacquiao.
And it’s not a new problem with combat sports. Sugar Ray Robinson, the greatest boxer to ever lace them up, held on a decade longer than he should have to pay his bills. Joe Louis, a brilliant heavyweight from the 1940s and 1950s, fell victim to the same circumstances.
In MMA, we see plenty of fighters who find promotions large and small to fight for well beyond their prime. Let’s not forget that it was five short months ago that Bellator MMA headlined one of their most celebrated cards in history with a 41-year-old Kimbo Slice taking on 51-year-old Ken Shamrock.
We’ve seen Bellator take a similar approach with Tito Ortiz, who was cut from the UFC when most considered him to be at the end of his proverbial rope.
For the most part, the issue lies more within smaller promotions. The UFC has been somewhat responsible in doing their part to ensure fighters retire when the time seems right, like they’ve done in the past with Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes, and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
Even if it’s just for nostalgia’s sake, people will pay to watch washed-up fighters fight. James Toney and Roy Jones Jr., both 15 years removed from their primes, still find places to fight around the world. Bob Sapp, Dan Severn and other well-known figures of yesteryear also continue to fight on regional scenes across the world. It was recently announced that Toney will be fighting in Ottawa next month, and I must admit that it’s tempting to make the trip. Why can’t these fighters let go?
For some, it’s about money. If your only skill is fighting, that’s how you’ll make your money. If you’ve saved well, maybe you can go back to school. If you’re a star, go do commercials. But for others, it’s all they know. Toney sure isn’t going to be doing commercials in this lifetime.
If all you’ve done is fight since you were a young boy, you have no other skills. You only know a lifestyle of going to the gym everyday and preparing for a major fight in front of thousands of fans. Just like a war-grizzled veteran re-entering civilian life after coming home from the army, it can be difficult to re-adjust to average life.
Fighters get addicted to the attention. It feels special to have media asking for your time, for companies to pour sponsorship money, for people to crave you. It’s hard to admit to yourself that you’ve lost a step or weren’t the star you once were.
There’s no solution to this issue. If people will pay to watch them fight, promoters will keep promoting them. Should we have fighter pensions? That’s a tough sell to a large audience. Should there be a union? It’s a good theory, but who’s paying for it?
It makes things difficult as a fan. When I see a brilliant fighter who can barely form words anymore, it makes me question why I watch this sport. I have to convince myself that no one forces these guys to fight and that they are choosing to do this. The promotions, commissions and fans need to do their part, absolutely, but the fighters also need to be held responsible for their actions.