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.

UFC 126 on three days’ reflection

What we learned and what happens next after UFC 126:

– Former WEC fighters looked great. Chad Mendes and Demetrious Johnson plowed through Japanese stars Michihiro Omigawa and Kid Yamamoto. Donald Cerrone’s maturation process continued in a clinical but thrilling win against Paul Kelly. Miguel Torres left Antonio Banuelos punching at shadows.

– Jon Jones hasn’t been fast-tracked quite as quickly as Brock Lesnar, but his rise is similar. Even his one loss, he looked dominant. Ryan Bader was supposed to challenge him with superior wrestling and dangerous stand-up, but it never materialized. He has cleared out the second tier of light heavyweight challengers, and once the new rankings come out, he’ll be the highest-ranked 205er who has not yet held the 205 belt. Given that, his title shot against Shogun Rua seems early, but not too early.

– Worst corner chatter of the card: Rich Franklin’s corner saying he won round 2. He didn’t, and he didn’t seem to realize he needed to finish Forrest Griffin to beat him. Easier said than done, of course. Hard to tell where Franklin goes next, but he’s still a viable veteran who could give an up-and-comer a good test.

– The 205 title picture is as murky as ever. If Jones wins, Rashad Evans says he’ll change weight classes — perhaps back up to heavyweight, where he won The Ultimate Fighter — rather than face his friend and teammate. Maybe Griffin gets the next shot to reclaim his title?

– Let’s quit pretending Anderson Silva is going to wipe people out from the first second. Unless someone steps forward and presses him, as Forrest Griffin did, Silva is going to go through a feeling-out process with everyone he faces. Most fighters are going to be cautious against him, so you’re going to see a minute or two of circling before something happens. But when he catches you, good night.

– The first karate technique I ever saw was demonstrated by a middle-school classmate. He leaped with his left knee up as if to kick with his left, then slammed his right foot upward. (Fortunately, he was demonstrating on air, not a classmate.) I’ve often wondered if that would work in MMA. Silva’s knockout of Vitor Belfort makes me think it might. It helps, of course, to be as quick as Silva.

– So now the biggest potential fight in UFC history — Silva vs. Georges St. Pierre — hinges on whether GSP can beat Jake Shields. No pressure.

– The brilliance of the UFC at this point is that we talk about what happens next. In boxing, on the rare occasions in which two interesting fighters face off, the next superfight is always too far away to discuss. We’d talk about Pacquiao-Mayweather, but with all the stakeholders involved, we know it’s likely never to happen. Silva-GSP, on the other hand, is basically one fight away.

‘The Ultimate Fighter’ Season 12 semis: Everything Zen

We start with GSP telling Kyle Watson and Jonathan Brookins not to expect their coach to take sides. Time to be selfish, GSP says. You’re really on your own.

On Team Koscheck, they’re also on their own but not so happy about it. After a meandering training session, the fighters are tired of hearing from Team GSP — not about the fights but about all the great stuff they’re doing in training and all the great coaches who visited.

Marc Stevens, who was thrilled to be reunited with his college wrestling coach at the beginning of the show, can now do a vicious impression of him. Koscheck comes in and attributes it to alcohol. Then he asks everyone to do shots.

Meanwhile, Brookins is in his meditation spot. In future seasons, we’ll surely see people stake a claim to that tree. The easygoing Nam Phan trots out to greet him, which Jonathan seems to welcome. Alex “Bruce Leroy” Caceres comes out to “look for black widows,” which doesn’t seem to welcome.

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‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ Season 12, Episode 10: Kos keeps talking

Should we really root for Michael Johnson over Alex Caceres? No doubt Caceres has had his annoying moments, but after seeing Johnson flip out over a pretty harmless kitchen-sink prank and falsely blame Caceres, the sympathy meter might flip toward Bruce Leeroy a bit.

Kyle Watson, probably the most polished of the four quarterfinalists we’ll see in action tonight, trains with GSP, who must have spent most of the morning squeezing into an Under Armour top. Or maybe it’s just paint.

Watson will be up against Team Koscheck’s Aaron “English” Wilkinson, who has shown a lot of heart and surprising skill in getting this far. The American vet attempts some trash talk having to do with fish and chips. What are you saying about ordering fish and chips, Kyle? You come say that to my face. I outweigh you by quite a bit. Probably because … I eat a lot of fish and chips.

Fight starts early in the episode, with Steve Mazzagatti reffing. Watson quickly gets Wilkinson down, where Watson should have a decided advantage. Wilkinson does well to tie him up and work for the escape. Watson isn’t doing much, and Koscheck justifiably yells for Mazzagatti to stand them up. Wilkinson gets to his feet on his own, but only for a moment. Watson takes his back and sinks in a secure body triangle with two minutes left to work for the rear naked choke. It only takes a minute.

“How many rear naked chokes have my team …,” says a disgruntled Koscheck, who now has just one fighter, Nam Phan, left in the competition.

Continue reading ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ Season 12, Episode 10: Kos keeps talking

‘The Ultimate Fighter,” Season 12, Episode 9: 1-1

After a brief glimpse at the house in which Sevak asks fellow Armenian Sako (“Psycho”) to avenge his loss to Jonathan Brookins, we go to the gym, where Georges St. Pierre tells his team they’re scaling back training. No hard-core sparring. No exhaustion. He wants to work on their tactics and keep them fresh and hungry for their fights. Like most of GSP’s training ideas, it makes perfect sense, especially when the typical Ultimate Fighter contestant gasses in the first round in the midst of such an intense schedule.

Koscheck trains Psycho to avoid giving up his back and getting caught in a rear naked choke. Easier said than done — the choke is usually the end result of being beaten up.

Back at the house — specifically in the yard — Brookins chats with Nam Phan, crossing team lines to talk about how humble they are compared to all the cocky dudes in the house at the pool table.

We go quickly to the fight after the first commercial break. Herb Dean is our ref. They touch gloves, and we’re off.

Continue reading ‘The Ultimate Fighter,” Season 12, Episode 9: 1-1

‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ Season 12, Episode 8: It’s a trap!

We open with a training session for Georges St. Pierre’s team, which seems a little deflated by the fact that Dane Sayers won’t be in the wild-card fight.

Dana White defends the decision, saying Marc Stevens is the better fighter and the obvious pick. This despite his lightning-fast loss to Cody McKenzie through a colossal tactical mistake and technical failure.

Maybe losing quickly is a good strategy, though. His win in the prelims and his loss by guillotine were brief, so he’s had all the benefits of training with little of the damage from fighting.

As threatened, we get another chapter in the feud between Josh Koscheck and Brad Tate, a paramedic with GSP’s team.

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‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ Season 12, Episode 7: Kos gets a break, or three

[poll id=”4″]Dane Sayers, the last draft pick, reminds us that he’s part Native American. GSP and his fellow coaches have embraced his desire to show some Native American pride. GSP often calls him “Red Horse,” which Sayers says is his Indian name. Jean Charles Skarbowsky says Sayers is the real American, not Koscheck. “Koscheck didn’t ask his permission to come here.”

But Red Horse is clearly the underdog against Sako “Psycho” Chivitchian, and Dana White knows it.

“He knows Dane isn’t at the same level as most of these guys,” Dana says. GSP says they wanted Sayers to go last so they’d have more time to work with him.

But first, we see the jockeying for the “wild card” slot that demonstrates a couple of the problems with the format. Spencer Paige is the only GSP fighter to lose so far, and he’ll be in a cast for three months. Jeff Lentz says Aaron “English” Wilkinson, the only Koscheck fighter to suffer a controversial loss, is also injured.

The producers don’t follow up on that, but we see a tiff between Lentz and Wilkinson. The Englishman scoffs at Lentz’s drinking and tobacco-chewing: “I don’t think he fits the criteria,” Wilkinson says.

Continue reading ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ Season 12, Episode 7: Kos gets a break, or three

‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ Season 12, Episode 6: Choke! Choke!

Tonight, we’ll learn the rest of the opening-round matchups. We have two fights, which will leave just two guys remaining to face off next week.

But before we get to that, we have to watch Team Koscheck acting like a bunch of NFL wide receivers dancing after that fourth-quarter TD pass with their team down 31-7.

First, Koscheck tries to tell Michael Johnson he shouldn’t have won his fight. Johnson says the MMA equivalent of “scoreboard.”

The much-ballyhooed “Team Koscheck goes too far” shenanigans don’t start until Koscheck shows up at the house and wanders out to the balcony to continue feuding with Johnson. For some reason — and maybe USA TODAY will be able to ask about this — mature veteran Nam Phan is out on the balcony by Koscheck’s side.

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‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ Season 12, Episode 5: Nam better

Josh Koscheck’s team has lost three fights, so he’s serious now. He brings in American Kickboxing Academy teammate Jon Fitch. Then he makes reference to his team’s lack of balls. Foreshadowing the Axe ad later in the broadcast?

Back at the house, Michael Johnson is doing laundry. Alex Caceres confesses that he put bleach in Nam Phan’s fabric softener. Fortunately, Johnson’s laundry is rescued in time. Johnson’s still pissed.

Team GSP brings in Jean Charles Skarbowsky to teach Muay Thai. GSP warns his team that JCS isn’t like other guys. Not in those words exactly — that’s Michael Jackson’s Thriller. JCS, we’re told, sleeps only three hours a night, then gets drunk and comes into the cage to beat everyone up. Fortunately, no one’s hurt.

Back in the house, Caceres is playing pool and musing to Jeff Lentz, his tournament victim, about his lack of popularity. Lentz suggests that he ease up. Caceres says he has to be who he is, borrowing heavily from Popeye, Edie Brickell and Smash Williams.

Fight selection: GSP sends Spencer Paige, who looked good in a tough prelim, against Phan, the most experienced guy in the field.

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‘The Ultimate Fighter’: Season 12, Episode 4: Maturity rocks

The questions heading into tonight’s episode:

1. Will the latest Alex “Bruce Leeroy” Caceres housecapades include anything we haven’t already seen in the preview?

2. With Caceres and Michael Johnson winning but not looking dominant, who’s the favorite?

3. Will Josh Koscheck give up on trying to prank Georges St. Pierre by himself and turn to Ashton Kutcher for help?

We start with a fight replay and GSP telling his team, in that wonderful French-Canadian lilt, that his guys are going to make him have a heart attack.

Mike Tyson is still hanging around, and he talks to Team GSP about confidence. He and GSP then resume their campaigns for “Nicest Guy in Combat Sports” with an exchange of compliments. Never thought you’d hear that about Tyson, did you? Not 15-20 years ago, anyway.

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