Tuesday, 14 August 2018

UFC icon Georges St-Pierre is shrewd to target winner of Nurmagomedov-McGregor

By Alistair Hendrie

Georges St-Pierre, the former UFC welterweight and middleweight king, recently told Joe Rogan that only three things in life turn him on: “Money, women, and dinosaurs.” Although the latter vice may be hard for many to understand, the first two are slightly more reasonable. Regarding GSP’s love of money, “Rush” is one of the most astute businessmen in the game, a wise old head at 37 years old who will only take the most lucrative bouts available. He doesn’t fight for a love of the sport. He doesn’t fight as an outlet for aggression. He fights to secure his and his family’s future.

That’s why his comments earlier this week, revealing his interest in tackling the winner of Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov, are so intelligent. Indeed, the victor of the October 6 UFC 229 main event – a lightweight blockbuster with Khabib’s belt at stake – represents the most financially attractive contest for St-Pierre, especially considering his inactivity and reluctance to risk his faculties unless the money is right.

Look at it this way: McGregor headlined four of the UFC’s five highest-grossing pay-per-views, while Nurmagomedov’s UFC 223 showcase against Al Iaquinta in April generated a gate of $3m, setting a record for sporting events at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Clearly, fans will fork out to watch “Notorious” and “The Eagle.” Money talks and as such, St-Pierre has used all of his nous to ensure he’s primed to face the next 155 lbs champion.

After all, the Canadian legend is no stranger to raking in the dough, he has earned an estimated $7m in purses over 22 contests with the UFC since 2004. St-Pierre may be minted, then, but his affinity for cash isn’t to do with any airs or graces. It’s more to do with security, safety, and a need to prop up his loved ones later on in life.

St-Pierre against either of the UFC 229 headliners would do huge numbers regardless of its location. Imagine ice hockey chants ringing around the Bell Centre in Montreal; picture throngs of Irish fans singing their hearts out at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium; or, alternatively, think of Nurmagomedov’s passionate fans in Russia. St-Pierre and UFC President Dana White know a super fight when they see one, and this could be exactly what the pound-for-pound great needs to convince him to return.

Truth be told, there’s not much else out there for St-Pierre. Consider the welterweight scene, which St-Pierre ruled in two stints between 2006 and 2013. Today’s 170 lbs king, Tyron Woodley, will defend his title against Darren Till on September 8 at UFC 228. His last two defenses – both by decision, over Demian Maia and Stephen Thompson – failed to get the heart racing and drew more boos than acclaim, leaving him tumbling down the pecking order in the GSP sweepstakes.

Till, too, would be a silly matchup for the former titlist. The Brit is a huge welterweight at six-foot and rather than just clearing up at welterweight, Till has more recently revealed his plans to target the middleweight and light-heavyweight straps. Moreover, given that UFC 228 will be Till’s US debut, it’s unlikely St-Pierre will pick such a wildcard for his return.

Whatever GSP’s next move is, though, you can bet it will be exciting. The Tristar mainstay shocked the world when he submitted Michael Bisping for the middleweight prize last year, and St-Pierre appears to have relaxed with age. He now looks more comfortable with a mic in his hand and prior to the Bisping clash, offered more of his impish, cutting trash talk.

Added to that, which MMA fan wouldn’t want to see St-Pierre challenge for a third title? A shot at lightweight gold, if the UFC allows it, would entail a strict diet and a gradual weight cut, but the sacrifices would be worth it. If St-Pierre can make his way back to the octagon, cement a record third UFC belt, and set up his funds for life, he’ll achieve a sense of closure which few mixed martial artists can hold claim to.

This article was originally posted on The Runner Sports in August 2018. Sample all of my The Runner Sports work here

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

UFC 227 Blog: Should Dillashaw rematch Cruz after shutting down Garbrandt again?

By Alistair Hendrie

TJ Dillashaw asserted his dominance over Cody Garbrandt at UFC 227 on Saturday night, short-circuiting his rival inside a round for the second time to hold onto his world bantamweight title. That win strengthens his case as being the best 135lb’er in history and as such, Dillashaw’s next outing is paramount. Get it right, and he enriches his legacy. Get it wrong, and his heralded run of form – eight wins from nine - could blow up in his face.

A rematch with Dominick Cruz, the former champion who edged their first meeting on the cards in 2016, could be the only obstacle standing between Dillashaw and eternal greatness. After all, Cruz, who has taken the switch-hitting style to the next level, is a legend with scalps over the likes of Urijah Faber and Demetrious Johnson in two UFC title reigns.

In July Cruz announced doctors have cleared him to compete after suffering a broken arm in November 2017. That said, with Cruz returning from a stint on the periphery of the sport, is now the right time for a rematch with TJ? On one hand, fans would flock to a second episode of the rivalry, while Cruz would certainly stir up publicity with his trash-talk and wise cracks. Indeed, as well as being one of the trickiest boxers in the UFC, the Alliance MMA mainstay is a master of psychological warfare who always finds a way to rile up his opponents.

A rematch would not only give Dillashaw a chance to avenge another defeat – which he did against Rafael Assuncao in 2016 – it would represent a historic meeting between luminaries with two of the best fight IQs in MMA. It would be fascinating to see if Dillashaw could catch Cruz like he did Garbrandt, and it would be gripping to watch him attempt to coax Cruz into a brawl.

Moreover, despite Cruz’s lay-off of almost two years, let’s not forget how the UFC granted Conor McGregor a lightweight championship shot despite his 22 months away from the Octagon. It’s clear, then, that the UFC is dedicated to money-spinning mega-fights which put reputations on the line. 

There’s another argument that Cruz should be made to wait, though. Five of his six UFC bouts have been for a title and, let’s face it, his last victory was in June 2016 over a shopworn Urijah Faber. When the UFC insists on rekindling bygone confrontations in favour of emerging talent, it runs the risk of stalling the division.

In light of that, judging by form, Marlon Moraes could be the next contender for Dillashaw. The New Jersey-based Brazilian, an explosive striker with excellent timing, is in a destructive vein of form after stopping Rivera in June with a sledgehammer of a head kick. Then there’s Assuncao, another Brazilian, who also deserves a tilt at Dillashaw more than Cruz.

The wildcard, though, is the newly-minted flyweight king Henry Cejudo, who shocked the world at UFC 227 by outpointing Johnson in a thriller full of drama, twists and intrigue. Cejudo – who only made his MMA debut in 2013, a year into Johnson’s six-year reign – is a world-class wrestler, an Olympic goal medallist in that discipline, and both Cejudo and TJ stressed their desire to square off in their post-fight interviews.

Whoever Dillashaw faces next, it’s difficult to imagine the UFC bantamweight landscape without Cruz leading or at least challenging at its summit. Boasting some of the best footwork and conditioning in the sport, Cruz brought new eyes to the division thanks to his dominance in the WEC and the UFC, not to mention his barbs with Faber. His track record means the UFC could justify giving him a chance to retain the title he’s just lost, but make no mistake about it: the race for number one contender at 135lbs is now a close-run thing.

This article was originally posted on The Runner Sports in August 2018