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Things change. Things change a lot in four years.
Think of how the world looked four years ago.
Some examples: America had no idea what MAGA was an abbreviation for, Canada was staunchly against legalizing marijuana, and Britain was unified with its friends in Europe.
So yes, things change, and no, MMA is not immune.
In the past four years, the sport has gone somewhat haywire with change, actually.
Fighters wear uniforms where they didn’t before, new ownership has become obsessed with money fights, pay-per-view appears to be dying for all but the biggest fights, and everyone—everyone—thinks they’re a poet laureate of trash talk.
The reason? The sport’s biggest star became its biggest star by running his mouth and backing it up. He got richer and more famous than any MMA fighter in history.
That man is Conor McGregor.
After his $100 million cash-out for boxing Floyd Mayweather Jr. in August, McGregor is fixing to return to the UFC sometime soon. He has his eye on nemesis Nate Diaz, but increasingly it seems like UFC interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson might get a chance to unify the belts.
In any event, it will be McGregor who has the final say on who he fights in his return. That’s unprecedented for a UFC fighter—the ability to call his own shots on defending a world title—but it’s what McGregor has earned.
And it took him a mere four years to earn it.
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Starting in 2013, McGregor went on a tear through the UFC roster, blitzing what felt like the entire 145-pound featherweight division on his way to becoming champion. He then moved up 10 pounds to lightweight to capture gold there before the Mayweather bout took his attention for most of 2017.
So now, what he says is what goes.
In those four years that McGregor wrestled power from the owners and into his own hands, the man who preceded him as the sport’s biggest star has been on the sidelines.
Following his last fight in November 2013, a few months after McGregor made his UFC debut, Georges St-Pierre went on hiatus after defending his welterweight title for a ninth straight time.
St-Pierre was the top dog then, a mbadive pay-per-view star who stood out at a time that’s almost humble in its lack of bombast when compared to today. He was the clbadic traditional martial artist, quiet and respectful in building up a fight and always quick to smile for a camera or make his media rounds without complaint.
Saturday night at UFC 217, St-Pierre makes his UFC return.
He’ll fight middleweight champion Michael Bisping in an effort to become a two-division world champion—much like McGregor—and if he does, there are already rumblings of trying to pair St-Pierre with McGregor for the greatest money fight in MMA history.
The issue is, McGregor is too big for a fight for St-Pierre. Until the numbers come in for UFC 217, there’s a case to be made that McGregor vs. St-Pierre would be no money fight at all.
That may be news to some people, to those who remember St-Pierre routinely raking in close to a million pay-per-view buys in his day, but it’s a fact, according to Tapology.
While McGregor was in the trenches, St-Pierre was on the sidelines. He was gone from the MMA consciousness, a legend whom newer fans would hear about but had never seen.
Those who came for McGregor or Ronda Rousey in 2013 didn’t catch much, if any, of St-Pierre at his best and as such, they don’t know him. They’re not attached to his legacy or his greatness; they don’t care about him the way people did years ago.
For his part, St-Pierre isn’t the verbal firebrand that will make them, either.
He’s been largely sticking to his act in the Bisping buildup, smiling a bunch and commenting in his highly endearing, heavily accented English, and you’re not about to see him pivot from that.
To get a fight with McGregor—to even get McGregor to look in his direction—that can’t be the case. St-Pierre needs to do something outrageous to get attention, either in the cage or outside of it, because at this point he’s just another face in the crowd.
No proof he’s still a draw. No proof he’s still the man people flocked to watch four years ago. No proof he’s still one of MMA’s biggest names.
St-Pierre isn’t the star he once was, and McGregor is bigger now than GSP ever was anyway. The Irishman doesn’t owe St-Pierre a fight on brand recognition, and a win at UFC 217 would do little to alter that reality.
Too much has changed.