LAS VEGAS – This is the story of a fighter who did the right thing even though it feels so wrong. It's the story of a promoter who criticized another for making a fight that was about the money and then went out and made a fight himself that was all about the money.
It's the story of an upstart fighter doing everything he was asked and still being told it wasn't good enough. And it's the story of a rebel who sneered at convention, broke all the rules, lost his biggest fight and still wound up being rewarded.
Georges St-Pierre, the UFC's wildly popular welterweight champion, made the only choice he could possibly make when he decided upon his next opponent.
St-Pierre had three options: Move up to fight middleweight champion Anderson Silva in a catch-weight bout, defend the title against obvious No. 1 contender Johny Hendricks, or defend it against bitter rival and top draw Nick Diaz.
A fight against Silva would have made the most money, but after having been sidelined for 19 months by injury, St-Pierre understandably wants to remain active. He said that after his successful title defense against Carlos Condit on Nov. 17 in Montreal, he was back working out three days later.
In order to fight Silva, who walks around at more than 220 pounds, St-Pierre would have had to bulk himself up considerably. He walks around between fights in the high 180s and said that if he chose to go up, it would not only take months to put on the needed muscle, but he likely wouldn't be able to drop back down to welterweight.
"I have a very hard time putting on weight and losing weight," St-Pierre said. "If I put on weight, I'm going to have to stay up at that weight. I can't flip up and down. I don't know how the guys do that, you know. Some guys go up and down and I have no idea how they do that. They're incredible athletes, very gifted, more gifted than me.
"I would never be able to jump 25, 30 pounds and then go back down. I will never be able to jump division to division like that."
Given his desire to fight again as soon as possible, that ruled out Silva.
The second option would have been for St-Pierre to defend the belt against Hendricks in what would have been a divisional No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup. St-Pierre is clearly the top welterweight in the world and Hendricks has punched his way to become the No. 1 contender.
This is a guy who needed less than a minute combined to knock out Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann. He's 14-1 in his career and he's won his last five, reeling off wins over T.J. Waldburger, Mike Pierce, Fitch, Josh Koscheck and Kampmann.
But Hendricks isn't yet the kind of draw that either Silva or Diaz are and for St-Pierre, he'd represent the lowest payday of the three options.
The fact that a portion of the fan base is outraged that St-Pierre opted for Diaz and the big money speaks to the fact that most of the time, UFC champions face the logical No. 1 contender.
In a sport like fighting, however, where a career can end in a split-second, one shouldn't fault an athlete for accepting the fight that will pay him the most. It's a business and none of his fans will pay his bills if St-Pierre is injured and can't fight again.
When you find yourself at St-Pierre's level, you take the money to secure yourself for the future. He did that.
The only problem with that is that his boss, UFC president Dana White, recently blasted boxing promoter Bob Arum for having Manny Pacquiao fight Juan Manuel Marquez on Dec. 8 instead of Timothy Bradley.
Pacquiao had lost a highly controversial decision in June to Bradley, but Arum chose not to make the rematch because the first fight didn't perform as well on pay-per-view as Arum had hoped and because Bradley would have cost more for a rematch than Marquez.
Marquez wound up knocking Pacquiao out in the sixth round, prompting White to ridicule Arum.
"Dumbest fight in history," White said. "Bob Arum is a moron. You don't take that fight, you idiot. Why would you do that fight? It's all about the money, that's why."
Money, though, is precisely why St-Pierre is fighting Diaz. It's a much bigger fight than St-Pierre-Hendricks would be. A match with Diaz will generate a larger gate, sell more pay-per-views and gain far more media attention than a fight against Hendricks.
No less an authority than St-Pierre himself admitted as much on Saturday when he explained why he bypassed Hendricks.
When a reporter told him fans see Hendricks as the true No. 1 contender, St-Pierre said: "Not most people. Most people want Diaz, believe me. This fight will sell on the pay-per-view. This fight, people will tune in way more than Hendricks.
"Of course, for Hendricks, the time will come, but now is the time for Nick Diaz. Believe me, Nick Diaz is the fight the fans want to see. ... To be logical, the big fight is this right now. I'm doing it. Ask Dana. Ask [UFC CEO] Lorenzo [Fertitta]. Nick Diaz is the big fight right now."
Diaz is finishing a year's suspension imposed by the Nevada Athletic Commission for testing positive for marijuana after his loss to Condit at UFC 143. He was supposed to fight St-Pierre at UFC 137, but White yanked him off the card after he missed a series of news conferences.
All that prompted St-Pierre to say, "I hope Diaz doesn't do something crazy, and he stays disciplined."
With Diaz, one never can tell. But in no way was St-Pierre's decision to fight him a crazy one.
Undoubtedly, White and Fertitta laid out their pay-per-view projections to him for fights with Silva, Diaz and Hendricks. And, undoubtedly, the projection for a Hendricks fight was by far the lowest of the three.
St-Pierre has done enough in his career that he's earned the right to choose who he wants to fight. Hendricks is understandably disappointed, but he doesn't have the right to be angry. Were he in the same spot as St-Pierre, he probably would've made the same call.
Once he decided he was staying at welterweight, fighting Diaz was a no-brainer for St-Pierre.
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