UFC welterweight division begins life without GSP

He's already in my rearview mirror.

Donald Miralle/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

For the last seven years, almost every conversation with a UFC welterweight contender has included something about the man who during that time lorded over them all. He was in many ways a divisional dictator, meticulous in his planning, ruthless in his execution. One by one, every one that came before him was sent off, dispatched and defeated. 

But the king is gone now, sent off to the purgatory of semi-retirement, and for the first time in years, the division once so firmly in his stranglehold has real possibilities. 

At UFC 171, it begins to pull away from the St-Pierre narrative. During the night, seven welterweights in the division’s top 15 will compete and begin jockeying for position as the new No. 1. The card includes four 170-pound bouts, including one between Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler for the vacant championship. 

St-Pierre was easily the UFC’s biggest draw, but his absence is clearly seen as an opportunity. For the first time in a long time, the division is open, and there is a feeling that things have been renewed with a new sense anticipation about what might transpire next.

What’s going to happen? There’s a lot of really, really tough guys bottlenecking at the top spots of welterweight. I think it’s an exciting time.

- Carlos Condit

"Georges from time to time, later in his career, he had some spurts but for the most part people kind of knew what was going to happen," No. 2 ranked welterweight Carlos Condit said. "Now, the division’s been infused with some energy. There’s a lot of buzz. What’s going to happen? There’s a lot of really, really tough guys bottlenecking at the top spots of welterweight. I think it’s an exciting time. We all get the opportunity to get in there and try to put that welterweight belt around our waist. It’s just a perfect storm. I think the fans ultimately are going to be the ones that benefit with some really, really exciting fights."

It’s not exactly revisionist history to acknowledge that St-Pierre’s career can be separated into two pieces. There was the assassin who finished 10 out of his first 13 career wins on the way to first gaining the title, and there is the more controlled, methodical approach he espoused through the second half of his career, which concluded with seven straight decisions.

Contrast that against some of the title hopefuls. Hendricks shares a UFC record with three sub one-minute knockouts, Lawler has 18 KO’s in 22 career wins, Condit has 27 finishes in 29 career victories. Even Woodley, once criticized as overly conservative, has opened up his offense and scored two first-round knockouts in his last three fights.

"I think if you look at these other three guys, we all can make our own destiny," Hendricks said. "It didn’t matter if GSP was going to be here or not. We’re all exciting. I think that’s what makes the fans excited, is that they don’t know what’s going to happen. They don’t know if we’re going to knock each other out. They don’t know if it’s going to be a five-round war. All they know is that they can’t get up from their seat because they don’t know what’s going to happen. I think that’s one thing that’s going to make this card great, is that right there."

If there is anyone in the group with reason to say otherwise, it’s Hendricks. By most accounts, Hendricks won his UFC 167 fight with St-Pierre last November. MMA scoring website MMADecisions.com compiled the scores of 16 media outlets, all of which scored the fight for Hendricks, while statistical site FightMetric, using its proprietary TPR formula, also sided in his direction. UFC president Dana White also publicly scored the fight for Hendricks. The judges, however, scored it for St-Pierre in a split-decision.

It was never about Georges. It was always about the belt. The belt means everything.

- Johny Hendricks

Yet no sooner had St-Pierre walked away when Hendricks publicly acknowledged that he had no strong need to take the belt off of him. 

"It was never about Georges. It was always about the belt," he said. "The belt means everything. So a win next Saturday, my goals will be reached. I can’t think backwards. I’ve got to think forwards. Look at our division, it’s a pretty stacked divisions. Very talented people in the top 10. Now that he walked away, it’s time for one of us to make our own marks, and that’s pretty much what I’m looking at."

Yes, it’s all about looking forward now. Even though you get the feeling that somewhere, St-Pierre will be watching and analyzing the men filling the void, it is their spotlight now. For all of his successes, St-Pierre grew weary of risk, choked by a desire to maintain what he could never possess forever. Reigns pass, and beginning on March 15, it is someone else’s turn.