October 19, 2016

GSP's "Rush" Into MMA Free Agency Is A Sign of the Sport's Changing Landscape

By Raphael Garcia

Remember the year 2016 as the year that MMA Free Agency became a major talking point. As Conor McGregor used his outspoken ways to garner a position of power within the UFC, other fighters took note and leveraged their respective brands into new contracts or opportunities elsewhere. This Monday, perhaps the largest salvo was fired when former UFC Welterweight Champion and arguably the best fighter of all time, Georges St. Pierre, declared himself a free agent for the industry to bid on.

“You heard it right,” St. Pierre said while talking to Ariel Helwani of MMA Fighting. “I’m a free agent.”

This came as a shock, as rumors last week swirled around the idea of GSP being one of the main event attractions for UFC 206, scheduled for Toronto on December 10. According to Helwani’s interview, the negotiations with the UFC ended when St. Pierre’s legal counsel, James Quinn, terminated his contract because the promotion failed to find him a fight in a timely manner. St. Pierre also said that negotiations were in motion before the UFC was officially sold to the WME-IMG led group, which then put a stop to the talks.

"It was like a shock, because we felt like we were making progress, we were almost there. When they told us that, I got angry."

According to St. Pierre, the promotion even presented the idea that bringing him back would be a “financial risk.” However, the conversation now turns to the continuing story of fighters taking the opportunity to find out their true worth on the free market. Former lightweight champion Benson Henderson was perhaps the biggest name to go through the process this year when he signed with Bellator, but names such as Lorenz Larkin, Rory MacDonald, Aljamain Sterling, and others have also tested the free agent waters.

When news broke that the UFC sold for $4 billion, many fighters expressed concern and anger that they weren’t seeing larger pieces of the pie. With the mandatory USADA testing and the UFC-Reebok deal, fighters were experiencing less and less independence, regardless of their title as “independent contractors.” GSP frequently pointed to these concerns as potential hurdles for his return, and it seems as if they did in fact prevent an eleventh-hour deal from getting done.

"To [come back], it would have been a win-win situation. I think now what happened with this situation, the biggest loser is the fans. I'm a loser. The UFC is a loser. Even the UFC is a loser. They would have made good money."

Georges St. Pierre can still find himself back in the Octagon if a deal is reached in the future, but to see one of the “faces” of the UFC fielding offers from other organizations is something many never expected. While it’s a far cry from fighters banding together en masse to push for change at the top of the sport, it’s still a move that will grab the fans’ attention.

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