The fighter was a huge draw at his peak but taking on Dana White and Co is an incredibly difficult struggle for anyone
Is Georges St-Pierre a UFC fighter?
For the first time since January 2004 the answer could be something other than yes.
After failing to finalize a new promotional contract to compete in the UFC following a three-year hiatus and several months of negotiations the 35-year-old welterweight announced on Monday that, per the advise of his legal counsel, his contract with his promoter had been breached and, as a result, he was free to fight for any mixed martial arts organization he wished.
The termination was based on St-Pierres assertion that the UFC was required to produce an opponent and a fight date once the former welterweight champion declared he was willing, ready and able to return.
This summer St-Pierre (25-2) made his intention to return to mixed martial arts known, going so far as to enter the UFCs antidoping testing pool. Ironically it was issues around drug testing that set off a firestorm between St-Pierre and the UFC ahead of his last bout with the company. He unsuccessfully attempted to secure third-party drug testing for himself and Johnny Hendricks ahead of their clash at UFC 167, and claimed he would not return to fighting without a third-party anti-doping testing program in place. Last year the UFC enacted one of the most stringent anti-doping programs in sports.
This was among the significant shifts in the landscape of the UFC that occurred after St-Pierre stepped away that impacted his recent negotiations with the company.
In 2009, St-Pierre entered into an apparel agreement with Under Armour that was considered a milestone when it was signed. The status of that deal was imperiled, however, when the UFC partnered exclusively with Reebok in 2015 and mandated that its athletes must wear Reebok gear. This was a significant roadblock in the way of St-Pierres return to the UFC, however he and his team believed they were making headway with former UFC majority owner and chairman Lorenzo Fertitta.
Following the decision to sell the UFC for $4.2bn this year to entertainment powerhouse WME/IMG, any chance for a resolution regarding what St-Pierre could wear in the Octagon was seemingly put to bed.
We put them on notice that we believe that they had not lived up to their obligation and that they had 10 days under the contract to cure that problem, said James Quinn, a respected sports litigator who was hired by St-Pierre in mid-September to determine the fighters rights under the terms of his contract and whether or not the UFC had abided by the deal. At the end of the 10 days they made, we believe, an ineffective attempt to cure their breach because they offered a will o wisp offer of a contract for a fight. No date. No time. No specifics. That obviously didnt live up to either the letter of the contract or industry practice.
The UFC responded to St-Pierres statements, which came during an interview on the MMA Hour on Monday, by stating that one of the best competitors and most successful box office draws ever to step into the Octagon remained under their control.
Zuffa intends to honor its agreement with St-Pierre and reserves its rights under the law to have St-Pierre do the same, the company said in a prepared statement.
Acknowledging the UFCs alternate view, Quinn said whatever occurs next is up to them. UFC has options, he said. They can take a legal option. Were certainly prepared to deal with all that if necessary.
The notion of a free agent is that hes no longer under contract to the UFC. It doesnt exclude the possibility of having a negotiation with the UFC, but obviously if hes not under contract with the UFC he has the ability to negotiate with other folks if that were to occur.
Quinn had previously represented several parties and advised them on their rights with regards to the UFC. The language of UFC contracts are a throwback to the 1940s, he said, when professional athletes endured limited authority over many aspects of their careers.
Basically if you look at those contracts you have to step back and say theres no way these could possibly be legal, he said. I look at them, having been involved in all the other sports in the US, and just shake my head. This is a very, very 21st century form of slavery.
An ongoing anti-trust lawsuit pitting former UFC fighters and the promotion is slowly making its way through the federal court system, and Quinn said its likely other legal challenges to the contracts will emerge. Quinn labeled the agreements contracts of adhesion, essentially suggesting fighters signed to the UFC are put in a take-it-or-leave it position.
Despite this, St-Pierre raked in millions of dollars and became one of mixed martial arts first mainstream commodities while he put together an unprecedented championship run at 170lbs.
St-Pierre walked away at the end of 2013 with the status as a major sports star in North America, especially Canada. The native of Montreal drove big business in his home nation, most notably on pay-per-view where he ranked as one of the UFCs most bankable stars.
The UFC held 14 pay-per-view events in Canada prior to St-Pierres departure. The five headlined by the Quebecois fighter averaged 750,000 buys, and included a massive stadium show at Rogers Centre that brought out 55,000 fans for a gate of more than $12m. Without St-Pierre, Canada-hosted pay-per-views produced just over 400,000 buys, and since his departure the UFCs business there took a sharp downturn.
The year following St-Pierres decision to hand over the belt, the UFC announced a five-city schedule featuring three pay-per-view events, however UFC 178 was moved to Las Vegas from Toronto and the Montreal event was scrapped. The UFC announced it would hold between three to five Canadian events in 2015, but only two took place. This year, the UFC has visited Canada twice.
Their third card, a pay-per-view event in Toronto, is set for 10 December. It was here, in the face of UFC president Dana Whites continued assertions that St-Pierre did not really want to fight, that Rush was clamoring to return.
Theres a certain mentality you have to have to be a fighter, and Georges St-Pierre hasnt had that mentality for a long time, White said on Fox Sports 1. And sometimes thats not a bad thing. Listen, the guy went out on top. How many athletes really go out on top? Go out the way you want to go out? The guy made a lot of money and when you take this isnt a sport you take a three-year layoff from.
When the UFC made it official that St-Pierre would not appear on the Toronto card, UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier was left to headline against Anthony Johnson. Front row tickets are in the neighborhood of $400 a pop, and St-Pierres camp estimated they could have gone for double the price had he appeared.
For the first time in three years, though, St-Pierre has declared himself ready to fight. And for the first time since he stepped away from the sport in 2013, St-Pierre has a heavy hitting opponent to contend with.
Read more: www.theguardian.com