While Georges St-Pierre‘s return to the Octagon was an unmitigated success, it wasn't without significant hurdles. Unbeknownst to most of the combat sports world, one of the hurdles nearly derailed his comeback fight.
St-Pierre returned at UFC 217 to submit Michael Bisping and became the first fighter in UFC history to hold the belt at welterweight and then move up and take the middleweight championship, as well.
One of the biggest hurdles to his achievement was size. St-Pierre has long said that he would have to put on a tremendous amount of weight to make an effective move to middleweight. It's a significant part of the reason why it took him so long to make it back to the cage.
Having achieved the goal, it's unclear if St-Pierre will continue on as a middleweight or return to the welterweight division that he once ruled with an iron fist. The odds of him remaining at middleweight seem to get less and less likely by the day, particularly after his longtime grappling coach, John Danaher, revealed just how close St-Pierre came to cancelling the fight with Bisping because of difficulties in putting on weight.
“The victory by welterweight Georges St-Pierre at middleweight to gain a new world title was a bold experiment with a truly great result, but was not without its problems. The fundamental problem was always going to be size,” Danaher wrote on Instagram on Thursday.
“Mr. St-Pierre always walked into the octagon around 189 pounds on fight night throughout his career. This made him a very averaged sized welterweight. In order to move up to middleweight, Mr. St-Pierre took on a nutritional program designed to facilitate weight gain and hold weight during the rigors of a full fight camp. The result was a disaster.”
Danaher's admission was quite the revelation, putting into perspective just how precarious the moves that we, as fans and pundits, often take for granted.
We often expect that it is simply a matter of money and desire for a fighter to go up or down in weight for a big fight. But doing so effectively can be another story altogether, as was the case with St-Pierre's move to middleweight.
While it would seem easy to gain weight, St-Pierre wasn't simply trying to get heavier, he was trying to do so and get stronger, more physical. It nearly cost him the Bisping fight altogether according to Danaher, who went on to detail the complications and how St-Pierre's coaches gave him an ultimatum.
“Two weeks into camp he developed severe stomach pains and vomiting. Initially it was suspected that he had an illness, but all tests came back negative. The situation deteriorated to the point that for two weeks of a six-week camp there was no training at all. At a critical point we gave him a two-day window to either get back in the gym or call off the fight,” said Danaher.
“The first grappling workout he had he vomited heavily prior to workout and then went to work. The next day he had the worst standing sparring session I have ever seen him have. Finally, the stomach issue resolved itself to a degree where he could train satisfactorily and the workouts improved dramatically – though the vomiting continued all the way up to the day of the fight.”
The way Danaher tells it, St-Pierre was apparently having trouble with the amount of food he had to consume in order to hit his target weight.
“He was eating so much more than usual in an attempt to keep weight on and stay close to 200 pounds. When he went through the final weight cut, the big question was, would he return to his bigger size? The answer was a resounding no. On fight night he weighed in at 190.5 – almost identical to his usual fight weight as a welterweight,” Danaher claimed.
“The great effort to increase size just didn’t work out and Mr. St-Pierre went in to win the title as a mid-sized welterweight. It seems his body just finds a comfort zone around 190 pounds for fighting after a weight cut and no amount of work to change that has any effect.
“It’s one thing to gain weight, it’s another to do so through a fight camp culminating in a weight cut and then regain the weight. It seems his body has an optimal weight for athletic performance which cannot be drastically changed.”
With this new information about St-Pierre's struggles through training, if it doesn't somehow get rectified to the point that the increased size is a benefit to him and not just another hassle that produces little result, it would seem unlikely that St-Pierre would continue at middleweight, which has already come into question.