UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre is perfectly capable of moving up a division to challenge middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva.
Is it wise to do so? Not anytime soon.
For a fighter as meticulous as St-Pierre, it's jumping into the Atlantic with floaties.
A five-round shellacking of Josh Koscheck on Saturday at UFC 124 renewed questions about St-Pierre's moving up to fight Silva, whom UFC president Dana White believes is the pound-for-pound best. After expressing doubts about such a meeting, the promotion's head honcho looks more receptive than ever to having St-Pierre bulk up to middleweight in the wake of his fifth consecutive title defense.
"There's always going to be new guys popping up, but when do you say the division is finally clean?" White said. "I mean, it's about time we say both guys have earned their dues."
It's the kind of legacy fight that's hard to resist, and could be a potential boon for the Las Vegas-based company. Silva (27-4) and St-Pierre (21-2) have dominated their respective weight classes side-by-side for several years, and while St-Pierre has proved a better draw at the box office, the two could make magic when paired together. If nothing else, it would send legions of hardcore fans to pleasuretown.
They're separated by a mere 15 pounds on paper. That's an easy gap to bridge, right?
Maybe not. The welterweight champ repeated earlier statements that the disparity between him and Silva is a lot wider when including the weight that both cut to stay competitive in the division. That's why he's wavered on such a move since questions intensified early this year.
"If I put muscle on my body, and I go up to 185, I'm going to have to stay 185," St-Pierre said at the postfight podium. "I don't want to go up and down. When you go up and down, you see what happened to Roy Jones. It messed up [his] reaction time. In boxing and mixed martial arts, it's different [with] the weight classes. In boxing, I think it's eight pounds. ... In mixed martial arts, it's 15 pounds. So playing with your weight, you need to be careful with that."
Right now, St-Pierre walks around at 191 pounds, while Silva hovers around 205 pounds before middleweight contests. If they met next year, St-Pierre could most certainly make the middleweight limit. But it wouldn't necessarily be functional weight, according to one fighter. That takes time.
"It's getting used to bringing your cardio up with that extra weight, and getting used to moving with that extra weight on you," said former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal, a decorated collegiate wrestler who competed in three different weight classes. He estimated it could take St-Pierre up to two years to properly fill out his new frame.
If the process were rushed, so to speak, St-Pierre may lose the very advantage he needs for a fight with Silva. UFC middleweight Mark Munoz, another standout collegiate wrestler who's been instrumental in sharpening Silva's wrestling, said St-Pierre's size could prevent him from using the grappling talent that's dominated opponents with Division I pedigrees.
"That would be a great equalizer, and Silva's size would play heavily into him winning," Munoz said. "I see Silva upwards of about 210 [pounds]. He's really, really big. I might be blinded by bias, but I would go with Anderson."
Greg Jackson, who cornered St-Pierre on Saturday and serves as the champ's chief strategist, said he supports his fighter but has concerns about the effects of fighting heavier.
"Obviously, he's fast and he's got great timing," Jackson said. "It's going to be whether we're strong enough to hang in that division."
Of course, Jake Shields, who is next in line to face St.-Pierre, knows all too well about the dangers of bouncing between divisions. He struggled mightily in his UFC debut when he returned to the welterweight class against Martin Kampmann after serving a three-fight stint north of 180 pounds in Strikeforce. Silva, on the other hand, suffered none of those problems in two appearances at light heavyweight; his fists worked just fine in destroying former champion Forrest Griffin and James Irvin.
But for St-Pierre, a fighter who again proved his tactical brilliance by preying on Koscheck's certainty that he would not stand and trade punches, a move to middleweight is serious business. It will be permanent -- if it happens at all. Then, it's a matter of whether he shoots straight for the title, or tests the waters in a few non-title bouts before challenging Silva.
"I think a move up is definitely a strategic one in terms of timing," said Sherri Spencer, who manages St-Pierre. "So when and if he does make the move, we need to be certain that there are no more fights that he would want at 170 first -- and I frankly don't know when that will be."
St-Pierre has sliced through former champ Matt Hughes, Matt Serra, Jon Fitch, B.J. Penn, Thiago Alves and Dan Hardy. With the exception of Shields, that sounds like a pretty convincing case for cleaning out the division.
"Yes and no," Jackson said. "You never know who's around the corner. He's certainly won all his fights in a very convincing fashion. But you never know who's going to make a move down a weight class, or could be signed, or who's the next big thing. The future is a wide-open place."
For now, the welterweight champ is in "hibernation," according to Spencer, and will soon leave the country for a few days of vacation at an undisclosed locale. St-Pierre said he is uninjured from the Koscheck fight and hopes to return to the gym soon, where he'll undoubtedly polish a game plan for Shields, a standout who's widely expected to dive for his legs at every chance (and is already considered a massive underdog in the fight). He'd like to fight in April when the UFC touches down in Toronto at the Rogers Centre.
If Shields is next to fall, though, it looks like Silva's camp is game to welcome St-Pierre to the Atlantic. (The middleweight champ next makes a record eighth consecutive title defense at UFC 126 against Vitor Belfort.)
"I think he's a very dominant fighter," said Ed Soares, Silva's manager, of St-Pierre's most recent win. "He's a very smart fighter. It was really nice to see him believing in his hands more because sometimes it gets a little boring when he just takes people down and ground and pounds them out. But I enjoyed the fight. He definitely showed dominance over Koscheck.
"If GSP moves up in weight and agrees to fight at middleweight, man, I think it will be a huge fight. I think if the fans want to see it, it would be great."