How Georges St-Pierre vs. Dana White will harm UFC business in Canada

We're a funny people, us Canadians. To many around the world, we're the nice, polite folks that are interchangeable with Americans. To Americans, we're…

By: Tim Burke | 9 years ago
How Georges St-Pierre vs. Dana White will harm UFC business in Canada
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

We’re a funny people, us Canadians. To many around the world, we’re the nice, polite folks that are interchangeable with Americans. To Americans, we’re just the guys and girls with the goofy accents that live in the cold above them and obsess about hockey. But for people that take the time to understand what we’re all about, a couple of things become readily apparent. The first is that we really are that nice most of the the time, almost to a fault. The other is that we’re fiercely loyal to our own, to a point that many outside of our borders will never understand.

Georges St-Pierre embodies a lot of what it means to be Canadian. He’s the standup, loyal, honorable person that many of us strive to be. He does everything asked of him, and more. But he struggles with the accolades and intense attention because it’s just not something that’s second nature to him, or us in general. He’s the Canadian ambassador of a sport that struggles to overcome its own violent nature, which isn’t an easy spot. Eventually it became too much and he stepped away, something everyone should have a right to do.

Yes, I realize approximately none of you clicked on this to read about what it’s like to be Canadian. But I’m harping on this because MMA is viewed differently in Canada than it is in the US or anywhere else, and a lot of that has to do with our loyalty to Canadian athletes like GSP. The three-time Canadian Athlete of the Year has helped push MMA (or at least the UFC) into the mainstream here. Every UFC event airs on Sportsnet 360, a branch of our largest sports network. His fights were covered by virtually every major media outlet in the country. And his move away from the sport has been front-page news on the biggest sites and shows and in the largest newspapers Canada has to offer. Up here, he’s more mainstream than the sport itself, if that makes any sense.

So it should go without saying that without GSP, the UFC isn’t going to be quite as popular in Canada. Many casual fans aren’t going to be as interested in ordering PPVs or going to the bar if one of their countrymen isn’t in the main event. That’s natural. I didn’t need three paragraphs of preamble to make that point, it’s pretty easy to figure out. But that’s not the end of it. In fact, it’s just the beginning. Because Dana White seems determined to bury our hero.

GSP had been pretty quiet since he dropped his belt and walked away. But in the last week, he has spoken to some Canadian media outlets and vented a little, saying that he was disappointed in how the UFC handled his request for more stringent drug testing. He even called the UFC a monopoly in passing. Maybe not the wisest choice of words, but that’s what he said. In response, UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta said he was extremely disappointed to hear GSP’s words, and defended his company in a measured statement. I may not agree with some of what he said, but he handled it as respectfully as GSP did.

Dana though? It should come as no surprise that diplomacy wasn’t at the top of his list when it came to a response.

He naturally defended their testing, focusing on TRT (which doesn’t really make much sense because guys on TRT are tested way more than guys that aren’t – they’re legally taking steroids, after all). Then brushed off the monopoly remark (which is a whole other post). But then he got to GSP himself, and things got personal. He challenged GSP’s manhood for “not picking up the phone”, and claimed everything he said was ridiculous. He also said he was “doing more interviews now than when he was fighting”, which is absurd. In the midst of all that, he implied that GSP was insecure about other fighters claiming he was on PEDs, and upset about Dana’s remarks concerning his UFC 167 fight with Johny Hendricks.

Now Dana did say one thing in there that was true – that he’s not always going to say things that fans love, but he’ll always give his opinion. That’s fine, and that’s fair. However, I don’t think he really understands how much damage he does when he buries guys that cross him. When it’s Randy Couture or Frank Shamrock or Tito Ortiz, it doesn’t really affect business because there are many American MMA stars. But when it’s a national icon, it gets a little bit more debatable. Like a Fedor Emelianenko. Or a Georges St-Pierre.

See, Dana’s comments would normally not go much further than this very site. Because the UFC doesn’t have a mainstream market presence in the US, it’s probably not going to be on the front page of ESPN [Edit – it was]. “Be a man and pick up the phone” isn’t being ran in the USA Today. But in Canada? Here’s an article from Sportsnet on their front page. Here’s TSN’s article on it. Again, on the front page.  These are far and away the two most popular sports news sites in Canada. It’s also running in major newspapers. This isn’t going to fly under the radar here. And a lot of fans, both hardcore and casual, aren’t happy.

This is where it goes back to loyalty. Yes, a lot of MMA/UFC fans in Canada are going to carry on watching their favorite sport regardless of what Dana White or anyone else says. But when you insult a Canadian that holds a lot of influence when it comes to your sport, there is always going to be a segment of the population that feels personally offended. And they’ll respond with their remotes. It’s not going to be a mass exodus. But it could definitely be enough to affect the bottom line.

I’m sure many will probably brush this off as an overenthusiastic statement of patriotism. It you don’t understand or agree, that’s fine. Like I said off the start, Canadians are a peculiar brand of human being. But consider this – we’ve already lost our main attraction to the sport, and now the very organization he worked for is throwing him under the bus for daring to challenge the status quo after he left? This isn’t about PEDs. It’s not about a monopoly, or the outcome of a fight. It’s about respect. If Dana White continues to discredit Georges St-Pierre, he will continue to alienate the people that put him on a pedestal. And that’s bad for business. I think that, just this once, a little Dana diplomacy should be the order of the day.

Here’s Luke Thomas with his thoughts on GSP vs UFC:

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