Georges St-Pierre announced his retirement from mixed martial arts on Thursday. St-Pierre, who defended the UFC's welterweight belt nine straight times from 2008 to 2013, will go down as one of the greatest fighters in history. But the one thing that would have kept him from making this decision? A fight with current UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
"I knew [Nurmagomedov] wanted to fight me, and his message excited me," St-Pierre said at a news conference in Montreal. "Unfortunately, it takes two fighters and also an organization to make that fight happen. The UFC has other plans for Khabib, and I wish him the best of luck."
But if that matchup were to come together, who would come out on top? We posed that question to our ESPN MMA contributors -- Brett Okamoto, Jeff Wagenheim, Phil Murphy, Chamatkar Sandhu, Eric Tamiso and Andrew Davis -- to find out.
Okamoto: I'm basically forced to go with youth here. St-Pierre is seven years older than Nurmagomedov, and he has logged nearly six hours of actual competition in the Octagon. That takes a toll. Nurmagomedov has never lost. I can't predict a man who is past the prime of his career would be the first to beat him -- even if that man is the greatest welterweight of all time.
Now, GSP in his prime vs. Nurmagomedov? I'll lean St-Pierre on that one, how about that? And one more thing, for the record, I will not be disappointed if St-Pierre does, in fact, stay retired and this matchup never happens. He is the owner of one of the greatest, if not the greatest, résumés in MMA history. He has done enough. And Nurmagomedov has about 82 legitimate title contenders waiting in line at lightweight. I know the fight would be fun, but I don't need it. St-Pierre riding off into the sunset, on top, isn't the worst thing.
Wagenheim: On Wednesday, minutes after news broke of St-Pierre's imminent retirement, I was put on the spot during our taping of "The MMA Reporters" podcast. Asked who'd win this hypothetical matchup, I danced around the question a bit before finally going with St-Pierre. I mean, how do you pick against the GOAT?
I'm going to reverse course here, though. This is not simply my wishy-washy way of covering all of my bases. I just got to thinking about what we've seen over the past few weeks: older, inactive legends getting outgunned by younger stars. It happened to Cain Velasquez. It happened to Anderson Silva.
If we were matching GSP in the prime of his career against today's Khabib, I would shout my prediction from the rooftop. That version of Georges had wrestling sharp enough to keep the fight standing, where he'd pick the Dagestani apart. But now? St-Pierre has fought once in the past 5½ years. In two months, he will turn 38. Nurmagomedov has never been beaten.
You know who else is undefeated? Father Time.
Sandhu: I never pick against an undefeated fighter and wouldn't do so in this potential scenario, either. Khabib Nurmagomedov is younger and very much in his prime. If we were talking about a St-Pierre from seven or eight years ago, then I might be inclined to pick the Canadian.
Another thing to take into consideration would be the weight class. In his Instagram post, Khabib indicated a fight taking place at 155 or 160 pounds. Georges has never fought at that weight, and although he has been looking very svelte of late, I'd have to think cutting that much weight would have a detrimental impact on his performance.
Khabib all day long.
Murphy: First, we need to establish whether this is GSP today or GSP at his peak in the late aughts. The latter is among the all-time MMA greats (No. 2, for me, for what it's worth). That St-Pierre comfortably beats the smaller Nurmagomedov.
Assuming we're predicting a potential GSP-Khabib for this fall, career arcs make things much more competitive, though I doubt the result differs too greatly.
There's a worn-out adage: Styles make fights. I'm left questioning how Khabib beats GSP. GSP has a 6-inch reach advantage, probably would carry more weight on fight night and has proved far sharper on the feet -- though Khabib's striking did look fantastic while beating Conor McGregor.
Khabib's "lead blanket of death" offense requires he take down an opponent. GSP allowed 10 takedowns in 28 career fights, many against very decorated grapplers.
I think St-Pierre's calculated movement, precise striking and a Firas Zahabi game plan would lead to a win, much like when he beat Jake Shields at UFC 129: not terribly sexy but efficient enough to get his hand raised.
Tamiso: With all due respect to GSP, Khabib would dominate this fight and it wouldn't be close. There would be too many questions about St-Pierre going into a fight later in 2019. How would he look at age 38? How would he look after two years away, and one fight in the past six? What would cutting down to 155/160 pounds do to him? Given the issues he had getting to his last fight vs. Michael Bisping, I'd take the unbeaten fighter we've seen very few issues with.
If there were some alternate universe where you could see this version of Nurmagomedov vs. GSP circa 2010, I might have a different answer. A prime GSP and his coaching could have the key to unlock the Khabib code, but we'll never know.
Davis: If the UFC had made this matchup for the lightweight title, I think we'd be looking at the first three-division champion in company history in St-Pierre. This fight is intriguing in the sense that these guys put almost every UFC fighter they've faced on their back. According to UFC Stats, St-Pierre scored a takedown in all but two UFC fights, and the same goes for Khabib. When it comes to takedown defense, St-Pierre has an 84 percent takedown defense (eight takedowns allowed), and Khabib is at 83 percent (two takedowns allowed).
Eliminating the ground game, the fight moves to the stand-up and championship-round experience in determining the winner for me. St-Pierre landed 65 percent of his total offense from distance or the clinch. From his highlight reel, we've come to see those strikes come in the simplest form with jabs (UFC 124 vs. Josh Koscheck), as well as more complex strikes like spin kicks (UFC 129 vs. Jake Shields) and superman punches (UFC 167 vs. Johny Hendricks).
I don't see Khabib having enough awareness to stop those strikes and be able to counter with his own. Despite that, I'd see this fight going to the championship rounds, a place GSP has been nine times in his UFC career. Khabib has been there as well in his past two fights, but I believe that championship-round experience coupled with the competition St-Pierre faced in his career would be the difference in this dream bout.