Heavy is the Crown – A Champion’s Perspective
By Christopher Jester
It was William Shakespeare who wrote in his Henry VII, “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” It basically means that whoever holds the power must bear the weight or the responsibility of such a prestigious title. The same cannot be truer for fighters who hold championship titles. These champions become mired by expectations. And as these expectations grow among the fans, so does these burdens within themselves as fighters are constantly asked to evolve.
Many of the current UFC champions are now at a crossroads in their careers. Surprisingly or not, after holding onto the UFC Welterweight Championship for over five years, people still question whether Georges St-Pierre is as dominant as he appears to be. Is he fragile? Can he be defeated? Why can he not finish his opponents? Those are the questions that fans of mixed martial arts continue to ask.
Coming into this weekend’s UFC 167, St-Pierre faces the heavy-handed Johny Hendricks. With a foe that the UFC has marketed as an opponent who has “the power to shock the world”, St-Pierre is faced with proving that he can continue his dominance in the UFC’s 170lb division. As if he had not already dominated enough, he is still criticized for his inability to finish his recent fights. It becomes just another notch in the weight on the crown that St-Pierre boasts as the UFC Welterweight Champion and possibly one of the greatest fighters to ever enter the Octagon.
Ridiculed as “boring” and “safe”, GSP may face his most dangerous opponent yet in Hendricks who has the ability to finish a fight with one punch. But who becomes the greater threat for a champion – his opponent or himself? St-Pierre never seems to take the criticism to heart as it has been quite loud and apparent over the years. In fact, he is often critical of his own performance post-fight. That is the type of accountability a true champion must bear to not only himself but to those who assist in that heaviness of the crown… his fans.
The fans can crucify a fighter quickly. They can crucify a champion even quicker. UFC Light-Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones faced that after the cancellation of UFC 151. Although much went into consideration before the cancellation of that event, it was Jones who took the brunt of the blame as he decided against fighting Chael Sonnen on short notice. What made it worse for Jones is that some of his fellow fighters also took to media outlets to blame him for the cancellation; some also stating that he was affecting their ability to feed their families.
Is this sort of obligation fair? Perhaps not, but this is what becomes a fighter who becomes the best in his or her weight class. Jones also took a path to stand his ground on his decision. His recently booked fight against Glover Teixeira was cancelled just days after it was announced for undisclosed reasons on Jones’ side. It is this sort of unnamed action that leaves Jones scorned by many fans. The good news for fans is that late this week the UFC announced that the Jones/Teixeira match-up will take place at UFC 170.
But champions are not always dependent on the response from fans. Some are based on their mystique; others are hampered by unfortunate accidents. Anderson Silva was such a champion to the former, and his reign came crashing down when that mystique was shattered by Chris Weidman. The pedestals on which they are placed often levitate fighters to godlike heights. Falling from grace in such a fashion as Silva will surely dictate what sort of legacy he will have once his career is said and done.
Others are faced with injuries that not only deter their careers but bog down the division in which they champion. Brock Lesnar was fraught by this issue during his reign. Most recently it was UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz, and now quite possibly UFC Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis. Cruz was patient in his return to the Octagon, but the media and numerous others were not. The division went on without him, and he had to watch from the sidelines as an interim champion dominated the division in his stead. A steward of sorts, UFC Interim Champion Renan Barao has usurped the crown. As fictitious as it may be, he has been so dominant that it has been easy to imagine Barao as the true champion instead of Cruz.
Will the same happen to the UFC’s lightweight division now that Pettis is out for six to nine months? While UFC President Dana White has simply said, “nope” to whether there will be an interim champion at 155lbs, there is still ample enough opportunity for a #1 contender to dominate in a fashion that makes him the uncrowned champion.
A champion may call foul on some of the encumbrances that are placed on their shoulders. Some may be fair and others not so much. But at this point should it not come with the crown? A champion should face these duties as the prize of being the best. He or she may not agree with it, but it is their duty to take the expectations of such a prominent and esteemed position.
Follow Christopher “sLapDatSuCKa” Jester on Twitter @sLapDatSuCka
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