When Georges St-Pierre defeated UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes in November of 2006 to win his first title in the company, he beckoned in a new era for the sport of mixed-martial-arts. For many, St-Pierre represented a new breed of what it meant to be a martial artist – he could strike with the best kickboxers, grapple with the best wrestlers and had uncanny athletic abilities, the like that the sport had never seen.
These abilities would only evolve as the years passed and St-Pierre began his second title reign in 2008, one that only ended with his shocking part-time retirement in 2013. His nine successive title defenses had risen him to superstar status and the top of the pound-for-pound rankings, yet for Georges, the constant pressure of maintaining his grip on the welterweight division proved to be too much to handle, and he left the sport after defeating Johny Hendricks at UFC 167 with no clear return date in sight.
This may explain why many have forgotten just how gifted and dominant Georges was during his career, and why many of the post-Ronda era fans simply do not know of the accomplishments the Canadian has under his belt. Therefore, many do not know what to expect when they tune into the UFC’s second event in Madison Square Garden this Saturday, November 4. Therefore, I would like to remind you of the assets that St-Pierre brings to the table, and of some new facets you are likely to see added to his game following the four-year hiatus that has filled the media with speculation ever since the legend decided to walk away from MMA competition in 2013.
Aggression and hunger
One criticism that Georges ran into during his title run was a lack of ambition to finish his opponents off, and even St-Pierre himself acknowledged this fact after his retirement. However, there is good reasoning behind why the former champion was content with the string of decision victories in his later career.
When you stand atop what was, and is, arguably the most stacked division in MMA history, it becomes difficult to evolve from the style that has brought and kept you there. While hungry, rising fighters watched eagerly and studied the champion’s style, Georges faced a giant backlog of contenders, and was forced to divert from the training he loved to a far more methodical, measured form of preparation that would allow him to compete at the highest level multiple times per year. This meant that while St-Pierre’s fellow welterweights learned to defend against his favored attacks, the champion’s own evolution was hindered, and he had to settle for decision victories which, by all means, were still some of the most impressive performances we have ever seen inside the octagon.
His motivation dwindled, and the will to compete fell with each one of Georges St-Pierre’s dominant title defenses, his aggression going with it. But now, after a four-year hiatus from MMA, Georges claims he is rejuvenated and is performing at a far greater level than he was during the last time frame we saw him compete in. His will to finish fights has been rekindled, and the Tristar Gym fighter has spent his time on the sidelines growing upon the already diverse skillset he possesses. Therefore, I feel that we can expect a far more aggressive St-Pierre, a man with the hunger of a title challenger and the will to cement his already illustrious legacy to become known as the single greatest fighter of all time.
Considering the early start Georges St-Pierre had in the world of Kyokushin karate, it can be little surprise that he possesses top-level striking. Although many associate St-Pierre with his grappling skills, many of his victories have come through sheer domination of his opponents on the feet - see his second contests with both Josh Koscheck and Matt Hughes for a prime example of this.
Georges has trained under legendary boxing coach Freddie Roach for years, and it was at his gym he forged what can only be labelled as the best jab in MMA history. It is the centerpiece of the Canadian's striking, who uses it both defensively, offensively, and in setting up his lightning-fast takedown attempts. I expect to see Georges utilizing this weapon on Saturday as he seeks to fend off the attacks of the Brit Michael Bisping, who has become known for his relentless striking and cardiovascular abilities.
I can also see St Pierre opening up on his kicks and putting his karate black-belt to use. He has evidently been working on his standup skills in the lead-up to this fight, and he does not have much cause to believe Bisping will attempt to take this fight to the ground at any stage. Therefore, if the former welterweight champion is in a situation where he is forced to stay standing, or if he keeps the fight off the mat for any reason, he can let loose and unleash with whatever strikes he pleases. His infamous side kick may make an appearance, but I believe Georges will target his opponent's legs from an early stage in this middleweight title fight, and he will likely look to mix his wrestling in amongst these strikes throughout.
It goes without saying that St-Pierre will bring his remarkable grappling to the cage at UFC 217. In his time in the UFC, he proved himself to be, in my opinion, the greatest wrestler in our sport's history. Georges has always attributed the speed and explosiveness that his takedowns were secured with to the karate background that introduced him to martial arts, citing that the need to close distance in the latter has provided him with the base required to drag national wrestling champions, such as Josh Koscheck and Johny Hendricks, to the mat at a consistent basis.
However, it is the black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu the Canadian icon possesses that helps him to keep his opponents on the ground once he has brought them there, controlling them in every way and fending off their desperate attempts to escape his powerful downward pressure. Reports from inside Georges' camp suggest that he has focused particularly on his grappling skills and is honing them for a reinvigorated approach to fighting that may see the former champion push strongly for submission victories upon his return. If this fight reaches the canvas, you can expect to see St-Pierre put his advanced grappling talents to use and try to force a finish, rather than settle inside the guard of Bisping as many presumed he would aim to do.
A larger GSP
Although Georges is not going to be close to the size of a normal middleweight on the night, he will be considerably heavier than we are used to seeing him. He mentioned that his preparation for this began in April, which included a gain in weight in order for the undersized St-Pierre to grow the strength and power needed to take on a former light heavyweight in Michael Bisping. St-Pierre will likely weigh in slightly below the 185-pound weight limit, but Embedded videos in the lead-up to this weekend's card and talk from GSP himself suggests that the former welterweight will come close to 200 pounds on fight night, which will be noticeably larger than in his prior contests.
Can St-Pierre become a two-weight world champion?
Even though we can roughly estimate what St-Pierre's approach will be, it is difficult to know just how strongly ring rust will affect him in this fight. While he took a four-year hiatus from competing, Michael Bisping remained to be a perennial middleweight contender, and finally earned an opportunity at the UFC title, one he capitalized upon when he defeated Luke Rockhold at UFC 199 in June 2016. The British legend, who holds the record number of wins in UFC history (19), seems to be reaching his peak levels of performance in the later stages of his career, and his activity could benefit him greatly at UFC 217 this Saturday, especially in the early goings while St-Pierre reacclimatizes to the experience of fighting beneath the UFC spotlight.
However, the Canadian seems more confident than ever before on fight week, and his activity during the four-year break may allow him to make a seamless transition from being an idle competitor to a legitimate contender to the 185-pound throne. St-Pierre's skills brought him to be one of the greatest fighters we have seen and are ever like to see, so to write this legend off is outright bizarre.
I am not going to make an official prediction just yet, but you can follow the link in my bio to find my Twitter account where I will be tweeting extensively about the UFC's return to Madison Square Garden on November 4th.
I have also already published a more detailed assessment and breakdown of the Michael Bisping vs Georges St-Pierre battle, so make to check that out before it all goes down on Saturday night. This is one of the most stacked cards we have seen in quite some time, and sheer madness is likely to ensue when the world's greatest fight promotion makes its return to New York for UFC 217 this weekend - enjoy!
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