In what will go down as one of the greatest events in the history of mixed martial arts, former welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre made his long-awaited octagon return, facing Michael Bisping in the main event of a spectacular night of action that saw three new world champions crowned, changing the landscape of the MMA world once again.
After nearly four years outside of competition, St-Pierre made his comeback in emphatic fashion, finishing Bisping via rear naked choke in the third round of their intense championship fight, where both men were left bloodied after almost 15 minutes of bracing action. Bisping would refuse to tap from the inescapable choke, his title reign slipping away as he rapidly lost consciousness. The Brit deserves endless amounts of respect for the toughness he displayed (and always does), and for the fantastic show he gave to all the fans tuning in from around the world.
However, it was Georges St-Pierre’s night. The Canadian became a 13-time UFC champion, and is now one of just four men to hold world championships in two different weight divisions, a goal he has desired for years but has only now been given a real chance to complete. Georges’ grabbed the opportunity with both hands last night, but how did he secure this legacy-cementing victory over the UFC middleweight champion after four years outside of the sport?
After facing criticism for his perceived lack of determination to finish fights in his later years, St-Pierre set out to put pressure on Michael Bisping from the beginning of the contest. Perhaps taken aback by the Canadian’s forward pressing, for fear of being taken down or simply following a set out gameplan, Bisping was pushed back towards the fence for much of the fight as Georges’ uncorked a series of powerful strikes on the champion, putting his boxing skills to use whilst enjoying the freedom to throw kicks on a man with no intentions of taking the fight to the ground.
St-Pierre was slightly overzealous in his attacks at some points and seemed to slow down as the British champion was only settling into the fight. However, Georges controlled his pace far better as the bout went on, and would take over once again in round three despite being badly cut from the relentless attacks of Bisping from bottom position on the ground.
The legendary welterweight looked huge as he stood toe-to-toe with a former light heavyweight in Michael Bisping, an asset he deemed to be necessary for him to justify the jump up in weight divisions. It allowed him to be far more aggressive in the fight, as St-Pierre combined his speed and technique with brute force in order to press the action and take the fight to Bisping throughout. The Canadian scored takedowns practically at will, landing three from four attempts, and took home double the number of significant strikes of his opponent. This aggression is a facet of Georges’ game missing for quite some time during his dominant welterweight title reign, and it served him well to bring it back at UFC 217 this Saturday.
Considering GSP’s long absence from active competition, I expected him to start slowly and relax as the fight progressed. He has often said he always feels nervous before a fight begins, and I expected this to be magnified on such a grand stage as UFC 217 in Madison Square Garden was.
However, the Tristar Gym combatant seemed as if he had never left the sport, and put his gameplan to work from the opening bell. This was vital for him to do against Bisping, who is renowned for his never-ending gas tank and relentless attacks on tiring opposition. Had Georges started slowly, he may have taken damage early on and been unable to find his way back into the contest as Bisping found his range and timing, but the 36-year-old conveyed extraordinary confidence for a man facing the pressure of ring rust and stayed true to the skills that brought him to this point.
St-Pierre also did a magnificent job of remaining calm during the second round, when he clearly felt the effects of his heavy early onslaught on the now-former champion, and the extra muscle mass that he carried into the octagon in New York on November 4. He struggled to keep the champion pinned to the mat, and exerted a large amount of energy in his attempts to do so. The Canadian visibly slowed down as Bisping refused to fall, but his vast wealth of experience allowed him to remain unruffled, and he hastily recovered in time for an explosive third round that saw him claim the UFC middleweight championship with a finish that left no doubts in the minds of the viewers.
Establishing a jab and earning Bisping’s respect
Something that Georges wanted to avoid was Michael Bisping entering a groove and walking him down. Therefore, it was important for him to use the jab that has killed the momentum of so many fighters in the past, no matter how elite their striking may have been. St-Pierre used the strike both defensively and offensively and made Bisping feel his power from the start to earn the Brit’s respect. The jab kept St-Pierre consistently ahead in the eyes of the judges, and was the base that allowed him to control the fight on the feet. Georges also brought back his unique ‘Superman’ jab, a move that I have dearly missed in his time away from mixed-martial-arts.
St-Pierre also seemed eager to land with his right hand, aiming to secure a knockout to mark his comeback fight with the “boom” he mentioned regularly in the buildup to the event. GSP landed several, although he ate a series in return from the game Michael Bisping, who shared the same ill intentions as the all-time great in St-Pierre. However, The Count’s own plans were thwarted as Georges landed the biggest blow of the fight, sending him crashing to the canvas where St-Pierre would reign down strikes from top position, eventually taking the champion’s back and choking him unconscious to the backdrop of the 18,000 screaming fans that packed into the mecca of fighting for the historical UFC 217.
A legendary moment for GSP
No matter what you will hear, Michael Bisping is not and has never been, an easy matchup for anyone. The Brit has claimed his most high-profile wins on his latest run in spite of the fact
many see him as being past his best, yet he continues to be one of the most underrated fighters in UFC history. Michael gave his all in the UFC 217 main event and went out on his shield, which is the only thing that Bisping knows how to do in defeat. For Georges St-Pierre to come back after a four-year hiatus at the age of 36 and defeat anyone inside of the UFC is a huge achievement, but for him to return and defeat Michael Bisping, a man who fought eight times during Georges’ time away from the sport, is a monumental accomplishment.
Many doubted St-Pierre’s status as the greatest fighter of all time before last night’s event, which is something that stunned me every time the discussion over all-time greats came up. However, now that the Canadian has secured a 13th UFC title and become a two-weight world champion, it appears that most fans are recognizing just how great his legacy will forever be. In my eyes, GSP is the best fighter we have ever seen inside of the octagon, and his story is far from finished yet.
Free of controversy but filled with action, this fight delivered in every sense of the word. It had the up-and-down moments that make MMA special and also delivered us with a matchup between two legends of the sport that could not possibly have disappointed. I am grateful that I was lucky enough to witness this event live; it is one I will never forget and is a night that I will be re-watching for years to come.
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