The much-anticipated comeback of MMA superstar Georges “Rush” St. Pierre is finally happening in UFC 217 on Saturday, November 4 (Sunday, November 5 in Manila) at the iconic Madison Square Garden in New York City as the former two-time welterweight king challenges fellow veteran and current champ Michael “The Count” Bisping for the middleweight strap. UFC fans were kept guessing as to when the Canadian sports demigod would step on the octagon again after he “stepped away” from the sport in late 2013.
GSP shocked the world when he announced right after his controversial split decision title-retention win over future welterweight champion Johny Hendricks on November 16, 2013 that he would step away temporarily from the sport to attend to personal matters. Later on, St. Pierre became vocal against certain issues perplexing the sport, particularly on the use of illegal performance-enhancement drugs, which he said was rampantly used by several top fighters. GSP is highly regarded as a physical specimen in MMA because of his outstanding strength, athleticism and stamina, which he claims to have achieved through sheer hard work and discipline.
In a recent press conference, GSP said when asked about his reason for returning to the octagon: “I wasn’t in a happy place when I finished last time. I wanted to finish in a happy place. I’m happy now. A lot of things have changed in the sport. I’m at peace. The personal parts of my life are much better.” The UFC is now implementing a year-round drug testing conducted by the reputable United States Anti-Doping Agency.
Before St. Pierre went into a hiatus, he was considered the UFC’s best welterweight of all time, marked by 11 consecutive championship fights won and nine successful title defenses. He was one title defense away from matching Anderson Silva’s record for most consecutive successful title defenses of ten. This was recently broken by now pound-for-pound king Demetrious Johnson, the owner of the UFC’s flyweight belt. GSP is only the second UFC champion to come out of Canada, after Carlos Newton. He was also one of the most popular UFC stars of all time. His bout versus Jake Shields in Toronto in 2011 was the second most attended event in the UFC with a crowd of 55,724, next only to the Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm’s 56,214.
Other than gunning for a rousing return to the UFC, the 36-year-old pride of Montreal, Quebec, Canada will also attempt to become only the fourth fighter in the UFC to hold belts in two different divisions after Randy Couture, BJ Penn and Conor McGregor. From ruling the 170-pound weight class, which is now held by Tyrone Woodley, the 5’11” St. Pierre, will be fighting again after nearly four years but this time at 185 pounds in a division filled with revered fighters that are mostly bigger than him, like 6’0” interim champ Robert Whittaker, 6’3” former strap-holder Luke Rockhold, 6’0” No. 3 contender Yoel Romero, 6’2” former champion Chris Weidman, and the 6’1” defending title-holder Bisping. It’s a division where GSP might not be able to rely on too much on his notable strength, which was instrumental in his long title-run at welterweight.
GSP (25 wins, 2 losses) will be facing Bisping, the British icon and one of the winningest fighters in all of the UFC with 31 victories against seven losses. The Manchester native has won his last five matches including those against legends Anderson Silva and Dan Henderson, and 12 of the last 16. He has the most UFC bouts among active fighters with 27, and the second-most total fight time after Frankie Edgar with 5 hours, 48 minutes and 40 seconds. He is known for his stand-up game, especially his boxing, and admired for his cardio and fighting heart. He was a heavy underdog when he challenged then middleweight champion Rockhold last year but scored a KO win in the opening round to wrest the belt. Bisping also ranks first in the UFC in most significant strikes landed with a total of 1,533. GSP is third with 1,254. But St. Pierre is the all-time leader in total strikes landed, with 2,523, while Bisping is fourth with 1,879.
Both fighters are undeniably well-rounded in MMA, with celebrated wins both in stand-up and on the ground. The Brit has 18 KO victories, and three by submission using the armbar and guillotine choke. GSP has eight wins via TKO and five by submission. But while The Count thrives on outboxing his opponents, Rush is most effective with his takedowns and ground-and-pound. St. Pierre has the all-time most takedowns in the UFC with 87, and the highest takedown percentage of 73.73%. Against Dan Hardy in his UFC 211 title defense, he took down his opponent 11 times. So the key to a GSP victory would be to take down Bisping and control him on the ground with his wrestling, Jiu-jitsu and ground-and-pound. The key for Bisping to keep his belt is his respectable takedown defense, which is currently at 64.58%. He must try to keep the fight on the feet and overwhelm the Canadian with his relentless striking. And while both fighters are well-regarded for their cardio, Bisping should have the advantage if the battle goes to the championship rounds being the more active one. GSP has not fought since November of 2013 even when he is prominent for his work ethic and hard training.
Interestingly, GSP mentioned in a recent interview that if he fails to make a successful comeback, he would hang up his gloves for good. “If I ever lose, I’m retired, it’s finished for me,” St-Pierre told the New York Post.
During the peak of their reign in the UFC some years ago, there were talks of a super fight between GSP and then middleweight boss Anderson Silva. Silva is still active in the middleweight division now and ranked No. 7. The Brazilian, who remains the consensus greatest MMA fighter of all time, is set to clash with No. 8 Kelvin Gastelum on November 25. Perhaps St. Pierre and Silva can still make that fight happen if neither of them retires soon.
The Bisping-St. Pierre bout headlines a stacked UFC 217 card that includes two other title-fights in the grudge match between UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt and his ex-teammate and former strap-holder TJ Dillashaw, and in the UFC women’s strawweight championship between undefeated titlist Joanna Jedrzejczyk and No. 4 Rose Namajunas.
UFC 217: Bisping vs. St. Pierre will be telecast on Sunday 9:30PM on ESPN5.