Michael Bisping is pursuing a greater place in history, but it’s Georges St. Pierre who returns at UFC 217 with intentions to add to his already incredible legend.
To have finally reached this point feels like an accomplishment in itself. As the years went by, there was question whether or not Georges St. Pierre would ever return. As the months went by in 2017, there was question whether or not the fight would ever happen. Yet here we are, as the greatest welterweight in UFC history moves up in weight to take on middleweight champion Michael Bisping at UFC 217.
The story took several twists and turns. Earlier this spring, Bisping and St. Pierre faced off in their first press conference before a date had even been set for the fight. While an Independence Weekend clash was speculated, complications quickly dismissed the notion. Bisping underwent a procedure on his knee and St. Pierre suffered an eye injury. All the while, welterweights and middleweights alike were left wondering what the next move would be at the top of their respective weight classes.
As the months wore on, patience throughout the sport grew short. The line of title contenders vying for the belt in the middleweight division grew to the point that many took on high-risk fights when a title shot would have been guaranteed at any other time. Eventually, the delay reached the point where even UFC President Dana White claimed that “the GSP ship has sailed.” in regards to the super fight.
Then things took another twist. It appeared that St. Pierre would be next for welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, but a heavily criticized performance in July led to White re-booking the super fight. Bisping, who had verbally agreed at UFC 213 to face Robert Whittaker, immediately took the fight as it became apparent “The Reaper” would be out for an extended period with a knee injury.
For Michael Bisping, the bout is his most high profile match-up to date. He is headlining a pay-per-view at Madison Square Garden against the man who was the biggest draw in the sport for years. While the champion has gone back-and-forth in terms of discussing retirement, it’s abundantly clear that he is on the brink of the finish line in terms of his fighting career.
Bisping has long been setting up for life after competition. His steady role as an analyst on FOX and increasing acting roles made it appear that he was already prepared to hang up the gloves. But after winning the title in a shocking turn of events last year, he put any plans on hold to boost what has already been an admirable UFC run. By all accounts, a victory over St. Pierre at UFC 217 would be the final icing on the cake should he walk away without having faced Whittaker or anyone else afterward.
For Georges St. Pierre, there is great speculation as to why he chose to return. He left at the height of his powers, shattering records at welterweight and having turned back the best the division had to offer. At a time when the UFC is desperate for pay-per-view stars, there has been speculation about how much money factored into his comeback. Through various clues and hints given throughout the year, it is speculated that St. Pierre wishes to attempt an unprecedented run. He has hinted at a drop to 155 and he would likely be granted an immediate title shot at 170 based on his name value alone. That has led many to believe that St. Pierre hopes to finish his legacy by regaining UFC gold, possibly in two weight classes, and close out his career with a blockbuster super fight with Conor McGregor. That being said, he has been away from the sport for several years and the skill level of the competition has increased immensely. He has also admitted that if he were to lose, he would retire rather than continue fighting.
The champion Michael Bisping has not competed since last October, but the layoff is nothing compared to the four years St. Pierre has been away. The biggest factors going into UFC 217 will be how St. Pierre handles the move up in weight and how his speed and timing are after years away.
The second is the most important. Despite all the talk about training with legendary boxing coach Freddie Roach or his promises to be a more aggressive fighter on his return, St. Pierre’s best chance for victory is to use his dominant wrestling to control Bisping on the ground. Upon his departure, he was among the most prolific fighters ever at getting opponents to the mat. Against Bisping, he is attempting to take down a much bigger opponent than any he has ever faced in his UFC career. Also, the champion has shown himself to have outstanding takedown defense. Even at less than 100%, St. Pierre’s wrestling would be good enough to give most of the UFC roster issues. But against a fighter who is hungry for a grand finale to his career, anything less than his best will not be good enough. Until we see the two fight, we can only wonder as to how St. Pierre’s timing will be in the Octagon.
Bisping has a much simpler game-plan, even if the execution may be a difficult task. “The Count” should look to avoid getting put in the clinch by St. Pierre and be wary of a takedown in the center of the Octagon. From there, it is a matter of using his high volume striking to overwhelm the “Rush” on the feet. St. Pierre’s last fight against Johny Hendricks saw him struggle to take down “Big Rigg.” When that occurred, St. Pierre absorbed enormous damage in the primarily stand-up affair to pull out a victory. Bisping is much bigger than Hendricks and is technically a far better striker. While GSP is a more than competent striker, a battle on the feet for all five rounds favors Bisping every time.
It’s a battle of two veterans who have seen it all in the sport of mixed martial arts. Michael Bisping would achieve the incredible feat of having defeated the two best fighters of an era in both Anderson Silva and “Rush.” Georges St. Pierre’s place in the Hall-of-Fame has already been assured, but a victory could very well be the greatest chapter in his legend. The division will continue, especially as new stars await their turn. But on Saturday at UFC 217, two of the most recognized mixed martial artists in the world will vie in a bout that could define the legacy of the winner.