The UFC was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year prior to UFC 217 over the weekend. There, the triumphant return of Georges St. Pierre salvaged the MMA promotion’s year.
The UFC owes a great deal of thanks to GSP right now. Never mind what Dana White had to say at the UFC 217 post-fight press conference. While the UFC President claimed that the UFC was having its greatest year in oh, just about forever, appearances matter. See, that claim happens to include Mayweather vs. McGregor, and while the UFC was involved, it was not a UFC event. They weren’t the promoter of the world’s most watched PPV, simply another player. While they likely took home a good chunk of change, to the public (and frankly in reality) it wasn’t a UFC card.
When the taxman comes, you’d better believe it counts. The rest of the year? UFC events start with UFC, and are generally followed by Fight Night, on FOX, or a number. And the numbered events this year have struggled.
In fact, outside of UFC 214 back in July, it’s hard to find a UFC card that really got people talking. Add to that the fact that ultimately, the talk surrounding UFC 214 was the failed drug test of disgraced former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, and you see the problem.
With the resurgence of boxing in 2017 thanks in part to MMA’s own Conor McGregor, the UFC suddenly looked like a bit of a lame duck. Big fights from the likes of Anthony Joshua and GGG over in the boxing world emphasized that fact.
Then came a Rush from the past. Georges St. Pierre, who announced his return to the sport of mixed martial arts last year, was finally ready to fight. Any time after October, which turned out to be as early into November as possible, at UFC 217 at New York City’s storied Madison Square Garden.
Had St. Pierre come out and flopped, the worst that would have happened was Michael Bisping taking out another legend a little long in the tooth. Yet he didn’t. GSP moved a little slower, tired a little quicker, but showed superior instincts. His timing came back as the fight against Bisping went on. His heart shone through, and his fight IQ, second to none, was never in doubt. Bloodied at the end of the second round despite doing enough to win it, the Canadian stepped on the gas in the third after knocking Michael Bisping down with a left hook. He pounced, unleashed a barrage of elbows, and when ‘The Count’ proved able to weather that storm, GSP took the back. From there, a rear-naked choke that looked absolutely inescapable sealed the deal. Bisping refused to tap, and went to sleep for his troubles.
Rush was back. GSP was a two-division champion in the UFC. His first finish in nearly a decade was one of the biggest of his career.
And thanks to his loyal fanbase and the unexpected nature of his victory (not to mention the fantastic supporting card at UFC 217), he also salvaged the UFC’s year.
Thanks everyone for making this the greatest night of my career!!! – Georges St. Pierre
Whatever the buyrate for the event is in the end, the financials are almost secondary. The narrative in the MMA world instantly shifted from “The UFC’s Dud of a Year” to “GSP’s Spectacular Return.” Just about every major news outlet trumpeted the triumphant return of the man who may now solely hold the mantle of Greatest of All Time.
Again, the strong undercard helped. There wasn’t a dull fight to be found at the event. Dana White, asked post-fight whether UFC 217 was the promotion’s greatest card of all time, hedged his bets, but for once, he would have been forgiven for a bit of hyperbole. Yet it was GSP the media was talking about Sunday, and into Monday, and likely will be most of the week, despite the star-studded UFC Norfolk slowly creeping up on us.
For that, the UFC should be saying “Thanks, Georges” no matter how they try to spin their year publicly.
New middleweight champ St. Pierre, meanwhile, released his first official statement since the big win.
So yes, thank you GSP. You just saved the UFC’s year.