Georges St-Pierre did something that’s never been done over the course of UFC history on Saturday when he returned from a nearly four-year layoff to defeat Michael Bisping and become new UFC Middleweight champion.
It was the perfect way to conclude UFC 217, which took place at Madison Square Garden in New York City and aired on pay-per-view. Three new champions were crowned (a record for a single UFC event), and the outcomes ranged from shocking to thrilling to outright inspirational.
After Rose Namajunas pulled off one of the UFC’s all-time title fight upsets with a first-round knockout of Joanna Jedrzejczyk to claim the UFC Strawweight title, and T.J. Dillashaw knocked out Cody Garbrandt in the second round of their grudge match to win back Bantamweight gold, St-Pierre made his long-awaited return to the Octagon and once again proved his greatness.
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Many had wondered whether the Canadian could resume his prior dominance after such a long layoff, especially with moving up to middleweight from his more natural division of welterweight.
The decisive moment of an entertaining and hard-fought contest came towards the end of the third round, when St-Pierre popped Bisping with a stout left hand and sent him to the canvas.
Bisping tried to fight him off on the floor but could not get himself out of trouble. St-Pierre eventually got his back and locked in a rear naked choke and the fight was ended by the referee after Bisping refused to tap and fell unconscious.
“This is my dream come true, guys,” St-Pierre, widely regarded as the best fighter in UFC history, said, after receiving a rapturous reception following his long layoff.
There were times when St-Pierre looked a little gassed but there is also a reason why he has now recorded 13 consecutive wins. The Canadian claimed in the build-up that he would come back better than ever, and perhaps he has. He worked extensively with famed boxing coach Freddie Roach ahead of the fight and it was his boxing that got the job done, that powerful left hand setting up the finish that followed.
“You’ve got to give it up to Georges,” Bisping said. “He was the better man. No excuses.”
St-Pierre could opt to move down to 170 lbs., where a fight against Conor McGregor — who has fought twice at that weight — would be a blockbuster.
For now though, St-Pierre was just glad to be back, to be winning again, and to be straight back to the top of the UFC pile.