Post-Fight Thoughts: Michael Bisping -vs- Georges St-Pierre
To say that UFC 217 delivered the goods is an incredible understatement. A night of amazing action and excitement was capped off by Georges St-Pierre staging a successful return to mixed martial arts, submitting Michael Bisping in the third round of what was looking to be a very close fight. The rest of the night featured action, and a slew of devastating, highlight reel finishes, and still the main event still rose above all of that. On a night where two other new champions were crowned, it was rather fitting to see an old legend add another belt to his collection to cap off the evening.
I had a lot of apprehension towards this fight; I just did not see the rationale behind GSP returning to the sport, nevermind taking a fight against the middleweight champion. If he was to return at all, the logical expectation was that he would be pitted against whomever held his welterweight title. Nevertheless, GSP was serious about his return taking place 15 pounds heavier, and that is the fight we got. For the first round, it really did look like the GSP of old — mostly, anyway, as he definitely did not have the same speed he used to. Still, the trademarked Superman-style, leaping jab was still there, as were the well executed takedowns.
After the opening round, and as the bout wore on, it became increasingly clear that Georges' cardio wasn't at the level it used to be. Some of this could certainly be explained by the added weight, but ring rust and aging in general could certainly be other factors as well. Despite visibly tiring, Georges did not stop pressing forward, attempting takedowns or throwing strikes. To his credit, Michael Bisping's takedown defence and counter-wrestling were in top form and, even when GSP managed to get him down, "The Count" was able to quickly get back to his feet.
After the second round, it looked like the fight may be slipping away from St-Pierre. Bisping was settling into his typical strategy of absorbing some damage, letting his opponents tire and then slowly pouring on the aggression. Bisping hit GSP with a number of solid strikes, and cut him open with some vicious elbows from the bottom position. Of all the things I could have imagined transpiring in this fight, Bisping damaging GSP from the bottom was nowhere near that list. Shortly after that sequence, Bisping got back to his feet and was dropped by a huge punch. St-Pierre swarmed his downed opponent, looking to end the fight with strikes.
Bisping did well to try and survive the flurry of ground-and-pound shots GSP was throwing at him. Eventually, however, Bisping exposed his neck and the former welterweight king quickly slapped on a rear-naked choke which rendered "The Count," who refused to tap, unconscious. It was a picture-perfect ending to a fight that was shaping up to be yet another disheartening case of the old guard coming back for one more, only to show that time has passed them by. There was still hope, but until that counter shot dropped Bisping, it really felt like momentum was slowly turning in his favour. The fight was incredibly tense, making the ending even more satisfying.
St-Pierre may have said that he was coming back as a better version of himself, but this was not the case. What we saw was a clearly diminished Georges St-Pierre, but also a fighter who now stakes a very strong claim to the mantle of Greatest Of All Time. Coming back after 4 years, 2 knee surgeries, and finishing one of the most tenacious, durable middlewights in the sport in 3 rounds and capturing another world title is an incredible achievement. I'm not overly concerned with arguments about who the pound-for-pound best — or the GOATs — are, but such an amazing accomplishment fuels those very discussions. If GSP is not on your list as The One, then he has to be somewhere in the discussion — I think that is a fair statement.
One thing this fight made very clear, however, is that neither man, Michael Bisping nor GSP, has much to offer Robert Whittaker. The interim middleweight champion has really hit his stride, and presents a much larger threat — both literally and figuratively. GSP even said himself, in his post-fight interview, that middleweight is not his real weight class. I did not expect the winner to defend their 185-pound title against Whittaker, and I still maintain this position. Whether GSP even fights again is unknown; this year has shown, several times, that the titles are just props — and new, interim ones can be minted whenever necessary. I don't want to see GSP continue to fight at 185; I would be happy if GSP opted to do 1-2 more superfights, against whoever, and then retire permanently.
Michael Bisping's run as middleweight champion is finally over. I've been a fan of Bisping for quite some time, and I even picked him to win the title when he was announced as a last-minute substitute at UFC 199, where he knocked out Luke Rockhold. Watching "The Count" parlay an incredible tenacity and toughness into such a successful career in MMA has been impressive to watch. It seems fitting that his complete opposite, a gifted athlete and legendary baby-face, marks their return to MMA by vanquishing the evil heel champion in the main event at a show in Madison Square Garden. Every now and then, MMA manages a result better than anything the WWE could have scripted — and this is one of them.
GSP is back, at least for now. The improbable reign of Michael Bisping is over. Still, we are left with more questions than answers. As for who GSP will actually fight next, that is anyone's guess. In MMA, the purity of sport — and the sanctity of divisional title belts — will always yield in the face of a huge payday. Personally, I think GSP has better odds of fighting Tyron Woodley or Conor McGregor next, I don't think Bobby Knuckles figures into the equation — he is a dangerous fight with little financial upside. Only time will tell; for now, I am content in the fact that Georges St-Pierre showed us that legends can make comebacks that don't serve as grim reminders of that everyone is mortal.
Published: November 5th, 2017.