Say what you will about what that took place afterwards, but Georges St. Pierre’s return to competition at UFC 217 on Nov. 4 turned into a remarkable story, resulted in a stellar main event for one of the most memorable Ultimate Fighting Championship shows of 2017 and led to his emerging as Sherdog’s “Comeback Fighter of the Year.”
Despite questions involving his four-year sabbatical and the time that elapsed between when the fight with Michael Bisping was announced and when it actually took place, St. Pierre managed to deliver and exceed all reasonable expectations. It took an extended break, a change in UFC ownership, the promise of a cleaner sport and a shot at history to lure “Rush” back to the cage. St. Pierre in March announced that he planned to return to face Bisping, who had captured the middleweight championship in a stunning upset against Luke Rockhold.
“The landscape in mixed martial arts changes all the time,” St. Pierre said. “We have ups and downs, and discussions have been going on a long time. [It was] a long process.”
Still, some remained wary of St. Pierre’s motivations when a fight that was presented in the first quarter of the year took time to get an actual date. The Tristar Gym cornerstone in May brought his case to Bisping on social media and told the Brit when he would be ready: “After October, you pick the date, let’s get it on.” Of course, Bisping-St. Pierre did not come to blows until November.
Observers wondered how the greatest welterweight in MMA history would perform in the UFC 217 main event at Madison Square Garden, packing on an additional 15 pounds while attempting to shake off the rust from such a long layoff. Bisping, a cardio machine who debuted in the UFC as a light heavyweight, seemed like a difficult stylistic matchup on paper. However, St. Pierre defied the odds and added another memorable performance to his resume.
There were points during the fight at which Bisping’s size and strength seemed to frustrate and fatigue St. Pierre, but he nevertheless managed to turn the tide in his favor. When Bisping started to land in the striking exchanges, St. Pierre sought to take him down. When holding down “The Count” proved difficult, St. Pierre allowed him to return to his feet, create space and catch a breath before repeating the process. He drew Bisping into his web to set up a dramatic third-round choke that made him the fourth two-division champion in UFC history, joining Conor McGregor, Randy Couture and B.J. Penn in that exclusive group.
St. Pierre discussed his strategy in a post-fight interview with UFC commentator Joe Rogan.
“Martial arts is not about who has the biggest balls,” he said. “It’s about technique, setting traps and intelligence. I was fighting a bigger man to prove it tonight to all my fans.”
A longtime Firas Zahabi protégé, St. Pierre in the immediate aftermath remained non-committal regarding his plans post-Bisping; however, after he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, he elected to relinquish the middleweight belt. His move allowed the UFC to promote interim titleholder Robert Whittaker to undisputed champion at 185 pounds.
St. Pierre had defended his welterweight crown for the last time at UFC 167, where he was awarded a controversial split decision over four-time NCAA All-American wrestler Johny Hendricks. He absorbed an inordinate amount of damage against Hendricks, despite controlling considerable stretches of their encounter. It was then, before a crowd of 14,856 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, that St. Pierre revealed his desire to step away from the sport for “a little bit.” A month later, he vacated his title at 170 pounds. Looking back, perhaps St. Pierre wanted to exit the stage following a more decisive victory. He now has that chance after moving up in weight and choking a future hall of famer unconscious.
Whatever St. Pierre decides to do in the future, no one can deny that his dramatic return to the sport he once dominated will go down as one of the most memorable moments of the year.
Sherdog’s year-end awards were voted upon by a panel of Sherdog.com staff members and contributors: Jordan Breen, Tristen Critchfield, Chris Nelson, Mike Fridley, Brian Knapp, Eric Stinton, Todd Martin, Jordan Colbert, Josh Stillman, Jesse Denis, Edward Carbajal and Anthony Walker.
Edward Carbajal serves as the lead MMA analyst for Frontproof Media and holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a brown belt in Ishin Ryu Karate. He has covered combat sports since 2014 and has been a fan of MMA since UFC 1. You can follow Edward on Twitter @Carbazel or at his website, TheBlogBoardJungle.com.