UFC 217 was considered by many the best event in the company’s history, with three titles changing hands & each fight containing some form of drama it’s tough to think of an event which delivered on so many levels like this one did.
The headline story of the night was, of course, the successful return of Georges St-Pierre. After having spent 4 years without competition he defied father time, potential ring rust & risked a move up in weight for the first time all on the same night. A majority of experts and fellow professionals picked Bisping due to the various circumstances St-Pierre had to overcome which emphasizes the enormity of the task St -Pierre was facing.
Before now fighters have come back from long layoffs and won world titles but not many have looked as good as they were previously.
Muhammad Ali was stripped of his boxing license for refusing to partake in national service in 1967, he would not return to the ring until 1970 losing crucial years of his prime between ages 25 to 28. Having been undefeated prior to being exiled, upon his return he won 2 straight before losing to “Smoking” Joe Frazier.
Ali still achieved some amazing things in his later career including avenging the loss to Frazier and winning the deciding third fight, however, it’s clear if you watch footage from before and after his time away from the sport he wasn’t the same fighter. His body looked softer, his signature floating movement wasn’t as sharp & his hands looked slower.
Mike Tyson served a prison sentence which kept him out of competition for over 4 years between 1991 and 1995, he was also coincidentally 25 years old at the time of his incarceration. Tyson’s record prior to imprisonment was 41-1, his record from release to retirement was 9-5 with two no contests. Tyson still had the power he just wasn’t the same athletic fighter we had witnessed in his prime.
The UFC is a collection of the best fighters in the world all under one roster, there’s no such thing as a warm-up fight. GSP wasn’t afforded the luxury of fighting a guy who presented a low threat, whichever weight division he came back to there was no easy option.
Observing St-Pierre’s last few fights before retirement I felt as if he looked anxious before and during competition. The criticisms aimed at him were for the most part that he couldn’t finish fights, his style was perceived as passive and therefore boring to watch.
This weekend reminded me of the early St-Pierre, being aggressive, taking chances, most of all he looked as if he was enjoying being in the octagon once again. To my surprise, he looked technically as good if not better than 4 years ago. The added weight made his movement look a little labored, it also looked as if his cardio was going to become a problem but he managed to get the finish (his first since 2009) before it could become a factor.
During his run as welterweight champion GSP frequently mentioned his desire to be “one of the greatest ever” his lack of finishes and passive style harmed his validity in that debate, now with titles in two weight divisions and a thrilling finish in a fight many didn’t expect him to win he is perhaps the first name in the argument.
Next for GSP?, Dana White is adamant that Robert Whittaker who is the current interim middleweight champion will be fighting St-Pierre for the undisputed middleweight title in 2018. I personally would imagine St-Pierre drops back down to 170lbs which is his natural weight division to challenge Tyron Woodley for the belt.
UFC 217 was the dramatic night St-Pierre needed to vindicate his legacy, the outcome was filled with doubt but he triumphed despite facing adversity. Choking Bisping unconscious after such a long hiatus is no doubt the most memorable moment of St-Pierre’s career. With a possible mega-fight against McGregor on the cards in 2018, it’s safe to say Georges St-Pierre isn’t done just yet.