Since the UFC first graced the iconic Madison Square Garden arena at UFC 205 a lot has changed.
Headlined by Conor McGregor, UFC 205 generated over a million buys, those sort of numbers now seem a lifetime away.
UFC 215 and 216 only drew just over the 100k and 200k mark respectively, so the return at UFC 217 of perhaps the sports greatest ever fighter, the UFC will hope stem the tide of a disappointing year for the sports premier organisation.
However reported slow ticket sales do not bode well despite there being 3 title fights on an excellent card.
The most dominant Welterweight Champion in UFC history returns after a 4 year absence to challenge Michael Bisping for his UFC Middleweight Title
Bisping himself hasn’t fought in over a year, since he beat Dan Henderson in their rematch.
Bisping with a 30-7 record is a testament to never giving up on your dreams.
Most pundits including me thought Bisping would never get his title chance. Bisping when on the brink of a title fight, would always seem to lose that final elimination fight. Defeats to Tim Kennedy and Luke Rockhold seem to end any lingering hopes.
Bisping’s belief never wavered, and since Rockhold beat him in 2014, he hasn’t lost since. A win over Anderson Silva kept him relevant and a short notice offer to challenge Luke Rockhold for the UFC Middleweight Title was readily accepted.
Despite the odds and the ease with which Rockhold handled him in their first encounter, Bisping shocked the world when he stopped the over-confident Champion in the 1st round.
Bisping makes his 2nd defence against the returning Georges St-Pierre.
St-Pierre hasn’t fought since edging Johnny Hendricks in 2013, a decision widely criticised at the time. GSP promptly ‘retired’ after that fight and we get to see after a 4 year hiatus what version of the once formidable Welterweight Champion will turn up.
Whatever other reasons St-Pierre gives I think we definitely saw a physical decline before his retirement. Injuries almost certainly played their part, but the GSP we saw against Hendricks was a fighter on the decline.
The record of GSP is quite astonishing, only two defeats in 27 contests, the last to the 11-1 underdog Matt Serra in 2007, makes him worthy of being called the greatest ever.
The two defeats on his record to Serra and Matt Hughes have both been avenged.
But we have to judge GSP on the here and now, can he really overcome 4 years off, a decline in his skills and the move up to Middleweight to become the 4th man in history to hold UFC titles at two different weights.
If we were talking about a Pound for Pound fight with both in their primes, GSP would undoubtedly win, but at Middleweight and at this stage of their respective careers things are much different.
This isn’t the GSP who cleaned out an entire division.
This could very well be the last time we see both fighters in the Octagon.
Bisping will be getting a career high payday and a win against a living legend like GSP will almost certainly convince him to leave the sport, more so with the likes of Robert Whittaker, Luke Rockhold, Chris Weidman and others not so patiently waiting in line.
A defeat to Bisping will surely spell the end of a fabulous career for St-Pierre.
So who wins, if the fight remains standing despite GSP being no slouch, if a little predictable, Bisping probably has the edge.
GSP will surely look to revert to type and try to put Bisping on his back. The problem is will he be able to keep Bisping down if he does manage to take him down.
Bisping’s wrestling is underrated, and with his Middleweight strength, I can foresee real problems for the Canadian If that’s his key to victory.
GSP was heavily reliant on timing for his takedowns, after so long away will his timing be on point.
St-Pierre despite being on a 12 fight win streak hasn’t stopped anybody since 2009, so a points win is probably his only chance here.
If GSP is truly rejuvenated then a win is possible, at their respective peaks GSP was on another level.
Surprisingly GSP is a slight betting favourite, but for me all the questions are coming from the GSP side.
Comebacks rarely work and I think this will be no different.
For me there are too many doubts, GSP will have some success in the fight for sure, but Bisping will be too much and more importantly too big for GSP.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Bisping stops his man, but a points win is more likely and will see him retain his title and yet again like much of his career it will be against the odds.
Bisping via decision.
Artwork courtesy of Stuntmanjosh