GIVEN HOW CENTRAL a player he was for the UFC for so long, it’s hard to believe that four years have already passed since Georges St-Pierre last entered the octagon on fight night.
After recovering from his shock 2007 loss to Matt Serra, when an underdog with nothing to lose capitalised on his complacency, there was an air of invincibility about GSP.
During a five-and-half-year reign as welterweight champion between April 2008 and November 2013, he saw off every challenger who was placed in front of him.
Adept in all aspects of the game, GSP is still regarded by many as the most accomplished fighter in the history of mixed martial arts. As a relatively clean-cut ambassador, he also attracted new fans to the sport by giving the UFC an avenue into the mainstream.
By the time he faced Johny Hendricks at UFC 167, however, GSP no longer resembled the dominant champion he had once been.
Having had to overcome an anterior cruciate knee ligament injury, and with his appetite being questioned after 11 years of fighting regularly as a professional, he was somewhat fortunate to emerge with a split-decision victory before sailing off into the sunset.Source: UFC - Ultimate Fighting Championship/YouTube
Tonight in the main event at UFC 217 at Madison Square Garden, the 36-year-old Canadian returns — but in a new division. GSP will be Michael Bisping’s opponent in the Englishman’s second title defence as middleweight champion.
There’s a point to prove for both men. GSP is eager to show that, at 36, he can still be the standard bearer, while Bisping continues to deal with doubts over the legitimacy of his claim to the 185-pound throne when several leading contenders, including interim champion Robert Whittaker, are snapping at his heels.
The meeting of St-Pierre and Bisping is one of three title fights on tonight’s blockbuster card at the iconic New York venue, where the men’s bantamweight and women’s strawweight belts will also be up for grabs.
Cody Garbrandt defends the 135-pound crown in a grudge match against ex-champion and former team-mate TJ Dillashaw. Poland’s Joanna Jedrzejczyk will be expected to match Ronda Rousey’s record of six UFC title defences for a female champion when she takes on Rose Namajunas.
There’s also significant interest from an Irish perspective. Donegal lightweight Joseph Duffy wanted a fight that could allow him to challenge for a place in the 155-pound rankings. James Vick might not be ranked at the moment, but he’s certainly the type of opponent who would represent a significant scalp for Duffy in his bid to climb the ladder.
Main card (2am — BT Sport 2)
Michael Bisping vs. Georges St-Pierre
Cody Garbrandt vs. TJ Dillashaw
Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Rose Namajunas
Stephen Thompson vs. Jorge Masvidal
Johny Hendricks vs. Paulo Borrachinha
TV prelims (12am — BT Sport 2 & UFC Fight Pass)
James Vick vs. Joseph Duffy
Walt Harris vs. Mark Godbeer
Ovince Saint Preux vs. Corey Anderson
Randy Brown vs. Mickey Gall
Early prelims (10.30pm — UFC Fight Pass)
Ion Cutelaba vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk
Oleksiy Oliynyk vs. Curtis Blaydes
Aiemann Zahabi vs. Ricardo Ramos