The main event of UFC 217 in New York tonight sees the return of a mixed martial arts icon as Canada’s Georges St-Pierre makes his long-awaited comeback after a four-year hiatus.
The Canadian superstar isn’t taking any warm-up bouts, either. Instead, he’s pitching himself straight back into a world title fight, as he moves up a weight class to challenge undisputed middleweight champion of the world Michael ‘The Count’ Bisping at Madison Square Garden.
It’s a battle that pits the two fighters with the most wins in UFC history against one another in a battle of two future UFC hall of famers. But who’ll prevail on fight night?
Stand-up versus wrestling
They say styles make fights, and this particular clash between Bisping and St-Pierre is a typical striker versus wrestler matchup.
Bisping is a seasoned kickboxer, with excellent takedown defence, supreme cardio and the ability to sustain damage and keep pressing forward. He’s come through fights with MMA legends Anderson Silva and Dan Henderson despite being dropped and hurt by both men, and come out the victor after thrilling comeback performances. If ever a man should be sponsored by Timex, it’s Bisping. He takes a lickin’ but keeps on tickin’.
St-Pierre has decent striking, thanks to his karate background and the presence of boxing coach Freddie Roach in his corner, but he’s not in Bisping’s league in terms of his all-round stand-up game. Where GSP shines is in his timing and takedowns allowing him to switch gears against superior strikers and take them into deep waters on the mat.
How each man copes with the other’s skillset will go a long way to determine the winner, but there are plenty of factors to consider ahead of this one.
Prior to his self-imposed hiatus, St-Pierre was arguably the best fighter in the UFC and the most dominant champion in the sport. But four years is a long time to sit out, and the ever-evolving landscape of MMA may have moved past the Canadian’s fighting style. Has GSP adapted his style to cope, or will he go back to his tried and trusted approach against Bisping tonight?
As for Bisping, he’s demonstrated his ability to bounce up time and time again whenever his back hits the mat. Will he be able to stuff St-Pierre’s takedown attempts and, if GSP does take him to the mat, will he be able to shrug off the Canadian’s top game and get back to his feet, where he holds his most significant advantage?
Then there’s the issue of octagon rust and cardio. St-Pierre insists he’s in the best shape of his career, but even in his prime he never faced a fighter that sets the sort of relentless pace of Bisping. Will the Canadian be able to last the full five rounds against a bigger, harder-hitting man?
And back to Bisping, does the Brit have the sort of striking power to trouble St-Pierre? He has a host of stoppage wins on his record – and captured the world title from Luke Rockhold by knockout – but isn’t really seen as a big knockout artist.
Finding sense in the uncertainty
© Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Looking at the matchup as a whole, I believe Bisping holds the significant advantages and should come through this test the victor.
He is the bigger man and is more ‘match fit’ than St-Pierre. Even allowing for a top-notch training camp, St-Pierre simply hasn’t been in there competing in the octagon in top-level fights for four years. Bisping has, and he’s physically attuned to the task in hand, whereas GSP is looking to work his way back in. Against Bisping that’s not a spot you want to be in.
Bisping’s underrated striking power could well play a factor here. While not hailed as a knockout artist, a look back at his most recent fights shows the Brit’s power warrants more respect than it’s getting from some. He dropped Anderson Silva, wobbled the granite-chinned Dan Henderson and knocked out then-champion Rockhold.
All are significantly bigger men, who either have successfully competed (Silva and Henderson) or could compete (Rockhold) at light-heavyweight, and Bisping hurt all three with strikes. Against an average-sized welterweight, Bisping’s strikes could look more powerful than we’re used to seeing.
Also, keep an eye out for Bisping’s kicks. If Bisping gets to the stage in the bout where he’s confident of dealing with St-Pierre’s takedown threat, his high kick could well come into play.
Also, when it comes to the five-round duration, Bisping is virtually unmatched. St-Pierre was used to going all five rounds back in his prime, but many of his fights saw him largely on top and, in two of his most recent outings against Carlos Condit and Johny Hendricks, there were signs that his dominance was on the wane.
Coming back after four years out, against a supremely-conditioned, larger fighter with underrated knockout power and excellent ability to not only defend a takedown, but get back to his feet when he is taken down, is not a great position for St-Pierre to be in.
© Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports
If it goes all five rounds, I expect Bisping to win. And if there’s a stoppage, I expect it to be because Bisping has stopped St-Pierre via TKO. Currently on this side of the pond GSP is the pre-fight favorite, which makes the odds on Bisping’s method of victory even better value.
Bisping via decision can be had for +300, while a TKO/KO stoppage for the Brit is available for +325. I fancy the Brit to claim a late stoppage victory against a tiring St-Pierre with a TKO stoppage in the championship rounds.
PICK: Bisping by KO/TKO
[Main photo credit: © Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports / Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports]
Go Embedded at UFC 217
We conclude our build-up to tonight’s fights with the final two episodes of the UFC’s ‘Embedded’ video blog as the behind-the-scenes cameras follow the fighters to Friday’s official early-morning weigh-ins, before they rehydrate and step onto the stage for the final face-offs at the ceremonial weigh-ins at the Madison Square Garden Theater.
It promises to be a spectacular night. You can follow my updates throughout the evening via Twitter @simonhead.