MONTREAL – It’s been four years since Georges St-Pierre strapped on MMA gloves to defend his UFC welterweight title, and he escaped far from unscathed.
St-Pierre took a beating from Johny Hendricks at UFC 167 but won a controversial split-decision before announcing his intention to step away from the sport. Given the blows he took, time off seemed a wise choice.
On Saturday, St-Pierre (25-2 MMA, 19-2 UFC) returns to the UFC’s octagon for a fight few had in mind when they envisioned a comeback: a shot at the middleweight belt against Michael Bisping (30-7 MMA, 20-7 UFC), a champion few thought would ever wear gold after multiple setbacks near the top.
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The two serve as the pay-per-view headliner of UFC 217, which takes place at Madison Square Garden in New York and airs on pay-per-view. It’s as big a stage as any for St-Pierre to make a comeback. If there was any time to start talking about ring rust, it would be now for St-Pierre, who’s reputation for being meticulous during preparation is offset by his time away from active competition.
Firas Zahabi knows perhaps more than anyone else about the French Canadian ex-champ’s strengths and weaknesses, his rhythms, and his eccentricities. And Zahabi is unwilling to concede any disadvantage Bisping could possibly present..
“If he had a limited amount of experience I believe it could be a major issue,” Zahabi told MMAjunkie. “But again, he’s been competing since he was 6, 7 years old. For him, it’s like riding a bike. I don’t believe ring rust is an issue in this fight, in this particular fight.”
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That addendum suggests the competitive regard for which St-Pierre’s camp holds Bisping, who’s primarily known as a striker and admits he was out-wrestled by St-Pierre years ago when they trained.
But the thing is, Bisping is coming into the fight on one of the most impressive runs of his career, taking out a string of dangerous middleweights, including ex-champ Anderson Silva, Luke Rockhold, whom he upset to win the belt, and Dan Henderson.
When the brash Brit faces off with St-Pierre, he will have functional muscle and endurance that’s been honed for years, rather than within a short span of time. Zahabi, though, believes St-Pierre’s smaller frame may serve to outpace Bisping.
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“When you fight with somebody who’s bigger than you, there’s a few techniques, movements and strategies that have to be eliminated off the table,” Zahabi said. “Because if a person is bigger than you, the chances of those strategies and techniques working are far less. So when you fight somebody bigger, you have less tools.
“However, I’m a believer that the smaller guys have the superiority in movement. You can move around move efficiently and use that to your advantage.”
There’s no doubt that movement will serve one main purpose: to ground and pound Bisping until he submits. And if St-Pierre can rebadert himself as the dominant player against Bisping, Zahabi said “Rush” is in a clbad of his own.
“I think it cements him as the greatest fighter or all time,” he said. “The greatest fighter of all time. All the other candidates had USADA issues.”
For more on UFC 217, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.