Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
On Saturday night time, Georges “GSP” St-Pierre, arguably the best fighter in UFC historical past and the promotion’s long-standing welterweight champion, will make the lengthy stroll to the UFC Octagon for the primary time in virtually 4 years.
At the age of 32, after a dozen consecutive victories and 9 straight profitable title defenses, St-Pierre known as it quits.
He returns to a unique panorama.
The cage will nonetheless be 750 sq. ft. The rounds will nonetheless be 5 minutes in period. One of the world’s greatest fighters, middleweight champion Michael Bisping, shall be standing throughout the cage to greet him.
Almost the whole lot else, from his weight clbad to the UFC’s possession, shall be dramatically completely different.
The return of a bona fide legend ought to be an enormous deal for a sport in determined want of stars—however in some way it would not fairly appear to be it. Does GSP nonetheless matter? And does he belong in trendy MMA?
B/R senior writers Jonathan Snowden and Chad Dundas talk about his legend, legacy and probability of stunning the world and reclaiming his place on the high of the game.
Does GSP Still Matter?
Last yr, powered by Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey and the shock return of WWE star Brock Lesnar, the UFC was at an all-time field workplace excessive. It was not a enterprise with the potential to do mbadive issues—it was a completely realized juggernaut.
Or so it appeared.
A yr later, Rousey has all however disappeared, Lesnar is suspended after a failed drug take a look at and McGregor was final seen within the boxing ring. The brilliant future 2016 promised was instantly hazy.
The UFC wants St-Pierre to matter. The promotion is constructed on pay-per-view, and now greater than ever, it is a star-driven enterprise. St-Pierre was a star, one of many sport’s largest.
Need some perspective on how lengthy has it been since St-Pierre stepped into the cage? The final time he defended his welterweight title, blended martial arts wasn’t even authorized within the state of New York.
UFC 217 shall be held in Madison Square Garden.
When GSP walked away, McGregor had fought only a single time within the UFC, on a humble Facebook preliminary card. His dream of profitable a number of UFC titles was distant and unlikely to come back true.
Today, he is St-Pierre’s alternative because the face of the game.
When St-Pierre stepped away, citing issues about efficiency enhancing medication, misplaced time and private points, he was in his bodily prime. Now he is the previous guard, again to re-establish his place within the pecking order.
It’s one thing that has labored for UFC earlier than.
In the early 2000s, the UFC catapulted to success on the backs of returning legends like Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie. The identical trick might not work a second time.
According to business insider Dave Meltzer (h/t Jason Nawara of Uproxx), it is not simply that MMA followers aren’t interested by GSP’s return—it is that they do not even know who he’s:
“UFC did a advertising and marketing examine and there was a consequence that stunned lots of people, and spoke to the modifications within the fan base and fast turnaround. There was a surprisingly excessive proportion of the present PPV shopping for viewers that had by no means heard of St-Pierre. As it turned out, a big proportion of the PPV viewers round at the moment got here into the game with Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor, and haven’t any historic information of it previous to that cut-off date.“
GSP, for his half, would not appear particularly involved.
“They’re going to know me after I win,” he instructed Mike Bohn and Matt Erickson of MMAjunkie.
The UFC, almost certainly, is much much less sanguine. Loads is driving on a St-Pierre win right here, each for him and the corporate. While fame and fortune is probably not what motivates him, a victory at UFC 217 is another in a warfare for historic supremacy.
Where Does GSP Rank Among the Greats?
Even earlier than the tip of his time as UFC welterweight champion, lots of the arguments towards St-Pierre being the best MMA fighter of all time have been primarily based extra on model than substance.
Chances are, in case you dismissed GSP as a possible GOAT in 2013, it was in all probability since you did not like the way in which he fought.
Back in these days, it was simpler to facet with Anderson Silva or Fedor Emelianenko as a result of they knocked individuals out or with Jon Jones as a result of he did spinning stuff.
The ensuing 4 years have not made St-Pierre’s candidacy for all-time nice standing any much less convincing.
While he is been out, Silva has gone 1-Three-1 and examined optimistic for steroids. Emelianenko sat idle throughout his personal retirement from the game earlier than returning to nab a pair of wins in smaller abroad promotions earlier than shedding to to Matt Mitrione by way of first-round KO in his Bellator MMA debut.
Ironically, Jones has gone Three-Zero-1 whereas arguably having the rockiest experience. He spent almost a yr on the shelf within the wake of a hit-and-run automotive crash and has additionally failed three UFC drug exams—two for efficiency enhancers and one for cocaine. Jones’ future is as unclear as ever, owing to a pending suspension to be levied after his newest failed take a look at.
The nice Jones has all the time courted controversy.Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
St-Pierre’s legacy might have gotten a lift when he elected to easily keep residence whereas the remainder of his competitors self-destructed.
If he manages to buck the chances on Saturday and defeat Bisping, it could put him on a brief record, together with Randy Couture, BJ Penn and McGregor, of the one UFC fighters to win titles in two weight courses.
It would additionally transfer him even with Bisping for many whole wins in UFC historical past, at 20.
Once you additionally contemplate the utter dominance of his 9 welterweight title defenses and six-and-a-half years with the 170-pound strap, a second title in a heavier division would possibly make it troublesome to disclaim St-Pierre the throne as MMA’s all-time nice.
Even if he loses to Bisping on Saturday, it might not impact his fame all that a lot.
Fans will know St-Pierre took an opportunity by transferring as much as middleweight to battle Bisping. If he is defeated, he would nonetheless have a handful of nice choices for a subsequent battle, together with the long-awaited matchup with Silva, a possible badembly with McGregor or an opportunity to regain the welterweight title towards Tyron Woodley.
The solely factor that would undermine St-Pierre’s legacy could be a protracted shedding streak that makes it clear he is unable to compete with the MMA fighters of 2017.
He ought to do what he can to keep away from the errors of Silva, Emelianenko and Jones. If he can handle that, his inventory ought to solely rise.
GSP Was More Than a Fighter—He Was the Smiling Face of Progress in a Dirty World
Today, the UFC is clearly McGregor’s promotion. He’s the top-drawing fighter ever, a brash, abrasive, gaudy man with a left hand each bit as loud as his custom-made furs.
In some ways, he is St-Pierre’s reverse, a Bizarro GSP changing clbad with crbad and a top-heavy floor sport and meat-and-potatoes jab with flashy energy punches and spinning kicks. St-Pierre famously dropped to his knees and begged for an opportunity at redemption. McGregor, maybe rightfully so, sees alternative without any consideration, not a privilege.
Navigating McGregor’s world hasn’t been simple for St-Pierre. Put him on a dais in entrance of a hungry media horde, and GSP magically transforms into one of many dullest human beings alive. His inclination is to smile shyly and communicate softly within the sort of meaningless jargon solely a high athlete can grasp.
That’s why, once I first met him in 2008 on a promotional tour for his superfight with Penn, I wasn’t particularly excited to take a seat down for an prolonged interview. Generic sports activities communicate isn’t any enjoyable for anybody, with predictable questions batted again with the corresponding cliche in a sport of verbal tennis.
One-on-one, he was an attention-grabbing and fascinating conversationalist, even in his second language. In his ingredient, St-Pierre was as compelling exterior the cage as he had ever been inside it.
We mentioned navy historical past, then a brand new ardour of his, and the event of the composite bow. It had modified warfare without end centuries in the past, permitting riders to fireplace from horseback. He was looking out for the same weapon to disrupt the MMA sport and go away his mark, each on historical past and his opponent’s faces.
Instead, his innovation was a consistency some discovered uninteresting. The thrilling strategies that led to his being nicknamed Rush, each due to the sentiments he impressed and his hurry to complete the battle, have been changed with formulaic drudgery.
St-Pierre used his jab to batter an opponent, forcing them to shut the gap. Then he would change ranges with misleading quickness and take them to the mat, the place he would make use of a cautious ground-and-pound badault.
His final seven fights all went to the decide’s scorecards, a incontrovertible fact that appeared to frustrate even the embattled champion.
Diaz took St-Pierre to an all-too-familiar determination.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
“I’ve gotten better,” he instructed me in a 2013 interview. “More expertise. More maturity. But the factor is—my opponents have gotten higher as nicely. Competition is far tougher than it was once. I did not battle guys like Carlos Condit or Nick Diaz then. I may undergo opponents with solely my athletic skill. It’s completely different now. …
“How many individuals have completed Nick Diaz? Nobody. You know what I imply? The guys I am preventing are loopy. I do my greatest. I am essential of myself. I wish to do higher and I am working.”
Four years in the past, a altering sport was already urgent St-Pierre to his restrict. As MMAjunkie’s Ben Fowlkes famous, that was 161 UFC occasions in the past. Is there any hope in any respect in a UFC extra advanced than ever?
Can St-Pierre Still Be Competitive After four Years Away?
The UFC and its fighters have each modified lots since St-Pierre introduced his prolonged hiatus from MMA close to the tip of 2013.
In Bisping, St-Pierre could also be taking over a member of the Octagon’s previous guard on Saturday at UFC 217, however there are nonetheless loads of causes to wonder if the French-Canadian phenom could be aggressive within the new-look UFC.
In retrospect, it appears quaint that the final time we noticed GSP, he was getting the hardest take a look at of his profession from Johny Hendricks. During St-Pierre’s four-year absence following that bout at UFC 167, Hendricks has fallen off the map, going Three-5 and fading from welterweight inheritor obvious to middleweight afterthought (in a bizarre coincidence, Hendricks will tackle up-and-comer Paulo Borrachinha in UFC 217’s pay-per-view opener).
Meanwhile, the remainder of the UFC has skilled a near-wholesale turnover—particularly on the championship degree—as the game continues to evolve and adapt at breakneck velocity.
The model of St-Pierre we’ll get Saturday will return at 36 from the longest stretch of inactivity in his preventing life. There’s no solution to know whether or not the athletic freak who held the welterweight division in his sway throughout two runs with the title from 2006 to 2013 nonetheless lives inside him.
Over 11 straight victories main up the Hendricks battle, St-Pierre systematically dominated the remainder of the very best 170-pound fighters on the earth. After beginning out as a kyokushin karate fighter with no formal wrestling background, he had remodeled himself right into a smothering and dominant wrestler lauded as among the best offensive grapplers in MMA historical past.
Experts usually puzzled over his exercise regimens and coaching strategies. Opponents continuously got here away feeling cheated—typically actually claiming as a lot.
But that was then.
As a considerably older athlete, St-Pierre dives right into a pool of fighters who shall be larger, extra expert and higher ready than something he is confronted earlier than.
Though the game lacks any definitive statistics to trace it, typical knowledge says the UFC’s roster is much better outfitted today to thrust back takedowns than it was a decade and even 5 years in the past.
During his heyday, St-Pierre was capable of dismantle embellished grapplers like Jon Fitch, Penn, Josh Koscheck and Jake Shields with out a lot as shedding a spherical. He might discover that to be a way more troublesome trick in 2017.
If St-Pierre can not dictate the place and the way his bouts are contested from begin to end, what’s going to develop into of him? Likely nothing good.
That goes double for his prospects within the middleweight division, the place he’ll surrender any benefit in dimension or power he as soon as loved towards the welterweights of yesteryear.
Bisping, for instance, is a a lot bigger, stand-up-oriented fighter, who additionally comes outfitted with an underrated takedown protection. It’s broadly badumed that if St-Pierre cannot get him to the mat early and sometimes (and hold him there) that this may change into an extended night time for him.
Will the identical show true of St-Pierre’s comeback on the entire?
As he trudges into his late 30s, he’ll must be as much as the problem of protecting tempo with an even bigger, largely youthful and extra expert crop of competitors.
We’ll get our first clues of whether or not he can do it at UFC 217.
If he reveals up trying like the identical fighter who needed to eke out a split-decision win over Hendricks all these years in the past (or worse), I am unsure I like his possibilities.
Jonathan Snowden is the Bleacher Report’s Senior Combat Sports Writer and the creator of Total MMA: Inside Ultimate Fighting. Chad Dundas is an MMA lead author and the creator of Champion of the World.