With us now just days out from UFC 217, it’s time to just sit back and enjoy the completely bonkers main event that the night has to offer, regardless of how wrong and unnatural it might feel.
It went from silly-notion to genuine rumour to set-in-stone but now, whether you like or not, Michael Bisping and Georges St-Pierre will fight on November 4 and on paper, it’s as interesting and ultimately mysterious a showdown as we have had in some time inside the octagon.
Sure, it really shouldn’t happen. A middleweight debutant who once held a title at welterweight almost four years ago getting a title shot in a weight-class he has no place in, but these are strange times we live in and when the money is right, sense often goes out the window.
I too was once on the side of those who were indifferent to this contest, and seeing the completely forced animosity that these two have managed to conjure up really didn’t help matters. But when I actually thought about it, this match-up is just about as unique and gripping as any we have seen in recent years.
Of course, St-Pierre’s decision to face Bisping and not the more natural fit that would have been Tyron Woodley was perhaps one borne out of the technical advantages GSP would bring into the fight.
But really, the sheer size of the middleweight champ compared to his opponent could well play a massive part on the night.
It does seem like the risk on the part of the famously cautious ‘Rush’ to take a fight in a new weight-class is an odd one – and again, this could be down to the point outlined above – but, if for one moment we could simply entertain the idea that this is a show of supreme confidence on the part of him and his team, we may end up getting somewhere.
St-Pierre is renowned as one of the greatest champions and one of the most talented mixed martial artists of all-time. The two losses that blemished his career were ones he swiftly avenged in stunning fashion.
When he walked away from the sport, he did so due to the pressures that came with being a world-famous champion and of course, due to the very real dangers of brain-damage, but now, after nearly four years on the sidelines, why exactly would the methodical and level-headed St-Pierre go back on his decision?
Yes, he never explicitly said he was going to retire but still, four years is a long time to spend out of the game, active in the gym or not.
It has to be a possibility that St-Pierre and his team – in particular his guru coach Firas Zahabi – believe that their man is reaching his peak and in doing so, is capable of reaching heights that no-one has reached to date in MMA. I mean, four years is a long time for the effects of ‘ring-rust’ to manifest themselves but it doesn’t seem as though GSP has left the gym for an overly long amount of time during that period.
He’s an avid martial artist, a keen gymnast and an innovator in every sense of the word. He’s the guy who we literally saw advance as a wrestler from the ground up and within years outclass some of the greatest grapplers the sport has ever seen. This is a testament not only to his freak athleticism – but also to his ability to learn and grow with the constantly-adapting game of mixed martial arts.
There was a time when St-Pierre was the greatest athlete – in the physical sense of the word – in the sport, so why are people so convinced that this man – who has made his career off of the most minute of details – is coming into this bout heavy and out of shape?
Obviously some shots of Georges looking bulkier than usual are to blame but let’s see exactly how he looks at the weigh-ins and fight-night before jumping to conclusions.
Luke Thomas of MMAFighting ran a segment during a recent edition of his weekly Live Chat where he discussed the cyclical nature of MMA fandom and how surprised he has been at the somewhat muted response to the return of the superstar GSP. He attributed this to the ‘new generation’ of MMA and UFC fans who came into the sport with the likes of Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor and as a result, would have missed the Georges St-Pierre-era and the gravity of what he achieved.
And there are those who are angered by these neophytes and the ‘bandwagoning’ of it all but in truth, the bitterness between the old and new sets of fans is doing nothing positive for the sport and in general, is grounded in petulance and negativity.
You have got to start somewhere though, right?
It is surprising, however, that someone as widely-heralded as St-Pierre could see his stock take such a hit in such a short amount of time. Four years is a while, yes, but really it’s almost as if a lot of the MMA community have forgotten exactly how dominant and ahead of the curve he was in his heyday.
This isn’t say a Neil Magny or a Dong Hyun Kim (no disrespect) taking an extended break from the sport before returning. This is Georges St-Pierre coming back with nothing left to prove.
If Jon Jones took four years off and we had some form of guarantee he was at least honing his craft (and not partying) behind closed doors, the anticipation for his return at 205lb would be ridiculous.
This is because the impact ‘Bones’ had on the MMA world is fresh in our minds so why exactly when you have a similarly athletic, unprecedented successful and innovative force of nature of like Georges making a return, doubts are cast over his ability to pull it off?
Now, he’s not certain to win at all. His decision to return might be the worst call he has ever made and could well result in a massive blemish on his legacy but if for one moment you could simply entertain the possibility that the great Georges St-Pierre is back and supremely confident in his ability to set the world ablaze, you might enjoy the build-up to UFC 217 that bit more.
The gravity of seeing GSP make his first walk to the octagon since 2013 in itself will be special.
It might not feel like it now but when all the politics, weight-classes, fabricated beefs and interim-titles go out the window on fight-night and we catch our first glimpse of St-Pierre facing down Michael Bisping as the octagon doors close, don’t tell me that all of this hasn’t been worth it.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena