Throughout the lead-in to his return at UFC 217 at Madison Square Garden, Georges St-Pierre had said he planned to stand up and bang with Michael Bisping. It felt as believable as a unicorn winning the New York City Marathon on Sunday.
Yet there he was, the welterweight king and MMA’s best wrestler when he walked away from the sport four years ago, standing in the center of the cage and exchanging with the middleweight champion on Saturday night.
And in the third round, St-Pierre connected with a left hook that dropped Bisping. St-Pierre followed up with a series of elbows. Then that ground game kicked in. He took Bisping’s back and locked in a rear naked choke that put Bisping to sleep with 37 seconds left in the third round.
“I don’t have a word in my mouth right now,” St-Pierre said. “This is my dream come true.”
St-Pierre became the fourth fighter in UFC history to win titles in more than one division, joining Randy Couture (heavyweight, light heavyweight), BJ Penn (lightweight, welterweight) and Conor McGregor (featherweight, lightweight).
“I studied a lot of Michael’s tape,” St-Pierre said. “I knew he had a problem with the shot coming to the right. So the plan was to fake him on the left side, get his attention and strike him with the right.”
St-Pierre (26-2) attempted three single-leg takedowns the entire fight. He hit on all three. For a fighter remembered for his tremendous ability to take down his opponents and control them, it was as stark a contrast to the old GSP as was his larger frame for this fight. But he took more damage on the ground than on his feet as Bisping was able to defend himself as well as land shots from his back. Bisping cut open St-Pierre from a strike while on his back in the second round.
“He hit me very hard,” St-Pierre said. “A few times, I got stunned and tried to hide it. Man, I wouldn’t want to do that fight again, oomph.”
It was the first stoppage for St-Pierre since Jan. 31, 2009, against Penn, ending a run of seven straight decisions. St-Pierre orchestrated the eighth stoppage of the night and capped off a run of three straight champions losing their titles at UFC 217.
Bisping, after 10 years in the UFC, finally won the title in June 2016. Four months later, Bisping made his first title defense in his hometown of Manchester, England, against Dan Henderson.
“I’m not done,” said Bisping (31-8). “Georges was a better man tonight. Simple as that. No excuses. He beat me, he [expletive] choked me out.”
Thompson dazzles. Stephen Thompson (14-2-1), known for his flashy array of leg kicks, saw even more success with his hands against Jorge Masvidal in a welterweight bout, winning by unanimous decision, 30-26, 30-27, 30-27.