A smiling Georges St-Pierre walked across the basketball court at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday for a UFC 217 public workout, his first such event in nearly four years.
Behind him, on The Garden signage, was a clear reminder of how much is different with St-Pierre this time around beyond just that smile and aura of lightheartedness and fun. His last name is on the right side of the “vs.”, denoting his role as challenger not champion.
The champion this time is Michael Bisping, the division middleweight. St-Pierre, the former king of the welterweights before abdicating his throne by his own volition four years ago, will challenge Bisping for the title Saturday at the Garden.
“There’s nothing bigger than this,” St-Pierre said after his workout. “I’m fighting for the title against the guy who’s got the record for the most wins in UFC history. I’m fighting for my legacy. And I’m fighting also to be among an elite group of fighters. Only a few have held the title in two different divisions. And at this mythical place Madison Square Garden.”
St-Pierre (25-2) could become the fourth fighter in UFC history to win two titles, joining Randy Couture, BJ Penn and Conor McGregor.
Bisping (31-7) didn’t buy into the mystique of MSG, offering an unpublishable New York attitude about the iconic New York venue.
“It doesn’t matter,” the man from Manchester, England, said. “My bathroom, his house, Australia, Brazil. We’re gonna step into a cage and we’re gonna fight, and GSP is gonna lose.”
Bisping vs. St-Pierre is the main event for UFC’s second show at MSG, and sixth in New York since the state legalized MMA in March 2016. This event features three title shots just as last year’s UFC 205 did.
Cody Garbrandt (11-0) makes his first defense of the bantamweight title against former teammate and champion TJ Dillashaw (15-3). The two coached against each other on a recent season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” They didn’t like each other before the show. They didn’t like each other during the show. And, correct, they still struggle to find the time for pleasantries.
Garbrandt began his workout to the Kendrick Lamar song, “Loyalty.” The musical selection did not go unnoticed by those chronicling the event on social media.
Garbrandt and Dillashaw were supposed to fight earlier this summer, but a back injury kept the champion out for a few extra months.
“What you can expect from me on Saturday night is the most hungry fighter ever,” Garbrandt said. “Saturday night starts my legacy.”
Joanna Jedrzejczyk attempts her sixth straight strawweight title defense when she faces Rose Namajunas (7-3). That would tie Ronda Rousey’s UFC record for most consecutive title defenses by a female fighter.
Jedrzejczyk (14-0) engaged the few hundred fans in attendance with souvenirs, attitude and photo ops. At one point, she stopped her workout, took the mic and asked for the music to be turned off. Why? She wanted fans to hear her music — the sound of her hitting pads. She wrapped up her workout with one final note: the mic drop.
“They’re not ready to handle my punches, to handle my takedown defense,” Jedrzejczyk, of Poland, said. “They don’t know how to handle my ground game. Believe me.”