When #GeorgesStPierre announced his return, two paths seemed open to him. Some believed he’d take the meritorious route, immediately entering welterweight title contention and attempting to become the world’s best yet again. Others believed that he would return only for “fun” fights, marquee bouts at various weight classes against men such as #AndersonSilva or, unlikely as it may be, #ConorMcGregor.
MMA is forever prone to the unexpected, and St-Pierre instead found an unusual middle ground, electing to face journeyman-turned-champion Michael Bisping for UFC middleweight gold in a bout which, in the eyes of most, says little about who the world’s best middleweight is.
The game has changed since the welterweight great’s historic title reign, but against a man whose career spans almost as long as his own, this matters little. Instead, it’s more revealing to examine the ways in which Bisping has evolved and orchestrated his shocking career turnaround during St-Pierre’s absence from the sport.
In 2013, the year of the St-Pierre/Hendricks title fight which would see the French-Canadian walk away from the UFC, Michael Bisping was a 50/50 middleweight. From 2012 to 2015, he alternated wins and losses, going 3-4, before the five-fight run which would see him win and defend a UFC title, in addition to notching a win over Anderson Silva.
Technically, Bisping and St-Pierre had similar safety-first striking approaches, and the flaws which hampered Bisping for the majority of his career are reminiscent of many of St-Pierre’s own.
At his core, Bisping is a volume kickboxer. The hallmarks of his game are consistency, stamina, and an exceptional pace predicated on a clean, educated left jab. The quintessential out-fighter, and every out-fighter must possess an answer to an opponent with the ability to strip them of space. For many years, Bisping did not.
He reacted uncomfortably in the pocket, possessed poor defensive habits when pressured, and lacked the offensive threat to dissuade aggressive foes.
Every fighter does, and forever will, possess flaws, even the greatest welterweight of all time. St-Pierre’s unsurpassed physical ability and minute-to-minute adjustments allowed his skill set to thrive against every conceivable variety of opponent. Even still, no man is without limitations.
As a striker, St-Pierre became progressively better, and progressively more limited, right up until his effective retirement. Over the years, we saw less and less of his high kicks, knees, and elbows, until he was relying primarily on his 1-2, but as he favored control tools over impactful offense, we saw less of his rear hand, until his cross was effectively an afterthought.
His jab was, and remains, one of the best ever seen in the sport, capable of shutting down offensive opportunities, enabling his own offense, or corralling opponents into desirable angles.
With superior footwork and this punishing jab, he found success despite his one-handed attack, but his inability to threaten aggressive opponents was problematic, in theory, as it was for Bisping.
As St-Pierre’s athletic advantages diminished, he continued to win, but started receiving more punishment than usual. He badly bloodied Carlos Condit with elbows, but giving opponents 25 minutes to find openings is in itself a calculated risk, one which Condit was able to capitalize on in the third round, when he dropped St-Pierre with a high kick.
It was St-Pierre’s final bout which raised the most questions, as “Rush” was awarded a highly controversial unanimous decision win over Johny Hendricks. Hendricks had clearly inflicted more damage, completely undeterred by St-Pierre’s offense, and had won three rounds by near-consensus.
St-Pierre’s story as a technician halted there, but Bisping’s did not. His vanquishing of next-gen foe and then-champion Luke Rockhold was no accident, and a feat likely not possible for the Michael Bisping of St-Pierre’s day.
As he has aged, the answer Bisping has developed for pressuring foes is some mix of bravado and boxing fundamentals; he is, simply, much more willing to swing in the pocket, more liable to take risks, and throws with the intent of hurting his opponent rather than simply creating distance from them.
This heightened confidence, and the angular mastery necessary to make it work, allowed Bisping to take advantage of Rockhold’s low lead hand and over-commitment in order to flatten the younger, quicker man in the most spectacular and shocking KO of his career.
By putting his weight behind his strikes in the face of return fire from dangerous opponents, “the Count” has learned with time that accepting a certain level of risk can be beneficial. During St-Pierre’s time, both he and Bisping himself became gradually more risk-averse, never less.
The middleweight champion eventually discovered that, at least in his case, accepting risk allowed his offense to flourish in new ways, and opened up his game at all ranges.
It’s difficult to tell how Georges St-Pierre will look following his extended hiatus from the Octagon. It would be an impressive feat even to return in the form which saw him overcome Hendricks, and that man would find no easy foe in Michael Bisping.
While we cannot predict exactly how he has changed, we should not expect the same man. Several years can create monumental change in one’s mentality and philosophies towards the martial arts, as well as one’s physical ability. Regardless, whether his layoff results in the rejuvenation or stagnation of his body, it could be the development of his fighting mind which dictates his success Even for the most wily of veterans, there are always new things to learn. Just ask Michael Bisping.
Most Wins in UFC History
- Michael Bisping - 20
- Georges St-Pierre - 19
- Donald Cerrone - 19
- Demian Maia - 18
- Matt Hughes - 18
- Anderson Silva - 17
- Jim Miller - 17
- Jon Jones - 16
- Chuck Liddell - 16
- Randy Couture - 16
- Diego Sanchez - 16
- Gleison Tibau - 16
- Frank Mir - 16