Georges St-Pierre is arguably the most famous welterweight of all time, having dethroned Matt Hughes before dominating the division for a combined total of nearly eight years. A week ago on ESPN’s SportsCenter, UFC President Dana White confirmed that St-Pierre would return to the organization sometime later in 2017, more than three years after his last title defense. St-Pierre scored a controversial split decision victory over Johny Hendricks, a fight that many, including Dana White, gave to Hendricks.
The controversy around the St-Pierre/Hendricks fight may have contributed to St-Pierre’s decision to step away from the Octagon in 2013. It also may have influenced St-Pierre’s choice in his returning weight class. During White’s interview on SportsCenter, he stated that St-Pierre would return at middleweight to challenge Michael Bisping for the title, saying that “everyone wants a shot at Bisping. They think he’s beatable.”
If St-Pierre were to defeat Bisping, he would join a shortlist of champions that have held titles in two weight classes. Bisping has been consistent in the cage over the last two years, though, winning his last five fights to not only claim the middleweight title, but also rectify two of his most painful losses to Henderson and Rockhold. With Bisping maintaining such confidence in his craft, the question is simple: will Georges St-Pierre have what it takes to thwart the champion after such an extended absence?
The concept of ring rust varies from fighter to fighter. “The Prodigy” BJ Penn was the reigning king of the lightweight division for over eight years, and even claimed the welterweight title for a time. Penn suffered two losses at the hands of St-Pierre at welterweight, in both contender and title bouts. The Prodigy feigned retirement throughout 2011 and 2012, only to make his own return against Frankie Edgar in 2015. After coaching against each other in a season of The Ultimate Fighter, the two shared a trilogy fight that saw Edgar completely shut out Penn with a one-sided third-round TKO. Penn made yet another attempt at featherweight, this time in January against Yair Rodriguez. Rodriguez leveled Penn in the second round with yet another vicious TKO.
Between Penn’s age and absence, he fared poorly in his return to the Octagon. After his third loss to Edgar, Penn switched camps and relocated to the Jackson-Winkle facility in New Mexico, who are known for overhauling fighters’ styles. An example of this is former K-1 kickboxing champion Alistair Overeem, who’s been a contender at heavyweight for several years. Overeem joined the Jackson-Wink team in 2014, and has compiled five wins since making the switch. Regardless of the relocation, Jackson’s coaching wasn’t enough to shake Penn’s ring rust.
Some fighters don’t consider switching camps, though. Dominick Cruz is a two-time bantamweight champion, and has a reputation for injury. Cruz was forced to vacate his title in 2014 because of an extended three-year layoff due to reoccurring knee issues. Despite his absence and injures, Cruz made a triumphant return at UFC 178, securing a knockout victory over Takeya Mizugaki just a minute into the first round. Cruz has always dismissed ring rust, explaining that “there’s no such thing.” He went on to defeat both T.J. Dillashaw and long time Alpha Male rival Urijah Faber.
— Dominick Cruz (@DominickCruz) February 20, 2013
Cruz, with his lengthy Octagon time and minimum absorption of damage, has only ever trained at one gym: Alliance MMA. Dominick Cruz made his return in the opposite fashion of Penn, that is, sidelined with injury instead of retirement, and maintaining the same coach as opposed to relocating. The result of Cruz’s efforts was also reversed; he went on to dismantle his opposition and reclaim his title.
St-Pierre could return in either manner. During his retirement, St-Pierre tore his left ACL and underwent surgery, and was cleared later that year. This is a common injury for almost any kind of athlete, but could damper St-Pierre’s potential resurgence, considering how long he’s been away from the UFC. Despite St-Pierre’s injury, he maintains his fitness, and even started the USADA drug testing process late last year, per MMA Weekly. Being clean and healthy are big factors for St-Pierre’s return.
Another factor to keep in mind is St-Pierre’s career in Hollywood. Since retiring, St-Pierre has appeared in a number of films, including the latest Captain America movie, The Winter Soldier. Being on set so often likely stopped up some of St-Pierre’s training schedules. This is a conflicting career move for many fighters, including former champion Ronda Rousey. Rousey appeared in a number of movies and commercials throughout 2014 and 2015, and lost her belt via knockout in the same year. Acting in movies can take away a fighter’s edge if they don’t stay focused. Despite doing some acting himself, this could give Bisping the edge in his fight against St-Pierre.
With so many pieces in place, and Dana White’s confirmation, GSP fans can rejoice. St-Pierre will return in 2017.
[Featured Image by Isaac Brekken/AP Images]