After years of intense speculation and anticipation, former UFC Welterweight Champ and UFC legend Georges St-Pierre is back!
UFC head Dana White confirmed the news that GSP had signed a new contract to the LA Times on February 17. St-Pierre himself made a formal announcement about his return to the sport with a post on Twitter the next day.
— Georges St-Pierre (@GeorgesStPierre) February 18, 2017
By the time that GSP steps back in the Octagon, it will have been almost four years since his last fight with the UFC, a harrowing five-round battle with future Welterweight champ Johny Hendricks at UFC 167 on November 16, 2013. While St-Pierre walked away with the split decision victory that night, many fans and experts still believe that Hendricks should have won that fight. And even those who would have scored the fight in favor of GSP have to admit that the usually cool and confident UFC hero was barely recognizable from the moment he stepped into the arena. A break or regrouping, at the very least, was clearly in order.
A month later, St-Pierre announced that he was vacating his Welterweight championship title and taking some time off.
There’s been a lot of back-and-forth between GSP and the UFC since then. At first, it appeared to be little more than speculation from both sides. GSP said he wasn’t sure that he ever wanted to fight again in late 2014. Dana White countered that he would be back by 2015. But when GSP actually declared that he did want to return last summer, White announced that he was done forever. Then things started to get more serious when St-Pierre declared himself a free agent in October, 2016. Negotiations to feature the fighter on the UFC 206 card broke down at the last minute in November of that year. (For a more detailed look at the situation, see Bloody Elbow’s breakdown here.)
Thanks to some helpful intervention from St-Pierre’s famed boxing coach, Freddie Roach, though, the two sides were finally able to reach an agreement last week. “It all worked out really well. At the end of the day, I think everyone was happy,” Roach recently told the MMA Hour. “I’m looking forward to getting Georges ready for these fights. I think it will be a lot of fun.”
Here’s some footage of the pair in action from 2011:
Now that the question surrounding the possibility of his return has been settled, the speculation has turned to his possible opponent for the big comeback fight. Current UFC champs Michael Bisping (Middleweight), Tyron Woodley (Welterweight), and the famous Conor McGregor (Lightweight) are all possibilities. So is a rematch between GSP and Nick Diaz, or a long-desired clash of the titans between St-Pierre and Anderson Silva.
Roach seems to think that Diaz is the most likely possibility, but St-Pierre’s longtime coach Firas Zahabi has other ideas. “My ideal scenario, I don’t know if it’s still up for grabs, but I was really happy when there was a buzzing of Bisping or McGregor,” the coach from Montreal’s famed Tristar gym said on the MMA Hour this week. “I thought those two would be two epic fights. One, he would go a little lower [in weight]; one, he would go a little higher. But those are really, really intriguing fights. Of course, Tyron Woodley, he’s the [welterweight] champion and et cetera, but he has his fight with ‘Wonderboy’ [Thompson]. And if ‘Wonderboy’ wins, then they’ll have a trilogy. And of course we don’t want to fight with ‘Wonderboy,’ we go way back together.
“So I think the welterweight title is not really something he (St-Pierre) is thinking about right now because of the current landscape, but there is always the 185-pound belt. And of course, McGregor is such a mega-star that if you put those two on a main event, I don’t think that anybody in the world wouldn’t watch that. I think that even non-MMA fans would watch that. But again, I don’t do the match-ups, I don’t do the managing, I’m just talking as a trainer.”
Whoever that opponent is, there is also speculation as to whether or not the legendary St-Pierre can still hold his own in the UFC. MMA is still a young sport, and it has significantly evolved since he stepped aside in late 2013. It’s also a young athlete’s game and, at 35, GSP is very quickly nearing the end of his athletic prime. Outlets like MMA Fighting are already publishing op-eds that argue that he might be risking his legacy with this return fight.
But St-Pierre has also changed in his time away from the UFC, taking the time to work on his severe OCD, and to rehabilitate his left knee. (He went through a similar process with his right back in 2011 and now jokes that “I’ll have two bionic knees!”) And if anyone can keep up with MMA’s evolution, it’s a true scholar of the game like GSP.
Since the very beginning, when a young, bullied St-Pierre first took up karate for self-defense purposes, he’s been an almost ideal student of the martial arts. Whether he’s competing on the Canadian karate circuit, training with the Canadian Olympic wrestling team, or working with the top trainers in boxing and BJJ, GSP has always been willing to show the utmost respect for the discipline he’s participating in, and put in the time and effort to learn as much as he can from it. The extremely thoughtful nature of his training was portrayed with fascinating results in the 2014 documentary Takedown: The DNA of GSP.
More often than not, that intense dedication has paid off for St-Pierre. In addition to his undeniable superiority in the UFC’s first golden era, he’s also excelled in his individual training. Roach, who has coached boxing stars like Manny Pacquiao and Oscar De La Hoya, among many others, once named GSP the second best boxer in MMA and has praised his hard work and aptitude for picking up new skills. The coach of the Canadian Olympic wrestling team actually wanted him to attend the trials for the London games.
Of course, as any martial arts competitor can tell you, the best and most dedicated training in the world still isn’t a guarantee of success. As GSP learned himself when he was knocked out by massive underdog Matt Serra at UFC 69, anything can and does happen in mixed martial arts. We’ll just have to wait and see what unfolds when Georges St-Pierre returns to the UFC later this year.
Are you excited about GSP’s return? How do you think he’ll fare in MMA in 2017? Let us know in the comments!