Despite our collective skepticism, the headlines have turned out to be true—Georges St-Pierre has finally signed the new multi-fight deal with the UFC that we’ve been hearing about for months, and if you caught the fifth episode of UFC 209 Embedded, you probably noticed that Dana White and the UFC brass are anxious to get their man back into the spotlight.
But rather than attempting to reclaim the welterweight crown he abandoned in November 2013, St-Pierre has chosen to swim the sport’s deepest middleweight waters and will challenge Michael Bisping for the 185-pound title at some point this year—possibly during July’s International Fight week. As a result, an aging frame, new division, and St-Pierre’s long-term intentions are now just some of the questions surrounding the biggest comeback attempt that the sport has ever seen.
Other than Bisping, former 185-pound champion Anderson Silva, former welterweight champ Robbie Lawler, and even Nick Diaz were also in the running to welcome St-Pierre back to the Octagon. And along with Johny Hendricks—who recently made his own middleweight debut, top welterweights Tyron Woodley and Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson had also been suggested.
After dropping a heartbreaking, split-decision loss to St-Pierre in November 2013, Hendricks is hoping to settle the score on the UFC’s middleweight stage. In fact, following his recent win over Hector Lombard, Hendricks was more than happy to outline his plans for St-Pierre.
“I would just say sorry for the Canadians,” said Hendricks. “I’m going to have to beat his face in, definitely if he comes to 185. Because that’s a fight I’ve been really looking for. And now that I’ve got a win under my belt at 185, he’s a newcomer at 185.”
It’s been more than three years since St-Pierre last graced the Octagon with his presence, and there’s no guarantee that the 35-year old will be anything close to the unbeatable champion he once was when he makes his first UFC appearance since defeating Hendricks at UFC 167.
But contrary to what some assume, St-Pierre hasn’t been laying on the couch for the past three-plus years. He’s continued to train with some of the best coaches on the planet, and he won’t need a life-altering training camp to prepare for his long-awaited return.
On the other hand, there’s a painfully significant difference between the type of Octagon rust someone in their 20’s accumulates during more than three years away from the sport, and what a fighter in their 30’s experiences under the same set of circumstances. Understandably, some feel that even a fighter of St-Pierre’s caliber would’ve been wise to take a tune-up bout against a lesser opponent before tangling with one of the UFC’s current kings.
Conveniently, we seem to have forgotten that “Rush” wasn’t exactly the UFC’s most entertaining fighter during the last four years of his welterweight reign after developing an overly-cautious approach that led to decisions in each of his last seven bouts. And when he returns, Octagon junkies are hoping to see a lot more of the ultra-athletic welterweight who first rose through the 170-pound ranks, and much less of the fighter who finished just one of his last nine opponents after reclaiming his belt with a knockout-victory over Matt Serra in April 2008.
Although St-Pierre doesn’t sound all that interested in attaining more title-based success, his bout with Bisping makes you wonder if the former welterweight great will attempt to establish himself as a long-standing middleweight champion, or if he’s actually willing to be the versatile pay-per-view draw capable of competing against the UFC’s best middleweights, welterweights, and even lightweights.
For Bisping, the bout with St-Pierre offers yet another opportunity to add to an increasingly-impressive resume with a win over a former champion who’s now past his prime before Father Time’s icy embrace sidelines the Englishman for good. But this fight has come at the expense of top contender Yoel Romero—who definitely deserves a title shot, and a St-Pierre victory would probably cost the Cuban due to the simple fact that fight fans would rather see the Canadian face-off against fellow middleweights such as Chris Weidman and Luke Rockhold.
But until St-Pierre actually steps into the Octagon and we see exactly what version of ”Rush” we’re going to get, speculation will have to satisfy our curiosity.