St-Pierre returns after 4-year absence to fight Bisping at UFC 217

Michael Bisping after a UFC victoryThe UFC was a different place when Georges St-Pierre decided to vacate his welterweight title in 2013, but the Canadian legend is returning after a four-year absence to make his mark on a new weight class. St-Pierre takes on Michael Bisping for the middleweight title on Saturday in one of three championship bouts at UFC 217.

St-Pierre established himself as the ultimate professional during his previous stint in the UFC, setting a new standard for focus and discipline as he defended his welterweight title belt nine times over a five-year period before stepping away from the sport. The idea of a current UFC champion fighting so often seem ludicrous, especially when the promotion’s most marketable star Conor McGregor won two belts but never fought to defend either of them. McGregor is now making headlines talking about how he won’t fight again unless he’s co-promoting, and the soft-spoken, respectful presence of St-Pierre is offers a stark contrast to McGregor’s boastfulness.

Whether St-Pierre’s style will resonate with newer fans remains to be seen. While he was never a pay-per-view draw on the level of McGregor, Brock Lesnar, or Ronda Rousey, St-Pierre helped the UFC set attendance records with his fights in Canada, where he became something of a national folk hero. He will no doubt regain the attention of his home country with a victory at UFC 217, but breaking through to a wider UFC audience will require not just a win, but an exciting one.

Bisping has been waiting since March to fight St-Pierre, who delayed . The middleweight champion last fought in October 2016, and Robert Whittaker defeated Yoel Romero for an interim middleweight title in the meantime, adding some controversy to Bisping’s bout against St-Pierre. Usually a title would need to be unified before other challengers could fight for it, but Whittaker will have to wait to get his chance against whoever prevails on Saturday.

The other two title fights at UFC 217 are a bantamweight bout between champion Cody Garbrandt and former champion T.J. Dillashaw, as well as a women’s strawweight bout between Joanna Jedrzejczyk and challenger Rose Namajunas.