What Went Wrong for Michael Bisping (and Right for Georges St-Pierre) at UFC 217

Steven Rondina@srondinaFeatured ColumnistNovember 5, 2017

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 04: Joe Rogan interviews Georges St-Pierre of Canada
as Michael Bisping of England looks on aftertheir UFC middleweight championship bout during the UFC 217 event at Madison Square Garden on November 4, 2017 in New York City.  (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

He did it! He really did it! Georges St-Pierre, after a four-year break, walked back into the Octagon at UFC 217 on Saturday and recaptured gold by submitting middleweight champion Michael Bisping.

In a year defined by absurdity, it was still a difficult sight to comprehend.

St-Pierre, who had never competed in the 185-pound weight class, walked into this new division with a title shot waiting for him. Though many (including the Bleacher Report staff) doubted St-Pierre could simply brush off the rust and defeat the steely Count, the Canadian legend shocked fans, fighters and pundits alike by clobbering Bisping with a left hook and choking him unconscious in the third round.

There are many questions that spawn from this unlikely outcome.

Is this the end of Bisping's career? Is St-Pierre now the decisive greatest of all time? Does this set up the long-awaited GSP vs. Anderson Silva superfight?

The biggest question, though, is how did this happen? What went so wrong for Bisping? What went so right for St-Pierre?

Bleacher Report is here to pour over the tape, and the statistics, to pinpoint the answer.

The Stats

While the fight felt incredibly close, the pure numbers coming out of the UFC 217 main event suggest a handy win for St-Pierre, per FightMetric. Is that completely accurate? Not quite. But the statistics do highlight what was a deceptively strong, dynamic performance by Montreal's finest.

St-Pierre out-landed Bisping in significant strikes in each of the three rounds and made him miss three times for each shot landed. Helping this along was how St-Pierre converted three out of four takedown attempts, successfully putting Bisping on the canvas once each round.

Also worth noting is that St-Pierre's overall attack was far more varied than Bisping's. Twenty of Bisping's 27 significant strikes landed on St-Pierre's head, but on the flip side, St-Pierre shifted his focus round-by-round, landing more heavily on the legs in the first, body in the second and head in the third.

St-Pierre mixed up his attack well against Bisping.
St-Pierre mixed up his attack well against Bisping.Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

The total strikes category (which counts strikes in the clinch and on the mat) doesn't help Bisping, either. Half of Bisping's total strikes came when he was throwing elbows off his back in the third and, despite doing great work there, it ultimately came at a terribly high cost.

All that said, while GSP looked phenomenal on paper, this was anything but a squash. Bisping was as wily and gutsy as one would expect from a successful veteran, and the fact that St-Pierre, one of the best grapplers in the history of the sport, never managed to pick up offensive momentum on the ground speaks to that. 

The stats can tell a story, but they don't pick up on the intangibles and in 2017, heart and smarts are two of Bisping's best tools.

       

GSP Still has one of MMA's best jabs.
GSP Still has one of MMA's best jabs.Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

The Left Hand

The expectation among fans and pundits was that a St-Pierre victory hinged upon him being able to eat up time on the ground. Bisping, however, never let St-Pierre settle into a dominant position and did excellent work keeping the fight a striking-focused affair.

So how did GSP win? The answer is his dynamic left hand.

St-Pierre flatly stated in his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan that Bisping struggles to deal with strikes to his right side...and he wasn't wrong.

During his 2013 fight with Vitor Belfort, Bisping was knocked out cold by a vicious head kick. The shot left him with a detached retina, an injury that left him cockeyed and threatened his career. After five surgeries on the eye, he was able to return to the cage (and eventually capture the UFC title), but it's been an open question how good his vision is since then. Whether it was due to those troubles, or simply GSP's crisp technique, the new champion found immediate and consistent success with his left-handed and left-footed strikes.

Bisping addressing media following UFC 217.
Bisping addressing media following UFC 217.Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Even before his departure, St-Pierre had one of the most effective jabs in MMA. His timing was immaculate, and unlike many mixed martial artists, he was capable of actually doing real damage with it, most notably breaking Josh Koscheck's orbital early in their 2010 showdown. Even after four years out of the cage, that left hand seems to be as good as ever.

His first jab landed inside 20 seconds. He landed another good one 15 seconds later. Though neither had any serious pop to it, Bisping was forced into overreacting and that opened up avenues for St-Pierre's overhand rights and leg kicks.

Bisping wasn't a sitting duck, of course. By the end of the first, he was near-constantly circling to his right side, largely neutralizing that technique. He added a new wrinkle to that in the second, by darting around to fresh angles that kept St-Pierre off-balance and were made even trickier as he started opening up with kicks.

That changed in the third round.

An early takedown attempt from GSP was successful, and though Bisping got the better of their work on the mat, there's no question that he would rather the fight remain standing. Likely in anticipation of a takedown attempt, Bisping stopped keeping a high guard and escaping with angles, and he began carrying his hands lower and planting his feet after exchanges.

That reduction of offensive options was great news for GSP, allowing him to find greater success with his punches. Eventually, he slipped under a right hand from Bisping and uncorked a heavy left hook that landed to the temple. With the Brit rocked, he unleashed a deluge of ground-and-pound to set up the fight-ending rear-naked choke.

       

How Good is GSP in 2017?

The big question entering UFC 217 was how St-Pierre would look after all this time away. The answer, quite frankly, is pretty darn good. Despite his being an advanced 36 years old, this fight gave cause to be positive about his staying power, at least for the immediate future.

Despite taking four years off, St-Pierre's primary tools seemed to be as sharp as ever. His jab was crisp, his timing was on-point, his chin held up and, most importantly, he still felt quick and explosive.

That's more than enough for St-Pierre to be a force, but make no mistake: He is still best suited for the 170-pound welterweight division.

St-Pierre was much, much leaner as a welterweight.
St-Pierre was much, much leaner as a welterweight.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

The most obvious issue with GSP's performance was his cardio. While he long was the best five-round fighter in MMA, he was winded in the second round against Bisping. This could have been caused by a number of different factors, but the most likely culprit is the extra 15 pounds he carried into the cage. 

What's more, while he didn't look terribly undersized against Bisping, St-Pierre would be utterly dwarfed by other middleweight elites like Chris Weidman and Luke Rockhold. No matter how skilled, smart or athletic he may be, the new middleweight champ is simply not big enough to contend with the division's larger competitors.

That won't necessarily be a problem with the on-paper next-in-line, Robert Whittaker. Even though Bobby Knuckles has cemented himself as an elite middleweight, he entered the UFC as a welterweight and competed at 170 for two years. Should they face off, St-Pierre likely won't seem out of place from a physical standpoint.

Regardless, it's unlikely he sticks around at 185 pounds for any longer than necessary. The biggest opportunity out there for him is a superfight with Conor McGregor. Expect for both men to push for that...and the UFC to eventually acquiesce.