It seems like we’ve been talking about GSP’s return for a while, but now after rumours and denials on both sides, the former welterweight champion and legend of the sport has finally come to terms with the UFC and will be back doing what he does best on Saturday.
Or will he? The sport is a very different landscape to what it was when he left in 2013 and this time he will be up at middleweight, a surprise considering he wasn’t even the biggest welterweight when he was enjoying his title run that included nine straight defences.
In the opposite corner will be Michael Bisping, who won the belt on just 11 days notice, flattening Luke Rockhold before avenging a defeat to Dan Henderson last October. There were more viable opponents in the middleweight rankings, but when GSP decides he wants to face you, well you can’t blame Bisping for taking the opportunity to add another legend to his record.
Bisping holds the most wins in UFC history and his will to win is probably beyond anybody else in the company. He is the definition of sheer grit and determination when he is in the Octagon and although he has been stopped and you may not be a fan of his outspoken nature, you’re going to watch him.
He is one of the best strikers in the division, landing the most significant strikes in history and it’s the variety of his work when he puts together his combinations that make him a nightmare to deal with. On the ground, he does have his frailties, but top wrestlers such as Rashad Evans and Chael Sonnen couldn’t put him away.
He is a master of getting into people’s heads before fights, talking and instigating, slowly chipping away at his opponent. In GSP, he doesn’t have a willing combatant in this area, with the Canadian admitting himself that he is not a good talker but there must be a reason why he was chosen to be in the opposite corner for GSP’s return.
GSP is one of the most efficient and effective fighter’s we have ever seen in the Octagon. Towards the end of his last run, there were murmurs of discontent with his fighting style and you can see why, as a corner stoppage over BJ Penn aside, he hasn’t stopped anyone since 2008, when he unified the titles in a rematch with his former conqueror Matt Serra.
He doesn’t take risks, like he did in his early career, which doesn’t appeal to fans who want to see stoppages, but the way he works on the ground make him a joy to watch. Perhaps after his break, he will switch to a more aggressive style like we saw against Jon Fitch, but if it stays on the feet, then Bisping will be more confident he can get the job done and upset GSP and the UFC’s plans.
If GSP does secure the takedown, which I’m certain he will at some point over the five rounds, then can he maintain top position and keep the bigger man down? We know he has been away, but he has remained in the gym, so what vulnerabilities has he seen in Bisping which has made him decide this is the perfect time to get back in the Octagon.
Bisping has terrific conditioning and the longer distance seems to suit him, whereas GSP has gone the full five rounds more than anybody. But after four years will ring rust come into play and can he perform at the level he was used to. Towards the end of his reign, the challengers kept inching closer to him, ending with a tight, split decision win over Johny Hendricks.
Nobody has landed more takedown’s or strikes in UFC history than GSP and he will be the challenger for the first time 2007 when he fought Matt Hughes in the third of the revered trilogy, where we got to see GSP grow as a fighter throughout the rivalry.
How does that affect his mentality. Will he go for broke or will he try and draw the champion, who is known for being in exciting clashes, in and snare him into fighting on his back on the ground, slowly beating him down through five, long rounds to become a champion in a second weight class.
The legacy will always be there and there is a chance that both these men will ride off into the sunset after this fight. If Bisping comes out with the win, adding GSP to a run that started with Anderson Silva before taking in Rockhold and Henderson is as good as any in the sport. He always believed he would reach the top, it’s just we didn’t and we’ll miss him when he leaves his gloves in the cage.
At 38, would he get himself up for a fight with Interim champion Robert Whittaker, which the winner of this fight is mandated to take. I’m not sure, whereas GSP may also make a similar decision, particularly when the welterweight division is his real home.
The middleweight division is full of killers and the only fight that intrigues me is one with Anderson Silva, which would be a meeting of the two greatest of all time. He simply isn’t big enough to really contend with some of those monsters.
However, I’m also convinced that Bisping wouldn’t win against any of the top five, a fully focused Rockhold, to complete their own trilogy, included. He is a big name, in the right place at the right time and an excellent fighter in his own right.
It’s a tough call as the nostalgia kicks in with a GSP return, but is stepping up to middleweight a viable option or is he just picking the easier champion out of Bisping and current welterweight king Tyron Woodley. Or is he treading water ahead of a mammoth clash with Conor McGregor during 2018.
With this pick, you can almost toss a coin and see how it lands. I’m going for GSP to do enough on the ground when he gets Bisping there to take it on the cards, but I’m not going to be surprised at all if the Manchester man upsets the odds once more.
The MMA will be watching more intently than ever as we hope to see all our question answered. First and foremost of all those questions is GSP still what he was or is he, perhaps like all of us, still living in the past?