Well, there is one difference: The long-time welterweight kingpin returned after a nearly four-year break and choked out Michael Bisping on Saturday in the main event of UFC 217 at Madison Square Garden to claim the middleweight title.
St-Pierre walked away from the sport in 2013 after defeating Johny Hendricks via a controversial decision in Las Vegas. He took more punishment than he was used to, the pressure he felt was about to make his head explode and he felt most of those he fought were cheating.
On Saturday, though, it was a replay to his heyday, though he was just a bit bigger and a lot more muscular. He survived several hard Bisping right hands, but finished him after cracking Bisping with a counter left.
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He watched countless tapes of Bisping and noticed that the Brit was vulnerable to left hands. When Bisping fired a right that St-Pierre slipped, he came back with the left and, as the tape said he would, Bisping was there to be countered.
“I studied Michael’s tape, and I knew he had a problem with shots from [his] right,” St-Pierre said. “So I faked on left side to attract his attention and I struck him on the right.”
Bisping went down, obviously hurt, and St-Pierre went for the finish. Though he was firing punches seemingly in an attempt to get the ground-and-pound knockout, he said that wasn’t the case.
The time away taught him a lesson and he said he backed off to force Bisping to move. That gave him the opportunity to get Bisping’s back and lock in the choke.
“He has a hell of a squeeze,” Bisping said.
It was, St-Pierre said, set up by being calm and not trying to live up to the nickname, Rush, that defined him in his earlier years. He used to be in a rush to finish. Not this time, though.
“It was a trick,” St-Pierre said of giving Bisping space. “I kind of like to put traps in. I have more experience [than I did before] and a few years ago, I was trying to force things. I think the best way in fighting is to set up traps so when your opponent steps in, you get him.”
St-Pierre got him, winning the championship nearly four years after his last fight. It was reminiscent of what his idol, boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, did in 1987. Not only did Leonard come off a long layoff, but he moved up to middleweight and defeated Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
Bisping may not be the same caliber of fighter, but he entered the night as the UFC’s all-time wins leader — St-Pierre tied him Saturday — and the new champion acknowledged Bisping’s skill.
“He hit me very hard,” St-Pierre said. “Two times, I got stunned, but man, I wouldn’t like to do that fight again.”
But he did it once and got himself back on top.
“I don’t have the words in my mouth right now,” he said. “It’s a dream come true.”