NEW YORK • Canadian mixed martial arts fighter Georges St-Pierre completed a stunning comeback to the sport at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, beating Michael Bisping by submission to claim the middleweight title after a four-year absence from the Octagon.
The 36-year-old choked reigning champion Bisping into unconsciousness at the end of the third round to claim the belt on a night when three Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) titles changed hands.
St-Pierre's next opponent has already been lined up - Australian Robert Whittaker, the reigning interim middleweight champion.
"It's gonna be Whittaker," Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White told the post-fight press conference. "He's staying at 185 pounds (83.9kg)."
Fighting for the first time in a heavier weight class at UFC 217, former welterweight champ St-Pierre had the better of the early exchanges, rocking the Briton several times. But Bisping's toughness and stamina started to tell in the second as St-Pierre started to slow down.
At the end of the third round, St-Pierre, who walked away from the sport in his prime in 2013, sent the 38-year-old crashing to the canvas. And he followed up with a series of brutal elbows before taking Bisping's back and applying a rear-naked choke hold to finish the fight.
STUFF THAT DREAMS ARE MADE OF
I don't have a word in my mouth right now. It's a dream come true. This is not my real weight. I did it for the challenge.
GEORGES ST-PIERRE , new UFC middleweight champion, on stepping up a weight class for a title bout after a four-year hiatus.
"I don't have a word in my mouth right now. It's a dream come true," said St-Pierre. "This is not my real weight. I did it for the challenge."
With the win - his 13th on the spin - St-Pierre joined an elite class comprising Randy Couture, B.J. Penn and Conor McGregor as the UFC's only two-weight class champions, while also equalling Bisping's record for most number of UFC victories (20).
Earlier, in the UFC's best event of the year, challenger Rose Namajunas pulled off a stunning victory to wrest the women's strawweight crown from Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
She felled the Pole with a brutal left hand to finish with a knockout 3min 3sec into the first round.
The result ended Jedrzejczyk's (14-1) unbeaten record and prevented her from equalling Ronda Rousey's record of six consecutive title retentions.
The men's bantamweight title bout also threw up another instant classic as T.J. Dillashaw floored Cody Garbrandt halfway through the second to win by a knockout, regaining the belt he lost to Dominick Cruz in January last year.