SINGAPORE - Four years after he walked away from the Octagon citing "mental fatigue", fans of Canadian mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Georges St-Pierre were elated on Saturday night (Nov 4) as the former UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) two-time welterweight champion submitted Michael Bisping via a rear-naked choke to clinch the middleweight title at UFC 217 in Madison Square Garden, New York.
According to UFC president Dana White, UFC 217 drew an attendance of 18,201 and US$6.2 million (S$8.4 million) in terms of the live gate.
He walked away in his prime in 2013, after a 12-win streak which included nine title defences, but there was no drop in his popularity with MMA fans and the UFC recognised that, giving him an immediate title shot in a weight class he had never fought before.
And it was a fight that did not disappoint as St-Pierre showed no sign of ring rustiness, opting to mix stand-up with takedowns, and both opponents traded heavy shots throughout the bout which left their faces bloodied.
St-Pierre landed a left hook which dropped Bisping late in the third round and sensing blood, proceeded to ground and pound the Briton with vicious elbow strikes before transitioning to his back and trapping him with the submission.
The former middleweight champion was rendered unconscious as a result of his decision not to tap out to St-Pierre and the fight ended at 4min 23sec.
"I don't have a word in my mouth right now," St-Pierre said in an interview with UFC commentator Joe Rogan after his 13th win on the bounce in the cage. "It's a dream come true, guys. Thank you for the support, it's my dream come true."
St-Pierre also gave Bisping credit for his valiant effort, adding, "He hurt me very hard. Two times I tried to hide it, but man, I wouldn't like to do that fight again."
With the comeback win, 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).
In the co-main event of UFC 217, T.J. Dillashaw defeated bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt via knockout in the second round after 2min 41sec in what was a grudge match to settle bad blood with both Americans being former team-mates on Team Alpha Male before Dillashaw left to join a rival camp in October 2015.
After the bout, Dillashaw vowed to go down to 125 pounds (56.6kg) to fight flyweight champion and UFC's "pound-for-pound" king Demetrious Johnson.
"Demetrious can't run from this one," Dillashaw said. "This one's too big. (Johnson) broke his (title defence) record (the armbar submission win over Ray Borg at UFC 215 in October was his 11th straight title defence, with the previous UFC record being held by Anderson Silva). He got to pad himself and break his record. Now, let's make some money."
The event also saw the crowning of a new women's strawweight champion after American Rose Namajunas upset heavily fancied Joanna Jedrzejczyk of Poland, who was making her sixth title defence, with a technical knockout via punches in the first round after 3min 3sec.