Ge­orges St.Pierre has put Canada back on the MMA map with ti­tle win

24 Hours Vancouver - - SPORTS - DANNY AUSTIN

NEW YORK – In the leadup to Satur­day night’s UFC 217, there was an idea cir­cu­lat­ing in some cir­cles that Ge­orges St. Pierre’s re­turn to the oc­tagon was some­how not res­onat­ing with Cana­dian sports fans.

If you were any­where near Madi­son Square Gar­den this week, you knew that was wrong. Sure, it was anec­do­tal, but the Blue Jays hats and Canadiens jer­seys and maple leaf flags were ev­ery­where.

We might not be as loud as the trav­el­ling Ir­ish fans who ac­com­pany Conor McGre­gor to ev­ery one of his fights, but we’re still there.

And on Satur­day, our guy was back and our coun­try was ready for it.

All of that might have been for­got­ten had St. Pierre stepped into the ring against Michael Bisp­ing and em­bar­rassed him­self. Af­ter four years away from com­pe­ti­tion and fight­ing a big­ger op­po­nent, that was al­ways a pos­si­bil­ity.

It didn’t hap­pen, though. St. Pierre looked bet­ter than ever. His jabs were crisp, his take­downs un­worldly and he showed that he’s still got plenty of power in those 36-year-old hands when he flat­tened Bisp­ing with a left hook, claim­ing the UFC ti­tle with a rear-naked choke.

In do­ing so, St. Pierre jumped the line in the Great­est of All-Time con­ver­sa­tion and put Canada back on the map as one of the cen­tres of MMA great­ness.

And let’s be clear, this fight sold.

Ac­cord­ing to UFC pres­i­dent Dana White, UFC 217 sur­passed this sum­mer’s Conor McGre­gor-Floyd May­weather box­ing match to be­come the top-sell­ing payper-view in Cana­dian history.

“We’re pretty sure tonight killed,” White said at Satur­day’s post-fight press con­fer­ence. “May­weather-McGre­gor has the record there in Canada and we were No. 2 and No. 3, and I’m pretty sure this beat May­weath­erMcGre­gor.”

While the UFC put in some se­ri­ous work pro­mot­ing the St. Pierre-Bisp­ing fight, the pro­mo­tional ef­forts paled in com­par­i­son to the buildup to this sum­mer’s box­ing bo­nanza.

And while the en­tire card on Satur­day night de­liv­ered with stel­lar ac­tion, the big pay-per-view num­ber in Canada can only truly be at­trib­uted to St. Pierre’s star­power.

That’s great news for Cana­dian MMA.

While a hand­ful of tal­ented young fighters have emerged in the wake of St. Pierre’s dom­i­nant 10-year run, no­body had truly man­aged to cap­ture the hearts and minds of Cana­dian sports fans the way he did.

Af­ter a while, it was hard to deny that Canada had fallen from its perch as the ‘Mecca of MMA,’ as Dana White had once de­scribed the Great White North in 2010.

There were some ex­cit­ing mo­ments since St. Pierre’s 2013 ‘re­tire­ment,’ to be sure.

Rory MacDon­ald, from Kelowna, fought Rob­bie Lawler in one of the great­est matches in UFC history at UFC 189 in 2015. Un­for­tu­nately, MacDon­ald lost.

Last year, Toronto proved that it might still be the best fight town in the world when the crowd at the Air Canada Cen­tre was ab­so­lutely elec­tric dur­ing UFC 206, de­spite an on-pa­per un­der­whelm­ing crowd.

There hadn’t been any­thing like Satur­day night for a long time, though.

St. Pierre has a unique charisma. He tries to be a role model and hold him­self to the tra­di­tional val­ues of mar­tial arts. He’s po­lite, he doesn’t swear much and is re­spect­ful of his op­po­nents.

It’s all very Cana­dian, and in a sport where McGre­gor made trash-talk­ing seem like the short­cut to ti­tle shots and mas­sive pay­days, St. Pierre’s in­her­ent de­cent­ness felt like a rev­e­la­tion this week.

From ring­side on Satur­day night, it was abun­dantly clear that even af­ter four years away from the UFC, some­thing about St. Pierre still res­onates with fight fans.

daustin@post­media.com

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