In the main event of UFC 217, former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre returns and challenges middleweight champion Michael Bisping for the title. St-Pierre has been out of action for nearly four years, while Bisping has lately gone on the best run of his career.
Both fighters are clearly accomplished, but there are key stylistic differences that could be determining factors Saturday night. The following is a breakdown of the statistical categories that highlight those factors.
St-Pierre has stated that Bisping is "terrified" of his wrestling. If Bisping is truly afraid, then his fears are not unreasonable. During his UFC career, St-Pierre has used his takedown game to dominate fights. The former welterweight champion holds the record for most takedowns landed in UFC history with 87, and his takedown accuracy of 73.7 percent is second-best all time. Since being knocked out by Matt Serra in 2007, St-Pierre has landed at least 50 percent of his takedown attempts in each of his past 12 fights. During that same stretch, he averaged 3.89 takedowns per 15 minutes of fight time.
The saving grace for Bisping is that he has relatively strong takedown defense. In the UFC he has stopped 65 percent of his opponents' takedown attempts, and he has only been taken down four times in his past seven fights. However, in the 17 fights in which an opponent has attempted to take him down, Bisping has only managed to avoid going to the ground in four of them. For context, Bisping has faced three fighters who average at least three takedowns per 15 minutes: Matt Hamill, CB Dollaway and Chael Sonnen. These three opponents landed 64 percent of their takedown attempts against Bisping and combined to take him down 12 times.
Certainly wrestling will be part of St-Pierre's game plan. It has been a vital element of his offensive attack since he debuted in the UFC in 2004. In order to be successful, Bisping will need to find a way to keep this fight on the feet. If St-Pierre does score takedowns, Bisping will need to avoid damage on the ground and get back to his feet.
Another element of St-Pierre's success is his ability to land meaningful strikes once he takes a fight to the floor. During his UFC career, 36 percent of GSP's significant strikes have come while on the ground, and he has outlanded opponents 449 to 43 in that position. On the other hand, Bisping prefers to do most of his striking on the feet. He has only landed nine percent of his significant strikes while on the ground. Since defeating Jason "Mayhem" Miller in 2011, Bisping has been outlanded on the ground 47 to 23.
Takedowns not only allow St-Pierre to dictate the pace and position of the fight, but they also open up a significant part of his striking offense. If Bisping is able to stop the takedowns, it will hinder his opponent's offense and put him in an advantageous position for offensive striking.
Bisping holds the record for most significant strikes landed in UFC history with 1,533. For his career, St-Pierre is not far behind with 1,254. However, on a per-minute basis, Bisping has a pretty clear advantage. He lands 4.33 significant strikes per minute, while St-Pierre only lands 3.82. Plus, in his past six fights, Bisping actually increased his rate even more and landed 4.56 per minute.
In an interesting development that could be a problem for St-Pierre, Bisping seems to have found power late in his career. Through his first 24 UFC fights, he scored five knockdowns at a rate of 0.25 per 15 minutes of fight time. In his past three fights alone, Bisping has scored three knockdowns at a rate of 0.84 per 15 minutes. St-Pierre has only been knocked down three times in his UFC career, but he did absorb 240 significant strikes in his past four fights and is coming off a nearly four-year layoff. If this power continues to show and Bisping is able to prevent takedowns, St-Pierre could struggle to say in the fight.
Thanks in part to his takedown ability, St-Pierre does not absorb very many significant strikes. During his UFC career, he has absorbed only 1.43 significant strikes per minute. However, for his past four fights that rate jumped to 2.4. The increase was due mostly to Jake Shields (3.12) and Johny Hendricks (3.4), the only two fighters to land at least three significant strikes per minute against St-Pierre in the promotion.
Bisping has allowed his opponents to land 2.62 significant strikes against him in the UFC. However, that rate has increased dramatically over the course of his past six fights. In his first 21 fights in the UFC, Bisping absorbed 2.39 significant strikes per minute. During his recent six-fight stretch, his opponents have landed 3.2 significant strikes against him on a per-minute basis. Bisping may have the offensive edge in terms of striking, but St-Pierre has proven hard to hit in his UFC run. This could turn out to be an interesting defensive wrinkle on Saturday night. In the past Bisping has needed to be a volume striker to be successful. If St-Pierre is able to prevent that, the fight could swing in his favor.