Georges St-Pierre, two other new champions inject UFC with intriguing fight possibilities

Georges St-Pierre, top, fights Michael Bisping during a middleweight title bout at UFC 217 in New York.
(Frank Franklin II / Associated Press)

Madison Square Garden, replete in boxing history, staged a UFC card for the ages Saturday night that salved the sting of the organization’s uneventful year and boosts 2018 with a slate of irresistible matchups.

Three belts changed possession within a span of two hours.

Georges St-Pierre returned from a four-year absence to choke away the middleweight title from Michael Bisping, and looked so good doing so that the possibility of a future showdown against Conor McGregor left social media abuzz.

Rose Namajunas’ startling first-round knockout of previously unbeaten Joanna Jedrzejczyk is a story reserved for Hollywood, as the new strawweight champion from Denver — who survived a turbulent youth scarred by a schizophrenic father, domestic violence and drug abuse — conquered a perceived unbeatable fighter, with an intriguing rematch likely.


And T.J. Dillashaw one-upped his reunion with the bantamweight belt by leaving flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson cornered, calling him out for a meeting of champions in Johnson’s weight class.

“We put together this great card, and you can’t guarantee it, but this one delivered,” UFC President Dana White said late Saturday night. “The entire card delivered.”

Where to start?

First of all, White says the St-Pierre-McGregor talk needs to calm. Early Sunday, he texted The Times, “Noooo”, in response to the question of there being any chance St-Pierre (26-2) fights lightweight champion McGregor next.

St-Pierre signed an agreement to defend the middleweight belt at least once if he wrested the belt from Bisping, and White said interim middleweight champion Robert Whittaker is next.

“It’s gonna be Whittaker,” White told reporters after the fight.

St-Pierre, 36, was the lone title fighter not to appear at the postfight news conference because he required hospitalization to treat cuts to the side of his head and nose while defeating Bisping by third-round rear naked chokehold.

With famed boxing trainer Freddie Roach in his corner, St-Pierre followed three takedowns of Bisping by landing a hard left-handed punch on Bisping’s head, knocking him down and allowing St-Pierre to unleash several elbows to the face before maneuvering for the chokehold.

St-Pierre’s 13th consecutive triumph, coming after he left the sport due to diminished enthusiasm and frustration with a then-lax company attitude toward performance-enhancing drug use, makes him the sport’s best fighter ever by Bisping’s assessment.

“I got clipped. He was very strong. He had a good grip. Good for him … I wasn’t surprised. Nothing surprised me except that left hook,” Bisping said, refusing to retire at age 38. “I’ll be damned if the last time I do it I get choked out on national TV. My biggest concern now is getting to the bar before it shuts … if you lose, you drown in your sorrows.

“I’m crushed inside, but life goes on. You can’t cry.”

Tears were shed, however.

Jedrzejczyk (14-1) was seeking to tie former bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey’s women’s record six title defenses before Namajunas perfectly timed her knockout at 3 minutes, 3 seconds to match the 303 Denver area code listed in her gym’s title.

“I will keep my head up and return,” Jedrzejczyk said. “Maybe I’m crying now, but I will turn the page and come back stronger.”

Rose Namajunas, left, beat Joanna Jedrzejczyk in their UFC women’s strawweight championship bout.
(Mike Stobe / Getty Images )

Jedrzejczyk had planned to announce after the fight that she was moving to the UFC’s newly formed 125-pound women’s division had she defeated Namajunas, but in defeat she said, “I want my belt back. That’s my biggest goal now.”

She may want to reconsider her investment in trash talking after calling Namajunas “mentally unstable” before the bout.

“I feel it’s time for a new era in this sport,” Namajunas said. “We have a great opportunity as fighters to be good role models. We can try. I used to fight with hate, and there’s a lot of aggression in my past, because I was hurt myself. I learned love is more sustainable to draw upon than hate.”

Life’s hardness, Namajunas said, prepared her for the task of defeating Jedrzejczyk.

“I’ve had a lot of nightmares of old memories haunting me, and [Jedrzejczyk] personified it. All the negativity I felt coming from her, it reminded me of where I came from and I wasn’t going to let that shut me down,” Namajunas said. “She’s an awesome fighter, but I’ve dealt with a lot worse in my life.”

Similarly, Dillashaw said learning to temper the distracting hostile emotions that cost him his title to Dominick Cruz in early 2016 helped him deal former stablemate Cody Garbrandt his first loss by second-round knockout.

“I learned from that mistake so I was practicing to be tough. I wasn’t talking to be tough,” Dillashaw, a former Cal State Fullerton wrestler, said of his Anaheim-based training camp. “I put my nose to the ground and it paid off.”

Thanks to McGregor, especially, White knows pre-fight talk helps sell fights. But McGregor took the year off from the octagon, a void felt deeply amid a string of weak pay-per-view cards that was covered only by the riches of McGregor’s boxing match against Floyd Mayweather Jr.

“I don’t need anyone to talk. You can be a mute. If we have fights like we had tonight, that’s what people are showing up to see,” White said. “Tonight was crazy.”

Dillashaw rebuffed the suggestion of a rematch days after Garbrandt alleged Dillashaw used performance-enhancing drugs when they trained together.

“I just finished him in the second round. [Garbrandt’s] going to have to build himself back up,” Dillashaw said.

The challenge is a drop in weight to 125 pounds for Johnson, whom the UFC ranks as its No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter after he won a record 11th consecutive title defense in October.

“Demetrious can’t run from this one, let’s make this fight happen,” Dillashaw said. “He says he wants his seven-figure paydays … be a man of your word.”

Follow Lance Pugmire on Twitter @latimespugmire