GSP told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour that contractually he must stay at middleweight and defend the title there if he beats current champion Bisping at UFC 217 on Nov. 4 in New York. Whittaker, who is injured, is the interim middleweight champion and in line to unify the titles once he is healthy.
“I have to defend my title,” St-Pierre said. “It’s written in my contract. I have to defend my title if I win.”
This was not his first choice, St-Pierre said. There was speculation GSP would drop back down to his initial division of welterweight, win or lose against Bisping. Or maybe even go all the way down to lightweight and face champion Conor McGregor.
“That wasn’t my initial plan, but I understand the UFC’s point of view,” St-Pierre said. “They want to protect their titles. They don’t want to delay the defense of their titles, because they don’t want to make people wait.”
St-Pierre, the former longtime welterweight champion and one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time, has not fought since 2013. After a controversial decision win over Johny Hendricks, he stepped away from the sport. St-Pierre never said the word “retirement” and always left the door open for a return.
In his mind, the Canadian superstar views the fight with Bisping as the one that makes the most sense for him. The most risk and potential reward, GSP said. If he wins, he’ll join Randy Couture, BJ Penn and McGregor as the only UFC fighters to win titles in different weight classes.
“That's the fight I wanted,” St-Pierre said. “That’s the fight Michael wanted. And I think that’s the fight people wanted to see.”
The UFC wanted it, too, and held a press conference for both of them earlier this year. But then it all seemed to fall apart. UFC president Dana White said it wouldn’t happen, because St-Pierre and Bisping would not be ready from a health standpoint until later in 2017.
White said St-Pierre would fight for the welterweight belt against either Tyron Woodley or Demian Maia, who fought last month at UFC 214. Bisping would defend his belt against Whittaker, who beat Yoel Romero for the interim belt at UFC 213 last month.
As it turned out, the situation shook out in GSP’s favor. Woodley beat Maia, but did not put on an exciting performance. Whittaker injured his knee. So White said after UFC 214 that the GSP-Bisping ship that sailed away was now on its way back and it’ll happen at Madison Square Garden.
“It is unfortunate for certain people,” St-Pierre said. “But sometimes the misfortune of people makes the good luck of others. I hate to say that, but sometimes that’s the case in our sport.”
GSP, 36, fully expects to face Whittaker, the devastating striker from New Zealand by way of Australia, if he can take the belt from Bisping.
“You never know in advance,” St-Pierre said. “But if we follow the logic, that’s what the UFC told me. That’s what they signed me for.”
St-Pierre said he is walking around right now at around 198 pounds for his middleweight debut. When he fought at 170, he said he used to walk at about 186, which is the middleweight maximum. A dietician has helped him put on the weight in a healthy way quickly, GSP said.
In the past, St-Pierre talked about going up to 185 pounds if he had time to bulk up and do it correctly. It seems he has done that with a title shot now just three months out.
“I wanted my risk to be worth it,” St-Pierre said of fighting Bisping. “I wanted to try something that I never attempted before. For me, fighting Michael Bisping is the most rewarding thing I can do right now.”