With nearly every sports organization on the planet on pause at the moment as the world deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, we feel it’s an opportune time to reminisce about some special moments in sports history.
On this day in 2008, Georges St-Pierre defeated Matt Serra to win back his welterweight title at UFC 83 at the Bell Centre in Montreal in what was the first UFC event ever held in Canada.
“Wow time flies,” St-Pierre said in a recent interview with ESPN when realizing it has been 12 years since that event. “It’s crazy. It’s insane. That was one of the best moments of my career. It was a home fight, my parents, my friends, everybody was there. The first fight in Canada. It was a dream come true for me.”
The win was all the more meaningful because the Saint-Isidore, Que., native was avenging a loss. St-Pierre had been upset by Serra one year earlier. He was finished in the first round at UFC 69 in what remains one of the biggest upsets in mixed martial arts history.
St-Pierre rebounded with dominant wins over Josh Koscheck and Matt Hughes to earn his rematch with Serra. Hughes was the only other fighter to get the better of St-Pierre during his career.
“Unfortunately, nobody is invincible and I failed twice in my career but these two failures that I had made me better and stronger,” St-Pierre said.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) April 19, 2020
The UFC felt Montreal would be a fitting setting for St-Pierre’s redemption.
The historic event sold out immediately with every available ticket being scooped up literally within one minute of tickets going on sale to the public. The 21,390 fans that packed the arena set a new record for a UFC event at the time.
Serra caught St-Pierre with his heavy hands in their first meeting so a different strategy was used by the Tristar Gym product the second go-around. St-Pierre didn’t waste any time on the feet and took Serra down five seconds into the opening stanza. St-Pierre attacked with ground-and-pound, frequently and impressively passing Serra’s black belt guard. Serra didn’t land a single significant strike in the first round and it was more of the same in the second.
St-Pierre was more active on the feet in Round 2, peppering Serra with crisp jabs before taking the fight back to the canvas. He ultimately finished Serra with a series of brutal knees to the body and that’s all she wrote. Chants of “GSP!” rang throughout the Bell Centre and St-Pierre had the belt wrapped around his waist for the second time in his career.
From there, St-Pierre went on to defend his title nine consecutive times before leaving the sport in 2013 – he of course returned to the Octagon four years later for one final fight in which he won the middleweight title.
While GSP’s homecoming was the clear-cut featured attraction at UFC 83, the rest of the card had plenty of star power. Former middleweight champion Rich Franklin bounced back from his second loss to Anderson Silva with a TKO win over Travis Lutter. Future middleweight champion Michael Bisping made his debut at 185 pounds and impressively put away Charles McCarthy in one round. Demian Maia earned his second UFC win with a Submission of the Night performance against Ed Herman. Also, a young Cain Velasquez made his UFC debut in his third professional fight. He finished Brad Morris and six fights later he was taking the heavyweight title from Brock Lesnar.
“Canada is going to be a part of our roadshow from here on out,” UFC president Dana White said then. “It’s going to take time but we’re going to get all these other provinces done.”
MMA hadn’t been legalized in every Canadian province in 2008 but after the success of UFC 83 White and the UFC made it a priority to grow the sport north of the border, even opening a Canadian office in 2010.
To date, the UFC has hosted 31 total events in Canada across eight provinces. It all began on this day in Montreal a dozen years ago.