Georges St-Pierre celebrates after defeating Michael Bisping, left, for the middleweight title. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

The UFC returned to Madison Square Garden for the second time with an impressive card featuring three title fights. Amazingly, those three title fights ended in three title changes in what was easily the most exciting card of the year.

The biggest upset occurred on the women’s side, with previously undefeated strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk losing to underdog challenger Rose Namajunas. But new bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw’s victory over his former teammate Cody Garbrandt was one of the more explosive fights of the night.

Of course, what everyone might be talking about in the days to come is the return of Georges St-Pierre, who submitted now ex-middleweight champion Michael Bisping in the third round, despite St-Pierre’s beaten and bloodied face.

In short, it was a card that left fans and fellow fighters astounded, and it injected a renewed excitement into the UFC brand that has been waning since Ronda Rousey’s last defeat and Conor McGregor’s foray into boxing.

Read on for more details about what turned out to be a surprising UFC 217.

Georges St-Pierre def. Michael Bisping via submission (rear-naked chokehold), Round 3, 4:23

After a four-year hiatus, St-Pierre came back and showed that he might, in fact, be in his best shape yet — both physically and mentally. It took just into the third round for the veteran to beat Bisping, who had won his last five bouts.

Round 1: GSP entered the octagon to thunderous applause. It was an odd throwback to a different time as he stood in the familiar cage but in an unfamiliar spot — the challenger’s corner. And out came Bisping, who’d been cast as an unlikely champion despite him having earned his way to the top — he did knock out Luke Rockhold, fair and square on the jaw, to grab ahold of the belt he’d so long coveted. He came in bigger than GSP, which was to be expected in a bout pitting a longtime 170-pound champ against a fighter who at one point campaigned as a 205-pounder. When the fighting began, a “GSP! GSP!” chant arose and the crowd’s hero took the lead in the fight. He stalked the bigger Bisping, connecting with crisp jabs. Not much damage, but a point was being made. St-Pierre got a mid-round takedown but did little with it. Toward the end of the five minutes, St-Pierre connected with a Superman punch, Bisping smiled and ate a spinning head kick. He wobbled slightly but was fine as the horn sounded.

Round 2 St-Pierre came out with less pace. Was he pacing himself for potentially five rounds, or was he tiring? Bisping was trying to find out, fighting with more urgency. He connected with a looping right hand, his best punch of the fight, but didn’t follow up. GSP was picking his spot. He got a takedown, but Bisping made him work for it … and work to keep the champ on the canvas. The challenger did no damage while on top, and before long Bisping had got the fight back to standing. He proceeded to land the occasional right hand, and GSP looked to be slowing. But the pace was slow, so it was not sapping too much energy out of the long-idle ex-champ.

Round 3: St-Pierre clearly looked tired as this round began, but Bisping, while not wearing the same tiredness on his face, must not have been at full power, because he was not putting pressure on his challenger. Then GSP went for a takedown, as he had in the second, and he got it again. This time he stayed on top for longer, but he paid a price, as Bisping hit him with something from the bottom that opened a cut on GSP’s face. Soon they were back on their feet, and GSP’s face was crimson. But he looked rejuvenated, and when Bisping came forward, GSP countered with a left hook that dropped him to the canvas. St-Pierre swarmed him on the ground and dropped elbow after elbow, first with the left, then with the right. But there was no quit in Bisping, who rolled away from the strikes. St-Pierre then seized the rear-naked choke to get the victory to become middleweight champion.

OTHER MAIN CARD RESULTS

TJ Dillashaw def. Cody Garbrandt via TKO, Round 2, 2:41


TJ Dillashaw, right, got his groove back. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Garbrandt and Dillashaw were expected to bring fireworks, and they did. In the second title change of the night, Dillashaw got the better of his former Alpha Male teammate Garbrandt to come out on top.

In the lead-up to this night, this co-main event overshadowed the main event and everything else in the UFC this side of Conor McGregor. Of course, sometimes when two fighters hate each other with such a passion that they cannot fathom what it would feel like to lose to that other guy, it results in a dud.

That didn’t happen here.

After being dropped and wobbled near the end of the first round, Dillashaw floored the champion twice in the second, initially with a right hand and later with a left head kick. The second time, he didn’t let Garbrandt recover, jumping on him with a flurry of punches to hand his former Team Alpha Male teammate his first loss and take back the bantamweight belt that he once owned.

But afterward the new champ wasn’t thinking about bantamweight. He was thinking about flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, who was in the stands.

“I’m coming for you,” Dillashaw said. Will the UFC make that champ-vs.-champ fight in the 125-pound division or at 135? Or will embittered former training partners Dillashaw (15-3) and Garbrandt (11-1) dance again? Either way, the fans win.

Rose Namajunas def. Joanna Jedrzejczyk via TKO (punches), Round 1, 3:03


Rose Namajunas celebrates an incredible win over Joanna Jedrzejczyk. And just like that, there’s a new women’s strawweight champion. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

First Jedrzejczyk gets into your head. Then she gets into your face. That’s the way she fights.

But Namajunas was having none of it. Eerily impassive in the weeks of lead-up, she waited till fight night to hit back, and she did so not with head games but with head punches. She dropped the strawweight champ in the first round, then got her again, this time pouncing on the previously undefeated Pole to get the finish and take away the belt.

Namajunas (7-3) moved forward right from the start. That’s a dangerous game against a buzzsaw like Jedrzejczyk, and the thinking before the fight was that “Thug Rose,” an all-around terror, would have her best shot at success by taking the champ to the mat. Well, she took her there with a crisp left hook that collapsed Jedrzejczyk.

The Garden crowd roared in appreciation for a fairly monumental upset. Through five previous title defenses, Jedrzejczyk (14-1) had been building a legacy as one of the UFC’s most dominant champions. And at 30, she’s not done yet. But a star was born on this night, and it was a 25-year-old out of Milwaukee, Rose Namajunas.

Stephen Thompson def. Jorge Masvidal via decision (30-26, 30-27, 0-27)

Half a year removed from his second straight unsuccessful challenge for the welterweight championship, Thompson had some career rebuilding to do. It’s not fair that a draw and a tight loss to the champ knocks you down so many pegs, but that’s one of the cruelties of the fight game.

And if that’s what you’re up against, Masvidal is a good candidate to be your best dance partner … and perhaps your worst. He’s going to fight you — hey, he made his name as a street-fighting Kimbo Slice protégé — and if you can fight him off, you have a chance to impress.

Masvidal is no gatekeeper, though. He was ascending the 170-pound ranks himself until being derailed by a split-decision loss to Demian Maia in May. Now he was trying to do some rebuilding of his own, so he brought more caution to his game. That helped make Round 1 a circle dance, with Thompson landing more but not much of significance, not even the front kick that put Masvidal on his rear.

Round 2 saw more fire, especially after Masvidal blitzed with a takedown attempt and, failing that, threw a combination against the fence. But Thompson (14-2-1) circled away and stepped up his striking game. He floored Masvidal again, this time with a hard right, but never seemed close to a finish. Even in Round 3, when Masvidal (32-13) was flinging punches that missed by a mile, Thompson didn’t play it safe. He went for the finish and battered Masvidal to the final horn.

Paulo Costa def. Johny Hendricks via TKO (punches), Round 2, 1:23

You’ve got to wonder what went through the head of Hendricks every time he saw a UFC 217 fight poster, and there was Georges St-Pierre staring back at him. The last time GSP was in a UFC fight, Hendricks brutalized him. St-Pierre won a decision, though, to retain the welterweight belt that night back in 2013, but immediately afterward he walked away from the sport, mentally bruised. And within three months, Hendricks was wearing 170-pound gold.

Four years later, “Bigg Rigg” was in the main card curtain-jerker — deep beneath a St-Pierre main event — trying to resuscitate his career. It didn’t work out for him, as Costa stalked him from the start and in the end was chasing him around the octagon with punches. Hendricks (18-9) looked less like a middleweight than a welterweight who simply couldn’t make weight, while the big Brazilian was a dangerous Adonis.

Costa (11-0) had finished all but one of his previous 10 opponents in the first round, nine by KO. He’s a runaway train. Hendricks represented a step up in competition, and he put him away with confidence.

Meanwhile, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson is in the building. He seems excited.

Johnson also got to meet New York Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis.

Prelims results

  • James Vick def. Joe Duffy via TKO (punches), Round 2, 4:59
  • Ovince Saint Preux def. Corey Anderson via KO (high kick), Round 3, 1:25
  • Randy Brown def. Mickey Gall via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-27)

Early prelims results

  • Curtis Blaydes def. Aleksei Oleynik via TKO (doctor stoppage, Round 2, 1:56
  • Ricardo Ramos def. Aiemann Zahabi via KO (spinning elbow), Round 3, 1:58

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