On November 4th, the UFC returns to Madison Square Garden for its most significant event in ages: UFC 217. All four main card fights could headline an event of their own, and three titles will be hanging in the balance.
Most notably, the event marks the long-awaited return of Georges St-Pierre, who is stepping back into the octagon to face Michael Bisping for the middleweight title. There’s also a grudge match between former teammates Cody Garbrandt and T.J. Dillashaw, who will slug it out for the bantamweight crown. In the women’s division, the undefeated Joanna Jędrzejczyk defends her strawweight belt for the sixth time against Rose Namajunas. And to kick off the event, Stephen Thompson and Jorge Masvidal meet for an exciting welterweight clash.
There’s a lot to break down so let’s not stand on ceremony, even though not standing risks the ambulatory wrath of Vice-President Mike Pence.
Michael Bisping (+110) vs Georges St-Pierre (-140)
After four years outside of the octagon, Georges St-Pierre (25-2), the greatest welterweight ever, prepares for perhaps the most anticipated return in the history of the sport. But he’s not stepping back into the welterweight division. A title fight between GSP and welterweight champ Tyron Woodley seems like the most logical match-up, but it would also be one of the most boring fights in history.
Instead, the Canadian will face 38-year-old Michael Bisping (30-7) for the middleweight crown. Bisping, himself, hasn’t fought in over a year, so both fighters will be shaking off significant ring rust.
A large part of GSP’s success came from his size and strength advantage at welterweight. He was able to take his opponents down almost at will and manhandle smaller fighters. He won’t have such an easy time with Bisping, who has a significant size advantage at 6’1 to GSP’s 5’10. Bisping also has one of the best takedown defenses in the game, so I’m not so fond of St-Pierre’s chances.
The line has swung in GSP’s favor and I suspect that the public is choosing to remember the young fighter who cleaned out the welterweight division, rather than envision a 36-year-old who not only hasn’t fought in four years, but endured an insane amount of punishment in his last few fights.
St-Pierre has never competed at middleweight before and he’s gunning for the champion. Granted, Bisping is hardly the toughest fighter at middleweight at the moment. But at least he’s been comparatively active and has a ton of experience competing at 185 pounds.
GSP’s comeback won’t go to the storybook script most people seem to be writing. Take the value on the champ.
Pick: Michael Bisping (+110)
Cody Garbrandt (-150) vs T.J. Dillashaw (+120)
Former teammates Cody Garbrandt (11-0) and T.J. Dillashaw (14-3) are not fond of each other and they’ve been very open about it. The two meet for what should pan out to be an incredibly close title fight.
Garbrandt packs an abnormal amount of power for a bantamweight and has finished most of his opponents within the first round. Former champ Dominick Cruz (who stripped Dillashaw of the title in 2016) lasted five rounds against Garbrandt, but it was an incredibly one-sided affair. Cody has an enormous amount of confidence in his ability, and now he’s got the results to back it up.
Dillashaw doesn’t have one-punch finishing power like Garbrandt, but he’s a more dynamic, more well-rounded fighter. If he can avoid Garbrandt’s heavy hands, he should be able to claim the bantamweight title. But that’s a lot easier said (and written) than done.
Dillashaw’s last fight against John Lineker was his best UFC performance to date. If the same fighter shows up against Garbrandt, we’ll have a new champion, and don’t expect the former champ to be at anything less than his best now that he has a chance to reclaim the title against his arch-rival.
Pick: T.J. Dillashaw (+120)
Joanna Jedrzejczyk (-417) vs Rose Namajunas (+310)
Unlike the other two, this one is pretty straightforward. Joanna Jedrzejczyk (14-0) has dominated the women’s strawweight division for over two years and defeated the three top contenders in her last three fights. Now, with no one else to face in the division, she takes on the fourth-ranked contender — Rose Namajunas (6-3).
If the likes of Jéssica Andrade, Karolina Kowalkiewicz, and Cláudia Gadelha couldn’t come close to beating her, Namajunas has little to no chance. Namajunas lost a close fight to Kowalkiewicz last year and, before that, was submitted by the eighth-ranked Carla Esparza (both of whom have lost to Jedrzejczyk).
Jedrzejczyk has expressed an interest in moving up to bantamweight to become a two-division champion. Until she does, the chances of her losing her a fight are extremely slim. It’s not a big payout, but Jedrzejczyk is the pick.
Pick: Joanna Jedrzejczyk (-417)
Photo credit: françois lafontaine (Flickr) CC license
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