The Complete Guide to UFC 217: Michael Bisping vs. Georges St-Pierre
It seems the Georges St-Pierre unfreezing process went exceedingly well. As he emerged from the cold-storage chamber, his musculature, accent and haircut were almost impossibly well-preserved.
Then came the hard part.
In March, with all the stealth he could muster, unfrozen GSP slipped into the warmth of the active-fighter pool. Within minutes, a blockbuster bout with middleweight champ Michael Bisping was simmering on the stove. Then it was off. Then it was back on. St-Pierre, for his part, publicly proclaimed he was absolutely game to face Bisping—any time after October.
As everyone puzzled over how to shoehorn unfrozen St-Pierre into a title picture he was never part of to begin with, fresh, never-frozen middleweights grew frustrated over what they viewed as a divisional logjam. UFC brass set up an interim title to ease the pressure.
Ultimately, the match was made. And now it's here. Saturday at UFC 217, the train lurches into the station right under Madison Square Garden in New York City. Bisping vs. St-Pierre is the main event.
It has been four years since St-Pierre, the greatest welterweight of all time, went into self-imposed exile. Now he's back, and no one has any idea how to react. Cheering? Cake? Eight months later, it's still a head-scratcher, and GSP isn't helping.
In his way, Bisping tried to instill some meaning with a bit of his trademark bad-movie trash talk, mainly stuff about how he thinks GSP is a bad fighter. St-Pierre was never a microphone dynamo, but some after-effects of the unfreezing process were evident in his grimacing and sputtering about how he will do his talking in the cage.
So no help there. Neither is the total mystery over his fighting abilities as a 36-year-old debuting at middleweight. Neither is his name recognition. Formerly a safety net for his charisma shortcomings, his fame as a fighter has diminished with time, and he hasn't exactly killed himself restoring it since his return.
Yet he's the welterweight GOAT and is arguably the most fascinating story of the event, though perhaps not for the desired reasons.
That's saying something because UFC 217 is a pretty fascinating event. Of the 12 scheduled bouts, three are title fights—and the other two might be better, maybe a lot better, than the big one. None of them deserve footnote status, but I had to get some GSP stuff off my chest. Sorry.
Let's go beyond the headlines for a complete guide to UFC 217.
The Fight Pass Prelims
Aiemann Zahabi (7-0) vs. Ricardo Ramos (10-1)
A fun matchup between two fun prospects. Aiemann Zahabi won his UFC debut, defraying talk he was only there because he's Canadian and GSP super-trainer Firas Zahabi's older brother. Zahabi is legit, but Ricardo Ramos is a buzz saw waiting to get rolling. When you can outgrapple Michinori Tanaka, you're good to go. But the Brazilian's game is well-rounded by sharp, aggressive striking. The 22-year-old gets his second UFC win in as many tries.
Ramos, unanimous decision.
Ovince Saint Preux (21-10) vs. Corey Anderson (9-3)
Has there ever been such a precipitous drop? Ovince Saint Preux literally went from main event—a first-round chokeout of Yushin Okami at the top of UFC Fight Night 117—to this Fight Pass prelim. But this is because he gamely stepped in to replace a staph-infected Patrick Cummins on two weeks' notice.
One would think Anderson is a heady enough ground fighter not to try a guillotine choke, the necessary opening Saint Preux needs to throw on the Von Flue Choke—excuse me, Saint Preux choke—he has used to finish three opponents. Corey Anderson hasn't shown much to date beyond wrestling, but that will be enough against an opponent who's used to simply overpowering the other guy.
Anderson, unanimous decision.
Oleksiy Oliynyk (55-10-1) vs. Curtis Blaydes (8-1)
Everyone forgets about Oleksiy Oliynyk, and then everyone is surprised. The Ukrainian-Russian has deep experience in just about every form of submission grappling, as evidenced by the whopping 45 tapout wins on his pro MMA resume. His career traces back to YAMMA Pit Fighting.
Yet here I am, chickening out again on the upset pick. Curtis Blaydes is a mountain of a man. If he can rag-doll Adam Milstead, he can do the same to Oliynyk. The veteran won't get close enough to drag Blaydes into his world. Blaydes is the substantial favorite here for a reason, but I'm not taking him with nearly the same confidence as the oddsmakers.
Blaydes, TKO, Rd. 3.
Fox Sports 1 Prelims
Randy Brown (9-2) vs. Mickey Gall (4-0)
Mickey Gall may be the bigger name because of his humblings of Sage Northcutt and CM Punk. But Randy Brown is no joke. The Jamaican-American fighting out of Queens, New York, ruled the Northeast's well-regarded Ring of Combat promotion until the UFC called him up in 2016.
He's 3-2 in the UFC since, behind rangy striking (his reach is 78" compared with Gall's 74") and solid takedown defense. Gall will surely try to test that defense with his own wrestling. That may be successful once or twice, but it won't keep Brown on the ground even then. Brown looks a little less green with every fight, and this one's no exception.
Brown, unanimous decision.
Ion Cutelaba (13-3) vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk (12-2)
Fire a few blasts from the Ion cannon. These guys have 18 knockouts between them, making this a favorite for performance bonuses if Michal Oleksiejczuk can stay upright long enough to return fire. Cutelaba is more powerful and evasive, but aggression is the buzzword of the day.
Cutelaba, TKO, Rd. 1.
Walt Harris (10-6) vs. Mark Godbeer (12-3)
The feelgood story of UFC 217. This was originally slated for UFC 216 until Walt Harris was called up at the last moment to fill in against Fabricio Werdum, leaving Mark Godbeer in the lurch. Fortunately, if that's the word for it, Harris lost in 65 seconds, leaving him intact enough for this rebooking. Godbeer's a sentimental favorite but doesn't have the ground skills to deter Harris from brandishing his power.
Harris, KO, Rd. 1.
James Vick (11-1) vs Joseph Duffy (16-2)
Putting organ damage aside for a second, James Vick cuts about 30 pounds for the average contest and is huge once he gets in there. He's 6'3" to Duffy's 5'10". Vick's not a power wrestler, but the ground is where he likes to be. When he's striking, he does a decent job of fighting tall, but defense stays out of the equation. Duffy is hard to hit and should be able to get inside and chop down the bigger man.
Duffy, TKO, Rd. 2.
Johny Hendricks vs. Paulo Borrachinha
Johny Hendricks (18-7) vs. Paulo Borrachinha (10-0)
We've been saying "this is Johny Hendricks' last shot" for a couple years now. And still another shot arrives, even if it diminishes just a bit each time.
The former welterweight champ has dropped five of seven since losing the belt to Robbie Lawler in a 2014 classic. Much of the damage is self-inflicted, with Hendricks missing weight in three of those seven—including his second bout as a middleweight. The 34-year-old's chin may be eroding, he seems to have forgotten his wrestling and his phone-booth style isn't as formidable as it once was, particularly given the change to middleweight.
Paulo Borrachinha, meanwhile, is an absolute berserker. The Brazilian looks every inch the part, with his gleaming physique hurling itself toward the globular target atop his opponent's shoulders. He's 2-0 in the UFC, with each fight lasting an average of about three-and-a-half minutes. His gas tank is a worry, but he allays those concerns by beating the other guy to a pulp before his pulse tops 100 bpm.
Borrachinha -165 (wager $165 to win $100), Hendricks +115 (wager $100 to win $115)
Over the years, Hendricks has seemed more concerned with advancing his brand as a steak-chewing, diesel-driving good ol' boy than advancing or maintaining his MMA skills. If the great fighter wants to start a new string of in-cage success, he'll need to bear down outside of it. Borrachinha is scary but he's not a world beater. Hendricks can tie him up and wear him down. Given recent history, though, until Hendricks executes, it's hard to expect it.
Borrachinha, TKO, Rd. 1.
Stephen Thompson vs. Jorge Masvidal
Stephen Thompson (13-2-1) vs. Jorge Masvidal (32-12)
After that tedious two-step with Tyron Woodley at UFC 209, this is just what the doctor ordered for Stephen Thompson. Jorge Masvidal is a great fighter who will give him a more exciting matchup.
Wonderboy could make a big impact with his world-class kickboxing, where all his limbs are dangerous. Masvidal could press forward and clip off the range Thompson needs to be effective, though that would mean risking Wonderboy's lethal counters. Still, if Thompson has his back against the fence, he can't fire off those spinning hook kicks that everyone enjoys so much, and Masvidal can go to work in the clinch.
Masvidal could also get a takedown there. Thompson is pretty good about getting back to his feet, but Gambred is a dangerous submission artist if he can't do it fast enough.
Masvidal +126, Thompson -154
Too much has to go right for Thompson to win. Masvidal is a smart, and he is tough. He knows he has to close the distance with Thompson, and he's not afraid to do it. He'll get this into close range and punish Wonderboy with body shots and then mix in a trip takedown for good measure. Sound the upset alarms.
Masvidal, unanimous decision.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Rose Namajunas
Joanna Jedrzejczyk (14-0) vs. Rose Namajunas (6-3) for the UFC Strawweight Championship
The champion's talk about Rose Namajunas' sensitive personal past has made this a contentious title match. You can talk trash and get a grudge match going without having to bring up the mental health history of a fighter's family, but it probably turned a few extra eyeballs toward what was already a sensational matchup.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk is a relentless volume fighter who can keep a white-knuckle pace for 25 minutes. She can eat you up with muay thai. Her entire style is designed to break you. She holds the record for significant strikes landed during a UFC title fight (225). According to stat site FightMetric, she's first among active fighters in strike differential and second in strikes landed per minute.
Namajunas is a good striker, but the submission is her stock in trade. Her rear-naked choke of Michelle Waterson earlier this year is what got her here. It is difficult to get Jedrzejczyk to the ground, but it can be done. Namajunas would have an advantage in the scramble and could lock on a choke.
Jedrzejczyk -417, Namajunas +310
Claudia Gadelha showed you can get the champ to the mat, stifle her against the cage and do real damage once you're there. The problem here is Namajunas doesn't have that kind of wrestling or physicality.
Namajunas could try to catch the champ early, although despite having two first-round stoppages on her record, she doesn't have a reputation as a fast starter. She might be able to strike with the champ for the duration, but I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy. Plenty of people would cheer a Namajunas upset. Fewer will predict it.
Jedrzejczyk, TKO, Rd. 4.
Cody Garbrandt vs. TJ Dillashaw
Cody Garbrandt (11-0) vs. TJ Dillashaw (14-3) for the UFC Bantamweight Championship
It's not so much that the phrase "grudge match" is an understatement for this bout. It's that it's an overstatement in most other cases.
Not only do these two intensely dislike each other, but they are also both great—and this is for a title, one they have both owned.
Is it fair to say this is the best bantamweight fight of all time? Yes.
As for the grudge, most people are aware of this, but in a nutshell TJ Dillashaw left Team Alpha Male for greener pastures a few years ago amid some contention. Cody Garbrandt trains at Team Alpha Male. They coached against each other on The Ultimate Fighter, and the animosity simmered like a stew on a stove.
The challenger, Dillashaw, can be brilliant with his movement, with his strikes powerful and precise. They come from all kinds of funny angles, making them hard to anticipate and stop. He also has deep cardio and is capable of pushing a strong pace for five rounds.
That's not to say Garbrandt is unskilled—he's very skilled—but he's more of a straight athletic specimen than Dillashaw. When the police need to open a locked door, they call Garbrandt. When Dominick Cruz can't hit you, you might be quick. His offense is irresistible, and his defense is well-nigh impregnable. And his gas tank has proved to be as deep as Dillashaw's.
Dillashaw has more of a ground-fighting propensity between the two but doesn't have the most powerful wrestling. Garbrandt has great takedown defense—flawless, according to his UFC profile—so this may be contested on the feet.
Garbrandt -150, Dillashaw +110
There is no path to victory for Dillashaw here. Using wrestling, wearing out Garbrandt and wading into the proverbial deep waters would appear to be more viable on paper than in the Octagon. Garbrandt goes for the early knockout, nearly gets it but misses. Then he settles in for a battle that sees both men have their moments. Garbrandt gets the better of it more often than he doesn't. And still.
Garbrandt, unanimous decision.
Michael Bisping vs. Georges St-Pierre
Michael Bisping (30-7) vs. Georges St-Pierre (25-2) for the UFC Middleweight Championship
When discussing the matchup in the cage, it would be easy to call it a study in contrasts. But no one knows what Georges St-Pierre's style is anymore.
We can guess. In a testament to GSP, both good and bad, his 12 decision victories are the most in UFC history, according to MMAjunkie. More of a kickboxer earlier in his career, GSP shifted phases and became a wrestler. St-Pierre's takedowns were always perfectly timed, with his guard-passing ability unrivaled. Standing exchanges were few and far between and almost always done to set up takedowns.
Once the action is on the mat, St-Pierre controlled most opponents with ease but never risked attempting to finish.
While GSP was in the deep freeze, Michael Bisping was building up his game, even well into his late 30s. His stick-and-move kickboxing is well-established, but his fleet feet are smarter, and his trademark left hook is more powerful.
Besides his title win over Luke Rockhold, though, not one of Bisping's recent victims was particularly impressive. CB Dollaway, Thales Leites, a 40-year-old Anderson Silva and a 46-year-old Dan Henderson do not exactly comprise murderer's row. On the other hand, the unfrozen 36-year-old St-Pierre may be in line to continue Bisping's trend of high value and low effort, where the juice outperforms the squeeze.
Finally, it's clear GSP's move up to 185 pounds will make a difference. It's 15 pounds above the weight class he terrorized as the welterweight GOAT, and he's four years older. The 5'10" St-Pierre will give up significant size to the 6'1" Bisping.
Bisping +100, St-Pierre -130
St-Pierre once fought with joy. That seems to have left him. You don't need joy to win a cage fight, but it's hard to know where his energy will come from. Frankly, he has often seemed tentative and flat, with his superior size and skills simply overcoming the opposition.
At this advanced age and higher weight class, he may have just lost his edge. Bisping keeps the smaller man at bay and under wraps. He will outpoint GSP in a snoozer and put some awkward punctuation on the sentence that is the welterweight GOAT's return.
Bisping, unanimous decision.