UFC 217: The Real Winners and Losers from Bisping vs. GSP
Georges St-Pierre's UFC return was a tale of two tales.
In one corner, the welterweight GOAT's return to action after four years away was a fascinating story. One of the greatest fighters of all time presented a terrific fighting mystery as he battled ring rust and a move (for the first time) up to the 185-pound middleweight division.
In the other, you had a former star making a tepid grab for relevance, a man whose once-lustrous name no longer held water on today's MMA landscape, who was hopelessly outsized and outmatched given the circumstances.
That was the big-name bout on the marquee, but it may not have been the best fight. There were two, count them, other title fights on the card. In the co-main event, Cody Garbrandt put his title on the line against TJ Dillashaw. These are two very, very elite fighters who really, really dislike each other.
In the other, strawweight kingpin Joanna Jedrzejczyk defended her belt against Rose Namajunas. This matchup also grew heated as fight night approached, with the champ running all sorts of psyops against an outwardly impassive challenger.
From Fight Pass to finale, all of UFC 217 was worth the time investment. Madison Square Garden and New York City tends to bring out that kind of card density. As always, though, the final stat lines only reveal so much. These are the real winners and losers from Manhattan.
For the literal-minded among us, full card results appear at the end.
Winner: Georges St-Pierre
We have a new champion in the UFC middleweight division.
That whole "new champion" thing was a theme on Saturday, but we'll get to that a little later.
Georges St-Pierre was supposed to be the victim of a size discrepancy against Michael Bisping. He wasn't.
GSP came out like a house of bricks and then proceeded to go about his business. Bisping was unable to deploy his usual twinkle-toed kickboxing attack, as his legs were spread wide in anticipation of the takedown, thus limiting his mobility. St-Pierre did land a takedown or two in the first round, but to his credit, Bisping was always able to return to his feet within a few seconds. He's good at that.
In the second round, St-Pierre appeared to wane as Bisping seemed to wax. GSP was looking tired, the pop on his punches not there like it was earlier.
The momentum was swinging toward the Brit. But there's probably no other sport where the momentum swings more quickly than it does in MMA.
Early in the third, GSP was on the ground and inside Bisping's guard when a Bisping elbow slashed GSP wide open. GSP has never expelled as much blood in a pro MMA fight as he did at UFC 217. He continued to slow.
They got to their feet, and suddenly a St-Pierre left hook found its way through the champ's defense. Bisping hit the floor and GSP followed him. Bisping refused to relent after ground strikes, prompting GSP to scramble around and lock on a rear-naked choke. It was tight. Bisping didn't tap, so he went to sleep.
"It's not about who's got the biggest balls, so to speak," St-Pierre told broadcaster Joe Rogan in the cage after the fight. "It's about who's got the best technique."
He was bland in this fight run-up. It was hard to see if he still had the heart. He has it. Or at least, he had it Saturday night against Bisping. There are a lot of killers in the middleweight division, including interim title holder Robert Whittaker. Bisping was never willing to face any of them. We'll see how St-Pierre proceeds. In the meantime, congratulations to one of the best ever to do it. At UFC 217, he put a big line item on his resume for all-time GOAT in this MMA sport.
Loser: Cody Garbrandt
We have a new champion in the UFC men's bantamweight division.
There was a lot of drama associated with this one. Understandable drama. When TJ Dillashaw departed Team Alpha Male, he left a lot of relationships behind. Then again, Team Alpha Male has its own reputational problems, so, I don't know. Draw your own conclusions!
As for the fight, after a no-touch of gloves, each man showed why they were here. Both were impossibly quick, their reflexes reacting to the other's actions almost before an action actually occurred. They danced back and forth, trading shots here and there. At the very end of the first round, Garbrandt rocked Dillashaw with a punch and appeared to have him compromised. But then the horn blew and the challenger was saved.
It was the same in the second round, with both men attempting to cut angles on the other and generally applying their quickness to the puzzle in front of them. Dillashaw recovered from the shots he took in the first round and wasn't cowed by Garbrandt's subsequent taunting to begin the second.
Dillashaw found a home for a big head kick and it all unraveled for Garbrandt from there. He tried to get up, but Dillashaw was waiting. Dillashaw clocked him with a punch that put the champ down for good, and from there it was only a matter of seconds until Dillashaw had recovered the bantamweight title he used to own.
Could a rematch with Dominick Cruz be in the offing? Fans should hope so.
Winner: Rose Namajunas
How could UFC 217 have been any sweeter for Namajunas?
In the run-up to the fight, champion Jedrzejczyk talked trash and made threats. She made references to the mental health history of Namajunas and her family, which Namajunas has often publicly discussed because, she said, it might inspire someone.
On the weigh-in just before the fight, she said she was going to eat Namajunas' brain and things like that, as Namajunas stared on impassively. It was all very intense, with the champion convinced she was the soul-reaver and attempting to convince others of the same notion.
The champ was a big favorite. It didn't go the way oddsmakers expected.
Known for her relentless striking attack, the champ never launched anything meaningful. It was Namajunas who brokered the attack. First, she knocked the champ down. The champ got to her feet, but later in the round it was a big left from Namajunas that landed, and this one put the champ on the mat for good. A few academic ground strikes finished it off.
It's hard to root against Namajunas moving forward. What does the future hold? A rematch makes sense, of course, but so do bouts with Jessica Andrade and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, among others. This division just got a lot more fun.
Winner: Stephen 'Wonderboy' Thompson
Mission very much accomplished for Stephen Thompson.
After two atrociously boring fights with welterweight champ Tyron Woodley, Wonderboy knew he had to regain the attention and admiration of fans. After all, Thompson is a long-time kickboxing great who came into the UFC doling out highlight-reel knockouts like the candyman doles out lemon drops.
So he needed a return to form, and he got it against a formidable opponent in Miami's Jorge Masvidal. Masvidal came in having won three of four, with his hardscrabble background and deceptively well-rounded game, and it seemed maybe he could get inside and make Thompson uncomfortable.
It was Wonderboy who made Masvidal uncomfortable, using kicks and his underrated hands to punish the other man, put him on the ground and score over and over. The side kick was a particularly potent weapon, landing to the body and taking the starch out of Masvidal's attack.
Masvidal never got into range to ply his own offense, and that was the bottom line. As long as Woodley holds the belt, Thompson will probably not fight for it again, although that's a blessing for fans given the horrible nature of the previous two. Still, Thompson is clearly a great fighter, and his name will carry value no matter where it goes.
Loser: Johny Hendricks
If I had a vote in the UFC Hall of Fame, I'd cast a vote for Johny Hendricks. But every fighter's time comes, and the time may have come for Hendricks.
After about a round a half against marble-cut Brazilian up-and-comer Paulo "The Eraser" Costa, Hendricks was done and every viewer could see it. Costa hammered Hendricks with punches, even as Hendricks demonstrated his inability to take Costa down or get inside the phone booth for closer-range striking.
Costa kept him on a string the whole time, measuring him for punishment and dishing out. He cut off the cage at will, forcing Hendricks to eat his shots. And Hendricks could not do anything meaningful to react.
Credit to Costa, a very telegenic young fighter in the middleweight division. As for the former welterweight champion, at age 34 and after 26 pro MMA fights against the very best competition, he has lost six of his last eight. You feel for a guy as tough and as proud and as plain-old good as Hendricks. But barring a dramatic turnaround, it seems the game may have passed him by.
Winner: New York State Athletic Commission
When the kick first landed—or didn't land, as it were—it seemed a crowd revolt would soon erupt.
A kick from heavyweight Curtis Blaydes to his grounded opponent, Oleksiy Olynyk, barely grazed his ear. As most fans know, kicks to grounded opponents are illegal. However, this one, as mentioned, didn't really land, unless you count a grazing of the earlobe as "landing."
Referee Blake Grice is apparently a strict rule constructionist, as he stopped and then entirely waved off the contest, creating what in the moment was a no-contest ruling.
After a hailstorm of boos, however—and I'm excited to type these words—the New York State Athletic Commission used instant replay to hand a replay to Blaydes, given that Olynyk said he could not continue.
It wasn't a long delay, and the right call was made. More words I never thought I'd type but am delighted to do so: The New York State Athletic Commission provided the rest of MMA (dare I say all sports?) with a lesson in how to use the instant replay tool to good effect, without it distracting disproportionately from the action.
UFC 217 Full Card Results
Georges St-Pierre def. Michael Bisping by submission (rear-naked choke), 4:20, Rd. 3
TJ Dillashaw def. Cody Garbrandt by KO, 2:41, Rd. 2
Rose Namajunas def. Joanna Jedrzejczyk by TKO, 3:03, Rd. 1
Stephen Thompson def. Jorge Masvidal unanimous decision
Paulo Costa def. Johny Hendricks by TKO, 1:23, Rd. 2
James Vick def. Joseph Duffy, 4:59, Rd. 2
Mark Godbeer def. Walt Harris by DQ
Ovince Saint Preux def. Corey Anderson by KO, 1:25, Rd. 3
Randy Brown def. Mickey Gall by unanimous decision
Curtis Blaydes def. Oleksiy Olynyk by TKO (doctor's stoppage), 1:56, Rd. 2
Ricardo Ramos def. Aiemann Zahabi by KO, 1:58, Rd. 3