The UFC returns to New York City for potentially the best card of the year and the return of a living legend to the octagon for UFC 217 Bisping vs St-Pierre.
There are three championship belts on the line, as well as a possible number one contender fight in the promotions stacked welterweight division. I do not think it is a crazy idea to think that the main event is actually the least important or compelling fight on the main card. This is not a slight at George St-Pierre or Michael Bisping but more of a credit to how loaded this fight card is this weekend. I will hope to continue my great run of 2017 predicting winners and outcomes. I’ll breakdown the most interesting fights on the card and offer some fight predictions to hopefully help your bank accounts. Let’s breakdown this incredible card:
Notable Main Card Fights
Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal (4th) vs Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson (2nd) (Welterweight 170lbs)
This is an incredible fight flying below the radar on this card simply because a championship belt is not on the line. However, even without a belt up for grabs the chance to fight for the welterweight belt next is likely on the line when Thompson and Masvidal enter the Octagon on Saturday. Both of these men are coming into this fight hoping to avenge disappointing losses from their earlier bouts. In both their losses each man likely regrets not being more active during their fight leading to a close or controversial decision loss against their previous opponents. I expect neither will make that same mistake in this fight and expect to see several high level striking exchanges from two dynamic offensive fighters. Thompson will look to regain his unbeatable aura after two just horrible fights vs the current champ Tyrone Woodley. The ‘Wonderboy’ who had become accustomed to just highlight reel knockouts of his opponents looked completely tentative and out of sync against the champ. He cannot afford to fight Masvidal off of his back foot like he attempted to fight Woodley. Masvidal will not let his opponent’s breath with his relentless pressure and active hands. Thompson must establish himself in the center of the octagon and take risks trusting his elite striking will hurt Masvidal and carry him to victory. Masvidal is a really interesting top 5 welterweight who is tough as hell and extremely talented but for whatever reason cannot beat the top-tier guys in his division. He’s never been finished in a fight but he has four close split decision losses that have kept him from getting another title shot in the division. He certainly has the skills and cardio to give Wonderboy problems in this fight, but can his team put together a winning game plan he can execute to beat an top-tier fighter like Thompson is something fans have not yet seen from Masvidal.
Odds: Masvidal (+147) vs Thompson (-170)
Upon first glance I really liked Masvidal as a live dog against a Thompson coming off two consecutive bad performances. However, upon closer examination I am really concerned about Masvidal’s last lost against Maia. Maia is a talented and big welterweight so there is no shame in losing a fight to him. It was also a controversial loss in that many cage side disagreed on whether Maia did enough to earn his win against Masvidal. When I re-watched the fight there were several moments Masvidal really struggled which concerns me heading into his fight against Thompson. especially, against a guy in Maia who has very average to below average striking and now will face a guy with one of the best striking pedigrees in MMA. We also just saw Maia get destroyed by Colby Covnington this last weekend in Brazil, which makes me wonder if Masvidal’s loss to Maia is worse than I originally thought. I honestly think this fight could have some fun back and forth exchanges but I think the winner will be the man who can find early success in this fight which tends to have me think Thompson is set up for a big comeback victory. I think as long as Thompson does not wait to attack and Masvidal will almost force him not to with his aggressive style, that is where “wonder boy’ is at his best; throwing combinations. I think Masvidal’s style is tailor-made for how Thompson must fight to win in the UFC, and I think he gets caught and stopped late likely off of a counter from Wonder boy.
(Thompson via KO (-170)
Women’s Strawweight Title Fight
Rose “Thug” Namajunas (4th) vs Joanna Jedrzejczyk (Champion) (Women’s Strawweight 115lbs)
I’ll be honest with my bias; I am big Joanna Jedrzejczyk supporter. She is the embodiment of what the UFC wants for not only what women’s MMA but MMA period. She built her career destroying her division, she takes on all comers for her belt, and she’s electric in the octagon no matter what stage the UFC puts her on. She’s also worked very hard to build her brand outside the octagon which has led to a surge in her popularity as she attempts to become a more main stream star known by more than just hard core MMA fans. Her opponent, Rose “Thug” Namajunas is a tough and dangerous opponent in her own right. Namajunas has built a fan following of her own for her willingness to swing for the fences and looking to finish fights instead of eking out decisions. She’s an immensely talented fighter who can both hurt her opponents standing and make their lives painful on the mat with her jiu-jitsu. The one hole that has appeared in Namajunas’s game is her propensity to get sloppy or wild at times during her striking exchanges. This is a hole that Joanna ‘Champion’ will absolutely look to exploit with her precision striking. Joanna would love to draw Namajunas into a toe to toe war because she knows she’s got the sharper and more technical strikes. Namajunas may also try to test Joanna’s ground game as many challengers before her have tried, but if she struggled to take Karolina Kowalkiewicz down I am not sure if she has enough to get the champion to the mat either. There is also the unknown of Namajunas’s cardio, which while is not a weakness has shown some cracks in her losses in the UFC. Namajunas has never had to go five rounds before; Jedrzejczyk has fought 4 of her last 6 fights for the full five rounds. It bears keeping an eye on Namajunas’s output and defense if this fight makes it to the championship rounds.
Odds: Namajunas (+415) vs Jedrzejczyk (-510)
Sometimes we can over analyze or search way too hard to try to explain how we think a fight will go; I will try to keep this one simple. Rose Namajunas is a very good fighter, she is a handful against any woman at 115lbs except one person: Joanna “Champion” Jedrzejczyk. Jedrzejczyk is arguably the most technical striker in the UFC men’s or women’s divisions. She’s steadily improved her take down defense since entering the UFC, while maintaining her great cardio despite her unrelenting aggressive output of strikes she throws during her fights. Is there a world where Namajunas catches Jedrzejczyk with a big punch or crazy submission? Sure. It’s the fight game and “anything” can happen. However, if they fight 10 times I think Joanna likely wins 9 if not 10 of those times because she’s the embodiment of an lengendary champion in her prime. You don’t get cute picking a fight like this, you take the superior fighter, enjoy her mastery at work and move on to the next breakdown.
(Jedrzejczyk via late KO or TKO (+185))
Bantamweight Title Fight
TJ Dillashaw (2nd) vs Cody “No Love” Garbrandt (Champion) (Bantamweight 135lbs)
Despite what the billing and promotional materials may say, Cody “No Love” Garbrandt vs TJ Dillashaw is the main event of this card. Everyone knows the bad blood is real as the never ending saga of “Team Alpha Male” fighters’ hate of Dillashaw appears never ending. Both men have traded barbs on The Ultimate Fighter, on social media, at media press tours, and now they’ll get to settle their feud in the octagon. Cody Garbrandt breathed life in the 135lbs division as he’s steamrolled his way into capturing the championship in an electrifying fashion. However, since beating Dominik Cruz to capture the belt he’s been on the shelf for nearly a year with injuries and various issues in scheduling his first title defense. Fortunately for Garbrandt, Dillashaw his opponent has been off the same amount of time as the champion as neither man has yet fought in 2017. This could make the 1st round of their title fight extremely important as both men will have to shake off a little ring rust against an opponent who can easily take control with the slightest mistake. Many know Garbrandt has phenomenal boxing and one punch knockout power but an underrated aspect of the champion’s game is his wrestling and takedown defense. Garbrandt has never been taken down officially in a UFC fight according to ‘fight metric’. TJ Dillashaw is arguably the best wrestler in the bantamweight division, something has to give. I think this is the single deciding factor of this fight, can TJ Dillashaw take Cody Garbrandt down? If he can take him down, I think TJ can take Cody to some deep water he has not yet experienced in his UFC career. We do not really know if Garbrandt can fight off of his back or has the skills necessary to get up from a compromised position. However, if TJ cannot get Garbrandt to the mat or burns a lot of his energy up trying to get Garbrandt to the mat without any real success, it could spell big trouble for TJ. Dillashaw is no slouch when it comes to his striking but Garbrandt definitely possesses a clear technical advantage with his boxing and he also knows TJ can get knocked out as he has previously in his career. I think Dillashaw’s first couple of takedown attempts and their success or failure will decide who wins this fight.
Odds: Dillashaw (+154) vs Garbrandt (-179)
I have gone back and forth on this fight all week as I honestly could see either man winning this fight. Garbrandt has looked damn near unbeatable on his way to capturing the bantamweight championship. However, he has not really faced a former champion still in his prime. Domnick Cruz was an impressive victory but he was definitely a diminished version of Cruz by the time Garbrandt fought him. I don’t think Garbrandt was ever in any danger of getting hurt by Cruz which gave him even more confidence. This is not the case with a guy like Dillashaw, who has the skills and power to hurt Garbrandt if he is able to carry out his game plan. My biggest concern heading into this fight is how healthy is Garbrandt’s back and has he been training with the same intensity that got him to the top of the mountain. Garbrandt has enjoyed a huge boost in his fame and endorsements since capturing the belt but success changes fighters in different ways and unfortunately we haven’t seen him fight since he’s gotten that success. I honestly believe this fight is a coin-flip between the best two fighters the bantamweight division has to offer, couple that in with the questions about Garbrandt’s health/mind state after winning the belt and I’ll take a former champion who appears keen on reclaiming his belt at +odds. I’ll happily have the egg on my face if Garbrandt KO’s Dillashaw because it will only mean a new bantamweight legend will have arrived.
(Dillashaw via unanimous decision (+154))
Middleweight Title Fight
George “Rush” St-Pierre vs Michael “The Count” Bisping (Champion) (Middleweight 185lbs)
George St-Pierre is a living legend and one of the all-time greats in UFC history. The UFC thought his return to the octagon after a 4 year hiatus would make huge waves for the promotion, but many have noticed the relatively tepid response his return has caused. Rumors of slow ticket sales and an awkward matchup for his comeback fight has many scratching their heads at why GSP chose this moment to make his return. GSP is a hard guy not to like, while he may not have tons of scintillating knockouts or finishes, his career has been marked by excellence and class. There are just so many red flags about a man who’s spent his entire career dominating lower weight classes moving up to 185lbs for the first time in his career after not having an active fight in 48 months. The last time fans saw St-Pierre he was on the receiving end of a brutal beating from Johny Hendricks which he won on the scorecards but many cage side thought he’d lost. Hendricks has since moved up in weight and is on the last legs of his UFC career. George St-Pierre was a glimpse at the future of MMA when he fought. He was one of the few cutting edge fighters who trained year round, was excellent at all aspects of the game, and committed to holding on to his belt at all costs. This is no longer a rare idea in the UFC, it’s become the norm. Take a look at the top 10 in any division and most of the fighters are absolute killers with very few holes in their game. The game evolved while George St-Pierre was out of fighting, and while his opponent is also an old dog himself, Michael Bisping stayed active and evolved with the sport. It’s crazy to think that if this fight occurred 5 years ago, GSP would have been a rightful prohibitive favorite. Bisping was largely known as a tough fighter with decent striking but nothing exceptional in his arsenal. This is not that version of Michael Bisping, a rededication to his striking led to a sharper and harder punching Bisping that led him to his massive upset of former champion Luke Rockhold. An while Bisping has yet to really defend his belt against the other top contenders of 185lbs he has avenged his demons against Dan Henderson showing he is no longer just a guy in the division; he is the middleweight champion. I just do not know what GSP does without a power punch or crazy jiu-jitsu game to keep the larger Bisping off of him. Bisping can take some risks knowing St-Pierre hasn’t stopped a UFC fighter since 2009 against BJ Penn. This is a dangerous place for GSP, his only to victory appears to be via a unanimous decision where he scores takedowns or scoring punches for 25 straight minutes without making a mistake versus an opponent who can knock him out. I know GSP will have a game plan that can beat Bisping, but I’m just not sure if he has the physical skills to implement it.
Odds: St-Pierre (-117) vs Bisping (-102)
George St-Pierre hasn’t fought in 4 years, I just bring myself to pick a guy who hasn’t fought in 4 years, no matter how much of a living legend he is. Ring rust is a thing, but St-Pierre might have ‘ring fossils’ growing on him he’s been out of the octagon so long. Fighters typically do not get better with age after about 35 years old, a place both men now find themselves. One is an active fighter who won the 185lbs belt and is extremely well-rounded mixed martial artist. The other is a legend but is one who I think should have stayed retired. I’ll take the champ and the count to finish off a legend who’s allowed the game to pass him by. Johnny Hendricks nearly finished St-Pierre’s career 4 years ago, on Saturday night Bisping will do what Hendricks could not, finish the legend St-Pierre.
(Bisping via KO (-102))
Prediction Record since 2016 to Date (62-41-1) (+$1389.50)
- Record & predictions based on Win vs Loss predictions only. Unless specified otherwise I use increments of $100 (for + odds predictions) & $110 (for – odds bets) as hypothetical wagers for each prediction.
- Predictions & Records are for entertainment value only
- Stats provided from http://UFC.COM & http://www.fightmetric.com/
- New NFL Playoff format could be game changer April 2, 2020
- An A-to-Z look at the best Lightning player for each letter of the alphabet March 30, 2020
- Week in pro wrestling 03/23/20 Pro wrestling’s new norm March 28, 2020
- A series against Toronto should equal first round redemption for the Bolts March 25, 2020
- Hes’ back! Bucs sign Ndamukong Suh to new deal March 25, 2020
- Potential playoff preview: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Florida Panthers March 24, 2020
- Vinik to victories: A decade of Tampa Bay’s best moments March 24, 2020
- Butherus: Where is now if why? March 22, 2020
- Week in pro wrestling 3/16/20 Pandemic affects the wrestling world March 22, 2020
- Done deal! Tom Brady is a Tampa Bay Buccaneer March 20, 2020