It is not every day fight fans are treated to a mixed martial arts event which features three titles being contested at the highest level of the sport. UFC 217 is set up to deliver just that. And while title bouts add a layer of excitement to an event, even the non title fights on this main card cause even the most casual fan to salivate at the potential.
Kicking off the main card will be a pair of heavy handed middleweights in Johny Hendricks 18-7 and Paulo Henrique Costa 10-0. Big Rig and Borrachinha have both displayed an ability to keep the fight standing and sling heavy leather while on their feet.
Hendricks is looking to turn the corner on his weight cutting issues and hopefully return to form as a capable wrestler who devastates opponents with his striking. A tall order stands across the cage on fight night in the Brazilian who stands undefeated with a successful striking pedigree of his own.
If one considers a combination of fights between the two totaling 35 bouts, with 19 ending by way of KO or TKO this is a heavy candidate for knockout of the night honors. Keep in mind, the undefeated Brazilian has never allowed a judges decision. Look for Hendricks to try to use experience to drag him into deep waters if he can survive the storm of Borrachinha.
Up next is another stunning match up between Stephen Thompson 13-1-1 and Jorge Masvidal 32-12. A strong performance by either of these two top five welterweight contenders surely would leave them banging on the door of title contention, if not kicking it down.
Both men are exceptional athletes with a penchant for violence that really endears them to fight fans. Thompson is coming off two consecutive impressive performances with current champ Tyron Woodley. While he didn’t win either bout, he left an impression as he continues to impress as a well rounded fighter capable of the finish given the opportunity.
Across the cage stands 14 years of MMA experience and over 40 fights in Masvidal. With a resume like his one does not look at individual bouts more so than they stare in awe at the volume and body of work. Nothing will surprise him, nor will he fold from the pressure of the moment.
Thompson has found more recent success than Masvidal in a big picture sense but none of these things really matter when two capable and special athletes like these lock horns. The most memorable fights are not remembered just by outcomes or the performance of one fighter over another.
It is when the cage chemistry between two warriors boils over the beakers edge and an unexpected explosion takes place that shocks everyone. There is no reason not to expect a fight of the night performance between these two highly capable athletes. Knowing what we know, that is actually setting the bar fairly low. The ceiling for this fight is extremely high. It has the potential to steal the show.
Following that fight could prove a tough act to follow but like a batter in the three hole of a baseball lineup, this next fight should be well positioned to drive in some runs. Our third fight of the main card is our first title fight of three.
Undefeated Strawweight Champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk 14-0 looks to make her fifth title defense against the popular Rose Namajunas 6-3. These are both aggressive and fearless athletes who share some similarities in their approach but are also very different fighters.
As she has been known to do look for Rose to try and make this ugly to create openings to fight her fight while trying to crack the code of the vicious and precision striking of the champion. Namajunas is creative and a fast punching counter striker who capitalizes on openings. She has a flare for the dramatic and will snatch a limb in an instant if afforded that opportunity.
The issue is there are levels to this. While Rose’s willingness to engage can surprise opponents and even hypnotize them, the champ is not just another opponent. Her confidence is well earned and she wears it like a shield of armor as she launches relentless attacks on her opponents.
Jedrzejcyk’s striking and the manner in which she goes about it is second to none. Leaving the mountain to climb up to the challenger.
Time will tell if Rose will reach the pinnacle, but if she does it will be a stunning upset and she will have certainly earned it. Expect the champ to try and unleash an avalanche of razor sharp striking and do everything she can to crush that ascent.
Our co-main event quite frankly is the main event. While the main event does offer some incredible star power, this fight is far more relevant across the scope of the sport.
Bad blood is the easy description of what fills the divide between undefeated Champion Cody Garbrandt 11-0 and former title holder T.J. Dillashaw 15-3. Then again that doesn’t really paint a fair picture of the contempt these two have for one another.
There are plenty of beefs in MMA and some have been legendary. This opening bell hasn’t even rung for this bout yet and these two have a history that guarantees a genuine loathing for one another.
Having said all that, the emotion brings an unnecessary but intriguing element into this bout. With the UFC Bantamweight strap on the line the stakes are high. With the pride of knowing the history of Dillashaw and the Alpha Male team that Garbrandt calls home, the water is already waste deep before the first punch is thrown.
To say that tension, the beef, that rage will not play its role in this bout is to have zero understanding of combat arts. Very few can maintain total composure when those elements are at play in competition.
If you throw in the Ultimate Fighter stint it is hard not to get extremely high on what this fight could be. We talked earlier about potential knockout of the night, fight of the night, call it what you want, this fight could deliver it all compressed inside of 25 minutes of action. Then again that same thing could happen in 5 minutes too.
Consider for a moment the last man, no, the only man to dominate the Bantamweight division spanning all the way back to the WEC. Dominick Cruz changed the way we looked at lighter fighters and what they could do inside of a cage.
T.J. Dillashaw came up studying that man. If this was comedy Joe Rogan would call him out for stealing jokes. Dillashaw took Cruz’s blueprint for MMA and adopted it as his own. Make no mistake, emulating Dominick Cruz is no easy task. Dillashaw did it seamlessly and it worked for him. Until he tried his hand against the master and lost.
Now consider what Cody did to Dom in the same year. Nobody has ever made Cruz look as human as Cody did. Now we all know common opponents don’t dictate a damn thing but then again the results can’t be ignored.
What we know from that common opponent is both men had to take it to the judges. Both men found themselves with fight of the night bonuses when the dust settled. But only one man could beat the former champion. The guy that did that was fighting his own game, not mirroring Cruz’s style.
What that tells me is Cody can beat Cruz and his style. Why shouldn’t he be able to beat Dillashaw with Cruz’s style. Its just a little too watered down and when the gravity of those hands comes into the equation, expect the title to stay at Alpha Male.
You can also expect this to set off a domino effect that will lead to Garbrandt stepping up not only as a champion but as a star across weight classes. Win lose or draw it is inevitable. Think Garbrandt flashing his own version of superstar level flair.
Finally we have our showcase main event super fight with super duper hype. Casual fans hear Middleweight Champion Michael Bisping 31-7 vs. Georges St. Pierre 25-2 and their eyes light up like the fourth of July.
Fans in the know hear a champ who’s only title defense was against a senior citizen while Yoel Romero shoveled shade all over his title reign vs. a former welterweight champion who hasn’t fought in almost four years to the day. And when he did he took a severe beating from a guy who has proved since to be mediocre at best.
That may come off as disrespectful but no more disrespectful than giving a guy with a four year layoff a title shot in a division he has never once competed in. No more disrespectful than sidelining a guy like Luke Rockhold who has a finish over Bisping, and the man he lost his title to. Or a guy like Romero or any number of middleweights who live in the division as opposed to a welterweight who has zero competition rounds since the year the champ was knocked out by Vitor Belfort.
The point is this is why the UFC is losing viewership. People who know enough to want to drop sixty bucks on a pay per view see the forest through the trees. We aren’t really interested in watching GSP try to lay and pray Bisping for half an hour.
If anyone expects anything less they probably call Conor McGregor the greatest of all time too. Sure Bisping could knock out GSP but if we know one thing about Rush it is he won’t allow that opening to take place. He will use precision timing and the momentum of an aggressive striker like Bisping to fight this fight exactly where he wants.
Save a submission win for GSP, expect a decision in his favor right before he explains he won’t be defending the title. Because holding Bisping down and grappling with Jacare Souza at middleweight are two very different animals. GSP win lose or draw is one and done in the middleweight division.
It has its star power and while Britain and Canada are salivating for this match up. It holds little weight regardless of the outcome. It actually holds zero weight what so ever and will only contribute to the chaos that are the UFC rankings when it comes to titles and contenders.
All of that said it is the cherry on top of a very heavy talent packed event that simply can not disappoint. At all levels this card has potential from beginning to end. There will be plenty of twists and turns before the final bell rings and it will prove a tough act to follow at the end of the day. Enjoy the show.