UFC 217 goes down this Saturday in New York City’s famous Madison Square Garden, and it might well be the most highly anticipated UFC fight card of the year. Taking place in the world’s most iconic venue, it could produce a historic night for MMA and, barring any late withdrawals, this card should be incredible.
Without further ado, let’s get to the picks.
UFC Middleweight Title: Michael Bisping vs George St Pierre
The return of ‘GSP’ has been four years in the making. The former welterweight king stepped away from bright lights following his victory over Johny Hendricks in 2013. But now, on his return, he steps up in weight-class to take on the reigning UFC Middleweight champ, Michael Bisping.
Size, weight, time-away, the evolution of MMA, timing, speed, and aul’ unbeatable father time are all real factors in this fight. Since GSP has been away, the game has changed. The question is: has the Canadian adapted?
He’s one of the best to ever do it – and that’s a fact.
But how will his style of fighting fair against the resilient Bisping? The Brit has been hitting and getting hit by middleweights his entire career (not to mention his time at light heavyweight). It will be interesting to see in the opening exchanges how GSP wears a clean strike from a middleweight.
But it’s reasonable to expect a slow opening round, with both men trying to utilise their jab. The first takedown attempt by St-Pierre could tell a huge story, too. If unsuccessful, that’s huge for Bisping. If successful, he must work to get back to his feet, and quickly, because when GSP takes you down GSP passes guard and doesn’t let you off the hook.
It’s a fight of many unknowns at this point. But, four years is a long time away, and perhaps the smart money will go on Bruce Buffer crying, “And still…”
Pick: Michael Bisping to win.
UFC Bantamweight Title: Cody Garbrandt v T.J Dillashaw
The co-main event sees former teammates finally meet. There’s the back story of T.J. leaving Team Alpha and all the soap opera that goes with it, but let’s focus on the fight itself.
Garbrandt shocked the world with his victory over Dominic Cruz: his movement, counters and shot-selection surprised the former champion. Garbrandt also has raw knockout power in both hands to match the above. T.J. has slick movement, timing, and is masterful in creating angles. His impressive wrestling is the cherry on top – but both these men know this and much more about each other.
How is the fight won? It will come down to who can keep their emotions in check, but also who has added new wrinkles in their game since they’ve stopped training together.
Pick: Cody Garbrandt
UFC Strawweight Title: Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs Rose Namajunas
The UFC’s strawweight queen steps back into the Octagon against another game opponent. But how does Namajunas stop ‘Joanna Champion’?
She needs to take this to where she holds the advantage: the ground.
That’s an obvious point, but it’s also a lot easier said than done. With Rose comes controlled chaos. She won’t be afraid to strike with Joanna but will be looking constantly to mix it in takedown. Rose does her best work in the grappling scrambles and this could be her path to victory.
However, based on previous outings, it’s hard to not look at Namajunas’ fight vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz. She lost badly in the clinch, and Joanna is the master here. Rose is tough, and she will need all her toughness to survive the onslaught of the champion, but the smart money would be on Joanna to walk away the victor.
Pick: Joanna Jedrzejczyk
Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson v Jorge Masvidal
‘Range’ is the word that comes to mind when looking at this one. ‘Wonderboy’ is a gifted and elite striker. He’s almost like a sniper at distance. He’s developed very good counter wrestling that allows him to stop takedowns, too. Masvidal is the opposite: he’s a frontline soldier.
So, who can implement their range?
Thompson is master at doing so, and each round starts in his range, so it’s up to Masvidal to break the range and get in the inside to do his best work. But this is a high stakes tactic, and the price could be his chin.
Masvidal will have seen Thompson’s fight against Matt Brown and see that a high-pressure and dogged-approach can grind down Wonderboy, but Thompson’s kicking and lighting fast hands will do the job inside the distance.
Pick: Stephen Thompson.
Johnny Hendricks v Paulo Borrachinha
The former welterweight champion Hendricks has a new home at middleweight, but he’s still missed the number on the scales on occasion. Hendricks hasn’t looked close to the form he once had, but he has joined the superb Jackson-Wink camp for this fight to try rekindle some of that form.
He comes up against an extremely hard-hitting and athletic Borrachinha. If Hendricks tries to get in a stand-up affair with Borrachinha, it could be an early night for the former champion. This will probably happen.
Pick: Paulo Borrachinha