Written by: Remi Se
UFC 217 Recap: And the Card of the year goes to…
UFC 217 didn’t just live up to but exceeded expectations. It was packed with quality striking from beginning to end; full of surprising upsets and ended saw finishes in 4 out 5 main card fights. Everything that makes us fans of the sport managed to show up. This was the best UFC event of the year without debating, that’s all there is to say about it.
Paulo Borrachinha def Johny Hendricks:
Johny Hendricks needed a towel to make weight but Paulo Borrachinha still absolutely dwarfed Big Rig when they met in the octagon. The Brazilian’s strength and striking were far too much for a much smaller opponent. The right kick to the body was particularly devastating for the Brazilian prospect, who punished Hendricks repeatedly with that right leg. Hendricks displayed real grit however, throwing flurries whenever the ref got close to stopping and shooting for takedowns that simply didn’t have the juice to take down a giant. Hendricks was still desperately trying to do enough to keep the fight going when the ref stopped it, but there were no signs that Hendricks would do the damage needed to win the fight. His only hope was for Paulo to slow down and there were no signs of slowing down.
Paulo Borrachinha, or Costa as it is now, is ready for a ranked opponent. Hendricks is no slouch but had zero answers in this bout. For Costa a top 15 ranked opponent is the obvious next step and another recent opponent of Hendricks, Tim Boetsch makes sense. Boetsch might be relegated to gate keeper status at the moment, but he’s got KO power and toughness to go with strength that might be able to fluster the Brazilian. At the very least, this is the test Costa needs. For Hendricks, this might be it. He was on the last fight of his contract and did nothing to warrant a return. We may see him in Bellator or under some other banner soon because it’s hard to believe the UFC is eager to bring Big Rig back.
Stephen Thompson def Jorge Masvidal:
For the rest of the evening, timing was the name of the game and that started with a clear decision victory for Stephen Wonderboy Thompson. Wonderboy was elusive, powerful with kicks and even more impressive with punching flurries. He managed to knockdown Masvidal multiple times on the night and flustered Gamebred enough to score some knockdowns. Masvidal could not figure out the timing of Wonderboy’s forward movement and that meant punches were landing before Gamebred could react. Masvidal did shine at times, his leg kicks were landing all night and at times he would rush Wonderboy with reckless flurries that did seem to score points. But it was three rounds of effective striking for Wonderboy who is simply a tough opponent to figure out even if he couldn’t get the early finish in this one.
It’s rare that a highly ranked fighter beats another and looks backward in the rankings. That said, Wonderboy is going to have to wait until Woodley loses the belt to get another opportunity. He put on one of the worst title fights in UFC history and a unanimous decision, no matter how clear, isn’t about to change the situation. Darren Till, who just finished Cowboy Cerrone in dominant fashion seems like the right mix of upcoming talent, building hype and legitimate intrigue for an opponent. Masvidal meanwhile might be the only high ranked fighter that’s willing to fight Kamaru Usman who faces Emil Meek next. Assuming Usman gets that victory, it’s time for an elite test and Masvidal is the right kind of opponent to see if Kamaru is ready for a real run at the belt. Gamebred seems to always be on the crux of a big leap but never quite gets over the hump, a victory over Usman could line him up another opportunity.
Rose Namajunas def Joanna Jerdjezyck.
If you bet that Rose vs Joanna would be a one-sided fight beforehand, no one would bat an eye. If you told people that Rose would be the dominant figure in the octagon, people would think you’re a lunatic. That’s just what happened though as Namajunas took the belt with a vicious KO finish before the first round over. Rose is one of the best managers of distance in all of female MMA and keeps opponents off-balance with an onslaught of feints that only seems to stop when she finally throws a strike. Namajunas would shift from being light on her feet to putting weight on her lead leg and Joanna was quick to attempt to catch her. The feints completely broke the champ’s timing and saw her reaching too far on a huge number of her striking attempts. The couple of times that Jerdjezyck did catch Rose inside the pocket, she threw some impressive flurries but the vast majority of the fight was Joanna swinging and coming up short. Rose meanwhile would go from using her legs to feint to pumping her fists in feints only to shoot forward with a clean strike before she was once again out of range. This was no fluke either, Rose scored a knockdown early and then finished the fight with a lead hook that led to ground and pound so vicious that the champion was tapping.
Rose creates a number of interesting scenarios for the belt. Jessica Andrade just mowed down Claudia Gadelha and makes for a very interesting match for the new champion. Karolina Kowalkiewicz is coming off of an impressive victory and was the last person to defeat Rose. Then there’s a potential rematch with Joanna who was just a win away from tying Ronda Rousey’s title defense record for a female fighter. Of the trio, it seems like Andrade has the best case for next but any of the three could be explained. For Joanna, sans an immediate rematch, there’s the winner of Tecia vs Michelle Waterson. JJ has beaten all of the other top ranked women and would draw a fresh opponent in the winner while having an opportunity to fly right back into the title picture.
TJ Dillashaw def Cody Garbrandt:
The night of upsets continued as TJ Dillashaw rebounded from a tough first round to knock Cody Garbrandt out in the second. The two rounds of this bout could not be more different. In the first round, Garbrandt intercepted Dillashaw with counters on the dime that led to flurries. He looked faster, more elusive and more powerful than the challenger Dillashaw. Cody had his finger on the trigger all round, allowing TJ to be the aggressor but responding with punches in bunches. Garbrandt sent TJ back to the cage with a combination at one point and dropped TJ with a late in the round. With ten more seconds, the fight would have been over in the first. Instead, TJ survived the round and came back out for the second with Cody looking more comfortable. I mentioned in my preview that Dillashaw would need to change levels and use his kicks to the body to set up a headkick, a strategy that proved effective in the second round. Dillashaw seemed desperate to land for power, forcing Cody to dodge early (Cody even mocked Dillashaw in a nature similar to the Cruz fight). TJ missed a takedown attempt then quickly went back to the headkick which caught Cody offguard and dropped him. The knockdown seemed to slow Cody down but also force him to sit down on his strikes and look to respond. The two men stood toe to toe throwing punches in the pocket when TJ landed a lead hook that dropped Cody for a second time. This time, the challenger pounced and landed a number of unanswered strikes before scoring the TKO stoppage victory.
Dillashaw’s next opponent seemed like an obvious choice. He’d face the winner of Dominick Cruz and Jimmie Rivera, but news just dropped that Cruz is out with an injury. This seems to open the floor for Rivera but he seems one fight away from the belt. A public feud with Aljimain Sterling seems like a great set up for a contender fight in the interim while Cruz recovers. TJ has advantages over both Sterling and Rivera but both make for very intriguing opponents and two of the only high ranked opponents left that TJ hasn’t steamrolled. For Garbrandt, the devastating nature of the KO means that he likely needs to string together a couple of wins to lock down a rematch with his former Alpha Male training partner turned rival. The next highly ranked fighter in the mix with Sterling and Rivera is Bryan Caraway. That’s a bit of an odd match-up but it would be a huge opportunity for Caraway and a very different type of opponent for Garbrandt who has faced mainly strikers or pure wrestlers as opposed to a submission grappler.
GSP def Michael Bisping:
If the shockers in the first two title bouts weren’t enough, than Georges St. Pierre’s submission finish over Michael Bisping certainly sealed this as the event of the year. St. Pierre started the bout in a hurry, landing an overhand right as a counter to Bisping’s jab early. GSP continually denied Bisping’s quality jab with the overhand early but mixed in leg kicks, jabs and even attempted a spinning back kick. Bisping in his own right did some work behind his jab and angling in with some head movement but St. Pierre edged the striking throughout the round. As time wound down, Georges sealed the round with a single leg takedown even though Bisping was quickly back to his feet. St. Pierre wasn’t content however, firing a superman punch that staggered the Count and following it with a spinning back kick that buzzed Bisping’s head and seemed just an inch or two from ending the fight in the first.
The second round was a different affair altogether. Bisping’s head movement looked vastly improved as he threw the jab more frequently but slid away from GSP’s counter right hands this time. The Count staggered GSP with a right and continually made Rush St. Pierre swing and miss. As the momentum began to shift Rush scored another single leg takedown but Bisping was on his feet almost as fast as he went down and continued the onslaught. Near the end of the round it was apparent that GSP was both slowing down and breathing heavily while the Count simply kept his pace with a methodic volume based attack that would seal the round and even up the score.
The third round started with yet another takedown for St. Pierre. This time Rush was able to keep Bisping down and in full guard but all of the damage came from the Count on the bottom. The champion landed a picture perfect elbow that opened up the challenger and left him bloody. At this point it seemed like there was no safe place for GSP as Bisping once again rose to his feet with a tired, bloodied GSP laboring. The Count continued to score behind jabs and right hands but GSP didn’t give in or fall back. Instead the former Welterweight champion planted his feet, traded with Bisping in the pocket and landed an incredible lead hook that dropped the champion. GSP was quick to pounce this time, landing some ground and pound then timing a back take right as Bisping went to push off and get back to safety on his feet. If the hook was Freddy Roach’s handy work then GSP’s speed locking in a choke could likely be attributed to his work with the Death Squad. Bisping wouldn’t quit, but as he verged on unconsciousness the ref called the fight and Georges St. Pierre became the fourth UFC fighter to hold gold in two separate weight classes.
For GSP the options are endless. If he wants to defend his middleweight title then Robert Whitaker is only option. But GSP could also drop to Welterweight and challenge Tyron Woodley. There have long been rumors about a fight with Conor which would be massive but seems like the longest shot. I’d love to GSP’s speed and timing against Whitaker’s incredible use of kicks and takedown defense. That’s the best of the three fights in my eyes. Bisping meanwhile deserves to go out on top but there are literally no easy matches in the Middleweight top ten. If he wants to contend again, then it’s time to face off with Yoel Romero after the two were on the verge of a match before Whitaker arrived to blow up the plans. The best shot at a “ride off into the sunset” victory for the Count is likely one last fight with a legend that once knocked him out. Vitor Belfort is a legend just outside of the top ten ranked at 11 and while he has slowed down the Brazilian is still formidable. Bisping could take one last chance at avenging a loss and set up a retirement on a victory.
UFC 217 delivered by having all of its fighters show up and make weight, plus show out and look to finish. Even the one main card fight that went to decision included knockdowns and reckless attacks to try and steal a win. Health has held back virtually every other promising card this year and continues to wreak havoc on the final quarter. We’ve lost Dominick Cruz vs Jimmy Rivera and Frankie Edgar vs Max Holloway from UFC 219 and UFC 218 respectively in 24 hours. Having fighters show up healthy, make weight and then deliver on a card from top to bottom seems like catching lightning in a bottle this year but UFC 217 had that. It will be a card we talk about for years, the only one in an otherwise disappointing year that could hold up against the best cards of previous years. This was the one to watch and my neighbors can attest to that because there was a house full of grown men screaming in shock and awe for three straight title fights. Whether we got lucky as fans for everything working out or this has just been an unlucky year is anyone’s guess, but thank God for UFC 217 because that wasn’t just good. That was special.