MMA Review: #619: UFC 217: Bisping vs. St-Pierre

-Despite some mixed feelings around the main event – more on that later – the UFC’s return to Madison Square Garden was still probably the biggest show of 2017, with three title fights and the return of probably the best fighter in MMA history in Georges St-Pierre. Not as big as 2016’s MSG show perhaps, but still pretty damn big.

UFC 217: Bisping vs. St-Pierre

New York, New York

-Your hosts are Jon Anik, Joe Rogan and Daniel Cormier.

Middleweight Fight: Paulo ‘Borrachinha’ Costa vs Johny Hendricks

After destroying his first two opponents in devastating fashion, Costa was looking like a potential new Brazilian star for the UFC, and so they gave him a step up in name value sense here in the form of former WW champ Hendricks, although to be frank, I wondered whether it was a true step up given how bad Hendricks had looked in the summer against Tim Boetsch. To me this looked like a probable big win for Borrachinha as Hendricks looked like a bloated shell of his former self.

Interesting point here – Borrachinha is seemingly no more as he’s dropped that nickname and is now going by the English translation of the word, becoming ‘The Eraser’. At least it’s a cool translation! My guess? Borrachinha is difficult to pronounce, Costa is easy to pronounce and so he’s trying to market himself more to the English-speaking audience.

Round One begins and Costa opens with a chopping inside leg kick. Body kick follows and lands cleanly as do a couple of punches. Right hand lands and Hendricks is being forced back onto the outside already. Big head kick from Costa and he dodges some swings from Hendricks. Costa is a fucking HUGE Middleweight. He continues to back Hendricks up and clips him with another combo. Takedown attempt from Hendricks but he pretty much dives into a knee to the body and then Costa shrugs him off anyway. Spin kick misses for Costa but a right to the body does not. Another body kick sets up a combo for the Brazilian. He’s showing Hendricks zero respect here. Big right hand lands for Costa. Knee and another right follow as Hendricks tries to circle out. Pair of left hands and a low kick get through for Hendricks but he takes another knee to the body and Costa shrugs off another takedown. Hendricks comes back with a couple more combinations to pop the crowd, but he can’t seem to get any forward motion going as Costa continues to punish the body. Pair of nice lefts snap Costa’s head back though and a good leg kick follows. Another combination follows but Costa backs him up again and opens up with a flurry to end the round. 10-9 Costa for sure.

Round Two and again Cost backs Johny into the fence. Hendricks takes an eye poke though and Big John McCarthy calls time to let him recover. Hendricks decides to rush his recovery time to not allow Costa to rest, and they quickly restart. Good inside leg kick lands for Hendricks. Costa clips him with a right hand as he comes forward though, then stuns him with a head kick and a left hand. Hendricks goes down, but turns it into a takedown attempt, only for Costa to shrug that off easily and land with a knee, a kick to the body and a swiping left hand with Hendricks backpedalling. Big combo stuns Hendricks and he’s in deep trouble. He shoots again, but Costa’s having none of it and then unloads on him with some more big shots. Can’t fault Hendricks’ heart as he keeps swinging back, but some more huge shots drop him face-first and Big John steps in as he desperately tries to grab a leg.

Fight basically went exactly how I figured it would; Hendricks tried, but he was just too small to deal with Costa who lived up to the Eraser nickname by just destroying the former champ with strikes. This was the final fight on Hendricks’ UFC contract too and with five losses in his last six fights I don’t expect him back. Post-fight Costa outright says he wants to be the UFC’s next Brazilian superstar and if he can keep up this kind of form I don’t see why not – Belfort, Silva, Aldo and Barao are all on their way down while this dude is clearly on the way up. And who the hell would’ve predicted him and not Warlley Alves, Ricardo Abreu or Antonio Carlos Jr to be the big star coming off TUF Brazil 3? MMA is weird sometimes. This was an awesome opener.

Welterweight Fight: Stephen Thompson vs Jorge Masvidal

Well, if it weren’t for Thompson’s two failed title shots already, you could’ve made an argument for the winner of this one being next in line for Tyron Woodley, but as it was, it was a case that Wonderboy would probably still be in traction with a win while Masvidal could maybe get a title shot if he got his hand raised. Great matchmaking but I was taking Wonderboy, feeling he was just the slightly better striker.

Round One begins and Wonderboy backs Masvidal up with his classic karate stance. It must be said that Thompson looks huge in comparison to Masvidal, like an evil praying mantis or something. Couple of stabbing kicks to the front leg land for Masvidal, but Thompson glances on a head kick. Handful of side kicks glance for Wonderboy as Masvidal seems to be struggling to get into range. Beautiful combination lands for Thompson as he comes forward. Good low kick lands for Masvidal but almost all of his other shots are coming up short. He does land with a nice body kick though. SLICK overhand right lands cleanly for Wonderboy and Masvidal does well to take it. That was crazy speed. Side kick puts Masvidal down for a second but he pops back up instantly. Masvidal pushes forward with a pair of leg kicks in response, but walks into a left hand en route. Masvidal continues to press forward, but he eats a left hand again and can’t catch Wonderboy with anything significant before the end of the round. 10-9 Thompson in a great round for him.

Round Two and both men throw out some super-low leg kicks, before Thompson lands with a superkick to the face that Masvidal takes well. Takedown attempt from Masvidal and he then lets it go to throw a flurry, but Wonderboy avoids most of it and glances on some strikes of his own. Nice snapping left connects for Thompson. BIG RIGHT HAND follows and Masvidal goes down hard, but he shows a rock-hard chin to pop right back up. Holy shit that was a good shot. Combination follows but doesn’t land cleanly. Big left hand comes over the top for Wonderboy. Masvidal starts to press forward some more, but his style just looks so slow and plodding in comparison to Wonderboy’s. Insanely quick right lands to the body for Wonderboy and he follows with a quick combo and then another side kick. Another clean left hand lands for Thompson. He’s looking incredible. Another left hand lands, like a cobra striking. Masvidal keeps pushing the action though and he clips Thompson with a left hand of his own, but it doesn’t seem to really stun Wonderboy. Couple more quick shots from Wonderboy end the round. Clearly 10-9 Wonderboy and he’s outclassing Masvidal.

Round Three and Masvidal opens with a couple of leg kicks, but he takes a nasty combo in response. Takedown attempt is stuffed by Thompson. Wonderboy begins to push forward now and he lands with a clean combination that snaps Masvidal’s head back. Another left hand lands for him. Spinning wheel kick misses by an inch. Nice body kick lands for Masvidal but he eats another combo. Masvidal lands a couple more low kicks too, but he’s still coming up short on most of his shots. Trade sees Thompson clearly get the better of it using his range. Another trade sees Masvidal land a decent left, but he also takes about four quicker, cleaner shots in the process. Looks like Wonderboy’s right eye might be cut up. Nice combo to the head and body from Wonderboy. Less than a minute to go now and Masvidal still can’t catch Wonderboy cleanly. Can’t fault the dude’s effort, though. They exchange some shots in the dying seconds, and the round ends with a Thompson flurry and a trade of body kicks. 10-9 Thompson, 30-27 Thompson overall for me. Fantastic performance overall.

Judges have it 30-26, 30-27 and 30-27 all for Stephen Thompson. Really fun fight as it was all about Wonderboy’s elusive style, as he kept on his bike and picked Masvidal apart, basically like a small man’s version of the Red Viper vs. the Mountain on Game of Thrones, if the Mountain was a small, angry Cuban guy. Masvidal tried and landed some decent shots on Thompson but for every one he landed he was taking three or four nastier ones in response. I don’t think this was enough to get Wonderboy another shot at Woodley – and a lot of the fight made me realise how good Woodley is to be able to avoid allowing Thompson to pull off this kind of game – but it was still massively impressive.

UFC Women’s World Strawweight Title: Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs Rose Namajunas

The first title fight on the card, this was Joanna’s second title defense in MSG following her win last year over Karolina Kowalkiewicz, and of course she’d thoroughly outclassed Jessica Andrade since then, too. Namajunas meanwhile had captured her title shot by beating Michelle Waterson, although one fight before that, she’d been pretty firmly beaten by Kowalkiewicz. That alone was enough to make her probably the biggest underdog on the card in terms of the title fights – I figured she was reckless enough to give Joanna a fight, but her aggression would probably end up getting her finished, giving the champ her sixth title defense.

And it’s an ALL TIME CLASSIC ENTRANCE for Rose who walks out to Supersonic by Oasis. Been waiting for someone to do that for YEARS, seriously. Song doesn’t exactly fit Rose’s stoic personality and would be better suited for a strutting type like Mike Perry, but who cares? It’s awesome as fuck. Crowd are massively into this too, treating both women like huge stars and rightfully so. And in the staredown Rose FINALLY shows some emotion, shoving the mean-mugging Joanna away.

Fight begins and both girls come out dancing around and throwing some feeler strikes. Right hand counter glances for Joanna as Rose throws out with a left. Both women glance on some more shots before Joanna uncorks on a nice combination. A flurry glances too but Rose seems okay. Low kick from Joanna is countered by a HUGE RIGHT HAND from the challenger and THE CHAMP IS DOWN! Holy shit. Looked like she kept her hands too low there. Rose pounces, looking for the finish, but Joanna manages to tie her up from the guard and quickly scoots back to the fence. Rose gets full mount for a second and lands some punches, but Joanna gets to her feet and separates. She looks okay but Rose pushes forward and forces her onto the retreat. She swings wildly and almost walks into a big combo from Jedrzejczyk, though. Rose keeps pushing and lands with the right hand again, and then suddenly catches Joanna clean with a CRUSHING LEFT HOOK!~! Jedrzejczyk goes CRASHING DOWN and this time Rose swarms and hammers her until she TAPS OUT TO THE STRIKES.

Crowd EXPLODE as Daniel Cormier does his best Jim Ross impression on commentary, screaming “THUG ROSE!” like JR used to shout about STONE COLD back in the day. He must’ve been PRAYING for a chance to do that, ha.

Replay shows Rose just had Joanna’s timing down perfectly and caught her with probably the cleanest left hook possible, and basically Joanna was out on impact and the rest was academic. Massive, massive upset for sure and probably a star-making performance from Rose Namajunas. It’s weird but she’s far more stoic than Jedrzejczyk but somehow she comes off as pretty cool and so I can see people jumping onto her bandwagon. Whether Joanna took her lightly or not is up in the air, but they’re supposedly booking a rematch soon so we shall see. This was fucking AWESOME as you’d imagine.

UFC World Bantamweight Title: Cody Garbrandt vs TJ Dillashaw

Realistically this would’ve done well as a main event on any other PPV in 2017, and of course it was SUPPOSED TO main event UFC 213 before Garbrandt hurt his back. Story was straight out of pro-wrestling, too – Dillashaw was the protégé of the ageing legend Urijah Faber, a guy who had failed to beat the monstrous champ Renan Barao twice; Dillashaw *did* manage to beat Barao to take the title for himself, but then he walked out on Faber and Team Alpha Male, only to come up against the team’s oldest enemy Dominick Cruz, who unseated him. Cruz then came up against Faber’s *newer* protégé in Garbrandt and somehow Cody took the belt from him, and so this was his former friend and training partner TJ’s chance to take his title back, while for Cody, it was all about revenge. Like something from Game of Thrones even! My pick was Garbrandt, for the record – it was a fight too close to call, but I figured it’d be better to side with the supposed good guy in the whole thing.

Round One begins and Dillashaw comes out dancing around like, well, like he’s Dominick Cruz. Kick to the body lands for TJ in the first exchange, almost like a knee due to the angle of Cody. Crowd seem behind Garbrandt. Almost two minutes in and neither man’s really landed anything of note yet. Looks like both men are pretty wary of the other’s skills which would make sense given how well they know one another. Kick from Dillashaw is countered by a FAST FLURRY from Garbrandt which doesn’t completely land clean, but definitely backs TJ right up. A counter one-two follows as TJ throws a low kick. Looks like Cody’s definitely got the faster hands as they exchange again briefly. Dillashaw throws some more kicks that miss, and when he tries a clinch he eats a bunch of shots to the body. Decent right lands for Dillashaw and both men swing pretty wildly, and with seconds to go Cody DROPS HIM WITH A RIGHT! He follows up with more punches to look for the finish….but the buzzer sounds and a WOBBLY Dillashaw stumbles back to his corner. Round was close until then but after that it’s a clear 10-9 for Garbrandt.

Round Two and TJ looks fully recovered as he’s dancing around as per usual. Big head kick narrowly misses for him and Garbrandt taunts him. Couple more kicks and a superman punch miss for Dillashaw as Garbrandt looks super-confident now. Potential takedown attempt is easily shrugged off by the champ. Crowd are now chanting “fuck you TJ” which is HILARIOUS. And of course he shuts them right up by DROPPING CODY WITH A LEFT HEAD KICK! Garbrandt pops up, but he clearly got hurt badly there. He circles out and clocks TJ with a one-two off a thrown leg kick. Dillashaw keeps pushing forward though and both men come up short on punches. Big exchange follows and this time Dillashaw catches Cody HARD with a right hand and he goes DOWN! Crowd go crazy as Dillashaw follows up with some punches on the ground to finish it….and then SCREAMS IN HIS FACE when he manages to get up. Oof. Eventually they shake hands but I don’t think this rivalry’s over by any means. And then post-fight someone from Dillashaw’s camp starts to taunt Garbrandt – apparently Dillashaw’s brother – and all hell almost breaks loose in a pretty bad scene.

Amazing fight, then, and a huge win for TJ Dillashaw. He was clearly losing in the first round but I’d say the difference was that he kept a cool head despite being dropped, while Cody clearly bought into the idea that he was about to knock Dillashaw out and just left himself a little too open. Would the same happen in a rematch? Who the hell knows, I could see these guys splitting multiple fights if I’m honest. Dillashaw calls out Demetrious Johnson in the post-fight interview but I’m not a fan of that one as I’d prefer to see him defend against someone like Jimmie Rivera next, but yeah. This fight was equally as awesome as Namajunas/Jedrzejczyk before it.

UFC World Middleweight Title: Michael Bisping vs Georges St-Pierre

Considering GSP is one of my three favourite fighters of all time (the other two being Overeem and Diego, for the record) I was strangely not that pumped for his return. I’d say it was a combination of me not really wanting him to come back – I always loved the idea of a legend like GSP going out on top – and the fact that rather than attempting to take back the Welterweight title he’d held for so long from Tyron Woodley, he was fighting Michael Bisping in a weight class he’d never been at before, and was jumping a HUGE queue for the title shot in the process. Throw in the fact that it meant Bisping didn’t defend for over a year, and you can understand the frustration. Still, I guess it at least felt like a big fight, something the UFC’s largely been lacking in 2017. I had no clue who to pick either – in his prime GSP would’ve won easily but who the hell knew how much he had left after four years away?

First round begins and they circle around with GSP glancing on some feeler strikes while Bisping seems to be gauging the distance. Big overhand right connects for GSP as he slips a Bisping jab. Sweeping left hand forces Bisping back and he has to circle out a lot. GSP continues to push the action, landing a clean jab, and then glancing on a head kick. Bisping hasn’t gotten a lot of offense at all thus far. Big crowd chant for GSP and he lands another big overhand right. Stiff jab follows that up and he’s comfortably outstriking Bisping thus far. Takedown attempt from GSP with a minute to go and he gets a single leg and plants the champion on his back. Bisping immediately scoots back to the fence and stands, though, then breaks off. Seconds to go and a BEAUTIFUL superman punch stuns Bisping and GSP follows with a spin kick, but fails on a takedown attempt and lands a right hand instead. Round ends there and that was a tremendous round for GSP considering the layoff.

Second round and again GSP backs Bisping up and throws a couple of kicks and some stiff jabs that land quite well. Bisping just looks really gunshy here, probably worrying about the takedown. More kicks and jabs from GSP but Bisping finally counters and lands a decent left. Nice right-left combination lands for Bisping as St-Pierre throws an inside leg kick. Bisping begins to push forward more following that, but GSP hits him with a jab and manages another takedown into half-guard. That was nicely done. Beautiful sramble and reversal allows Bisping to escape up though and Georges takes a deep breath. Hard right hand connects for Bisping and he tags GSP with a counter-combo. A slip sees GSP stumble off balance and suddenly he looks like he could be tired. He does land with a nice jab, though. Big overhand right answers for Bisping and he misses on a high kick that backs GSP up. Round ends shortly after and I’d go 10-9 Bisping for the strong finish.

Third round and after some feeler jabs GSP goes for a takedown and gets it, planting Bisping on the ground in the centre of the cage. Bisping immediately works some elbows from his back in full guard as GSP postures up to drop some shots of his own. Looks like GSP’s cut badly from those elbows as he’s bleeding all over the place. Really good work from Bisping from his back. Monster GSP chant from the crowd as Bisping continues to strike from his back. St-Pierre begins to get through with some hard elbows of his own, but holy shit he’s bleeding badly. Good reversal from Bisping puts him on his feet and now GSP’s wearing the crimson mask. He looks fresher, though, and presses the action with his jab. Big exchange sees both men land right hands. Nice right from GSP catches Bisping slightly off balance. Superman punch into a leg kick follows, classic GSP. Bisping tries to taunt him in answer as he tries to throw his jab, but a side kick to the chest backs him up and then GSP DROPS HIM HARD WITH A LEFT HOOK! Bisping is in TROUBLE as GSP follows up with some HUGE ELBOWS, but Bisping defends enough to survive. GSP is relentless though and he keeps on landing before TAKING THE BACK! Crowd are DEAFENING as he slaps on the choke, and Bisping GOES OUT!

Unbelievable. That was just GSP’s second finish in almost a decade – his last one being BJ Penn in January 2009 – and it was his first fight back in four years. The guy is just an incredible fighter and with this – question Bisping all you want, but he was the champ – he’s got to move back up to the top of the list in terms of the all-time greats. It wasn’t an easy fight for him at all despite a hot start, as Bisping looked like he was starting to take over about halfway through the 2nd, but once that big left hook connected and knocked the Brit down it was over. Just a phenomenal showing from GSP – who else could come back from FOUR YEARS AWAY to do something like that?

As for the future? It’s really hard to tell. The word is that a title defense – preferably against Interim champ Robert Whittaker – is written into GSP’s contract, but it’s almost impossible to guess what GSP’s going to do next – or what WME-IMG will want him to do, for that matter. Whittaker would be an insanely difficult for him, that’s for sure, but shit, after seeing this if anyone can pull off a miracle win like that it’d be St-Pierre. Regardless, despite the bad feeling coming in, this turned out to be brilliant – one of the all-time great UFC moments, surpassing Randy Couture’s win over Tim Sylvia as the most improbable return from retirement ever. And what a main event to top a pretty crazy card.

-Announcers wrap up the night’s action and we’re done from MSG!

Final Thoughts….

After what’s been a pretty shitty year for UFC PPVs they needed a really blowaway show to almost salvage things and thankfully UFC 217 delivered in all areas, as literally every fight gave us some awesome action, with the three title fights somehow surpassing all expectation to become three of the best ones in recent memory. GSP/Bisping was probably the best fight but Namajunas/Jedrzejczyk and Dillashaw/Garbrandt were almost just as memorable too, meaning this one is up there with the best UFC shows ever and probably the best one since UFC 189 in 2015.

Best Fight: GSP vs. Bisping
Worst Fight: None

Overall Rating: ****3/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: