UFC 217 takes place tomorrow night in Las Vegas and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
Michael Bisping vs. Georges St-Pierre
It’s essentially been four years since Georges St-Pierre last set foot in the Octagon, and coupled with the fact that his return fight will see him take a step up to middleweight to challenge current champion Michael Bisping for the belt makes this an intriguing match-up.
In the past St-Pierre was extremely hesitant about moving up to 185lbs while Anderson Silva was champion, but it’s clear he fancies his chances against a 38-year-old Bisping, who many people still have a hard time accepting is the titleholder, and on paper it does look like a more favorable match-up than some others he could have at the top end of the weight class.
GSP’s excellent wrestling game is undoubtedly his biggest advantage in this fight and Bisping has been vulnerable to being taken down in the past. He’s generally adept at getting back to his feet, but the likes of Chael Sonnen and Tim Kennedy were able to effectively shut him down there and it’s not hard to imagine that GSP will be able to do likewise.
On the feet it’s a different story. Bisping has always been a sound technical striker, and while St-Pierre was able to trouble some opponents in the latter stages of his previous 170lb title reign with an effective jab installed by famed boxing coach Freddie Roach, I don’t think ‘The Count’ will be overawed by it and as the bigger man will be looking to land the bigger, more meaningful punches and kicks.
Both fighters have been cardio machines over the course of their careers, though as he’s got older Bisping has began to slow down a little in the later rounds and after so long out of the Octagon and looking a little chunky around the midsection and more muscular at 185lbs, it’ll also be interesting to see how GSP copes if the fight reaches the championship rounds.
I don’t see GSP taking too many chances in his first fight back as he looks to expand his legacy by winning a title in a second division, so despite having Roach in his corner I think Bisping is right to believe that the Canadian’s plan will be to ourwrestle him. I’m curious to see if the weight difference will cause St-Pierre any issues and whether his submission game has evolved enough behind-the-scenes to go for some kind of finish, but a five-round decision victory seems the safest bet.
Georges St-Pierre to win by decision.
Cody Garbrandt vs. T.J. Dillashaw
This is a terrific match-up at 135lbs between two highly skilled competitors with a long history, both as teammates and more recently as bitter rivals.
The striking battle here should be fascinating. Garbrandt has always been known for his punching power, but against former champion Dominick Cruz last time out he transcended to a whole new level as he completely schooled one of the best fighters of his generation, showcasing not only dangerous offense and swift precision striking, but also remarkable defensive awareness, footwork and movement.
He’ll need all of those atributes against Dillashaw who is a polished, technical and clever adversary on the feet who can be hard to keep track of with his evasive footwork and angles, yet is always offensively-minded – although not as hard a hitter as Garbrandt.
Troublingly for Dillashaw, a significant part of his style is modelled off the aforementioned Cruz, who Garbrandt seemed perfectly equipped to deal with, and TJ isn’t as hard to hit as Cruz generally is.
Both men are primarily strikers, but that doesn’t mean they can’t grapple if need be. I’d pick Dillashaw as the more well-rounded fighter on the mat, but Garbrandt has solid wrestling and excellent takedown defense, so I think it’s more likely this one gets decided on the feet.
It’s a very close match-up overall and could go either way. As such Garbrandt will have to be discplined as too much showboating could cost him dearly. Nevertheless, I do think Garbrandt will edge the technical striking exchanges and may have Dillashaw hurt at some stage, but will ultimately have to settle for a decision victory to retain his title.
Cody Garbrandt to win by decision.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Rose Namajunas
25-year-old Namajunas is the latest fighter to try to take the 115lb title from Jedrzejczyk and she’s certainly not an opponent that the champion can afford to take lightly.
Namajunas has some good technical striking and isn’t as reckless in pursuit of a finish as she used to be, but even so, Jedrzejczyk has proven time and time again that she’s mastered the stand-up game and I don’t think the challenger has anything in her locker that’s going to surprise her.
On the other hand, Namajunas is extremely crafty and opportunistic on the mat, so a submission is likely her best route to success here, but ‘Thug’ isn’t a takedown specialist and is going to have real difficulty getting JJ in a position to work for a fight-ending submission.
In the end this looks like being another striking masterclass from Jedrzejczyk over five rounds to draw level with Ronda Rousey in terms of the most successful title defenses in women’s UFC history.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk to win by decision.
Stephen Thompson vs. Jorge Masvidal
This is another fun fight that pits the dazzling striking abilities of ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson against the savvy, technical craftmanship of Masvidal.
Masvidal is generally at his best on the counter and has steadily picked opponents apart that way, though he has a tendancy to lean too heavily on being technically sound rather than using his undeniable skills to up the ante offensively.
Given his wide variety of unpredictable, eye-catching strikes, Thompson isn’t going to be the easiest opponent to time, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens if Masvidal isn’t able to outpoint him in the striking department.
Masvidal does also have an underrated ground game and though Thompson has shored up his own mat skills, ‘Gamebred’ should have the edge there if he’s willing to commit to it.
I’m not so sure he will and If that’s the case then I think in an otherwise close fight it may well be Thompson’s more visually impressive striking that might overshadow Masvidal’s efficiency on the scorecards.
Stephen Thompson to win by decision.
Johny Hendricks vs. Paulo Borrachinha
Given what we’ve witnessed from Hendricks in and out of the Octagon over the past few years it’s hard to pick him against other noteworthy opponents, and though he’s still a work-in-progress, Borrachinha falls into that category.
Perhaps being at Greg Jackson’s camp will have reinvigorated Hendricks, but based on his recent performances he just doesn’t really look like his heart is in this any more and he lacks the drive, determination and vicious punching power that we were once accustomed to seeing from him.
On the other hand, Borrachinha is going from strength-to-strength, taking his record to a perfect 10-0 with two victories due to strikes since joining the UFC, and there’s a sense he could be a potential new star for the Brazilian market.
Hendricks wrestling could be a problem for Borrachinha, but he doesn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry to use it and I think the Brazilian’s heart, desire, forward pressure and hard-hitting style will take the fight out of ‘Bigg Rigg’ and lead to a TKO finish in the second round.
Paulo Borrachinha to win by TKO in Rd2.
Prelims: (Predicted winners in bold)
James Vick vs. Joseph Duffy
Walt Harris vs Mark Godbeer
Ion Cutelaba vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk
Randy Brown vs. Mickey Gall
Oleksiy Oliynyk vs. Curtis Blaydes
Corey Anderson vs. Ovince Saint Preux
Aiemann Zahabi vs. Ricardo Ramos