It’s been a long four years, but one of the greatest UFC fighters of all-time will finally return to the octagon.
Georges St-Pierre, the iconic Canadian fighter and former kingpin of the welterweight division, makes his comeback in the main event of UFC 217 at Madison Square Garden. Surprisingly, he won’t be fighting at 170-pounds though. He decided to skip the grueling weight cut and booked himself a title shot against Middleweight (185-pounds) champ Michael Bisping, who himself is an unlikely champion after upsetting Luke Rockhold at UFC 199 after stepping in as a replacement for Chris Weidman on just two weeks notice.
The main event is juicy enough to convince anyone to buy this card, but we’re also treated to two other title fights as the UFC invades the Big Apple. Cody Garbrandt will defend the Bantamweight championship against former teammate T.J. Dillashaw in the co-main event, while pound-for-pound great Joanna Jedrzejczyk puts her women’s Strawweight belt on the line against top five ranked contender Rose Namajunas.
Throw in appearances from elite strikers (and former title contenders) Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson an Johny “Big Rig” Hendricks, and UFC 217 should deliver entertainment in a big way.
Here’s our official breakdown of the card, along with betting predictions based on odds from Bodog.ca — favorites listed first, like always. We’re skipping the UFC Fight Pass prelims (does anyone actually pay for that?) and moving right into the Fox Sports 1 prelims, which include four intriguing matchups.
Fox Sports 1 Prelims
Randy Brown (-140) vs. Mickey Gall (+110)
The man who shut down CM Punk in his MMA debut and then submitted Sage Northcutt will continue the undefeated start to his career. Gall by submission.
Ion Cutelaba (-450) vs. Michael Oleksiejczuk (+325)
Cutelaba may still be just 23-years-old, but he already has 17 professional fights under his belt (13-3, with one No Content). He’s taking on fellow-youngster Oleksiejczuk (22), who sports a similar record of 12-2. Cutelaba has only won two of his last four fights, while Oleksiejczuk is on a nine fight win streak. We expect him to make it ten in his UFC debute. Oleksiejczuk by knockout.
Walt Harris (-325) vs. Mark Goodbeer (+250)
There isn’t much better than watching two gigantic men slug it out in the octagon. Harris (6’5″, 250-lbs) and Goodbeer (6’4″, 242-lbs) are two huge dudes who specialize in throwing haymakers. Of their combined 22 wins, 19 have come by knockout. Which one will come out on top in this fight? We flipped a coin and it landed on Goodbeer, the slightly more consistent of the two. Goodbeer by knockout
Joseph Duffy (-165) vs. James Vick (+135)
The main event of the prelims should be a good one, as neither Vick nor Duffy are used to losing, with respective records of 11-1 and 17-2. They both have a tendency to notch victories by making other fighters tap, which means the fight could go one of two ways — either a technical grappling spectacle or a stand up war where neither fighter wants to make a mistake on the ground. Regardless of how it goes down, we think Duffy comes out on top. Duffy via decision.
Paulo Borrachinha (-225) vs. Johny Hendricks (+175)
Johny Hendricks really needs this fight. His career may depend on it. It wasn’t that long ago that “Big Rig” got two cracks at the welterweight title, losing a decision to Georges St-Pierre (which many people think he really won) and then capturing the vacant championship by beating Robbie Lawler in March 2014. He lost a rematch with Lawler ten months later and things have been bad ever since.
Hendricks always struggled to make 170-pounds, but after losing the title to Lawler things got even worse (expect for a win over Matt Brown at UFC 185). He picked up three straight losses (to Stephen Thompson, Kevin Gastelum, and Neil Magny). Even worse, he failed to make weight for two of those three fights. The UFC basically forced him to move up to 185-pounds, where he picked up a win over Hector Lombard, but then he again failed to make weight against Tim Boetsch and lost by TKO. If he loses this fight or fails to make weight again, he’l likely be cut.
Across the cage stands Paulo Borrachinha, an undefeated (10-0) 26-year-old from Brazil. He’s bigger than Hendricks and has a longer reach, so it’s easy to see why he’s been installed as a favorite here. This one could be a slugfest, as Borrachinha has ended nine of his career ten fights by knockout or stoppage (the tenth was a submission victory). Likewise, Hendricks is known for two things: his strong wrestling background and a dynamite left hand that’s floored many opponents in the past.
Call me crazy, but I have a feeling that a desperate Hendricks will come into this one very prepared and focused. With so many weight cutting mishaps in his recent history, he’s going to nail this one and fight with a hunger we haven’t seen from him in a while. Plus, it’s boring to always pick the favorites.
Prediction: Hendricks via knockout.
Stephen Thompson (-175) vs. Jorge Masvidal (+145)
Frankly, I’m not sure why these odds are so close. Stephen Thompson may not have won his last two fights, but they were closely fought bouts with Welterweight champ Tyron Woodley. And when I say “close fights,”I mean they were really f**king close! The first was scored a majority draw (meaning two judges scored the fight a draw and the third had Woodley winning) and the second was a majority decision (meaning two judges scored it 48-47 for Woodley, and the third scored it a draw). Like I said, it was a pair of super close fights, both being very hard to score.
Before those two contests, Wonderboy was 13-1, suffering just a single loss to Matt Brown back in 2012. He’s still the No. 2 ranked welterweight in the world and definitely wants another crack at the title. In contrast, Masvidal has lost of his last eight fights dating back to 2015, including disappointing bouts with Al Iaquinta, Benson Henderson, Lorenz Larkin, and Damian Maia. Somehow, he’s still the No. 4 ranked welterweight in the official UFC rankings, but I think there’s actually a much larger gap between the two.
Prediction: Thompson via decision.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk (-500) vs. Rose Namajunas (+350)
According to the bookies, this is the most lopsided fight of the night. If you’ve ever watched Joanna Violence do her thing, you’ll understand why. She’s a perfect 14-0 in MMA, not to mention her stellar records in kickboxing (27-3) and amateur Muau Thai (37-3). The 30-year-old Polish fighter is one of the best in the world, male or female, at any weight class. She’s already defended the Women’s Strawweight title on five separate occasions, and will be looking to make it six on Saturday.
Rose Namajunas, on the other hand, has actually fought for this title before. A bought with Carla Esparza in December 2014 actually decided the inaugural women’s strawweight champion, before Joanna Champion took over the division. Since then, Namajunas has knocked off UFC golden girls Paige VanZant and Michelle Waterson and worked herself back into title contention, despite a controversial split decision loss to Karolina Kowalkiewicz in July 2016. She has one of the toughest tasks in all of MMA ahead of her at UFC 217, and I don’t see her scoring the upset.
Prediction: Jedrzejczyk via decision.
Cody Grabrandt (-185) vs. T.J. Dillashaw (+150)
Cody “No Love” Garbrandt has risen up the UFC ranks quickly and violently. His perfect 11-0 record comes with nine stoppages, all due to punches. He beat one of the very best in the game when he notched a decision victory over Dominick Cruz at UFC 207 to capture the Bantamweight championship. It’s been ten months, but Garbrandt will finally defend the title after finally getting over a back injury that prevented this fight from happening sooner.
Dillashaw is a former champ at 135-lbs himself, and is itching to get another crack at the belt he lost to Dominick Cruz in early 2016. An interesting subplot to this fight is that Garbrandt and Dillashaw used to be teammates at Team Alpha Male, an MMA training gym founded by Uriah Faber. Dillashaw left the camp in 2015, and the divorce has led to a fair share of insults traded among to two.
The odds are close, and with Garbrandt returning from injury, I’m going to take a risk and put the money on the underdog.
Prediction: Dillashaw via submission.
Georges St-Pierre (-125) vs. Michael Bisping (+105)
If this fight had taken place before GSP decided to take his break from competing, it wouldn’t even be close. I’d hesitate to even offer Bisping a puncher’s chance, really. But today, in 2017, things are a bit different. St-Pierre is 36-years-old and hasn’t had a competitive fight in four years. He was one of the greatest fighters of all-time back in his prime, but logic says his prime has probably been left behind somewhere.
On the other hand, Bisping is no spring chicken either. He’s 38 and like I mentioned in the intro, an unlikely champion. Since his surprise upset of Rockhold in June 2016, he’s only defended the Middleweight title once — a decision victory over old foe Dan Henderson at UFC 204. Two things to note about that; the fight was a year ago and Hendo was 47 at the time.
There are a lot of unknowns in this bout. Can Bisping cling to his championship moment in the twilight of his career? Can GSP resurrect his dominance in a new weight class? Most importantly, does anyone still care after all these years? I think they do, and I also think that GSP will have enough to grind out a win.
Prediction: St-Pierre via TKO.