Though there was no doubt UFC 217 was the biggest event of 2017 going into it, but it didn’t feel like it had the gravitas is deserved heading into it. Most MMA fans would even admit they were indifferent to Georges St. Pierre’s return to the cage. Regardless of how the event was promoted – or not promoted – it will no doubt enter the pantheon of all-time great events. Only thrice previously had an event featured three title fights. This time marked the first time there were three title changes in the same night. I’m not saying that won’t ever happen again, but I got a feeling it will be a long time before we do.
Here are my thoughts on UFC 217, with every fight and fighter involved broken down. The format is simple. The first bullet covers what was expected to happen and an attempt at a brief summary of what did happen. The next two bullets cover my thoughts on each fighter, how they did, and where they might be headed from here with the winner being covered first.
Ricardo Ramos defeated Aiemann Zahabi via KO at 1:58 of RD3
- Expectations/Result: The opening bout of the evening was a barn burner between Ramos and Zahabi. Ramos mixed jabs, low kicks, and the occasional flying knee with takedowns to catch Zahabi by surprise in the first round before the younger brother of Tristar MMA’s famed trainer Firas found his range in the second to even up the fight at one apiece. The final frame opened with them trading wildly, Zahabi backing Ramos against the fence. Ramos responded with a spinning back elbow that caught Zahabi on the chin, leaving the Canadian stiff as a board on the mat.
- Ramos: I picked Ramos with hesitation as I felt Zahabi’s robotic approach wouldn’t be able to handle Ramos’ unpredictable nature. Ramos mixed everything up in the first round and looked great, coming out on the better end of all the exchanges. I don’t know if he just didn’t know what to do in the second round or if he became exhausted, but he didn’t do much of anything in the second. Once Ramos returned to throwing volume, he dragged Zahabi into a brawl, an environment Ramos was better suited for. There were holes in Ramos’ defense, but overall the performance was very encouraging.
- Zahabi: Zahabi is very technical, but he doesn’t appear to be anything special physically. That’s why I worried about the fight degenerating into a slugfest. He looked great in the second round when Ramos was more predictable, timing his counters perfectly with his jab. When Zahabi has an opponent he can easily strategize for, he’s going to be a handful. When he doesn’t know what’s coming, he doesn’t have the tools to adapt. I struggle to see him breaking into the top 15 in such a deep division.
Curtis Blaydes defeated Aleksei Olenik via TKO of 1:56 of RD2
- Expectations/Result: One of the better prospects the heavyweight division has seen in some time, Blaydes was a sizeable favorite over the ancient Olenik. Nonetheless, there was a contingent – myself included – who believed Olenik’s guile and savvy would catch Blaydes with a hook or a choke out of nowhere. Instead, Blaydes was in control from the first minute. Olenik did land some offense with his heavy hooks, but Blaydes always had the advantage, whether it was securing takedowns or landing his own heavy punches. The fight ended in a curious manner when Blaydes attempted an illegal soccer kick that grazed Olenik’s ear. When the doctor investigated Olenik, he called off the fight… though not because of Blaydes’ kick. Instead, it was determined Olenik was incapable of continuing due to the damage incurred before the illegal strike, giving Blaydes an odd victory.
- Blaydes: This was a far more encouraging showing from the talented youngster than his previous contest with Daniel Omielanczuk. Blaydes timed his level changes well, securing takedowns every time he attempted one. Even more encouraging was his striking, showing progress in his jab and some heavy clinch offense. What he did lack was any sense of defensive acumen as Olenik landed most of his heavy strikes at will. Then again, Blaydes is still young in the sport. He should improve given more experience in the cage. Expect him to be a name in title talks before the end of 2018.
- Olenik: It’s a bit of a bummer Olenik came out on the short end of the stick given the unlikeliness of his recent success. Despite the loss, Olenik did have some success against Blaydes. He was aggressive in his submission attempts from the guard when Blaydes was trying to pound on him, though it only delayed the inevitable. What was truly encouraging was his success in the standup. He hurt Blaydes a few times as the youngster didn’t seem to know how to attack the old man given his awkward gait and unorthodox angles. Though the end of his career will be coming soon – and there is no doubt this contest expediated the process – Olenik should still pose a danger to youngsters looking to advance up the ladder for a little while yet.
Randy Brown defeated Mickey Gall via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Result: Most analysts were predicting Gall would get Brown to the ground and eventually find a submission. While most of the contest was spent on the ground, it was Brown who took the fight to the ground. Brown hurt Gall on the feet early in each round, spending the first and third in top control while delivering some vicious elbows that opened up Gall. The second started like the other two, but Gall reversed Brown, Gall spending most of the round in top position. The lone round wasn’t enough though, Brown earning the upset victory.
- Brown: Given it had been 9 months since we had last seen Brown, it’s clear he’s been working on his ground game. While no one is saying it’s about to turn into his greatest strength, he made a statement by beating Gall where Gall was supposed to have the advantage. The win does put Brown back on track as a prospect worth watching, though he is still a long way from reaching his full potential. It will be interesting to see how he does against more proven competition.
- Gall: Give credit to Gall where credit is due: he showed a lot of toughness and heart. He continued to search for submissions while Brown continued his attack from the top. However, he couldn’t end the contest when he had the top control, indicating his ground attack may not be all that it has been cracked up to be. His striking looked as bad as advertised, showing no progress since we last saw him almost a year ago. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t been working on it, but it does indicate that he may not have the instincts to become a solid striker. For now, the UFC needs to keep the kid gloves on Gall.
Ovince Saint Preux defeated Corey Anderson via KO at 1:25 of RD3
- Expectations/Result: A difficult contest to predict as Anderson owns a far more functional game while Saint Preux has the explosion to end a contest at any moment. Anderson mixed takedowns and punching combinations throughout the contest, securing the first two rounds in the process. However, Saint Preux landed some heavy strikes in each of the first two rounds which either rocked Anderson or sent him to the canvas. A head kick almost 90 seconds into the third round from Saint Preux put Anderson out cold, giving Saint Preux his third straight win.
- Saint Preux: There isn’t a more frustrating talent in the light heavyweight division than Saint Preux. He has flashes of brilliance – like he showed here – but he also struggles to put forth a consistent attack to regularly win decisions. Despite hurting Anderson badly in the first two rounds, he was behind on the score cards. Nonetheless, it isn’t a stretch to say Saint Preux has clawed his way back into the title picture despite having lost three in a row before his current win streak started. It wouldn’t be a stretch for him to get a title shot with one more win.
- Anderson: Someway, somehow, Anderson continues to fall short every time the UFC offers him an opportunity to pick up a signature win. It’s a bit unfair to say he has a weak chin given he ate Saint Preux’s earlier strikes, but it is the third KO loss of his career. He may not have the requisite durability to develop into the contender we’d all like to see him become. Given his domination of the contest outside of those moments, it’s fair to say that’s the only piece missing. The most important thing for his development next is to get him a win after having dropped three of his last four. He’s getting a step down in competition next.
Mark Godbeer defeated Walt Harris via DQ at 4:29 of RD1
- Expectations/Result: Given his continued improvement, Harris was a near-unanimous pick in the MMA community. Harris dominated the contest, mixing kicks and punches with a takedown, limiting Godbeer’s offense to almost nothing. As they climbed back to their feet, Harris threw a knee in the clinch intended for the mid-section… and got Godbeer in the groin. As Godbeer cringed and turned away, the referee attempted to step in, but didn’t do so fast enough as Harris launched a brutal head kick that connected before the ref broke them up. After Godbeer stated he couldn’t continue and a review of replays, Harris was DQ’d.
- Godbeer: Who would have guessed Godbeer would be 2-1 in the UFC following his ugly debut loss to Justin Ledet? Yet here he is on a two-fight win streak. However, just as no one truly believes Matt Hamill defeated Jon Jones, no one believes Godbeer beat Harris. He looked bad here. Really bad. Even worse, some have questioned whether the blow actually hit him in the groin. In other words, he very well could have been looking for a way out. Nonetheless, the win gives the Englishman a bit more security in terms of his UFC employment. Sure, the UFC isn’t releasing anyone right now, but they’ve got to start trimming their roster at some point… right?
- Harris: Despite the two losses in a row, Harris should still be considered an up-and-comer in the heavyweight division. He wasn’t ready for Fabricio Werdum last month and beat Godbeer from pillar to post before the DQ happened. He mixed up his offense brilliantly and did a great job avoiding Godbeer’s attack. Nonetheless, the smart thing to do would be to get Harris back on track with a win, lining him up against someone he’d be expected to get a win against as those two losses in a row aren’t going anywhere.
James Vick defeated Joseph Duffy via TKO at 4:59 of RD2
- Expectations/Result: Though the consensus was that it would be a great scrap, most were leaning towards Duffy emerging victorious. The first round indicated as much as Duffy successfully mixed takedowns with his strikes, though Vick certainly landed his own fair share of offense in the round. Vick got his kicks going, keeping Duffy at bay with combinations, and limiting the offense of the Irishman. Unable to get anything going, Duffy rushed forward as the round was drawing to a close, only to eat a vicious uppercut that floored him. A series of hammerfists from Vick induced the referee to step in and call the contest with a second to spare in the round.
- Vick: The biggest thing Vick has been lacking recently has been a signature win. Now he has one. He wasn’t great at controlling distance when he first entered the UFC, though he has steadily improved at doing so throughout his tenure. He had never done better than he had in this contest, maintaining his jab and kicks to keep Duffy at bay, waiting patiently until Duffy made a mistake. Given Vick’s massive frame for lightweight, that’s the strategy he should be utilizing for most of his contests. He said he wants a ranked opponent next and he’s certainly earned it. However, it’s worth noting he still leaves his head out there to be clipped.
- Duffy: Duffy shouldn’t be condemned too badly for the loss given his solid performance in the first round. Duffy’s combinations looked sharp early and the takedowns were timed perfectly. Vick adjusted and Duffy couldn’t find a way to get past his range without eating damage in return. While Duffy is still a tough challenge for anyone in the division, this loss appears to set a hard cap on his ceiling. He can still break into the rankings, but he seems more likely to flit in and out of them the way that Francisco Trinaldo does.
Paulo Costa defeated Johny Hendricks via TKO at 1:26 of RD2
- Expectations/Result: Though most believed Costa was going to run over the former welterweight champion, I expected Hendricks’ training with Jackson-Wink to revitalize his career. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Hendricks landed very little offense as Costa kept him backed up against the fence for most of the contest. From there, Costa picked apart Hendricks with all sorts of offense. Low kicks, high kicks, punching combinations, single punches, spinning kicks… just about anything you can think of. Hendricks visibly slowed as the fight progressed, the end coming less than 90 seconds into the second round.
- Costa: Costa picked a hell of a time to look his absolute best. If he didn’t show every bit of his offensive arsenal in this contest, I’m dying to know what he has left in the tank. He also did a fantastic job of dictating range, preventing Hendricks from landing any significant offense. His ability to stuff Hendricks’ takedowns was encouraging too. The single time I can recall Hendricks landing a series of punches, Costa just smiled and laughed at him. Costa’s durability still hasn’t been tested very much, but that response is a very good sign that he owns the requisite durability to hover around the top of the division.
- Hendricks: That was the last fight on Hendricks’ contract. Don’t expect the UFC to bring him back. Once a top-flight welterweight, his inability to control his diet forced him to make his way up to middleweight where his lack of length would inevitably doom him to fail in his attempts to climb up the ladder. Unless he were able to convince the brass he can consistently make 170 again – something no one believes he can do anymore – it’s difficult to see a reason the UFC would want to bring him back. Expect the Bellator roster to contain one more former UFC champion soon enough.
Stephen Thompson defeated Jorge Masvidal via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Result: There was a lot of excitement over this contest, with many expecting Masvidal to get a title shot if he could find a way to emerge victorious. Nonetheless, most expected Thompson to walk away with the W. Thompson used his knowledge of angles and range to pick apart his smaller opponent, knocking Masvidal to the mat on multiple occasions, even if just for a split second. Masvidal knew he was down on the scorecards entering the final frame and attempted to take the fight to the former kickboxer. It didn’t work as Thompson continued to counter him, putting together combinations while looking for the finish. In the end, he was forced to settle for a dominant decision.
- Thompson: There isn’t anyone in the division with a better grasp of distance and angles, nor is there a fighter on the roster with a deeper arsenal of kicks. While we didn’t get the highlight reel we were hoping for out of Thompson, it was a dominant performance that reestablished him as a top welterweight. Not that anyone was doubting that, but his previous performance against Tyron Woodley was so bad that Thompson needed to remind fans what he is capable of. However, he isn’t going to get another title shot until Woodley is dethroned as no one wants to see them do the damn thing again. Thompson appeared to break his hand late in the fight, indicating it might be a while before we see him again.
- Masvidal: What doomed Masvidal in this contest was Thompson having no need to fear Masvidal’s power the same way he did Woodley’s. Granted, Masvidal showed his signature durability and toughness, but at no point did it feel like Masvidal was in control or on the verge of pulling something out of his back pocket. It’s about time to end the discussion of Masvidal being a title contender. He finished Donald Cerrone and hung tough with Demian Maia, though those performances are looking worse and worse as time goes by. However, he still lost to Maia and his other victories at welterweight – Cezar Ferreira, Ross Pearson, and Jake Ellenberger – don’t do much to persuade anyone that he is elite. Granted, his losses at welterweight – Benson Henderson, Lorenz Larkin, Maia and Thompson – are a stout quartet. Still, the verdict is in: Masvidal may be top ten, but he isn’t elite.
Rose Namajunas defeated Joanna Jedrzejczyk via TKO at 3:03 of RD1
- Expectations/Result: Jedrzejczyk may not have been demolishing her opponents in her title defenses, but by the time 25 minutes had elapsed, it was clear Jedrzejczyk was superior to her opposition. Why would anything be different against Namajunas? Well… because Namajunas is the most explosive fighter in women’s MMA. Namajunas landed a big right two minutes into the contest, dropping the champion to the canvas, causing a panicked look to come over the champions face even as she avoided Namajunas taking her back as Jedrzejczyk returned to her feet. Jedrzejczyk tried to regain her composure, but before she could fully do that, Namajunas landed a left that again sent Jedrzejczyk sprawling to the floor. Namajunas continued the attack as Jedrzejczyk turtled up, eventually tapping to the onslaught from Namajunas.
- Namajunas: While no one was denying the possibility of Namajunas becoming champion, I still can’t recall anyone predicting she would walk out of MSG with the belt around her waist. She has made statements about fear in the cage that left many questioning her mental toughness, but there were zero signs of fear. She knew Jedrzejczyk tends to start slow as she tries to figure out her opponent, leading Namajunas to attack before the champ could get into a rhythm. More impressive, she waited until another opening presented itself before unleashing her second assault, though she didn’t wait too long either. Truly a masterful performance from Namajunas. At 25 with a mere ten professional fights under her belt, it’s difficult to believe the is the best version of her. However, Namajunas doesn’t match up nearly as well with the likes of Jessica Andrade or Claudia Gadelha as she does with Jedrzejczyk. Predictions about how long Namajunas’ title reign lasts need to be withheld until we know who she is facing next.
- Jedrzejczyk: I can’t say I was surprised Namajunas looked strong in the first round, but I was certainly surprised she stopped Jedrzejczyk. It can still be argued that Jedrzejczyk is the most dominant women’s champion the UFC has seen, but being unable to tie Ronda Rousey’s record for consecutive title defenses does hurt the argument. However, Jedrzejczyk has also shown a commitment to always trying to better herself. It’s hard to believe she won’t bounce back whether she comes back at strawweight or decides to try her hand at flyweight. In hopes of adding legitimacy to the new division, it is probably best for the UFC if she moves up to 125. Then again, she may get an immediate rematch. Regardless of what she does, it’s hard to see her not receiving a title shot again at some point.
TJ Dillashaw defeated Cody Garbrandt via KO at 2:41 of RD2
- Expectations/Result: Though the consensus was that this was a very evenly matched contest, Garbrandt’s edge in power was expected to push him over the top. He demonstrated that power early, flooring Dillashaw with a hard right hand that sent him to the canvas, only to be saved by the bell to end the first round. Dillashaw settled down and listened to his coaches advice in between rounds, landing a head kick early in the second that sent Garbrandt down, though the champion scrambled back to his feet quickly. Garbrandt became more reluctant to throw, trying to pick his spots on the more active Dillashaw. Dillashaw’s activity paid off, cracking the champ with a right hook and immediately following up with ground strikes. Garbrandt wasn’t defending, forcing Dan Miragliotta to step in and declare Dillashaw champion for a second time.
- Dillashaw: Just like Namajunas, most were saying they could see Dillashaw becoming champ, but few were picking him. Dillashaw’s performance wasn’t flawless, but in some ways it made his victory that much better. Recognizing that Garbrandt wasn’t falling prey to his stance switching or feints, Dillashaw eliminated a lot of his movement in the second round and Garbrandt struggled to adjust. Once he hit the high kick that floored Garbrandt, the dynamic of the contest was changed. Garbrandt wasn’t out of the contest, but his confidence had taken a hit which opened things up for Dillashaw. It all happened because Dillashaw was willing to listen to his corner. He called out Demetrious Johnson after the contest, though there is no guarantee that is what is next given Dominick Cruz and Jimmie Rivera are fighting before the close of the year in what appears to be a title eliminator.
- Garbrandt: It’s hard to pinpoint what Garbrandt specifically did wrong. He was certainly more emotional than Dillashaw, refusing to touch gloves before the fight. However, he was also similarly emotional before the contest with Cruz when he originally lost the belt. He looked great in the first round too, nearly getting the finish before the first round came to an end. Perhaps it just comes down to Garbrandt getting caught, though I’d say that he became predictable as well. Dillashaw was able to counter Garbrandt’s counter on the finishing sequence. Regardless, Garbrandt is only 26-years old. It’s hard to believe he won’t receive another title shot before his career is over. In the meantime, he’ll need another win before he can get another title shot as he never successfully defended his belt once.
Georges St. Pierre defeated Michael Bisping via submission at 4:23 of RD3
- Expectations/Result: GSP had been gone from the sport for four years. How in the hell could anyone know what to expect? Thus, there wasn’t any semblance of a consensus for who would win despite GSP undeniably being an all-time great. With a considerably bulkier frame at 185, GSP stalked Bisping down, landing hard shots and mixing in a takedown for a brilliant first round. However, the former welterweight champ slowed in the second round, allowing Bisping to swing the momentum in his favor simply by being the busier fighter. GSP attempted to rectify that in the third with an early takedown only for Bisping to open him up from underneath with slicing elbows. As they got back to their feet, GSP’s vision obscured by the blood, Bisping looked like he was about to take firm control of the contest. A single left hook changed all that, Bisping crashing to the canvas. GSP followed with brutal elbows that Bisping somehow survived. GSP let up just enough to give Bisping room to scramble up before snatching his neck from behind. Bisping struggled to escape, eventually going to sleep to give GSP his third title reign.
- St. Pierre: While GSP looked better than expected, Joe Rogan and Daniel Cormier were taking things way too far when they said he has never looked better. GSP in his heyday could push a nearly impossible pace for 25 minutes. This version was tired after about 6 minutes. Granted, he did have more pop in his punches than he ever has before, hurting Bisping on several occasions. He could end up adjusting to his new frame and becoming a legit middleweight… but good enough to hang onto the title against divisional behemoths like Yoel Romero and Luke Rockhold? Got my doubts. I’ve seen many say he’ll get destroyed by Robert Whittaker should they square off, but it isn’t like Whittaker is much bigger. The young Aussie began his UFC career as a welterweight and GSP is considered to be one of the greatest strategists in the history of the sport. Admittedly, I’d favor Whittaker, but GSP can’t be counted out. Also, the possibility of him facing Conor McGregor? I don’t even want to discuss that. Translation: Can we stick to contests that make sense rather than supposed money fights that only muddy up division after division?
- Bisping: To be fair, Bisping’s strategy wasn’t horrible. He knew GSP’s gas tank would be questionable and was swinging the momentum of the contest his way after a rough start. While the beginning of the end came with the left hook, Bisping displayed his toughness by surviving the series of elbows GSP threw at him after he hit the mat. However, I admit that I’m glad Bisping’s reign is over. Initially excited for him to gain the belt after years of striving for it, his refusal to face any actual contenders sabotaged the division. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy this contest – no way GSP moves up to middleweight if Luke Rockhold were still the champion – but this division has been suffering for a long time. Bisping has said he isn’t going to retire, but he doesn’t seem to have the motivation to fight anymore unless he’s getting a cash grab out of the fight.
Well, those are my thoughts. Until next time….