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UFC 217 predictions

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Longtime welterweight king Georges St-Pierre will be returning to the Octagon after a four-year break from the sport. St-Pierre will be getting no easy welcome to the cage, as he’ll be challenging Michael Bisping for his middleweight crown. The historic 185-pound title fight will serve as the main event for UFC 217. This card is by far the biggest and most stacked MMA event of the year. Apart from the fantastic main event, UFC 217 also features two must-watch title fights in Cody Garbrandt vs. T.J. Dillashaw and Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Rose Namajunas, a key welterweight bout between Stephen Thompson and Jorge Masvidal, and likely a do-or-die fight for former UFC champ Johny Hendricks, who take on Brazilian prospect Paulo Borrachinha.

What: UFC 217

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York City, N.Y.

When: Saturday, Nov. 4. The three-fight UFC Fight Pass preliminary card begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, the four-fight FOX Sports 1 preliminary card begins at 8:00 p.m. ET, and the five-fight main card begins at 10:00 p.m. ET on pay-per-view.


Michael Bisping vs. Georges St-Pierre

Danny Segura: Man, I was definitely one of the biggest critics for this booking (and I still somewhat am), but I have to admit, I’m excited and very intrigued now that it’s here. After all, two OGs of the sports will be battling for UFC gold. St-Pierre is a legend, and although many might not want to admit it, Bisping is one too.

“The Count” is currently in the best moment of his fighting career. Bisping is the king of the middleweight division, and he’s currently riding a five-fight win streak. Bisping seems to be at a point where his physical abilities might not be at their prime, but they’re definitely good enough to allow him to be fighting at a world-class level, while his experience and skills are the highest they’ve ever been. In many ways, Bisping reminds me of Bernard Hopkins (he’s obviously not as old, but you get the point).

Meanwhile, St-Pierre is the big unknown here. We know what we’re getting with Bisping but not with St-Pierre. Four years away from the sport is a long time. Many see it as a detriment, and it very well could be, but I have a feeling this time off has been good for St-Pierre.

Regardless of what version of St-Pierre we get here, I still think this will be an uphill battle for the Canadian. Bisping is a bad match-up for St-Pierre. The Englishman has arguably the best takedown defense in the game. And on top of that, Bisping is significantly bigger than St-Pierre, which plays a big role when it comes to wrestling. On the feet, St-Pierre can hang with Bisping, but I don’t think he’ll be able to beat him there. Bisping’s striking is more dangerous and more active than St-Pierre’s. I see Bisping stuffing St-Pierre’s takedowns, while outpointing him on the feet.

Pick: Bisping

New York Ric: I too was initially critical (or more accurately unenthused) about the Bisping-St-Pierre booking. Flash forward to the present and I’m still not as excited as you, but I’m getting there. The lion’s share of the credit goes to Bisping, who could sell a fight — with genuine enough friction — against a practice dummy. He is a gem and we will miss him when he’s gone.

Pick: Bisping

Cody Garbrandt vs. T.J. Dillashaw

New York Ric: In the main event, a lot is dependent upon the unknown. Weight class movements and long layoffs are the story. In the co-main event, the narrative shifts to familiarity. Under the Alpha Male banner, Garbrandt and Dillashaw were teammates, perhaps even family if you live by the code of Dom Toretto.

I won’t go into the details of each snipe, story told out of school, or grainy sparring video released because that would take a very long time and I’m quite ready to move on from this saga. Fortunately, we get to do that on Saturday.

Focusing on the match-up itself, we are looking at a battle between two of the best — if not the two best — bantamweights on the planet, at the peak of their powers.

The rivals have a common opponent in Dominick Cruz, who Dillashaw was edged by and Garbrandt dominated. To me, that’s not a huge factor in the fight.

Garbrandt was able to sit back and counter Cruz, who had very little ability to generate offense against Garbrandt’s stout defense. He was never there to hit and always ready to fire back with a sharp powerful counter. Against Dillashaw, I think he may have more trouble. Dillashaw should be able to generate offense in the space where Cruz could not, utilizing speed, varied striking attacks, and the threat of the takedown. Granted, he’s going to have to enter the pocket at times to do it and Garbrandt’s takedown defense has been rock solid to this point. Against a homer hitter like Garbrandt, that’s a dangerous game to play, but I really liked what I saw from Dillashaw against John Lineker. If he can replicate that performance, I’m going with challenger to upset. If he makes a mistake or reverts to wild exchanges, Garbrandt shuts the lights out.

Pick: Dillashaw

Danny Segura: I agree with Ric. This rivalry got a bit old with all the accusations and drama, and I’m ready to move on. Despite being a tad saturated by the drama, I’m really looking forward to this fight from a technical standpoint.

I think Dillashaw will try to implement a strategy similar to the one he had with Lineker. Dillashaw will stay cautious on the feet, strike only when needed, and look to score a takedown. Although Dillashaw has the wrestling, speed and dominant top control to pull off an upset here, I don’t find that to be the most likely outcome.

Garbrandt has more speed than Lineker, fights way more composed — leaving him less exposed to takedowns — and seems to move lighter on his feet. I find Dillashaw’s movement and striking to be very similar to Dominick Cruz’s and we already saw how the champ performed against that style. This should be a very competitive bout, but I see Garbrandt doing better on the scorecards.

Pick: Garbrandt

Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Rose Namajunas

Danny Segura: Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Rose Namajunas is such a great fight, probably my favorite matchup of the card. These two fierce competitors bring it to the cage every time and are in there to finish their opponents.

I find Namajunas to be the most well-rounded fighter at 115 pounds. Namajunas is proficient almost anywhere the fight goes. She’s a quick, rangy striker who possesses a very technical and diverse striking arsenal. Namajunas has great footwork and attacks with a high volume of strikes. On the ground, Namajunas is a threat from both top and bottom positions. Namajunas’ transitions and set ups are extremely smooth. The only thing Namajunas may lack is wrestling. Namajunas is not a powerhouse like Claudia Gadelha or Jessica Andrade. Her long and lanky frame makes it difficult for Namajunas to be strong wrestler.

On the other hand, the champ may not have as many tools as Namajunas, but that doesn’t mean she’s an inferior fighter. Jedrzejczyk’s ground game is built around her striking. Jedrzejczyk doesn’t pose a threat on the ground, but she’s extremely skilled at stuffing takedowns, avoiding submissions, and getting back to her feet when taken down. Jedrzejczyk’s big weapon here is her brutal Muay Thai. The Polish fighter can put together beautiful combinations with elbows, kicks, knees and punches. Jedrzejczyk is also quick, well conditioned, and very durable.

This will likely be the ‘Fight of the Night.’ Namajunas is game here and very capable of pulling off the upset. However, I think to beat Jedrzejczyk you need to be able to threaten with takedowns. Namajunas is not much of a wrestler so that will allow Jedrzejczyk’s striking to open up. I think this will be a fun bout with Jedrzejczyk getting the better of the striking exchanges.

Pick: Jedrzejczyk

New York Ric: Even if she stumbles early, it’s hard for me to see anybody beating Jedrzejczyk over the course of five rounds. We agree again.

Pick: Jedrzejczyk

Stephen Thompson vs. Jorge Masvidal

New York Ric: If both fighters are tentative, I envision Thompson landing enough kicks to earn a decision. But if Masvidal is able to avoid just enough damage from range and pick his spots, he’ll be able to fluster Thompson.

Make no mistake, it is Masvidal who has to adjust his gameplan and force the issue. It will require discipline and taking every kick and every takedown attempt seriously, but I believe he will be able to do it. Before running into the grappling buzzsaw that is Demian Maia, Masvidal had turned a corner, finding a much better balance of impenetrable defense and offensive aggression than in his early fights. I think we see the return of that complete package.

Pick: Masvidal

Danny Segura: This is a fun bout that means a lot to the welterweight division. The winner here easily enters title contention again.

Thompson’s success comes from his karate striking style that often leaves his opponents puzzled and confused. His explosiveness and odd striking angles tend to make his rivals tentative to strike or do anything really, and that’s key for Thompson’s path to victory.

Masvidal is not afraid to enter the trenches and get dirty. The American Top Team product has great footwork, slick boxing with respectable power, and a granite chin. I believe all those attributes are crucial in defeating a guy like Thompson.

I see Masvidal closing the distance, making it hard for Thompson to implement his long-range attacks, and using quick shots to tag Thompson. Masvidal’s wrestling is very underrated and it wouldn’t surprise me if he scores a takedown here and there on his way to win a decision.

Pick: Masvidal

Johny Hendricks vs. Paulo Borrachinha

Danny Segura: No pressure for Johny Hendricks. The former welterweight champ just needs to open up the main card for biggest MMA event of year, while also trying to save his UFC career against an undefeated prospect who has finished all of his fights. Piece of cake.

Alright, seriously speaking, Hendricks has been given an incredibly difficult task. The 34-year-old is 1-4 in his last five bouts and he’s fighting in a weight class where he’s a bit undersized. Hendricks has good boxing, but the scary power that he once carried doesn’t seem to be present anymore. Hendricks hasn’t stopped any of his opponents since 2012. His wrestling is still very much intact, and that’s a solid weapon to have.

His opponent, Paulo Borrachinha, is a wild striker that has plenty of power and is not afraid of getting into a firefight. The Brazilian proved to have decent takedown defense in his last fight against Oluwale Bamgbose. Borrachinha might not be experienced, but he’s durable, young and athletic.

I can see a scenario where Hendricks uses his edge in experience and wrestling to grind out a win. However, I don’t think that’s the likely outcome here. I think Borrachinha will use his size and strength paired with his decent takedown defense to keep the fight on the feet where he can overwhelm Hendricks his powerful striking.

Pick: Borrachinha

New York Ric: “Piece of cake?” A little on the nose, eh? We’ve only disagreed once so far, and we’re aligned again. Not sure how much “Bigg Rigg” has in the tank at this point and “The Eraser” might just wipe away whatever’s left.

Pick: Borrachinha


Undercard:

Danny Segura:

Joseph Duffy def. James Vick

Walt Harris def. Mark Godbeer

Randy Brown def. Mickey Gall

Curtis Blaydes def. Oleksiy Oliynyk

Corey Anderson def. Ovince Saint Preux

Aiemann Zahabi def. Ricardo Ramos

New York Ric:

Joseph Duffy def. James Vick

Walt Harris def. Mark Godbeer

Mickey Gall def. Randy Brown

Curtis Blaydes def. Oleksiy Oliynyk

Ovince Saint Preux def. Corey Anderson

Aiemann Zahabi def. Ricardo Ramos


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