UFC 217: A Night of Undefended Titles

Georges St-Pierre defeated Michael Bisping at UFC 217 by rear naked choke in the third round to become the new UFC middleweight champion. Photo courtesy of flickr user UFC 217 Live.

Hooks, hooks, hooks: two lefts and a right.

UFC 217 was as spectacular as it was promoted to be, though not for the reasons we were sold. This past Saturday marked the first UFC event where three belts changed hands in one night. As entertaining as the fights proved to be, the future they set up is arguably more exciting.

The actual fight between Michael Bisping and Georges St-Pierre was as curious as the lead up to it. Between Bisping’s cup breaking and St-Pierre’s mouthpiece and shorts mishaps, the fight may have the record for most wardrobe malfunctions.

St-Pierre started off strong in the first round, proving that his jab hadn’t lost its edge nor his combinations their creativity in his time away from the Octagon. In addition to the twist on a GSP classic, a superman jab, he showed off a previously unseen overhand right that kept Bisping cautious of counters before taking him down with a single leg towards the end of the round.

But true to his word, Bisping quickly got up. Even when he didn’t after a double leg in the third round, St-Pierre took the brunt of the damage exchanged on the ground, being split open by elbows inside Bisping’s guard.

It quickly began to show in the second round that the grappling exchanges were taking a much larger toll on St-Pierre. His body began to heave as a result of his new hulking frame, and his overhand right counter was awkwardly missing the mark. Despite Bisping recognizing this and picking up the pace, the few good shots he landed weren’t enough to stop the devastating left hook St-Pierre would drop him with in the third round before choking him unconscious.

I’m a bit surprised more attention wasn’t given to what seemed like a blatantly late stoppage. I noticed Bisping was out a few seconds before Big John McCarthy did, who was looking right into his eyes as they glazed over.

Regardless, St-Pierre became the new middleweight champion and left plenty to the imagination about what comes next. His return has busted both the middleweight and welterweight divisions wide open, and Dana White’s assertions that Robert Whittaker (AKA Bobby Knuckles) is next aren’t convincing.

I was personally most excited for Cody Garbrandt vs. TJ Dillashaw out of everything the night had to offer. It seemed like the perfect combination of an intense rivalry and immense skill, and I wasn’t wrong.

Garbrandt and Dillashaw confirmed that, alongside Dominick Cruz, the trio defined by fast hands, faster feet and studly wrestling that these men comprise reigns at the top of the bantamweight division. Any of them could seemingly beat the other on any given day, but for now Dillashaw sits on top.

The first round seemed to set a precedent for Dillashaw; this was going to be a rough fight. Garbrandt simply seemed too powerful and much too fast, as he was able to evade everything Dillashaw threw while returning punches at a much faster speed, resulting in a knockdown that had a good chance to finish the fight if it didn’t happen at the end of the round.

Dillashaw made necessary adjustments in the second round by bringing back the angles he used to defeat Renan Barao for the title back in 2014. It was more than keeping his head off the centerline; his askew entries kept his whole body off it.

The emotion that made him flat-footed in round one and his fight against Cruz was replaced with creativity in his striking. The gap in diversity between Garbrandt and Dillashaw’s arsenals became apparent in round two when Dillashaw landed a ducking left high kick that dropped Garbrandt to the mat. He got up only to be later met with a right hook to close things out.

With Garbrandt making only his first title defense, the bantamweight division was far from stagnant. It seems likely that either winner would call out Demetrious Johnson, which is exactly what Dillashaw did.

Having been finished in the second round, it’s unlikely that Garbrandt will get the instant rematch with Dillashaw he called for in the post-fight press conference. If he did, it would be based on nothing more than a grudge.

It’s unclear what Johnson will do as well, given that he has another challenger in the form of Sergio Pettis or Henry Cejudo, especially Pettis if he defeats Cejudo on Dec. 2.

Even if Johnson accepts Dillashaw’s challenge, I’m not sure that’s a fight I want to see. Dillashaw already looks plenty dehydrated weighing in at 135 pounds, the idea of him cutting an additional 10 pounds almost makes me want to pass out. Even if he could do it, that’s not a Dillashaw I want to see. Perhaps he could lose some muscle mass as he says, but I’m still skeptical.

For hopefully the only time in my life, I have to agree with Dana White. Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Rose Namajunas resulted in the biggest “holy shit” moment of the night.

What was most surprising about the fight wasn’t the knockout, it was Namajunas’ ability to dodge the fastest hands in the UFC. Of course, I’d be lying if I said the amount of power in that wiry woman was unsurprising.

Jedrzejczyk also didn’t look 100 percent, as we really only saw a few one-twos and one of her patented voluminous combinations. However, that didn’t mean she looked slow; she looked far from it. There was minimal wind up besides some slight shoulder cocking, and I attribute Namajunas’ evasiveness to her stellar distance management.

She stayed just far enough away that she barely had to move to be out of Jedrzejczyk’s range while staying in her own lengthy striking distance. With her distance established, Namajunas continuously pumped feints to safely close the distance and deliver two left hands, a lead straight that would drop Jedrzejczyk and a hook to put her away in the first round. 

Like Jedrzejczyk, I don’t understand all the Ronda Rousey comparisons. She’s always been a boogie woman and a soul-eater in my eyes. She may have been laying it on a little thick this fight, but to compare her attitude to Rousey’s before the Holly Holm fight and blame it for the loss discredits Namajunas’ performance. The same can be said of all this talk about the era of trash talkers being over. It seems bizarre and far-reaching to say that one night has unearthed some truth about antagonistic fighters and will revolutionize the UFC.

Namajunas didn’t capitalize on a cocky and unfocused mind, she simply beat the best. In doing so, she cleared up a looming bottleneck on the strawweight division and paved way for the era of Thug Rose.