FightWatch Vault- UFC 217: Bisping vs. GSP
By Mick Robson
I'm ready for a fight, guys! Having a little bit of UFC withdrawals. The Ultimate Fighting Championship has taken a substantial break over the Christmas/New Years holiday period, holding their last event (UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs. Daukaus- FightWatch review here) on December 18. They're set to return this coming weekend with another Fight Night- Kattar vs. Chikadze- but I couldn't wait. So here comes a FightWatch from the Vault!
It's well established at this point that the UFC likes to go to Madison Square Garden in New York City each November for a bit of a super-show. The first one of those super cards was UFC 205, the event that saw Conor McGregor defeat Eddie Alvarez in stunning fashion to claim the lightweight championship and be the first simultaneous double champion in UFC history. Damn, that feels like a lifetime ago. Dana White and the UFC fought hard to get into NYC, with the state not allowing MMA for many years. They held shows in nearby New Jersey, but it wasn't the same. The biggest fight promotion in the world wanted to get to the Big Apple.
A year after McGregor made history, the UFC needed another major headliner to really create some buzz. They had some quality title fights set up, such as TJ Dillashaw vs. Cody Garbrandt for the bantamweight title, and Joanna Jędrzejczyk defending the women's strawweight championship against Rose Namajunas. Two fantastic fighters featuring four fantastic fighters, but none were Conor McGregor-level superstars.
Georges St. Pierre was- and is- a fighter entrenched in the GOAT conversation. He dominated the welterweight division for many years, shutting down every top contender almost with ease. After a shaky split decision victory over Johny Hendricks at UFC 167, GSP opted to vacate the title and retire from MMA. Four years later, he was getting the itch again, and moved up a weight class to challenge reigning middleweight champion Michael Bisping.
Bisping was a veteran fighter, considered something of a journeyman. A former competitor on the Ultimate Fighter TV series, he went on a respectable run in the 185lb division, amassing winning streaks that would lead him to top contender fights- but he would invariably lose those fights, often by a close judges decision. But in mid 2016, Bisping's fortunes changed. Tapped as a late replacement for Chris Weidman at UFC 199, Bisping shocked the world by brutally KOing Luke Rockhold to finally claim the UFC Middleweight Championship.
In addition to being a highly technical fighter with an insane work ethic, a lot of Bisping's strength as an asset to the UFC was his personality. He was brash, cocky and outspoken- essentially he wasn't afraid to play the heel, contrasting with St Pierre's professional, straight-laced demeanour. Bisping undoubtedly sold many tickets due to his over the top antics, prompting GSP to ask, "are you intoxicated?" in his thick French Canadian accent.
Let's do this!
Man, Bruce Buffer's suit game is on another level for this special event. I looked into getting a suit like Buffer's a while back, but changed my mind quickly when I saw that it costs in the thousands, not the hundreds!
Fight 1: (135) Ricardo Ramos def. Aiemann Zahabi via KO (spinning back elbow) at 1:58 of R3
Thoughts: Aiemann is the younger brother of Tristar head trainer Firas Zahabi, who trains main event fighter GSP. Aiemann came out very aggressive, and Ramos slowed him down with leg kicks. A mix of technical striking and some great grappling work, with plenty of impressive transitions and sweeps. Zahabit had a particularly strong second round with his striking, specifically the jab and uppercut, but Ramos came back with aggression in the 3rd to find the highlight reel KO. Excellent fight to kick off the action on Fight Pass.
Fight 2: (265) Curtis Blaydes def. Alexey Oleynik via TKO (doctor stoppage) at 1:56 of R2
Thoughts: That was probably the most fun Curtis Blaydes fight I've seen. Blaydes has always been a fighter that will use his grappling to grind out decisions and not give a shit whether the fans like it or not. He tried to grapple Oleynik, who was savvy enough to throw up armbars and triangles, so we got rock em sock em robots. Awkward ending where the fight was called off after a grazing illegal kick to the head, but after viewing a replay, it was determined that the prior damage was why Oleynik could not continue, not the kick that barely caught the ear.
Fight 3: (170) Randy Brown def. Mickey Gall via unanimous decision (29-28 X2, 29-27)
Thoughts: Mickey Gall won the "CM Punk sweepstakes", being chosen as the former WWE star's opponent in his UFC/MMA debut. Gall looked like a world-beater in his decimation of the pro wrestler turned would-be MMA fighter, but looked much different against legitimate top-level competition. Gall still showed potential, but here it was the experience of Brown that won out. Brown was able to control things on the ground in R1, Gall reversed position in R2, and Brown pulled out the victory with increased aggression and pressure in the third.
Fight 4: (205) Ovince St. Preux def. Corey Anderson via KO (head kick) at 1:25 of R3
Thoughts: You know it's a deep card when #6 ranked OSP and #7 Anderson are on the prelims. Anderson dominated the first round, until OSP came back with a wild flurry in the final few seconds and scored a knockdown. St Preux landed a head kick in the second that sent Anderson's mouthpiece flying, but Anderson would come back to dominate that round as well with his grappling. In the third, OSP landed the high kick again flush, and it sent Anderson to outer space. Great comeback!
Fight 5: (265) Mark Godbeer def. Walt Harris via DQ (illegal head kick) at 4:29 of R1
Thoughts: Not much to this one outside of another controversial ending. Harris controlled most of the round on the ground with a takedown, and once they got to their feet, Harris landed a knee to the groin, and after the referee called a time out for the foul, Harris hit Godbeer with a head kick. It seemed that Harris started throwing the kick before the referee physically stepped in, but they get told in fighter meetings to "control their weapons", meaning that Harris should have had the sense to pull the kick once he heard the referee verbally call a stop. Really unfortunate.
Fight 6: (155) James Vick def. Joseph Duffy via TKO (punches) at 4:59 of R2
Thoughts: This was all action for 10 minutes. Or, 9:59. Vick and Duffy were aggressive all the way through, and Vick is a damn giraffe for lightweight at 6'3", and those physical advantages seemed to make it easy to land more. Crowd was way into this because of Duffy being Irish and the Irish community in the Tri-State area, and it made for an intense atmosphere in this featured prelim.
Fight 1: (185) Paulo Costa def. Johny Hendricks via TKO (punches) at 1:23 of R2
Thoughts: This whole fight was just the much larger Costa backing Hendricks up and blasting strikes, including a crazy spinning back kick to the head. Hendricks tried to fight back, but despite the oohs from the crowd, none of his strikes did a thing to Costa.
Fight 2: (170) Stephen Thompson def. Jorge Masvidal via UD (30-26, 30-27 X 2)
Thoughts: A striking chess match in this one which saw the karate master Thompson take control. A pre-Street Jesus/BMF Masvidal was game throughout, and did bloody up Wonderboy a little, but it was the slick movement and precise striking that made the difference. A highlight was a great side-step followed by a knockdown of Masvidal in round 2. He also employed the intelligent use of a front leg side kick to keep Masvidal at bay.
Fight 3: UFC Women's Strawweight Championship- Rose Namajunas def. Joanna Jędrzejczyk (c) via TKO (punches) at 3:03 of R1
Thoughts: Conventional wisdom says that Joanna would be the better striker in this fight, and she came undefeated. Unfortunately, Thug Rose didn't give a damn about conventional wisdom, and she seemed a step ahead on the feet throughout the round. She scored with combinations and got an early knockdown, but the champ returned to her feet. Namajunas put her foot on the accelerator, and dropped the champ again with a left hook. Follow-up ground and pound... and the champ actually tapped to the strikes! History changing upset, and a career highlight for Rose. She was emotional pre-fight, and even more emotional post-fight. Heart-warming.
Fight 4: UFC Bantamweight Championship- TJ Dillashaw def. Cody Garbrandt (c) via TKO (punches) at 2:41 of R2
Thoughts: Bad blood here as there's no touch of gloves, but the first half of R1 is a feeling out process before Cody starts letting go. Garbrandt dropped Dillashaw with a hard punch at the end of the round that came real close to ending the fight. Cody flips the bird as the horn sounds. TJ seems okay to start R2, and staggers the champ with a head kick. A few moments later he finds a counter combination that flattens him, and the follow up ground and pound crowns our second new champ of the night. Also another example of an undefeated fighter taking their first L.
Fight 5: UFC Middleweight Championship- Georges St. Pierre def. Michael Bisping (c) via submission (rear naked choke) at 4:23 of R3
Thoughts: This was incredible in a number of aspects. GSP looked great at middleweight, and convincingly won the first round on the feet with striking pressure, including busting out a couple of spinning wheel kicks. He did start to slow in the second round, which may have been because of his hiatus or the extra muscle. In the third round, St Pierre got a takedown, but it actually gave Bisping a chance to score some offense with elbows from the bottom which busted the Canadian legend open. Back on the feet, GSP scored a knockdown and unleashed hell with ground and pound elbows before sinking in the choke. An amazing victory which only added to his already HOF resume.
Interim Middleweight Champion Robert Whittaker was shown at ringside applauding with a massive smile. Jon Anik speculated that he might get GSP in Perth. Unfortunately, GSP opted to vacate the title and once again retire. So, Whittaker vs. Rockhold was scheduled for Perth, then Whittaker got injured, leading to Rockhold vs Yoel Romero for the interim middleweight title in Perth... then Romero missed weight. A whole mess.
As for the future of Michael Bisping, he would step in for Anderson Silva in the main event of a Shanghai Fight Night the following month, fighting Kelvin Gastelum. Bisping would suffer a devastating first round KO and promptly retire himself. Bisping now serves as a commentator/analyst for the UFC. I like him a lot more these days, as he's no longer playing the bad guy to sell fights.
UFC 217 was a tremendous show. It couldn't have gone much better for the UFC. 3 title fights, 3 title changes, full of historic moments, action and drama. One of the best retro events I could have watched to fill the UFC void. It represented a true changing of the guard, with GSP's main event win being great in retrospect as it was never tainted by a loss or a bad performance. St Pierre went out as on top as he could possibly be. GOAT.
Until next time, take care.