UFC 217

Bisping x GSP / Cody x T.J. / Joanna x Rose

Picks, Parlay, and Predictions

The Empire State Strikes Back

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PICKS

Bisping x GSP
Garbrandt x Dillashaw
Joanna x Namajunas
Masvidal x Thompson
Paulo x Hendricks
Duffy x Vick
Harris x Godbeer
Brown x Gall
Blaydes x Oliynyk
OSP x Anderson

Parlays

“Danger Dance” EDITION
Bisping (even)
Dillashaw (+150)
Harris (-325)
Brown (-140)
Blaydes (-375)
$2.17 to win $13.23 “Do It for Me” EDITION
Masvidal (+145)
Borrachinha (-225)
Duffy (-165)
Gall (+110)
$2.17 to win $23.73

PREDICTIONS

Boss Battles in the Big Apple

Michael Bisping x George St-Pierre for the Middleweight Championship

Maybe Earth was unknowingly sucked into a black hole. What if we’re all living in a bizarre parallel dimension? Aliens might have us strapped down in a spaceship somewhere and our entire reality could be the product of some powerful mind-altering substance. The only clues we have to prove our existence has been entirely fabricated are fights like this. There’s no other reason why a one-eyed Michael Bisping should be the middleweight champion of the UFC at 38 years old, taking on the former welterweight champion who is coming back after four years of inactivity. That’s insane. I don’t even know where to start.

Sitting pretty on a five fight win streak is our champion Michael Bisping. It’s no secret that I’ve been a long-time fan of Mr. Bisping, but his aversion to top contenders since he’s had the belt has made his title reign seem like a favor from the UFC. Understandably so, as he’s worked his ass off for the promotion for over eleven years, but there are too many challengers out there being purposefully sidestepped. So many, in fact, that the organization crowned Robert Whittaker as the interim champion in July to appease the fans, even though I haven’t heard his name since. Obviously, that’s who Bisping should be facing, but I can’t blame the UFC for going with the cash grab. GSP is one of the biggest draws in history and his meteoric return is better suited for a low-risk, high-reward fight.

Getting into a fist fight with Michael Bisping is by no means a walk in the park. His cardio is stellar and his pace is impossibly relentless, forcing most of his opponents to crack and fold before the final bell. While he’s not necessarily known for his knockout power, he can absolutely turn your brain upside down with a well-placed shot. Bisping is an MMA veteran and is dangerous in every aspect – a perfect example of a true martial artist. He’s not necessarily the most skilled fighter in history, but the guy knows how to work.  While defensive grappling may have once been the champion’s weak spot, it hasn’t been an issue for the last five years of his career. We will see just how good he’s gotten, because I’m sure George St-Pierre is looking forward to putting him through a grappling gauntlet.

George’s gameplans focus heavily on a well-timed wrestling offense, mostly because he’s one of the best MMA wrestlers to ever compete. During his lengthy six-year stint as the welterweight champion, GSP was known for stifling his opponents and grinding them out until the final bell. It wasn’t pretty, but fans loved his dominance. It was all perfectly executed jabs and takedowns, mixed in with the occasional superman punch. Now, four years after retiring as a champion, he’s looking to make a comeback. Not at his original weight class, no. That’d make too much sense. Instead, he’s making the leap up to 185 pounds to take on Bisping who, I’m sure, looks less dangerous on paper than the monster that is Tyron Woodley, the current welterweight title holder.

Don’t forget that Bisping used to fight comfortably at 205 pounds. I’m not sure how much GSP has blown up during his time away from the sport, but there’s no way the size can be comparable between the two. Any physical edge Georges is used to having at welterweight will be negated. Instead, the returning St-Pierre is going to have to focus on his timing and technique in order to outsmart and frustrate the always-game Bisping. If GSP can’t take the middleweight champ to the ground early, it’s going to be a long night and a rare occasion to watch him work his striking skills. Unfortunately for St-Pierre, I give Bisping the advantage on the feet all day, every day. He hits harder and has just as much experience in the ring. The champ might be a little chinny, but I don’t think GSP has the power to take him out. It’s all too ridiculous to draw a direct comparison, but I forsee this being a very tough match for St-Pierre. He’s spent too much time off and Bisping is as primed as ever.

Records are at stake here, as well. Michael Bisping is currently the winningest fighter in UFC history at 20 victories. With an upset, Georges will tie the score. A win for Bisping would also mean that he’s the first person in MMA to hold a victory over both Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre. Back in 2008, that would seem like an impossible feat and even today it gives him an arguable stance as the “greatest fighter of all time.” I’ll be rooting heavily for Bisping and hope he’s eyeballing Whittaker to mercifully reunite the middleweight belts before riding off into the sunset. If GSP ends up as our 185-pound champion, we truly are all living in a simulation. I don’t care if he’s the betting favorite, it won’t make sense and I refuse to accept it as reality. We’ll see how the aliens feel about that.

Cody Garbrandt x T.J. Dillashaw for the Bantamweight Championship

In contrast to our main event, the bantamweight division offers plenty of fresh, young blood at the top of the heap. Enough sacrifice to satisfy the demonic MMA gods and turn a great lineup into a fantastic one. Also, it’s enough to make this sport look legitimate. I don’t usually dabble in the dark arts, but I’m dusting off my spellbook for this one in an effort to avoid another cancellation. In my mind, this fight is the apex of talent and the most intriguing storyline of the night.

Coaching The Ultimate Fighter seems to be a death knell for a hyped matchup. It happened to Serra/Hughes, Liddell/Ortiz, Rampage/Evans, Lesnar/JDS, Cruz/Faber, and so on and so on. It’s literally the worst thing that can happen to your UFC career. Top contenders are forced to take time away from their personal training to coach a team of randoms, act a fool on a television show nobody watches, and tempt fate with a devastating injury. A perfect storm for the MMA gods. This fight between Cody and TJ has been brewing since last December but the coaching stint and a severe back injury from Garbrandt have kept us waiting until now.

Cody “No Love” Garbrandt is the new golden child of Sacramento’s Team Alpha Male. After embarrassing the infamous Dominick Cruz at UFC 207, Cody successfully avenged his head coach and snatched bantamweight gold. It was one of the more unexpectedly dominant title victories in recent memory. He currently stands, untarnished, at 11 victories with nine knockouts. Absolutely brutal. Judging by his last performance, nobody can keep up with the footwork or boxing rhythm of this young standout. Cody’s skillset allows him to dictate where the action is taking place, due in part to the improved wrestling defense he’s developed at Alpha Male. As far as his striking is concerned, Garbrandt’s boxing is as smooth as silk. There are no mindless haymakers in play. Instead it’s careful combinations and tight hooks thrown with concrete fists – a real pleasure to watch. If he connects, you’re in trouble.

Drama seems to follow TJ Dillashaw around every corner. Most notably in this scenario is his relationship with Team Alpha Male. Dillashaw started his career under their wing and left shortly after winning the UFC bantamweight championship in 2015. His long time team didn’t take the news very well. Instead, it’s been all rivalry and hearsay every since. Without getting into details, Cody is looking forward to getting another win, not just for himself, but also for his team on Saturday. Dillashaw is lighting quick and a top talent, so it won’t be easy. His grappling is frenetic as is his pace and he knows how to play the game everywhere. Speed kills. Cody is going to have to watch out for dangerous bursts of energy from the challenger and will want to keep his head away from those speedy shins. TJ has already been the champion of this division and lost a razor thin decision against Cruz to drop the belt, which Cody then effortlessly swooped up. MMA math has its limits, but I think this comparison may be telling.

As far as veteran experience goes, Dillashaw comes out ahead. He’s fought tougher competition and has been around the bantamweight block longer. The issue I forsee is with him not being able to dictate the pace. When TJ is in charge of the fight, he looks unstoppable because he’s bouncing around like a madman while his opponents are frozen in place. Unpredictability is a big factor, but Cody has already fought Dillashaw an uncountable number of times in the gym while they were both at Team Alpha Male. There can’t be too many surprises left. Technically speaking, Cody has better pacing and footwork which was best contrasted in their respective fights against Cruz. Superior movement coupled with horifying power, to me, spells out a victory for “No Love”. There’s no shame in losing to Cruz, but there were points in that fight where Dillashaw looked completely lost. Cody was in charge from bell to bell and not only won the belt, but kept the audience enthralled. That’s star power.

Star power doesn’t always equate with technique. In fact, it rarely does. However, at only 26 years old, Cody is still developing as a fighter and his improvement is noticeable. Dillashaw may be at his career peak, but he hasn’t looked overly impressive in any of his recent appearances. He’s also too willing to exchange and may hang out in the pocket for too long against a guy like Cody. When they step into the octagon on Saturday, it will be their first bout in almost a full calendar year. I don’t like that fact for either man. What I’m banking on most is their familiarity with each other. These guys spent at least 3 years together at Alpha Male which should give them significant insight – something I can only pretend to know about. I don’t foresee a long feeling out process and predict we’re in for one of the most entertaining bouts of the year. If Cody has any weakness in him that we’ve missed throughout his undefeated career, TJ will gladly expose it. To be fair, we haven’t seen much of him on his back. If it stays standing, I’m pushing all my chips on top of Cody. He should be able to put the brakes on Dillashaw early, suffocate his movement with offensive footwork, and hit him with a bomb. Easier said than done.

Joanna Jedrzejczyk x Rose Namajunas for the Women’s Strawweight Championship

All glory to the mighty Joanna Champion. I can wax poetic about the UFC’s Polish princess, but watching a compilation of her performances will be quicker and far more potent. Say what you want about the women’s divisions, but they are always fun to watch. Especially when world-class talent is involved. Rose is an able contender, but a Jedrzejczyk fight is mostly an opportunity to watch Jedrzejczyk fight. This match may hurt Polish-Lithuanian relations more than interbellum.

In championship fights, both male and female, Joanna holds the record for the highest, second highest, third highest, and fourth highest strike differentials. Those were also her last four fights. Outlanding an opponent by 142 strikes is as hilarious as it is grim. In a sense, it speaks to the talent gap between her and her competitors. By no means should that be a criteria to judge female MMA fighters, as Joanna was winning Muay Thai championships in 2008. At 30 years old, she has made a lifelong commitment to fighting while most women are just getting involved with the sport. She recently left her Polish camp to train at the renowned American Top Team gym, which is home to two other current UFC champions. With that move, she hopes to improve her entire game and flesh out her grappling, which almost got her into trouble at the beginning of her career.

As far as interesting characters go in the women’s 115 pound division, “Thug” Rose Namajunas is at the top of her class. The bald beauty started her UFC career in 2014 and already has a handful of highlight reel submissions to her name. As soon as the bell rings, her deadpan demeanor turns into pure offensive mania. She has trained her long limbs to strike and strangle with the best of them, including fan-favorite Michelle Waterson back in April. Namajunas was a live dog in the Waterson fight and absolutely blew her out of the water, nearly finishing the night with a head kick before sinking in a rear naked choke. With that performance she proved herself worthy to be the next challenger for the belt.

If Rose can’t take down the champion early and frequently, she’s in for a bumpy ride. Bumpy as in the hematomas and contusions that will eventually form on her face if she tries to stand with Jedrzejczyk. I don’t care how good Rose’s striking has looked, Joanna will punch holes in her. Of course, this is MMA and anything is possible, but the difference in experience is too vast. Where Rose does stand a chance is on the mat. Jedrzejczyk has struggled in grappling exchanges and may be susceptible to a takedown, as she focuses almost exclusively on her Muay Thai offense. However, even clinching up for a takedown will be a dangerous position for Namajunas as she’s sure to meet a bevy of elbows and knees while she’s in close range. Joanna has gotten too good, too fast to count her out of any fight and making the move to ATT is even scarier. Thug’s DGAF demeanor won’t help her here or on the mic, as nobody can out-character the champ. She’s better everywhere. There is only one Joanna Jedrzejczyk like there is only one champion of the female strawweight division. Sorry Rose, but you cannot do this. Joanna by violence.