Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will look to add to Madison Square Garden’s storied history this Saturday (Nov. 4, 2017) with three title fights and a heap of quality match ups on top of that. In UFC 217’s main event, Welterweight GOAT Georges St-Pierre returns from retirement and moves up a weight class to challenge Middleweight kingpin Michael Bisping, while Cody Garbrandt settles the score with T.J. Dillashaw and Joanna Jedrzejczyk looks for her sixth title defense against Rose Namajunas.
UFC 217’s “Prelims” undercard matches have got plenty of love, too. So let’s check out the first three (of seven) early bouts, which you can watch on Fight Pass.
265 lbs.: Aleksei Oleinik vs. Curtis Blaydes
Aleksei Oleinik (55-10-1) spent nearly 18 years as a professional before joining UFC in 2014, racking up a pair of first-round finishes in his first two appearances. After a long layoff, his cardio failed him against Daniel Omielanczuk, but impressive submissions of Viktor Pesta and Travis Browne showed he’s still got it.
He owns a staggering 45 wins by submission.
Curtis Blaydes (7-1) entered UFC as a top prospect, but came up short against fellow blue-chipper Francis Ngannou in his promotional debut. He bounced back strong with dominant wins over Cody East, Adam Milstead and the aforementioned Omielanczuk, although a failed test for marijuana turned the Milstead win into a “No Contest.”
Going by their recent weigh-ins, he should have about 20 pounds on Oleinik.
Oleinik is 14 years older than Blaydes and has almost eight times as many professional fights — it’s kind of staggering. Blaydes has every conceivable advantage here, including heavier hands, better wrestling, more strength and speed. Oleinik’s proven that he can catch anyone, but there’s only so many times you can surprise people before they wise up to it. He’s not taking down Blaydes and — while he does have deceptive pop in his hands — he’s unlikely to dent a guy Francis Ngannou couldn’t stop. Blaydes wears him down at range and in the clinch before ultimately pounding him out.
Prediction: Blaydes via second-round technical knockout
205 lbs.: Ovince Saint Preux vs. Corey Anderson
It’s been quite a ride for Ovince Saint Preux (21-10) in recent years. After snapping a three-fight losing streak with a submission of Marcos Rogerio de Lima, Saint Preux signed on to face “Shogun” Rua in Japan, only to wind up fighting Yushin Okami on short notice and submitting him as well.
“OSP” replaces Patrick Cummins, who is currently dealing with a “mutant” staph infection, on short notice.
The man currently known as “Overtime,” Corey Anderson (9-3), put his knockout loss to Gian Villante behind him with four wins in his next five fights, the sole loss a controversial split decision to “Shogun” Rua. This set up a main event in London against Jimi Manuwa, who shrugged off the The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) winner’s takedowns before sleeping him with a left hook.
This will be his tenth UFC fight since joining the organization in 2014.
Saint Preux is as talented as he is ruinously frustrating to follow. Straighten up his punches, fine-tune his wrestling, knock some fight IQ into that dome, and you’ve got a legit title contender. As is, you’ve got an athletic monster with flashes of brilliance.
However, that might just be enough against Anderson.
Durability issues and underdeveloped striking continue to plague Anderson, who’s a legitimate beast from top position, but can’t currently disguise his takedowns well enough to bring that skill to bear against top opposition. Expect something along the lines of Saint Preux vs. Cummins as “OSP” shuts down Anderson’s shots before lamping him with a counter.
Prediction: Saint Preux via first-round technical knockout
135 lbs.: Aiemann Zahabi vs. Ricardo Ramos
Aiemann Zahabi (7-0) — younger brother of famed trainer Firas Zahabi — didn’t just skate by on his family name, stopping each of his first six professional opponents in the first round. He joined UFC in February and debuted against TUF: “Brazil” 4 winner Reginaldo Vieira, against whom Zahabi had to settle for a competitive decision win.
His stoppage wins are split evenly between knockouts and submissions.
Despite a submission loss to Manny Vazquez in his Legacy FC title bid, Ricardo Ramos (10-1) impressed Dana White enough his next time out to earn a contract. He took on Japanese grinder Michinori Tanaka in his Houston debut and scored an early knockdown on his way to a decision victory.
Ramos has finished eight professional foes, seven in the first round.
I still think Michinori Tanaka had the tools to beat Ramos. Zahabi may not be that level of grinder, but he’s a lot smarter in the cage and has a more complete striking game, not to mention the takedown defense to force Ramos to trade with him.
While Ramos can likely finish the fight if he gets into top position, Zahabi’s unlikely to let him get there and — despite the reach disadvantage — should control the striking on his way to a decision victory.
Prediction: Zahabi via unanimous decision
We’ve got four more UFC 217 “Prelims” undercard matches to preview and predict tomorrow, including an awesome Lightweight featured bout. See you there, Maniacs!
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 217 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the pay-per-view (PPV) main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.