One night. Three titles. Bad blood for days.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to Madison Square Garden this Saturday night (Nov. 4, 2017), airing live on pay-per-view (PPV). And there is not one stop yet to be pulled out. Former Welterweight champion, Georges St.-Pierre, will emerge from retirement and make his triumphant return in UFC 217’s main event, challenging Michael Bisping for the Middleweight title, while Cody Garbrandt throws down with T.J. Dillashaw in his first title defense. In addition, women’s Strawweight champion Joanna Jederzejczyk looks to further cement her status as the best female fighter on the planet against Rose Namajunas.
As usual, FOX Sports 1 will host the latter four UFC 217 “Prelims” undercard bouts (check out the Fight Pass portion here). Here’s what they’ve got this time:
155 lbs.: James Vick vs. Joe Duffy
Despite a loss in the semifinals of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 15, James Vick (11-1) got off to a red-hot undefeated (5-0) start in UFC before running headlong into Beneil Dariush at UFC 199. To his credit, he immediately got back on track with consecutive stoppages of Abel Trujillo and Polo Reyes during his 2017 campaign.
He stands five inches taller than Joe Duffy (16-2) and will have a three-inch reach advantage.
“Irish” Joe proved didn’t just get lucky against Conor McGregor by stopping his first two UFC opponents in less than five minutes combined. He couldn’t quite handle Dustin Poirier’s power and wrestling, but made mincemeat of Mitch Clarke and Reza Madadi in successive appearances.
While primarily known as a striker, he has nine wins by form of choke.
Vick’s length and ground game are enough to trouble a good chunk of the Lightweight division, but Duffy strikes me as a rough match up. The Irishman has terrific head movement and enough power to crack Vick’s chin, plus the ground skills to stay alive if the fight goes south.
Duffy still needs to prove himself against strong wrestlers, but Vick lacks the takedown skills to keep him on the mat and his defensive lapses look vulnerable to hands honed in professional boxing. Duffy weaves his way inside and blasts Vick with an overhand for the finish.
Prediction: Duffy via first-round technical knockout
265 lbs.: Mark Godbeer vs. Walt Harris
Y’all mind if I just copy-paste what I wrote last time this was booked? Not like a last-second submission loss to Fabricio Werdum on a day’s notice is going to change my opinion of Walt Harris (10-6).
“The Big Ticket” — after going winless in his first three UFC appearances — seems to have finally found his footing, winning three of his last four bouts. All three victories came by knockout, including a savage combination against Chase Sherman that remains one of the year’s best finishes.
All 10 of his wins have come by knockout, nine of them in the first round.
Mark Godbeer (12-3) had a rough go of things in his Octagon debut, which saw him submitted by Justin Ledet to snap a three-fight knockout streak. He had a bit more luck his next time out, boxing up late replacement Daniel Spitz to pick up his first-ever decision victory.
He will give up three inches of height to the 6’5” Harris, though their reach is identical.
I’m not entirely sure what UFC is trying to accomplish here. We’ve seen Harris against slower, less-athletic strikers in his last two fights, and their response was to put him against another slow, less-athletic striker.
I mean, Godbeer’s a damn sight better than Cyril Asker, but he’s still got no clear avenue of victory. Aside from his 25-second loss to Nikita Krylov, Harris’ struggles have come against determined takedown artists and a man in Abdurakhimov who had the skill and patience to potshot him from range. Godbeer is built to go in and mix it up, which plays perfectly into Harris’ hands. If they’re there to be hit, Harris doesn’t need to hit them more than a few times. He scores an emphatic knockout late in the first.
Prediction: Harris via first-round knockout
205 lbs.: Michal Oleksiejczuk vs. Ion Cutelaba
Poland’s Michal Oleksiejczuk (12-2) opened his career 3-2 before turning things around in a major way with a nine-fight win streak. Said streak includes seven knockouts, four of them in the very first round.
He steps in for the injured Gadzhimurad Antigulov on less than one month’s notice.
Unlike his in-cage style, Ion Cutelaba (13-3) got off to a slow start in his UFC career, losing two of his first three fights in the Octagon. His last time out, however, he showed off the finishing skills that first got him into UFC by knocking out Luis Henrique da Silva in 22 seconds.
Seven of his 12 stoppage wins have come in less than one minute.
Oleksiejczuk has the tools to eventually be a solid fighter. He has legit power in his hands and knows how to work the body, which I love seeing in lefties.
The big problem? He’s really easy to hit. That is simply not a descriptor you can have against Cutelaba — perhaps the division’s most unrelenting attacker. Worse, Oleksiejczuk got dropped hard his last time out before storming back for the knockout.
In short, things look grim. Cutelaba’s going to find the mark early and often, walking through whatever the Pole has to offer before overwhelming him with power punches.
Prediction: Cutelaba via first-round technical knockout
170 lbs.: Randy Brown vs. Mickey Gall
Randy Brown (9-2) — the first graduate of Dana White’s “Lookin’ for a Fight” — took a hard-fought decision over Matt Dwyer in his promotional debut before learning that TUF 21 alum Mike Graves was too much, too soon. He steadied the ship with consecutive finishes of Erick Montano and Brian Camozzi, but struggled to shut down Belal Muhammad’s volume and wrestling at UFC 208.
“Rude Boy” is one inch taller than Mickey Gall (4-0) and will have four inches of reach in both the arms and legs.
Gall’s UFC career has been nothing if not interesting. After running roughshod over Mike Jackson in his debut, he rudely welcomed C.M. Punk with a first-round submission and then continued his party-pooping ways by dropping and stopping Sage Northcutt.
All four of his professional wins and one of his two amateur wins have come by rear-naked choke.
Ordinarily, I’d be all over Brown. The length and experience advantages are significant and Gall’s UFC victories — putting aside the wacky factor — aren’t impressive. The one complication? Gall is good at the one thing Brown struggles with: Takedowns.
Brown got taken down by Montano, Graves and Muhammad, and I’d wager Gall is at least as competent as Montano in the wrestling department. The rational (read: smallest) part of my brain still wants to pick Brown, but what the hell. Let’s keep this crazy train rolling.
Prediction: Gall via second-round submission
Do. Not. Miss. This. See you Saturday, 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.