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UFC 217 predictions, preview, and analysis

UFC 111: Press Conference Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is back on pay-per-view (PPV) this weekend with the stacked UFC 217: "Bisping vs. St-Pierre" fight card, popping off inside Madison Square Garden in New York City, on Sat., Nov. 4, 2017.

In the five-round main event, reigning middleweight champion Michael Bisping will collide with former welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre, who returns from a multi-year layoff in an attempt to prove he’s still the top dog in mixed martial arts (MMA).

UFC 217 will also feature 135-pound titleholder Cody Garbrandt taking on ex-bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw. In addition, strawweight roost ruler Joanna Jedrzejczyk — attempting to tie Ronda Rousey’s title defense record — will lock horns with venerable 115-pound contender Rose Namajunas.

Before we break down the five-fight PPV main card, let’s take a look at what the always-lucid Patty Stumberg had to say about the UFC 217 “Prelims” on UFC Fight Pass and FOX Sports 1 here and here. UFC 217 odds and betting lines can be found here.

Enough of the potatoes, let’s get to the meat.

185 lbs.: UFC Middleweight Champion Michael “The Count” Bisping (30-7) vs. Georges “Rush” St-Pierre (25-2)

Nostradumbass predicts: What’s amazing about Georges St-Pierre is the simplicity of his offense and how effective it’s become in combat sports. “Rush,” working under the tutelage of famed boxing trainer Freddie Roach, is one of the few UFC fighters who understands how to use the jab, and why it’s so goddamn effective against flat-footed power punchers.

The super-speedy “Rush” does not have knockout power, so he will jab the shit out of you (see Koscheck, Josh), then charge in and take you to the floor (see Else, Everyone). His wrestling is top shelf and for a guy who never competed collegiately, it’s kind of bewildering. The typical St-Pierre gameplan, at its core, is not exactly rocket science, but the French-Canadian is the sort of high-level athlete who can maintain that breakneck pace for 25 minutes without batting an eyelash. Shit, he could probably do 10 rounds and then go run a half-marathon.

The jab is critical here because despite being shorter than middleweight champion Michael Bisping, St-Pierre does hold a one-inch advantage in reach. Sure, “Rush” is moving up from welterweight, but he’s probably as naturally strong as most 185-pounders and we’ve seen Bisping struggle against talented wrestlers. Had this fight taken place in 2014, which would have made sense after squeaking by Johny Hendricks, then St-Pierre would be a safe bet.

It’s not 2014.

St-Pierre lives and dies on his athleticism, and while his 36th birthday did not come with a pair of adult diapers, it has to be taken into consideration when fighting a bigger foe across five grueling rounds. This is not the same as Randy Couture coming back to school Tim Sylvia, who shares DNA with a platypus, because Bisping is no “Maine-iac.” Like his headlining counterpart, the stubborn Brit gives zero fucks about long fights and can easily do 25 minutes when the need arises and often gets stronger as the fight goes on. “The Count” is slightly older at 38, but he’s fighting down, as opposed to up, and outside of Tim Kennedy — who can benchpress a Volkswagen — Bisping is very difficult to keep down.

St-Pierre is the feel-good pick because it’s fun to boo Bisping. But we have to be realistic about the obstacles that “Rush” is facing. There is more to a four-year absence than simply getting older. The challenger will need time and space to regain his timing, to re-accustom himself to the rigors of cage fighting, and more importantly, deal with the panic of having a bigger opponent stymie a large portion of his offense. St-Pierre has never tired before, because he’s never had to deal with someone with the size and tenacity of Bisping, who to his credit, has greatly improved his defensive wrestling. I think St-Pierre’s in for a rude awakening and dare I say a late finish would not surprise me.

Final prediction: Bisping def. St-Pierre by technical knockout

135 lbs.: UFC Bantamweight Champion Cody “No Love” Garbrandt (11-0) vs. T.J. Dillashaw (14-3)

Nostradumbass predicts: This could easily be “Fight of the Night” and perhaps a strong contender for “Fight of the Year,” barring an early finish, which is not an unrealistic outcome from either of these talented strikers. It was not that long ago when Cody Garbrandt was a talented but unproven up-and-comer with heavy hands. Well, we now know, thanks to a masterful performance against former bantamweight deity Dominick Cruz, that “No Love” can juke, jive, and wail just as good as he can find that chin.

The jury is still out when it comes to high-level jiu-jitsu, so I won't anoint him the total package just yet, but when you can move and strike like Garbrandt does, there is little chance a fight actually makes it to the floor, unless one fighter planks after getting KTFO. Before every fight that amateur video of Garbrandt getting planished on the amateur circuit finds its way online, but it’s done nothing to rattle the former undefeated boxer or forecast the outcome of any of his subsequent performances.

There’s just no other way to put it: Garbrandt is the king of the bantamweights and earned his spot on the throne by kicking ass.

So too, has Dillashaw, and you can make an argument that the former Team Alpha Male (TAM) standout also defeated Cruz when they went to war back in early 2016, though the scorecards favored “Dominator” by a hair.

Dillashaw bounced back by avenging his loss to Raphael Assuncao, before turning away the tiny but powerful John Lineker. Like Garbrandt in the ammys, Dillashaw is also held accountable for getting stopped by John Dodson at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 14 Finale. And, also like Garbrandt, that shit is ancient history. Dillashaw is nearly six years removed from that loss and has been completely transformed as a fighter.

Enough to defeat Garbrandt?

The champ was standout wrestler in high school, and while he’s not as accomplished as Dillashaw in that department, his understanding of cage wrestling coupled with his footwork should be enough to neutralize that threat, assuming the challenger even wants to explore those possibilities. We can debate the fundamentals and go back-and-forth on who has the better mechanics, but I think we would all agree that we are looking at two outstanding martial artists.

That said, Dillashaw’s aggression will benefit Garbrandt’s counterpunching, and while both combatants are hittable, 25 minutes is a long time to endure without taking one of the champion’s power shots. He may not land cleanly, but when you mortar with shells like Garbrandt does, you don’t always need to.

Final prediction: Garbrandt def. Dillashaw by technical knockout

115 lbs.: UFC Strawweight Champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk (14-0) vs. “Thug” Rose Namajunas (16-3)

Nostradumbass predicts: One of those most impressive things about reigning strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk is how successful she’s been in repelling every style of attack. While she’s billed as a striker — and a very good one at that — the champ has done more than just outstrike her opponents.

Jedrzejczyk has thwarted high-level wrestlers like Carla Esparza, talented jiu-jitsu grapplers like Claudia Gadelha, and aggressive power-punchers like Jessica Andrade. Even patient, technical strikers like Karolina Kowalkiewicz came up empty.

And Jedrzejczyk has cardio for days, which is a big (and important) part of her game.

All of those aforementioned opponents have brought more to the table than Rose Namajunas, who will attempt to usurp the 115-pound throne in the first of three title fights. Since coming up short in the finals of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 20, “Thug” has captured four of five, with three submission finishes.

Her competition has oscillated between good and merely “okay,” but we blame the division for that, not the fighter, as there is only a finite number of opponents hovering around the top five. Her split-decision loss to Kowalkiewicz was not a blowout and Namajunas could easily be 5-0 instead of 4-1 during that span.

I’m still concerned that she has yet to finish a fight by way of KO/TKO.

With that in mind, I can’t imagine what she can offer that Jedrzejczyk hasn’t already seen — and conquered. This idea that a weird, funky style is enough to unseat a dominant champion is silly, and hardly the sort of thing you want to pin your hopes to.

Simply put, Jedrzejczyk is a superior striker with outstanding takedown defense and punishing clinch work. Namajunas will fight valiantly, but she’s eventually going to wilt under the accumulation of Polish punches.

Final prediction: Jedrzejczyk def. Namajunas by technical knockout

170 lbs.: Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson (13-2-1) vs. Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal (32-12)

Nostradumbass predicts: Jorge Masvidal is ranked in the top five at 170 pounds, which to me, is somewhat surprising. I don’t have anything against “Gamebred” as a fighter, he’s certainly talented both on the feet and on the ground, but his stepping stones to the top of the welterweight porch have been padded with tired names from yesteryear.

That his biggest win to date came over Donald Cerrone, a natural lightweight, is telling.

Prior to lassoing “Cowboy,” Masvidal beat the brakes off Jake Ellenberger, who hasn't been relevant in over four years. That followed his decision win over the grizzled but irrelevant Ross Pearson, equalling two fighters who are not even ranked in the top 15.

Before that? Lazy losses to Lorenz Larkin and Ben Henderson.

That stands in stark contrast to Stephen Thompson, who is just two spots ahead of Masvidal, despite a more impressive resume. “Wonderboy” also recycled his share of cans, and how much stock we put in his win over the fading Johnny Hendricks is debatable, but you can’t discount 10 rounds with division champion Tyron Woodley — a teammate of Masvidal’s — nor should we overlook the fact that Thompson sent interim middleweight champion Robert Whittaker to another division.

Then shipped Rory MacDonald to Bellator.

Thompson is not the green giant he was earlier in his career, at least in terms of the ground game, but it’s still a factor in this three-round affair and there for Masvidal to exploit. That’s where it gets tricky for “Gamebred,” because he seems more concerned with fighting and less concerned with winning.

I don’t expect Masvidal to give Thompson the room he needs to work. The former kickboxing phenom is strongest at range and his one-inch reach advantage is not enough to sound any alarms. That said, Masvidal is notorious for his lack of urgency and often forgets that damage inflicted is not as important as points scored. It’s likely to cost him the win.

Final prediction: Thompson def. Masvidal by unanimous decision

185 lbs.: Paulo “Borrachinha” Henrique Costa (10-0) vs. Johny “Bigg Rigg” Hendricks (18-7)

Nostradumbass predicts: It’s hard to know what went wrong in the career of Johny Hendricks, or where, but “Bigg Rigg” has not won back-to-back fights in over four years and is just 3-5 since coming up short against Georges St-Pierre back in 2013. In addition, he’s missed weight a bunch of times — even after jumping up to middleweight — and was stopped in his last fight against Tim Boetsch.

At 34 years of age, I’m not expecting a career resurgence.

That’s a shame, because Hendricks has a formidable offense, blending NCAA Division-1 wrestling with knockout power in his left hand. I’m not sure what happened to either of them, as the bearded brawler hasn't finished a fight since creaming the now-retired Martin Kampmann back in late 2012.

I think you know where I’m going with this.

Paulo Henrique Costa is eight years younger than Hendricks and has finished all 10 of his professional fights — nine of them by way of violent knockout. That includes his UFC debut against Oluwale Bamgbose back in June. Prior to that, “Borrachinha” was making a mockery the Brazilian circuit, which includes a handful of appearances for Jungle Fight in Sao Paulo.

The easiest and most obvious criticism is that Costa has never fought anyone in the division top 10, while Hendricks has faced a murderer’s row at welterweight and some pretty tough names at 185 pounds. Keep in mind that his losses to Neil Magny and Kelvin Gastelum weren’t exactly blowouts. Even with his current slump, this should be Hendricks’ fight to lose. But it’s not just the losses that give me pause, it’s his performances, too.

“Bigg Rigg” has looked flat, uninspired, and lost inside the cage.

Combine that with his mental issues outside the cage, which are no doubt behind his struggles to make weight, and I just can’t pick Hendricks to beat a younger, hungrier, and more aggressive fighter. One who is a natural middleweight with a three inch height and reach advantage. This could be over fairly quickly.

Final prediction: Costa def. Hendricks by technical knockout

There you have it. will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 217 fight card on fight night (click here), 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 PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.

For much more on this weekend’s epic UFC 217 PPV extravaganza click here.

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