UFC 217 on Saturday reminded us all why we love mixed martial arts. It was a night filled to brim with violent finishes and titles changing hands, a night of underdog stories, a night that saw the culmination of one of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s realest grudge matches and a night that witnessed the return of one of the best pound-for-pound fighters of all-time. It will go down as one of the most memorable pay-per-view events in recent memory and gets the juices flowing for what’s to come.
A King Returns to the Throne
The main event was one for the ages. It marked the return of Georges St. Pierre from a four-year hiatus that most fans thought was permanent. St. Pierre found himself locked in the Octagon with middleweight champion Michael Bisping. It took some time for the masses to warm to the idea of Bisping-St. Pierre, especially since GSP had spent his entire career at 170 pounds.
St. Pierre came through with a classic performance and showed he had not skipped many beats -- if any - during his layoff. Madison Square Garden erupted with roars in the middle of the third round, where the former welterweight champion sent Bisping crashing to the canvas with a left hook. St. Pierre pounced in vintage fashion, landed hard elbows, secured back control and cinched a rear-naked choke that left “The Count” unconscious on the mat; and just like that, “Rush” was back in the spotlight, this time with the middleweight title strapped to his waist.
Gracious in his post-fight interview with UFC commentator Joe Rogan, St. Pierre thanked fans for their support and acknowledged Bisping for being the perfect opponent. While he declined to comment on what was next for him, be it a unification bout with interim middleweight champion Robert Whittaker or a return to 170 pounds, St. Pierre knocked the MMA world off its axis.
Rivalry Still Burns
The Cody Garbrandt-T.J. Dillashaw co-main event was originally scheduled to headline UFC 213, but a nagging Garbrandt back injury forced Ultimate Fighting Championship officials to reschedule it for Madison Square Garden. They engaged in a back-and-forth battle that could have gone either way.
Near the end of the first round, Garbrandt dropped his challenger with a vicious right hand. Dillashaw was in a world of trouble, but the clock worked in his favor and the action was halted before the champion could land a finishing blow. Dillashaw stumbled to his corner, where he was allowed to reset for Round 2. Much like the first round, neither man gained a discernable edge over the other -- until the midway point. Dillashaw landed a head kick that sent the Team Alpha Male star crashing to the canvas. Garbrandt returned to his feet quickly and regained his composure. Moments later, the two exchanged right hooks. Dillashaw’s found its mark. The impact put down Garbrandt in a turtled position. Dillashaw followed up with unanswered shots, forcing referee Dan Miragliotta to step in and making the Elevation Fight Team rep a two-time bantamweight champion.
Afterward, Garbrandt was quick to write off Dillashaw’s victory, claiming that his former training partner seemed slow inside the Octagon. He also indicated he would seek an immediate rematch. Whether or not he gets his wish, it appears inevitable that this rivalry will play out in the coming years.
Boogeywoman Put to Bed
In the buildup to the women’s strawweight title fight, Rose Namajunas refused to play into the mind games of reigning champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk. She remained a statue in the face of “Joanna Champion” during pre-fight media obligations, press conferences and staredowns. Jedrzejczyk failed where she had previously succeeded. Oftentimes, the undefeated Polish superstar would enter the cage with her opponent having already checked out mentally. That was not the case with Namajunas, who was calm, cool and collected throughout the process.
An overhand right knocked down Jedrzejczyk early in the first round and marked the beginning of the end. Namajunas pounced and threatened the champion with punches from guard. Jedrzejczyk walked the cage back to her feet and the two women exchanged, with Namajunas as the aggressor. Shortly after, Namajunas landed a thunderous left hook that sent Jedrzejczyk to the canvas yet again, this time for good.
The dazed Jedrzejczyk turtled in a bid to defend herself from the subsequent rush, but “Thug Rose” refused to relent, fired away from punches and forced the stoppage. The stunning upset made the 25-year-old Namajunas the third women’s strawweight champion in UFC history.
Stephen Thompson rebounded from his title-fight loss to Tyron Woodley without missing a beat, taking a unanimous decision from Jorge Masvidal in a bout that he controlled from bell to bell. “Wonderboy” was well-equipped with precise straight punches and the deft kicking game the pushed him into the upper echelon of the welterweight division. Afterward, Thompson credited Masvidal for his efforts and looked to the future, pointing to the winner of the Robbie Lawler-Rafael dos Anjos showdown in December ... A main-card pairing between Johny Hendricks and Paulo Henrique Costa may have resulted in a changing of the guard at 185 pounds. Hendricks was hard-pressed to land anything of significance against the young Brazilian, and his inability to execute takedowns sealed his fate. Midway through the second round, Costa connected with a high kick that had “Bigg Rigg” shooting for a desperate takedown. The undefeated prospect never let Hendricks off the hook, and after a continuous barrage of hard strikes, referee John McCarthy moved in to save the Ada, Oklahoma, native. Costa later called for a fight with Derek Brunson in early 2018 ... In the featured prelim, Joseph Duffy met James Vick in a matchup that carried significant implications for the lightweight division. Both men were aiming to crack the top 15. Vick emerged victorious with a buzzer-beating finish in the second round, where he landed a picture-perfect uppercut that floored the Irishman. The Lloyd Irvin protégé swarmed with punches until referee Todd Anderson chose to step in and stop it at 4:59 of Round 2. Vick has finished three straight opponents and now owns an 8-1 mark in the UFC. He has made it clear he wants a top 15 fight next.