The Size Up: UFC 217 – Bisping vs. St-Pierre

All Photos Via SevereMMA/Andy Cowan & Zuffa.

Main Event – Middleweight Title: Michael Bisping (c) vs. Georges St-Pierre

Bisping Notable Fights: Luke Rockhold (1W, 1L), Anderson Silva (W), Dan Henderson (1W, 1L).

GSP Notable Fights: Carlos Condit (W), Matt Hughes (2W, 1L), Nick Diaz (W).

Bisping Stat: He has never lost to someone who has fought at 170 lbs.

GSP Stat: His last 7 fights have been decision wins over 5 rounds.

Match Up

Although much maligned amongst many people in MMA because it doesn’t see the champion take on the next contender, the meeting of Michael Bisping and Georges St-Pierre is interesting on many levels. Oddly, it’s a more notably competitive match-up than any other possible Bisping opponent, on paper at least, and also somewhat satisfies the need for a “money” fight with Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey currently out of the promotional picture.

There’s also the key fact that this is a swing bout in both of their careers whether it’s a win or a loss for either man. Bisping, the champion, has spoken of retirement regularly since becoming 185 lbs King and may decide to go out on top after a career which at one point looked like ending without ever getting to that pinnacle.

While for St-Pierre there’s even more on the line in terms of career movement. After four years out of the Octagon, the former welterweight champion returns at a higher weight to challenge for a belt once again. Win, and his career is back in business. Lose, and it could be his last ever outing.

The Fight

When looking at this from a tactical point of view it really is tough to predict. Some of that is due to St-Pierre moving up to middleweight for the first time with the changes in him physically posing a big question in everything from cardio to reach to strength. But the bulk of the uncertainty here is due to the fact GSP hasn’t fought in almost four years. Will he be the same fighter? We just don’t know.

What we do know is what he was like in his tenure as welterweight champion; and that’s pretty great. His wrestling was fantastic, his top game was ridiculously heavy, his striking was effective and his athleticism and cardio were second to none. The x-factor in GSP’s game though, was his timing. His wrestling superiority was all down to his ability to be patient and time the right move at the right time, whether that be a single, double, catching a leg kick or snatching his opponent down with a trip from the clinch. The same goes for his striking game which may not have got him many finishes but was more than successful for years especially when his jab and hook combinations were on point.

Michael Bisping on the other hand, is somewhat less nuanced. The athleticism that St-Pierre has isn’t there for the Briton but he makes up for it with unmatched desire and passion. What also helps is a continually improving kickboxing arsenal and magnificent cardio. That makes him very effective at his chosen gameplan which is based on high-output, front-foot striking. Leg kicks are followed by high numbers of combinations with the hands while all the time remaining extremely hard to take down.

At 100% of his ability I would probably pick St-Pierre to win this one. Size is a huge factor in MMA and can only be overcome when there is a sizeable differential in ability. At their primes, GSP definitely had a big advantage in all around skill. But I’m not sure he does anymore.

Four years out of the Octagon with an ACL tear taking up a year of that is the recipe for a great fighter not being what he once was. And if he isn’t, Bisping will take advantage of that. As mentioned above, timing was what made St-Pierre great but timing is also the toughest thing to recapture when coming back from a long lay off.

With all that said, I still think this will be relatively close and probably go all five rounds. Both men love to take the centre of the cage and get on the front-foot: that battle early will tell a lot. For me, I think the sheer size of Bisping coupled with his high output will help him to win that battle. It’s GSP’s ability to switch up his gameplan which makes me think he’ll make this really close but I have a feeling doing that with 15 extra pounds on his back after four years out won’t be as doable as it once was. He could definitely show up looking like the old GSP but all logic points to that not being realistic and should lead to a Bisping win.

Co-Main Event – Bantamweight Title: Cody Garbrandt (c) vs. TJ Dillashaw

Cody Notable Fights: Dominick Cruz (W), Thomas Almeida (W), Takeya Mizugaki (W).

TJ Notable Fights: Renan Barão (2W), Dominick Cruz (L), Raphael Assunção (1W, 1L).

Cody Stat: 7 of his 11 fights have ended in 1st round KOs.

TJ Stat: He has fought every other UFC bantamweight champion ever.

Match Up

In the co-main event we get what in my opinion is the best possible fight in MMA today as Cody Garbrandt takes on TJ Dillashaw for the men’s 135 lbs UFC title. Apart from the amazing match-up, which I’ll get to in a while, this one is also full of drama and bad blood.

That all stems from Dillashaw’s nasty divorce from his old training spot at Team Alpha Male where Garbrandt just happens to reside. Dillashaw says he was forced to leave for good when he departed to work with his coach Duane Ludwig while Garbrandt and his fellow Alpha Males have taken personal offence to one of their former brothers leaving.

Since the split, both men have became champions. Dillashaw won the belt first against Renan Barao but later lost it to Dominick Cruz who was then defeated by Garbrandt over five rounds. Both men are hungry, passionate and really, really skilled.

The Fight

MMA is pretty used to unnecessary hyperbole but for this match-up it is more than warranted. What you have here is two monstrously well-rounded, championship level fighters at the very top of their game going to battle for the ultimate prize in the game. It’s one of the best possible bouts in any of the combat sports at this very moment for a multitude of reasons.

First and foremost, these two guys are really, really exciting. For years, the bantamweight division has been a little frustrating due to a series of Dominick Cruz injures and dominant title defences but new life has been fed into 135 since Cruz took on both Garbrandt and Dillashaw because of the way they fight.

Dillashaw first of all, is a really strong athlete with a fine eye for detail. He, along with his headcoach Duane Ludwig, have put together some of the most complex gameplans we’ve ever seen in the sport. Starting off as a wrestler, Dillashaw is now one of the best stand-up fighters in the UFC. He is a master of switching stances, he throws at a very high rate, he lands from very irregular angles and he adds in his wrestling behind it. It’s the smoothness with which he does everything though, that makes him so special.

Smooth is also a word that is totally applicable to Garbrandt, but in a different sort of way. His smoothness comes in his comfort in the pocket, the agility of his defence and the accuracy in his hands. Against Dominick Cruz, one of the most defensively sound and technically awkward mixed martial artists in the world, Garbrandt looked at ease in the pocket. He throws wicked power combinations and protects himself from retribution with maybe the best head movement in MMA. After that we don’t know too much about his ground game because we haven’t seen much of it but it does look like his takedown defence is locked down at this stage.

When looking at how this fight may go, I think that takedown defence could play a big part if it’s close on the feet. We’ve seen many times previously how takedowns can steal rounds and in a high-level fight like this, that could make all the difference. I think it’s fair to say Dillashaw has an advantage in the wrestling department and if he has a plan worked out to get Garbrandt to the ground multiple times, it could see him regain the belt.

That, though, won’t matter one iota if the fight goes Cody’s way on the feet. The difference between these two guys on the feet can be simply boiled down to three things; output, accuracy and power. Dillashaw throws more but Garbrandt hits harder and cleaner. And those differences really showed in both fights against Dominick Cruz. Garbrandt won because he landed clean and hard, Dillashaw lost because he threw a lot but missed a lot.

The question then is whether Garbrandt can hit Dillashaw with the same sort of shots he hit Cruz. Dillashaw is very good defensively but Cruz is better and isn’t in the pocket throwing shots nearly as much, yet Cody still connected. And on Saturday, unless TJ takes him down constantly or goes ultra defensive, I find it very hard not seeing him do the same. If he does, Garbrandt will win.

Co-Main Event – Women’s Strawweight Title – Joanna Jędrzejczyk (c) vs. Rose Namajunas

Jędrzejczyk Notable Fights: Karolina Kowalkiewicz (W), Cláudia Gadelha (2W), Carla Esparza (W).

Namajunas Notable Fights: Michelle Waterson (W), Carla Esparza (L), Tecia Torres (1W, 1L).

Jędrzejczyk Stat: She has won all 14 fights as a professional.

Namajunas Stat: She will be the first person to challenge for the 115 lbs title twice.

Match Up

If that wasn’t enough for you, the strawweight title in also up for grabs as Joanna Jedrzejczyk defends her strap yet again as she takes on Rose Namajunas over five rounds.

With Ronda Rousey’s record of title defences now in her peripherals, Jedrzejczyk has absolutely torn her way through every woman under 115 lbs since defeating the only other champion at the weight Carla Esparza for the title.

Fittingly enough, Namajunas was the person over whom Esparza gained the title after the pair came through the ultimate fighter house to battle for the inagural title. This is a coming of age for Namajunas in many ways, but it’s also a chance for redemption.

The Fight

To attain that redemption Namajunas will have to come through the greatest female fighter to ever live. It’s going to be a tough task but it’s not impossible.

Since that aforementioned loss to Esparza, Namajunas has pretty much scrapped her old game and put together something much, much more effective. Before, she was a wild submission artist who leaped on a chance to end the fight. Now, she is a ferocious striker who is putting all parts of her game together increasingly well. Forward motion has always been her MO and that continues to be the case. Nowadays she comes out working her way inside well before throwing bombs from both hands. For a while striking was her only weapon of choice but over the last few fights she has added in her effective jiu-jitsu arsenal too. Something which could be very important on Saturday.

For Jedrzejczyk, it’s all about brilliant striking. On the feet, she really has it all. She can lead, she can counter, she jabs well, she can put combinations together, she can elbow your face off; all while barely getting hit herself. She does all of that at a high pace too and often finds her opponents wilting under the insane intensity with which she operates. Since entering the UFC her takedown defence has also passed every test it has faced and allows her plenty of comfort on the feet.

If Jedrzejczyk can keep this one in open water, standing on the feet, she should just have too much offensively and defensively for Namajunas.

For Rose to win, I believe she has to get Jedrzejczyk backing up. And not just backing up on the feet, I think she needs to get her against the cage to do her best work. In previous fights, Jedrzejczyk’s biggest weakness was her inability to get off the fence once stuck there. And even though Namajunas isn’t as strong in that area as Claudia Gadelha, she knows that if she can get Jedrzejczyk there she might be able to get some control and latch onto her to get a submission. That, in my opinion, is her best path to victory and is very possible, despite the long odds, because she is an intelligent, well-drilled fighter who learns quickly.

The only issue is, so is Jedrzejczyk. She will know the fence has been a problem for her before and that Namajunas is dangerous when given the sniff of a few submissions. I think she’ll be very cognisant of letting Namajunas get her going backwards and will either exit sideways quickly or beat her to the punch and push her backwards. If she can do that, and I think she probably will, Jedrzejczyk will win this fight. But don’t rule out Rose.

Additional Picks

Welterweight: Stephen Thompson vs. Jorge Masvidal – I don’t think boxing is the answer to the Wonderboy

Middleweight: Johny Hendricks vs. Paulo Borrachinha – Hendricks just isn’t the same, have to take Paulo here.

Lightweight: James Vick vs. Joseph Duffy – Tremendous fight. I think Duffy‘s slicker boxing and bodywork get him a win.

Heavyweight: Walt Harris vs. Mark Godbeer – Harris

Light Heavyweight: Ovince Saint Preux vs. Corey Anderson – OSP

Welterweight: Randy Brown vs. Mickey Gall – Gall

Light Heavyweight: Ion Cuțelaba vs. Michał Oleksiejczuk – Ion

Heavyweight: Oleksiy Oliynyk vs. Curtis Blaydes – Blaydes

Bantamweight: Aiemann Zahabi vs. Ricardo Ramos – Zahabi

Bet Of The Week

Wonderboy via KO/TKO at 7/2

Start Times

Early Prelims – Fight Pass at 10.30pm

Prelims – Fight Pass and BT Sport at midnight

Main Card – BT Sport at 2am

Lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Co-host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Tuesday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook Facebook.com/seansheehanmma