UFC 217: Harris’s preview & predictions for Bisping vs. St-Pierre, Garbrandt vs. Dillashaw, Jedrzejczyk vs. Namajunas, Thompson vs. Masvidal, Hendricks vs. Borrachinha

BY JOHN HARRIS, MMATorch Contributor

The wait is over and it’s finally here. This Saturday at UFC 217 we finally see the return of  Georges St-Pierre to go along with the most stacked card of the year. After a four year layoff St-Pierre returns to take on middleweight champion Michael Bisping. This is one of the most intriguing matches in MMA in recent years. How rusty will GSP be after a four year layoff?  How will he adjust to fighting at 185 for the first time in his UFC career? For Michael Bisping he will look to silence his critics who have labeled him a paper champion who won the title by a fluke.

In the co-main event, which many people believe could end up being fight of the year, bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt faces off with T.J. Dillashaw.  This has turned into a blood feud between two former teammates.

If two title fights was not enough for you, this card also features women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk looking to tie Ronda Rousey’s record for most women’s title defenses as she steps into the octagon with Rose Namajunas.

Before we get three title fights, the main card also features fights in the 170 lb. and 185lb. divisions that will have a major impact on future title fights for those respective divisions. Former welterweight champion Johny Hendricks will fight at 185 lbs. for the second time in his UFC career as he takes on undefeated Brazilian, Paulo Borrachinha.  In the 170lb. welterweight division former title challenger Stephen Thompson takes on veteran Jorge Masvidal.

This card has all the makings to be the stand out show of the year and with that let’s take a look at the main card and make some predictions for each fight.

Michael Bisping vs. Georges St-Pierre for the middleweight championship

I have been going back and forth on this for months. The odds are stacked against St-Pierre. He is coming off of a four year layoff. He is moving up in weight class and going straight to a championship fight.  Typically when a high level fighter changes weight classes they usually have a fight against a non-top ten fighter.  St-Pierre is not taking that route and will jump right in against middleweight champion Michael Bisping.

Bisping will have a size and reach advantage that will make it difficult for St-Pierre to get inside. St- Pierre dominated the welterweight division for years with his devastating take downs and with one of the best ground games in all of MMA. He may find that much more difficult to execute against an opponent who once competed in the 205 lb. division.

Bisping’s striking looked excellent when he defeated Luke Rockhold for the middleweight title by TKO. But, Bisping is 38 years old and did not exactly light the world on fire in his decision victory over Dan Henderson in the 47 year old Henderson’s fight final. Bisping has proven to be the better boxer than St-Pierre over their careers but St-Pierre has been training nonstop with legendary boxing trainer, Freddie Roach. The two have worked together in sessions in the past but Roach will be in the corner of St. Pierre for the first time in his career.

The stand up game will be a key for bother fighters in this fight as I just do not see this one going to the ground all that often.  I think the biggest question is how will St-Pierre’s conditioning be at 185 lbs. and after a four year layoff. If he comes into this fight in 5 round title fight shape he should be able to wear down Bisping over time and score enough points to win the later rounds.

The Pick: Georges St-Pierre by unanimous decision

Cody Garbrandt vs. TJ Dillashaw for the bantamweight championship

On paper this has all the makings to be fight of the year. This is a grudge match between two of the best in the bantamweight division. The two former Team Alpha Male teammates seem to have some serious beef.  Garbrandt is coming off of a strong decision victory for the 135 lb. championship over Dominick Cruz.

T.J. Dillashaw is a former champion who is on two fight win streak since losing his title to Cruz back in January of 2016. Both fighters are very active and will look to strike early and often. These two have the unique ability to land strikes from seemingly all angles. It is always interesting to see how fighters adapt to Dillashaw’s unique footwork and how he shoots for takedowns, but if anyone can it should be Garbrandt. He has shown good take down defense in his UFC career and should be able to sprawl and brawl well enough to defeat Dillashaw.

The Pick: Cody Garbrandt by unanimous decision

Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Rose Namajunas for the women’s strawweight championship

This is going to be a tough task for Rosa Namajunas. Jedrzejczyk is one of the most complete fighters in all of MMA. She has pin point striking, amazing take down defense and a pretty solid ground game.  Namajunas has one of the better submission games in the women’s strawweight division but is pretty raw everywhere else. That does not match up well against Jedrzejczyk.  Jedrzejczyk has a great jab that she uses to set up her combinations that often include crippling leg kicks.

For Namajunas to win this fight she will have to either land the one shot KO or manage to get this fight to the ground. I look for Namajunas to try and slow this fight down. She is going to want to try and keep Jedrzejczyk against the cage and work for the takedown.

However, I just do not see that happening as Jedrzejczyk has proven she can grapple with the best the division has to offer.  Jedrzejczyk should be able to stick and move to score enough points to win this one pretty easily.

The Pick: Joanna Jedrzejczyk by by Unanimous Decision

Stephen Thompson vs. Jorge Masvidal

This fight should be great to watch if you are a fan of the stand up game.  Masvidal has strong boxing skills with great power. Thompson has a unique karate style that always makes it difficult for his opponents to find their comfort zone. I expect Thompson to score points with leg kicks and quick in and out shots. Masvidal will need to most likely land the big blow for KO or TKO as he did against Donald Cerrone and Jake Ellenberger. He will need to try and make this a dirty fight and slow Thompson down. That is going to be easier said than done. Thompson has great movement and has really improved his takedown defense and has over 70% in takedowns defended.

Thompson should be able to whether the early storm of Masvidal and out point him to a victory.

The Pick: Stephen Thompson by unanimous decision.

Johny Hendricks vs. Paulo Borrachinha

Borrachinha by 2nd round TKO. Hendricks just is not the same fighter after the loss to Robbie Lawler three years ago. The once excellent wrestler with top notch one shot KO power is now just slightly above average in both those categories. His conditioning and training can also be brought into question as he recently missed weight for his middleweight debut.

Borrachinha is a 26 year old, undefeated, wrecking machine who will be looking to make a name for himself on a huge stage. In his first two career UFC fights, Borrachinha finished both of his opponents by TKO.  Borrachinha is very aggressive but not sloppy. Hendricks will be undersized in this fight. I just do not see him at this stage of his career being able to effectively out grapple Borrachinha which would appear to be his best shot of winning this fight.

Borrachinha should be able to finish this fight in similar fashion to the way Hendricks last opponent did, Tim Boetsch.

The Pick: Paulo Borrachinha  by 2nd round TKO

NOW CHECK OUT THIS ARTICLE: ROUNDTABLE: Who wins the Stephen Thompson vs. Jorge Masvidal fight and why?

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