UFC 217

By: S. Davis

I last wrote about martial arts for UFC 214 so I wanted to do my best to write about the return of Georges St-Pierre to the sport. He’s on my short list of favorite fighters along with Jose Aldo, Jon Jones and Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos to name a few. St-Pierre, in my eyes, is as perfect a fighter as there’s ever been in mixed martial arts. He’s returning to action, at middleweight, after being away for 12 days shy of four years.

Yet the world surrounding the sport of mixed martial arts and the UFC, specifically, are crying that he cuts the line at middleweight? He’s the ill of the UFC roster? So St-Pierre returning to an immediate title fight is a threat to the integrity of the sport? Right.

The UFC, itself, has done a fantastic job of subverting their entire roster with the proliferation of interim championships, ignoring the fundamentals of match-making based on meritocracy and a rankings system comprised by some questionable outlets – which makes those numbers listed next to a fighter’s name hollow and plot points for marketing purposes only…among other maladies. The mess that the lightweight and – to a smaller degree – featherweight divisions are currently mired in drive this point home.

There is a pile of crying about Michael Bisping’s title reign. Is it his fault that Luke Rockhold walked into the cage with a smug demeanor, treating a fellow professional fighter like he shouldn’t have dressed to compete and was overconfident? He held a prior win over Bisping, and the Brit had only two weeks to prepare so it was a cake walk, right? I’m sure the majority of media and fans had this thought.

Bisping knocks Rockhold into the clouds and turns around to defend his title against Dan Henderson and championship merit evaporates completely? He’s the sole culprit in this kind of behavior? There are some selective memories around this sport if that’s the case. Bisping is taking a torch to the structure of all of mixed martial arts by trying to get win back? At least that was a title defense – against an opponent that can obliterate anyone with a pulse. Haven’t we seen rematches with far less importance to the sport; to their respective divisions as well? We’ve seen rematches pause entire divisions because ego trumped the responsibility of holding that gold strap with the shiny U-F-C letters.

Bisping’s wrong for looking to get the financial purses only a few fights can net him? St-Pierre is undeserving? With his resume of performances and consistent, spectacular, representation of a company that has been disrespectful, and at times classless – queue up the post-fight press conference at UFC 167 – he should be able to take part in some fantasy booking.

Most of the fans following MMA, or specifically the UFC, are fools. I’m not saying it’s the best fight to make for either man. It’s not – and that’s clear. Yet to look at this bout as a virus in the sport, the bane of competition among all the other fires the UFC has set for itself is a gross exaggeration. I would rather have both athletes compete in their natural weight classes against obvious opponents but I won’t begrudge either of them for taking advantage of a great opportunity from either point of view.

As for the actual fight, I have no clue where it goes. Do you? GSP has been on the shelf for four years. You can complete an undergraduate education in that time. How does his sabbatical go unnoticed here?

Secondly, as the fight coverage intensified over the last three weeks I’ve heard that his fighting style is outdated. Honestly, I don’t see that. He’s (still) probably the best MMA-wrestler with excellent cardio. He’s a good striker – and we all know the piston-like jab. He dominated opponents with top control and efficient ground-and-pound. His takedown defense is/was among the best in the sport. Which of the aforementioned skills are ancient?

Fast forward to present day and I do worry about his gas tank once the cage door closes. The defending champion pushes a torrid pace and doesn’t hit the brakes even if he’s hurt or on the verge of being finished. Bisping’s conditioning paired with St-Pierre’s lack of activity makes this main event such a chore to predict.

Bisping is on the verge of being the only fighter to claim a victory over Anderson Silva and GSP; let that sink in. The guy is overlooked at every turn but he has the most wins in the history of the promotion for a reason; let that sink in. If he can keep the fight standing, St-Pierre will need more than precise footwork and a jab to survive.

An aspect of the fight that intrigues me is the amount of damage GSP can endure. While he’s been a fighter that traditionally checks all the boxes, he’s been alarmingly bruised and bludgeoned in his last handful of fights. I’m not sure if he’s become lazy with head movement or his reaction time has dulled with age but it’s a point to consider. Look to the punishment he absorbed in the Johny Hendricks battle and there’s a tangible reason so many people felt he lost the welterweight crown. Personally I think he managed to win because he took round one and round five when Hendricks coasted to the bell, evidently pleased with his performance. Taking all that into account, my eyes widened when the decision was read.

Size will probably be the biggest factor in the outcome. GSP was resistant to move to 185 during the time the super-fight with Silva was simmering. Why didn’t Dana White – or anyone – pitch that fight at 177, by the way? Although it’s great for marketing, they didn’t have to put the middleweight title on the line if the two supernovas ever passed each other in the universe.

Sorry, I’m back on track now. How will Georges react to the extra weight? Putting on mass is one thing but competing with it against a larger, natural, middleweight is something no amount of sparring can adequately mimic. There’s a reason he’s been training on his grappling with elite submission practitioners; I think he’ll aim to snatch a swift submission victory to avoid five-round tug-of-war.

The rest of the card…

This Team Alpha Male vs. TJ Dillashaw feud is…whatever. So it’s a crime for an athlete to train with other camps/fighters/instructors to ensure he maximizes the short window he has to compete at an elite level? Has everyone forgotten how training and improving works, across ALL sports? Lastly with the intensity of the smear campaign coming out of Sacramento, why would they want him on the team? Isn’t this behavior proof that he made the right decision? If he’s such a traitor, why are they holding on so tightly? They’re treating it like he abandoned them at the altar. It’s tired – and it never should’ve garnered the level of attention that it has. If they truly valued him as a teammate and friend, shouldn’t they be happy for the improvements he’s made in his career? Wouldn’t you be elated for a friend if they’re living their best life?

I’m going to table the feelings I have towards the treatment of Rose Namajunas by Joanna Jedrzejczyk over the challenger’s battle with mental and emotional obstacles in her past. Depending on the event, I stay away from the UFC Embedded series that precedes the pay-per-view. I watched the episodes for UFC 217 and it lived up to some of the quotes I’ve heard and read from some of the journalists I read within the sport. The champion doesn’t come across and someone that’s…personable. She’s a fighter, I get that, and she’s kind and cheerful in a way that a lot of competitors in MMA can’t purchase at a yard sale. However she does not come across well on television when belittling Namajumas.

As for Thug Rose, I just don’t think she’s ready. She’s earned the fight, unquestionably, but I think it’s a byproduct of a dearth of contenders in the division. She’s 25. Two years from now I think this is a completely different title fight.

Enjoy the card!

Picks: Bisping, Dillashaw, Jedrzejczyk, Thompson, Costa and Duffy.

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