This is the most exciting card in a long time, here’s a quick preview of the 3 championship bouts that take place later tonight on this stacked card.
Michael Bisping (C) vs Georges St-Pierre – Middleweight
The beauty of this fight is that we have no idea how it’s going to play out; St-Pierre is coming off of a four-year hiatus and moving up in weight class, Bisping hasn’t fought in almost 13 months, the longest break of his MMA career. One thing is for sure, neither man fears the spotlight. Bisping has fought Dan Henderson twice, Wanderlei Silva, Rashad Evans, Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort, and Anderson Silva during his UFC Career. St-Pierre has fought Matt Hughes three times, B.J Penn twice, Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz, some of the best names to grace the division.
One of the things that is usually an issue for fighters moving up in weight is that they do it too quickly and because of this their cardio suffers. Plenty of fighters have gone up and looked considerably better, Donald Cerrone, Charles Oliveria, Robert Whittaker, Rafael dos Anjos, Kevin Gastelum to name just a few have all looked like better versions of themselves after committing to a weight gain, however it’s rare that a fighter goes up in weight and wins a belt. Randy Couture for example – started his career out as a heavyweight, where he won the belt, he later lost the belt and subsequently moved down to light heavyweight where he won the LHW belt in only his second fight, becoming the first fighter to win a belt in two different weight classes. After losing the belt to Chuck Liddell, Couture took a year out then returned to the heavyweight division and reclaimed his title by beating Tim Sylvia. The only other person who springs to mind is Conor McGregor, who famously moved up in weight class to fight Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight championship whilst still being the champion of the featherweight division. McGregor is the only fighter in UFC history to hold simultaneous championships in different weight classes.
Whilst a lot of people look at the added weight for St-Pierre, the hiatus from competition maybe the biggest obstacle he has to overcome. Known as a slow starter, scoring only one first round finish in his last 18 bouts, the expectation is that like always Bisping will come out swinging and try and get Georges out of the fight quickly, St-Pierre was excellent with his five-round cardio during his tenure as a welterweight, in eight of his last nine fights he went the scheduled 25 minute distance, how his cardio will be affected after his 4 years away from the sport with be seen tonight.
St-Pierre has one of the best arsenals of weapons the UFC has ever seen, he’s a 3rd dan Black belt in Kyokushin karate, which he has trained in since he was 7 years old. He began training Brazilian jiu-jitsu when he was 16 and in preparation for this comeback Georges has sought out the expertise of elite BJJ coach John Danaher. Danaher was a student of Renzo Gracie and is the coach for the formidable “Danaher Death Squad”, bolstered by Garry Tonon and Gordon Ryan, two of the most innovative and decorated young jiu-jitsu practitioners in the world today, both of which are aiding St-Pierre in his preparations. He’s also a Black belt in both Gaidojutsu and Shidokan, two lesser known martial arts.
Georges is also tuning up his striking skills with one of the greatest boxing coaches of all-time, Freddie Roach. Roach has trained former world champions, Oscar De La Hoya, Bernard Hopkins, Mike Tyson, Amir Khan, Manny Pacquiao, Wladimir Klitschko and current champions Guillermo Rigondeaux, Jorge Linares and Miguel Cotto, among many other fighters. Even though St-Pierre has brought in Roach, looking back at his previous fights you know that Georges rarely stood and traded with a fighter, his striking was a means to an end, he wanted to shoot for takedowns and to do that you have to lull your opponent in. It would favour Bisping enormously if St-Pierre looked to stay in front of him and box.
Misfits MMA in California is the gym Bisping hones his skills at, it’s where he was awarded his Brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Bisping has trained in the art of jiu-jitsu since he was 8 years old. He’s also a boxer and kick boxer, Michael took up boxing and kickboxing at 18 back in England, where he won the Pro British light heavyweight kickboxing title before he stopped competing. He’s also a Brown belt in Yawara jiu-jitsu. Everything Bisping throws is thrown with purpose, he lands 4.44 significant strikes per minute, and has landed more significant strikes than anyone else in UFC history. The left hook is his biggest weapon, as Luke Rockhold found out, but he also kicks well to the body setting up strikes to the head. The most notable thing about Bisping throughout his career is his durability, the man has been in some wars over the years, and has fought with his heart in every fight, he deserved his shot at the title and will not relinquish it without a battle.
Bisping is one of the best fighters we’ve ever seen in the octagon, and certainly the best to ever come out of England. 5x Fight of the Night honours, 2x Performance of the Night honours, after Saturday’s bout he will overtake Tito Ortiz and Frank Mir for most fights in UFC history with an impressive 28, he also has the most wins in the UFC with 20.
Let’s be honest, aside from his devastating knockout against Luke Rockhold, Michael’s last few wins weren’t as impressive as some people would hope. He beat Leites in a split decision. A lot of people thought that the then 40 year old Anderson Silva had won their fight at the end of the 3rd round when Silva landed a flying knee as the claxon sounded to end the round, Bisping went on to win the fight via unanimous decision. Again plenty of fans thought Dan Henderson was unlucky to not take the victory in his second matchup with Bisping; the judges scored the bout 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46 all in favour of the champion, Michael Bisping.
I honestly don’t see how Georges wins this fight. Bisping has the size, strength and presumably the cardio advantage over St-Pierre. A lot of St-Pierre’s domination at the welterweight level came from his ability to out strengthen his opponents, take them to the ground and use his excellent guard-passing skills to ground and pound them. Though Georges has been training his jiu-jitsu with elite submissions experts he only has one victory via submission in his last 16 fights and tends to try and finish his fights with striking.
I think the stage is set perfectly for Bisping to win via a unanimous decision and then unify the interim middleweight belt with his middleweight championship belt next year in either Manchester or London against Robert Whittaker, then hang up the gloves after his Hall of Fame-worthy career and ride away into the sunset.
Cody Garbrandt (C) vs TJ Dillashaw – Bantamweight
This fight is the real main event, two exciting, hard hitting fighters who don’t like each other. They used to be good friends and train together on the same team, now they’re sworn enemies on opposing teams looking to inflict damage on each other, this could be the plot for a bad movie, right?
This could easily be considered one of the best bantamweight fights of all-time. The animosity between the two fighters was evident when the pair were opposing coaches on the UFC’s reality show The Ultimate Fighter, a lot of trash talk and even a few physical altercations took place between the two, fortunately it never came to blows.
Since he parted ways with Sacramento based Team Alpha Male and headed about 1000 miles down Route 80 until he got to his new training home of Denver, Dillashaw has been painted as a villain by his former teammates, namely Garbrandt. Calling him a dirty fighter and a cheap shot merchant in training. Whether this is true or just psychological warfare likely won’t ever be found out, either way it makes the tensions of both fighters run higher and creates a little more tension with every bad word said, when the cage door shuts tonight there will be no more talking, just actions.
There’s a reason TJ is known as Killashaw/Dillashank, the dude is a straight up killer in the octagon, and in fact my favourite upset in the UFC was when he knocked out Renan Barão to win the bantamweight title at 173. TJ competed in high school wrestling, during his junior year he came fifth in the California Interscholastic Federation state championships, in his senior year he came runner up in the same event. He attended Cal State Fullerton on a full athletic scholarship for wrestling, he had a successful colligate career, in his senior year he was the 10th ranked 133lbs fighter in the nation. TJ is a Black belt in muay thai, he throws powerful strikes from unorthodox angles and his timing with the shots is excellent. He also has a Blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, so while the stand up striking game favours Cody if the fight goes to the ground Dillashaw has the advantage.
Garbrandt is a superstar in and outside the octagon, he runs his mouth but he backs it up. The amateur boxing and wrestling background that Cody has helps him dominate his opponents in a different manner of ways. He won a state championship in wrestling as a freshman and then came runner up in his sophomore year. Though he didn’t compete in wrestling during his junior and senior years, instead he focused on his boxing, he decided to compete in the national tournament in his final year of high school, he placed fifth overall, which led to him receiving colligate scholarship offers from Division 1 schools to wrestle. Garbrandt lost his passion for wrestling and started boxing at the age of 15 under the tutelage of his uncle, Robert Meese who was a 1991 Olympic alternate boxer. Cody had a very successful amateur boxing career, he’s was a two time ABA Junior boxing champion, back in 2007 and 2008, he finished his amateur career holding a record of 32 wins and 0 losses before turning his skills to MMA.
In his last fight, Garbrandt defeated Dominick Cruz via unanimous decision and won the UFC Bantamweight championship belt, to go along with a Fight of the Night bonus, he was the first fighter in almost a decade to defeat Dominick. He received a Performance of the Night award for his showing against Thomas Almeida who he knocked out in the first round in May of last year. Cody fought 4 times last year, winning all 4, and was the ‘2016 Fighter of the Year’.
Too many people are making the mistake of looking past TJ Dillashaw. The only loss he’s had in the last 3 years came via a split decision against Dominick Cruz, the rest of that time he was beating top-ranked contenders fight after fight. He was the first fighter to finish a title bout in the fifth round twice, at 173 and 177. He has 3 Fight of the Night bonuses and 3 Performance of the Night bonuses to his name, he’s not a push over for Garbrandt.
Cody’s fight resume isn’t as impressive as TJ’s; Dillashaw has fought John Lineker, Joe Soto, John Dodson and Renan Barão twice. However if he fights Dillashaw how he fought Cruz it’ll be Cody’s hands raised after the bout. For me Garbrandt needs to try and avoid close clinches, although his wrestling is high standard if the fight goes to the ground it could completely change. Garbrandt via TKO in the 2nd.
Joanna Jędrzejczyk (C) vs Rose Namajunas – Women’s Strawweight
Joanna is the self-proclaimed ‘Strawweight Queen’ and it’s hard to disagree with her, after taking up Muay Thai with her friend at 16 she realised she had a real passion for it. Her amateur muay thai and kickboxing career is extensive and decorated, she won six International Federation of MuayThai Amateurs (IFMA) world medals, 5 gold and 1 silver, to go along with that she also won four IFMA European Championships. As a professional she won 5 world titles and had a 27-3 record before she joined the MMA circuit. She’s 14-0 in MMA, 8-0 in the UFC. She was the first female European UFC champion, she’s had 5 successful title defences and if she wins tonight she’ll tie Ronda Rousey’s female record of most title defences. She’s had 1 Performance of the Night bonus, 2 Fight of the Night bonuses. Joanna has the highest significant strike differential in UFC championship history, as well as the highest amount significant strikes thrown in a UFC championship fight.
Similar to UFC 211 when Joanna fought Andrade, the odds of Namajunas winning skyrocket if the fight gets taken to the ground, Rose is a Brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and a submissions specialist, with 5 of her 6 wins coming via submission. Namajunas shoots for a lot of take downs, 3.02, but Jędrzejczyk defends them at a great percentage, 81% of takedowns that fighters have attempted on her she has defended. For Namajunas to win this fight she has to use her advantage in leg reach and throw a lot of head kicks to set up takedowns, something to be weary of is her flying armbar, she’s not afraid to put herself at risk by trying something out of the blue. She showed her karate and taekwondo skills exquisitely when she fought Paige VanZant in December 2015, she dominated VanZant from the moment the cage door shut and finished her in the fifth round with a RNC. She also landed a lot of good strikes when she fought Michelle Waterson early this year, most noteworthy a head kick in the 2nd round which allowed Rose to get the submission.
Significant strikes is where the whole fight will be decided, Joanna throws punches in bunches, she lands 6.87 significant strikes per minute, and lands 50% of the punches she throws, she also defends the striking game well, boasting a 68% defence on strikes thrown at her. Rose is a good striker, coming from her background in taekwondo and karate, both of which she is a Black belt in, she lands 45% of her thrown strikes and lands 3.51 significant strikes per minute. On average she absorbs 3.1 per minute which could pose a problem against the divisions most prolific striker.
I likened Jędrzejczyk’s style to José Aldo’s in my 211 article, and I’m going to do so again, the similarities are too great. They both throw great kicks – Aldo’s would be leg kicks where Jędrzejczyk’s are front kicks to either the stomach or face, they both measure distance masterfully and know when to up their work rates. Her sprawl-and-brawl style is why she’s such a fan favourite, some people like to see submissions, some people like to see tactical fights where fighters avoid taking damage, but most people like to see lots of punches thrown at close range to the face, and that’s exactly what sprawl-and-brawl is. Joanna’s footwork improves her striking notably, she cuts off the octagon and because she’s always on balance she can throw harder shots, once she has you with your back on the cage you better cover up or you’re going to sleep.
Joanna is excellent at measuring distance and keeping her opponent on the back foot so when the suspected happens and Namajunas shoots for a takedown Jędrzejczyk should be able to see it coming. The keys to takedown defence are balance, angles, and weight distribution, Jędrzejczyk does all of these things to an elite level, and unlike most fighters when they’re defending she doesn’t stop forcing her offensive ability, defending the takedown she’s likely to throw elbows or knees to the midsection of Namajunas, and as a result freeing herself.
I expect Jędrzejczyk to take Namajunas into deep water and the fight will be stopped in the 3rd round, Joanna’s striking is too much for everyone in the division and while Rose is a great young fighter I think it’ll be too much.
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