Welcome back once again to the MMA DFS Playbook. We’re here for UFC 217, which returns to Madison Square Garden in New York City. The card is stacked with 3 title fights, including the headliner, which features Michael Bisping defending his belts against the returning Georges St-Pierre. In the co-main event, Bantamweight champ Cody Garbrandt looks to defeat his hated rival and former teammate, T.J. Dillashaw. Finally, Joanna Jedrzejczyk defends her strawweight title against Rose Namajunas. We’ve been on an absolute roll for weeks, so let’s cheer hard for our fighters and hope for the success to continue.
Main Card (PPV)
Michael Bisping ($8,100) vs. Georges St-Pierre ($8,100)
Fake Pigskin Exclusive: Join Monkey Knife Fight and Get an Instant 100% Deposit Match PLUS a Free $5 Game!
After nearly 4 years away from competing in MMA, former long-time welterweight champion and pound-for-pound great Georges St-Pierre returns to the UFC to challenge for the middleweight title, held by champion Michael Bisping. The bout will be St-Pierre’s first foray into the middleweight division. Bisping will be looking to defend his title for the second time, following his first defense over Dan Henderson.
St-Pierre was last seen in November 2013, when he took home a highly controversial split-decision victory over Johny Hendricks. The fight was very close for me to call either man a winner, and St-Pierre relinquished the belt following the bout. St-Pierre comes into this bout riding an incredible 12-fight win streak, with wins over every who’s-who in the welterweight division. Meanwhile, Bisping comes into this one a winner in 5 straight, including his incredible knockout victory over Luke Rockhold to claim the middleweight title in June 2016.
This is an interesting, albeit completely unnecessary fight for me to dissect. I have to believe St-Pierre thinks he matches up better against Bisping than he does against Woodley, because I just don’t understand the jump to middleweight outside of that reason. Even with a win here, I don’t see him taking any part in a unification bout with Robert Whittaker. It’s obvious what St-Pierre is going to do, and that’s attempt to take Bisping down at will. While he’s an incredible striker in his own right, he absolutely excels in MMA wrestling, and is seen as the most dominant wrestler in his tenure with the UFC. He’s got a 74% success rate with his takedowns, and has averaged 5.5 takedowns per fight during his 12-fight winning streak. Bisping will undoubtedly try to use his length to keep the fight standing where he’s shown a solid and polished boxing game over his past few bouts. His takedown defense is decent as well, with a 64% defense rate.
So the question becomes, “who’s style will win out?” GSP has the striking chops to stand with most welterweights, but can he be effective against a much bigger, taller opponent? Will Bisping be able to stay off his back? I’m leaning with GSP in this one by a slim margin. He’s been far more dominant than essentially every fighter to step into the cage in UFC history. Only fighters like Demetrious Johnson, Anderson Silva, and Jon Jones can be in the conversation with him at this point. Bisping has been solid at the twilight of his career, but he’s also lost 7 times in his career for a reason. Additionally, he was out-grappled in quite a few of those losses, which leads me to believe that GSP could and should have some success there. Finally, I think Bisping may not be entirely focused enough to win this one, as he’s got a pending lawsuit against him, and was recorded in the hotel this week in a verbal altercation with Jorge Masvidal. I think it will stay close, and Bisping could catch GSP, but I think the smart bet is to take St-Pierre by decision here.
Cody Garbrandt ($8,300) vs. T.J. Dillashaw ($7,900)
I’m giddy over this match-up, as Cody Garbrandt and T.J. Dillashaw look to settle their heated rivalry in a bantamweight title fight that could easily headline this card. This bout finally comes to fruition after the bout was originally scrapped in July due to a back injury suffered by Garbrandt. Garbrandt has become an absolute star in the UFC, owning an overall 11-0 record with 6 straight wins to begin his already incredible career with the promotion. Highlighting his record are dominant KO victories over Thomas Almeida and Takeya Mizugaki, as well as his title clinching victory over former 135 lb. king, Dominick Cruz. Dillashaw has put his close, controversial loss to Dominick Cruz firmly behind him, as he’s dominantly won bouts over top 10 fighters in Raphael Assuncao and John Lineker.
This is such a good fight, as we’re getting the absolute best fighters on the planet in this weight class. To top it off, we get the two best at 135 lbs. who absolutely hate each other at the moment. The path to victory is pretty straightforward for the champion, as he’ll use his competent wrestling chops to stay on his feet where he can use his elite, lethal boxing game. Garbrandt throw some serious leather, but what makes him so successful is his ability to move fluidly, making even the Dominick Cruz’s of the world look downright silly at times. He’s yet to be taken down in his UFC career, and he’ll need to rely on his incredible takedown defense to beat Dillashaw. For Dillashaw, he’ll obviously need to counter that with being able to be the first man to floor the champ. While Dillashaw has an incredible striking game of his own, I don’t think he can land the same type of offense that Garbrandt can over 25 minutes. He will need to use it as a means to find a sneaky takedown.
Fake Pigskin Exclusive: Join Monkey Knife Fight and Get an Instant 100% Deposit Match PLUS a Free $5 Game!
This is going to be a back and forth battle, and I can’t wait to finally watch it play out. I am rolling with Garbrandt here, as I truly don’t think Dillashaw will be able to find enough output in the striking department to keep up with the champ over 5 rounds. I see him becoming the first fighter to take Garbrandt down, but he won’t be able to control him. Garbrandt lands enough successful offense with his boxing to take this by a slim margin. The champion wins on the score cards.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk ($9,200) vs. Rose Namajunas ($7,000)
The first of the 3 title fights on this card will be Joanna Jedrzejczyk taking on Rose Namajunas for the women’s strawweight strap. Joanna enters this one having defended the belt successfully 5 straight times, and has dominated every opponent she has faced since her UFC debut in 2014. She’s 8-0 in her 8 fights with the promotion, and has yet to really be threatened to this point. The only surprising detail coming about from her dominant run is that she has not scored a finish in years. When you consider the type of punishment she delivers, that’s shocking. Namajunas gets her crack at UFC gold having won 4 of her last 5 bouts, with a dominant submission victory over Michelle Waterson anchoring her resume. At just 25 years old and possessing multiple black belts in numerous disciplines, the future is certainly bright for “Thug Rose.”
While I’m a huge fan of Namajunas, I can’t help but know that she’s outgunned by a wide margin in skills in this bout. While she’s extremely tough, and developing her MMA game incredibly well, she just isn’t on Joanna’s level at this point, and that’s certainly not a knock on Namajunas. Not very many fighters on this planet are. The only thing Namajunas can hope for, is catching a wild submission that she has been prone to do at times. She’s landed a flying armbar in competition, and I truly think it’ll take something of that nature to win this bout. She can shoot for a takedown, as she’s decently successful in that area with a 60% success rate. However, Joanna excels in her takedown defense with an 81% rate. In the end, this will look like a patented performance by the champ. Namajunas will prove how game she is with a tough fight, but she won’t be able to hang with Joanna all night. I think the champ finally finds a finish, as it comes late, possibly the 5th round. The pick is Joanna by TKO.
Stephen Thompson ($8,600) vs. Jorge Masvidal ($7,600)
Intriguing welterweight bout here, as former 2-time title challenger #2 Stephen Thompson takes on the #4 ranked Jorge Masvidal. Thompson makes his return to the cage following his 2 unsuccessful bids to dethrone champion Tyron Woodley. Prior to his draw and loss to Woodley, Thompson rattled off an impressive 7 wins in a row over stiff competition. Masvidal saw his 3-fight win streak come to a disappointing end as he came up just short in a title-eliminator bout against Demian Maia. Before the loss, He won 3 straight bouts, including a thrilling TKO victory over Donald Cerrone. The winner of this bout will surely insert themselves back into the title picture at 170 lbs.
This will be a compelling clash of styles as both men are accomplished strikers, but in very different ways. Thompson is noted for his karate based attacks, with kicks coming from seemingly impossible angles. He’s tough to get a read on, as he stands in a side stance and uses his length to keep opponents off balance. While Masvidal can also unleash unorthodox kicks and other attacks, he’s a far less disciplined, and is inclined to brawl at times. Both men have good striking accuracy as well as striking defense, and while both also have solid takedown defense, it’s doubtful wither man will attempt anything resembling grappling. Referring back to Masvidal’s tendency to brawl, I think that is his undoing here. Thompson will pick Masvidal apart for 3 rounds using his technical ability, while avoiding any bombs thrown from “Gamebred.” I’m taking Thompson here in a clear-cut unanimous decision.
Paulo Costa ($8,900) vs. Johny Hendricks ($7,300)
Enormous stakes in this middleweight bout, as Paulo Costa (Borrachina), faces former welterweight champion Johny Hendricks to open the main card at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Borrachina looks like a future contender at 185 lbs., as he’s thoroughly dominated his competition to this point with 2 brutal stoppages in his 2 bouts with the UFC. He’ 10-0 overall, and has been called a future champion by numerous MMA outlets. Hendricks returns following a stoppage loss against Tim Boetsch back in June. He’s lost 4 of his last 5, but looks to make a permanent, successful home at middleweight. He’ll have his hands full with the younger, larger, explosive Brazilian.
Borrachina is not your stereotypical jiu-jitsu ace out of Brazil. He’s a nasty striker and throws with bad intentions. In his 2 fights with the promotion, he’s landed 58% of his significant strikes, while largely avoiding the grappling game. Hendricks was a dominant wrestler who fell in love with is knockout power in his early success in the UFC. I think his indifference to the wrestling game is partially to blame for his lack of success lately. Without threatening the takedown, no one is prone to the bombs that he throws. In his win over Matt Brown, he focused much more on his wrestling and though it wasn’t pretty, he dominated that fight. In his close, controversial loss to Neil Magny in December, Hendricks landed 6 takedowns and looked much more competitive than we’ve seen in his bouts where he chooses to stand with more accomplished strikers.
While I could easily get burned here, I’m rolling with the heavy underdog here. Hendricks has looked nothing like his championship self, and I truly don’t think he will get back to that level. However, with a renewed focus on his wrestling game, I think he can be moderately successful from here on out. That starts here against Borrachina. If he stands and bangs with the Brazilian, he’s sure to get starched, and it’ll be a bad night. An underrated aspect of Hendricks’ preparation for this fight, is his camp move to New Mexico where he trained under the famed Greg Jackson and Mike Winklejohn. They are noted for turning around veteran’s careers, and I believe they can get Hendricks focused enough to get back to his winning ways. At such a cheap price, he’s the perfect underdog to play to get the favorites who are virtual locks into your lineup. I think Hendricks can avoid Borrachina’s striking game enough to land a few takedowns to win a close fight. Even in a close loss, I think he scores enough points to keep you alive, and if he wins, you’re in great shape to take down a tournament. The pick is Hendricks by decision.
Preliminary Card (FS1)
Joe Duffy ($8,500) vs. James Vick ($7,700)
Headlining the FS1 preliminary card is “Irish” Joe Duffy taking on James Vick at lightweight. The criminally underrated Duffy is 4-1 since joining the UFC, with 3 finishes, all in the first round. His only decision victory came in his most recent bout, a clear-cut win over the ultra-tough Reza Madadi. Duffy is perhaps best known for defeating Conor McGregor back in 2010 on the Irish regional MMA circuit. He’ll face Vick, who is also quietly making quite the name for himself with the UFC. Since the TUF vet debuted in 2013, he’s gone 7-1 with nasty finishes over Marco Polo Reyes, Abel Trujillo, and Ramsey Nijem. A brutal KO loss to Beneil Dariush is the only blemish on the “Texecutioner’s” record.
I’m interested to see who can snag a victory here, and take a huge step forward towards the lightweight rankings. Though Vick has 5 inches on Duffy, these guys are pretty similar to each other in the style that they employ. Both strike fairly well, and both men have a polished submission game despite having nonexistent wrestling chops. The submissions that both fighters have come from a defensive position, within their guards on their backs. While I enjoy watching Duffy fight, I can’t help but wonder why he is priced so much higher than Vick here. This fight is essentially a toss-up for me, and the I feel like the salaries should be even. I have picked against Vick numerous times, and have regretted it each time. His skills have grown immensely each outing, and I expect the same here. I think it will be a competitive fight until the length and reach of Vick become a problem for Duffy. I’m taking Vick to catch a slick submission over the Irishman, with the tap coming in the 2nd round.
Ovince Saint Preux ($9,000) vs. Corey Anderson ($7,200)
Originally slotted for the UFC Fight Pass preliminary card, the match-up between Ovince Saint Preux and Corey Anderson gets the bump to FS1 where it should have been from the jump. We last saw Saint Preux very recently, when he submitted extremely late replacement Yushin Okami without a strike thrown from either man. Saint Preux submitted the Japanese legend with his record 3rd Von Flue choke. Saint Preux has won 2 straight fights following his 3-fight skid against Jon Jones, Jimi Manuwa, and Volkan Oezdemir. Corey Anderson looks to rebound against a big name following his brutal knockout loss to Jimi Manuwa in March. The TUF Season 19 winner is 6-3 in his time with the UFC, and hasn’t fared well against top notch competition.
To me, this fight is a mismatch if Saint Preux comes in at 100% in health and focus. He has no reason to have 10 losses on his record, and I think he’s finally hitting his stride lately. Wshile the win over Okami is nothing to write home over, I think the momentum from the dominant victory should carry over. Saint Preux will have a huge advantage in the striking game, and while Anderson will have the advantage with his wrestling, I don’t think it’s elite enough to give Saint Preux fits. Saint Preux has handled good wrestlers before with his striking, and I expect it to overwhelm another opponent here. I would stay away from this one if possible, as Saint Preux has been prone to lapses in effort, but I’m taking Saint Preux to win this one on the score cards.
Mickey Gall ($8,400) vs. Randy Brown ($7,800)
Match-ups like this really excite me. 2 bright prospects go toe to toe as Mickey Gall fights Randy Brown in a welterweight tilt. Gall is best known for his win over CM Punk, but this kid has real developing talent. I think the UFC inadvertently discovered a gem with the CM punk match-up. Gall has obvious talent, and is incredibly charismatic. Whether it be his walk-out music (“Hey Mickey”), or his trash talk on the mic, this kid could become a big star for the promotion if he keeps winning. Following the CM Punk beat down, Gall destroyed the hyped prospect, Sage Northcutt. To me, Randy Brown represents Gall’s first real test, and we’ll see just how developed his skills are. The Queens resident has gone 3-2 in his short career with the UFC, with stoppage victories over Matt Dwyer, Erik Montano, and Brian Cammozi. Brown lost in his latest appearance, as we saw that he was not ready for the likes of Belal Muhammad just yet.
In his 3 fights, Gall has shown a strong ground game. He’s at 100% in takedown accuracy, as well as defense, and has a wicked rear-naked choke, winning all 3 bouts with the submission. Brown is more well-rounded so far, as he’s won by submission, as well as highlight reel knockout. This is going to be a tough one for both men, as neither will be an easy out. I think this one starts slow, before Gall takes over with his grappling. I think the takedown comes frequently enough to take a one-sided unanimous decision. The finish doesn’t come for him here, but he’ll take the win.
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass)
Oleksiy Oliynyk ($8,200) vs. Curtis Blaydes ($8,000)
Heavyweights collide as Russian Oleksiy Oliynyk takes on the much younger Curtis Blaydes. Father Time has yet to come for Oliynyk, as the 40-year-old keeps racking up wins at the highest level of MMA. The submission expert has gone 4-1 inside of the UFC with all 4 of his wins coming by stoppage. He overcame the much larger Travis Browne in his latest bout, once again winning by submission. In 52 career wins, Oliynyk has won by submission and astounding 43 times. He’ll face Curtis Blaydes who looks to build on his current winning streak, which would be at 3 if not for a failed drug test in February.
This one is pretty simple to break down. If Oliynyk can drag Blaydes to the mat, the likelihood of him catching a submission is very high. If Blaydes can keep this one on the feet, I feel he has enough of an advantage in the striking department to knock the Russian out. I think Father Time does indeed catch up with Oliynyk here, as Blaydes is too young and explosive to be drawn into a slow, grappling affair. Blaydes avoids the clinch, trips, and takedown attempts from Oliynyk, and batters him into a stoppage. The pick is Blaydes by TKO in the 2nd round.