The UFC returns to Madison Square Garden for UFC 217 on Saturday night in what is undoubtedly the most exciting card of the year.
Here, we take a look at the five main card fights and predict how they will pan out.
Johny ‘Big Rigg’ Hendricks Vs Paulo ‘The Eraser’ Borrachinha
Johny Hendricks’ current form is far from that of which earned him the UFC welterweight title back in 2014. Hendricks is currently 3-6-0 for his last nine fights.
His most recent fights have been marred by weight-cutting issues. Having missed weight for two consecutive welterweight bouts, he then stepped up to middleweight where he fought once before missing weight again on his second fight in the division. While Hendricks appears to be on the decline, the same cannot be said for his opponent.
Borrachinha is currently undefeated in the pro ranks and is coming off a very impressive knockout win against Oluwale Bamgbose. The 26-year-old showed great composure in this second round knockout against an opponent with a wild, aggressive fighting style. This is a huge opportunity for Borrachinha to make a statement on the biggest stage possible.
It is difficult to look past The Eraser here. Hendricks, standing at 5ft 9in, is not a natural middleweight and he may struggle to handle the strength of the Brazilian.
Paulo Borrachinha KO.
Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson Vs Jorge ‘Gamebred’ Masvidal
This is an incredible stylistic match-up between two out-and-out strikers. Wonderboy comes from a kickboxing/karate background. He is a rangy fighter with an impressive array of strikes, which tend to force his opponent to take a cautious approach. On the back of two very close and technical fights with Woodley, one loss and one draw, Wonderboy will be determined to get the victory to launch him back into title contention in what is a stacked welterweight division.
Masvidal will be no walkover, however. He is an aggressive brawler and has had almost three times as many professional fights as Thompson. Gamebred has been on the fringes of breaking out as a top title challenger for a number of years now. Of his last eleven fights, he has been defeated four times, all of which have come by way of split decision. Masvidal will be determined not to allow another close decision defeat set back his career and will look to close the distance and pressure Thompson from the start.
Thompson will come out on top with his range and striking ability and edge a close decision victory.
Stephen Thompson decision.
Joanna ‘JJ’ Jedrzejczyk Vs ‘Thug’ Rose Namajunas
Jedrzejczyk will look to extend her reign as UFC Women’s Strawweight champion on Saturday night against Namajunas. JJ is an incredible fighter. Pound-for-pound, she is one of the best in the game. Her striking is precise and her pressure is relentless. Joanna will go into this fight as the biggest favourite on the main card and this is understandable. She has defeated so many great challengers with so many styles that one must wonder what can Rose bring to the table that she has not already seen.
Namajunas would beg to differ. Of her six professional victories, five have come by way of submission. It is likely that Thug Rose will try and take the fight to the mat at the first available opportunity but taking Joanna down, and keeping her there, is a lot easier said than done.
The pressure of Jedrzejczyk will be too much for Rose to handle. We can expect a Joanna victory as she out-strikes Rose over five rounds.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk Decision.
Cody ‘No Love’ Garbrandt Vs TJ Dillashaw
In terms of both quality of fighters and fight narrative, this contest has all the makings of a main event on its own. There is no love lost between these men. Cody Garbrandt has been on a war path of late to expose TJ Dillashaw as, what he believes to be, a liar and a cheat. This has included accusations of steroid use, knocking out sparring partners after the session had finished and culminated in a video he released on Thursday night of footage from a sparring session where Cody knocked TJ to the mat.
Antics outside the octagon aside, this is an amazing match-up. Garbrandt is undefeated and gained the Bantamweight title in incredible fashion, dominating Dominick Cruz over five rounds to take a clear decision. Cody’s striking is powerful and fast. TJ, on the other hand, is from a wrestling background but has developed an uber aggressive style of striking, exerting constant pressure with his punches and kicks. This should make for another very exciting match-up.
In what I envisage as being a very close fight, I expect TJ Dillashaw to edge a decision victory over Cody and regain the bantamweight title.
TJ Dillashaw Decision.
Michael ‘The Count’ Bisping Vs Georges St-Pierre
The UFC middleweight belt will be on the line as Bisping defends his strap against the returning GSP. This was a very interesting fight for GSP to take considering he has not fought for almost four years. On top of this, he is taking a step up in weight class to 185lbs. St-Pierre has established himself as one of the greatest fighters in UFC history dominating the welterweight division, where he was the reigning champion for a total of 2,204 days, and he has not been defeated in over ten years.
However, Bisping believes he will be the man to end the streak. He claims to have been knocking out sparring partners throughout his camp and that he is the best he has ever been right now. Standing at 6ft 1in, the 38-year-old will have a two-inch height advantage over the Canadian and will look to keep the fight standing to impose his kickboxing-based style.
GSP, meanwhile, is certain to try and take the fight to the ground where he will look to impose his ground and pound. This showdown is a clash of styles where the brawler takes on the grappler.
In this fascinating match-up Bisping will have too much for the returning GSP who is not a natural middleweight. That is why I’m predicting a Bisping victory by way of knockout.
Michael Bisping KO.