UFC 217 will be remembered by MMA fans forevermore as the night that three previously brash UFC champions lost their belts to their more verbally reserved opponents. It was the first time in the company’s 24 year history that more than two champions were defeated on one card.
In a night filled with both heartbreak and delight, it was hard to find a single person watching that wasn’t at the edge of their seat, and fans in attendance at Madison Square Garden, and those watching elsewhere, were treated to some of the most surprising and iconic fights in recent history.
Many of the triumphant fighters, notably Rose Namajunas, T.J. Dillashaw and Georges St-Pierre, utilized one of the most simple punching techniques in the sport to take out three then champions, in what has been aptly referred to as the ‘Night of the Hook’, however, the fights were filled with a fascinating mix of intricate footwork, excellently timed takedowns and perfectly executed gameplans that we rarely see showcased so well in one night.
Despite the overall success of the card from prelims up to the main event, there are three moments that stand out above all the rest due to their importance or shock factor, starting with T.J. Dillashaw’s return as UFC bantamweight champion.
3 T.J. Dillashaw silences Cody Garbrandt and Team Alpha Male
When T.J. Dillashaw pounced on top of a semi-conscious Cody Garbrandt and rained down punches moments after clipping him with a picture-perfect right hook in the second round, it marked the end of an era.
The public falling out between T.J. and his former club Team Alpha Male has been at the forefront of discussion in the MMA community for nearly two years, even leading to T.J. and Team Alpha Male poster-boy, Cody, coaching opposite each other on season 25 of The Ultimate Fighter.
The hatred between these two world-class fighters was reaching boiling point going into the bout and although Cody was the defending champion, T.J., never one to sit still or languish, proved he was much more innovative than he was nostalgic. He showcased what was arguably an even sharper skill set than when we last saw him inside the octagon.
This fight was everything I hoped for and more as an impartial fan. It had everything the fans could have asked for from T.J. being knocked off his feet by one of Cody's staple right hooks at the end of the first round, arguably being saved by the bell, to a KO stoppage for Dillashaw in the second round, ironically by one of his own right hooks in return. Although many fans are relieved to see the tail end of one of the most public disputes in MMA history, it is likely we will see a rematch down the line as these two athletes have proven to be the best of the best in the Bantamweight division and as T.J. stated himself in his post-fight interview:
He's young, he's going to be back, I'm going to see him again. this isn't the end of Cody Garbrandt.
2 GSP chokes out Michael Bisping to become UFC middleweight champion
Georges St-Pierre, a man who many believe to be the greatest fighter of all time, reaffirmed this status at the weekend with an enthralling fight against a veteran of the sport in Michael Bisping.
In the near four year hiatus since GSP last fought in the UFC, rumors have circulated about his return to the octagon time and time again, always being brushed aside by the French-Canadian until he finally agreed to fight Bisping for the UFC middleweight strap several months back.
Despite some fans believing Bisping was lucky to be the champion of an increasingly stacked middleweight division, he was fighting a naturally smaller welterweight in GSP and even if he had undeniably gained muscle mass since the last time we saw him, Bisping made the 36-year-old look small in comparison during their intense staredowns in the run-up to the fight.
When the octagon door closed, however, it was St-Pierre who was the aggressor early and the former welterweight champion looked sharp and composed on the feet while still successfully completing several of his trademark single-leg takedowns. Bisping, to his credit, refused to stay down for, forcing his way back to his feet on more than one occasion, much to the delight of the fans in attendance, who at this stage in the card had grown unusually accustomed to striking displays and knockout stoppages.
Bisping opened a deep cut above the eye of GSP with his slicing elbows from bottom guard in the second round that noticeably hindered his vision and which, coupled with his slowing pace as the fight progressed led many to believe that the third round would be a turning point in the fight and that it was. Just not in the manner most expected it.
Both fighters threw themselves into an exchange with just over a minute to go in the third round and GSP dropped the Brit with a beautiful left hook as they broke, following him to the canvas with countless elbows and punches before he could fully recover and gracefully taking his back and sinking in a deep rear naked choke before Bisping even knew he was there.
Referee John McCarthy pulled St-Pierre off the unconscious former champion with 37 seconds left in the round and a bloodied and bruised GSP raised his hands to the roar of cheers from most of the 18,000 fans inside Madison Square Garden, having solidified his claim as the GOAT to the world yet again.
1 'Thug' Rose Namajunas knocks out Joanna Jedrzejczyk to capture UFC Strawweight belt.
Rarely can it be said that the biggest upset of the night happened before the co-main event had even begun, but with UFC 217 it's hard to argue otherwise.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk had reached near invincibility status going into this fight. Nobody she had fought since bulldozing through Carla Esparza to become the UFC Strawweight queen had given her any real trouble and she seemed to be on track to keep her devastating win streak going in the run-up to this fight against Rose Namajunas.
Joanna had been embracing the media with open arms, always happy to take time out of her day to do interviews, media obligations and promo for the UFC and its journalists, while 'Thug' Rose opted to stay humble and for the most part, silent, in the build-up to this fight.
During the stare-down, moments after both women had weighed in, Joanna could be seen shouting in Namajunas' face with the same scary look in her eye that had many many of her previous opponents filled with fear before even stepping foot in the cage. Never one for unnecessary aggression, however, Rose opted to recite "The Lord's Prayer" to Joanna in retaliation, with one of the calmest and most emotionless faces to ever stare back at the Polish strawweight champion.
Some people had speculated Namajunas would have the superior ground game if she could take Joanna down, which is no easy task, but few believed the 25-year-old American could hold her own against an extremely decorated Muay Thai fighter in Jedrzejczyk.
But not only did she do just that, she outclassed her on the feet, knocking the champion to the ground inside the first two minutes and remaining calm in the following frenzy. The two Strawweights looked somewhat tentative during the fight, understandably cautious of each other's ability to capitalize on any mistake, but it was Rose who put herself out there first, lunging forward with a lead left hook that connected directly with Joanna's chin and rocked her for one of the first times since she became Champion over two years ago.
'Thug' Rose again remained calm while on top, hammering punches down on her dazed and curled-up Polish counterpart. There is controversy in the MMA community in the days after the fight as to whether Joanna tapped to the strikes, with UFC commentator Joe Rogan claiming he saw her submit in the moments before a victorious Rose Namajunas was pulled off, but the former champion herself claims this is untrue.
In the end, if it was a submission to strikes or a TKO it makes no difference to the newly changed landscape of the 115lbs division. Namajunas has still claimed her seat at the top of the food chain with one of the craziest 1st round finishes over one of the most dominant UFC Champions in recent history.
This drastically unexpected result has opened up many new doors for top strawweight fighters like Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Jessica Andrade who both lost to Joanna in the past but may see new opportunities now that we have a new champion.
What were your craziest moments of 217?
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