And it probably shouldn’t have been, at least on paper. An aging GSP coming back after four years to fight for a title in a division he never fought in? A division already marred with a logjam at the top? Or how about the fact that despite three title fights, it didn’t seem to have the same pizazz or star power that the UFC’s maiden voyage to Madison Square Garden had a year ago?
Well, none of it really matters now, does it? Some controversies and shenanigans aside, the event delivered with all three titles changing hands in spectacular fashion. Everything on the main card made up for the problems on the preliminary card.
Georges St. Pierre - Man, he did it. Not only did his boxing look great, he was able to secure takedowns and wear down Bisping, ended up dropping him and finished his first fight since BJ Penn in 2009. He didn’t look criminally undersized, ate a few shots but didn’t look frazzled, and at no point looked like he didn’t belong. This fight had seemed like a stale deal since it was announced and delayed, but the payoff was totally worth it. Now he joins the elite two-division championship club, cementing his legacy as one of the greatest ever. America loves a good comeback story, and this was cake. For a man that Dana White adamantly claimed didn’t want to fight, well...
Rose Namajunas - A lot of us didn’t think she was ready, but she no-sold all of Joanna’s antics and bested her in what she does best. Many of us thought the fight would have to get to the ground for Rose to prevail, but it turns out she was fleet-footed and at some points walked Joanna down to get inside and do damage. She was never intimidated by her opponent, and she definitely wasn’t dwarfed by the moment. That left hand was the beginning of the end for the seemingly-unstoppable JJ, and led the way for a new era with a champion in her mid-20s. This could be the beginning of a fascinating rivalry if Joanna stays at strawweight, too. Either way, Thug Rose climbed the mountaintop and made it almost look easy.
T.J. Dillashaw - A bit of rough going in the first round, but Dillashaw’s funky angles and setups proved to be just what he needed to pull a rabbit out of a hat and catch Garbrandt off-guard. Now we have a Mexican standoff with the three elite fighters in that division, as we’ll see some combination of Dillashaw, Garbrandt and Dominick Cruz very soon and more than once. With Dillashaw back on top, the division becomes more exciting and less predictable. All of this gives the division a shot in the arm to make things more interesting. TJ becomes king yet again, keeping the Team Alpha Male and TJ/Bang rivalry alive, for better or worse. Now we have another solid rivalry that despite all the jawing for years, may have just really gotten started.
Stephen Thompson - Thompson’s improvements against a fellow striker here were laudable. His hands looked great, and he kept a consistent pace after eating a bunch of leg stomps early. A lot of hay is made about his kickboxing experience, some of it overblown. Truth is, his MMA skillset has become something lovely to watch as it evolves and allows him to remain with the elite in the division. Not a win that puts him back into title contention, but at least keeps him close enough to the top to be close to a shot.
Paulo Costa - This guy is a godsend for the UFC. The man is handsome, fit, says the right things and has a great attitude. It’s almost like he can be the new Belfort in Brazil for them, plus he’s a young and sensational fighter. While he ended up beating an aging and still inconsistent Johny Hendricks, he did it forcefully on a major stage in the most famous arena in the world. Big bump in his stock, and expect big things for him soon.
James Vick - Vick has been absolutely lethal as of late since his loss to Beneil Dariush. Vick has won three straight since then - all finishes against increasingly tough opposition. He has to be in the top ten conversation now. It’s inevitable, and the crew at the top have a major problem coming their way.
Ovince St Preux - Phenomenal. That fight was kind of ugly in some spots, but competitive and hard-fought. But that finish? OSP came in as a replacement for Patrick Cummins and ended up being a worse matchup for Anderson. St Preux notches his third straight win, all three being finishes after CroCopping Corey. After walking into this fight at #6, has to move up in the top three considering the recent losses to Glover Teixeira and Jimi Manuwa.
Ricardo Ramos - Gotta hand it to him, he’s craftier than I thought. Sneaky with the back to back spinning elbows, Ramos makes a major statement in his second UFC fight. Three straight wins and now 2-0 in his UFC run, things are looking great for the 22-year old prospect.
Randy Brown - Brown knew what he was in for taking on Mickey Gall, and at no moment was fazed by what he brings to the table. That third round show him really put the pressure on, putting him at 4-2 in the UFC in a bounceback win against Belal Muhammad. It’s a win against a younger and less experienced opponent, but he looked good in various phases of combat and showed improvement.
Michael Bisping - And so ends the championship run of Michael Bisping. I kind of thought he’d retire win or lose after this, and perhaps he should. He already became king after beating Luke Rockhold in a rematch, a fight many thought he had no business to begin with. He teased and trolled any and all detractors, and all in all had a pretty fun run. But even though he landed some pretty good shots on GSP, Georges striking and movement showed he wasn’t just sitting on his couch eating Milk Duds for four years. Bisping got dropped, then hit, then choked, and that was that. I’m glad he actually won the belt, but I don’t see how he can recapture that gold after a loss like this.
Cody Garbrandt - After dropping Dillashaw, Cody got a bit cheeky taunting him and telling him straight up that he was going to knock him out in the following round. Guess that sparring footage video doesn’t hold up so well now, huh? Well, it didn’t hold up much to begin with, but you get the point. For some reason it seems like Cody was more prepared to fight Dominick Cruz than Dillashaw himself for this fight. Now Cody has some work to do, but his stock takes a hit.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk - Joanna Champion goes back to her government name after this. Turns out the mind games don’t work against thugs, and Joanna didn’t seem to do well with the pressure Rose brought. More than anything, she really wasn’t ready for those counters and combinations. I guess this is what happens when you’re so dominant with a formula for so long. It becomes difficult to adapt when someone breaks that scheme and what you usually do doesn’t work on them. Either way, Joanna has some crow to eat and some reworking of her toolkit to do. Either way she’s an exceptional and elite talent, so she’ll be back soon.
Johny Hendricks - I feel like I’ve said this before, but nobody lost worse than Johny tonight. He started to turn things around with some good punches and leg kicks after readjusting and recircling towards the center. But at this point, he should also call it a career. He can’t make welterweight, can’t competently make middleweight and can’t really hang with the crop of talent there. Not being disciplined with his physical conditioning and leaving Team Takedown have made him a shell of what he was, and it’s unfortunate. I take no pleasure in this, but he looked slow, fat and gunshy in that first round against a more dynamic athlete with killer striking. More fights for Hendricks will only lead to more damage his body doesn’t need to take.
Joe Duffy - After back to back wins over Mitch Clarke and Reza Madadi, Duffy acquitted himself well against Vick early only to get dropped with that stealth uppercut waiting for him while on his way down. Not the worst loss, considering he faced a rising top lightweight, but it sets him back a bit.
Corey Anderson - Back to back knockout losses in this year alone. That’s Anderson’s 2017. He’s a talented athlete and a hell of a fighter, but it appears he’s continuing to have difficulty putting all elements of MMA together for a well-established and multifaceted game. He’s going to need some serious time off after this for his own health.
Aiemann Zahabi - Rough loss, but he only drops to 1-1 in the UFC and his first professional loss overall. That and the fact that he lost to a very talented prospect. He’ll be fine.
Mickey Gall - Same, really. First MMA loss as a professional or amateur, and it was to a strong and consistent opponent. He’s still got some growing to do, but he’ll be fine.
Walt Harris - That DQ was very valid. I can’t even fault the ref much, as he was yelling stop and had his hands on him as Harris unleashed that kick. Maybe it was bad timing, or maybe Harris was too in the moment to stop. Maybe he’s one of those guys whose body gets ahead of their mind when they fight. Either way, I’m convinced he didn’t really mean to break that rule. He seemed contrite enough and had to know a DQ was possible. Not gonna hold that one against him.
Mark Godbeer - Well, he didn’t really win. Can’t really hate on what happened. It’s the most “meh” official result of the event.
Oleksiy Oliynyk - After two straight wins over Viktor Pesta and Travis Browne, Oliynyk had the misfortune of being put in against a brutal athlete with great wrestling chops. While I don’t like the messy way it ended, a doctor stoppage is a doctor stoppage. That makes the win legit. Besides, you really think he was going to turn it around. Sure, a lot of things are possible, but it didn’t seem very likely. Better to end it there than to have more unnecessary damage in the end. The only real problem I have with that is...
Curtis Blaydes - See, he still gets the win, but it’s mired in a bit of controversy. It’s nitpicking, sure, and I doubt management will hold it against him. It just seems like they won’t reward him with much in a future matchup as a result.