UFC’s second fight card at the combat sports mecca that is Madison Square Garden was a rousing success, with 18,201 fans contributing towards a gate of $6,105,306 as well as a PPV buyrate Dana White says looks set to be confirmed Sunday as “well over a million buys”.
Though the undercard delivered in spades, it was the three title bouts sitting atop the 11-fight card that understandably had people buzzing the most. And not only did they provide one of the most exciting, unpredictable and historic two-hour spells in MMA history, they collectively told a significant story.
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Throughout the build-up to 217, most of the talking was done by the three defending champions. Defending bantamweight kingpin Cody Garbrandt’s infamous falling-out with former team-mate TJ Dillashaw saw Cody taking every opportunity to tell the world what a horrible human being TJ was, based on his acrimonious departure from Team Alpha Male.
Unbeaten UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk was fast developing a reputation for being an unstoppable force inside the cage and perhaps, pound-for-pound, the best of the current titleholders as well as potentially overtaking Ronda Rousey as the UFC’s best female competitor since they expanded into women’s fighting. The Polish destroyer had been truly feeling this hype going into her defence against Rose Namajunas, threatening bad things for the American at every turn, constantly belittling her next challenger.
And of course, any card with England’s Michael Bisping is going to be filled with soundbytes from the brash middleweight champ. This time, he was promising to expose Georges St-Pierre as old and washed up before ending his comeback after only one bout. Profanity- and humour- laced, such tirades are by now simply what Bisping does and he does it better than most.
But even though the career trash-talker, the over-confident destroyer and the moral crusader all carried the verbal end of their contests’ hype train, all three title reigns ended in abrupt and humbling fashion at the hands of three new champions who chose to postpone their statements until they arrived at MSG.
All three title winners also picked up Performance of the Night honours, with Dana not just giving out a triple $50k bonus but actually adding a fourth and splitting it in two to reward prelim standouts Ricardo Ramos and Ovince Saint Preux.
Namajunas had her rough childhood and family history of mental illness called out by ‘Joanna Champion’ in what was glorified verbal bullying leading up to her stunning first-round removal of that adopted surname.
It made Rose’s decision to take the high road even sweeter, when she ended up making the aggressor actually tap out to a barrage of strikes after being floored.
“There’s just been a lot of trash talking,” Namajunas said. “People aren’t really being true to themselves or honest. Maybe that’s just what they feel they need to do to entertain, but I’m kind of sick of it.
“I’m sick of all the hate and anger. I feel like we have a duty as fighters to try and be a better example, you know.
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“I used to fight with hate. There’s been a lot of aggression in my past. Love is a more sustainable energy to draw from than hate.
“Martial arts is about honor and respect. It takes a lot of courage to get in that cage no matter who you are. I just want to try and set an example in that way.”
Perhaps only the members of Team Alpha Male truly know who is in the right and wrong with regards to the split between Urijah Faber and Duane Ludwig which saw Garbrandt and Dillashaw take opposing sides and fall out themselves.
TJ’s decision not to go into as much detail as his rival with his own side of the story actually helped situate him as the ‘bad guy’, in the eyes of the crowd.
But on fight night, it was once again the competitor who opted not to use every opportunity to air dirty laundry who emerged victorious, recovering from a rough first round to punish Cody for a mistake and reclaim the title.
The two showed mutual respect as fighters after the bout but the personal animosity very much remains. Nonetheless, TJ praised his opponent’s effort.
“He’s a hell of a fighter,” Dillashaw said. “He’s young, he’s going to be back. I’m going to see him again. This isn’t the end of Cody Garbrandt.”
Dillashaw touched upon how he and his family felt disrespected by some of the public comments made by the opposing side in a beef he felt could have been kept more behind closed doors. But he had the last laugh where the feud should have been and was always going to be settled.
And then there’s GSP, whose championship victory at a second weight class perhaps puts him above Jon Jones in the discussion of who is the greatest UFC competitor of all time.
St-Pierre was the fan favourite during the main event on Saturday, and always has been overwhelmingly popular. The class both men showed when speaking of one another after the dust had settled was a great example of why this is the case.
“It is a dream come true,” gushed GSP. “I don’t have the words.
“Obviously, this was not my weight class. I took this fight to challenge myself and I am honored to be champion once again.
“My respect to Michael Bisping. He hurt me very bad and I had to hide it. Thank you everyone; this is a real honor.”
Namajunas was right when she noted how much of an institution trash-talking has become in fight sports. It’ll probably always be the case. Fans do love seeing the tension build, after all.
But the humble legend, the quiet rival and the victimised underdog kept one crucial thing in mind: when these events are said and done, it’s the match results that speak loudest. That approach rewarded all three with historic championship victories.
White was asked whether the words of the three defeated incumbents was why UFC 217 appears to be such a commercial success already. He disagreed.
“We don’t need people to talk,” Dana claimed. “If we have fights like we had tonight, people will show up.
“And when they fight like they fought tonight, it’s incredible. Everybody was buzzing. It was crazy.”
Talk will probably remain crucial to selling fights for a very long time, despite White’s attempts to play down its function. However, nights like November 4 at Madison Square Garden provided reassurance that talk is indeed cheap in the grand scheme of things, no matter how big the buyrate.
For St-Pierre, Namajunas and Dillashaw, talk was at least $50,000 cheaper than action on fight night alone.