UFC 217 on Saturday was nothing short of magical, with all three title fights ending in a new champion being crowned.That magic produced five bonus winners on the night, as the UFC opted to split one of its awards and reward an extra fighter.
If you thought UFC 205, the promotion’s debut at Madison Square Garden in November 2016, was untouchable, think again. That night, Conor McGregor became a simultaneous two-weight champion, Joanna Jedrzejczyk defended her strawweight title, and Tyron Woodley fought to a draw against Stephen Thompson to retain his welterweight belt.
Thompson and Jedrzejczyk were back in action at UFC 217 on Saturday. Yet while “Wonderboy” was victorious against Jorge Masvidal, it was the trio of title fights atop the card that stole the show, each as shocking as the next. Seeing the deadly Joanna Champion outworked on the feet, knocked down twice and forced to tap to strikes, was jaw-dropping. Next came bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt, rocked, dropped, and stopped by rival, and former champion (now champion again) T.J. Dillashaw.
Nothing, however, could touch the historic moment that Georges St. Pierre, returning after four years removed from the sport, ended the reign of middleweight champ Michael Bisping. Bisping had drawn criticism for struggling past legend Anderson Silva in a fight he nearly lost, which booked him a ticket to a short notice title fight against Luke Rockhold. He made the most of that opportunity, catching Rockhold with his pants down in a surprise knockout victory at UFC 199. After that success, he strayed right back into controversy, with his first title defense coming against forty-six year old Dan Henderson. The rematch from UFC 100, where Hendo turned Bisping into a living meme, saw Bisping struggle against the Pride legend. He ultimately came out with a decision victory — looking much worse for the wear.
GSP, however, didn’t leave it to the judges Saturday. Having told anyone and everyone who would listen that he was an improved fighter looking for the finish, he backed up his words in New York City. The Canadian legend, with the crowd fully behind him (raucous chants of GSP flooded the building throughout the fight), may have looked a step slower early, but four years away and moving up a weight class will do that to a fighter. Despite the time off, he soon proved that his timing was still there, as he did was GSP always does: beat an opponent at their own game. Getting the better of the striking on the feet, St. Pierre then fell back on his wrestling, taking Bisping down in both the first and second rounds. Superman jabs, wheel kicks, everything seemed to work for St. Pierre. Bisping, generally better known for his trash talk and antics outside the cage, defended admirably, and managed to slice St. Pierre open from the bottom, negating the Canadian’s wrestling edge. Yet GSP wasn’t about to let his return be for naught, and after a well timed punch rocked the champion in round three, St. Pierre pounced, raining elbow after elbow as Bisping struggled to cover up. Sensing that the Brit was tough enough to survive the onslaught, GSP’s superior fight IQ took over, and he immediately went to the back, sinking in a tight rear-naked choke that put the champion out.
For those efforts, and a stunning return after a four year absence, St. Pierre earned one of five Performance of the Night honors. So to did Dillashaw and Rose Namajunas, the other newly crowned champions on the night. All three won $50,000 in addition to their regular fight purses and Reebok pay.
Additionally, Ovince St. Preux, who floored Corey Anderson with a head kick on the Fox Sports 1 preliminary card, and Brazil’s Ricardo Ramos, who felled Aiemann Zahabi with a spinning back elbow in the first bout of the night, were also handed Performance bonuses. The catch, however, was that they shared the final of the usual four bonuses, taking home $25,000 each.