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UFC Garden party features Bisping-St. Pierre

By - Nov 04, 2017

By Weston DeWitt/For The Sporting Nation

 

On November 12, 2016, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) took a gargantuan step forward with their company. It held the first ever UFC event in the state of New York since the company had gotten approved to start holding events in the state.

UFC started out with a bang, hosting three title fights. To make the matters even sweeter, the pay-per-view event was held inside the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden.

The octagon returns to the Garden on Saturday night nearly one year later with three title fights and another star studded card.

Last year, it was Conor McGregor making history, as he became the first UFC fighter to hold two championship belts, simultaneously, when he defeated Eddie Alvarez in the main event. Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson ended in a draw and Joanna Jedrzejczyk defended her strawweight title against Karolina Kowalkiewicz.

Saturday night’s main card will kick off with Johnny Hendricks taking on Paulo Costa in a middleweight bout. Hendricks will look to get back to his winning ways, as he comes into this bout having lost five of his last seven fights. Costa comes in with an undefeated record and has a KO percentage of 90.

Then the No. 2 ranked welterweight Stephen Thompson returns to MSG after falling to Woodley in March at UFC 209. He will take on Jorge Masvidal, who comes in ranked No. 4. Masvidal possesses lethal knockout power, with Thompson being a natural kick-boxer. Thompson will have an reach advantage of one inch and a two-inch leg reach advantage.

Both of these fighters are coming off tough losses and will look to start climbing their way back to the top, in hopes of getting a title shot.

In the first championship fight of the evening, strawweight champion Jedrzejczyk will look to make history when she defends her belt against No. 4 ranked Rose Namajunas.

Jedrzejczyk will look to defend her belt for the sixth consecutive time, which would tie Ronda Rousey for most all time. She is coming off another win over Jessica Andrade at UFC 211 in May. The undefeated champion will not just be looking to win over a tough competitor in Namajunas, she is looking to cement her legacy as the best strawweight in UFC history.

“Right now, I am focused on my fight with Rose as she is my next challenge,” she said at last week’s media conference call. “I take every fight very serious and take every opponent seriously with so much respect. But after the fight, I might say that I want to clean this division, and that is what I am going to do on November 4.”

Namajunas has already had a title shot, which came back in 2015 against Carla Esparza. She ended up falling short in a third round submission loss. Namajunas said she has learned her lessons from her first title shot.

“I carry all my experiences with me, whether they be a win or loss,” she said. “Losing the first title fight definitely has brought my team together closer than ever before and has made everybody build me up from the ground up. Now, I am totally complete everywhere (in my game), I am the total package.”

In the co-main event of the evening, the highly anticipated matchup between Cody Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw will take center stage for the bantamweight title.

The two were originally scheduled to fight in July, but Garbrandt was forced to withdraw due to injury. The bitter rivalry between the two fighters was one of the plots on the most recent season of the TV show, “The Ultimate Fighter”. The two were the coaches of the teams and often found themselves engaging in verbal disgust back and forth with one another.

Their rivalry is also due to Dillashaw leaving the training group Team Alpha Male, led by UFC Hall-of- Famer Urijah Faber. Dillashaw left Team Alpha Male to train with Elevation Fight Team in Colorado, but now makes his training home in California.

They will settle the score once and for all on Saturday night, with both fighters possessing lethal knockout power. Garbrandt has not fought since UFC 207 when he defeated Dominick Cruz to win the title.

“I really had to rebuild my body in this down time,” he said. “I have been training my a** off ever since. I have had multiple procedures all over the world. I finally allowed my body to heal. I addressed some issues that needed to be corrected for the past couple years. I feel like I am firing on all cylinders.”

As for Dillashaw, he also fought at UFC 207 and defeated John Lineker convincingly. Despite all the verbal warfare between the two leading up to the fight, Dillashaw hasn’t let the camp change get in the way of his focus. 

“I decided to go out and create my own thing,” Dillashaw said. “Me and Cody are the real main event on Saturday. All of it worked out for the reason that it did and I’m just going to make the best of it.”

Garbrandt responded to Dillashaw on the conference call by saying that he does regret leaving Team Alpha Male, but “his ego won’t admit that”.

Finally, in the main event, middleweight champion Michael Bisping will look to defend his belt for the second time when he takes on one of the UFC’s best in George St. Pierre.

Bisping has not fought since UFC 204 when he defeated Dan Henderson by a controversial decision. He originally won the belt by knocking out Luke Rockhold in the first round at UFC 199.

Even though he is the champion of the 185-pound division, Robert Whittaker won the interm title back in July at UFC 213 when he defeated Yoel Romero, leading many to believe that a Bisping-Whittaker fight would take place. But since them, Whittaker sustained an injury, forcing Bisping to take the fight against St. Pierre.

Bisping, who has the most wins in UFC history at 30, has been known to use his mouth to get into the minds of his opponents. He possesses strong knockout power, as seen at UFC 199. But the questions that have been swirling around have been Bisping’s ability to deal with the wrestling of the former welterweight champion.

“For George, he used the word ‘terrifying’ about himself and that’s the most laughable thing I’ve ever heard,” said Bisping. “George is a very technical guy, but there is nothing terrifying about him in the slightest. Do I respect his wrestling credentials? Of course I do. But that’s why I brought in way better wrestlers (in camp). They have been tossing me on my head left, right and center. But guess what? They are not tossing me on my head anymore.”

For St. Pierre, it marks the return of a UFC legend.

The 36-year old Canadian retired from the sport four years ago at the height of his career. He finished his career with a 12-fight win streak and then called it quits after he defended his belt nine times.

But the man they call “GSP” wasn’t quite ready to hang up the gloves just yet and feels like he doesn’t have anything to prove in his return.

“I really don’t have something to prove. I do it because I want to live my life to the fullest,” St. Pierre said. “Why would I not want to come back and fight Bisping for the title in the Garden? I would be foolish to not take this opportunity.”

St. Pierre returns to the sport on Saturday night feeling refreshed and better than ever. He asked for a big time fight in his return and he got one in Bisping. Prior to his retirement, St. Pierre has been involved in seven straight fights where it had been decided by a decision.

GSP is a natural welterweight moving up in pounds to fight at middleweight, which has raised some eyebrows in the UFC community. But St. Pierre is back and ready to prove that he is a natural middleweight.

“I could go back to welterweight, but it took me a long time to prepare myself for this fight at 185 pounds,” St. Pierre said. “Even for welterweight, I was a small welterweight. The new guys are very big. It took me a few months and a lot of discipline, I made it and I am very happy. The weight difference will be there, but it won’t be much that is going to make an issue.”

*photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

 

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