The biggest UFC card of the year takes place on Saturday, Nov. 4. It goes down at Madison Square Garden, and it boasts three title fights and a main event with an incredibly popular fighter. So, why doesn’t it seem like there is as much buzz for this card as there was at this time last year, when UFC 205 at MSG became the UFC’s biggest card ever?
Well, it’s because the devil, as they say, is in the details. The headliner of UFC 205 had Conor McGregor, the biggest name in mixed martial arts. It was really his presence alone that made the card the biggest in UFC history. Meanwhile, the main event of this year’s UFC 217 is a middleweight title clash between champion Michael Bisping and Georges St-Pierre, the former UFC welterweight titleholder who’s returning after a four-year absence from the sport. While GSP was probably the most popular fighter in the UFC during his initial run, his popularity doesn’t begin to match McGregor’s current popularity.
The UFC has done a lot of the same promotion for UFC 217 as it did for UFC 205. Bisping and St-Pierre have participated in press conferences, Q&A sessions and other public appearances to drum up interest. However, in the absence of the UFC’s biggest star, UFC 217 just doesn’t seem to have the same buzz. The promotion could have done more to promote this card to at least convey that it is as highly anticipated as UFC 205.
Bisping has brought his usual trash talk in advance of his fight against St-Pierre, who admits he’s not good at it. Unfortunately, it results in this fight appearing as yet another money grab, devoid of any legitimate beef that often helps drive interest in fights. This seems even more true given that UFC 217 will be the first time GSP has fought at 185 pounds.
Bisping and St-Pierre are two of the best fighters in the UFC, and the organization has every right to make fights it believes will generate the most money. However, why exactly are Bisping and GSP fighting each other?
There are other fights on the UFC 217 card featuring fighters who truly, legitimately dislike each other. Conflict — of the real variety, not the manufactured kind — always sells. If the UFC had promoted these other fights a little better, it would have gone a long way toward generating the necessary buzz befitting of a card that’s expected to be the biggest of year.
The co-headliner is the bantamweight title affair between champion Cody Garbrandt and former titleholder T.J. Dillashaw. This fight is dripping with storylines that the main event just can’t match. This contest marks the first time Dillashaw has an opportunity to win back the bantamweight title after losing it almost two years ago. The acrimony between Dillashaw and Garbrandt’s team, Team Alpha Male, is well established. Garbrandt and Dillashaw just served as coaches on The Ultimate Fighter, and Garbrandt was caught on camera literally trying to strangle Dillashaw.
Oddly enough, both Garbrandt and Dillashaw agree their fight should be the real main event.
The third title showdown at UFC 217 is between strawweight champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk and Rose Namajunas. There hasn’t been that much trash talk between Jędrzejczyk and Namajunas leading up to this fight. Well, at least until last week. During the UFC 217 conference call, Jędrzejczyk went in hard on Namajunas, questioning her mental health, vowing to choke Namajunas out, and emphatically stating that Namajunas will “never” become champion.
Jędrzejczyk’s comments brought some criticism insisting she went too far in questioning the mental health of her opponent. However, it also added an extra twist to the fight with Namajunas, beyond just Jędrzejczyk having another opportunity to show that she should be considered the best female fighter in the world.
Hell, another main-card fight also could have helped boost UFC 217’s profile. Stephen Thompson is set to face Jorge Masvidal in a fight that could determine the next contender for the welterweight title. Thompson has already had two opportunities at the welterweight strap, but he came up short both times. However, he is still considered one of the best at 170 pounds. Masvidal has won three out of his last four fights, with two knockouts, and has become a fan-favorite with his crowd-pleasing fighting style.
There’s no doubt that UFC 217 will still do a tremendous amount of business for UFC President Dana White and company. It’s sure to receive a tremendous amount of coverage next weekend. Yet, the UFC wasted an opportunity to better promote fights and fighters who are more than capable of bringing the promotion the attention it craves.