For years, the UFC fought a battle to drop their Octagon into the middle of New York, and people from other parts of the world wondered why that was such a big deal. Why was this one single place so important when you could set up shop in Los Angeles or Tokyo or London, or a dozen other world metropolises? Yet nearly everyone will acknowledge that while New York has no mystical powers, it seems to have a magical ability to produce legendary performances. The New York Yankees, The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, Frazier-Ali, Billy Joel at Shea Stadium, King Kong atop the Empire State Building.
Visiting performers see the Great White Way, Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden, and they feel a connection to everything that came before them. If those places and buildings don’t ooze inspiration, they at least demand a chase at greatness.
The Garden has been searching for something special lately. The UFC has been, too. It all came together last night, Georges St-Pierre, T.J. Dillashaw and Rose Namajunas all turning their underdog roles upside down, stacking them atop each other and building an unforgettable evening. Prior to Saturday night’s UFC 217, only one champion (Jose Aldo) had been defeated in the cage this year. Last night, the champs were all decimated, one right after the next. Joanna Jedrzejczyk dropped and stopped. Cody Garbrandt, drilled and finished. Michael Bisping, clipped and choked unconscious.
MSG might still be buzzing. At the very least, the words “And new...,” repeated over and over by Bruce Buffer, are echoing.
"I always say this sport is about ‘Holy s--t’ moments,” UFC president Dana White said in the post-fight press conference. “This was the ‘Holy s--t’ card. Every time I walked up to the row behind me, they were going ‘Holy s--t’ or ‘Wow!’ No matter what kind of expert you think you are, the sport is crazy. You never know.”
The value of this kind of night is incalculable. Sure, there is the bundle of cash the UFC made on the pay-per-view, which White said was on pace to breeze pass the 1 million mark. But It also sets up the UFC for several potential future major fights. After a year that has largely been low on buzz and flash, that’s no small thing.
Starting from the top, St-Pierre, after the fight, didn’t seem very interested in defending the belt he’d just won. Bisping was a calculated move, and his next one will be, too. May I suggest one Conor McGregor?
Sure, it sounds crazy, and I’m not suggesting this fight take place at 185, where St-Pierre is suddenly—and doesn’t this feel weird to say?—the new UFC middleweight champion. What I am suggesting is that it’s possible that GSP and McGregor shuck their titles aside for the biggest fight mixed martial arts could possibly make. St-Pierre isn't likely to stay in the division to face the young and powerful Robert Whittaker, and while he may consider a move back to welterweight to fight Tyron Woodley, that’s not a fight that favors him, either. If he were to face McGregor at 170 pounds (where McGregor has fought once before), he’d be at a speed disadvantage, but his wrestling and ground game would play in his favor. More importantly, the fight would smash every UFC pay-per-view and gate record. Fans would eat it up. It would be hard to resist for the promotion, for the media, for St-Pierre, for McGregor, too.
While that wouldn't be a true champion vs. champion fight, Dillashaw vs Demetrious Johnson would be. Dillashaw has previously asked for it; Johnson crossed his arms and shook his head. Something about him worrying about Dillashaw making 125 pounds for the first time. All of a sudden, it will be a much more difficult fight for Johnson to ignore. Johnson has done everything in MMA except draw money, and this would be his best chance to do that anytime soon.
Namajunas doesn’t have a super fight in her future, but a Jedrzejczyk rematch may be in the cards following three minutes of fury. Prior to the fight, Jedrzejczyk entertained the idea of moving up to 125 pounds to capture a second belt. While that plan is now out the window, a rival gives her a better option anyway. A rematch now has real depth and context, and those things matter.
There were ripple effects to the card, too. Bisping said that despite the loss, he would fight on, and wouldn’t it make sense to finally hook him up with Yoel Romero after months (years?) of back and forth between the two? For a time, Romero practically stalked him, and with the belt no longer factoring into the equation, it’s a fight that just make sense for the promotion’s upcoming London card.
And for Robert Whittaker, likely the odd-man-out in the GSP derby, how about Luke Rockhold in an undisputed title match after GSP abandons the belt?
What else? Paulo Costa, knockout machine and Brazil’s next big thing. James Vick, squarely in the lightweight mix. Wonderboy, bringing some of the magic back.
Yes, it was a night that created champions and moments and future matchups in a way that has escaped us all throughout 2017. Maybe it wasn’t a night that could only be created in New York, but then again, that’s where it happened. That’s where the UFC’s rough year finally changed. That’s where GSP won after four years—four years!—away, where Namajunas beat the unbeatable, where Dillashaw joined the very short list of two-time UFC champions. That’s where the impossible always seems to be drifting around the air, waiting for the right moment. For the UFC and for the fans, it couldn’t have come at a better time.