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Fortunes changed for five at UFC 217

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Box office questions aside, UFC 217 came in as the company’s deepest show of the year when it came to big fights. With an unprecedented three title changes in one night, it’s already being talked about as one of the greatest shows in the promotion’s history.

Dana White, after the show, claimed that the show blew well past 1 million buys on pay-per-view. Even though UFC had five shows in 2016 that hit that mark, that’s still a milestone that only a handful of shows in company history have hit. He claimed it set the all-time record in Canada, beating the Aug. 26 Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Conor McGregor fight.

Of course, promoters say a lot of things. Even though UFC would know its internet pay-per-view buys immediately, and that’s theoretically a good predictor, any number before the end of the first week has to be taken as a very rough estimate. And a lot of numbers historically get thrown out early, and very often they end up being high.

UFC was the single most searched for topic on Google on Saturday. The first-day reported Google searches are usually accurate as far as not necessarily an exact final number, but as far as what level of success the show has done.

The one million-plus listed search figure would be exceedingly low to translate into a one million buy pay-per-view. A one million buy shows would be expected to have at least two million searches. The other major show this year, July’s Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones fight, which is estimated at 860,000 pay-per-view buys, topped two million searches.

Nevertheless, what happened at the show leaves the company in a far better place, with a slew of interesting fights that can be made for early 2018.

There were many questions asked about Georges St-Pierre (26-2), returning after four years off, at 36, and fighting in a heavier weight class. His return was huge for the company with the uncertain future of Jon Jones, and the unpredictability of what Conor McGregor will want to do next.

Some of the St-Pierre questions were answered. A major one is that St-Pierre came into the cage looking like a tank. He was thought to be too small for the middleweight division, and he’s still short for the division, but didn’t physically look small at all. He got every takedown he committed to, although could not establish the long-term ground control he was famous for. It’s a great sports story to take off four years and come like that, with the dramatic knockdown and quick choke.

Still, with the added mass, St-Pierre did look to be tiring by midway through the second round, which he appeared to lose. And the champion, Michael Bisping, while the rightful lineal champion, was hardly viewed by many as the best fighter in the division. Bisping himself is now 38, and took a beating in winning a close decision over 46-year-old Dan Henderson in his only title defense after his huge upset of Luke Rockhold.

No matter what this show did or didn’t do, in winning the championship, St-Pierre’s next fight should be a huge success. He cleanly won, and in doing so, re-established his name to the new audience and likely brought back a good number of his old fan base. Bisping was the perfect verbal sparring partner for St-Pierre as far as building up the fight went. But with the win, St-Pierre is now deeper in the conversation as far as total career goes, when it comes to being the greatest fighter of all-time. Nobody in history has beaten so many quality opponents and maintained as strong a win-loss record. He’s only lost twice, and very decisively avenged both defeats.

At the same time, St-Pierre, aside from his great finishing sequence, doesn’t look like he could dominate in either the welterweight or middleweight division going forward. He said he’s retiring after his next loss, so this still could be a short-term comeback.

So let’s look at how Fortunes changed for five stars coming out of Saturday night.

GEORGES ST-PIERRE - There are two obvious fights for St-Pierre right in front of him, one with interim middleweight champion Robert Whittaker (19-4) and another with current welterweight champion Tyron Woodley (18-3-1).

White pushed Whittaker as the next opponent, but both are intriguing tests. Whittaker is faster and hits harder than Bisping, plus he showed in the Yoel Romero fight that he can go five hard rounds. There is also a pay-per-view on Feb. 10 in Perth, Western Australia, which makes sense for Whittaker as a title challenger, but feels like that may be a little quick for St-Pierre to return.

Woodley is coming off a string of boring fights, which may be part of the reason White is so strong on Whittaker. But long-term, St-Pierre is better off at welterweight. The problem is Woodley should have the wrestling base to keep the fight standing, and he has far more punching power than St-Pierre, so it’s a very difficult style matchup.

The other fight would be with McGregor. It wasn’t that long ago that St-Pierre insisted that he could make 155, although you wouldn’t think that was possible after seeing him on Saturday night in Madison Square Garden.

But even though a fight at 170 would have no title implications, and hold up two divisions, it would also be the biggest UFC pay-per-view fight in history.

MICHAEL BISPING - Bisping (30-8), has to be close to the end of his career, given all the punishment he’s taken and age. Unless he’s just looking for a retirement fight, his most logical next fight would be a trilogy fight with Rockhold (16-3). It’s the fight that Rockhold is more likely to want more than any other aside from a shot at the title. It’s got a story behind it. Aside from St-Pierre, it would be the fight that would garner the most interest for both of them.

And if Bisping has any hopes of another fight with St-Pierre, it would probably take a repeat of Bisping’s earlier stunning win over Rockhold to have a good chance to get it.

T.J. DILLASHAW - The now two-time bantamweight champion, Dillashaw (15-3) immediately called out flyweight king Demetrious Johnson (27-2-1), and said he could drop to 125 for the fight.

The fight carries considerable intrigue. Johnson has been labeled the most complete fighter in UFC and best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. But he’s been heavily favored in all of his recent fights, which have been mostly one-sided. This would be a fight would look on paper to be Johnson’s toughest test since he became a champion, and would be the most marketable fight of his career.

If that doesn’t happen, Dillashaw should face the winner of the Dec. 30 fight in Las Vegas between two-time former champion Dominick Cruz (22-2) and Jimmie Rivera (21-1). Cruz beat Dillashaw for the title in what was one of the most successful television fights ever on FS 1.

CODY GARBRANDT - Although he made it quite clear he’s not looking at rematching Garbrandt right now, the nature of Saturday’s fight makes another go a possibility, if not probability, somewhere down the line.

Garbrandt (11-1), seemed to be seconds away from retaining his title when the first round ended. The two had a great fight, and the take when it was over was that either man could beat the other on any given night.

Garbrandt should probably face the Cruz vs. Rivera loser in his next fight, and if he can win that fight, be plugged in for a title match. If that doesn’t work out, John Lineker (30-8) would make for a good match given the battle of the firepower.

The Madison Square Garden crowd seemed to indicate Garbrandt has star potential, and with a win in his next fight, should be getting a title shot.

ROSE NAMAJUNAS AND JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK - Even though the finish here was a first-round knockout win for Namajunas (7-3), the immediate rematch is the only way to go.

It will be the biggest fight in UFC strawweight history. There’s no other challenger people would want to see Namajunas against anywhere near as much. There’s no point in risking by putting Namajunas in with Jessica Andrade or Karolina Kowalkiewicz and not getting that rematch. And Jedrzejczyk (14-1) has already beaten the other key contenders.

In many ways, this fight was the women’s equivalent of the Matt Serra win over St-Pierre, with a champion thought to be unbeatable and a challenger thought not to be a strong title contender.

The fight was similar, with the stunned champion getting caught early and never fully recovering. St-Pierre then destroyed Serra in the rematch. How Jedrzejczyk does in a rematch will tell a major story regarding her career legacy.

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