The UFC will return to Madison Square Garden on November 4th with their strongest card of the year. Three title-fights sit atop this stacked card, each of which is deserving of their own tailored analysis and as much as I would like to talk about the return of GSP and the mess that is the Middleweight Division, I believe the most intriguing fight of 217 will be for the Bantamweight Title.
UFC 217’s co-main event features arguably the best Bantamweight fighters in the division’s history (the same can most certainly not be said about the main eventers). Cody Garbrandt shocked the MMA world when he dismantled Dominick Cruz to claim gold in December of last year. Although “No Love” faced relatively poor competition on his way towards the belt (facing only one top 10 opponent), he has erased all doubts regarding his status as an elite fighter. T.J. Dillashaw on the other hand has had a considerably harder road on his way back to the title.
After losing to Cruz in January of 2016, Dillashaw beat Raphael Assuncao and John Lineker (both ranked in the top 5) and cemented himself as the next to challenge his former teammate. The Californian’s experience fighting so many elite opponents, often in main event showcases, is certainly a confidence booster and an appreciable factor going into his upcoming title bout.
Other writers at this point would mention the feud that exists between these two as a result of Dillashaw leaving Team Alpha Male. The pettiness, conflicting accounts, and pointlessness of these events is apparent to anyone who gives it a cursory glance and so we will forgo this drama with the summation that there exists a great amount of animosity between these two.
Garbrant and Dillashaw were scheduled to meet earlier this year but a debilitating back injury forced the Ohioan from defending his belt. As with all injuries, particularly in MMA, there really is no telling whether or not his condition has improved. All we know at this point is that “No Love” feels able to compete and is presumably confident enough either in his level of recovery or his ability to push through the injury.
The fight itself promises to be one of the most competitive bouts in Bantamweight history. It can of course end prematurely but simply looking at the respective abilities of these two athletes, it is difficult to envision anything less than the pinnacle of MMA.
Both Garbrandt and Dillashaw have excellent wrestling pedigrees though they use their grappling in different ways. The current TAM product aims to use his wrestling to sprawl on his opponents and keep the fight standing while the Former Bantamweight Champion mixes in offensive takedowns with his strikes.
Both men also excel on the feet but again, they prefer differ tools for different means. The former boxer of course favors his hands, using blistering speed, and unconscionable power. That recipe, of limited kicks and knees with an emphasis on boxing and counter wrestling has led him to the top of the division and earned him 9 KO’s out of his 11 wins.
Dillashaw on the other hand utilizes a much more diverse arsenal of attacks with equal success. Under the tutelage of Duane Ludwig, the Californian has created a trademark style of stance switching, heavy feinting, and angle based attacks that perplex and devastate his opponents. Rather than flattening his opponents with single strikes, Dillashaw overwhelms them with high volume, pressure, and an unrelenting pace. To be sure he absolutely has power but the consensus opinion is that Garbrandt will be more dangerous in terms of moment-to-moment action.
What’s more is that unlike many other fighters touted for their knock out power, Garbrandt doesn’t fade in later rounds. His title claiming performance against Cruz was proof not only of his elite status but also of his ability to land devastating blows in championship rounds. His ability to remain dangerous and consistent throughout a 5 round event largely mitigates the potential for T.J’s strategy of inundation.
There only really exists one question as to the attributes of “No Love” and that is his ability to take a punch. Despite only being KO’d once as an amateur, many people question his chin, especially because of the fact that he often seems to slur his words (a sure sign of brain trauma). Besides Thomas Almeida, Garbrandt has not yet faced a heavy handed striker in the UFC, and in that fight he wasn’t touched at all. Although Dillashaw doesn’t possess the reputation of an Almeida or a Lineker in terms of punching power he certainly outshines them in ability.
The man dubbed the “snake in the grass” does not need the kind of ferocious power of a Lineker. Being able to connect consistently and constantly with effective and sub concussive blows will undoubtedly be enough for him to get the finish. Whether or not that will be the final outcome relies entirely on the defining area of this bout: range.
Garbrandt will look to stuff Dillashaw’s takedowns and or quickly get to his base and stand up, should T.J. succeed. After the grappling exchanges are more or less nullified it will be the boxing (arm length) range of the Ohioan against the kick-boxing (arm and leg length) application of the former TAM fighter. Garbrandt was successful against a similar fighter in Dominick Cruz but can he do so again against a younger, more athletic, and more powerful fighter?
UFC 217 goes down on November 4th and features such bouts as Wonderboy/Masvidal, Vick/Duffy, Gall/Brown, and that doesn’t even include the 3 Championship fights. GSP is back from an intergalactic journey and looks to dethrone “The Count” who has become “The King”. Joanna “Champion” will attempt to tie Ronda Rousey’s record of 6 Title-Defenses when she faces Strawweight’s best chance at usurpation. And in the co-main event, the most important fight in the division’s history will not only settle bad blood but may very well be the greatest example of elite MMA in modern times.