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UFC 217 Observer Panel Picks: NYC, MSG, GSP

UFC 217

UFC 217 is a big one Saturday night as UFC returns to New York City's Madison Square Garden with a main event of middleweight champion Michael Bisping vs. former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, returning to action in a new weight class after four years of inactivity.

In the night’s co-main event, heated rivals Cody Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw will meet for Garbrandt’s bantamweight title while women's strawweight champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk puts her title up against Rose Namajunas.

In another key main card fight, Stephen Thompson, fresh off two unsuccessful title challenges against Tyron Woodley, squares off with Jorge Masvidal in a pivotal welterweight matchup.

The last fight our panel will be picking a winner for is the featured FS1 prelim bout between lightweights James Vick and “Irish” Joe Duffy.

If you're new here, our panel picks are listed below and listed alongside the fighter's names are their worldwide FightMatrix rankings, as well as BestFightOdds.com betting odds. The panelist's 2017 records is in parentheses in addition to panel consensus picks as well as a line where we show how the betting favorites did:

  • Dave Meltzer (49-21; .700) -- Wrestling Observer publisher
  • John Pollock (48-22; .686) -- Free agent
  • Favorites (48-22; .686)
  • Consensus Picks (45-24; .652)
  • David Bixenspan (45-25; .643) – Deadspin pro wrestling columnist; Between the Sheets podcast host
  • Josh Nason (45-25; .643) -- Host of Josh Nason’s Punch Out, WrestlingObserver.com assistant editor
  • Tom Lawlor (21-11; .636) – Co-host Filthy Four Daily; pro wrestling undercard fighter; UFC enhancement talent currently suspended due to wellness violation
  • Mike Sempervive (44-26; .629) -- Wrestling Observer Live and Big Audio Nightmare co-host
  • Steve Juon (44-26; .629) -- MMA Mania writer, Angry Marks publisher
  • Mike Sawyer (44-26; .629) -- Tough Talk MMA publisher
  • Ryan Frederick (40-30; .571) -- WrestlingObserver.com UFC writer
  • Paul Fontaine (38-32; .543) -- MMADraws.com publisher, WrestlingObserver.com writer
  • Front Row Brian (38-32; .543) -- MMA newsbreaker, beloved internet personality, podcast host

> UFC Middlweight Champion Michael Bisping (30-7) vs Georges St Pierre (25-2)

Most of the focus has been on the return of GSP after a long layoff. Since being beaten by Matt Serra in one of the greatest upsets of all time, he hasn’t lost in over 10 years. We last saw him edge out Johny Hendricks by decision at UFC 167 (2013), a controversial result that was followed up by him feuding with Dana White over his announcement of taking time off.

He’s also never faced anyone even close to the size of Bisping, who won The Ultimate Fighter and several UFC bouts at light heavyweight. Bisping has won five straight en route, including wins over former champs Anderson Silva and Luke Rockhold as well as the legendary Dan Henderson in his last title defense.

The big question: can GSP’s wrestling ability and presumed speed advantage overcome the speed and boxing ability of Bisping? The other big question for those interested in UFC business is whether lapsed fans will return to see the former face of the sport in GSP. We shall soon find out.

  • Bisping #1; +110 betting underdog: FRB, Nason, Pollock, Fontaine, Meltzer, Bix
  • St Pierre NR; -105 betting favorite: Lawlor, Juon, Frederick, Sawyer, Sempervive

> UFC Bantamweight Champion Cody Garbrandt (11-0) vs TJ Dillashaw (14-3)

Garbrandt stormed his way into the title scene with three straight first round KOs before completely dominating Dominick Cruz to capture the title last December. This set up a fight with longtime rival and former training partner Dillashaw, a fight originally scheduled to happen this summer before a Garbrandt back injury postponed it.

Dillashaw is a former bantamweight champion with two title defenses before he dropped it to Cruz in January 2017. White wanted him to drop down to flyweight earlier this year to challenge Demetrious Johnson, but Johnson refused, causing a bit of a public argument between the champ and his boss.

The winner will likely face the winner of Cruz and Jimmie Rivera (December fight) as their next challenger.

  • Garbrandt #1; -175 betting favorite: Juon, Frederick, Sawyer, Nason, Pollock, Sempervive, Fontaine, Meltzer, Bix
  • Dillashaw #2; +165 betting underdog: FRB, Lawlor

> UFC Strawweight Champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk (14-0) vs Rose Namajunas (6-3)

While a win will give Joanna Champion a tie with Ronda Rousey for the most title defenses by a female UFC fighter, she is also fast approaching the men's consecutive title defense record that was just set by the aforementioned Johnson. Should she emerge victorious on Saturday, it will be her seventh straight win in a title fight and sixth defense of her belt.

Since losing her first title challenge to Carla Esparza at the TUF 20 finale, "Thug Rose" has won four of her last five fights, including three by submission, to get another crack at the title. Most feel she will be outmatched in this one, but she has been proving people wrong for most of her career and hopes to do so again on Saturday.

  • Jedrzejczyk #1; -550 betting favorite: Juon, FRB, Frederick, Lawlor, Sawyer, Nason, Pollock, Sempervive, Fontaine, Meltzer, Bix

Stephen Thompson (13-2-1) vs Jorge Masvidal (32-12)
WELTERWEIGHTS

Thompson is fresh off 10 rounds of mostly razor-thin action with current champion Tyron Woodley. However, the last fight in particular was not something anyone is particularly interested in seeing again as they had one of the most poorly received title fights in history. An exciting win on a big stage here would go a long way to rehabbing his image in the eyes of fans.

Since moving to welterweight, Masvidal is just 3-2 but does have wins over Donald Cerrone and Jake Ellenberger. His last fight was a close split decision to Demian Maia so he’s very close to title contention. If he wins here, fans will be clamoring for him to get a title shot but he’d probably need one more quality win to earn it.

  • Thompson #2; -170 betting favorite: Juon, Frederick, Sawyer, Nason, Pollock, Meltzer
  • Masvidal #6; +160 betting underdog: FRB, Lawlor, Sempervive, Fontaine, Bix

> James Vick (11-1) vs Joe Duffy (16-2)
LIGHTWEIGHTS

Vick has fought most of his career bouts in UFC with a loss to the very tough Beneil Dariush being the only blemish on his record. He very nearly won the TUF 15 competition, losing to eventual champ Mike Chiesa after three prelim wins.

Signed to a new deal, Duffy is famously one of the only fighters to ever beat current divisional champ Conor McGregor. The Irish-born fighter has won four of his five UFC fights including three in the first round. His only loss was to hard-hitting Dustin Poirier in his toughest UFC matchup to date.

In a crowded division of contenders, neither of these two are getting a title shot any time soon but more high-profile fights will come for the winner of this one.

  • Vick #35; +130 betting underdog: Juon, FRB, Frederick, Pollock, Sempervive
  • Duffy #49; -140 betting favorite: Lawlor, Sawyer, Nason, Fontaine, Meltzer, Bix

**********

The rest of the card:

> Johny Hendricks (18-7) vs Paulo Henrique da Costa (10-0) -- Main Card
MIDDLEWEIGHTS

  • Hendricks #20; +248 betting underdog
  • Costa #65; -270 betting favorite

> Mark Godbeer (12-3) vs Walt Harris (10-6)
HEAVYWEIGHTS

  • Godbeer #71; +310 betting underdog
  • Harris #48; -340 betting favorite

> Ovince St Preux (21-10) vs Corey Anderson (9-3)
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHTS

  • St Preux #11; -141 betting favorite
  • Anderson #15; +130 betting underdog

> Mickey Gall (4-0) vs Randy Brown (9-2)
WELTERWEIGHTS

  • Gall #212; -105 betting favorite
  • Brown #123; +105 betting underdog

> Curtis Blaydes (7-1) vs Oleksiy Oliynyk (55-10-1)
HEAVYWEIGHTS

  • Blaydes #32; -330 betting favorite
  • Oliynyk #10; +300 betting underdog

Aiemann Zahabi (7-0) vs Ricardo Ramos (10-1)
BANTAMWEIGHTS

  • Zahabi #117; +185 betting underdog
  • Ramos #54; -185 betting favorite

Action begins with the Fight Pass prelims at 6:30 PM EST and moves over to FS1 at 8 PM EST. The main card airs on PPV at 10 PM EST, and our own Ryan Frederick will have play by play coverage of the show. 

Get a preview and more discussion about UFC 217 with this week's Josh Nason's Punch-Out.