UFC 217: The Promised Card?

The UFC has had a torrid time of it this year; there’s no denying that a UFC without Conor McGregor is having issues attracting new fans and convincing the public. How do you persuade casual fans to watch and pay for the UFC when they don’t recognise the fighters? Hence the magnitude of UFC 217.

Since the UFC was sold for four billion dollars, profits have been hard to come by and every penny counts in trying to claw back a portion of the sum paid by WME. The UFC have thrown everything and the kitchen sink at this card in a last ditch attempt to make 2017 a profitable year. The company will be anxiously awaiting pay-per-view figures in the hope that the UFC remains relevant, powerful and most importantly lucrative.

Is it the best UFC card of the year?

To say this card is stacked would be an understatement. Dana White has come out all guns blazing with UFC 217 to ensure that after the McGregor-Mayweather hangover fans are still treated to some quality fights.

So is this card better than the other 26 cards put on this year? Unfortunately the answer is not black or white. It’s almost certainly the deepest card in the sense that Patrick Cummins, Corey Anderson, Curtis Blaydes and Oleksi Oleynik are all ranked fighters competing on UFC fight pass. This is practically unheard of in the UFC, who prefer to use unknown, rising fighters in this slot to grow their names. Having fighters like Corey Anderson in this position shows they are cramming the card from the bottom all the way to the top.

Throw two of the future superstars, Mickey Gall and Paulo Borrachinha, into the mix and there is genuine intrigue before we even reach the main card. If people do tune in for the fights, Borrachinha and Gall could be the true benefactors of the whole event. A big performance on the big stage can be the ticket to genuine fame. Also, Stephen Thompson v Jorge Masvidal could easily headline a weaker UFC card. The fact they are only kicking off the main card highlights just how overcrowded UFC 217 is.

Overall, the card’s depth is undeniable. UFC 211 was rich with talent, but it’s a crying shame that Stipe Miocic, the baddest man on the planet, doesn’t have more fans. Subsequently the card didn’t make the necessary waves. The only card close to its quality is UFC 214. The stain of Jon Jones’ failed test and the snooze fest that was Woodley v Maia tainted the card, unfortunately. This leaves UFC 217 with a lack of competition and a whole lot of pressure.

Will it make over 1 million pay-per-views?

Typically the only people who have the ability to crack the mythical one million pay-per-views buys are Conor McGregor, Brock Lesnar and Ronda Rousey. The UFC clearly believes that Georges St. Pierre is still the big fish that he once was.

But has the pond he was swimming in changed since he left? Let’s not forget the Canadian legend has flirted with one million buys before against both Nick Diaz and BJ Penn. However, is the UFC overestimating GSP’s pull? Do millennials even know his name? In today’s society, where we the fans like brash, arrogant fighters, is GSP just too nice?

The one unpredictable factor that is hard to calculate is how much exposure the two future stars Cody Garbrandt and Joanna Jędrzejczyk have had in the media. Naturally if the card breaks one million, on the surface it will appear as if GSP has saved the day. Yet there is a sneaking suspicion that Cody and Joanna are the real draws In this day and age.

The three title fights might not have the hype of say Cormier v Jones 2 at UFC 214. But it’s got a really nice mix of bad blood between Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw, a returning legend in GSP and the new fan favourite of women’s MMA Joanna Champion. Each fight has an element of volatility about it. However, does piling championship fights on top of each other result in hype and buzz? Perhaps not. Once the trash talking amps up between Bisping and GSP it is possible that fans might be swayed. Expect the excitement levels to reach a crescendo mid-October.

The general consensus is that the card will reach around 700,000. This would still be a commercial success whilst still being underwhelming. If a card with two dominant, young champions, a UFC legend and the loud mouth of Michael Bisping can’t perform with the pay-per-view numbers is it signalling a plateau in interest levels? Are casual fans bored of anything less than Conor McGregor? We shall see come November 4th.

What’s on the line?

This card should be named ‘stars are born’, and here’s why: Madison Square Garden is the pinnacle for any fighter and for a handful of the athletes competing at UFC 217 it could be the night they explode onto the mainstream media.

If Mickey Gall submits Randy Brown and calls out another big name effectively he creeps one step closer to stardom. Paulo Borrachinha has the potential to knock out former champion Jonny Hendricks in brutal fashion and become the next scary Brazilian striker to take over Vitor Belfort’s mantle.

If Jorge Masvidal can beat up Stephen Thompson on the main card he will book himself a one way ticket to a shot at Tyron Woodley’s belt. A lot of ‘ifs’ yes, but following the form book those would be good bets to make.

The consequences are huge on the main card; the UFC need Cody Garbrandt to win. That’s not a knock on TJ Dillashaw. He’s a world-class bantamweight but he’s older, quieter and less marketable. Fans like winners, Cody can be the star MMA needs but he needs these wins. The same goes for Joanna. A loss sends her straight back to square one. The minute she loses her aura of invincibility the spell is broken. For her to reach Ronda Rousey’s level of celebrity she needs to keep linking those wins.

Finally, what does Bisping v GSP really mean? For every legitimate UFC fan this fight is somewhat of a farce. The list of murderers waiting in the shadows, Yoel Romero, Robert Whittaker, Luke Rockhold, Jacare Souza are more worthy challengers. Why has GSP been allowed to skip the queue? Is he destroying the integrity of championship fights? Unfortunately the answer to these questions are yes. We need this fight to be entertaining and then fade into history so we can progress with normality and sanity.

Ultimately the card has a lot to get excited about. It looks destined to fall short of the potential it thinks it has whilst remaining the best card the UFC has fabricated all year. If all three championship fights end in decision at UFC 217 it could very easily go down as a flop, but for the moment it looks like the best thing the UFC has offered all year.

The best thing about is that it could be the spring board these young fighters require to become pay-per-view monsters in the future. Don’t be surprised if UFC 217 is seen as the card that sculpted future superstars.