ESPN: UFC 217 Cheat Sheet — Cody Garbrandt vs. TJ Dillashaw

The UFC is back in New York’s Madison Square Garden this weekend — and just like in 2016, it’s bringing along three title fights.

In the UFC 217 main event, former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre returns from a four-year hiatus to challenge middleweight champ Michael Bisping.

In the co-main event, budding superstar Cody Garbrandt seeks his first bantamweight title defense against a former teammate and champion in TJ Dillashaw.

Plus, strawweight titleholder Joanna Jedrzejczyk attempts to tie Ronda Rousey‘s historical female mark of six consecutive title defenses, against two-time title challenger Rose Namajunas.

Here’s everything you need to know about UFC 217.

Cody Garbrandt (11-0) vs. T.J. Dillashaw (14-3), Bantamweight Championship

Odds: Garbrandt -175; Dillashaw +155

When Cody Garbrandt first visited Sacramento’s Team Alpha Male (TAM) in 2012, he was running from a life of coal mining in Ohio. That was the future waiting for him, if fighting didn’t work out.

By 2014, he’d moved to California to train full time. And with TAM teammates like Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez putting in a good word, he gained quick entry to the UFC.

That same year, T.J. Dillashaw became the team’s first UFC champion — ending TAM’s agonizing streak of six failed title bids.

Both fighters claim they were never friends, but they were definitely teammates during critical parts of their careers.

In 2015, in a now-infamous moment on “The Ultimate Fighter” reality television series, Conor McGregor warned Faber that Dillashaw was “a snake,” and predicted he would abandon the team. Garbrandt shoved McGregor backward in an ensuing scuffle. Several weeks later though, Dillashaw did in fact leave the team for Colorado.

“I almost got kicked out of the UFC for sticking up for T.J.,” Garbrandt said. “We confronted him back then about leaving the team and he said he was with us. Couple weeks later, he shipped out.

“I’m a loyal guy. Where I come from, you get beat up for something like that. Dana White called Faber in after that and said, ‘Cody can’t be fighting on TUF like that.’ I could have gotten kicked out of the UFC for that piece of s— liar.”

Dillashaw says he made the best move for his career and for his family. His head coach, Duane Ludwig, is based in Colorado.

The TAM drama has affected Dillashaw of course, and he says there are pieces of it he’ll never get over, but his main goal this weekend is regaining the 135-pound title he lost in January 2016.

Dillashaw says he believes the judges got that fight wrong, when they awarded the belt to Dominick Cruz via split decision. His life has been greatly impacted by that miniscule difference in the scorecards.

“I’d be up to five or six title defenses by now,” Dillashaw said. “I’d be getting pay-per-view bonuses. I’m fighting on a big card in New York this weekend. As a champion, I could be getting a piece of pay-per-view. It’s affected my legacy, my pound-for-pound rankings. It’s a big deal.”

For Dillashaw, Saturday is an opportunity to right that wrong and regain what’s his. For Garbrandt, it’s a chance to defend a title he returned to TAM last December, against a former teammate who walked out of the gym with it.

Storylines don’t get much better than that.

Key stats

  • Garbrandt: 11-0 (6-0 UFC); first defense of UFC bantamweight title
  • Garbrandt: Nine wins by knockout (seven in the first round)
  • Garbrandt: Stopped seven takedowns against Dominick Cruz in last fight
  • Garbrandt: Fights for Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, Dillashaw’s former team
  • Garbrandt: No. 1-ranked bantamweight and No. 10-ranked pound-for-pound fighter, according to ESPN
  • Dillashaw: 14-3 (10-3 UFC); former UFC bantamweight champion (2014-16)
  • Dillashaw: Six wins by knockout, three wins by submission
  • Dillashaw: 10 wins is tied for most in UFC bantamweight division history with Urijah Faber
  • Dillashaw: Lands 5.38 strikes per minute according to FightMetric (second highest in bantamweight history)
  • Dillashaw: Left Team Alpha Male to follow coach Duane Ludwig to Colorado
  • Dillashaw: No. 2-ranked bantamweight and No. 4-ranked pound-for-pound fighter, according to ESPN

Dana White’s take

The minute I knew Cody Garbrandt was a star was when he fought Dominick Cruz (in December 2016). You think a guy has potential, but you don’t know until you get to the right fight. And the way he handled Cruz, how easy he made it look — holy s—. He was playing with him. And sometimes that s— is irritating, uncalled for and goofy — but the way Cody did it was unbelievable. I love the way Cody is talking about dropping to 125 pounds after this. Listen, if he beats Cruz and Dillashaw, those are two impressive guys to beat.

ESPN’s Fight Breakdown

Garbrandt is a Game 7 kind of athlete. He has had only six fights in the UFC, but it’s clear he’s one of those who rises to the occasion.

There was evidence of that before he went into his first title fight against Cruz last year, but that fight was where we truly saw it. Garbrandt was not supposed to be ready for Cruz at UFC 207. It was too much, too soon. Cruz was too diverse and too mentally strong to lose to a 25-year-old.

Garbrandt went out and fought like a heavy betting favorite. His confidence and composure, in that spot, was special.

Don’t forget, Dillashaw has that, too. He was never supposed to beat Renan Barao to win the title in 2014 — and he ended up dominating Barao to the point he has never looked the same.

That’s one of the best parts of this matchup — both are in such a good place in their respective careers. Dillashaw has always been in perfect sync with Ludwig, and he now essentially has built his own team around him in Los Angeles. Garbrandt has been perfect in his career, and is coming off the best performance of his life.

Stylistically, both do it all. The two are former collegiate wrestlers, who have developed world-class striking. Dillashaw is more diverse and mobile, constantly switching stances, mixing in more kicks at all levels. Garbrandt is faster, stronger and hits harder.


Garbrandt’s pocket presence was a real problem for Cruz — and everyone else he has fought, frankly. If you want to beat Garbrandt, you have to concede he’s better than you in the pocket. Because if you get caught thinking, “I’m going to stand here one time, and beat this guy to the punch,” it won’t end well. Dillashaw has to move, move, move, and not get sucked into an exchange.

That will be difficult though, given the emotion in this fight. And just in general, Garbrandt is an emotional fighter, which tends to bring out some emotion in who he’s fighting. If Dillashaw gives in to that, he’ll be at a disadvantage.

Prediction: Coin flip. Garbrandt’s power gives him an edge, in a fight likely to end by knockout.

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