- Two days before the actual fights, the combatants on UFC 217's main card met the media for a session that was lively in parts, not so much in others.
The six fighters on UFC 217’s main card sat in front of the media and a few fans on Thursday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. Saturday night, they’ll shed the suits, sunglasses and sport coats for fighting gear and a pair of gloves to square off during one of the biggest nights in mixed martial arts history.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Cody Garbrandt and Michael Bisping sat on one side of the stage with their respective championship belts displayed proudly in front of them. Georges St-Pierre, T.J. Dillashaw and Rose Namajunas sat on the other. UFC president Dana White stood at a podium in the middle, serving as the moderator of the press conference.
The proceedings, however, lacked White’s moderation. As per usual at a pre-fight presser, the fighters wasted no time to jumpstart the jawing. St-Pierre, regarded as one of the best UFC fighters ever despite spending the last four years away from the octagon, tried to be cordial in his opener.
“I can’t wait [for] Saturday. There is no other place I’d rather be than where I am right now. I can’t wait…. I’m back now.”
“Boring!” One fan shouted from the back of MSG’s theater.
“He’s one and done!” Bisping interrupted. “Have you been lifting weights still? Drinking protein shakes? Hey, you got a new suit again! Good for you bro.”
“I’m going to wipe him out Saturday night. I’m going to destroy him. Wipe him out, wipe the floor.”
Bisping (31-7-0) sounded overly confident in his ability to defend his middleweight title against St-Pierre (25-2-0). His remarks in the first two minutes of the press conference set the tone for the duration of the 26-minute discourse. The fighters sporting the belts to White’s right were on the offensive while those to his left took their opponents’ blows on the chin without much resistance.
Take, for instance, when bantamweight title holder Cody Garbrandt (11-0-0) said that his challenger, T.J. Dillashaw (15-3-0), is only here this week for the money—not to take away his championship. Dillashaw quickly refuted but also turned defensive.
“I don’t understand the animosity coming from him,” Dillashaw said. “There’s never been any drama on my side, as you can tell. There’s never been any drama from me.”
Garbrandt and Dillashaw used to be sparring partners as teammates at Team Alpha Male. Bad blood between them finally broke out midway through the event. Garbrandt claimed that he was ready to fight Dillashaw in the Alpha Male locker room one day but the latter “backed down.” Dillashaw fired back, claiming that Garbrandt went home crying after practice one day. Garbrandt landed the final haymaker.
“You can do all the conditioning in the world with your new coach, but you can’t condition that f------ chin of yours,” he said. The theater erupted in a collective gasp. Bisping enjoyed it just as much as the fans.
“That’s how you do it, Georges,” he said. “That’s called a back-and-forth.” More positive reactions from the crowd ensued as St-Pierre, dressed in a grey and blue suit that Bisping had already poked fun at earlier, sat and took it with a large grin—just as he had all afternoon. Not a word escaped his mouth when Bisping came at him two minutes later, either.
“You can do all the pushups, protein shakes and back flips you want. You will never beat me in a fight,” Bisping said.
As for Jedrzejczyk (14-0-0) and Namajunas (7-3-0), it was the title holder who again exhibited more fervor. White was asked if he can envision Jedrzejczyk headlining a UFC event in the future. White said of course, using the fact that if she beats Namajunas, she’ll tie Ronda Rousey’s record of six successful title defenses. If isn’t in Jedrzejczyk’s vocabulary.
“There is no if,” she said. “There is no if…. We are making history, definitely. I will make history on Saturday.”
She’s even looking beyond this weekend’s fight, claiming that she will break Rousey’s record and reach seven title defenses next year. The prophesying didn’t stop there.
“I will retire in the future as undefeated. I have this chance. I have this opportunity, and I’m going to make this happen,” she said.
Namajunas only spoke twice, and the latter of the two was the closest she got to a battle of words with Jedrzejczyk. Her banter resembled more of a middle school morals lesson than a pre-fight press opportunity.
“Everybody’s got flaws,” Namajunas said. “Nobody’s perfect. I don’t think anybody should act like they are.”
Despite a lack of rousing ribbings from half of Thursday’s participants—save for Dillashaw’s occasional chirping — UFC 217 was labeled one of the best cards in the sport’s history for what will happen inside the octagon, not for what the fighters blabber into a microphone.
Bisping said that his “only fear is getting cuddled to death” by St-Pierre. Of course, St-Pierre sat and laughed with a grin nearly as wide as his broad shoulders. On Saturday night, don’t expect the former welterweight champion to be so kind.