The UFC's sophomore appearance in New York City is approaching fast.
The Octagon visited Madison Square Garden for the first time last November. The UFC 205 event, headlined by Conor McGregor, was a roaring success, drawing an audience of 20,000-plus for a record-breaking gate of $17.7 million.
For the second year in a row, the UFC is taking three title fights into Manhattan. UFC 217 on Nov. 4 is one of the promotion's biggest events of 2017.
Our panel -- ESPN MMA reporter Brett Okamoto, MMA editor Greg Rosenstein, SportsCenter hosts Phil Murphy and Max Bretos and contributor Eric Tamiso -- break down the key storylines ESPN will be following in New York.
Brett Okamoto, ESPN MMA Reporter
How big of a draw is Georges St-Pierre after a four-year hiatus?
When the UFC and St-Pierre were negotiating his potential comeback last year, St-Pierre mentioned the UFC was of the opinion it would have to reintroduce him to its fan base. That sounded a little crazy at the time, but with plenty of tickets still available to UFC 217, it will be interesting to see what the final numbers show about St-Pierre's marketability. A drop-off from last year's UFC 205 numbers is to be expected, but how big of one?
They compete in the deepest division in the sport. Vick is 7-1 in the UFC. Duffy is 4-1. They've each had great performances, but "great" isn't enough to crack title contention at 155 pounds. Not with names like McGregor, Ferguson, Diaz, Nurmagomedov, Gaethje, Alvarez, Poirier, Barboza, etc. Can this be a potential breakout fight for either Vick or Duffy?
I have these two ranked in my top 10 pound-for-pound. Most observers don't have Dillashaw that high, but I stand by it. Other than a flash knockout loss to John Dodson (when he was very young in his career), Dillashaw's only setbacks have been controversial split decisions. Garbrandt is perfect as a pro and could be the next breakout, mainstream star. On paper, this is probably the best fight the UFC has put together all year.
Greg Rosenstein, ESPN MMA Editor
How will GSP look after a four-year layoff?
I know this is the obvious storyline for UFC 217, but I can't just skip over it. St-Pierre, one of the most dominant champions in MMA history, will be making his first appearance in the Octagon since a split-decision win against Johny Hendricks in 2013. At that time St-Pierre's conditioning was exceptional, but is it the same now? And how will he fare against Michael Bisping, who has a 4-inch height advantage and eight fights since the last time GSP competed? In GSP's prime, I don't think this matchup would be close. But what we get on Nov. 4 is truly a mystery.
Which version of Rose Namajunas will we see?
When we last saw Namajunas fight, the Milwaukee native had Michelle Waterson in a rear-naked choke so tight, blood was streaming down her opponent's nose. It was pure savagery, and nothing less than what you'd expect from someone nicknamed "Thug." But while Namajunas' skill set is among the best in the strawweight division, I can't seem to rid my memory of her performance just two fights ago against Karolina Kowalkiewicz. That was Namajunas' big chance to prove she belonged with the Joanna Jedrzejczyks of the world and she let it slip through her fingers. Will she be up for the challenge now that Jedrzejczyk us finally in front of her?
Is this the end of Johny Hendricks?
I want to believe in Hendricks. I really do. But I'm still skeptical -- despite the weight class change to middleweight and despite the change of training camps to Jackson Wink in Albuquerque, New Mexico -- that he still has it in him to compete with the best in the world. He missed weight ahead of his matchup with Tim Boetsch in June and subsequently lost by TKO in the second round, his fourth loss in the past five. I'm not ready to believe, at age 34, he's back to being what he once was against a younger, taller and undefeated fighter, Paulo Borrachinha.
Phil Murphy, SportsCenter host/MMA contributor
GSP returns to the Octagon
My MMA fandom began with St-Pierre's last loss at UFC 69; his return to the sport's pinnacle -- and reign there -- was the first real macro storyline I followed. He's among the greatest, most well-rounded athletes the UFC has ever seen. GSP walked away from the sport in what should have been his martial arts prime. The question of how he looks, in a title fight, up a weight class, is must-see TV for me. I expect chills when he walks in, with blackout treatment, to cheers at MSG.
Is Cody Garbrandt the next megastar?
I've been driving the Garbrandt bus since before he beat Takeya Mizugaki at UFC 202 (Exhibit A). There's a star vacancy in the UFC that Garbrandt is in a unique position to fill. He has abnormal power for a bantamweight and is coming off a shockingly comfortable win over future Hall of Famer Dominick Cruz. A win over another former champ, Dillashaw, who has elite footwork in the stand-up -- Garbrandt's strength -- would turn the divisional triumvirate into a one-horse race.
Will Wonderboy rebound?
We get our first look at Stephen Thompson after a draw and loss in successive fights to welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, a pair of razor-thin decisions. How Thompson looks will play a significant role in whether he gets a third shot. Thompson's opponent in New York, Jorge Masvidal, projects to be more aggressive than Woodley, which should favor Wonderboy. The line for the champ gets thick after these two; a loss cripples title aspirations for either in the new future.
Eric Tamiso, MMA contributor
Drama between Dillashaw and Team Alpha Male hits a head
Not only is the UFC bantamweight title fight between Garbrandt and Dillashaw an intriguing style matchup, it's a fight with deep-seeded roots of ill will. The rivalry between Dillashaw and his former gym, Team Alpha Male, has raged for a long time, ever since Dillashaw left the camp in 2015. There have been accusations of Dillashaw deliberately injuring a former teammate, Chris Holdsworth. There have been claims of Garbrandt knocking out Dillashaw in sparring. How much will emotions play a factor?
Is this Hendricks' last stand?
It's amazing to think that this time three years ago, Hendricks was the UFC welterweight champion. He has gone 2-5 since and has had a myriad of weight-cutting issues. Even moving up to middleweight didn't curb that issue, as he tipped the scales at 188 pounds before his last bout against Tim Boetsch, a second-round TKO loss. Hendricks, 34, has moved his camp to Jackson Wink in New Mexico, throwing the Hail Mary several notable vets have tried to resurrect their careers. Can Hendricks' change of scenery bring him back to relevancy against Paulo Borrachinha, or will it spell the end of the road?
Can Mickey Gall take the next step?
In 2016, Gall went from reality show discovery to the man who derailed the CM Punk and Sage Northcutt hype trains. In his first fight in nearly a year, Gall battles five-fight UFC veteran Randy Brown. Being known for one of the most unique walkouts in the promotion -- looking your way, Toni Basil -- is one thing, but becoming known for your skills against legitimate competition is the next box to cross off in this prospect's list.
Max Bretos, SportsCenter host
What happens between Cody Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw
Saturday night's co-main event between Cody Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw is what is best in the UFC. If the company could clone fights and fighters, this is your huckleberry. These fights don't grow on trees, so soak it in fight fans. Not lost in the bad blood is they are the best bantamweights in the business and their legacy is at stake.
Stephen Thompson or Jorge Masvidal both have a lot to prove
Jorge Masvidal and Stephen Thompson is a classic matchup between a guy with a ton to gain (Masvidal) and one with a lot to lose (Wonderboy). As you know, I love soccer. This fight could have more kicking than a World Cup game.
Making sense of UFC 217's main event
I'm keeping my expectations low for the main event. I love Michael Bisping and GSP but I worry about the layoffs, more so for the latter. I also would worry for both fighters if they got in the cage with UFC interim middeweight champion Robert Whittaker.