Well, the last UFC event of this crazy 2016 is finally here, and the promotion has decided to go out with a bang. This card features the long-awaited return of former champ Ronda Rousey, as she challenges Amanda Nunes for gold, along with a heated bantamweight title fight between Cruz and Garbrandt, and many other competitive bouts pitting high-caliber fighters.
What: UFC 207
Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada
When: Friday, Dec. 30. The lone fight on the UFC Fight Pass prelims begins at 7:30 p.m ET, the four-fight FOX Sports 1 prelims begin at 8 p.m. ET, and the five-fight pay-per-view main card begins at 10 p.m. ET.
** For this event, I decided to do things a bit different and bring in guest Eric Jackman, of The MMA Hour fame, for a second take on things. **
Ronda Rousey vs. Amanda Nunes
Danny Segura: From everyone I’ve talked to it seems the public perception leading into this fight is that Ronda Rousey is going to get wrecked Friday night. But I think her knockout loss to Holly Holm has made people undermine her skills. I actually believe this is a close one, as Amanda Nunes, although a striker, hasn’t shown to have the type of skills and style needed to pull off a strategy like Holm did at UFC 193.
Nunes is not a counter striker, and doesn’t really use striking to keep away from opponents. Actually, she’s quite the opposite, moving forward and pressuring with her striking. Also, Nunes’ cardio has shown that she has about a round and a half in her before she starts fading. On the other side, Nunes has a better ground game than Holm, and hits way harder, so there’s that.
I think both fighters have very good chances in winning this fight, but at different points of the match. Nunes’ chances are high early in the fight, while Rousey’s peak is toward the the middle and end. Tough fight to call here, but I think the Brazilian puts away Rousey early. It really seems that the momentum is going for Nunes, and she just seems to be in the right place for this one. I also have no good reason to believe Rousey has dramatically improved her striking to hang in with Nunes.
NewYorkRic: Ronda Rousey is, right now, the same as she has always been (and in even better shape based on fight week pictures). She has told us as much all along. She didn't seek the media attention that helped turn her into a star because she was an extrovert with dreams of public life. Quite the contrary. She has always called herself shy and used media opportunities to promote her fights, as well as issues that were important to her. She grabbed the opportunities because it was her job and because she felt a duty to enact change.
Which brings us to Friday, where the narrative is questioning what Rousey's media silence means for the fight. It means nothing. Rousey is, right now, the same as she has always been: a vicious competitor with very good grappling instincts and questionable striking. And yes, again, in better shape. She's focused, she's had time to digest her loss to Holly Holm and consider little else but erasing that feeling.
Nunes is definitely the most powerful striker Rousey has faced and this is worrisome. Rousey typically leaves fights visually unscathed, but often takes a few unimpeded punches in the process due to her relentless aggression. Her sturdy chin will serve well, as I see Rousey being able to do what she has done in nearly every bout (save for her battle with Holm): minimize the distance, grab a hold of Nunes, take her for a ride, and close the show.
NewYorkRic: I firmly believe that Dominick Cruz is actually Superman and will continue to do so until you prove otherwise. To miss that much time, come back from those injuries, then recapture the belt against T.J. Dillashaw (who is very, very good), blank future Hall of Famer Urijah Faber, and look like you've never left — it's otherworldly. Like Krypton otherworldly.
Is Cody Garbrandt his Kryptonite? Maybe, but I don't think so. Cruz prides himself on not getting hit and it's his best attribute. He's not going to punish an opponent, but he's not going to let them punish him either. Garbrandt's power is not to be ignored, but if he can't force Cruz to make a mistake, he won’t win. And I don't see that coming into play. Cruz has very rarely made those mistakes.
Cruz, I'm thinking, will be the one leading this dance and there may even be potential for a finish. There's nothing that leads me to believe that Garbrandt can't go five rounds, but he's yet to do it (by no fault of his own — first-round knockouts tend to do that). If it gets into the championship rounds, waters that a shark like Cruz has navigated over and over, he could find himself facing unknown and unwelcome pressure.
Danny Segura: Dominick Cruz falls in that Demetrious Johnson realm in the sense that I don’t really see anyone at in his weight class beating him. Of course, not in the same degree of Johnson’s dominance at 125, but somewhat close.
Something I’ve noticed since his last comeback, and that I think people have failed to see, is that he’s shown that he’s slowed downed a bit in his movement, and that’s a problem, especially against Cody Garbrandt.
The last time we saw Cruz fight pre-injuries was against ‘Mighty Mouse’ on October, 2011. Then he tore both ACLs and suffered a torn groin, came back in September 2014 and fought Takeya Mizugaki. He stopped him in the first round, not really giving us info on his game. He then suffered another injury, and came back in 2016 to fight Dillashaw and Faber. In those two performances I saw a slower Cruz.
Obviously, thats because there’s almost a five-year gap there, and just age and injuries should slow down any human being. So will the current version of Cruz be quick enough to avoid Garbrandt’s power for five rounds? I think that’s the real question here, as I have no doubt that if the fight goes the distance, Cruz should be the winner. I think this fight is a lot closer than what people may think. I probably should pick the champ’s still very quick movement and striking, over the challenger’s power. But just to go against Mr. NewYorkRic, I’ll go with “No Love.”
Danny Segura: I just want to start off by saying, I love this fight. Dillashaw is fun to watch in a technical aspect and always keeps busy, while Lineker also keeps very busy and is always fun to watch but more in a brawling, holy sh*t aspect.
This fight is very much like the co-main event stylistically speaking, and although it hasn’t been labeled as title eliminator bout, the winner should get the next crack at the belt. I believe the trick to defeat Lineker is angles, lots of movement, and range. T.J. Dillashaw is an expert at utilizing those tools against his opponents.
I find Lineker’s fighting style very fun to watch, but I also think it’s very simple, making it easy to prepare for. I don’t think Lineker has fought someone on the same level of Dillashaw (maybe Dodson comes kind of close, but even then, you can make a case Lineker lost that fight).
Dillashaw shouldn’t really have a big problem here. The only question I have is whether or not Dillashaw can crack Lineker’s iron chin within three rounds.
NewYorkRic: This fight is linked to the co-main event in many significant ways, two of them being rankings and style match-up. The winner of this fight is in line for the next bantamweight title shot, waiting for the co-main event to play out. It also has a similar appeal in contrasting a varied offense, based on movement, with immense power.
T.J. Dillashaw is the type of fighter who is going to give John Lineker problems. He's not going to get pushed into the cage or be in one place long enough for Lineker to uncork the mallets he calls hands. Similar to Cruz in the fight with Garbrandt, Dillashaw will pick his shots, pivot quickly, and avoid damage against Lineker. Lineker won't be able to cut the cage off and we saw his frustration with this style of fight (to a lesser degree) against John Dodson.
But equally similar to Garbrandt in the fight with Cruz, Lineker has the power to put anybody out. Here's where Lineker is unique though: he's a buzzsaw of violence, who has absolutely no fear. He's willing to take 20 to give one because his chin is made of the black box material (he eats shots from heavy hitters without even flinching on a regular basis) and his hands and feet are made of stone. Yes, that's an apt nickname and yes he's counting on you cracking first. Because you will.
I don't see too much of this fight playing out on the ground, as each fighter has adequate takedown defense and a penchant for striking.
NewYorkRic: "Stun Gun" Dong Hyun Kim is a crusher. He likes to fight in tight spaces, using his size to clinch opponents and drag them to the mat where he can further crush them with top control. Tarec Saffiedine is an accomplished and well-rounded striker with fantastic kicks. He'll need those tools against Kim. In order to keep Kim at bay, he'll need to pepper the legs to slow movement and strike at range. If he can't, even with his tremendous takedown defense, Kim is going to grab a hold and control the fight. I don't see Kim being too concerned with Saffiedine's power (or lack there of), so I expect this to be Stun Gun's fight to lose.
Danny Segura: There are two types of Dong Hyun Kim I’ve seen in the Octagon. The one who is disciplined and calculated and is in to get the win in the most efficient way he knows how, and the one who feels like his life depends on being exciting, who brawls with his opponents, always looking to score a highlight-reel knockout. I enjoy watching both, but obviously the first one is the one likely to get him the win here. Meanwhile, Saffiedine is always consistent with his performances and never really gets out of character. If Kim enters the fight disciplined as I expect, his wrestling, raw power, and pressure should trump Saffiedine’s clean, technical striking.
Louis Smolka vs. Ray Borg
Danny Segura: Fun fight to open up the final UFC pay-per-view of the year. Borg is well-rounded just like most guys at flyweight, but does have a wrestling base. He’s also extremely durable and powerful in his striking and grappling. Smolka might not be as athletic as Borg, but he’s more polished on the ground and on the feet. Smolka should have a decent advantage technically, making him the better fighter here, but Borg’s toughness, pace, athleticism, and advantage in takedowns close that gap enough to make this a tough pick. I believe we’re in for a fun battle, and I think it’ll be a close fight. However, I see Smolka’s technical abilities giving him a slight edge to win a close decision.
NewYorkRic: This is an incredibly difficult fight to call and the betting odds reflect that. Both guys are primarily grapplers, but more so than Smolka, Borg needs to keep this on the ground where he's most comfortable and dangerous. On the feet, Smolka has an advantage, but I think Borg's speed and takedowns will allow him to neutralize that. Smolka will be dangerous in the scrambles, constantly searching for submissions, but ultimately I think Borg can stay out of trouble. Borg will use his superior wrestling, get into top position, and either control the fight from there or pass Smolka's guard and look for his own submission.
Neil Magny def. Johny Hendricks
Alex Garcia def. Mike Pyle
Marvin Vettori def. Antonio Carlos Junior
Brandon Thatch def. Niko Price
Alex Oliveira def. Tim Means