UFC 207 was not only the final show of the UFC’s biggest year for both revenue and news in its history, but it also very much signaled the end of a major era in the sport.
There were a number of signs over the last six months that an era had ended, none bigger than the changing of the guard in regards to ownership that took place over the summer. The slow transition from the Fertitta era to the WME-IMG era was in many ways finalized by the departure of the two longest-lasting fixtures in the UFC — announcer Mike Goldberg and matchmaker Joe Silva, both of whom did their final show at UFC 207 in Las Vegas on Friday night.
That comes in the wake of retirements of other key MMA champions in recent months: Urijah Faber, the person who was the key star in building sub-155 pound fighting; Dan Henderson, one of the sport's most enduring champions and one of the fighters most respected by their fellow competitors; and Miesha Tate, the company's second-most popular female fighter who helped build the UFC's women's side.
It also may have been the final bow for Ronda Rousey, the biggest mainstream star the sport has ever produced.
Goldberg was the lead voice of the UFC for 20 years. It was not one of the UFC's classier moments to not acknowledge that at any point during the broadcast on Friday. It wasn't a secret going in, and after the conclusion of the main event, the last thing left on the agenda was how the company would publicly handle Goldberg's leaving. The answer is that nothing was said at all. No video package, no farewell. Just Goldberg reading the final credits and mentioning how close he was with some of the people whose names he read.
Silva, who was described by insiders as, along with Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta, one of the three key people in building the company, left on his own accord. As part of the $4 billion sale of the company, Silva was cut in for a small percentage. The figure was enough for him to retire at the age of 50, so he made the decision to get out of the rat race and enjoy a more quiet life with his family.
Silva's unlikely story began at an arcade center in Richmond, Va. A huge fan of martial arts and pro wrestling, he made a phone call to Campbell McLaren enthusiastically wanting to talk about the first UFC show. McLaren quickly dubbed Silva as "UFC's No. 1 fan," and his analysis after shows was so strong that McLaren hired him more than 20 years ago. When the Fertittas purchased the company in 2001, they asked Tito Ortiz, their biggest star, who should be their matchmaker. Ortiz suggested Silva. McLaren, when talking about his tenure running UFC in its earliest days, always brings up that he was the first person to hire Silva and Joe Rogan.
Silva was not someone who wanted to be in the spotlight, hence most fans were only aware of him when he'd be introduced at weigh-ins as "the best matchmaker on the planet." His departure also wasn't mentioned on the air, although in his case, he probably wouldn't have wanted a big deal being made about him. Matchmaker is a thankless job, as fans think it's a fun job that they could do better, not understanding the difficulties and time that comes with analyzing fights, scouting fighters, having to look at the future and realizing that outcomes are unpredictable in this business. A matchmaker also has to negotiate contracts and convince fighters and managers to take the fights they think are best, but fights that athletes may not feel the same way about.
Faber retired two weeks earlier with a big win in front of his home fans in Sacramento. The emotion came full circle when his protege, Cody Garbrandt, did the one thing that had eluded Faber after multiple chances, capturing a UFC title. T.J. Dillashaw was the first Team Alpha Male fighter to win a championship, after Faber, Chad Mendes and Joseph Benavidez all stalled at the No. 1 contender position on multiple occasions. Dillashaw then left the team. Making things even sweeter, Garbrandt won his title from Dominick Cruz, Faber's biggest career rival and the person who had nicknamed his fighting family "Team Alpha Fail."
Henderson retired after coming perilously close to winning the middleweight title from Michael Bisping, losing a close decision. Him winning the decision would have been the storybook ending one would script in a movie, but nobody could argue that Henderson walked away with his head held high as a real winner.
Tate looks to have transitioned from the cage to the broadcast booth, with both a Strikeforce and UFC championship on her resume.
And then there's Rousey.
Because Rousey became the most famous fighter UFC ever produced, the fighter even people with little or no interest in UFC knew about, her career will be analyzed in dozens of different ways.
Just as every female fighter owes a debt of gratitude to Gina Carano, who proved that women's fights could draw television viewers at the level of the biggest male stars, they will always owe the greatest debt to Rousey.
Rousey established that the marketing ceiling of a woman fighter is not all that different from a male fighter, a statement that would have been ridiculed as ridiculous four years ago. Her popularity led to the UFC putting on more and more women's fights, and establishing a second and now a third weight class.
As a fighter, you simply couldn't match her record in her first dozen fights, with 11 first-round finishes, almost all in less than 90 seconds. But after her two knockout losses in her last two fights, her career will be viewed differently.
Ultimately, the game progresses and you have to progress with it. Rousey came into the sport as a higher caliber of athlete than most of the women who were around at the time. Amanda Nunes, after beating Rousey in 48 seconds, openly pointed the finger at Rousey's coaching. It was the same finger that was pointed by numerous people after her loss to Holly Holm.
Rousey clearly trained to exploit Nunes' weakness, that she fades in the second round. In doing so, she came in lighter and clearly in the best condition of her career. But instead of getting her body ready for a marathon, she came in with a lack of standing defense and fell victim to Nunes' strength, as Nunes is the hardest puncher in the division. All of the conditioning training ended up being for naught.
Nunes is the classic example of a fighter who improved greatly in recent years. She lost four fights on her way up to the title, three of them being to Alexis Davis, Cat Zingano and Sara D'Alelio — all fighters Rousey beat in seconds. But she turned into a killer in recent years. Tate's game plan against her at UFC 200 was to survive the onslaught and win on conditioning, and the results were almost identical as Rousey’s.
Nunes is not going to become close to the mainstream star Rousey was, and for that matter, still is. It may be a long time before another Rousey comes along, as so much of it was luck and timing. She was the first UFC women's star, an Olympic medalist, and had a look and the gift of gab, at least until she went silent. She also had a strong run of quick wins that added to her mystique. And then she fell. Hard.
Watching Conor McGregor, her rival as the company's top star, and Cruz, who battled through the adversity of one major injury after another, and how they handled high-profile losses was a huge contrast to Rousey's handling of her loss to Holly Holm. Still, for all of the talk about the public turning on her, she was clearly still one of the two most popular fighters to the ticket-buying public, and many fans in the arena were in tears when she lost.
Let's look at how Fortunes changed for five stars of Friday's show.
RONDA ROUSEY — Things didn't just change for Rousey (12-2). They blew up in ways that can't be fully ascertained this early. It may be the end of her fighting career. It may cripple her outside entertainment career, whether it be movies, commercials, or whatever else. Her name is no less known, but the stigma of being the baddest female fighter is gone.
If she chooses to fight again, and that's a big if, she needs to change coaches, and concentrate on shoring up the holes that the last two fights exposed. If at this stage of her life, fighting doesn't mean enough to uproot and change her life, and financially, she has no need to do that, then she should look back on her career and smile. While the losses are part of her legacy, so are the amazing wins. She'll always be the person who got women into the UFC.
The last live FOX card, which did very successful ratings, was headlined by women. The next FOX card is headlined by women. The next pay-per-view event is headlined by women. It was her popularity that opened all those doors. She may not realize it today, but her legacy is secure and the ramifications of her work, both in and out of the cage the past few years will be an important part of the sport for decades to come.
AMANDA NUNES — Nunes (14-4) may be the stabilizing force in the hot potato that was the UFC's women's bantamweight title over the past year, as the title changed hands three times in a row prior to Nunes being the first person since Rousey to successfully defend it.
It's pretty clear that her next fight will be against one of two opponents: the winner of the Jan. 28 FOX main event fight with Valentina Shevchenko (13-2) vs. Julianna Pena (8-2), or the Feb. 11 pay-per-view main event of Holly Holm (10-2) vs. Germaine de Randamie (6-3).
If Holm wins, Holm vs. Nunes is the money fight, unless they earmark Holm for Cris Cyborg. It does have the intrigue because Holm has the defensive boxing skill and footwork that neither Rousey nor Tate possessed. Stylistically, it could be Nunes' toughest fight in the division. Nunes already has a win over Shevchenko via decision. But the lay of the land will be much clearer for Nunes after Feb. 11.
CODY GARBRANDT — Garbrandt's first bantamweight title defense is almost surely going to be against either T.J. Dillashaw (15-3) or Dominick Cruz (22-2).
Garbrandt made it clear that Cruz is his choice. Cruz made it clear he wanted another shot at Garbrandt. Dillashaw made it even more clear that he believes anyone getting a shot but him is a joke.
Both fights have stories. Garbrandt vs. Dillashaw is about former training partners, one who was the star who won the title while the other was working up the ranks. Then Dillashaw left the camp while on top, lost the title, and his old training partner ended up as champion. Garbrandt vs. Cruz is about the smooth-talking future legend getting his rematch after a bad night — his first bad night in the cage in nearly a decade.
To me, Garbrandt vs. Cruz wasn't close enough to warrant an immediate rematch, especially when Dillashaw never got a rematch despite losing his title in a very close decision. Dillashaw followed it up with wins over top contenders Raphael Assuncao and John Lineker. But so much is about name value. Due to his longevity at the top and analyst position on television, Cruz is the bigger name.
DOMINICK CRUZ — If Cruz doesn't get the title shot, his next opponent should be the winner of the Jan. 15 fight with Jimmie Rivera (20-1) against Bryan Caraway (21-7).
The timing is right in the sense that if nobody gets hurt, you could put Garbrandt vs. Dillashaw and Cruz against the Jan. 15 winner, and have a situation where you are guarded against problems if there's an injury leading to the title fight. And if nobody gets hurt and both bouts go on as scheduled, the night would create the next logical title fight.
NEIL MAGNY — Magny (19-6) won a razor close decision with Johny Hendricks (17-6), who missed weight. Magny likely pulled out the win with elbows while on the bottom in the closing seconds of a fight that he'd have lost the decision in had it ended 20 seconds earlier.
Magny came into the fight ranked as the No. 8 contender. Hendricks was No. 6. Lorenz Larkin, who beat Magny and is now a free agent, is No. 7. The only person ranked ahead of Magny that would make sense for him to face would be Carlos Condit (30-10), but it's unclear if Condit wants to continue fighting.
If not, the logical fight is No. 9 contender, Dong Hyun Kim (22-3-1, 1 NC), who won a decision over Tarec Saffiedine on Friday.