And so after an incredible year in MMA, the final UFC event of the year is upon us in the form of UFC 207 and none other than a returning Ronda Rousey is set to close out 2016.
After losing her title at the hands of Holly Holm way back in November of last year, Rousey’s absense from the sport has seen the women’s bantamweight championship passed around from fight to fight before finally settling into the arms of Amanda Nunes at UFC 200. Now with Rousey’s return, Nunes will defend her title for the first time against the division’s most dominant fighter in a fight which will mot likely prove to be the toughest possible test for both women.
If that monumental title fight doesn’t pique your interest, the number two pound-for-pound fighter is also set to defend his own bantamweight title as Dominick Cruz takes on the fast-rising Cody Garbrandt.
As the latest elite fighter off the conveyor belt that is Team Alpha Male, Garbrandt is a heavy hitter who has knocked out all but one of his opponent’s in the cage and will be looking for one sweet punch to land on the elusive Cruz.
There’s also a similar stylistic fight in T.J Dillashaw vs John Lineker in the bantamweight division in what will surely decide the next title challenger while there are excellent fights such as Alex Oliveira vs Tim Means and former UFC champion Johny Hendricks vs Neil Magny set on the undercard.
Amanda Nunes (13-4) vs Ronda Rousey (12-1)
This top three fights on the main card of UFC 207 are all really tough to call.
In the case between Nunes and Rousey, this is a fight that when boiled down to its absolute bare characteristics becomes striker vs grappler.
With the champion, she has a lot more to her game than having strong stand-up skills, however. She is a talented grappler in her own right, is strong in the clinch and possesses some great ground and pound. Combine those skills with some of the fastest and heaviest hands at 135lbs and it is easy to see why she has found her way to the top of the mountain.
The problems that I see arising in this fight, however, are that Nunes’ striking skills aren’t the same as those that Holly Holm employed to beat Rousey at UFC 193.
In the Holm vs Rousey fight, Holm kept away from Rousey’s clinch by utilising her lengthy frame with her arms acting as the separation between their two bodies when in close. Holm also utilised a variety of kicks and sleek footwork to keep the fight at a kickboxing distance which spelt disaster for Rousey’s desire to clinch and I can’t see Nunes being as fleet of foot when Ronda pressures.
It’s also overlooked that despite the domination that Holm had, Rousey still managed to get Holm to the mat with her judo and looked to set up that infamous armbar.
I think Friday night will see Rousey prove her toughness on the feet but she won’t dispel any of the technical deficiencies that she clearly has when striking. That toughness should see her through the initial barrage of Nunes’ aggressiveness and once she looks for that harai-goshi, it could be enough for another submission victory.
Pick: Ronda Rousey
Dominick Cruz (22-1) vs Cody Garbrandt (10-0)
For as much has been said about where Ronda Rousey is mentally heading into UFC 207, the same questions should really be asked of Cody Garbrandt.
Dominick Cruz has used his trademark put-downs and trash talk in the build-up to this fight and has seemingly been successful to completely rattle Garbrandt.
Where the actual fight is concerned, however, Cruz is technically miles ahead of 99% of the fighters in MMA. His creation of angles, footwork and combinations are incredible and he can seamlessly transition into takedowns with his level changes.
The only way I can see Garbrandt winning is catching Cruz with his hand speed and power but Cruz’s evasiveness and grappling should be enough to take the 25-year-old’s strengths away long enough to drag him into deep waters where Cruz can knowingly survive.
Pick: Dominick Cruz
T.J Dillashaw (13-3) vs John Lineker (29-7)
This fight is eerily similar to the Cruz/Garbrandt bout but Lineker has the experience that Garbrandt doesn’t.
It’s no secret that Lineker wants to stand and trade with his opponents but he has an eery knack of enticing his opponents to slug it out with him. Like a predator stalking it’s prey, Lineker cuts the cage on his opponent and his heavy hands have been enough to transition from flyweight to bantamweight with no problem.
Facing off against Dillashaw, however, is a big step up. Dillashaw can keep the pace for five rounds and his feints and footwork have left everyone not named Dominick Cruz bamboozled since the move over to working with ‘Bang’ Ludwig.
I can see Lineker catching Dillashaw with a heavy hook or two along the way but Dillashaw’s own style of aggressiveness and fluidity within his greater striking arsenal should see him edge over the line in the eyes of the judges.
Pick: T.J Dillashaw
Dong Hyun Kim (21-3-1, 1 NC) vs Tarec Saffiedine (16-5)
This welterweight bout should be a fun fight as the pressure of Kim meets Saffiedine’s ability to manage risk and keep the fight at a distance.
Saffiedine has some really nice kickboxing which helps to set the tempo of his fights and he also has the takedown defence needed to keep his fights standing. Kim meanwhile has the pace and pressure to try and stay close to Saffiedine and he also has some smart trips in the clinch.
It’ll be interesting to see whether ring rust affects Kim similar to Rousey’s case but Saffiedine has been wobbled a fair few times in his career and if Kim can land a heavy strike, I can see Kim being able to finish the fight either through a barrage of strikes or by taking Saffiedine to the mat and finding another route to victory there.
Pick: Dong Hyun Kim
Louis Smolka (11-2) vs Ray Borg (9-2)
Another great piece of matchmaking see’s two flyweights meet here and it’s a fight that could play out for the most part on the mat.
Borg and Smolka are both strong grapplers and I wouldn’t be surprised to see both men test their mettle in close quarters but Smolka’s strength in the scramble could play dividends here.
Technically, Smolka is great on the mat but his eagerness to constantly battle and look for submissions does get him into trouble as evident in his last fight. If he can manage the small battles with a bit more caution against Borg, then Smolka should return to winning ways.
Pick: Louis Smolka
(Last Predictions: 2/4, Total: 108/176, 61% Success Rate)