The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Friday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas will close the book on 2016, as Amanda Nunes defends the women’s bantamweight championship against returning former titleholder Ronda Rousey in the UFC 207 main event. Meanwhile, UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz puts his title on the line against undefeated Team Alpha Male standout Cody Garbrandt in the co-headliner.
The remainder of the five-fight main draw shines the spotlight on a bantamweight clash matching T.J. Dillashaw with John Lineker, a welterweight battle pitting Tarec Saffiedine against Dong Hyun Kim and a flyweight scrap pairing Louis Smolka with Ray Borg.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC 207 “Nunes vs. Rousey” matchup, with analysis and picks:
UFC Women’s Bantamweight ChampionshipAmanda Nunes (13-4) vs. Ronda Rousey (12-1)
THE MATCHUP: How much has changed since Rousey last set foot in the Octagon? The bantamweight title she lost to Holly Holm was quickly snagged by Miesha Tate. Then Holm’s own star began to fade when she lost her second bout in a row. Tate, too, lost the belt and then lost her own follow-up fight before announcing her retirement. That brings us to Nunes: 2016 has been a great year for “The Lioness,” but like many of the fighters in her division, she is far from perfect. Her issues with stamina are well-documented, and no amount of training seems to have stretched her gas tank, even if her striking technique has improved by leaps and bounds.
Of course, Rousey is not immune to the same criticisms. It is difficult to call her a one-round fighter, but that does not change the fact that Rousey’s whole career has been one long string of one-round fights. Her collapse against Holm was both mental and physical, as Rousey’s legs were rubbery well before the start of Round 2. Who is to say whether Rousey really could capitalize on Nunes’ exhaustion in a second round or whether she will be too exhausted herself to try.
Both Rousey and Nunes are extremely dangerous. Nunes boasts 12 finishes, the most impressive of which was her title-clinching victory over Tate. She is almost certainly the hardest puncher in the division. However, where Rousey’s natural power has gone largely untapped, Nunes has turned herself into a laser-guided knockout artist. She throws cracking straight punches with both hands, all while keeping herself balanced while finding small angles between attacks; and when Nunes’ opponents fail to engage, she happily chops apart their legs with kicks. Nunes is not a spectacular takedown artist, but she is no slouch on the ground. In fact, ground-and-pound may be her strongest skill, though it would be unwise to hang around in Rousey’s guard.
Where most consistent finishers these days are scoring knockouts, Rousey’s specialty has always been the ground game. It is difficult to describe how much better Rousey’s grappling is than that of her peers. As always, her record is her strongest selling point. Her nine career wins by submission have cost Rousey only 23 minutes total of cage time -- less than a single championship fight. Rousey’s game is certainly specialized, but no one but Holm has ever survived Rousey’s clinch.
THE ODDS: Rousey (-138), Nunes (+118)
THE PICK: This is such a difficult fight to call. We have a good idea of both fighters’ shortcomings, but only a foggy notion of what Rousey will look like after her year-long hiatus from competition. Did Holm shatter her confidence for good or is she determined to prove her place among the pantheon of MMA greats? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain: Taking punches from Nunes is much, much worse than taking punches from Holm. If Rousey’s approach is anything like the one that lost her the belt, she may not even get to see what Nunes looks like in the second round. That is the outcome I expect. The pick is Nunes by first-round TKO.
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