UFC 207 will feature the long-awaited return of Ronda Rousey. Since Rousey lost the UFC bantamweight title to Holly Holm at UFC 193, the strap has been tossed around like a game of hot potato from Holm to Miesha Tate to Amanda Nunes. Rousey doesn’t have an easy task to reclaim the title, as Nunes is an aggressive finisher.
The co-main event features another title fight, as Dominick Cruz looks to defend his bantamweight title against heavy-hitting Cody Garbrandt. With Cruz and Garbrandt chirping each other leading into the fight, you should expect some fireworks.
Amanda Nunes vs Ronda Rousey
Nunes is one of the best finishers in MMA today, as 12 of her 13 victories have come via stoppage. Throughout the early part of her career, she got by on her physical gifts but has been gaining the technical skills to go along with it. The biggest leaps and bounds have come in the standup game, as she is learning how to harness her length and power thanks to her work at American Top Team.
Nunes’ wrestling skills are not exactly stellar offensively, but she is great at keeping the fight standing so she can utilize her natural power. If she can get into the clinch, she is powerful and will routinely use this power as a faux wrestling game by knocking her opponent to the ground with her strikes.
Top control is vital to Nunes on the ground, as any extra stress on her cardio is damning for the champion. If she can attain top position, she has brutal ground and pound that capitalizes on her power and her long reach relative to the division. The Brazilian has a black belt in BJJ, but rarely uses it from the top unless she can get hold of her opponent’s back.
There have been two big knocks on Nunes throughout her career: one is cardio and the other is fight IQ. To be quite frank, her cardio is bad. She gases early and she has never been able to put forth much of an effort past the second round. Nunes has made some questionable decisions in the Octagon, but training at ATT and simply having more experience in the cage have helped to temper this issue.
MMA is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sport. Rousey was its biggest star until her mystique-shattering loss to Holly Holm. Ever since, people have been quick to talk down Rousey. However, sometimes a loss is exactly what a fighter needs to get back on track (*cough* Conor McGregor *cough*).
Rousey is not a great technical marvel on her feet but her aggression and power have gotten her this far. This aggression is a double-edged sword, as she can charge in headlong without much regard for her own safety. She has gotten better working on the outside but we saw that she struggles if her opponent can keep her from getting in tight like Holm did.
Rousey’s striking game is all about getting in close to her opponent so she can work in the clinch and utilize her unmatched judo skills. Ronda’s takedown attempts and accuracy rank her near the top in the history of the women's bantamweight division. The variety of skills in the clinch to take a fight to the mat is impressive and she will not stop working until she takes her opponent down.
Rousey’s most famous technique is her armbar, which she has won nine of her 13 professional fights with. This is not by accident, as her jiu-jitsu coaches have built her ground game around her judo skills, which often sees her isolate an opponent’s arm due to her takedown techniques.
There is no doubt that Nunes is going to come out with fire, as her questionable cardio makes it important to end fights early. Rousey knows this and has publicly said she will need to outlast Nunes. Rousey has capitalized on this before, but I believe that Nunes is a more technical, more well-rounded opponent than Rousey has ever fought.
Prediction: Amanda Nunes (+145)
Dominick Cruz vs Cody Garbrandt
There is a legitimate argument to be made that Cruz is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. No fighter in MMA today reaches his level of footwork and his ability to avoid getting hit. Since returning from a two-year injury layoff, Cruz has a striking defense of 75 percent, which means opponents only hit one of every four strikes they throw. His interesting movement in the standup game does generally revolve around controlling the center of the Octagon so he can freely move laterally and retreat after landing strikes. Though he has some pop in his hands, Cruz is more about volume than power punching.
With such a unique striking style, people often overlook that Cruz is one of the best wrestlers in the division as well. Generally speaking, he will use his wrestling offensively simply to add a dimension against his opponents to cause hesitation. More often, he uses his wrestling defensively so he can keep the fight standing.
There isn’t much to say against his skills, to be honest. The champion outworks almost every opponent he enters the Octagon with and seemingly little can be done to stop him from doing so.
Garbrandt is young but has experience well beyond his years. Aside from his perfect 10-0 pro-MMA record, ‘No Love’ was an all-state wrestling champion in high school and was 32-1 during an amateur boxing career. You can see the boxing influences in his striking game, as he is a headhunter with nearly every punch going toward his opponent’s face. Unlike most members of Team Alpha Male, he is a patient counterpuncher who uses his technical prowess and natural speed to hit opponents. The most important note about his striking is his power. He has the ability to knock out any opponent with either hand and may be the most powerful puncher at 135.
As mentioned above, Garbrandt is a skilled wrestler as well. The Ohio native defines himself as a “sprawl-and-brawler,” as he uses his wrestling skills defensively so he can stand and bang with opponents. In his five UFC bouts, not one opponent has been able to take Garbrandt to the mat.
Garbrandt has all the makings of a champion, but you do need to wonder how a 25-year-old with 10 pro fights will fare against one of the best P4P fighters on the planet. I’m sure Garbrandt had plenty of reps against a similar fighter in T.J. Dillashaw at TAM before Dillashaw left, but Cruz is another animal. I think Garbrandt likely tags Cruz a few times, which could be enough, but I think Cruz wears down his opponent like so many others.
Prediction: Dominick Cruz (-200)
T.J. Dillashaw vs John Lineker
Dillashaw is one of the best lighter-weight fighters on the planet. He has become one of the best strikers in the division since joining up with Duane Ludwig. Ludwig has combined Dillashaw’s aggression and volume with great footwork to create a striker whom very few can keep up with. Dillashaw has thrown more than 100 significant strikes in five of his past six fights with only Dominick Cruz outstriking him.
T.J. is also a great grappler, as he competed in wrestling at both a high school and university level. He has the ability to land takedowns if he needs to, but more often uses it defensively in order to properly utilize his striking skills
Lineker is a fist-throwing ball of energy inside the Octagon. There is some technical boxing in his game, but Lineker will generally want to brawl. ‘Hands of Stone’ looks to trap his opponent against the cage and just start tossing haymakers, which would be disastrous if his chin wasn’t made of iron. Lineker lands 5.3 significant strikes per minute but only lands at 38 percent, which means he is throwing almost 15 significant strikes per minute.
Though you would traditionally expect a brawler to be out of his element on the ground, Lineker has a purple belt in BJJ. Again, it’s not likely to look technically perfect, but Lineker has the skills to grab an opportunistic sub. He’s a solid wrestler but can get taken down by the better wrestlers at the weight.
Dillashaw has dominated all of his opponents not named “Dominick Cruz.” Lineker is far from on the same level as Cruz. Lineker can win this if he makes it dirty early, but the fight favors Dillashaw with every passing minute. Lineker is just unable to match the multiple techniques and strikes Dillashaw presents.
Prediction: T.J. Dillashaw (-200)
Louis Smolka vs Ray Borg
Smolka is a tall, lanky fighter who uses his size well for the flyweight division. ‘Da Last Samurai’ is an aggressive high-volume striker who lands more strikes per minute than any other 125’er. Smolka began training in karate at a young age and you can still see shades of that in his stance and kicks in the Octagon.
Wrestling isn’t exactly Smolka’s strong suit, but he is competent both offensively and defensively. His style on the mat is just as aggressive as on the feet, as perfectly encapsulated by his seven submission attempts against Ben Nguyen. If there is one thing that concerns me about Smolka, it’s his inconsistency. Occasionally, he will show up and try to get by on athleticism alone.
Borg is primarily a grappler who has a knack for getting his opponent’s back, with six of his nine career wins coming via submission. There’s no hiding it: Borg wants the fight to go to the mat so he can work his submission game.
In the standup, Borg is basically the definition of “meh.” He has little power and can sometimes try too hard to wind up on his strikes, especially leg kicks. He’s still young, but he hasn’t really adapted a striking style that sets up his grappling game. Instead, he will push forward and toss one harmless punch while shooting for a takedown.
Borg isn’t very active in the striking game and is only really in a good spot if he gets top control. Smolka dropped an upset loss via submission in his last fight, which means he likely spent some time trying to refine that aspect. Both fighters are young and still developing, but Smolka is just much further along.
Prediction: Louis Smolka (+115)
*A breakdown for Dong Hyun Kim vs Tarec Saffiedine is upcoming following the bout's promotion to the main card.
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