The UFC returns for its last show in 2016 with UFC 207: Rousey vs. Nunes at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The main event pits the return of Ronda Rousey against women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes. The co-main event is also a title match, as Dominick Cruz defends his bantamweight championship against the surging Cody Garbrandt. I’m here to offer my take on the match-ups yet again, so let’s get to it, and let’s win some money.
Ronda Rousey ($8,400) vs. Amanda Nunes ($8,000)
The face of women’s MMA finally makes “The Return” as Ronda Rousey takes on women’s bantamweight champion, Amanda Nunes. It’s been just over a year since Rousey was brutally knocked out by Holly Holm in Australia, and the belt has changed hands on more than one occasion in the meantime. Holm was defeated by Miesha Tate in her first defense of the title, and then Tate was roughed up by Nunes at UFC 200 in July. Nunes wanted this match-up, and wisely so in regards to taking her career to the next level with casual fans of the sport. This fight is pretty cut and dry for me to make a pick on. Everything is going to come down to what kind of Ronda Rousey shows up on fight night. She had been incredibly successful at blitzing her opponents, and then capitalizing with her elite judo throw to armbar finish, or landing a knockout blow like she did against Sarah McMann and Bethe Correia. That kind of style finally went horribly wrong when she faced a fighter like Holm, a successful boxer with good footwork and the ability to counter Rousey’s sloppy advancements. Holm was able to sit back and pick Rousey apart before she landed the knockout blow, a head kick. This is definitely a worry of mine with Rousey in this on as well. If she hasn’t learned from that fight, and stubbornly employs the same type of game plan, she’s in for another quick beating. Nunes has incredible boxing herself, as we witnessed in the fight with Tate. To make matters worse for Rousey, she is still being coached and cornered by Edmond Tarverdyan, who has made it clear as day that he’s become a detriment to his fighters. To sum it all up, Rousey has some massive obstacles to overcome if she wants to reclaim her title. Despite all of that, I think Rousey finds a way to win this fight. Nunes looked amazing in her win over Tate, and she has been improving every fight, but I have some concerns with her game. The biggest of them, is her conditioning. She barely hung on to win against Valentina Shevchenko after dominating the first 2 rounds, after her cardio failed her. Had that been a title fight, she may not have made it out of the cage with a win. If Rousey is able to land her trips and throws, and keep Nunes on the floor for a few rounds, I would not be shocked to see Nunes gas. My pick for this one is going to be Rousey. She has all the tools to make a successful comeback. She’s an Olympic level athlete, has a virtually unbeatable ground game, and will be smart enough to evolve from her mistakes in the Holm fight. Rousey comes out more calculated in this one, times her tie ups better, and will eventually land a throw where she can capitalize with her favorite submission. The pick is Rousey by armbar late in the second round.
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Dominick Cruz ($8,700) vs. Cody Garbrandt ($7,700)
I have been looking forward to this fight since it was officially announced in October. Dominick Cruz defends his reclaimed bantamweight title against Team Alpha Male’s newest young gun, Cody Garbrandt. Cruz once again finds himself battling a member of the team he has made a career competing against. The buildup to this fight has been nothing short of spectacular, making an exciting match-up that much more enticing. This will be Cruz’s third fight in 2016, after fighting just twice in about five years due to catastrophic injuries. He recaptured the title in a thriller against TJ Dillashaw in January, and then defended the belt against archrival Urijah Faber in June. Next up for Team Alpha Male is Cody Garbrandt, and the 25-year-old has been on an absolute tear this year, winning all three of his bouts by knockout in the first round. He was expected to be tested by the undefeated Thomas Almeida, as well as veteran Takeya Mizugaki, but Garbrandt starched both in under four minutes combined. Cruz and Garbrandt have been at each other’s throats before this fight was ever even a reality, and that vitriol has been unending. I’ll be interested to see how the clash of styles plays out here. Cruz is well-known for his ridiculous footwork and his ability to go almost untouched for 5 rounds. Garbrandt is a great boxer with insane power in his punches. Can Cruz get inside and land enough offense without getting crushed by Garbrandt’s haymakers? Conversely, can Garbrandt cut Cruz’s angles off, and land enough shots to put Cruz away? I’m banking on the latter for my pick. I think Cody has the right amount of everything in his game to get a win over the champion. Cody hits too hard, is patient enough to deal with Cruz’s awkward game, and is riding a wave of momentum that will be tough to overcome. He’s also in it mentally, and has not been broken by Cruz’s psychological warfare games. In an upset, I’m taking Garbrandt by TKO in the third frame. He’ll corner Cruz just long enough to land a devastating combination that floors the champion, and the end will come after a few follow-up shots.
TJ Dillashaw ($8,800) vs. John Lineker ($7,400)
Just before the bantamweight championship fight, a bantamweight number-one contender fight takes place as TJ Dillashaw fights the heavy-handed John Lineker. The former bantamweight champion returns after avenging his loss to Raphael Assuncao at UFC 200, and will surely get a shot at the winner of the title fight with a win. His opponent has been on an impressive run. Lineker has won six bouts in a row, including four straight at bantamweight, where he now permanently resides after missing weight at flyweight an astounding four times. In his latest fight, he missed weight yet again, but finally righted the ship on the scale for this one. This should be a fun one to watch. Dillashaw, like Cruz, is known for his awkward movements and great counter attacks, as well as a good wrestling game. Lineker is known for one thing, and that is his overwhelming punching power. Though he seems pretty one-dimensional, his power has carried him extremely well as of late, and is probably just a win away from challenging for a title. This is probably the easiest fight for me to dissect. Lineker doesn’t seem like he’s too big on game plans, and that is a recipe for disaster against a fighter like Dillashaw, who in addition to being extremely talented, is also incredibly well-coached. Lineker will undoubtedly look for the knockout shot, while Dillashaw will use a calculated attack, scoring points on counter shots all night long. Dillashaw will tune Lineker up for three rounds, avoiding the winging bombs, and wins a clear-cut unanimous decision.
Dong Hyun Kim ($8,500) vs. Tarec Saffiedine ($7,700)
Another fighter with a long layoff makes their return when Dong Hyun Kim fights Tarec Saffiedine. Kim has not been seen in 2016, but is riding a two-fight win streak with two finishes. Saffiedine has had a rough go of it in his last three bouts, winning just once. He has lost to top notch competition in Rory MacDonald and Rick Story, and a win over Jake Ellenberger is sandwiched in between those losses. Amazingly, this will be just the fifth appearance for Saffiedine in the UFC since his debut in January 2014. This fight will be yet another clash of styles. Kim is most certainly going to look to drag Saffiedine to the mat, while Saffiedine would be wise to do everything he can to keep this one standing. Saffiedine has trained with Tristar in Montreal, as well as Team Quest in Temecula, so I must assume he’s drilled takedown defense non-stop in preparation for this one. In another upset, I’m taking Saffiedine here. It wouldn’t shock me to see Kim lay on the former Strikeforce champion for three rounds, but I truly think we see one of those impressive performances Saffiedine has had in him in the past. Saffiedine keeps this one on the feet, and finds Kim’s chin later in the fight. The pick is Saffiedine by knockout late in the second round.
Louis Smolka ($8,300) vs. Ray Borg ($7,900)
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Flyweights open the main card on pay-per-view, as Louis Smolka battles Ray Borg in a catchweight affair. Ray Borg was one of two fighters on the card that missed weight, so this will not be an official flyweight fight. Smolka has been very impressive since his debut in early 2014, going 5-2 thus far, including a four-fight win streak that was recently halted in October. He was shockingly upset by newcomer Branden Moreno, and will look to rebound against a tough fighter. Borg also saw a winning streak end in his most recent outing when he dropped a decision to Justin Scoggins. Before that, he had won three in a row. This will be a fun fight between two younger guys looking to take a big step forward in their respective careers. Smolka will have a huge advantage right out of the gate with his height and reach both being superior to Borg’s. Borg must overcome five inches’ difference in height, and 6 inches in reach, which could, and probably will make for a rough night. I think this becomes a back and forth battle quickly, and will be a close one until the end. I truly think that Smolka’s length advantages will be too much for Borg to get the better of the exchanges. My pick is Louis Smolka by decision.
Neil Magny ($8,200) vs. Johny Hendricks ($8,000)
Neil Magny gets yet another stern test here, as he takes on Johny Hendricks in the premier fight on FS1. Hendricks again missed weight for this fight, his second miss in a row on the scale. He also was hospitalized prior to a UFC 192 bout with Tyron Woodley due to a bad weight cut, so needless to say, he’s had a litany of issues at this point in his career. He’ll face Magny here, who has been fed monster after monster following a seven-fight win streak. He lost his most recent bout to Lorenz Larkin, following impressive wins over Hector Lombard and Kelvin Gastelum. Aside from the surprising loss to Larkin, Magny has improved in every fight he’s had in the UFC, and I expect him to have trained extremely hard for this fight following that loss. For Hendricks to win, he’ll have to take Magny down at will, and he’ll need to hold him there. That is the only path to victory I see for him here. Unfortunately for the former welterweight champ, he seems almost disinterested in his wrestling game these days. He has great punching power, but if opponents can avoid his bombs, he becomes extremely beatable. Magny is a fighter who is constantly moving when he’s on his feet, spelling trouble for Hendricks there. Hurting Hendricks even more is his lack of conditioning. He’s proven time and again to not be prepared for a lengthy fight, which spells disaster for him here as well, as Magny shows up in great shape every fight. I predict much of the same for Hendricks here. Until he shows any kind of improvement in the cardio department, as well as a desire to return to what has made him successful (wrestling), I cannot pick him to win any fight. Magny sticks and moves on Hendricks for three rounds, avoiding punishment and using his length to score points in the exchanges, leading to a unanimous decision victory.
Alex Garcia ($8,600) vs. Mike Pyle ($7,600)
Tristar’s Alex Garcia will look to rebound from a disappointing run of appearances against long-time veteran Mike Pyle. Garcia opened his career with two straight wins before dropping two of his last three bouts, making this essentially a must-win situation for him. 41-year-old fan-favorite Mike Pyle makes yet another appearance in The Octagon, and is also in need of a win, or he could realistically be forced into retirement. He has lost four of his last six, and most of them in brutal fashion. Fighting professionally since 1999, Pyle has nothing left to prove at this point, especially to fans, and it would be cool to see him leave MMA behind on an exciting win. Unfortunately, I don’t foresee that happening here. Though he’s been on an unimpressive run, he’s the type of fighter that will give Pyle a rough night. He packs a lot of power with his stocky frame, and Pyle’s chin has understandably been failing him at this stage in his career. I can see the fight starting out slow, before Garcia connects on Pyle’s jaw. The finish will come shortly after, hopefully guiding Pyle into retirement. The pick is Garcia by knockout in the second round.
Antonio Carlos Junior ($8,100) vs. Marvin Vettori ($8,100)
TUF Brazil winner Antonio Carlos Junior will try to keep the momentum rolling against Italian prospect Marvin Vettori. Carlos Junior finally got back into the win column after a no contest and a TKO loss to Dan Kelly when he submitted Leonardo Augusto Guimaraes in September. The Brazilian won at heavyweight on The Ultimate Fighter, but has since seemed to find a home at middleweight. He’ll face the young Italian Marvin Vettori who looked impressive in his UFC debut when he submitted Alberto Emiliano Pereira in the first round of their August tussle. Vettori has opened his young career on a tear, finishing ten opponents in eleven of his victories. Though this is a preliminary bout, it will be by far the most important fight for both men in their careers to this point, which should provide for some good action. I have not been impressed with Carlos Junior since his debut, while Vettori’s career thus far has provided an excitement to see if he can become another young star in the UFC ranks. Though Carlos Junior is an accomplished jiu-jitsu black belt, I think Vetorri’s ground game is good enough to avoid being submitted in this one. These undercard fights are notorious for providing value to Draftkings players as well as bettors who take the underdog, and I think Vettori provides great value to both. At +115 in the betting market and only $8,100 on Draftkings, I’m taking the Italian in a small upset here. I think Vettori keeps it on the feet long enough to catch the Brazilian. I’m taking Vettori here by TKO in the third round.
Brandon Thatch ($9,000) vs. Niko Price ($7,200)
FS1 gets a battle of strikers to open their portion of the card a Brandon Thatch fights UFC newcomer Niko Price. Once one of the absolute brightest prospects in MMA, Thatch is now desperate to just win one fight. After opening his UFC career with two impressive knockouts, Thatch has dropped his last three fights in a row, all of them by submission. At this point, it’s no secret that Thatch is basically allergic to any style of grappling, and has been exposed on the mat by each of his last three opponents. It looks like the UFC is doing him a solid here, matching him up with Price, who along with being a newcomer, he’s also a fighter with a striking base. Price also has a competent enough ground game to give Thatch issues should the fight go there, but I’m not sure his experience is enough to do it. Price is another extremely valuable play here in tournaments for Draftkings, as Thatch’s ground game is so putrid, a submission could happen to no one’s surprise. I just believe Thatch is too experienced for Price this early in his career. I wouldn’t advise playing this contest at all if you can avoid it. The pick is Thatch by way of knockout in the first round.
Tim Means ($8,400) vs. Alex Oliveira ($7,800)
UFC Fight Pass seems to have gotten another high-quality fight with this one. Riding a two-fight win streak, Tim Means looks to keep the momentum rolling against Alex Oliveira, who is also in the midst of a two-fight string of victories. This is a fight for the fans, as both men have records littered with crowd-pleasing performances. This is the fight on the card for me that truly could go either way. I picture it playing out on the feet for as long as it lasts, and I don’t see it lasting long. Both men will come out ready to win quick, and a knockout is likely. I think Means is the more polished striker, and will clip Oliveira sooner rather than later with a fight-ending combination. In a quick barnburner, Means wins by knockout in the first round.
Ronda Rousey ($8,400)
TJ Dillashaw ($8,800)
Tarec Saffiedine ($7,700)
Louis Smolka ($8,300)
Neil Magny ($8,200)
Alex Garcia ($8,600)