The Ultimate Fighting Championship looks to close out an impressive run in 2016 on Friday night with UFC 207. The pay-per-view event features a championship double-header, with a headlining bout between women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes and former title holder Ronda Rousey.
The biggest storyline coming into the fight is Rousey’s avoidance of the spotlight and media during the buildup to the event.
Once the face of women’s mixed martial arts, Rousey fell off the map following a loss to Holly Holm in November of last year to refocus herself. Rousey now appears in top shape and as motivated as ever on her quest to reclaim her title.
In the co-main event, bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz defends his title against heavy-handed challenger Cody Garbrandt, an undefeated product of Team Alpha Male.
UFC 207 takes place at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada in what promises to be a thrilling night.
How should the action play out on Friday night? Let’s take a look.
Preliminary CardEmbed from Getty Images
Neil Magny def. Johny Hendricks
Antonio Carlos Junior def. Marvin Vettori
Alex Garcia def. Mike Pyle
Brandon Thatch def. Niko Price
Alex Oliveira def. Tim Means
Louis Smolka vs. Ray BorgEmbed from Getty Images
To kickoff the main card, Louis Smolka and Ray Borg go head-to-head an what should be an exciting flyweight affair. Unfortunately, there was mishap during weigh-ins and Borg came in overweight.
That could play in Borg’s advantage as he was already considered the better wrestler, but Smolka’s wildcard will be his reach advantage and creativity on the ground in the submission game.
If the fight stays standing, Smolka should be able to pick Borg apart. If Borg gets Smolka on his back he will have his best path to victory, but Smolka’s length and scrappiness will ultimately be the deciding factor wherever the fight takes place.
The Pick: Louis Smolka def. Ray Borg via unanimous decision
Dong Hyun Kim vs. Tarec SaffiedineEmbed from Getty Images
Tarec Saffiedine just hasn’t been the same fighter he was when he was the reigning Strikeforce champion for quite some time. In his past three fights, he has suffered losses to Rory MacDonald and, most recently, Rick Story.
Kim, on the otherhand, has been impressive since a loss to Tyron Woodley in 2014, finishing two consecutive opponents. The biggest question for Kim will be how he performs in the cage after more than a year out of action.
Ultimately, look for Kim to use his size to smother Saffiedine against the cage and on the mat en route to a grinding decision win.
The Pick: Dong Hyun Kim def. Tarec Saffiedine via unanimous decision
TJ Dillashaw vs. John LinekerEmbed from Getty Images
This could be one of the easier bouts to pick on the night because of two reasons: 1) Lineker is a bloated flyweight who couldn’t manage his weight enough to stay at 125 pounds and 2) Lineker’s only path to victory is to hope he lands one of his concrete fists upside Dillashaw’s head.
On the other hand, Dillashaw has plenty of technical advantages and a more diverse skillset.
Dillashaw has also proven to be the smarter fighter throughout his career, so as long as he is able to avoid being pulled into a slugfest he should be able to use his movement or wrestling to find his advantage.
The Pick: TJ Dillashaw def. John Lineker via unanimous decision
Dominick Cruz vs. Cody GarbrandtEmbed from Getty Images
In the first of two title fights, there is plenty of bad blood. Cruz and Garbrandt have been going back and forth with a battle of words, which has been a clear advantage for the reigning champion. You almost have to wonder if Cruz got into Garbrandt’s head, with the Team Alpha Male product losing his cool at seemingly every turn.
The problem for Garbrandt is that he is very aggressive and relies heavily on his knockout power. Against a fighter like Cruz, you need to remain poised and patient; something Garbrandt has been lacking in media appearances during fight week.
Cruz has the better movement, better wrestling and better clinch game. After all, he is one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the sport.
Look for Cruz to use his movement to weather the early storm, frustrate Garbrandt and eventually take the fight to the mat where he will outgrapple Garbrandt en route to finding a position to lock in the fight-ending submission.
The Pick: Dominick Cruz def. Cody Garbrandt via submission – Round 3
Amanda Nunes vs. Ronda RouseyEmbed from Getty Images
There is no telling how this fight will go. Nunes has devastating power and impressive jiu jitsu, while the biggest concern for Rousey is her mindset and potential ring rust after more than a year out of action following the first loss of her professional career.
If Rousey gets cracked by one of Nunes’ big shots will she panic? Could one hard hit bring back the memories of that devastating loss to Holm? Or has Rousey’s media blackout truly been to eliminate all outside distractions in order to get her mind right and put her full focus on reclaiming her title?
Rousey was the most dominant women in mixed martial arts and carried the 135-pound division for years. The last time Rousey suffered a heart-breaking defeat was in judo and she was able to rally from that loss to become the dominant force she was before running into Holm.
I expect Rousey to come back with that same fire and laser focus as she goes back to her roots, closes the distance on Nunes to get the clinch and land one of her impressive throws to get the champion on her back.
Once Rousey has Nunes on the mat, she will look to remind the world why she was once the queen at 135 with a convincing submission win.
The Pick: Ronda Rousey def. Amanda Nunes via submission – Round 1