The UFC finishes off a pretty epic 2016 with yet another stacked PPV card that not only houses two championship fights, but also a number one contender scrap between two hard hitting bantamweights.
And Ronda is back.
Since she last fought over a 12 months ago, a lot has changed in the division that she once ruled with iron armbars. The the belt has gone from Holly Holm, to Miesha Tate, to the current champ, the “Lioness” Amanda Nunes.
The co-main pits the fast rising star and knockout artist Cody Garbrandt against one of the top pound-for-pound fighters of all time, Dominick Cruz. Can the Team Alpha Male product lay leather on the champ?
Amanda Nunes vs. Ronda Rousey – for the women’s bantamweight championship
Ronda hasn’t fought since November 2015, in a fight where Holly Holm shocked the world by TKOing the dominant champion. On the other side, Nunes has torn through the division over the past two years, most recently finishing Miesha Tate inside of the first round.
Rousey lost to Holm in part because she wanted to prove that she could stand and trade with a striker. And in so doing she got pieced up early in the fight and never really recovered. If she hopes to beat the new champ she will have to fight to her own strengths, because although Nunes is a BJJ black belt, she has been susceptible to long stretches of being controlled on the ground. Nunes, meanwhile, is a much better striker than Ronda, as we saw when she dominated Shevchenko for two rounds. In addition to her skill on the feet, she is arguably the hardest hitting woman in the division, as she has shown scary power with four KOs or TKOs in her UFC career. Both fighters are fast starters, and look to hurt their opponent early.
This is an extremely difficult fight to call. Last year, the hands down favorite would have been Ronda by a land slide. But how has the layoff affected her? Is her mind completely focused on fighting? I tend to believe so, and am rolling with Ronda in her return by second round submission.
Dominick Cruz vs. Cody Garbrandt – for the bantamweight championship
TJ Dillashaw vs. John Lineker
The winner here will have the strongest argument to take on the winner of Cruz-Garbrandt, and in many ways it is a similar matchup to the title fight. Like Cruz, Dillashaw has excellent footwork, and like Garbrandt, Lineker has insane knockout power.
Lineker will put anyone to sleep who stays in front of him for long, but Dillashaw isn’t the kind of fighter to stay in one spot. He should be able to avoid the power shots from Lineker while landing his own significant strikes en route to a unanimous decision.
Dong Hyun Kim vs. Tarec Saffiedene
Kim has been a staple of the top of welterweight devision for years, with his last loss coming to the current champion, Tyron Woodley. Saffiedene, on the other hand, has lost two of his last three fights, albeit against some of the the better fighters in the division.
Saffiedene is arguable the better striker in this matchup, but Kim’s stand-up has improved greatly over the years and he might actually be the more powerful striker. On the ground or in the clinch, Kim definitely has the advantage. I’m expecting Kim to lock up a submission in the second round.
Louis Smolka vs. Ray Borg
An intersting fight of two rising stars kicks of this main card. Both fighters look to have bright futures, but both are also coming off a loss. Borg can have a suffocating wrestling game, but Smolka is dangerous off of his back and can lock up a submission from seemingly anywhere. On the feet, Smolka is the more active fighter, while Borg is essentially just looking to take his opponent to the mat.
While picking the wrestler is probably the smarter pick, my gut says that Smolka will sink in a submission in round two.