It’s off to the T-mobile Arena in Las Vegas this FRIDAY night for the last UFC event of the year as Dana White and his new partners at WME/IMG spoil us with a wonderful line-up of fights. Two titles will be defended on a night when ex-champions and top prospects try to move themselves in an upward trajectory towards the gold.
In the main event of the evening UFC women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes puts her title on the line against the returning former Queen of the division Ronda Rousey.
Born in Riverside, California, Rousey made her name before MMA as both the youngest judoka at the 2004 Olympics and a bronze medalist four years later. When she decided to make the transition to full contact combat it was a pretty fluid move due to her natural aggressiveness and dominating style.
Rousey debuted in amateur MMA in 2010 and won three on the bounce via first round armbar in the unpaid ranks. That run continued into the professional game with two more arms taken home early before Strikeforce came calling. Again, armbars were handed out like mince pies on Christmas Eve there as Rousey earned herself a title shot two fights into her Strikeforce career.
That signaled her first real rise to prominence in MMA. When she tapped Miesha Tate to win the title, it went to a whole new level. Rousey had one title defence against Sarah Kaufman but the call for women’s MMA was now too strong to be ignored and she was crowned the first ever UFC women’s champion.
Wins over Liz Carmouche, Miesha Tate (who this time took her out of the opening round for the first time,) Sara McMann, Cat Zingano and more followed that as Rousey became one of the biggest stars the UFC has ever seen. But as they, what goes up must come down. And that’s exactly what happened to Rousey in November of last year as she was outmaneuvered and finished brutally by Holly Holm in the first loss of her career. Since then she has barely been seen or heard from and returns with much intrigue on Saturday night.
One of the people most intrigued will undoubtedly be her opponent Amanda Nunes. Now the UFC champion, it wasn’t always smooth sailing for “The Lioness.”
Hailing from Bahia, Brazil Nunes studied striking and jiu-jitsu through her youth and made her debut as a 19 year old in 2008. Unfortunately, that first outing turned out to be the polar opposite of Rousey as she lost in the first minute of the first round via armbar.
The setback didn’t deter her though as she showed some great bouncebackability to win five in a row via stoppage. That run earned Nunes a place with Rousey in Strikeforce as she went 1-1 before the UFC takeover.
Unlike Rousey, Nunes wasn’t one of the people who immediately transitioned to the UFC. Instead she fought a couple of times in Invicta before making the move. Wins over Sheila Gaff and Germaine De Randamie got her UFC career off to a good start but a loss to Cat Zingano ended that run.
A theme in Nunes’ career has been coming back from disappointment well and that’s exactly what she did again. A win over Shayna Baszler got her back on track but when Nunes took out Sara McMann and Valentina Shevchenko there was no denying her a title shot against Miesha Tate. Due to insane circumstances, that fight ended up headlining UFC 200 and saw Nunes claim gold with a wonderful striking performance and first round submission.
Against Rousey, something similar is probably what Nunes has in mind.
As a match-up of skills, this is one of the most exciting fights of the year. You have the slick striking, fast moving Nunes against the brute force expert finisher Rousey.
In a perfect world this fight looks extremely different in both participants’ minds. For Rousey, it’s pretty straightforward. Her aim will be to close the distance, get a hold of Nunes, loosen her hips, fling her to the ground and rip her elbow joint to shreds
For Nunes, though, it’s a little bit more complicated. Normally her style is very effective. Great footwork, solid takedown defence, good jiu-jitsu, slick countering and an aggressive high gear which is flicked on when needs be.
And although that aggressiveness is a positive trait, it’s not something which she will want to go to too often in this particular fight.
When fighting Ronda Rousey you need to let her come on to you. You can’t get into her range because she will have her mind set on clinching and tossing you while you’re trying to get off a combination. She knows all she needs is one throw to win the fight.
That fact probably leads to Nunes sticking and moving for most of the fight. And although she’s well capable of doing that it’s not that simple. Even when Rousey was destroyed by Holly Holm, she had her opportunities on the inside and even got Holm to the ground on a couple of occasions.
For Nunes, it’s these positions which will win or lose her the fight. Like Holm, she needs to defend in an unorthodox way against the unorthodox clinch of Rousey. Rather than the usual hooks around the arms, it’s getting a hand on the inside of Rousey to stop her hip tossing you that’s all important. If you take that away, you win the fight. If you don’t, you will have to defend for your life on the ground. And you’ll probably still get armbarred.
When picking this fight I really am not sure at all. The reason for that is twofold. Firstly, we just don’t know if Nunes can defend against the unusual game of Rousey until she’s in there. Secondly, we have no idea what mental or physical shape Ronda Rousey is in after a year out of the sport.
If I’m pushed though, I’m picking Rousey. Sometimes in MMA we tend to forget the qualities people possess after a bad loss. And although, for my money, Amanda Nunes is the most talented all around female fighter in the UFC, there’s no doubt that Rousey is the best athlete. The way she plays the game, that’s a huge advantage to have.
In the co-main event of the evening, the other UFC bantamweight title is up for grabs as two-time champion Dominick Cruz takes on the latest team alpha male product Cody Garbrandt.
A long time WEC stand-out with wins over the likes of Joseph Benavidez and Ian McCall, Cruz was crowned the UFC champion in 2011 following the merger of the two companies. And although he quickly defended his belt two times against Urijah Faber and Demetrious Johnson, injury ravaged the next 3 years of his career and forced him to be stripped of his belt.
Upon his return, Cruz smashed up Takeya Mizugaki inside of a round but again wound up injured and out for a year. Amazingly, Cruz came right back and won the title against TJ Dillashaw in a close decision. That return was rubber-stamped with another win over Urijah Faber as Cruz now looks to have recovered to a good level of health.
That’s something he’s going to have to have on Saturday night as he takes on the red hot Cody Garbrandt over five rounds.
The Ohio native has won all ten of his bouts so far with nine knockouts and one decision elevating him to the championship level.
Always quick to rise, it took Garbrandt just a handful of wins and two years to get the UFC call having made his debut in 2012. Like UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor, his maiden Octagon appearance came against Marcus Brimage and ended in brutal fashion with a third round knockout. Wins over Henry Briones and jiu-jitsu ace Augusto Mendes followed that before Cody really hit the big-time.
In May of this year he headlined his first event and knocked out the extremely talented Thomas Almeida in the process. That win was probably enough to put Garbrandt in the title running but another KO for good measure against the aforementioned Takeya Mizugaki at UFC 202 sealed the deal.
As a set of fighters these two are very different. Cruz is an ultra complicated practitioner with every trick in the book. He uses his unique fakes, striking, wrestling, footwork and head movement to bamboozle opponents into not knowing what’s coming next or where it’s coming from.
Garbrandt on the other hand is a lot more conventional but special in his own ways. His best feature is undoubtedly his power striking. He has the ability to finish anyone with one strike and sets it up well with a bouncing, in and out style of movement. Although it’s usually more in than out. Along with that, his speed is absolutely frightening and he hits with a precision rarely seen in the sport.
Over five rounds, apart from TJ Dillashaw, I find it very hard to see anyone coming close to beating Dominick Cruz. To beat Cruz I think the skills which Garbrandt has are exactly what you need. You need to be fast. You need to be precise. You need to finish him with one punch. And, most importantly, you need to be patient.
But that’s easier said than done.
Fighting Dominick Cruz can be a soul destroying task. You can have all the desire and ability you want to go out and solve the riddle but after 3 minutes a realisation sets in that you just can’t hit him. That often leads to people getting desperate which just plays into his hands more.
For Garbrandt, he has to take the chance early. Follow Cruz around the cage, try not to fall for his feints, make him throw first and hit him at speed. If he can connect, he can finish him but that’s going to be the biggest problem.
I think this is a fantastic match-up because of Garbrandt’s power and precision but I just get the feeling that he won’t play to his strengths and instead he’ll try to out-Cruz Cruz. If that does happen, Dominick Cruz will win at least four rounds on his way to a decision.
Outside of that, the biggest fight on this card, now that Velasquez vs. Werdum was cancelled, sees former champions TJ Dillashaw take on Brazilian power hitter John Lineker.
Like co-main event, this is very much a meeting of multi dimensional footwork and striking against power hitting. Lineker has improved exponentially over the last few years in terms of cutting off the cage and landing his strikes but you’d have to think Dillashaw is just a step too far. The Brazilian is always dangerous, but it’s hard not to see TJ picking his shots and taking it on the judges’ cards.
Also make sure to keep an eye on Johny Hendricks vs. Neil Magny and Dong Hyun Kim vs. Tarec Saffiedine while Louis Smolka vs. Ray Borg is a fantastic fight which could steal the show.
FULL FIGHT PICKS
Amanda Nunes vs. Ronda Rousey – Rousey by armbar
Dominick Cruz vs. Cody Garbrandt – Cruz by decision
T.J. Dillashaw vs. John Lineker – Lineker will be tough but TJ gets it done
Dong Hyun Kim vs. Tarec Saffiedine – Tarec via technique
Louis Smolka vs. Ray Borg – Love this fight, 50-50, but Smolka
Johny Hendricks vs. Neil Magny – Magny
Mike Pyle vs. Alex Garcia – Garcia
Antônio Carlos Júnior vs. Marvin Vettori – ACJ
Brandon Thatch vs. Niko Price –Thatch
Alex Oliveira vs. Tim Means – Oliveira
BET OF THE WEEK
Rousey vs. Nunes to end via 1st round submission for either fighter at 21/10
START TIMES (Friday Night)
Early Prelims – 12.30am on Fight Pass
Prelims – 1am on Fight Pass or BT Sport
Main Card – 3am on BT Sport
Lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Co-host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Tuesday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more.
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