The UFC’s final event of the year is UFC 207, which goes down this Friday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The card is stacked at the top with two title fights along with a number of other exciting fights that have it on pace to be a terrific way to end what has been an amazing year of fights.
These are my top-five things to watch for at UFC 207.
1) Rousey Returns Against Nunes
Superstar Ronda Rousey ($8,400) returns for the first time since losing her title 13 months ago when she takes on UFC women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes ($8,000) in the main event of UFC 207. The 29-year-old Rousey is 12-1 in MMA and 6-1 in the UFC, with all of her wins coming by stoppage. For four years Rousey was by far the top women’s fighter in the world and arguably the most popular fighter in all of MMA, but a shocking KO loss to Holly Holm a year ago at UFC 193 led to a year off for the former champion. Now healthy and ready to fight again, Rousey has a big task at hand when she takes on the current champion Nunes.
The 28-year-old Nunes is 6-1 in the UFC and has won her last four fights in a row including a stunning finish of Miesha Tate to win the title at UFC 200. Nunes is a powerful puncher with a solid submission game and overall is one of the most aggressive female fighters on the UFC roster. However, her one big flaw is her gas tank, as she tends to gas out badly in the third round of her fights. That puts pressure on her to finish her fights, and generally, Nunes has the stopping power to do that, but it makes things shaky if she can’t get an early finish, making this fight with Rousey especially intriguing.
Analysis: Both Rousey and Nunes have clear paths to victory here. For Rousey, she’ll be looking to get a takedown and sink in one of her patented armbars on the ground, while Nunes will look to keep it standing and get the knockout. It’s a tough fight to call, but based on Rousey’s long layoff and questions about her mental game, I have to go with Nunes here. The champ has been very impressive lately and if she can land on Rousey early she has a good chance to get the knockout.
2) Cruz Defends Title Against Garbrandt
UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz ($8,700) looks to make another successful title defense when he takes on Cody Grabrandt ($7,700). The 31-year-old Cruz is 5-0 in the UFC and overall has won his last nine fights in a row dating back to his days in the WEC. Since returning from a potentially career-ending knee injury, Cruz has gone 3-0 in the UFC and has looked better than ever in 2016 with wins over TJ Dillashaw and Urijah Faber to re-establish himself as the sport’s top bantamweight. Cruz is known for his tremendous wrestling skills along with his unique movement on the feet as he’s able to evade most strikes thrown at him and make his opponents look silly in doing so. He is one of the sport’s most well-rounded fighters and there’s an argument to be made he’s the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in MMA.
As for Garbrandt, the 25-year-old is 10-0 in his MMA career and is 5-0 in the UFC. He has finished nine of his 10 opponents by knockout including back-to-back knockouts over Takeya Mizugaki and Thomas Almeida in his last two fights to secure a title shot. Garbrandt has solid takedown defense and great boxing and is clearly one of the division’s top prospects. That being said, Cruz is on another level from everyone else at 135lbs, and it’s difficult to see Garbrandt winning this fight, though he has the KO power to at least make things interesting.
Analysis: Garbrandt has big power, but Cruz is one of the most cerebral fighters in the sport and is extremely difficult to land on. I’m not expecting a hugely-exciting fight here, as I believe Cruz will use his movement to dance around Garbrandt for 25 minutes and sneak in some takedowns to win a unanimous decision.
3) Lineker And Dillashaw Go To Battle
Two top-five bantamweights collide when John Lineker ($7,400) meets TJ Dillashaw ($8,800) in a “Fight of the Night” candidate. Lineker is 10-2 in the UFC and is currently riding a six-fight win streak including a 4-0 mark since moving up to 135lbs. The 26-year-old has trouble making the flyweight limit of 125lbs and the UFC forced him to move up in weight, but he’s arguably looked even better at his new weight class. Lineker has huge power for a bantamweight as well as an underrated grappling game. He also has an iron chin that allows him to stand in the pocket and bang it out with his opponents without fear of being KOed.
As for Dillashaw, the former UFC bantamweight champion is 9-3 in the UFC and has won five of his last six fights with the lone loss being a controversial split decision to champion Dominick Cruz earlier this year where he lost his title. Dillashaw comes from a wrestling background, but it’s his striking that has allowed him to become a champion in the UFC as he uses a high-volume attack to damage his opponents on the feet and he has the knockout power to put his opponents out. He has been knocked out before which of course is a concern when facing a power puncher like Lineker, but overall, Dillashaw is one of the most well-rounded fighters in the bantamweight division and will be very deserving of getting another title shot if he wins this fight.
Analysis: This should be a fun one as both fighters have really good striking and neither is afraid to stand and trade. That being said, I favor Dillashaw. He’s the bigger, longer fighter, and he should also be the faster fighter with the better movement. He also shows more variety in his strikes. I expect Dillashaw to be able to move around Lineker and land more total strikes to win a competitive decision.
4) Hendricks Looks To Rebound Against Magny
Former UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks ($8,000) will look to turn his career around when he takes on Neil Magny ($8,200) in the main event of the FS1 prelims. The 33-year-old Hendricks is 12-5 overall in the UFC, but he has fallen on hard times as of late, losing his last two fights and four of his last six fights overall. Once a devastating striker with tremendous wrestling skills, lately Hendricks has looked like a shell of his former self as he has struggled badly and has also struggled to even make weight. If he’s on point, he’s one of the best welterweights in the world, but at this point there’s no guarantee he is going to get to that championship-level he was once at.
As for Magny, he is 11-4 in the UFC although he is coming off of a KO loss to Lorenz Larkin. Prior to that, Magny had won three-straight fights and was really starting to look like a title contender, but the Larkin fight was a big setback. The 29-year-old has one of the longest reaches at 170lbs, and he uses that reach to pick apart his opponents from long range before taking them to deep waters and finishing them late in fights with his terrific cardio. His takedown defense and his chin are concerns, but overall, he is an incredibly-dangerous fighter and generally shows massive improvements from bout-to-bout.
Analysis: Hendricks looks to be on a huge decline, and despite losing his last fight, Magny continues to improve. I’m looking for Magny to take it to Hendicks on the feet and possibly get a late finish or a decision victory.
5) Means Battles Oliviera In Fight Pass Main Event
The Fight Pass headliner for UFC 207 is an exciting welterweight matchup between Tim Means ($8,400) and Alex Oliveira ($7,800). The 32-year-old Means is 8-4 in the UFC including a 6-2 mark as a welterweight. He has won his last two fights via T/KO and a win over Oliveira could push him into the division’s top-15. Armed with a dangerous striking attack on the feet and an underrated submission game, not to mention a great chin and fantastic cardio, Means has finished four of his last five opponents and has proven to be one of the most dangerous finishers in the division. However, he is still looking for that breakthrough performance to really make a name for himself in the UFC.
As for Oliveira, he is 5-2 in the UFC with three finishes and is coming off an upset KO victory over Will Brooks. That fight took place at lightweight, but the 28-year-old Oliveira badly missed weight for that bout, and the UFC forced him to go back to welterweight. There’s no doubt with his skillset Oliveira has all the tools to make a run for the top-15, the only question is if he’ll be physically strong enough to compete with the bigger welterweights in the division.
Analysis: Both Means and Oliveira are dangerous finishers, and I would be surprised if this fight did not feature a finish. I am leaning towards Means being the one to get that finish. I feel like this fight is going to stay on the feet and I think Means has a sizable advantage in the striking department.
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