WATCH: TOMMY TOE HOLD – FULL CARD BREAKDOWN
As we wind down the final days of 2016, so too does the UFC wind down their calendar of events with their annual New Year’s Eve-Eve card. In a year filled with highs and lows, the promotion’s 207th numbered pay-per-view offering, headlined by none other than the queen of PPV, Ronda Rousey, promises non-stop action from the opening bout to the main event.
Rousey will return for the first time in over a year to challenge the current champion, Amanda Nunes, for the women’s bantamweight title. It’s a fight that makes for a fitting end to the biggest year in the sport’s history — a fight that will no doubt have fans around the globe on the edge of their seats.
The rest of the card isn’t too shabby either. Bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz puts his belt on the line when he takes on the red hot Cody Garbrandt, and the return of the “Stun Gun,” Dong Hyun Kim are just a few reasons for tuning in to this silver platter of fight fodder.
Amid all these fantastically matched fights lurks the potential for upset. The mighty underdog is just itching to spoil fights — to prove that the old adage “anything can happen in MMA” is founded in truth. As is my routine, I’ve selected four fighters that I believe will be those spoilers. These are the athletes that could be a points windfall for your fantasy teams. This is the last card of the year, so go big or go home!
Tim Means $8,400 / Alex Oliveira $7,800
Tim “Dirty Bird” Means is a lanky striker with real knockout power and an excellent awareness of how to make his reach and height advantage work for him. He’s a flashy kicker and has some excellent combinations. He’s also got a shark’s mentality in that once he senses his opponent’s distress (much like a shark smelling blood in the water), he goes for the finish. Of his 26 wins, 22 of them have been finishes.
So, where’s the problem with Means? His ground game is the issue. He’s got decent grappling skills, but against a solidly-built, power grappler like “Cowboy” Oliveira, a man that can absolutely muscle him to the ground and hold him there, “decent” likely won’t be enough.
Oliveira also packs power, but where he shines is from the top position, landing plenty of cumulative ground and pound. He’ll be at a 3” height disadvantage, but he comes in heavy (see last fight against Will Brooks), whether on weight or not. This cat is a veritable tank, and he often outmuscles his opponents. With this fight being at 170, the weight Oliveira should, in my humble opinion, be fighting at all the time, we may see the emergence of the best “Cowboy” Brazil has to offer.
Alex Oliveira via (T)KO
TJ Dillashaw $8,800 / John Lineker $7,400
TJ Dillashaw is a great wrestler and has become a very well-rounded mixed martial artist. His two performances against Renan Barao, and even the loss to Cruz were shining examples of his evolution. He’s got a very bright future, but directly in front of him Friday night is a man who can knock the chimney off a brick house without breaking a sweat.
The X factor in this fight is Lineker’s ridiculous power. He’s not the most technically sound striker, but what he lacks in technique, he makes up for in explosion and the ability to separate one from consciousness without even having to land totally flush. He’s basically blunt force trauma looking for a place to happen, and Dillahsaw may find himself with a ring of birds singing to him from a few inches above his head.
John Lineker via (T)KO
Dominick Cruz $8,700 / Cody Garbrandt $7,700
Dominick Cruz is a magician of fancy footwork and excellent distance management. His striking is exceptionally technical, but not overly powerful. His forte is to outwork his opponents, and he does it well, often running circles around them — a master of landing while not getting hit. He’s MMA’s equivalent of Floyd Mayweather, and it’s a real treat to watch him work.
Cody Garbrandt is a package of straight nitro channeled into a beautiful right hand, that when landed, almost always means the end of the fight. He’s got great boxing skills and what seems to be a very sturdy chin. He’s also a very good wrestler with a phenomenal blast double.
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Cody since before he had his first amateur fight, and what’s always stood out to me is his unwavering determination to be the best. He is undoubtedly facing the best competition in the world when he meets Cruz in the Octagon Friday night, but I’ve got a feeling that “No Love” will be getting a shiny, new piece of gold bling for his effort.
Cody Garbrandt (T)KO
Ronda Rousey $8,400 / Amanda Nunes $8,000
Ronda Rousey had a near flawless run up until she met Holly Holm last year. I say “near flawless” because a couple women managed to make headway with her, despite ultimately losing in their efforts.
At UFC 157, Liz Carmouche torqued her head so tightly in that neck crank that Ronda’s teeth went through her mouth piece and left marks on Liz’s arm. For a few moments, Ronda was in a battle. She was triumphant, but there was a brief space in time when we all held our collective breath and wondered if she’d get out of Carmouche’s clutches.
Holm literally fought the perfect fight against her, frustrating Ronda to the point where she got a little sloppy, despite finding success in the early going of their bout. That frustration led to her very first career loss.
Ronda should, by no means, be underestimated, She’s a brilliant judoka and she has excellent finishing instincts — if she gets you in trouble, she knows it and the end of the night is near. She’s also a capable striker, despite pundit and fan analysis to the contrary.
The X factor with Ronda, according to the experts, is her mental status. Many question the amount of time she took off, her disappearance from the public eye and her dismissal of media obligations, but fail to even consider that this might just be her process. When Conor McGregor got serious and went into intense training mode for the rematch with Diaz, he took a similar approach.
Ronda has been through some incredibly difficult challenges in her life, and she’s not exactly what I would consider a weak person. I feel it’s a disservice to put the “mentally unstable” moniker on her. Regardless of the outcome of this fight, Ronda Rousey has triumphed in the face of adversity at the highest level and deserves respect and consideration.
Amanda Nunes’ nickname, the “Lioness” or “Leoa” in Portuguese, is very fitting. She’s tenacious, and very skilled both on the ground and in the stand-up. Her opportunistic style lends itself ideally to this fight, and if Ronda comes in even slightly apprehensive, Nunes will waste no time in seizing the moment.
Her back-takes are seamless and she scrambles really, really well. She’s got serious power, evidenced by her nine knockouts, yet she has no problem biting down on her mouthpiece and gritting her way through a war (see Shevchenko fight). If this happens to go the distance — a 25-minute challenge that neither woman has ever faced — I think it might just favor Amanda, as she has more experience fighting into/through the third round.
In the end, this is a really close fight, but I give the edge to Nunes here, mainly because I feel she’s a good stylistic match to defeat the former champ.
Amanda Nunes via (T)KO
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