LAS VEGAS — She’s back.
Ronda Rousey returns to the octagon Friday night at UFC 207 for the first time since losing the UFC women’s bantamweight title to Holly Holm at UFC 193 last November. Now, she’s back to reclaim a belt that has changed hands three times since she lost it over a year ago.
Amanda Nunes, who won the title from Miesha Tate at UFC 200 in July. She is seeking to become the first woman since Rousey to successfully defend the women’s bantamweight belt.
The men’s bantamweight division also could see a new champion as trash-talking extraordinaire Cody Garbrandt looks to dethrone Dominick Cruz and his reign as bantamweight champion.
Meanwhile, bantamweights T.J. Dillashaw and John Lineker try to make a strong case for themselves to get a title shot in the near future.
Here is a complete breakdown for all of the fights on the main card, along with betting odds, courtesy of OddsShark, and some predictions.
Catchweight (129.5 lbs.): Louis Smolka (11-2, EVEN) vs. Ray Borg (9-2, -130)
Borg missed weight by more than 3.5 pounds during Thursday’s weigh-ins, so he will relinquish 30 percent of his purse from Friday’s catchweight bout to Smolka. While Smolka has the huge advantage when it comes to significant strikes landed (4.86 vs. 1.31), Borg is strong defensively, absorbing 1.89 significant strikes per minute. Borg also is the better grappler, so I expect him to try to wear out Smolka and then take him to the ground.
Prediction: Borg via unanimous decision.
Welterweight: Dong Hyun Kim (21-3-1, 1 NC, -140) vs. Tarec Saffiedine (16-5, +110)
This is a classic matchup between striker (Saffiedine) and grappler (Kim). Kim averages 3.01 takedowns per 15 minutes but also can win standing up, as evidenced by his nine knockout victories compared to two submission wins. Saffiedine is supposed to be a solid striker, but he’s been outstruck in three of his last four matches, losing two of them. Saffiedine also hasn’t finished an opponent via knockout or submission since 2010 — a span of 10 fights. Finally, Kim’s three losses in the last seven years have come against Carlos Condit, Demian Maia and Tyron Woodley — some pretty stiff competition. He might not do well against the cream of the crop, but he sure knows how to take care of everyone else.
Prediction: Kim via unanimous decision.
Bantamweight: T.J. Dillashaw (13-3, -240) vs. John Lineker (29-7, +190)
Some people think Dillashaw should’ve won the UFC bantamweight fight against Dominick Cruz, when he lost via a very close split decision. In fact, his last two losses have come via split decision. The guy can punch. He has landed the second most significant strikes per minute and has the second-best strike differential among bantamweights. He has a plus-248 strike differential in his last six fights. Lineker is no slouch, either. He delivers 5.3 significant strikes per minute and has 13 knockouts to his name. However, Dillashaw is the better defensive fighter (66 percent strikes defended vs. 56 percent).
Prediction: Dillashaw via first-round TKO.
Bantamweight title: Dominick Cruz (22-1, -210) vs. Cody Garbrandt (10-0, +170)
Sure, he’s had injuries, but Cruz hasn’t lost a fight since 2007. That’s almost 10 years! Who has Garbrandt fought in his career? Go to his Wikipedia page and you see a bunch of opponents with no Wikipedia links. That’s right. They’re essentially nobodies. Cruz has the experience advantage, he seems to be on top of his game and I also like the approach he’s taken heading into the fight when it comes to trash-talking. While Garbrandt is talking his mouth off, Cruz has been more reserved and has ignored most of it. More importantly, Cruz also has the best significant strike defense among active bantamweights with at least five UFC fights. He went up against Dillashaw, who is one of the best strikers in the bantamweight division and actually had more strikes than he did in his split-decision win last year. Garbrandt has a powerful punch, but Cruz’s defensive tactics should be able to wear him out.
Prediction: Cruz via third-round submission.
Women’s bantamweight title: Amanda Nunes (13-4, +110) vs. Ronda Rousey (12-1, -140)
I’m convinced Rousey lost at UFC 193 because she chose to move up her fight. If you look at Rousey’s career, she usually takes 5-6 months off — sometimes even more — between fights. She had just 44 days of camp for UFC 193. She’s had over a year now to psychologically, mentally and physically prepare for this fight. Her no-media approach has shown that she’s laser-focused. She’s hungry for a win. Nunes and Rousey are pretty much even in terms of striking, statistically speaking, but Rousey clearly has the huge advantage in takedowns. Nunes also has the tendency to tire out. In her Strikeforce/UFC/Invicta career, Nunes is 1-3 when a fight goes past the first round.
Prediction: Rousey via first-round submission.
Thumbnail photo via Andre Khatchaturian/NESN