MMA Review: #581: UFC 207: Nunes vs. Rousey
-The final UFC card of 2016 was their first Friday PPV in some time (I think going back to 2011’s Lesnar vs. Overeem show) and when the card was first announced it looked LOADED, with the return of Ronda Rousey being backed up by a Bantamweight title fight and THREE likely #1 contender fights in other divisions (Velasquez/Werdum, Dillashaw/Lineker and Andrade/Moroz). Naturally the injury bug struck and robbed us of two of those contenders fights, but shit, we still had the RETURN OF RONDA which made it one of the year’s biggest shows by default.
UFC 207: Nunes vs. Rousey
Las Vegas, Nevada
-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan. For the LAST TIME EVER too as Goldberg’s been canned for some unknown reason, apparently to be replaced by former WWE dude Todd Grisham. I didn’t mind Goldie myself but I guess I understand why they wanted to replace him. Not sure about Grisham, but shit, he sounds better than the rumoured Jim Rome.
This was originally on the prelims but got bumped to the main card when Velasquez/Werdum was cancelled. It was also a CATCHWEIGHT FIGHT technically as Borg missed weight by almost five pounds (!), only managing to hit 129.5. That isn’t good at all and it’s his second infraction too. I also couldn’t see this fight ending well for him as prior to an upset loss to Brandon Moreno, Smolka had been looking FANTASTIC and I thought he had a slight advantage over Borg in all areas. Massive kudos to Borg for walking out to SHOUT AT THE DEVIL by Motley Crue, though.
We begin and Borg circles on the outside as Smolka backs him up with a few jabs. Borg looks like he’s trying to back Smolka into the fence, and he manages to clinch before landing a couple of knees before Smolka shoves him away. Good left hand connects for Borg. Head kick misses for him and he slips to the ground, but Smolka screws up in the scramble going for the back and it allows Borg to dump him to the ground and then lock up a possible D’Arce. Smolka defends but Borg spins to take the back, and they roll, with Smolka managing to avoid the hooks and grab a side headlock from the top. Another scramble allows Borg to get one hook in and then it looks like he might go for a north/south choke, but instead he pulls Smolka down and takes side mount. Another attempt at taking the back follows but again Smolka avoids the hooks. Looks like someone’s cut. Smolka manages to work to his feet, but Borg slams him right back down and goes into full mount. It’s Smolka that’s cut as you can see blood leaking from the left side of his face. Armbar attempt from Borg and then he switches to an oma plata, but Smolka manages to defend it and rolls almost into the infamous donkey guard (!). Hammer fist from Borg and he spins, only for Smolka to go for a leglock. Borg makes him pay with some big punches that cause the Hawaiian to give up and turtle up, and Borg connects on some knees to the body before dragging him back down. Nasty hammer fist lands for Borg and he avoids a triangle attempt before landing with a vicious elbow. Round ends with Borg on top, landing a mini-slam. 10-9 Borg as he thoroughly outgrappled Smolka.
Borg presses forward to open the 2nd and glances on a head kick before missing with a wild knee. Both men miss with some big swings but it looks like Borg’s got a speed advantage. Leg kick lands for him as does an overhand right. Uppercut into a knee from Borg and he gets hold of the Hawaiian and takes him down, but Smolka scrambles and gets a mount for a second before Borg just overpowers him and forces him down into side mount. Borg looks too strong for Smolka on the ground. Full mount for Borg but Smolka swings his legs up right into a footlock attempt! Nice. Borg responds with a slashing hammer fist, but it looks like Smolka might have a heel hook here. Borg manages to avoid and drops a BRUTAL RIGHT HAND that forces Smolka to let go, and he goes right back into side mount. Reversal from Smolka but Borg grabs a front headlock, and from there he spins to take the back and somehow manages to roll into full mount. More punches from Borg connect as Smolka manages to shrimp into half-guard. Arm triangle attempt follows for Borg but it doesn’t look sunk and Smolka defends and scrambles to his feet. Borg gets hold of him again only for Smolka to throw him, but he pops right back up and hits a takedown of his own. This time Smolka looks for a guillotine, but Borg pops his head free and settles into top position in side mount again. Smolka manages to get back to guard, but the round ends there. Another one in the books for Borg.
Between rounds Borg tells Greg Jackson that he’s BROKEN HIS ANKLE which is INSANE and probably came from one of Smolka’s leglock attempts I guess. Somehow he’s totally playing it down though and moving around normally. Left hand starts the round for Borg before he shoots for the takedown, and although Smolka blocks it initially he finds himself forced into the fence. Good job from Smolka to block at first but Borg just powers him to the ground anyway right into half-guard. Borg just looks so much stronger than the Hawaiian. Smolka manages to get full guard, but Borg works free and takes the back with one hook. Smolka manages to turn into half-guard, but Borg looks to work for the arm triangle again. This time he slides out to side mount and Smolka’s in deep trouble. Borg really squeezes on it but somehow Smolka manages to stay with it and so he lets go of the choke to take full mount. Looked like the fence might’ve been in the way of him finishing it. Smolka scrambles but still can’t get out of the bad position. Another scramble allows him to his feet, but Borg grabs him again and looks for the takedown. A guillotine attempt stops him for a second, but Borg frees himself and gets a rear waistlock before trying to jump onto the back. Smolka avoids it, but Borg stays right on him and keeps trying to get him down. Good job from Smolka and he breaks off, but he’s got less than 30 seconds to do something big. Borg swings heavily at him but doesn’t land, and Smolka throws some kicks that also come up short. Step-in elbow lands for Smolka but Borg comes back with a spinning elbow of his own. Fight ends with Smolka forcing Borg down onto his knees. Got to be 30-27 for Borg really.
Judges have it 30-27, 30-26 and 30-26 for Ray Borg. Really good performance from him as he largely whitewashed Smolka in all areas, but to me it looked like the main advantage he had was strength and power and in that sense you have to wonder whether the missed weight cut helped him out, ala Alex Oliveira in his win over Will Brooks. Post-fight he admits he needs to make some adjustments though so hopefully he sorts himself out. Dude seems to be really charismatic too which always helps. Fight was a bit one-sided but it was pretty decent overall. Poor Smolka though – he’s gone from a possible title contender to probably fighting for his job next time out.
Both of these guys are almost like the forgotten men at 170lbs, but realistically they’re still a pair of tough, top ten level fighters and so I was quite looking forward to this one, even if the potential for a snoozer was there due to Saffiedine sometimes not being that aggressive. It was a hard one to pick too, as Kim sometimes gets wild with his striking which I thought would play into the Sponge’s hands, but then Saffiedine had shown issues before with stifling grapplers like Rick Story, and Kim can be one of the most stifling fighters in the division. If you’d put a gun to my head I’d have gone with Saffiedine but in all honesty I wasn’t sure.
Round One begins and Kim pushes forward with a left hook, but eats a quick flurry from the Belgian. Clinch from Kim and he forces Saffiedine into the fence, but misses a foot sweep and they jockey for position along the fence. Nice trip from Saffiedine puts Kim down for a second and the Belgian takes his back as he pops back up. Saffiedine tries to drag him back down, but a judo throw from Kim puts him down instead. Saffiedine does a great job of popping back up though and he lands a knee to the body before Kim pushes him into the fence. Takedown attempt from Kim but Tarec blocks it and manages to break off. Long jab from Kim but Saffiedine comes back with a left hand. Combo from Kim backs the Belgian up a little but he seems fine. Right hand over the top lands for Saffiedine. Clinch is broken and a left hand lands for Kim, but he’s winging his punches dangerously. Counter from Saffiedine sets up the clinch again but Kim shrugs him off. Sweeping right hook lands for Saffiedine as Kim pushes forward and a right snaps the Korean’s head back. Kim is just swinging here. Clinch from Saffiedine but Kim forces him into the fence, and this time he drives for a single leg. Saffiedine defends it excellently and breaks off, and then he lands a combo ending in a head kick. Kim is walking into some pretty good counters at times. Clinch from Kim but he can’t get the Belgian down and they break off. Wild swings miss for Kim. Nice knee from the clinch lands for Saffiedine and he trips Kim down again only for the Stun Gun to pop up. Round ends in the clinch. I’d go 10-9 for Saffiedine but it was close.
Round Two and Kim again forces Saffiedine back with punches, but he eats a hard counter right hook again. Kim’s chin is really good to be fair. They clinch and exchange from there before Saffiedine lands a knee to the body and breaks. Leg kick lands for the Belgian. Takedown attempt follows, surprisingly, but Kim stuffs it. Clinch from Kim now and he pushes Saffiedine back into the fence, but can’t keep him there. He keeps pushing forward though, walking through a body kick, and he tries a spinning elbow that misses. Elbow from Kim leads to the clinch again, but Saffiedine breaks and they exchange some punches. Good right-left from Kim sets up the clinch. The guy is relentless, that’s for sure. He works some knees inside but again Saffiedine breaks. Head kick glances for Saffiedine. Kim walks through some more counters to get the clinch again, and now the crowd are booing slightly. Good shots connect inside for the Belgian and they break off. Clean right hand connects for Kim coming forward. Saffiedine comes back with a leg kick and a knee before Kim forces him into the fence again. One minute to go and Kim works for the takedown, but again Saffiedine shows excellent defense and remains on his feet. They break with seconds to go, and a combo glances for Saffiedine before the round ends. Really tricky round to score as Saffiedine landed the cleaner shots, but he didn’t really hurt Kim and the Korean was the aggressor throughout. 10-10 I guess.
Round Three and we go into a WILD EXCHANGE with both guys landing and the crowd are finally into it. Big head kick glances for Saffiedine as Kim continues to swing haymakers, and a brief clinch is broken. Kim just keeps pushing his way forward though and he again forces Saffiedine into the fence. Takedown attempt is blocked by the Belgian but he seems to be struggling under all this pressure. Switch allows Saffiedine to slip free, but Kim immediately clinches again. Again Saffiedine breaks and he lands a right and shrugs off another clinch attempt. Combination from Saffiedine but Kim grabs him again and forces him into the fence. Finally Kim manages to get a single leg, but Saffiedine pops back up instantly. His defensive wrestling is tremendous. Knees to the leg from Kim but he can’t get the Belgian off his feet. Good elbow breaks for Saffiedine, but again Kim forces him backwards into the fence. Takedown follows but again Saffiedine springs back up. Crowd are booing again now. They break off and a nasty body kick connects for Saffiedine before Kim clinches. Knee to the body from the Belgian and he manages to break off. Another body kick glances for the Sponge. Kim just won’t stop coming forward. Takedown attempt from Saffiedine goes awry and Kim gets on top for a second, but the Belgian reverses to his feet. Another clinch follows for Kim and this time he gets Saffiedine down and takes his back, but Saffiedine reverses and the round ends in a scramble. I’d go 10-10 again there and 30-29 for Saffiedine, but really the judges would never call it like that so it could go either way.
And we have a split decision; 30-27 Saffiedine, 29-28 Kim and 29-28 for Dong Hyun Kim to take the win. The fight was close but I really don’t feel like Kim won it; he kept coming forward and clinching throughout the whole fight and there’s no doubt he was the aggressor, but really most of his takedowns were stuffed, most of his haymakers didn’t land and Saffiedine was catching him with cleaner counters throughout. Just goes to show how much the judges value forward pressure I guess, not that I agree with that. Unless Diego is involved but I freely admit I’m biased there! Fight was a bit of a snoozer really.
So this one was set up basically to decide the next title contender at 135lbs, albeit with the usual asterisk that comes around the UFC and their title scenes right now. Did I ever mention that I fucking hate so-called “money fights” and the way WME have been doing stuff thus far? Anyhow, a lot of people expected Dillashaw to be given the shot at Dominick Cruz that Cody Garbrandt was getting on this show, but I guess UFC decided that Cody’s more fiery persona would sell the fight better and so TJ was stuck in another contender’s fight, this time against Lineker, who had won four in a row following his 2015 move to 135lbs. Not sure how he managed to get ranked third based on wins over Michael McDonald and John Dodson but whatever, the fight still sounded exciting. My pick was Dillashaw because I thought his more rounded striking style would be able to cut Lineker up from the outside, but you can never count a guy with the power of Lineker out.
Fight gets underway and Dillashaw comes out dancing in a really low stance. Looks like he’s got quite the size advantage. Wild head kick misses for TJ and Lineker grabs his leg, but can’t do anything with it and Dillashaw breaks off. Leg kick lands for TJ but again Lineker catches it and drags him down before grabbing a front headlock. TJ escapes though and gets back up before landing another low kick. Head kick again lands for TJ but Lineker takes him down this time. Illegal upkick from TJ but Herb Dean chooses to ignore it as they stand. No idea why. Beautiful uppercut connects for Dillashaw in a brief exchange. Body shot answers for Lineker. Nice takedown from Dillashaw and he plants the Brazilian down in half-guard. You forget how good a wrestler TJ is sometimes I think. Well, I do anyway! Lineker looks for a reversal from the bottom, but TJ keeps him grounded without doing all that much damage. Lineker works back into full guard and takes some short strikes before TJ grabs onto a headlock as he attempts to scramble. Back to half-guard for TJ and he connects with some hammer fists to the side of the head. Good job from Lineker to escape to his feet though and they separate. Lot of feints from Dillashaw and he throws the head kick again but it doesn’t land. Nice right hand from TJ and he easily dodges a flurry from Lineker. Body kick lands for TJ. Head kick misses again but he’s doing a good job of avoiding Lineker’s punches. Big combo does connect for Lineker as he catches TJ against the cage, but Dillashaw quickly circles out with a right hand of his own. Front kick to the body ends the round for the former champion, and it’s a round in the books for him too.
2nd round and TJ dances out of the way of a big combo from Lineker, only allowing a glancing body shot to land. Takedown follows for Dillashaw and in a seriously slick move, he throws Lineker’s legs over and takes his back. He loses position though and it allows the Brazilian to escape to his feet. Big combinations glance for both men in a brief exchange. Wild overhand right misses for Lineker. Dillashaw is doing a great job of moving around and avoiding the bombs. Beautiful body kick lands for TJ and he follows with an easy takedown to half-guard. He works the body with some punches as it looks like he might be setting up an arm triangle too, and it looks like Lineker might be a bit stuck here. Nice elbow lands for TJ as Lineker sits up, and he continues to drop more short elbows and it looks like Lineker’s in trouble. Big punches and hammer fists get through for Dillashaw and Lineker decides to go for a leglock, but he eats more punches. Mount from Dillashaw but Lineker escapes to half-guard, only to eat more shots. TJ is just tooling him on the ground. Lineker attempts to kick him away to no avail and he takes more punishment, with TJ just landing elbow after elbow after elbow. Round ends with Dillashaw really pushing for a finish, but he can’t get it. I’d call that 10-8 for Dillashaw though which means Lineker needs a finish to win.
Front kick connects for Dillashaw to open the third round and he narrowly avoids a right hand haymaker in response. Lineker looks much slower now, probably due to the beatdown he took in the previous round. More feints from TJ throw Lineker off his game, and he eats another body kick. Lineker is just being outclassed here. Low kick is caught by the Brazilian but he can’t really capitalise. Another takedown lands for Dillashaw and he gets right back to the ground-and-pound, but a big explosion puts Lineker back up on his feet. Dillashaw continues to move around and make him miss though, and another takedown quickly follows. TJ is on another level. He lands in half-guard this time and continues to control Lineker, landing more punches for good measure. We’ve got two minutes to go now and Lineker needs a miracle. Instead he gives his back and eats more punches as Dillashaw uses a rear waistlock to control him. Lineker’s chin is phenomenal though to be taking all this abuse. Knees to the legs connect for Dillashaw now and he forces Lineker back down and continues to bomb on him. One hook in for Dillashaw and he rolls for a calf slicer (!) which is uber-rare, but he can’t seal the deal and Lineker escapes to his feet. Seconds to go and a right hand from Lineker allows him to stuff a takedown, and finally he uncorks on a vicious combo to the body, but TJ quickly circles out of range. Flying knee glances for TJ but he eats another pair of right hands to the body before celebrating even before the buzzer. That was a total shutout.
Unsurprisingly it’s a unanimous decision for Dillashaw, 30-26 all round. Fight didn’t deliver the excitement I think people figured it would going in, but that was more to do with the fact that Lineker’s whole game was shut down and it became a one-sided beating. This was probably TJ’s best showing since the first Renan Barao fight, not that the fights he put on after that were bad at all anyway, but he just looked fantastic here, chaining his grappling together with his striking and never really letting Lineker out of first gear. If they don’t give this guy the next title shot then there’s seriously something wrong, but then he is a CAA guy who’s also joined the MMAAA, so who knows at the minute?
So as I mentioned earlier, after Cruz firmly dominated Urijah Faber at UFC 199 and Dillashaw beat Raphael Assuncao a month later, I figured they’d immediately be put into a rematch for the title, but instead Cruz was matched with Faber’s protégé Garbrandt clearly due to the Cruz/Team Alpha Male rivalry. That might be selling Cody short I guess as he had put on three fantastic performances in 2016, taking out the unheralded Augusto Mendes, then stealing the momentum of another hot prospect in Thomas Almeida, and finally knocking out a perennial contender in Takeya Mizugaki. Title shots have definitely been given for less. I couldn’t see him taking the belt from Cruz though – I did expect him to be one of Dominick’s tougher challenges due to his punching power, but nothing he’d shown in his UFC career had really suggested he’d got the speed and footwork to match Cruz and he also came off like he’d been badly fazed by Cruz’s fantastic trash talk. With Rousey’s media blackout in fact, this fight was even more heavily built in the weeks leading to the show, and almost every time Cruz had come out on top of the verbal war.
Round One begins and both guys look INTENSE. Cody comes out swinging but can’t quite catch Cruz, who dances around on the outside and clips the challenger with an early right hand. High kick is dodged by Cruz but Garbrandt catches him with a quick combo as he steps in. Both guys channel their inner Diaz with some trash talk and then Cody lands with a low kick. Head kick and a couple of hooks miss for Cruz and Cody taunts him. Trio of punches land for Cody and he counters a leg kick with a right hand too. Looks like Cody might be very slightly quicker. Big crowd chant for Cody which is surprising, and he tries to swarm the champ but Cruz gets out of range. Nice leg kick from Cruz. Garbrandt comes back with a body kick, stuffs a takedown and then lands his own leg kick. Good head movement from Cody allows him to dodge a shot and then he BUSTS OUT SOME DANCING to mock the champ. Beautiful reactive takedown from Cruz off a Cody right hand, but the challenger reverses right up to his feet. Low kick from Cruz but he eats a hard right hand. Combination fires back for the champ and he forces Garbrandt onto his back foot a little. Some ducking and diving from Cruz is met by a BRILLIANT takedown from Cody, but Cruz scrambles as soon as they hit the ground and he’s up within seconds. Cody does land a knee on the break though. Round ends with Cruz advancing, but not landing. That was a fascinating round for sure; 10-9 Garbrandt I’d say.
Round Two and hilariously Goldie tells us that Justin Buchholz – in Cody’s corner – is about to corner his TWENTY EIGHTH ROUND against Cruz which just shows how deep the whole rivalry with Team Alpha Male runs! Lot of movement early from Cruz and he connects on a beautiful combination of three or four clean shots. Cody doesn’t appear to be mesmerised as some of Dominick’s previous opponents have looked though. Right hand sets up a HARD LEFT HOOK for Cody, but Cruz eats it and fires back with a clipping left hand that has the challenger buckled! He pops back up but he clearly got hurt there. Cody circles out and Cruz dances in front of him and connects on some jabs. Crowd are now chanting for Cruz. Left to the body from Cruz but Cody catches him with an overhand right as he does his trademark leaning movement. Body kick lands for Cody and he manages to avoid the leg being caught. Two minutes left in the round now and Cruz catches Cody leaning in and lands a body kick. Heavy left hand from Garbrandt and he tries to entice Cruz into a brawl but the champ won’t bite. Really good body kick connects for Cody. Less than a minute to go now and Cruz ducks under a big right to land a low kick. Pair of jabs from Cruz and Cody takes a deep breath. Body kick from Cody but Cruz gets a takedown and then lands a quick flurry as he springs up to his feet. Close round but I’d go 10-9 Cruz, he seemed the busier fighter and put a lot of pressure on the challenger.
Round Three and Cody lands with a head kick, but gets taken down off it. He pops back up instantly and counters a short left with a HARDER RIGHT that wobbles Cruz! Left hook follows and Cruz is stunned. He dances out of range, but he’s got blood pouring out of a cut around his left eye. Announcers are claiming a clash of heads caused the cut though. Nice right hand hurts Cruz again though and he shows some SLICK MOVEMENT to avoid Cruz firing back and then taunts him. This is AWESOME. More head movement and taunting from Cody and now he PUTS HIS HANDS BEHIND HIS BACK. Combination from Cody and it looks like Dominick’s idea that the challenger was a one-dimensional slugger was totally wrong. Big right-left combo from Garbrandt. Despite all of Cruz’s wild movement Cody is catching him coming in due to his speed advantage. Right hand connects for the champ but Cody makes him pay with a quick flurry. Cody keeps on calling Cruz to the center of the cage which is fascinating. Never expected him to be the one playing mind games! Cruz comes forward with a right hand, but walks into a counter and DOWN HE GOES! He dives for an instinctive takedown, but Cody stuffs it and breaks with a knee. Dominick keeps on pushing forward and they exchange jabs, and then Cruz lands a winging left hook and comes in swinging but Cody laughs it off and then CHANNELS PRINCE NASEEM AND DODGES EVERYTHING WITH HIS HANDS DOWN!~! Good lord. I had NO IDEA Cody was this awesome. Cruz keeps on pushing forward, but Cody avoids more punches and now Cruz looks pissed off. Low kick from Cruz but Cody counters with a fast combo. Clean left from Cruz but Cody is fine and that’s the round. That was unbelievable. 10-9 Garbrandt and he’s 29-28 up going into the championship rounds.
Round Four and Cruz pushes forward from the off, but takes a low kick and Cody taunts him with some shuffling. Big left hand misses for Cruz but a head kick does land glancingly. Lot of stance-switching from Cruz and he wades in to deliver a left hook, but gets drawn into a trade and Cody DECKS HIM WITH A RIGHT HAND! Cody taunts by pointing down at him and then avoids a takedown, and the champ comes back up but he’s badly hurt. He’s got a crazy chin though as he’s right back to his dancing style. Combination hurts Cruz again but he fires back with a hard left hook. Low kick misses for Cruz and then in an odd moment he stands still for a second….causing Cody to do the exact same thing to taunt him. Right hand tags Cruz again and Garbrandt gets out of the way of the champ’s flurries. Wild swings miss for both men but especially Cruz as Cody shows some insane head movement. Now it’s CRUZ trying to draw Cody into a brawl, this is incredible. Stiff jab lands for Cruz but he misses a head kick and Cody laughs it off. Cody keeps on dodging Cruz attacks and ignoring his trash talk, and then he catches Cruz coming in with a BIG RIGHT-LEFT and the champ is down again! He pops up but he’s really hurt now. Cody closes him down and drops him with ANOTHER combo but somehow Cruz gets back up! Another right hand puts him down for a fourth time in the round (!) but he somehow gets back up and manages to circle out until the round ends. Jaw-dropping. 10-8 round for Garbrandt for all the knockdowns, and that means Cruz needs a finish for sure.
Round Five and Cruz looks both hurt and baffled in his corner. Garbrandt is almost celebrating already which is insane and risky. Somehow Cruz looks totally recovered once the round starts. He’s so tough. Low kick from Cruz but Cody catches the leg to land a knee. Couple of jabs land for Cruz but he misses a spinning backfist. Body kick lands for Garbrandt. Cruz just doesn’t seem fast enough to catch Cody with his combos as he always does to his other opponents. Hard one-two does get through but Cody shrugs it off. Cruz is really swinging now. Flying knee glances for Cruz and Cody catches it, but can’t get a takedown off it. CRAZY MOMENT as Cody busts out a fucking BURPEE after avoiding a low kick. He might be giving away this round though as he’s backpedalling a lot and not landing too many counters. Low kick connects for Cruz. Spinning backfist misses for Cody but he avoids a takedown and throws Dominick off him. Kick is caught by the challenger and he shoves Cruz away. Not long to go now – just over a minute – and this is looking like Cody’s fight. Big spinning backfist misses for Cruz. Cruz keeps on pushing forward, but he can’t find his target and Cody surprisingly muscles him into the cage. Knee breaks for Garbrandt and he circles out in the waning seconds and celebrates way before the round ends. 10-9 Cruz as Cody coasted through the round, but overall I’d call it 48-46 for Garbrandt, making him the new champion.
Judges all agree, going 48-46, 48-47 and 48-46 for the NEW CHAMPION, Cody Garbrandt! Crowd go ballistic for the announcement and a STAR IS BORN. And post-fight he somehow comes off as EVEN MORE OF A STAR as he presents his young friend Maddox – a recovering leukaemia victim – with the title belt rather than keep it himself. To go from an angry thug wannabe type in the pre-fight promos to that performance and now this post-fight stuff is amazing and a real turnaround. And then he calls out TJ Dillashaw which should make for an incredible fight. This was one of the best title winning performances in UFC history for me, even moreso than Dillashaw’s 2014 win over Renan Barao, mainly because – outside of TJ in Cruz’s first fight in years – nobody had even really come close to beating Dominick, especially not practically at his own game like Garbrandt was able to do here. Cruz used his trademark movement, cut his angles and basically fought how he always did, but the difference was that Cody looked much, much faster, didn’t get drawn into the emotional side of the fight and never swung wildly, and was able to catch Cruz coming in with much cleaner – and much harder – counter shots. The fourth round in particular was absolutely unbelievable and felt like a real changing of the guard. Judging on this performance I could see Garbrandt holding the title for a while actually, and as the show drew such a big buyrate (over a million buys!) he might be able to parlay that into a real star push himself. Overall this was awesome in every possible way.
So yeah, even in a year with massive fights like the two McGregor/Diaz matches, the return of Brock Lesnar, and McGregor/Alvarez, this one felt like maybe the biggest fight of the year point blank. For those who’d been living under a rock for the past year or so, this was Ronda’s big return following her shocking knockout loss at the hands of Holly Holm last November. At the time the Rousey/Holm rematch had seemed like the most natural thing, but Ronda had of course taken more time off than was expected and – almost like the LHW title in that period between the dominant runs of Liddell and Jones – the WBW title had been like a hot potato since, going from Holm to Miesha Tate to Amanda Nunes in the space of three events.
Given how good Nunes had looked in dethroning Tate, most people saw this as a massively tough fight for Rousey, especially taking into consideration how bad she’d looked standing against Holm, the fact that she hadn’t moved camps despite it becoming pretty clear that trainer Edmond Tarverdyan is hardly Greg Jackson or Firas Zahabi, and her questionable mental state following the Holm fight. A state so questionable in fact that she’d had a media blackout prior to this event, which really should kill publicity for a fight but somehow made it even MORE intriguing because it’s Ronda fucking Rousey. For the first time in her UFC career Ronda was coming in as a firm underdog. And yet I was picking her to win. Why? Well, I figured Holm’s gameplan was simply the perfect one to take out a fighter with Ronda’s style, rather than it being a case of anyone being able to replicate that gameplan and Ronda being exposed. I couldn’t see Nunes – not known for her technical counterstriking, more known for being an aggressive frontrunner – allowing Ronda to come into her counters like Holm did and I expected her to bull forward right into Ronda’s wheelhouse – the clinch – and end up being thrown and armbarred quickly. Most people though figured that was crazy talk.
Crowd are obviously AMPED for this and both women seem to be getting mainly cheers, with obviously Ronda getting the bigger reaction. Ronda at least looks in PHENOMENAL SHAPE, about the best I can ever remember seeing her.
Fight begins and Ronda pushes forward….but gets tagged by a combo in the first exchange and she’s hurt! Big right hand wobbles Rousey and Nunes comes forward swinging, then shrugs off a clinch attempt to rock Ronda with another combo. Rousey reaches for the clinch again but it gets shrugged off and now she tries to fire back, but some BIG PUNCHES have her on roller skates! Another clinch attempt is easily avoided by Nunes and another BRUTAL COMBO has Ronda stumbling into the fence! BIG right hand buckles her knees and sends her back into the fence….and this time Herb Dean steps in for the standing TKO stoppage. Holy shit.
Whole fight literally went 48 seconds, almost like the earlier wins for Rousey against Davis, Zingano and Correia. Post-fight Ronda gets right out of the cage without any sort of interview while Nunes shushes Edmond Tarverdyan, ha. Post-fight Nunes shows quite a bit of charisma too, saying she didn’t care about the lack of promotional focus on her, basically because she knew she’d win anyway as she’s the best in the world.
Where to begin with this, then? First off massive credit to Nunes as she came out and did what she had to do by destroying Ronda in quick fashion. I’m not so sure that I buy her just yet as a dominant champ, though – for me it’s not like she’s improved dramatically from say, the Cat Zingano fight – she’s still an aggressive frontrunner who slows down throughout the fight, it’s just that nobody (save for Valentina Shevchenko who won the third round against her…) has gotten her out of the first recently. If an opponent can take her into the deeper waters, especially over five rounds, I think she’s beatable. In fact if Julianna Pena gets past Shevchenko then I think she unseats Nunes assuming that’s the next title fight.
As for Ronda, I expect she’ll retire now and really, she’s got nothing else to prove, but I totally disagree with the people who are comparing her to a Royce Gracie – a one-dimensional fighter who couldn’t evolve – or a Matt Hughes who had his style figured out and suddenly became beatable. It wasn’t like Ronda was beating tomato cans or past-their-prime fighters during her run – Cat Zingano, Alexis Davis and Sara McMann are all relevant in the division and Miesha Tate would be if she was still active – and I think her downfall’s got much more to do with her training camp than anything else. After the Holm fight, a trainer like Greg Jackson, Firas Zahabi or Jason Parillo would’ve had her working non-stop on how to set up the clinch with her strikes, or even working on stuff like double and single legs and instead Edmond Tarverdyan allowed her to come out with the same brawling-into-clinch gameplan that worked against weaker strikers like Alexis Davis and Bethe Correia, but was never going to work against a technical counterpuncher like Holm or a heavy hitter with a long reach like Nunes. If she chooses to move camp then Ronda could easily become relevant again but if she doesn’t – and Edmond seems like the type of snake oil salesman who has a hold over her for some reason – then that’s probably it. Which is sad really because people will question her whole run now and that’s thoroughly unfair.
-Goldie (for the last ever time!) and Rogan sum up the night’s action before we roll the highlight reel to end the show.
Well, the two title fights alone make this an easy thumbs up as the Nunes/Rousey knockout will be replayed for years to come, and the Cruz/Garbrandt fight was just brilliant from start to finish. The rest wasn’t quite so good – Dillashaw/Lineker and Borg/Smolka were both good but one-sided and Saffiedine/Kim was dull – which means it’s not one of the very best PPVs of 2016, but check it out on Fight Pass for those two title fights.
Best Fight: Cruz vs. Garbrandt
Worst Fight: Kim vs. Saffiedine
Overall Rating: ***3/4
Until next time,