UFC 207: A Championship Return?

By: S. Davis

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T.J. Dillashaw vs. John Lineker

Dillashaw wins if he utilizes his footwork and speed. From the time he stunned the world by taking the title from Renan Barao – and solidifying it by defeating him in a rematch – he’s tapped into the peak of his abilities and there haven’t been many better fighters in the world. The precision, accurate punching and pace has overwhelmed every opponent during his title run and subsequent defenses. (For the record I scored the battle with Dominick Cruz for Dillashaw by a very slim margin.)

This fight should be controlled by the former champion provided he sticks to his blueprint. He has the advantage in almost every aspect except for power. Volume leans heavily with Dillashaw and if he can remain disciplined enough defensively to keep away from taking a power shot from Lineker, it will be a victory that should put him on the doorstep of a title fight. I wonder if he’ll use his wrestling if he takes a shot and survives it.

Lineker wins if he can draw his opponent into a brawl. He’ll have to show a level of cage control that he’s yet to express thus far in his career. If he fails to corral Dillashaw in tight spaces and doesn’t successfully use his size with offensive wrestling/grappling to try to set up an opportunity to hurt him with a hook or uppercut it’s going to be a blowout. I’m not sure he’ll be stopped in the cage but he could lose every round by a wide margin if he doesn’t employ new tactics. Lineker is skilled but he’s also a plodding fighter that will take a few shots to land one – now that one could end the night – but absorbing offense leads to a disappointing evening when the scorecards are read.

The power in his hands is brutal and he has a chin made of steel. He’s the traditional boxer in mixed martial arts and he’s great at cutting angles but he has to be lighter on his toes than just resorting to straight line pressure. Left and right body kicks could be there for him and possibly a question-mark kick due to the fact that Dillashaw is adept at changing levels. If he can find a way to lull him in, engage as a smokescreen and then launch a precise head kick as Dillashaw retreats, that could book his ticket to a bantamweight title shot. Over three rounds he’s going to have to stop the former champion because if the fight goes the distance…he loses.

Bantamweight Championship: Dominick Cruz (c) vs. Cody Garbrandt

Cruz wins if he can stick and move. This fight is tremendously similar to the Dillashaw vs. Lineker bout in that you have one fighter who has slick movement facing off against one who’s more of a puncher and is far more stationary in terms of movement; the boxer taking on the sprinter. He has to take control and frustrate the young title challenger with his awkward style; the feints, jabs, looping hooks, shuffling and wrestling.

He has the edge in experience, especially when we’re talking about headlining cards and title fights. Will that alone be enough to carry him to another title defense?

Garbrandt wins if he somehow lands a crushing punch. He doesn’t really need a second clean one to find flesh and earn that twelve pound belt of gold. It’s intriguing in that while Cruz is a favorite, the fight can turn if he gets overconfident and lazy just once. For all the footwork and speed, Cruz is susceptible to being hit…a lot, actually, when you consider how elusive his attack is. A lazy half-step or a single lapse defensively will make things interesting in a flash and open up an opportunity for the Team Alpha Male member.

He’s got to keep himself calm. During this whole week, we’ve seen Garbrandt unnerved by the champion in interviews so I wonder if he’s focused mentally on the challenge. Can he channel the simmering emotions and use them as positive fuel once that cage closes and he faces the most gargantuan task he’s encountered in his young career?

It’s going to be up to the challenger to create an opportunity for himself. He has to find a way to change the arc of the fight if he wants to pull the title away from one of the best fighters in MMA history.

Bantamweight Championship: Amanda Nunes (c) vs. Ronda Rousey

Oh yeah!

Nunes wins if she can stop the fight early, as in the first or midway point of the second round. She’s an impressive athlete but she’s not made for five rounds. She isn’t as scary once she enters the latter stages of a bout. (See her close win against Valentina Shevchenko for clear evidence.) Three of her four career losses have occurred outside of the first five minutes so there’s an obvious way to scout her when preparing to meet her in the cage; survive the first stanza and there’s a great chance to catch her as she gets tired and labors around the cage.

When she stopped Miesha Tate at UFC 200, we didn’t get to see if she’s any better at competing in a long fight; the extra time wasn’t needed. Her striking is stellar and she has real pop in her fists. She was able to batter Tate’s face into a crimson mask, breaking her nose in the process, with straight left jabs and precise overhand righs that offered her the rear-naked choke to capture the gold. If Nunes keeps the fight standing and takes her time in controlling the biggest moment of her professional career, she’ll retain. Will the enormous circumstances surrounding the fight seep into the cage and into her mind?

She excels where her opponent is at a clear disadvantage: striking. Rousey’s abilities on her feet have improved exponentially from the time she was a puppy in the sport and seemed to be miles ahead of where she really was when she knocked out Bethe Correia. That was fools gold for her – and the media coverage that emanated in its immediate aftermath armed her with a level of hubristic confidence in her striking as she stared across the cage from Holly Holm and attempted to match her strike for strike. That was her primary strategy and we all saw how that turned out.

Rousey wins if she can gain an armbar early. Like the champion, Rousey is stellar at making short work of her opponents. Unlike the champion, the times Rousey has been forced to fight longer than the first round she is 1-1. She doesn’t have any issues with cardio so, personally, I’d love to see the fight enter the championship rounds as neither woman has had to get off their stools for a fourth round.

I’m not concerned about her physically. It’s all mental with the former champion. I’ll ignore her media blackout although one has to wonder why she wasn’t turning away interviews, microphones and cameras when she was winning every single fight during her ascension. It’s a worthy observation. Will she wilt if she’s hit on a few occasions? Is the trauma from the Holm fight in the front of her mind? It’s an arduous task to handicap the fight for Rousey when all the questions revolve around her mental state. Rousey will make her famous walk to the cage tonight, could it be the last one of her career if she takes a beating? If she doesn’t enforce – and gain control in the clinch, Nunes has the skills to make the Holm knockout seem like a blip.

Picks: Borg, Kim, Dillashaw, Cruz and Rousey….uuuuh, Nunes. Wait…Nunes, I’ll pick her and stop typing.

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