Ronda Rousey

By: S. Davis

The mob mentality of fans never ceases to amaze me or prove my thought about the cult of fandom. Ninety-nine percent of all sports “fanatics” are putrid beings of flesh with the remaining 1% expressing the ability to view athletes as actual humans. Who knew?

We’re a few months removed from Ronda Rousey’s second consecutive defeat, and since this piece has been gestating in my brain from the Friday before the UFC Bantamweight title fight with champion Amanda Nunes…it’s time to type. Let’s just get this out-of-the-way early: Rousey defeated all the fighters that were placed in her path. She prevailed over every woman she was supposed to turn back on her way to becoming the biggest star in mixed martial arts. Now it can’t be ignored how much of the UFC machine aided her upon her rise but she was the one that had to step into the Octagon and deliver. Zuffa couldn’t manufacture that, she was tasked with stacking wins on top of one another. Alone. She entered the cage and had the door slam behind her. She fought. The world watched. She won.

“Overrated!”

“All hype and nothing else!”

“Brat!”

“Entitled!”

“Cocky!”

“One-dimensional!”

A few of the aforementioned labels are apt but not the ones you think. Overrated? No. All hype? No. Brat? Yes. Entitled? Maybe. Cocky? Isn’t that a prerequisite in all sports, especially the individual ones? I think so. One-dimensional? No.

She’s as dominant in judo as any fighter has ever been in their strongest discipline. Demian Maia is an uncanny jiu-jitsu practitioner, Anthony Pettis is a spectacular striker and Jon Jones is well, great everywhere, and I think he’s an alien but you should be able to follow my path. There’s a weird aura surrounding the sport of MMA and its competitors; when a fighter’s dominance is based, primarily, in the grappling realm they are viewed and judged in a harsher manner than the exciting fighter, per se. Peculiar.

Holly Holm excels as a striker, yet – up to the recent present – she struggles with her takedown defense and aggressive striking (she’s a classic counter-fighter; the sole reason I thought Rousey’s forward marching, bullish, style could haunt her the longer the fight went). Additionally the game-plan, apparently was to trade with a decorated standup artist but there’s no need to rehash that evening. Nunes is just as gifted in that aspect of martial arts and yet she’s susceptible to gassing out. Are they one-dimensional as well? What about Maia? Pettis?

Rousey’s problem was born from the fool’s gold in the aftermath of her knockout of Bethe Correia. That evening doomed her. It was the worst result…and she won the bout. She made a successful title defense! It steeled her belief that she was a boxer, a true standup fighter; she had thoughts of being a high-level one. Or at least that was one of the subjects spewing from her trainer’s mouth. Well, then she had to defend the title against Holm.

Holm and then Nunes; the outcomes are well-known at this point. While she made improvements in the striking arena leading up to the title defense against Holm, she clearly regressed in her devastating loss against Nunes. Where was her defense? “Head movement!” She would get tagged in some of her prior fights but she stood as straight as a pole and her head was an easy target in the one round she lasted against Nunes.

Unfortunately every fight begins on the feet. For Rousey that means she has to enter striking range in order to put her expertise to use. Her limited striking features no kicking to speak of and she doesn’t employ traditional takedowns like doubles, singles, knee-taps, etc., so her head movement and creation of angles must be stellar. They aren’t; at least not recently.

As for her legacy and impact: She met every challenge – until her last two outings – and was as dominant during that run as any athlete has ever been in any sport. There is no reasonable debate otherwise. Is she the most complete fighter? No. However, in my opinion, only Jones, Georges St-Pierre, Demetrious Johnson, Cris Cyborg, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier and Jose Aldo fit that description. Tyron Woodley, Max Holloway, Rory MacDonald, Tony Ferguson and Rafael dos Anjos are worthy of mention as well.

Is she the best female in MMA? No. I never thought she was – even at her apex. That title belongs to Cyborg. Period. It does speak to Rousey’s gable grip on the sport and her excellence that respected members of MMA media picked her to win a long-rumored bout with Cyborg. Those journalists deserve to have their credentials torched. It was lazy then and it’s preposterous now.

Is she great? Yes. That can’t be deleted from her story. Holm and Nunes are the only two women that were able to topple her. (A legitimate argument can be raised that the third woman on that list is Rousey herself; at least mentally and emotionally.) The sports world and all of pop-culture screeched to a halt on those Saturday evenings when she competed and still remains the biggest crossover star under the UFC banner. She honored whatever the hell the ideal is of a champion in this peculiar time in MMA. She burst out to 12 victories – over four years – before her first loss. She won the title and actually defended her crown six times, event after event; didn’t fail at weigh-ins and held up her media obligations to promote (with the exception of UFC 207).

Rankings, belts and champions – as far as MMA is concerned – matter as much as the interim title I recently drew on a piece of paper, crumbled into a ball, and threw for my dog in a game of fetch. She infused substance into those gold “UFC” letters slung around her waist. Her championship had true meaning; it was layered and respected.

Pride comes before the fall. That’s the saying, right? I would add “Immense” to begin the statement as it pertains to the former champion. No, the former title holder. Hubris. In an interview leading up to her defense at UFC 193 where she was onstage with Jedrzejczyk, she answered a question by stating she could defeat the entire female bantamweight division with “one arm tied behind” her back. That was cringe-worthy.

Personally, I hope her last fight wasn’t the final act of her athletic career, so to speak. I don’t want it to end the way it seems like it has, presently. Naturally the mob is out to defecate on her achievements, and, over enough time I see her name drawing snickers. Hasn’t it already?

Predictably, it’s already begun. Its’ unfortunate that she’ll be remembered in a fashion unfit for the stature she earned within all of sport. If she’s taken the cage for the last time, I’m positive that idiot fans will feel pleasure and their own form of personal satisfaction. They already do.

Whether she retires or not, I respect her time in MMA and all she accomplished. I wish her all the happiness and success in the world. She excelled in an arena where consistency is its own martial art.

It was a joy to watch her perform. Damn, I’m going to miss her walk to the cage.

UFC 211

By: S. Davis

UFC Heavyweight Championship: Stipe Miocic (C) vs. Junior dos Santos

Did you see their first encounter? If not, please do yourself a favor and satiate the fight connoisseur inside and take in that 25 minute classic. It sells the rematch on its own. While they were both impressive in regards to the amount of punishment each could inflict – and receive – it would be wise for both men to avoid rounds 6-10 of that grinder. Since that fight, dos Santos has gone 1-1 while Miocic has risen to the top of the sport. So their paths cross now…

Miocic wins if he’s better defensively. Large, strong athletes winging small gloves at one another usually lends itself to knockouts. While both have proven track records of durability, the ability to “weather the storm” and absorb punishment isn’t a reward, and it isn’t everlasting. Interestingly, Miocic implemented his wrestling during their first dance but was only 1/18 on takedown attempts. While it didn’t set the world ablaze it added an additional element to his attack that dos Anjos had to prepare for. As this bout moves into the later stages – if it makes past the first three rounds – I feel he will mix in some grappling but I find myself increasingly convinced that he’ll want to make this a striking affair.

JDS wins if his footwork reverts to its previous form. One of his early trademarks was his ability to glide around the cage as if he were a light heavyweight or middleweight even. He possessed agility, he was precise and swift on his feet yet rather recently he’s been plodding which has made him stationary – and easier to hit. I’m wary of the damage he took in the latter two battles with Cain Velasquez.

One could argue that all the time off (with surgeries included) could serve to replenish him physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s possible. A counter argument exists that states he left too much of himself in the Octagon after battling Velasquez and this is the diminished model; dos Santos 2.0…with 150,000 hard miles and frequent stops to the mechanic just to get on the road.

I’ll be looking closely at the number he hits on the scale. Personally I think he could do himself a tremendous favor by fighting closer to 240 than 250. The reigning champion is lean for such a massive athlete and I feel JDS should replicate that formula and get to a weight that doesn’t compromise his punching power and stamina.

UFC Strawweight Championship: Joanna Jedrzejczyk (C) vs. Jessica Andrade

Jedrzejczyk wins if she remains aggressive and accurate in her striking, primarily her kickboxing base. Her volume and speed set her apart from many of her contemporaries in the entire sport. I’m interested in whether she’ll move forward or backward because her opponent likes to walk her opponents down. Kicking is going to prove monumental to keep Andrade at safe distance here. If Andrade can bully her way into close quarters, I want to see the champion’s clinch work at display. The stout Brazilian will walk into shots in order to brawl but wading into a dangerous clinch could end her evening.

While Jedrzejczyk has been stellar as the champion, over her last two fights, she has been hurt. That’s no slight to her as she should be pushed – especially since the UFC touts itself as the pinnacle of mixed martial arts – but it’s noteworthy to mention. I was asked recently by someone who knows I write about MMA, if she’s peaked already. I don’t think so. Competition comes her way and she meets the challenge, she fights, she overcomes tough moments…and makes successful title defenses. Even though defending belts is pure nonsense at this point, right?

Andrade wins if she muscles her way into grappling range while also initiating great defense to mitigate Jedrzejczyk’s punching power and accuracy. She reminds me of Claudia Gadelha but she seems to be more powerful. One thing that’s paramount will be her cardio. She has never competed in a five round fight; not once. I want to see how fresh she’ll be in a fight that I think will go the distance. If she’s taking too much damage on the feet will she opt to engage in a grappling match?

Demian Maia vs. Jorge Masvidal

Maia wins if he can stay glued to his opponent. The human boa constrictor sucks the air out of his opponents’ attacks – and their bodies – as long as he can grab an appendage. He has great defense – only absorbing 13 strikes in his last FOUR fights – so the damage he’s taken is minimal. It’s funny considering Maia’s plan of attack because the world knows his playbook. He’s deliberately marching forward, calculating the possibilities depending on cage placement, and luring his opponents into inevitable doom. He will put out a jab or a low kick, more as a defensive technique just to begin the assault on his opponent’s consciousness. The more time the fight’s in the clinch, or grappling where Masvidal can’t put together fluid combinations…it’s only a matter of time before Maia’s hand is raised.

Masvidal wins if he can survive the clinching exchanges and not by simply resorting to hand fighting. Against the cage, his wizard has to be quick and he must shift his base to get his back free of the cage in order to make his way safely to the center of the Octagon. He has the skill to stop Maia and/or win on points but he has to stay clear of the cage. Jabs, uppercuts and knees, especially the latter, could create a massive opportunity for him.

It’s a pure battle of two opposing styles. The striker facing off against the grappler with clear advantages for both respectively. Masvidal’s level of aggression will be a fantastic subplot. Will he chain combinations together? Will he play it safe and throw one strike at a time? His discipline will directly tied to how successful he will – or won’t – be in the crucial middleweight bout.

Picks: Miocic, Jedrzejczyk, Maia, Edgar, Branch and…Alvarez?

UFC 210: Buffalo

By: S. Davis

A few days ago two guys were in line at the grocery store talking (too) loudly about how muddled the UFC Middleweight division is in lieu of the returning Georges St-Pierre. They were passionate, playfully argumentative and definitely had the feel of loyal supporters of mixed martial arts. As my items traveled the conveyor belt behind theirs, one of them accidentally knocked down my chunky blue cheese and apologized. I nodded in response and asked if they were as demonstrative about the chaos that the featherweight and lightweight divisions are engulfed in.

Why are fans – and appallingly, MMA media – outraged at this brief blip on the radar? Why are they griping about what’s fair for deserving contenders? Did I miss the very same outcry when a slew of elite contenders at 145 and 155 had to sit on their hands while others had to feast on each other in the hopes of earning a title shot?

There wasn’t an outcry then – and there shouldn’t be one now.

Neither of them had an answer and agreed with my point of view. Full disclosure: They had two 24 packs of Corona on the checkout counter so that may have played a minor part.

On to UFC 210:

I thought I posted my analysis of the last two televised fight cards for the UFC but I didn’t. I had an incomplete post sitting pretty in my drafts folder and I realized I didn’t publish it. Why? I just didn’t care. The noise and hypocrisy surrounding the sport put me in a comfortable corner where I’ll engage when it calls for it. Daniel Cormier defending his title against Anthony Johnson this Saturday night calls for it.

No matter what your personal preferences happen to be as they pertain to pound-for-pound lists,  Cormier should sit firmly in the top three along with Demetrious Johnson and Jon Jones. If those three names aren’t scribbled on your mythical ranking, your list needs to be doused in lighter fluid and barbecued. As someone who admires all three, Cormier gets slighted as one of the best in the sport. It’s not his fault that Jones disqualified himself from their rematch. Furthermore the fact that he’s the light heavyweight champion – despite not taking the title from Bones – is an element far out of his control.

If not for his friendship with Cain Velasquez, he’d be the heavyweight champion of the UFC. He’s a legit two-weight champion – and he was established as one at a time when that actually was something to take notice of. He didn’t make his name by beating smaller fighters; he was the smaller heavyweight putting larger opponents through the wood chipper, so to speak. He moved down because of friendship – and became a champion without a blemish. What’s his crime exactly?

Now I have to admit that Daniel Cormier, the analyst, is grating and I’m doing my best to be kind. He is sharp behind the desk, he seems like a natural and he’ll have a long career as a broadcaster but some of his observations come across as heavy-handed. That’s not unlike many in the profession who get paid to talk as a television personality. Is he disliked, discredited and derided for that? Maybe.

His only career defeat is to a fighter many deem to be the best fighter that’s been created in MMA history – and he damn well might be already.

Boooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! Fans make me cringe, I tell you.

As for the man nicknamed Rumble…

I’m torn on how much I need to (or should) take their first meeting into account here. Rather recently Johnson has been labeled as a seven minute fighter – I know Cormier said something close to that – but he’s gone the distance (in three round contests) in six of his 27 career bouts. He’s not just dangerous in the first round of the fight; he’s a menace once he scribbles his name on the contract to confirm one. I would like to see his pace if the fight goes to the championship rounds as he’s never competed in them.

In a rematch where the skill level is close, the fighter that fell short in the first encounter usually emerges with the victory in chapter two. Any obvious reason? The losing fighter has more tape to diagnose their mistakes. They refine their strategy in detailed fashion; going over each engagement, positioning, foot placement, defense, etc. There are times that it seems like the victorious fighter enters a rematch underestimating the opponent they recently defeated. I think mentally they take inventory of the challenge ahead and think to themselves, “So…they look the same, have the same toolkit of skills so why should the outcome be any different this time around?”

My brain tells me that Cormier will ignore every aspect of their initial meeting yet my heart gives me a slight pause because what if the slightest morsel of complacency takes root? We’re all human, right?

Chris Weidman vs. Gegard Mousasi

Let’s jump on this early, ok?

Weidman isn’t a scrub, isn’t washed up and he wasn’t overrated. MMA fans are idiots for the most part, well, sports fans overall are brainless druids and I’ve yet to be convinced otherwise. There is no foundation on which to knock a fighter for facing off against killers at every step along their journey and then spit in their faces the moment they suffer a loss (or two). Especially when it’s conveniently lost on most that he was beating both Luke Rockhold and Yoel Romero before the official stopped the action. Watch the tape, it’s clear! He’s an elite middleweight but strange things transpire when the best martial artists in the world are locked in a cage together: A loss is getting stamped on someone. Period.

Building up a fighter, step by step, is a luxury that happens only for a select few in the UFC. I’m sure the former middleweight champion wanted the challenge of stepping into the cage against another deadly competitor, in a deadly division, but the matchmaking seems questionable. Wouldn’t Weidman be far better served taking on someone ranked in the bottom half of the division? Why court disaster when you don’t have to? Couldn’t someone have thought about finding an opponent to help one of the few marketable athletes on the roster regain his confidence? Interesting.

Well, in their defense the UFC did feed Ronda Rousey to Amanda Nunes for no logical reason so maybe I’m wrong here.

Mousasi is fantastic in most aspects of the sport and his wrestling defense has improved enough that it’s no longer his most glaring weakness – as it once was. I’m intrigued by his prowess on the feet and how he’ll attack Weidman as the former champion is extremely flat-footed for such a seasoned veteran.

Picks: Cormier, Mousasi, Calvillo, Alves and Brooks.

After everyone competes they should all rush to Just Pizza for the best three-cheese steak pizza in the world. New York, New Yoooooooooooooooooork!

UFC 209: Oh No!

By: S. Davis

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I woke up this morning to put the finishing touches on this piece…and then I got on the internet. Should I delete this? No, I’ll post it incomplete as I was excited to dive into the subject.

The two best lightweight fighters in the world step into a cage…for the toy that’s at the bottom of the cereal box. (Do breakfast cereal companies even include toys in their products anymore?) Sorry. I’m torn on how I should feel about the clash this weekend to be honest. On one hand, sign me up! A pure contrast of styles; the exact foundation on which the entire sport of mixed martial arts was created decades ago. I’m giddy, excited, smiling from ear to ear, but then the two words appear that truly have me considering dropping the sport from the dwindling precious hours of leisure time I have: Interim Championship.

I’d rather someone farted on my sandwich right before I bit into it before another division has to deal with ego, muck and disdain from a champion who isn’t injured (and is actively chasing another fight…in a different sport). I have fully convinced myself that Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson are competing for the UFC Lightweight Championship on Saturday night. Period. It just works better for me that way.

UFC Interim Lightweight Championship: Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson

Nurmagomedov wins if he can glue himself to his opponent and stifle the creativity that allows Ferguson to systematically tear his opposition to pieces (while also taking some dangerous gambles). We all know the blueprint for the Eagle: close the striking range and then chain his brutal and stellar Combat Sambo and wrestling hybrid into the most effective grappling attack in the entire sport…unless your name is Demian Maia.

At that point he can launch an endless array of trips, double-legs, wizards, leg sweeps, knee taps, single legs, traditional throws, suplexes, etc. He blends grappling techniques that don’t necessarily bleed into one another traditionally: setting up a judo throw while closing distance to catch wrestle while mixing in freestyle wrestling and jiu-jitsu which then culminates in lethal ground and pound.

Insert deeper analysis here…

Ferguson wins if he finds a way to curb his instinctual urge to be wild, just enough to avoid finding himself eating punches and elbows while he’s fighting off his back because he was sloppy one too many times and served Nurmagomedov an effortless takedown. For a long time, Jon Jones chose to be labeled as a freestyle fighter during introductions and it’s applicable to Ferguson as well. He studies his opponent during battle and sifts through all the ways he can inflict damage while making it seem like he’s fighting on a completely different level of existence. His talent and plethora of weapons are undeniable.

You want to make the fight a striking showcase? He excels there. Do you want to engage in dirty boxing with some clinch work? He’ll adjust accordingly and carve your flesh with sharp, precise, elbows and knees. You want to test the limits of his ground game? Be careful with any movement because he will snatch your neck with one of the quickest and most technical D’Arce chokes in the world. Another skill worth mentioning: Wrestling is his base; don’t forget that.

El Cucuy has the greatest chance of becoming champion the longer he manages to keep the fight on striking terms. The Eagle isn’t a novice there but his chances of capturing gold favor him the more times he can clasp his hands together around his opponent. Mixed martial arts are about using what you do well to tip the scales in your favor. A slightly measured and committed Ferguson could win the battle on points if he’s composed.

A huge key will be takedown defense. He should take a look at the footage from the Gleison Tibau bout versus Nurmagomedov. Tibau was diligent in using his left arm as a lever whenever the talented grappler tried to secure a double-leg. Nurmagomedov tried, in vain, to shift his own weight forward onto the left side of Tibau to secure the takedown but the arm placement, strength and dedication to keeping this left arm close to his ribs allowed him to use the limb as a counter to make sure he wouldn’t spend the night under a man who wrestles bears as an escape from training.

I’m hesitant to say that Ferguson will stick to a formulated strategy for the duration of the championship contest (however long it should last) but I do feel confident that he won’t be afraid to hit the mat a few times. Personally I do think he has the talent to battle back to his feet but there are so many times one should opt to play around with lighter fluid, right?

Both fighters have been orbiting the throne of the sport and are hours away from making a dream into a reality (one symbolized in gold).

Again, the fight has been cancelled as Nurmagomedov had to visit a hospital as a direct result of his weight cut but he has since been released and is recuperating. Get well and rest up. 

I felt that both men earned the right to fight for the true championship but I gave a slight preference to Ferguson since he’s been active and healthy. He should be slated to challenge the lightweight title holder if said title holder ever gets around to making a defense.

UFC Welterweight Championship: Tyron Woodley (C) vs. Stephen Thompson

I went with Woodley at UFC 205 to retain, and while I was technically correct, I couldn’t forecast a draw. It’s common knowledge in combat sports to favor the fighter who lost the first meeting when a rematch is announced. For whatever reason that fighter enters the rematch having made key adjustments to their skill set while sharpening their flaws – and maybe the determination to even the score aids them the second time around.

There wasn’t a winner in November so which fighter will make the adjustments necessary to walk out of the cage the victor? I can see Woodley going all out if he staggers Thompson to chase the finish. Additionally, I do think he will use his wrestling more than he did in their first chapter. Wonderboy needs to shore up his defense and be diligent about keeping his left hand close to his head. I wonder if he’s been using knee attacks this training camp. If Woodley chooses to grapple more actively, an opening may present itself for a crushing knee that could change the fight.

Mark Hunt vs. Alistair Overeem

With the litigation, presently, transpiring between Hunt and the UFC one has to wonder if he’s sharp, mentally, this weekend. We all know how important it is for a fighter – maybe above other athletes – to be of sound mind. It puzzles me how everyone kicks dirt on the heavy guys for having glass chins – and the disrespect that hovers the entire division at-large. Has anyone stopped to think that humans that strong aren’t meant to punch one another with small gloves?

I can see Overeem winning a point-fighting contest. On volume alone he could secure a victory by staying in kicking range and copying the patient strategy that he ridiculously abandoned when he almost captured UFC gold against Stipe Miocic. The fact that this fight is three rounds leans heavily in his favor but Hunt only needs one shot to connect so the length of the fight may not matter ultimately.

A brief thought about Georges St-Pierre:

So I heard that he’s cutting past every deserving middleweight and will compete for the 185 title? The nerve! I HATTTTE everything! I’m joking, naturally. How is this fight a cause for so much anger? Really, this is Pandora’s Box?

The hypocrisy of MMA fans is hilarious. Do I like the fight? Not really, to be honest but at least GSP has a track record of being a dominant fighter – with title defenses – that bolster his case to bypass the queue. He’s one of the greatest fighters – the best ever, along with Jones, in my opinion – with a resume that speaks for itself. Like him or not, I like Michael Bisping as UFC Middleweight Champion; is it his fault that Luke Rockhold treated him like an unworthy competitor and served his chin nice and high on a platter?

For all the crying about Dan Henderson not “deserving” a championship opportunity: Was that meeting a wipeout? Most of the viewing public was split on whether Hendo should be wearing the belt right now.

“Deserving” as it pertains to MMA is absolutely devoid of all merit and/or logic.

It’s odd how fans crying over this news happen to be the same ones that had no problem with the current lightweight champion jumping the line, talking his way into title fights, while simultaneously avoiding the top contenders in two divisions. This here, though, is wrong?

Maybe GSP missed the adrenaline or the spotlight – although he never seemed to be thirsty for fame – but I would feel infinitely better about this if he was 32 years old and not 36, which he will be at the time he and Bisping meet in the cage.

Picks: Thompson, Hunt, Lando Vannata and Rashad Evans.

UFC 208: Holly Holm’s Spotlight

By: S. Davis
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How will Holly Holm be viewed on Sunday?

Will her UFC 193 victory end up to be a curse after all? A shining moment against an opponent designed, perfectly, for her counter-attacking repertoire. A night that she, ultimately, couldn’t replicate once more? Will she be draped in gold or heckled with scorn?

She’s occupying an odd space within mixed martial arts. Holm could turn in a spirited performance against a tough opponent in Germaine de Randamie, have Dana White wrap her in the shiny new belt showcasing her as the new UFC Featherweight Champion and immediately she’d be labeled a fraud. (Although the same insults will be hurled upon her opposition provided she wins the heavy gold belt, in my opinion, but to a lesser degree when you view Holm’s peaks and valleys in the UFC.)

Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos is the cloud hanging over the entire division being that White created a title in a division, headlining a Brooklyn card this weekend, that doesn’t have a true featherweight on the roster besides her. (Personally, I think Cyborg is the best female fighter to ever compete in mixed martial arts – and that’s no slight to Gina Carano, Ronda Rousey or Joanna Jedrzejczyk.) Holm will sit at the dais and field inquires about Cyborg, losing three straight, not waiting to rematch Rousey or holding a championship that MMA-media are having a hard time trying to quantify. That awaits her…and it’s not entirely fair.

Was it smart business for the UFC to put Rousey in with Amanda Nunes? The UFC might have just killed a star by putting her in competition far too soon…in a title fight, no less. As a pivot, I fully believe someone had an idea to create another nauseating strap out of thin air in the hopes they can manufacture another supernova after this weekend. Imagine if Holm sat on the sidelines – and was the one to beat the version of Rousey that shouldn’t have competed against anyone at UFC 207. I feel a victory there would’ve been discredited in some fashion. I’m going on a tangent here…..

Holm is backed into a career crossroads after losing to Miesha Tate in a desperate scramble that cost her the bantamweight title and being stunningly flummoxed against Valentina Schevchenko – whose style could just turn out to be an unfavorable matchup for her no matter when they share the cage. She’s on a losing streak, yes, but she was controlling the majority of her title defense against Tate. Additionally, her struggles against Schevchenko were on live broadcast for the world to see but she wasn’t dominated.

It’s the fight game and everyone stepping into a cage will be beaten at some point but does the world have to step in to attempt to defeat the woman as well? How many fights does an athlete have to take on? Had she been devastating in the two wins that preceded her title triumph there would be detractors there as well. If the UFC is the pinnacle of the entire sport, shouldn’t any victory in the Octagon be enough on its own? Are style points the added criteria to having one’s hand raised at the end of battle?

I honestly don’t have a favorite in this fight; I think both women are worthy of championship shine. I just hate the narratives that will form around Holm if she should fail to win. They’ve already begun, unfortunately.

Scream hard, Brooklyn!

Picks: Holm, Silva, Jacare, Teixeira, and Poirier.

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.

UFC 206: Another Interim Title?

By: S. Davis

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Interim Featherweight Championship: Max Holloway vs. Anthony Pettis

Holloway wins if he brings his volume striking to the cage. While being a stellar martial artist in every wrinkle of the sport, his ability to overwhelm opponents stands out the most. He averages just under six significant strikes per minute so the pressure on will be on Pettis to bring an exceptional defensive performance on fight night. Holloway can win by backing up the former lightweight champion who isn’t the same dangerous fighter when he’s spending ample amounts of time in retreat mode.

A huge key will be endurance. Holloway is the rare fighter that seems organically relaxed and energized no matter how long the fight stretches. He fights in the later rounds as if they were the opening ones. He can take advantage in this area and make it an uphill climb for his opponent, who displays a tendency to slow down the longer a fight progresses, and he had a brutal weight cut and didn’t make the limit for the contest.

Pettis wins if he can keep the fight in kicking range. It’s clear that he wants to engage on his terms – which is when his opponents are at the end of this lethal body kicks; any of his kicks, really. He wants to keep the opposition a good distance away to calculate timing and unleash from unorthodox launching points. He aims to strike at his pace which is at about half the pace of Holloway. Pettis is an efficient counter-striker with sneaky, efficient, stinging hands. The former lightweight champion will need to use his opponents’ aggression against him by cutting a myriad of angles before, during and after attacks to stun Holloway with a flesh shaking kick that can present an opportunity for a quick submission attempt.

I’m aware of this narrative surrounding Pettis but the fact that a lot of the noise centers around his “slide” is humorous. He lost to three killers in a division where no one can have a bad evening and expect to leave with their faculties intact. He made it to the scorecards in each of those losses and didn’t quit at any time while he was trying to find a way to win. He’s not a fighter on the downturn, at least I don’t see it.

Donald Cerrone vs. Matt Brown

Cerrone wins if the great footwork he’s mastered as a welterweight hasn’t fallen from his arsenal. All the tools are there for the Cowboy but with all the distractions he’s had this week I do wonder what version is stepping into the cage. His ability to seamlessly mix kickboxing, wrestling and jiu-jitsu all in one fluid sequence makes him a threat as long as he’s still in the fight. He’s been able to set up his striking flurries faster than his opponents can plan a method of defense and that can serve him well against Brown who is very stationary, especially when the contest switches into a brawl. I like Cerrone to continue his winning ways if he can keep himself of out Brown’s lethal clinch and mix in some wrestling and trips to find a rear naked choke.

Brown wins if he can pull Cerrone into his clinch where he can unleash his elbows and use his weight advantage to sap the Cowboy’s gas tank. The pace should be high when three rounds is all they have to utilize but I see a slow start for both men as a sign of respect…and caution. Brown will need to make the fight dirty and he has to hope that Cowboy will meet him for that type of dance. Brown should look to fire those sharp elbows and keep his opponent on his heels.

Cub Swanson vs. Dooho Choi

Swanson wins if he can express veteran guile and smarts to reign in Choi and win on points. Swanson is a phenomenal offensive talent and he knows how dangerous he can be when striking; which serves as a double-edged sword at times. Defensively is where Swanson hurts his own chances of climbing back into the contenders queue. Too often he keeps his head up and his chin forward without utilizing movement off the center line. If he goes out to make a statement he could find himself waking up under the lights and seeing Choi run jubilantly across the cage in a matter of one careless exchange. He has to be deliberate, he must use leg kicks and efficient boxing to frustrate Choi to the point of desperation. He’s as dangerous a fighter there is on the entire roster but he often gives his opponents too many opportunities to inflict their own measure of damage – and that recipe doesn’t translate to successful longevity in such a violent sport.

Choi wins if he can score when Swanson leaves that chin in the air. The hype around the Korean Superboy is well-deserved and this is a massive test for him going forward. The UFC matchmakers put this one together to measure where he’ll be slotted in the division. Choi probably has the power advantage while I think Swanson is a tad quicker but the speed differential won’t likely factor into the fight if Swanson abandons defense. This fight should remain a striking affair and I think Choi can force Swanson into a battle and make him throw caution to the wind…which can lead to his demise. If the Superboy marches forward for most of the encounter, I like his chances as Swanson does have a tendency to abandon discretion and engage anywhere.

Tim Kennedy vs. Kelvin Gastelum

Kennedy wins if his two-year hiatus hasn’t eroded his abilities. Size is going to be a factor and Kennedy is a mountain. If he can push Gastelum against the cage and earn the takedown – or just make the naturally smaller fighter carry his weight it will make for an interesting outcome in the later rounds.

Gastelum wins if he can stuff the takedown attempts and use his youth, speed advantage and striking to wear Kennedy down.

Picks: Pettis, Brown, Choi, Kennedy and Mein.