I never thought I’d type this out, but the majority of the Bloody Elbow staff is picking Ronda Rousey to lose tomorrow night at UFC 207 vs. Amanda Nunes. You want to know how big a deal this is? Not ONE person on the BE team had picked a Ronda Rousey opponent in any of her previous UFC fights. Even dating back to Strikeforce, Dallas Winston had picked Tate over Rousey, and Tim Burke was a Canadian homer who backed Sarah Kaufman over Ronda, but that’s it.
As for the co-main event, only Nick Baldwin and Lewis McKeever are going with Cody Garbrandt to unseat Dominick Cruz at UFC men’s bantamweight champion.
This is such a well-matched card as a whole that the only fight with unanimous agreement among the staff is Neil Magny over Johny Hendricks. UPDATE: Damn you, Tim Burke. Ever the contrarian and picking Hendricks.
Note: Predictions are entered throughout the week and collected the day before the event. Explanations behind each pick are not required and some writers opt not to do so for their own reasons. For example, if Phil Mackenzie entered all of his predictions on Wednesday without adding in any explanations, he has no idea if he's going to be the only one siding with one fighter for any given fight.
Anton Tabuena: Nunes is used to pushing forward aggressively instead of picking people apart from the outside, and while she has the power to end things at any moment, that style plays to Rousey's clinch and judo game. I doubt Rousey can evolve much given that she's still under the same sub-bar coaching, but on paper, this should be her fight to lose. If she performs to the level that we've seen her, she should be the comfortable favorite here. Problem is, there's just too many unknown factors, especially on her mental state since that knockout. We obviously don't know what's going on up there, but it's safe to say she hasn't been handling the loss like normal fighters would. No one truly knows how much that will play into the fight, so I'm going to make a pick based on the skill match up rather than something that's impossible to predict. Ronda Rousey by Armbar.
Mookie Alexander: I shouldn’t be picking Rousey here. The uncertain state of her mindset after the Holm loss, in addition to sticking with Tarverdyan, as well as Nunes being a much more powerful striker than Holm, along with the recent footage of her striking trai---you get the point. The signs point to Rousey being a Mike Tyson-esque fighter who was so used to bullying the opposition, then fell apart once bullying everyone was found to be unattainable. Is this going to be what becomes of Rousey? How will she respond to getting hit by Nunes? Do you weigh her loss to Holm more heavily than her utter dominance over virtually everyone else in the women’s bantamweight division over the years? Let’s be real here, Holm and Nunes aren’t the same fighter. Holm’s counterstriking befuddled Ronda. Nunes is certainly more aggressive than Holm but has dodgy cardio, so you have to wonder if she’ll be making a push to finish in round 1. That could backfire on her and she could get overaggressive, tossed to the mat, and Rousey does her thing. Alternatively, Nunes just snipes Rousey and surely ends her fighting career as we know it. Ohhhhh I don’t know what to do. Alright, I’ll go with what I dreamed on Tuesday night, Ronda Rousey by armbar, round 2. No, I don’t feel very good about it.
Victor Rodriguez: Rousey is still training with Tarverdyan. Do you remember what his tutelage sounds like? I do. What success has anyone under his tutelage really accomplished? Travis Browne went from heavyweight threat to punching bag, Jake Ellenberger almost flamed out of the UFC after a decade in the game before getting the hell out of dodge to join Cordero across town, and Jessamyn Duke went from hot prospect to limbo. Yet Rousey is still training with Tarverdyan. Ronda has succeeded despite her time under Edmond, not because of it. And I want to make this clear - I not only want this fight to be competitive, I actually want Ronda to win in the hopes of shutting up all of the vile, stupid bullshit-spewing troglodytes that cheer for her demise as a sport in and of itself. That said, there’s no way I can put any faith into it. Why? Rousey is still training with Tarverdyan. She’s loyal to the end, and is still sticking with one of the worst coaches in the game. Not only that, but she’s facing a hellacious striker that’s cleaned up a lot of her already terrifying striking game, uses range and has better control of footwork and timing. Plus, Nunes can use a size and weight advantage with her prep work to avoid the takedown to defend and make this her fight. A few key things have to go really wrong for Amanda for Ronda to win this fight, and I just don’t see it happening. Amanda Nunes by TKO.
Fraser Coffeen: This one basically comes down entirely to Rousey’s mental game, which makes it tough, because no one can really know where her head is at. That said, all signs point to her not being in a good place - the massive time off, the walk away from the staredown, the refusal to do media… it’s all bad signs. I worry that there’s going to be some anti-Rousey revisionism going on in coming years about how she was never that good anyway. Which is nonsense - prime Rousey wins this 9 times out of 10. But this Rousey? Amanda Nunes, KO, R1
Ram Gilboa: There’s a lot of talk about Rousey’s mentality coming into the Nunes fight. Obviously, her mentality is going to play a very big role here, as this is a fight, in a cage. But, I think there’s something bigger here: Rousey hasn’t fought in well over a year. She spent at least the first two months of that period not training; probably more like three. Techno-physically – that’s a thing – I’m afraid she will find out the MMA world catches up to its luminaries pretty quickly. Rousey’s return talk also completely overshadowed Nunes, the champ, you know, and her own recent accomplishments and advancements. And Nunes is a tough match-up for even a top condition Rousey, who won’t outbox her - not while under Tarverdyan, maybe not ever now – and won’t get any free armbars off the 3 years black belt. (Nunes also holds a brown in Judo, as much as it says something against Rousey’s Bronze, and Silver).
Rousey got figured out once – true, by solid opposition - and fighters of a certain age, style and upbringing, once they get figured out, they rarely get unfigured. Especially against top competition, Ask Fedor, or Chuck. Rousey is younger than they were when their losses started piling up, but WMMA is younger too, and with the benefit of prior wisdom, it is catching up in a quicker pace. I’m afraid – well, to the point that I care and sympathize – that Rousey will find out that head and arm Kubinage throws will pretty much magically altogether stop being effective in 2017 WMMA.
Following the buildup to this event you get the feeling that Rousey is alone in there. And in many ways, as always, it’s herself she’s going to battle in that locked cage. But in other and very corporeal ways, it’s Amanda Nunes, and she’s a locomotive. I think round 1 will be interesting, but the break introduces an adrenaline drop for the challenger, and the champion capitalizes and closes the deal in 2. Nunes by KO/TKO in Round 2.
Eddie Mercado: I’ve seen Ronda Rousey lose one time, and that is not enough for me to even begin to write her off. Say what you will about the mental aspect; I for one cannot put much stock in whatever content was coming from the woman that has been taking acting classes. As far as the fight, I believe Nunes will be in a world of trouble if she finds herself on her back, and I do not believe she possesses the mobility necessary to keep Rousey at, or outside of, striking range. Once the distance has been closed, I struggle to see Nunes being able to stay vertical and the bantamweight championship game of hot potato will continue. Since, Rousey lost her title, I have picked against whoever was defending the belt, and this time is no exception. Ronda Rousey by Submission (RNC) at 3:33 of Round 1.
Tim Burke: Never judge a fighter off of one fight. Y’all musta forgot about Ronda. She’s gonna trounce Nunes here. Ronda Rousey by submission (armbar), round 1
Staff picking Nunes: Victor, Nick, Bissell, Fraser, Ram, Stephie, Phil
Staff picking Rousey: Mookie, Eddie, Lewis, Tim, Anton
Anton Tabuena: Cruz is the best bantamweight in the history of the sport, but like all the greats, he will likely end up losing at some point. If he keeps fighting all these young and upcoming fighters, one of them is bound to defeat the 31-year-old champion. Is that guy going to be Garbrandt? He not only has the power to end things early, he might arguably be the best boxer Cruz has faced in a very long time... maybe ever? That said, Garbrandt has not faced anyone remotely close to the level of Cruz either, whether it's skills, experience, or fight IQ. Apart from his unique style, Dominick's best asset is his ability to adjust mid-fight and frustrate fighters. If Cody manages to hit him but not finish, expect Cruz to adjust and take over from other facets of the game, whether it's wrestling, or even tweaking things from stand up. Garbrandt has a very real chance of scoring an upset, but at this point, there's not enough reasons to pick against a more well rounded, experienced, and smarter champion. Dominick Cruz by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: I figure that Garbrandt has about 7-8 minutes to win this fight before Cruz just takes over. This is me saying that Garbrandt has a puncher’s chance, but not much else. Despite the elusiveness of Cruz, he’s not unbelievably impossible to hit. Garbrandt is the hardest puncher Cruz has faced since … Benavidez? Yeah, we’ll go with that. Cody has the power to put just about anyone away, Cruz included, but as the Heavy Hands team pointed out, he’s a pretty linear fighter. That’s not exactly a feather in your cap when going against someone who moves as well as Cruz. It’ll take a big shot in an exchange or Garbrandt strategizing to work an angle where he can fire off clean shots on Cruz (easier said than done) for the upset to happen. Otherwise, I still see Dillashaw as the guy who most likely can beat Cruz. If the KO doesn’t happen early, Cruz will style on Garbrandt and frustrate him towards an increasingly one-sided decision. Wouldn’t be surprised if Cruz also puts on a wrestling clinic as Garbrandt starts to fade towards rounds 3-5. Dominick Cruz by unanimous decision.
Fraser Coffeen: I’m really torn here simply because I can’t make up my mind about how good Garbrandt really is. I find that to sometimes be the case with the big KO puncher types where the power is such a game changer that it’s not always easy to evaluate the overall game. Garbrandt is no doubt a very good fighter, but is he a better technical striker than Faber or Dillashaw, both men who fell victim to the Cruz striking conundrum? No, I don’t think he is. But what he does have is the ability to turn the fight with one punch, and Cruz hasn’t dealt with that since Brian Bowles many moons ago. The question then becomes, can Cruz avoid the big strike for 25 minutes straight? If I’m being honest, I don’t think he can. I see Garbrandt landing some big shots here and there to make it a close fight - but if he can’t score the KO, look for the judges to give the slightly controversial nod to Cruz. Dominick Cruz, UD
Eddie Mercado: For me, this is Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Canelo Alvarez. Cody Garbrandt is young and dangerous and only getting better, where as Dominick Cruz is the long time King Ding but isn’t exactly getting any younger. It’s a wise choice for Cruz to take young Garbrandt now in his somewhat green career versus a bit further down the road when "No Love" acquires a little more seasoning. Dom Cruz by Submission (Guillotine) at 4:16 of Round 4.
Victor Rodriguez: Garbrandt can finish this fight with one or two punches, but does anyone actually see him landing that shot? That’s been my dilemma here. There doesn’t seem to be any avenue I can see for Cody here. He won’t outwrestle Dominick, he won’t get off his back when taken down and sure as hell won’t submit Cruz. I see Cody getting picked apart from the outside and getting superstyled on for a solid five rounds. All that bad blood gets wasted on an uncompetitive outing. Light a candle for that young man. Dominick Cruz by TKO, round 4.
Tim Burke: Cruz is going to style on Garbrandt on the feet for a while, then get taken down and finished. This will be one-sided. Dominick Cruz by submission, round 4
Staff picking Cruz: Bissell, Fraser, Ram, Mookie, Eddie, Victor, Stephie, Phil, Tim, Anton
Staff picking Garbrandt: Nick, Lewis
Anton Tabuena: Now this is an excellent fight. both throw with volume, but on completely different styles. It will be interesting to see if Lineker can brawl on the inside, or if Dillashaw fights disciplined and just picks him apart outside. It should be fun either way, but I really wish this was a 5-rounder. T.J. Dillashaw by Decision.
Mookie Alexander: I shouldn’t be betraying the great John Lineker like this, but short of one of his rib roasters or haymakers crushing Dillashaw straight away, this is TJ’s fight to lose. Better footwork, superior command of angles, more technical striker, he’s basically at a level of striking that I think will lead to a frustrated Lineker getting dominated. I hope I’m wrong, because I don’t want the Lineker fun to end. TJ Dillashaw by unanimous decision.
Eddie Mercado: TJ Dillashaw throws a boatload of volume and when you throw that often, you’re going to get hit. That might go over well with some bantamweights, but not John Lineker. John Lineker by KO at 2:02 of Round 1.
Victor Rodriguez: Dude, Lineker shouldn’t have eaten his way out of flyweight. He’s about to face an inability to deal with Dillashaw’s timing, pace and cardio. That’s not even saying anything about his movement both attacking and evading. He’ll be a day late and a dollar short in most of these exchanges and whiff relentlessly. Dilly takes over late with takedowns and ground control. I’d wager on TJ getting the finish if this were a five-rounder, but this is what we’ve got. TJ Dillashaw by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Dillashaw's worst enemy in this fight will be his natural brawling tendencies. If he feels like he needs to bang it out with Lineker, he'll find himself in trouble in short order. However, I think that his ability to draw responses with movement and feints and counter counters makes him a rough matchup for Lineker, and if Dillashaw can keep this fight from moving into the outer moat of the cage, he should take it handily. The wrestling in the back pocket is a bonus. TJ Dillashaw by unanimous decision.
Staff picking Dillashaw: Nick, Bissell, Fraser, Ram, Mookie, Lewis, Victor, Stephie, Phil, Tim, Anton
Staff picking Lineker: Eddie
Anton Tabuena: If Kim decides to still fight 'exciting' and just strikes with Saffiedine, throwing crazy bombs and spinning attacks, he will probably get his legs chopped down. If he fights to his ability and just grinds, uses that Judo, it's his fight to lose. Maybe he's past that insane striking stage he went through. Dong Hyun Kim by Decision.
Mookie Alexander: I’m pretty much over Saffiedine. He’s a functionally good fighter who is just not powerful enough (or just plain not powerful at all) to overwhelm opponents. His takedown defense is pretty sturdy but I think Stun Gun can return to "Old Stun Gun" and grind this one out. In other words, fewer random spinning techniques, more judo-throwy stuff. Dong Hyun Kim by unanimous decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Love Tarec to death, but this matchup isn’t very good for him. Kim’s massive and a great grappler that found some success being reckless but has since reverted to his grappling-heavy style. It is what it is. Kim controls this fight and rides it to a decision. Dong Hyun Kim by decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Kim isn't good at closing distance, which is where Tarec wants to keep it. However, I just can't trust Saffiedine- his power (which was never great aside from his leg kicks) appears to be visibly waning, as is his durability and physical strength. I think the injuries have taken too much of a toll, and he won't be able to stop Kim from closing him down and bullying him. Dong Hyun Kim by unanimous decision.
Staff picking Kim: Nick, Bissell, Fraser, Mookie, Victor, Eddie, Stephie, Phil, Tim, Anton
Staff picking Saffiedine: Ram, Lewis
Mookie Alexander: Borg looked totally out of his depth as a striker against Justin Scoggins, so ideally working with Brandon Gibson can coach him up, because his game to his date has been heavily dependent on transitions and winning scrambles. Smolka will have a considerable size advantage with him, he can grapple with Borg, and he does way more damage than Borg does when in dominant positions. I know Smolka just had a humbling defeat two months ago, but he’s a more complete fighter than Borg, and I think he dominates here. Louis Smolka by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Smolka is interesting. Not a great offensive wrestler and debatably a downright bad defensive one. Despite being physically diametrically opposed to the Hawaiian, Borg has similar key competencies - mediocre striking, but fantastic grappling. I slightly like Borg here- I think he's the better offensive wrestler and hence has the better ability to dictate scrambles, but this is a hard fight to pick, and likely an extremely entertaining one. Ray Borg by unanimous decision.
Tim Burke: Smolka will be assimilated. Resistance is futile. Ray Borg by submission, round 2
Staff picking Borg: Phil, Tim
Staff picking Smolka: Nick, Fraser, Mookie, Lewis, Bissell, Stephie, Anton
Anton Tabuena: After calling out the media to do a weight cutting contest, and saying he's "right there" near the limit, he still misses weight badly. He should've been the far superior fighter in this match up, but I don't know what to think about Hendricks these days, but picking him doesn't seem like a good idea at this point. Neil Magny by Decision.
Mookie Alexander: I just can’t bring myself to pick Hendricks. He’s hinted he might retire even with a win, he’s not looked good in these last two fights, and it’s been ages since he won by KO. Magny’s unsustainable run of "almost get KO’d but still win" finally ended vs. Lorenz Larkin, but he’s still a very good fighter. He’s an underrated wrestler and his cardio will serve him well as he outstrikes Hendricks in the later rounds for the win. UPDATE: And Hendricks badly missed weight so yeah, nothing changes! Neil Magny by unanimous decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Oof. Let’s see.. We’ve got Hendricks being a reliably strong wrestler that hasn’t really been able to recapture that spark that led to his earlier success and championship fights against Georges St Pierre and Robbie Lawler. He’s been inconsistent for an entire cornucopia of reasons, whether it was the hand wraps, fighting at 70%, weight troubles, etc. On the other hand, Magny’s come along as a good but not spectacular fighter from TUF to a fighter that’s evolved beautifully and shown true potential in his UFC run and appeared to not have been affected very much by his crushing loss to Demian Maia. Magny’s ability to take a hit as well as his superb cardio served him well against Hector Lombard, and could be part of the formula to win here. He can survive the takedown attempts and keep the upper hand no matter how ugly Hendricks makes this fight, working to establish his clinch and chip away at him. Once Johny’s cardio begins to falter later in the fight, Magny turns up the heat and outworks the former champion. Neil Magny by decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Sad to see Hendricks come to this. Wasn't long ago that he was an elite fighter and gave us some of the best fights we've ever seen (Lawler, Condit, GSP). I picked against him before he missed weight, will do it with more confidence now. In part it's because his ability to finish fights seems to have disappeared in recent years. Given how he struggled with Wonderboy's length, and the pace that Magny can keep (if he doesn't get knocked out in the first round), it seems like Magny can just keep Hendricks on the end of his jab and then wear him down in the clinch. Neil Magny by unanimous decision.
Tim Burke: MOOOOOOOOOOOOO. Still, you’re all picking against him? It’s still Neil Magny he’s fighting, not Stephen Thompson. Johny Hendricks by decision.
Staff picking Hendricks: Tim
Staff picking Magny: Victor, Nick, Bissell, Fraser, Ram, Mookie, Lewis, Eddie, Stephie, Phil, Anton
Mookie Alexander: Pyle is extremely shopworn. Garcia’s bordering on being a busted prospect but I just don’t trust Pyle’s chin to hold up to Garcia’s power. Alex Garcia by KO, round 1.
Victor Rodriguez: Look, us Dominicans don’t have much to hang our hats on outside of baseball and the one Olympic track runner we had that only claimed DR because he didn’t make the U.S. team. Gunning for Alex to season a mulletless Pyle with oregano. Viva Duarte. Alex Garcia by Zangief Ultimate Atomic Buster.
Phil Mackenzie: Garcia looked sort of like he'd... forgotten how to fight the last time out? Pretty much his entire game fell apart against Sean Strickland. On the other hand, we have Mike Pyle, who is hundreds of years old and gets wasted in the first round with alarming regularity. I can really, really see the Pyle pick here- Garcia's offensive abilities have bizarrely waned in the UFC, leaving him as largely a control wrestler, and Pyle is a swiss army knife of MMA offense if he survives round 1. That said, I can't pick him to beat a well-trained, young, strong athlete at this point. Alex Garcia by TKO, round 1.
Staff picking Garcia: Bissell, Ram, Mookie, Victor (duh), Stephie, Phil, Tim, Anton
Staff picking Pyle: Nick, Fraser, Lewis, Eddie
Eddie Mercado: Lol @ the nickname Shoeface.
Phil Mackenzie: Vettori is basically a less experienced version of what Carlos Junior brings to the table, and appears outmatched in the obvious areas. He's a wooden outside striker, and Carlos Junior is improving there. Vettori's a good grappler, but Shoeface is more decorated and appears to be a far more effective wrestler. Antonio Carlos Junior by unanimous decision.
Staff picking ACJ: Bissell, Fraser, Mookie, Eddie, Stephie, Phil, Tim, Anton
Staff picking Vettori: Nick
Mookie Alexander: I reckon we’ll get a knockout in the 1st round since both guys are pretty aggressive out of the gate, but man, Thatch has to be one of the bigger busted prospects the UFC has ever signed. Brandon Thatch by KO, round 1? I guess?
Phil Mackenzie: Thatch's last fight was an absolute meltdown. He just stopped throwing sometime in the second and resigned himself to losing a top control decision to Siyar(!) Bahadurzada(!). He technically outclasses Niko Price... but I have a bad feeling. Price is absolutely psychotically aggressive and fearless: that might translate to forcing Thatch to counter him and finish him early, but it also might just make Thatch wilt. I'll take Thatch just because it'd be so sad to see him Papy Abedi his way out of the UFC like this. Brandon Thatch by unanimous decision.
Staff picking Price: Bissell, Lewis
Staff picking Thatch: Nick, Fraser, Mookie, Eddie, Stephie, Phil, Tim, Anton
Victor Rodriguez: Alex doesn’t have the composure Tim has, nor is he as well-rounded. His kicks will be an asset, but Tim’s boxing is more accurate and he’s more dangerous off his back and in top control. Tim Means by decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Much like Oliveira-Brooks, this is somewhat a contest of physicality vs technique. In that fight I underestimated quite how much physicality Oliveira brings to the table. I'm... maybe going to do it again? Oliveira doesn't seem to be technically improving as much as he appears to be just learning to insulate himself a bit better in order to leverage his freakish physical gifts. If he drags Means around, I won't be surprised, but coming with sloppy power has historically been a bad idea against Means (Sullivan fight etc). Tim Means by unanimous decision.
Staff picking Means: Nick, Bissell, Fraser, Lewis, Eddie, Victor, Phil, Tim, Anton
Staff picking Oliveira: Mookie, Stephie