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Hindsight - UFC 207: Nunes vs. Rousey in retrospect

Take a close look at UFC 207 from Las Vegas, from the largely forgotten No Contest between Tim Means and Alex Oliveira to the sudden and quick ending between Amanda Nunes and Ronda Rousey.

For such a monumental event – the return of Ronda Rousey – there was very little hype heading into the event. The explosion of coverage following the conclusion of the event showed that the mainstream sports world was paying attention. Rousey’s loss to Amanda Nunes was even more lopsided than the shellacking Holly Holm put on her, and Cody Garbrandt’s surprising upset over Dominick Cruz marked the beginning of a potentially long era. Of course, there were other happenings that took place, so let’s take a deep look.

Here’s my thoughts on the UFC 207, with every fight and fighter involved broken down. The format is simple. The first bullet covers what was expected to happen and an attempt at a brief summary of what did happen. The next two bullets cover my thoughts on each fighter, how they did, and where they might be headed from here with the winner being covered first.

Tim Means and Alex Oliveira ended in a no contest at 3:33 of RD1

  • Expectations/Results: A high-octane contest was expected between these two and for the brief amount of time the contest lasted, it was just that. Means had the early advantage before a spinning back-kick from Oliveira swung the momentum in the Brazilian’s favor. Means fought back and threw Oliveira to the ground and continued his attack. Oliveira was on a single knee when Means landed a couple of knees to his head that the referee rightfully declared illegal. After doctors checked out Oliveira, the fight was stopped by Dan Miragliotta despite much protest from Means.
  • Means: Marc Ratner chimed in and stated that he believed Means’ knee was legal. Considering a good amount of MMA fans knew better than Ratner, that isn’t a good sign for the UFC’s supposed rule expert. I digress. Up to the point of the illegal knee, Means looked fantastic. His striking was on point and his wrestling looked as sharp as ever as he made it a point to display it. While there is a possibility the UFC will schedule a rematch, the they have moved away from rematches not involving the divisional elite in recent years, so I expect they’ll treat Means as the winner. Translation: a step up in competition. Colby Covington makes a lot of sense to me.
  • Oliveira: Oliveira needed an impressive performance after putting himself behind the 8-ball in the eyes of fans. Remember his arrogant attitude in beating Will Brooks after badly missing weight? His inability/refusal to continue a fight isn’t going to help his cause regardless of the legality of the strike. I’m not saying he was wrong to stop fighting, I’m just declaring how fans usually respond to his reaction. He still has plenty of time to make a run up the ladder, but it’s going to be harder for him to do that without much support from fans. He can be an exciting fighter as he has proven against lesser opponents. It just needs to come together for him against a top-flight opponent.

Niko Price defeated Brandon Thatch via submission at 4:30 of RD1

  • Expectations/Results: Thatch was the rightful favorite going in as his only UFC losses had come against UFC mainstays. Price, though showing promise on the regional scene, had yet to face anyone with any sort of notoriety. Nonetheless, the relatively unknown newcomer took the fight right to Thatch, getting the massive welterweight to the ground multiple times. Aggressively pursuing an arm triangle choke, it wasn’t until the second attempt that Price was able to get it sunk in deep enough to elicit a tap from Thatch to secure the upset victory.
  • Price: Price’s success on the regional scene was largely due to his aggressive nature, overwhelming opponents with his athleticism. I had my doubts whether or not it would work against Thatch, but it worked far better than I believed it would. He’s still got a long way to go on the feet and a better grappler than Thatch would have been able to escape and perhaps reverse the situation – such as when Thatch attempted the kimura -- but Price deserves credit here. It may take the first loss of his career for Price to exercise greater discipline, but I don’t see him toning down the aggression before then.
  • Thatch: The loss confirms Thatch as one of the most disappointing prospects in recent memory. A massive frame with a devastating clinch game, Thatch’s early performances had him looking like a major player for years to come. Once opponents recognized where Thatch thrived, it was simply a matter of keeping Thatch out of his comfort zone. Thatch never improved his grappling substantially and it resulted in his fourth submission loss in a row as well as a trip to the unemployment line.

Alex Garcia defeated Mike Pyle via KO at 3:34 of RD1

  • Expectations/Results: This contest was going to go one of two ways. Garcia would either land a power shot early on an aging Pyle -- whose durability has grown more questionable -- or Pyle would escape the first round only to finish off a tiring Garcia late or score a decision. The former turned out to be the case. As Pyle looked to throw a kick, Garcia landed a hard right counter square in the jaw to send the longtime veteran crashing to the canvas out cold.
  • Garcia: It’s likely Garcia would have been cut if he were to fall short here and he fought with a sense of urgency that indicated he knew that was likely. He played to his strengths, looking for takedowns early and keeping the pressure on the lanky vet. It made it difficult for Pyle to utilize his reach and also easier for Garcia to land his power shots. It was the best fight Garcia has put together in his UFC run, giving hope that he could end up fulfilling his potential. A contest with Emil Meek is a bout that should offer a lot of entertainment value.
  • Pyle: The loss means Pyle has now dropped four of his last five with the lone victory coming over pillow-fisted Sean Spencer. Ever worse, Pyle has been showing a weaker chin with every subsequent fight. At 41 years old, Pyle has been at this trade for a very long time and taken a lot of damage in the process. I’m not in any position to tell fighters to retire, but I don’t want to see Pyle step into the cage anymore. He’s been in the UFC for so long that I doubt he’ll be willing to accept fights on the regional scene, so it’s likely his career is over if the UFC decides to let him go. Given Pyle’s lack of success recently, it’s a strong probability they do that.

Antonio Carlos Junior defeated Marvin Vettori via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Results: Given his impressive grappling accolades, Carlos Junior was the popular pick by a wide margin, though most of those picking him acknowledged Vettori could very will pull off the upset due to his aggressive nature. Aside from Vettori not showing that aggression on the feet, the fight played out pretty much as expected…at least once they got past the flurry of eye pokes early on. Vettori did get Carlos Junior to the ground in the second and delivered quite a bit of punishment with a series of ground strikes, but was too tentative standing to make up for Carlos Junior’s takedowns in the first and third round.
  • Carlos Junior: While it was a nice victory for the young Brazilian, it didn’t do anything to make me believe he is going to live up to the expectations many placed upon him when he won the third season of TUF Brazil. Carlos Junior did win the striking battle on the feet, but I attributed that more to Vettori not taking the fight to him out of fear for the takedown. Carlos Junior looked stiff and uncomfortable, more than he has in recent contests. His grappling was still sharp and being able to escape from Vettori’s choke attempt in the second round was further proof of his grappling acumen. Carlos Junior is still young and inexperienced enough to become significantly better, but I need to start seeing greater progress.
  • Vettori: I’ll give Vettori credit: he showed better grappling skills than I though he would. I attributed his bevy of submission wins to him being a great scrambler, but he showed he is capable of much more than just scrambling. He doesn’t have the wrestling to make that a consistent route to victory yet, so he’ll need to rediscover his aggression on the feet until he can take the fight to the ground regularly. I feel a bit better about his future than I do Carlos Junior’s even though Vettori is the one who lost, but I’m still not totally sold on his ability to be a long-term fixture.

Neil Magny defeated Johny Hendricks via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Results: Hendricks had missed weight in two of his previous three contests while looking depleted in those contests - a shell of the man who once reigned over the welterweight division. Missing weight again going into the contest, there were very few who believed Hendricks was going to emerge the victor. To his credit, he looked the best he has since the Matt Brown fight 21 months ago. He scored takedowns just about every time he was able to wade past Magny’s long reach. The problem was getting past the reach and doing something once he got the fight to the ground. Magny used his long limbs to make it difficult for Hendricks to score any meaningful offense and also caught Hendricks in a triangle choke at the end of the first and third rounds to steal the contest out from Hendricks’ nose.
  • Magny: It wasn’t a flawless performance for Magny, but it was a good one that displayed his refusal to quit. He’s getting better at using his reach, giving Hendricks major fits and showed a much more active guard than he ever has before. I am a bit worried by his inability to stop any of Hendricks’ takedown attempts, though his takedown defense has been a liability. Perhaps he can still make his way into the elite of the division with that remaining a glaring hole similar to the way Carlos Condit was able to do so. Then again, some would say it is questionable whether or not you could say Condit was elite. He was scheduled to face Dong Hyun Kim earlier this year. That contest still makes a lot of sense.
  • Hendricks: Hendricks’ expression after the decision was read revealed that he once again believed he was screwed by the judges. Seeing as how he doesn’t seem to learn from his past mistakes, I don’t think he is taking responsibility for his actions and won’t ever pull himself out of his tailspin until he does. He was the one who missed weight. He was the one unable to do anything with Magny once he got him to the ground. He was the one unable to land any significant offense on the feet. He was the one who got himself caught in those triangles. At 33 years old, Hendricks shouldn’t be so far past his prime that he can’t still compete against the divisional elite. But each fight that passes reveals a fighter well past his prime and doesn’t seem willing to make the sacrifices necessary to get back his past glory.

Ray Borg defeated Louis Smolka via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Results: Both opened the year as hyped prospects who could end up emerging as title contenders only to fall at some point along the way in a contest they were heavily favored to win. Borg was the slight favorite going in, but the odds should have been much more in his favor. Though Smolka is a gifted grappler, his wrestling has never been that impressive. Borg took him down time and again, dominating the scrambles with his speed and never letting the Hawaiian get off any effective offense in a one-sided decision.
  • Borg: I can’t say I was too surprised the contest played out the way it did. Anyone who has ever tried to get Smolka to the ground has been able to do so whenever they wanted. The big difference for Borg is that he had the quickness to keep Smolka from getting back to his feet as quick as he usually did. Borg suffered an ankle injury at some point which ensured he wasn’t going to try to stand and trade, making his performance ever more impressive. At 23 years old, there is no reason for the UFC to rush him in against the elite. Give him time to develop his striking as his move to the Jackson-Winklejohn camp is still fresh. Now if he can avoid missing weight again.
  • Smolka: After winning four fights in a row, Smolka has now lost two in a row. He did look focused – something that was an issue against Brandon Moreno – but just couldn’t keep up with the uber-quick Borg in the wrestling and scrambling department. I’ve never been impressed by Smolka’s wrestling. He has some trips and throws in the clinch that allow him to take the fight to the ground, but he has been lacking in that area on the whole. All isn’t lost as Smolka is still only 25 years old. He should continue to improve and there is still a good chance he could emerge as a contender in the near future. I’d like to see him matched up with one of the recent TUF alumni such as Adam Antolin.

Dong Hyun Kim defeated Tarec Saffiedine via split decision

  • Expectations/Results: It was impossible to pick either Kim or Saffiedine in full confidence as both offered reasonable cases for why they should be the favorite. I had picked Kim to win a close split decision – which is exactly what happened – but I have to admit that I disagreed with the decision. Though Kim was the aggressor, pressuring Saffiedine throughout the course of the fight, Saffiedine landed more strikes, particularly in the first round. Though the second and third rounds were close, most felt compelled to give the edge to Saffiedine in the second. Two of the three judges disagreed and Kim was given a controversial decision.
  • Kim: This was not a vintage performance from the longtime stalwart of the division. Kim has never been a great striker in space and was chasing Saffiedine for a good chunk of time while eating Saffiedine’s return fire. Fortunately for him, judges award fighters for their aggression as that was the most apparent factor in the fight. At 35 years old, Kim is past his physical prime, making it hard to believe he could make a final run into contendership. It isn’t impossible as Demian Maia is 39 and next in line for a title shot. With Kim on a three-fight winning streak and coming off this win – deserved or not, it is a win – why not give him a slight step up? I mentioned earlier that I’d like to see him face Neil Magny. That makes the most sense to me.
  • Saffiedine: I don’t want to call Saffiedine’s strategy a poor one as I believed it worked. He landed the cleaner shots and even landed some takedowns early, something he hasn’t been noted for. Perhaps most surprising was the success he found in the clinch – where he scored his takedowns -- against a noted clinch fighter. Unfortunately, the judges largely saw him moving backwards over the course of the final two rounds and he didn’t have the power to hurt Kim to telegraph to the judges the success of his strategy. Now Saffiedine has lost two in a row. He isn’t going to be cut as losing to Kim and Rick Story is nothing to be ashamed of, but he’s unlikely to fight another ranked opponent.

T.J. Dillashaw defeated John Lineker via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Results: Dillashaw was furious that he had been passed over to rematch Cruz for the title by Garbrandt. So what did he do about it? He demanded a contest with the highest ranked opponent available to prove a point. Lineker’s ability to end a fight with a single punch makes him a danger to anyone, so there was plenty of reason to pause before making a pick in this contest. There didn’t need to be any hesitation as Dillashaw absolutely dominated the contest. Dillashaw took Lineker down whenever he wanted and delivered some devastating ground and pound on the Brazilian slugger that left many wondering how Lineker was still in the fight. Message received loud and clear.
  • Dillashaw: It’s hard not to get behind Dillashaw at this point. Often times when a fighter doesn’t get a deserved title shot, they pout and refuse to take another fight. Dillashaw did the opposite and strengthened his case exponentially while eliminating a fellow contender in the process. He was more cautious on his feet than normal, though it makes perfect sense given the danger Lineker’s power presents. Garbrandt may prefer to rematch Cruz, but the UFC has moved away from immediate rematches in recent years. Thus Dillashaw has likely earned his title shot, something that has been backed up by Dana White saying Dillashaw is likely to get the next shot. It’s well-deserved. Looking forward to his contest with Garbrandt.
  • Lineker: Yes, this loss hurts Lineker in terms of his receiving a title shot. That isn’t going to be happening for at least a year from now. But it doesn’t derail his career. Lineker just turned 27 years old at the turn of the new year and this is his first loss at 135 against a man who is likely getting the next title shot. Nothing to be ashamed of. Lineker is always going to be at a disadvantage due to his small size at bantamweight, but his natural power will always make him a threat to win any fight. He had a few moments in this contest where it looked like he might have Dillashaw in trouble, but he wasn’t able to land cleanly. This was the first elite wrestler Lineker had faced in at bantamweight. He’ll never be an elite wrestler himself, but Lineker could end up improving his takedown defense a bit more to allow himself to keep the fight where he wants. Most encouraging: he never quit even when there was plenty of reason to lose hope.

Cody Garbrandt defeated Dominick Cruz via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Results: Very few were picking Garbrandt going into the contest. Sure, the kid hits hard and is athletic as hell. But it felt like he was getting the contest just a bit too soon against one of the smartest fighters in the history of the sport in Cruz. Cruz’s ability to seemingly get into Garbrandt’s head beforehand as well as Garbrandt continually seemed flustered in every interview sequence. None of that mattered. Garbrandt dealt with Cruz’s confusing footwork expertly, catching the defensive wiz time and again with clean shots that either stunned or dropped the reigning champion. Cruz had some good moments, landing the greater volume, but Garbrandt didn’t fear Cruz’s power nor was Cruz able to get his wrestling going. It was an easy decision for the judges and a new champion was announced.
  • Garbrandt: This was a highly surprising outcome. Not because no one saw Garbrandt’s talent. It was that Garbrandt was so young and his best victory had come over Thomas Almeida that most didn’t think he was ready for a title shot. Yet Garbrandt was the one who was able to maintain his composure once the fight started, sticking to his game plan and imposing his will on Cruz. What is scary is it doesn’t feel like Garbrandt has come anywhere near his ceiling and I’m not just talking about his future improvement. He had opportunities to finish Cruz after knocking the ex-champ to the ground and didn’t take advantage of them. My guess is he was trying to prove that he could win a decision over Cruz as there were very few who believed that was possible. Either way, it’s scary to think how easily he handled Cruz. Considering there is bad blood between him and his ex-teammate Dillashaw, I’m very much looking forward to that contest.
  • Cruz: This was sad to see. Cruz didn’t look like he was dealing with injuries, something he has usually had to answer questions about in pretty much every contest he has been in since having the title stripped from him in 2014. What we did see was even worse: he looked slower. Cruz’s movement and style looked the same as it always has, he was simply unable to do those same things at a speed that he was used to performing them. It shouldn’t be a surprise given he has dealt with a slew of injuries over the last five years, though I admit I didn’t expect it to happen after he looked the way he did against Dillashaw and Urijah Faber earlier this year. I doubt he’ll be able to regain the belt now, given he should only continue to decline, but his smarts should allow him to adapt to at least hover near the top for a few more years. There are plenty of options with whom to match him up with next that I’m not even going to throw out a preference.

Amanda Nunes defeated Ronda Rousey via TKO at 0:48 of RD1

  • Expectations/Results: There was no way to know what to expect out of Rousey as she made her long-awaited return. She hadn’t been speaking to the media – going so far as to place the majority of the blame on her loss to Holly Holm to giving them too much attention – and there has been no word or footage of her training. Was she working on different things with Tarverdyan? Of course, the biggest question was regarding her mental state. Admitting to suicidal thoughts after the Holm loss, it’s impossible not to second guess where her mind was. It wasn’t where it should have been. There was a look in her eye in the walkout that indicated she wasn’t completely back. She looked even worse once she ate her first punch from Nunes, freezing and offering nothing to Nunes. It took less than a minute for Herb Dean to declare he had seen enough, putting a definitive end to the Rousey hype train.
  • Nunes: Nunes executed a perfect plan. She stayed in the pocket, knowing Rousey doesn’t have the wrestling acumen to shoot on her as she would need to wade forward into the clinch to execute her vaunted judo attack. Maintaining the perfect distance, she was accurate with her punches and threw them with as much authority as usual. She still has a lot of questions to answer about how effective she is out of the first round – six of her seven UFC victories have come in the first – but those questions don’t mean anything so long as she can continue to finish her opponents early. It’s too bad her victory won’t result in a transference of Rousey’s popularity over to her, but her work in the cage deserves just as much attention as Rousey’s earlier work. Nunes is reigning over a division that has improved exponentially since the brief period of time that Rousey last ruled and it’s conceivable that she could have a very long reign. I’m looking forward to her next defense the winner of Juliana Pena and Valentina Shevchenko, regardless who emerges the victor.
  • Rousey: This was another terrible showing by Rousey. She showed no progress defensively, exhibiting no head movement and poor footwork. Though there is no question that Rousey’s mental psyche was shattered by Holm – as most predicted – there are still plenty of other questions. The most pressing: Will Rousey retire? She now appears to be scared in the cage and may have made enough that she doesn’t have to step back in if she doesn’t want to. Then again, her marketability in Hollywood was directly attached to her dominance in the cage. This loss hurts that exponentially. Thus, there is reason for to believe she could come back. If she does come back, can she rebuild herself mentally? Now that she can’t blame the media, who will she blame for her loss this time? Will she look into the possibility of a new coach? Is she even willing to fight an opponent when the belt isn’t on the line? I liked Jon Jones suggestion that she move to a larger camp where she interact with higher level training partners and perhaps have some of their skill set rub off on her. If this is the last we’ve seen of her, she deserves major credit for bringing women’s MMA to where it is today and she will be missed.

Well, those are my collective thoughts. Until next time...