It's been more than a year since Rousey appeared in the Octagon following a stunning second round knockout loss against Holly Holm last November. Now she returns with a fire burning inside to reclaim the throne she sat on since the day she arrived in the promotion. Nunes will try to stop Rousey while looking to cap off an incredible year where she defeated Valentina Shevchenko and then won the title with a dominant performance over Miesha Tate at UFC 200.
Also on the card, Dominick Cruz will put his title on the line when he faces young, hungry knockout artist Cody Garbrandt. Cruz has looked better than ever since returning and winning back the bantamweight title in January, but Garbrandt might be his most dangerous threat yet thanks to serious fight-ending knockout power in both hands.
In today's fantasy preview, we'll examine these fights and several others to see who has the advantage going into Friday night, as well as any possible upsets brewing at UFC 207: Nunes vs. Rousey.
These are the fights that are just too close to call, but a few minor differences between favorite and underdog could lead one fighter to victory and the other to defeat.
Amanda Nunes (+120 underdog) vs. Ronda Rousey (-140 favorite)
This year has been particularly great for Amanda Nunes, who picked up two wins, including a first round submission over Miesha Tate to win the women’s bantamweight title back in July. It's capped off a great run for the Brazilian, who has always been considered one of the most dangerous fighters in the division but only recently started putting it all together in a string of outstanding performances. Meanwhile, Rousey will look to bounce back from the first loss of her career while re-establishing herself as the best women's fighter on the planet. Rousey has stayed largely out of the spotlight since her loss to Holm last year, so this will be a big test for her to face Nunes after 13 months away from the sport.
In terms of the matchup, Nunes presents a lot of problems for Rousey and it starts with her ability to come storming out of the gates as soon as the fight begins. Throughout her career, Rousey has almost been unstoppable in the first minute of a fight, either tossing her opponents to the ground for a submission or overwhelming them with strikes on the feet. Nunes has a very similar style, so that could definitely give Rousey problems if she runs head first into a brick wall, as the Brazilian can certainly hold her own in striking or on the ground.
Nunes also comes from a judo and jiu-jitsu background, so she's not afraid to go to the ground with Rousey. Of course, what Nunes will likely do is try to put the pressure on Rousey early with her striking to find out if she's gun shy at all after suffering that knockout last November. Some fighters never come back from a fight like that so Nunes will certainly test Rousey's chin in those first exchanges at UFC 207.
As for Rousey, it can't be ignored that outside of the fight with Holm, she was a force of nature in every other performance she's had in the UFC. Rousey is a beast on the ground, where she uses her Olympic-level judo to toss opponents to the ground at will before applying a strong grappling game on the mat, including her famous armbar submission. Rousey's striking isn't as technically sound, but her ability to bully opponents with her punches worked in every fight up to the one with Holm. Rousey was always willing to take a punch to give one of her own and she can't suddenly abandon that game plan because her kickboxing from the outside is suspect at best.
In the end, Rousey and Nunes are both going to look to punish the other early so this fight might not even make it out of the first round. At her best, Rousey is still one of the most dangerous fighters in the world, but questions surrounding her return and how she will react to being in the Octagon again for the first time since the loss to Holm have to be taken into account. Nunes is well aware of what Rousey represents, but if she can stay calm and patient during those first few exchanges, she has a great shot to pull off the victory at UFC 207.
Prediction: Amanda Nunes by TKO, Round 1
Dominick Cruz (-210 favorite) vs. Cody Garbrandt (+175 underdog)
Despite three knee surgeries and a combined four years out of action, Dominick Cruz has looked better than ever since returning full time earlier this year, but he'll certainly have his hands full with Cody Garbrandt this weekend.
Since arriving in the UFC, Garbrandt has put the division on notice with his explosive striking and dynamic knockout power from anywhere in the Octagon. Smaller fighters in divisions like bantamweight are often criticized for not generating the same kind of power as heavyweights, but Garbrandt has re-written that book with four knockouts in his first five fights in the UFC. Probably the scariest thing about Garbrandt lately is his own self-belief that he can beat anybody in the world, and that confidence will be a huge boost against someone as difficult to fight as Dominick Cruz.
Cruz is a movement machine with arguably the best footwork in the sport and incredibly stifling defense where he's there and gone so quickly that opponents can rarely hit him with any kind of combination. Cruz is extremely well rounded, landing 3.53 strikes per minute combined with exactly 3.53 takedowns per fight. It's nearly impossible to predict what Cruz will do next because he does everything so well. If there's one knock on Cruz it's that he rarely showcases fight stopping power, but that doesn't mean he can't finish this fight if Garbrandt gives him an opening.
Garbrandt's game plan isn't a secret - he wants to knock Cruz out. The way Garbrandt has to go about that involves a lot of patience because the last thing he can afford to do is get frustrated or emotional if Cruz outpoints him early. Garbrandt has arguably more one punch power than any opponent Cruz has faced in the UFC but he can't simply depend on landing the big bomb to finish the fight or he's going to get battered with combinations from the champion for five straight rounds.
At the end of the day, it does come down to Garbrandt's power versus Cruz's precision. Cruz has certainly proven time after time that he can nearly embarrass anyone with his quick movement and incredible hand speed, but he will be going up against a legitimate one-punch knockout striker who isn't just closing his eyes and throwing haymakers. Garbrandt is also a strong technical boxer, and if he can cut off the cage and not allow Cruz to dictate the pace, he has a great shot of putting together the right string of punches to get a finish.
Prediction: Cody Garbrandt by TKO, Round 3
Former bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw will look to solidify his spot as the No. 1 contender in the division when he faces dangerous knockout artist John Lineker at UFC 207.
While Dillashaw dropped the title in a very close split decision to Dominick Cruz back in January, he rebounded with a dominant win over Raphael Assuncao at UFC 200. In this fight, Dillashaw will look to use his technical acumen to deal with the wild, power striking attack of Lineker.
Lineker is very much a throwback to the classic fighters from the Chute Boxe Academy in Brazil such as Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, who would absolutely overwhelm the opposition with such an offensive flurry that it was nearly impossible to stave off an attack. Lineker will punish anybody crazy enough to stand in front of him for more than a few seconds and there's not a single person in the world at 135 pounds that he can't knock out with the right shot.
That being said, Dillashaw has always shown constant movement in his fights and as long as he doesn't decide to suddenly turn this into a brawl, he should be able to frustrate Lineker with his fast footwork. Look for Dillashaw to stick and move while peppering Lineker with shots from the outside. Lineker will certainly try to charge ahead with a barrage of strikes, so don't discount his ability to land a staggering combination of punches that could end the fight.
Still, Dillashaw has more ways to win, with a strong kickboxing attack, better defense and a slick wrestling game if he chooses to use it.
Prediction: TJ Dillashaw by unanimous decision
A very intriguing flyweight matchup on the main card pits Ray Borg against Louis Smolka as both fighters look to make a statement to crack the top 10 at 125 pounds. Smolka is returning from an upset loss to Brandon Moreno in his last fight while Borg looks to bounce back from a defeat of his own against Justin Scoggins.
In many ways, this fight comes down Borg's wrestling versus Smolka's takedown defense.
Borg is a dominant force when he takes an opponent to the ground and pressures them from the top. Borg averages just under four takedowns per 15 minutes in the Octagon, so clearly he is always looking to outwrestle his opponents, but he's also very active on the mat, so don't underestimate his ground-and-pound game, which is coupled with a slick submission arsenal as well.
Meanwhile, Smolka only defends takedowns at a 35 percent rate, which could be a huge liability going up against a wrestler as good as Borg in this matchup. Smolka does possess a serious submission game, which he's used to put away more than a few opponents in recent fights. Smolka is also very active on his feet, where he averages 4.86 strikes per minute, which accounts for nearly triple the output of his opponent. To win this fight, Smolka needs to keep Borg off balance with his strikes and not give up the easy takedown.
That's much easier said than done, so the safe bet remains on Borg, who should be able to control the pace with his grappling and ground game. Don't count Smolka out to wrap up a highlight reel submission, but it's going to be harder for him to pull that off if he's planted on the mat over and over again throughout three rounds.
Prediction: Ray Borg by unanimous decision
These are the fights that appear to be a little more one-sided, but remember that this is MMA, where anything can - and usually does - happen.
Over the past few years, Dong Hyun Kim has quietly become one of the most consistent and tough fighters to deal with in the entire welterweight division. While the early part of his UFC career was built on outwrestling and outgrappling his opponents, Kim has recently started to develop serious knockout power and confidence whenever he's striking with an opponent on the feet. He might get the chance to show that off against Tarec Saffiedine, who will definitely look to keep this fight on the feet as much as possible.
Saffiedine is a strong, technical kickboxer with some of the best leg kicks in the entire sport. He demolished Nate Marquardt's legs when they met for the Strikeforce championship in 2013. Unfortunately, Saffiedine's UFC career has been marked by more injuries than standout performances. Saffiedine has missed considerable time due to injury and he's gone just 1-2 over his past three fights. He'll have no easy task in front of him with Kim, who is definitely the better grappler and may be the more powerful striker as well.
Look for Kim to showcase his power on the feet before dragging Saffiedine to the mat, where he can definitely suffocate the Belgian fighter on the ground. If Kim can get Saffiedine in a tough spot on the ground, he might even wrap up a submission or just punish him with a TKO. What's more likely is Kim outworks Saffiedine for three rounds and earns a lopsided decision.
Prediction: Dong Hyun Kim by unanimous decision
The odds on this welterweight fight are very close so don't count out Alex Oliveira, but it's tough to pick against Tim Means in this particular matchup.
Means has looked incredible in his past two fights while putting together a very solid run with a 6-1 record over his last seven bouts. Means is a punishing striker who goes after an opponent from the first bell until the referee drags him off. Means will enjoy a three-inch reach advantage, which is huge for him because he's a devastating striker from the outside while also using elbows and knees whenever he locks up in the clinch with an opponent. Means pours on the offense as well with more than four significant strikes landed per minute at a nearly 46 percent accuracy clip.
Oliveira has proven to be a tough out in recent years, especially when he can overpower his opponents, but that probably won't be the case against someone like Means. Oliveira is an undersized welterweight, which is why he's tried mightily to get down to 155 pounds numerous times but struggled to actually make the lightweight limit. Now at welterweight, Oliveira will be giving up size and power and Means will look to use both to earn his third straight knockout victory.
Prediction: Tim Means by TKO, Round 3
It's hard to believe Johny Hendricks has fallen from welterweight champion to underdog just three fights after winning the belt, but that's exactly where he stands going into his UFC 207 matchup with Neil Magny. Hendricks has struggled in his last two fights with a knockout loss to Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson before getting outboxed by Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 200.
This time around, Hendricks has to go back to what got him to the race in the first place and that's using his wrestling to ground Magny and pummel him into the mat. The best Hendricks has looked in recent fights was his three round decision over Matt Brown at UFC 185. In that fight, Hendricks used his superior wrestling to take Brown down repeatedly and work him over on the ground. Knowing that Brown possessed a ton of knockout power while also enjoying a massive reach advantage, Hendricks fought smart and took away both of those weapons with his formidable wrestling attack.
Hendricks can do the same exact thing here by taking Magny down early and often and, if he does that, the former champion should get back on track.
Prediction: Johny Hendricks by unanimous decision