UFC 207 capped off a riveting and wild 2016 in mixed martial arts. In a year dominated by Conor McGregor, all eyes turned to former bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey's return to the sport after a year-long absence since losing the strap. A win would've set up Rousey for a huge 2017, perhaps a run at the newly created featherweight title to cement her legacy as the first woman to win belts in two weight classes and to hold belts simultaneously.
It wasn't to be, and current champion Amanda Nunes ended the year by stealing another show on the biggest of stages, just as she did by defeating Miesha Tate in the main event of UFC 200. The attention on Rousey allowed Nunes to fly under the radar, uninhibited by pressure seeping in from media and fans. At the post-fight press conference Nunes relished in how easy fight week, and how enjoyable the extra free time afforded to her was.
Nunes's star is rising but isn't cemented, despite dispatching the biggest icon in women's MMA. Post-fight narratives focused on Rousey's future and what this loss means for the former champion, but Nunes has knocked off the two biggest names in the sport and is en route to clearing out the division and becoming a dominant champion.
For Cody Garbrandt, UFC 207 unfolded just as he dreamt, winning the bantamweight crown by defeating Dominick Cruz, a dominating a champion who had never lost in the weight class.
And he won in style, dancing his way around the cage and taunting Cruz while torturing him with big right-hand shots. Not only did he win convincingly, and perhaps in unpredictable fashion, Garbrandt was flashy and looked unfazed by his opponent's stature.
While cocky and arrogant behavior has turned some fans against other stars, Garbrandt brought his persona full circle after the fight by handing over his title belt to Maddux Maple, a young friend who has battled cancer as Garbrandt has climbed his way up the rankings. It was the same humility that has grounded him throughout his career.
Stars Of The Night
1. Cody Garbrandt - Dominated a man who had never lost at 135-pounds, in convincing fashion. Not only did he win, he did so in style with some flash and handled the title belt to his friend who had been fighting cancer. Garbrandt just made himself a star.
2. Amanda Nunes - The women's bantamweight division has found stability with a new dominant champion. Nunes dispatched a legend in 48 seconds.
3. T.J. Dillashaw - Fought a legitimate threat in John Lineker and dominated him in impressive fashion. He called for a title shot and it is garnered.
4. Niko Price - Won his UFC debut with a huge arm-triangle choke in the first-round.
1. Ronda Rousey needs a new coach
It's been a time-honored tradition in MMA circles to poke fun at Rousey's coach Edmond Tarverdyan. To Rousey's credit, she has been consistently loyal and quick to defend Tarverdyan, but to a fault. Tarverdyan has done little to expand Rousey's repertoire or arsenal of tools over her MMA career, riding Rousey's coattails to fame and success off of her judo pace and fierce competitiveness.
Tarverdyan took a fighter who used her Olympic-level judo skillset to sink in successive armbar finishes and had Rousey believing she was a legitimate striking threat. Nunes specifically pointed to the ineptness of her coach as a fatal flaw she used to win the fight during the post-fight press conference.
"She thinks she is a boxer. He like put this thing in her head, and make the girl believe in that," Nunes said. "I don’t know why he did that. She had great judo. She could’ve gone more forward in this division, but he put that crazy thing about boxing (in her head), and her career started going down."
"When I went in there, I’m the real striker here. I wanted to look at him and say (that)."
If Rousey were in a better camp, with better coaching, she could've rebounded and game-planned better to have a better return. Had she left Tarverdyan earlier in her career, she might still be undefeated.
2. Cody Garbrandt is a star
Cody Garbrandt looked dominant and near-flawless as he tactfully dethroned Dominick Cruz, handing him his first loss at 135 pounds. He danced and taunted Cruz as he eluded and evaded his opponents' shots, making for an entertaining fight. He pointed to the center of the cage and direct Cruz to where the fight would go. He shuffles his feet, a la Muhammad Ali.
In the fourth round, Garbrandt dropped Cruz and instead of pouncing, he pointed as if to remind him of what had just transpired. He knocked him down a second time and danced as Cruz scrambled back to his feet.
Some fans might view that as cocky or arrogant, but Garbrandt brought his humility to light during the post-fight interview. He took his newly won title and gave it to Maddux Maple, a young fan who has been fighting cancer. Garbrandt made Maple promise to keep fighting cancer and he would fight to make it to the UFC, and since then Maple has walked with Garbrandt to the cage, including at UFC 207. An incredibly classy and powerful gesture.
3. T.J. Dillashaw is on a mission
Former bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw dismantled another top contender as he waits for a title shot. He called for it during his post-fight interview in the cage and continuously talked about it during post-fight media obligations. With the bantamweight title on the line, Dillashaw knew he had a chance to make a statement and leave all doubt removed that he is the next contender for the title.
Had Cruz won, he might be getting that next shot. Garbrandt said he would like to give Cruz an immediate rematch but Dillashaw is a man possessed, focused on just one thing.
Cody Garbrant drops Dominick Cruz for a second time in the fourth round.
Alex Garcia with a huge knockout to end the fight
Amanda Nunes - After defeating Ronda Rousey, the top of the division has been cleared out. Holly Holm is still high in the rankings, but coming off two losses and booked for a featherweight title fight at UFC 208. That leaves two potential foes for Nunes: Valentina Shevchenko and Julianna Pena. While lower in the rankings, Pena is riding a four-fight win streak over fighters like Cat Zingano and Jessica Eye. Shevchenko is 2-1 in her UFC career—her lone loss coming to Nunes—and she is coming off a win against Holly Holm this summer.
Fortunately for Nunes, Shevchenko and Pena are fighting in Denver in January in what is a de facto No. 1 contender bout. The winner of that bout should be the next challenger.
Ronda Rousey - No fighter's future faces bigger question marks than Ronda Rousey. She is coming off two losses that weren't competitive, and it seems to have broken her spirit and desire to compete. She always eyed retiring before her 31st birthday, which is roughly 13 months away, so it wouldn't be unrealistic for her to walk away. She could go to the WWE and have a lucrative career doing something she loves and has been a big fan of. If she elects to stay in the UFC, she will need to fight her way back to a title shot at 135 pounds or could move to 145 pounds and pursue that newly created title.
Cody Garbrandt - During a post-fight interview with Fox Sports, Garbrandt listened to audio of TJ Dillashaw talking about a title fight and saying Garbrandt's reference will help him secure the bout. Garbrandt flipped the script and said he would instead like to fight Dominick Cruz in an immediate rematch. That fight makes sense, Cruz was a dominant champion and this is his first-ever loss at 135 pounds.
It's hard to leave Dillashaw on the sidelines for another title fight, but he might have to wait.
Dominick Cruz - For Cruz there is only one fight he probably wants, and that is a rematch with Garbrandt and a shot at reclaiming his title belt. The scorecards said it was a closer fight than some might have thought, and he is a smart fighter who could game plan to win a rematch.
Amanda Nunes def. Ronda Rousey via TKO (punches) at :48 of R1
Cody Garbrandt def. Dominick Cruz via unanimous decision (48-46, 48-47, 48-46)
T.J. Dillashaw def. John Lineker via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-26)
Dong Hyun Kim def. Tarec Saffiedine via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Ray Borg def. Louis Smolka via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-26, 30-26)
Neil Magny def. Johny Hendricks via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Antonio Carlos Junior def. Marvin Vettori via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Alex Garcia def. Mike Pyle via KO (punch) at 3:34 of R1
Niko Price def. Brandon Thatch via submission (arm triangle) at 4:30 of R1
Tim Means and Alex Oliveira fight to no contest at 3:33 of R1
The next pay-per-view isn't until February, when UFC 208 takes place in the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn. In the main event, Holly Holm and Germaine de Randamie square off for the inaugural women's featherweight title. The next event is on January 15th, when legend B.J. Penn returns to fight a young up-and-comer in Yair Rodriguez. The following Saturday the UFC heads to Denver for a card headlined by a top-contender bout between Valentina Shevchenko and Julianna Pena.