Post UFC 207 Thoughts
UFC 207 was being promoted as one thing and one thing only. The return of Ronda Rousey. Every teaser, TV spot, commercial featured her and her only. And that makes sense from the UFC’s perspective. She was their brush with the mainstream before Conor McGregor and crosses more demographics than he does. She is a money machine for them and she would be fighting for the first time in 13 months. Despite not doing any media other than the fluffiest of fluff like ‘Ellen’ and skipping every promotional opportunity that is mandatory for every single other fighter there was still a buzz for the event just because “Ronda is back”. You didn’t see the actual champion, Amanda Nunes, barely at all in the lead up which probably benefited her in the end. All the pressure was on Rousey. And it showed.
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She’s Back! But She’s Most Likely Gone Again… – Ronda Rousey had one of the worst losses in the sports history in November 2015 when she was knocked out with a head kick by Holly Holm. Not only did it put an end to the dominant start to her career where she seemed unstoppable but it completely dismantled her. She was embarrassed. She blamed the media for distracting her. She contemplated suicide. And she disappeared. In her wake the women’s bantamweight division played hot potato with the belt that she wore since its inception. Holm got choked unconscious by Miesha Tate. Tate got beat up and submitted by Amanda Nunes. It looked like it was going to come full circle with Ronda returning in tremendous shape and talk of dedicating herself to getting her belt back. No more excuses. She didn’t do any media so that wasn’t a distraction and she looked the part of the Hollywood star that she had become. Until the bell rang. In 48 seconds she didn’t land a single punch, didn’t get the fight on the ground to pull off her signature armbar. Instead she got “lit up like a Christmas tree” to quote Joe Rogan. All it took was one punch to the face early on and it looked like Rousey was having PTSD and couldn’t do anything other than stand still directly in front of one of the heaviest and accurate hitters in the women’s bantamweight division. After the first combo had her rocked it was clear it was only a matter of time before it would be stopped and that time was 48 seconds.
Its amazing how different the two biggest stars in the UFC are. Both suffered tremendous losses within four months of each other. Conor McGregor took it in, made no excuses, and made sure to talk to the media about it afterwards. He insisted on an immediate rematch despite having a belt to defend in another weight class and avenged the loss five months later in an impressive display of heart and strategy. Ronda Rousey blamed the media, disappeared, and was only heard from again once Holm lost the belt to Tate – an opponent Ronda had already beaten twice. She texted Dana White “time to get back to work”. Tate didn’t last as champion long enough for that trilogy to happen but it all led to this. Rousey is a bully in the Octagon. Shes not dissimilar to Mike Tyson. She relied on her confidence and aggression but even more so the fear of her opponents. Most of them were defeated before the fight even started. But once she fought someone who figured out how to avoid her rush and had the striking ability to counter her, the confidence was gone. Thats what we saw on Saturday night as well. She was doing typical Ronda Rousey things. She was passive and she doesn’t have the boxing skills to be able to fight like that against the likes of Amanda Nunes. This loss is even more embarrassing than the Holm knockout and will most likely send her into retirement for good. If she wanted to I still believe she could get with a legitimate training camp and work her way back up the ladder. She still has the same skills she always has and the natural athletic ability to improve in other areas. But from the way shes handled herself with everything else, she wont.
Men’s Bantamweight is Exciting Too – For the people who bought UFC 207 to see Ronda Rousey reintroduce herself emphatically, they were severely disappointed. But lucky for them the other title fight on the card was a great fight that might have ended with a new star at 135 pounds. Dominick Cruz was undefeated at Bantamweight and really entrenched himself as a top pound for pound fighter in the sport after coming back from massive injury to win his belt back following a three year layoff. Cody Garbrandt was the young knockout artist who was talking trash to Cruz along side his teammate, and long time rival to Cruz, Uriah Faber. Cruz defended his belt against Faber in June with a dominant decision but after the fight Faber hyped up Garbrandt as the next challenger. ‘No Love’ went out there soon after and called Cruz out himself after knocking out Takeya Mizugaki at UFC 202. Not long after the UFC announced they would fight each other at UFC 207 and a war of words ensued. Cruz ran circles around Cody verbally, frustrating him every chance he got. But in a year filled with upsets we saw one of the biggest of them Saturday night when Cody Garbrandt defeated Dominick Cruz.
Its not just that Garbrandt beat him but how he beat him. A lot of people, myself included, gave him a punchers chance. I thought it would be a matter of if he could catch him with a big punch in the first round or two but that Cruz would be too quick and evasive to let that happen. Instead, Garbrandt made him look slow and pretty much dominated him over five rounds, taunting him repeatedly and slipping his strikes much in the way that Cruz is used to doing. In the fourth round it looked like Cody was going to knock him out a few times as he landed some big shots flush and knocked him down three or four times but Cruz showed some serious toughness and survived. It was a fun fight, both guys had their moments, but what stood out to me is this was a passing of the guard. Its always hard to tell in these instances if the new champion is that good or if the outgoing champ has lost a step. Cruz looked slower than usual but that is most likely because Garbrandt is just quicker and kept the fight where he wanted it for all five rounds.
After the fight Garbrandt went from villain to hero when he immediately dedicated his win to a 10 year old cancer survivor named Maddux Maple. When Maddux was five years old he was diagnosed with leukemia and Cody met him and told him if he promises to beat the disease, he would promise to win a UFC championship belt for him. And he did. As soon as the belt was wrapped around his waist he took it off and put it on Maddux. It was a great moment and the authenticity was clear as he kept emotionally bringing him up at the post fight press conference. But while ‘No Love’ seems like a poor choice of nickname following that, you can see where it comes from with his call out of former teammate TJ Dillashaw who left Faber’s Team Alpha Male with some bad blood. He said “come and get it motherf***er” after watching him dominate fellow top contender and big hitter John Lineker just a fight before he won his belt. That should be a great fight and might be the biggest fight the UFC can make in the near future with the Rousey loss, the Jon Jones suspension, and Conor McGregor putting himself on ice. Dillashaw should present some new problems for Garbrandt to solve. He took some stuff from Cruz’s style but is more athletic and has more power. The sport that is always evolving put that on full display for the final event of 2016. Who knows what 2017 will bring.