2016 was a crazy year for the UFC. A year that would see Conor McGregor both lose his first UFC fight and win his second belt in another division. A year that would also see Dominick Cruz make his comeback to the Octagon after spending two years recovering from his latest ACL injury. And, winning his first fight back against T.J. Dillashaw for the bantamweight title. The woman’s bantamweight title would change hands three different times in 2016. Before her loss to Holly Holm, Ronda Rousey had held the title since 2013.
2016 would showcase many great fights. Fights like Lawler-Condit, Dillashaw-Cruz, McGregor-Diaz II, Jędrzejczyk-Gadelha II, Thompson-Woodley and of course, ESPN’s Fight of the Year winner, Swanson-Choi. These fights, along with countless others, were battles between absolute warriors. It would be an awesome year with countless great events and shocking upsets from January all the way through December. So, UFC fans were delighted to see 2016 end fittingly with one last classic night of UFC action.
UFC 207 in Las Vegas was headlined by the return of Ronda Rousey. Even though everyone knows how that fight ended, there were other major narratives that were just as intriguing. The fights on the 207 card were either title fights, had future ranking and title implications, or would feature promising fighters vying for a larger limelight.
Of these high stakes fights, here are the biggest winners and losers.
New bantamweight champion Cody “No Love” Garbrandt was one of, if not the biggest, winner on fight night. Garbrandt, a relatively new fighter in the UFC, would celebrate his sixth consecutive UFC win for the title that has only seen three different champions since its inception in 2010.
To beat the best and toughest fighter in the division, Garbrandt would reach levels of technical skill that almost no fighter before him would achieve in a bout against Cruz. Before Friday night, Cruz had only lost once in his professional career. Which, of course, would be to Garbrandt’s hero, mentor, and teammate—Urijah Faber—way back in 2007.
Garbrandt nearly dominated Cruz, winning almost every round according to the judges’ scoring. Garbrandt would fight his fight, believing his striking would see him through the match. And, it ultimately would.
Not only did he fight a championship fight, but he had fun doing it. He would figuratively and literally dance away from Cruz’s advances, landing him on the mat three times. Garbrandt won the biggest fight of his career against the greatest bantamweight champion, and he’s only 25 years old.
Needless to say, he deservedly had a very happy New Year.
T.J. Dillashaw had a good but short run as bantamweight champion. But with his win at UFC 207, he jumps to the front of the line for the next title shot.
Dillashaw was precise and clinical in his victory against the second-ranked bantamweight contender, John Lineker. And, ultimately put an end to his six-fight win streak with a 30-27 unanimous decision victory.
This was Dillashaw’s second win since losing his title to the aforementioned Cruz in January, and he looked phenomenal against Lineker. The winner of this fight was sure to get a fight with the winner of Garbrandt-Cruz. And now, the idea of Dillashaw-Garbrandt is sure to be a brilliant matchup.
For Amanda Nunes, this fight would be the stamp on her legacy. And as an up and coming UFC champion, no less. This would also be the first successful title defense in the woman’s bantamweight division since Ronda Rousey defeated Bethe Correa at UFC 190 in August of 2015.
Nunes was nothing short of brilliant, tactical and lethal in her destruction of Rousey. Herb Dean’s stoppage of the fight may have seemed a bit premature, but upon a second look, was definitely warranted. Nunes would land each punch and kick with brutal force, leaving Rousey looking more confused and hurt than the previous strike. The fight lasted 48 seconds before Nunes was serenaded by Bruce Buffer’s “AND STILL!” while Dana White wrapped the bantamweight title around her waist for the second time in 2016.
Nunes now holds victories over the only three women bantamweight champions. And, is in position to be the champ for a very long time. Rousey’s fighting future is uncertain. Miesha Tate has already retired. Holly Holm is going to the fight in the inaugural woman’s featherweight title bout at UFC 208 next month.
If Nunes continues to the perform at this level, it’s hard to see anyone in the division taking away her title.
Although plenty of fighters would suffer setbacks last Friday, Johny “Big Rig” Hendricks would suffer one that leaves the future of his career in question.
Hendricks’ troubles would begin before stepping into the Octagon, missing weight for the second fight in the row. His opponent, Neil Magny, still agreed to fight, but Hendricks would take a 20 percent cut to his winnings.
Regardless of this initial problem, Hendricks did perform very well. He took Magny to the mat, controlling most of the fight with ground control and striking.
Hendricks would log six takedowns, land 69 percent of his total strikes, and have nearly 10 minutes of control time to Magny’s 0:00. But he would still lose. Magny landed twice as many strikes and three times as many significant strikes.
Overall, Hendricks did not do a lot with his control time but the underlying concern for Hendricks is losing three consecutive fights and five out of seven overall. At 33, he’s fought 23 total bouts. And, finds himself out of the top 10 for the first time in years.
It’s hard to say that Hendricks is finished. Or, that he’s done fighting. But at this point, his next fight is a must-win.
Ronda Rousey is in a position that she has never found herself in before. She was destroyed like how she used to destroy her opponents, viciously and thoroughly.
Her striking would look just as bad or even worse than in her first loss against Holm. Her hands were down, her head was straight up, and her movement was nearly stoic. It calls her training, her striking and of course her coach, all into question.
So much has changed since Rousey’s loss to Holm. The entire landscape of the division has changed and she is no longer calling the shots. Rousey needs a drastic change in her fight preparation. She is going to need to change her coach and gym, change her plan, or both. She has been brutally knocked out twice in a row now. And, is nowhere near the form she used to be in.
Whether Rousey was the biggest loser of the night is entirely dependent on how she deals with this defeat. If she chooses to retire and react like she did after her last defeat, it could ruin her legacy as the best female fighter in UFC history. If she decides to keep training and continue to fight, even against lower-ranking fighters, she can still retain some remnants of what she used to be.
Rousey did not just lose a fight, she’s also losing her image. The image she would create, with UFC’s help, would be pure dominance. She was untouchable. It was fun to see how she dismantled her opponents, and it was fun to see if anyone had a chance to give her a good fight. If she chooses to fight and loses in the same fashion, that might be it for Ronda Rousey.