The UFC closes out its 2016 campaign by welcoming its most decorated female champion back to the Octagon.
However, Ronda Rousey will headline UFC 207 at the T-Mobile Arena as the challenger to Amanda Nunes' bantamweight title. Nunes will attempt her first defense, after winning the belt in July.
It has been more than 13 months since Rousey (12-1 MMA, 6-1 UFC) last competed in mixed martial arts. The UFC's first female champion, Rousey was famously knocked out at UFC 193, suffering her only loss as a professional after Holly Holm landed a perfectly placed head kick.
With Holm unable to defend the title, the belt was passed to Miesha Tate, who welcomed Nunes (13-4 MMA, 6-1 UFC) in the UFC 200 main event. The Florida-based Brazilian striker cruised in her first championship bout, easily disposing of Tate en route to a first-round, Performance of the Night-winning submission.
In October, Rousey announced her return to the UFC and her intention to fight for the title, immediately. A matchup against Nunes was set for December 30 (10 P.M. EST, Pay Per View) in Las Vegas.
It is unclear which Ronda Rousey will show up at UFC 207. A former Olympian and six-time defending UFC champion, Rousey has delivered some of WMMA's most memorable performances, from submitting Cat Zingano at UFC 184 in just 14 seconds, to knocking Bethe Correia out cold in less than a minute at UFC 190.
But she also completely isolated herself following the November 2015 loss to Holm, retreating from the public eye that built her up to be indomitable. Aside from a few key appearances on Saturday Night Live, Ellen, and Conan, Rousey has been noticeably absent from all MMA activity.
Nunes is a bright-eyed wonder of athletic precision. A BJJ black belt from Salvador, Brazil, Nunes is in the midst of a four-fight win streak, showing new skills and improved striking with every outing.
And while she may not have the single-discipline dominance Rousey possess with her judo, Nunes is accurate and dangerous on the feet, leveraging heavy and bad-intentioned punches against top echelon groundwork. She is able to fight everywhere.
Nunes enters UFC 207 without distraction and with a champion's focus and confidence. Last losing more than two years ago, Nunes has already climbed back from defeat to reach the pinnacle of mixed martial arts. Rousey has yet to do the same, and Nunes is a stiff order for a first assignment back to redemption.
Rousey's in-your-face clinch game and ability to absorb strikes will be key here. And if she can avoid Nunes' biggest shots and complete a hip toss, Rousey very well could return to championship form. But it is impossible to bet on a ghost, and Nunes will feel Rousey out for a round before finishing the job on the feet.
Amanda Nunes retains her UFC bantamweight title via second-round TKO.
Co-main event: Dominick Cruz vs. Cody Garbrandt
The UFC's first bantamweight champion, Dominick Cruz won the title back in January, following a near four-year absence from MMA.
An innovative technician, Cruz (22-1 MMA, 5-0 UFC) now looks to tie his own divisional mark of two successful defenses, after beating arch rival Urijah Faber earlier this year at UFC 199. At UFC 207, Cruz will square off against Cody Garbrandt, who, in an ironic twist, is Faber's protege.
Cody Garbrandt (10-0 MMA, 5-0 UFC), the UFC's fifth-ranked bantamweight, is a hybrid fighter, a boxer and wrestler who engages in a brawl of finesse. Rattling off three straight first-round knockouts in 2016, Garbrandt secured the title shot after steamrolling Takeya Mizugaki at UFC 202.
Both Cruz and Garbrandt represent the best of the UFC's emerging bantamweight division. And while Garbrandt has the power to knock out anyone in the weight class with one punch, he has never faced a fighter as elusive and evasive as Cruz.
Expect Garbrandt to storm out the gate and look for the instant finish. But Dominick Cruz plays the long game to perfection, and he'll use his signature footwork to find enough openings to touch Garbrandt while threatening the takedown game with fakes and feints.
Dominick Cruz takes this one via decision.
Cain Velasquez vs. Fabricio Werdum
A pair of former UFC heavyweight champions, Cain Velasquez and Fabricio Werdum finally meet for a rematch, after their February 2016 bout was scrapped.
Velasquez and Werdum first met at UFC 188, when the Brazilian unified the title by submitting Cain via third-round guillotine. Velasquez (14-2 MMA, 12-2 UFC), already a two-time champion, now looks for a third crack at the belt. The winner of this bout against Werdum (21-6-1 MMA, 9-3 UFC) will likely earn the next shot at Stipe Miocic and the title.
The UFC's second-ranked heavyweight, Velasquez combines tremendous wrestling prowess, with a fluid kickboxing acumen, and immeasurable athletic gifts. Known for his cardio, save the June 2015 loss in Mexico City, Velasquez looked spectacular at UFC 200, landing a spinning hook kick on a much taller Travis Browne.
Werdum would also top Browne, albeit by decision, en route to his rematch with Velasquez. One of MMA's most historically decorated heavyweights, Werdum, who began as a jiu jitsu specialist, has blossomed into a complete fighter, dangerous in every position.
And while Werdum got the better of Cain the last time out, Velasquez will score his revenge, this time closer to sea level, via second-round TKO.
T.J. Dillashaw vs. John Lineker
In what is clearly a bout to determine the bantamweight division's next title contender, T.J. Dillashaw takes on "Hands of Stone" John Lineker on the UFC 207 main card.
A former UFC champion, Dillashaw (13-3 MMA, 9-3 UFC) is a well-rounded fighter whose athletic gifts on the ground have opened up a creative and crafty striking game. Dillashaw is light on his feet, dancing in and out of the pocket while baiting his opponents in.
His signature style is predicated on grace and movement. It's the complete opposite to Lineker's (29-7 MMA, 10-2 UFC) bulldoze and destroy approach.
A winner of six straight, four of which have come at bantamweight, Lineker has risen to second in the UFC rankings. But, his climb up the division will incur its first setback on December 30, as Dillashaw uses his footwork to light Lineker up while staying out of harm's way for the full 15 minutes.
T.J. Dillashaw wins via decision.
Johny Hendricks vs. Neil Magny
Capping off the FOX Sports 1 preliminary card (8 P.M. EST, FOX Sports 1), welterweights Johny Hendricks and Neil Magny face off in a battle of grinding wrestling versus rangy kickboxing.
Following his last bout, a loss to Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 200, Hendricks (17-5 MMA, 12-5 UFC), a former champion and loser of two straight, vowed to never again fight in Las Vegas after dropping a trio of close decisions on the judges' scorecards.
Fittingly, for his next bout, Hendricks, the UFC's sixth-ranked welterweight, was paired with Magny, in Las Vegas.
The owner of a six inch height advantage and an eleven inch reach advantage, Magny (18-5 MMA, 11-4 UFC) has a physical edge over the shorter and stockier Hendricks. But after suffering a first-round TKO loss to Lorenz Larkin at UFC 202, Magny exposed some holes in his striking defense. This is exactly where Hendricks will find his entry.
Opening with leg kicks, Hendricks will inch his way forward, and move inside on the eighth-ranked Magny. Hendricks will push the action against the fence for much of the first period, punishing Magny's thighs with knees from the standing clinch.
And, some time early in the second round, Johny Hendricks will connect with his left hand and send Magny to the canvas. He'll then follow up with punches and earn his first TKO/KO since 2012.
Tim Means vs. Alex Oliveira
Headlining the UFC Fight Pass prelims (7 P.M. EST, UFC Fight Pass), are a pair of welterweights, as strikers Tim Means and Alex Oliveira battle for the right to enter the divisional top-15.
Means (26-7-1 MMA, 8-4 UFC), a winner of two in a row, was impressive against an outmatched Sabah Homasi at UFC 202. Using his rangy frame to establish distance, Means is phenomenal at picking opponents apart, wearing them down with his accurate volume punching.
Oliveira (15-4-1 MMA, 5-2 UFC), who has also taken two straight, makes his permanent move to 170 pounds, after badly missing the lightweight limit in October.
A serviceable journeyman, Oliveira is skilled, but doesn't shine anywhere in particular. Instead, relies on toughness.
This matchup between Means and Oliveira will definitely bring the action. Both fighters will take the center of the Octagon and trade strikes. And while Oliveira will come out aggressive, he will not be able to hang with Means for the distance.
Tim Means wins by second-round TKO.