+117 #12 Louis Smolka (11-2) vs. -137 #13 Ray Borg (9-2)
Louis Smolka: Local boy Louis “Da Last Samurai” Smolka was submitted by Brandon Moreno in his last fight in what was one of the biggest upsets of 2016 (see the others here Top 5 MMA Upsets of 2016 ). In Smolka’s defense he had been training for Sergio Pettis who posed a very different threat than the late replacement Moreno.
The loss did not set the 25 year old fighter back too much because it was such a late replacement opponent and the win felt like a fluke scenario. Still one of the brightest stars in the flyweight division Smolka will have the chance to end this year on a high note and start what may be a title run in 2017.
Ray Borg: “Tazmexican Devil” Ray Borg has had difficulties getting back in the octagon following his February defeat to Justin Scoggins. Borg was booked to fight Freddy Serrano at UFC 201 but was forced to withdraw due to injury. Two months later illness forced him out of a bout with Ian McCall at UFC 203.
Now fully healed and eager to get back to work, the 23 year old will face his most difficult test to date. Borg has high level grappling and submission skills and will beat the majority of opponents outside of the UFC, but he lacks the striking and strength to be able to compete with the division’s elite. He is still very young and should grow leaps and bounds with each fight.
The Fight: Smolka is the better fighter all around, but will have a definitive advantage when it comes to the striking game. Borg’s best chance would be to lay and pray a decision, but Smolka’s BJJ is too slick to be held down for any significant amount of time. Smolka Unanimous Decision
-145 #9 Dong Hyun Kim (21-3-1) vs. #12 +105 Tarec Saffiedine (16-5)
Dong Hyun Kim: South Korea’s top combat export the “Stun Gun” Dong Hyun Kim has been inactive for more than a year. His last victory came on his home turf over Dominic Waters in November of 2015. Injuries to himself and his opponents have kept him sidelined since then. Kim took this fight on relatively short notice filling in for Matt Brown who was moved to the 206 card.
At one time Kim was one fight away from fighting for the belt, now 35 with only one fight in the last two years it will be interesting to see if there has been any skills deterioration. At his best times the Judo black belt can mow through almost anyone in the entire division. Friday night we will see if Kim has lost a step or he is still ready to leap right back in with the top contenders.
Tarec Saffeidine: Former Strikeforce welterweight champion Tarec “The Sponge” Saffiedine narrowly lost a decision to Rick Story in his last outing. The Belgian brawler landed hard leg kicks through out, but lost the bout due to the amount of control time Story was able to accumulate on the mat.
Saffiedine began his combat career as a kick boxer and when he made the move to mma he trained with Dan Henderson and Team Quest to pick up the wrestling aspect of the sport. He now works with mma coach extraordinaire Firas Zihabi at Tristar to put it all together. At 30 years of age if Saffiedine is going to become an elite fighter his time is now.
The Fight: Kim has too many ways of closing the distance to get his take downs, his striking is creative and efficient and he will use it to get to clinches where he will score take downs on Saffiedine. Saffiedine will land some on the feet, but there is no way he will be able to hang with the grappling prowess of Kim. Kim Unanimous Decision
-193 #1 T.J Dillashaw (14-3) vs. +168 #2 John Lineker (29-7)
T.J Dillashaw: Former bantamweight champion T.J Dillashaw was impressive in his first bout following his January title defeat to Dominick Cruz. Dillashaw won a very workman like three round decisive decision over perennial top five contender Raphael Assuncao. He neutralized the BJJ black belt’s ground attack and picked him apart on the feet, utilizing his amazing footwork and hand speed.
Dillashaw could have made a case for an immediate rematch when his lost his belt to Dominick Cruz in a split decision. If he can come away with the victory in this match up he will secure another shot at the belt and whether it is a rematch with Cruz or a fight with his former team mate Garbrandt it will be a cant miss fight for the ages.
John Lineker: Brazilian knockout artist John “Hands of Stone” Linker most recently scored a huge win over John Dodson, out striking the lighting quick veteran in a razor thin five round split decision. Unfortunately for Linker his victory was amidst controversy because the stout fighter missed weight for the fourth time in his UFC career.
Since being forced up to bantamweight Lineker has been lights out. He’s gone 3-0 racking up wins over Francisco Rivera, Rob Font and now John Dodson earning him his number two ranking in record timing. A win in this fight would be Lineker’s seventh straight and all but assure him a title shot, that is if he can make weight.
The Fight: Dillashaw will not be on the run nearly as much as Dodson was, he will hang out in the pocket for much longer periods and counter Lineker’s wild power shots while finishing combos outside of Lineker’s danger zone. The one punch knockout is always in play when Lineker is in the ring, but Dillashaw’s ability to avoid damage and counter is uncanny. Dillashaw Unanimous Decision
-215 C Dominick Cruz (22-1) vs. +185 #5 Cody Garbrandt (10-0)
Dominick Cruz: In his last fight reigning bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz avenged his only professional loss to Urijah Faber for a second time and put a victorious cap on their legendary trilogy of fights. Not only did Cruz settle the score with “The California Kid” he defended his bantamweight strap for the fourth time as well.
Cruz is operating on another level right know, he is always one step ahead of his opponents and at times appears to be fighting in the matrix. If there is one knock on his game it’s that he is not a finisher, of his seven championship fight victories, only one did not go the distance. In my opinion creating a new style of fighting should put him in the pound for pound great talks, but without the finishes the case is a difficult one to make.
Cody Garbrandt: The new face of Team Alpha Male Cody “No Love” Garbrandt earned his title shot with a 0:48 knockout of Japanese veteran Takeya Mizugaki. The Mizugaki win brought Garbrandt’s octagon record to 5-0 with all but one of his wins coming via the knockout.
At only 25 Garbrandt has proven he is the future of the division, his knockout power is coupled with impenetrable take down defense and an aggressive never take a step backwards style. Garbrandt will have the opportunity to become one of the youngest UFC champions ever only ten fights into his professional career and usher in the next generation of the sport.
The Fight: Ten professional fights is not enough cage time to deal with a champion like Cruz. Garbrandt’s proverbial punchers chance is a long shot due to the fact that Cruz does not get hit. In the pre-fight media trash talk sessions Garbrandt has shown his emotions can get the best of him. When he is not able to finish Cruz early expect to see a very frustrated young fighter make rookie mistakes that Cruz will capitalize on.Cruz Unanimous Decision
+140 C Amanda Nunes (13-4) vs. -160 #1 Ronda Rousey (12-1)
Amanda Nunes: Reigning bantamweight champion Amanda” Lioneess” Nunes began to fulfill her potential at the start of 2015. Prior to 2015 she had a pedestrian 3-3 record in her bouts in the UFC, Invicta and Strikeforce. From 2015 on Nunes has gone 4-0 capping the amazing run off with a dominant championship victory over Miesha Tate.
Nunes recent victories over Valentina Shevchenko and Sara McMann proved she was ready for the bright lights. Now that she is center stage in a fight with mma superstar Ronda Rousey the lights could not get any brighter. A win over Rousey on this stage would put Nunes in the GOAT female fighter conversation very quickly.
Ronda Rousey: The tag line for UFC 207 says it all, “She’s Back” after a more than a year and half lay off the first women’s mma superstar returns to the octagon to attempt to reclaim her throne. Rousey’s knockout loss to Holly Holm stunned the world and destroyed the veil of invincibility that she had built up over the last four years. We will soon find out if Rousey let the fame go to her head, took Holm lightly or has failed to grow with the ever evolving sport.
Now back and more determined than ever, Rousey has made it clear that she is not partial to losing and never plans to do it again. If she plans to make good on these plans a departure from her long time striking coach Edmond Tarverdyan is mandatory. Rousey’s previous knockouts came in brawls where she used her brute strength and toughness to over power women. But when it came to a world class striker like Holm, Rousey looked as though she had never trained a day of striking in her life. A few camps with a Ray Longo, Bang Ludwig or Henry Hooft would make her as close to the perfect fighter as you can get.
The Fight: Miesha Tate said “Nunes hits harder than any other women she has ever been hit by” that means a lot coming from a women who has fought everyone in the sport. But her footwork is not technical enough to avoid the clinch of Rousey. Rousey will have to survive a few hard shots, but once she gets inside she will do what she does best, land hard strikes to set up the throw where she will get the stoppage with strikes. Rousey TKO 1st