More than 13 months after suffering the first loss of her career, former bantamweight queenpin Ronda Rousey returns to action against current champion Amanda Nunes with the belt on the line.
It's not just that Rousey lost to Holly Holm at UFC 193 last November; she was beaten up, outwitted, outplanned, made to look silly and finally finished with a flush left shin to the jaw. It was embarrassing for someone whose entire persona, and the basis of her entire appeal to a mainstream audience, was built on her effortless dominance of her outmatched opponents.
With that aura of invincibility shattered into a thousand pieces, what Rousey will show up to face Nunes? That's the real question about UFC 207.
While Rousey was considering suicide in the aftermath of her loss, as she told Ellen Degeneres, Nunes was rising to the top of the division.
The Brazilian defeated Sara McMann in August 2015, knocking her down and then submitting her in the first round. She followed that with a hard-fought decision win over Valentina Shevchenko in March. When given a shot at Miesha Tate in July, Nunes blasted the champion with punches and then choked her out to win the belt.
The result of these two intersecting storylines is a humdinger of a bantamweight title fight. Nunes has grown into a world-class fighter, and Rousey didn't win her first six bouts in the UFC by sheer luck. Both fighters have talent and skill in spades, and on their merits this should be an outstanding matchup full of intriguing angles.
Record: 13-4 (9 KO, 3 SUB, 1 DEC)
Reach: 69 inches
Athleticism and explosiveness define Nunes' game. The champion is quick, powerful and dangerous in every phase and from every position, with the ability to finish her opponent at range, in the clinch and on the mat.
Nunes used to rely heavily on her physical gifts as a striker, but since moving to American Top Team in 2014, she has become much crisper and more technically sound on the feet. She's still a lethal puncher who occasionally gets a bit wild, but her fundamentals have drastically improved.
Footwork is a strength of Nunes' game, and she takes tight, crisp angles and pivots with every movement. This is partially why Nunes' punches seem so devastating: She has a knack for finding the angle that gives her fist an uninterrupted path to her opponent's chin, jaw or temple. Her tendency to move her punches around, under and through her opponent's guard accentuates this ability.
While she peppers her opponent with hard jabs and slashing kicks at distance, all of this makes Nunes especially dangerous in the pocket. She moves her head as she throws and isn't easy to hit in general, while her footwork allows her to throw, immediately step off to a new angle and then throw again as she keeps herself relatively safe in the process.
The clinch is a strong secondary area for Nunes. She owns a variety of slick trips and throws and can land vicious knees, punches and elbows in close quarters. It's hard to hold her in a tie-up if she doesn't want to be there and she has great instincts for framing or overhooking to create space and escape.
As dangerous as she is on the feet and in the clinch, Nunes is a monster from top position. She has a heavy base, great posture and passes smoothly into dominant positions. All of this makes her a bomber of a ground striker, and her punches and elbows from the top are the most devastating in the division. She can bust her opponent open and finish in just a few shots.
If that weren't enough, Nunes is also a slick scrambler. She has great instincts for jumping on an opponent's back and sliding in the rear-naked choke, especially after hurting her opponent with strikes.
There's a downside to this explosive, dangerous game, though, and it's cardio. Nunes is at heart a burst fighter, and while she can score a bit at range, she does her best work in terrifying flurries of offense, both on the feet and on the ground, when she senses an opening.
If not much is happening, she's content to throw five or so probing strikes in a minute, but if she smells blood, she'll throw 30 or more trying to get the finish. That drains her gas tank quickly, but it's equally connected to her greatest weakness and her greatest strength.
Record: 12-1 (3 KO, 9 SUB)
Reach: 68 inches
Rousey, a bronze medalist in judo at the 2008 Olympics, is a marvel of athleticism, physicality and skill in her area of specialty. The ease with which she tore through her first 12 professional opponents, none of whom lasted longer than 11 minutes, is a testament to her talent.
At her core, Rousey is an aggressive swarmer. She moves forward from the opening bell, pumping a consistent and heavy jab as she pushes her way into striking range. When she reaches the pocket, Rousey unloads with a hard right hand and left hook, both of which carry serious power.
Although she's a dangerous puncher and is happy to trade at close range, striking is just a bridge that carries Rousey into her wheelhouse, the clinch. The judoka owns the deep arsenal of trips and throws that you would expect from someone with her background, all of them executed with astounding technical skill, strength and especially timing.
Nasty takedowns are only a piece of what makes Rousey's clinch game so dangerous. She's also an accomplished inside striker, blending punches, elbows and knees into a seamless whole that both does tremendous damage and sets up her takedowns.
She's particularly dangerous against the fence, where she can use head pressure to pin her opponent in place, and she's so strong that she can control her opponent with just one collar tie while landing shots. When Rousey exits, she usually has a strike waiting for her opponent.
As soon as the fight hits the floor, Rousey starts looking for her trademark armbar. She has a variety of setups for her favorite submission, ranging from basic chains in the guard to lightning-fast entries in transitions and scrambles. She can finish it belly-down, from her back or even, as we saw against Cat Zingano, with a creative combination of her legs and armpit.
If that weren't enough, Rousey is also a devastating ground striker when she puts her mind to it, showing off strong posture and heavy hands.
That's the good side of Rousey's game, but as Holm made clear, there are also some serious downsides that perhaps we all should have caught earlier.
First, Rousey doesn't like getting hit. She doesn't cringe away after eating a shot, though, unlike some other damage-averse fighters. Instead, taking a punch seems to enrage her, as if she has to prove to herself that she's tough enough to keep coming. Unfortunately, getting hit seems to rob her of her judgment and her ability to stick to a plan.
That first flaw leads directly into her second. Despite her aggression and love of forward movement, Rousey isn't a skilled pressure fighter; her footwork is decent at best, and she's not good at using strikes to cut off her opponent's lateral movement. When she gets hit, she tends to ditch the few pressure tools she has in favor of maddened bull-rushing.
Finally, Rousey is a bad defensive fighter. Her aggression means she's practically always there to be hit, she never moves her head and she makes only limited use of parries and blocks. Especially after she eats a shot or two, she enters only on straight lines, so it doesn't take a genius to find her chin and plant a punch or kick on it. Surprisingly, she's not a strong defensive wrestler, either.
Rousey -140, Nunes +120
This is a fascinating matchup, and more than anything it hinges on questions about Rousey's psychological state and how much she has been able to improve in the last year.
If Rousey shows up looking like the same fighter who seemed lost against the basic stick-and-move game plan Holm employed, Nunes is going to knock her block off. Holm is a relatively light puncher, and she still busted up Rousey's face and put her off her game. Nunes is a real one-punch knockout artist, and she wouldn't need all 38 strikes (per Fightmetric) that Holm landed before the head-kick finish last year.
With that said, Rousey still has paths to victory. Nunes is aggressive herself and has a bad habit of gassing, so it's easy to see her selling out for a finish early after rocking Rousey, getting tired and then conceding an easy takedown and armbar to a bloodied Rousey.
That's less likely than Rousey charging in, Nunes blasting her with counters and eventually catching her with a knockout shot. Nunes knocks Rousey out late in the first round.
Odds courtesy of OddsShark.
Patrick Wyman is the Senior MMA Analyst for Bleacher Report and the co-host of the Heavy Hands Podcast, your source for the finer points of face-punching. For the history enthusiasts out there, he also hosts The Fall of Rome Podcast on the end of the Roman Empire. He can be found on Twitter and on Facebook.