It has been a wild year in mixed martial arts -- and it's almost fitting that the UFC would close it out with the return of Ronda Rousey. You might say 2016 left us with more questions than answers about this sport. Heading into UFC 207 on Friday, the same can be said about Rousey: More questions than answers. How will she look after more than a year off, in her first appearance since the loss to Holly Holm? And even if she's at her peak, will it be enough to topple defending champion Amanda Nunes?
Questions surround the entire main card at UFC 207. Can Dominick Cruz put a cap on one of the greatest comeback years in the sport's history against Cody Garbrandt? And will TJ Dillashaw or John Lineker be waiting in the wings for the winner?
ESPN.com is here to tell you everything you need to know heading into the final pay-per-view event of the year, with its newest edition of UFC Cheat Sheets, including Cruz-Garbrandt, Dillashaw-Lineker and Johny Hendricks-Neil Magny.
Amanda Nunes (13-4) vs. Ronda Rousey (12-1), bantamweight championship
Odds as of Dec. 29: Nunes +120; Rousey -130
The Rousey mystery
This sport is obsessed with looking ahead.
Any fighter will tell you that. Win, lose or draw, every postfight interview circles around the same thing: What's next? Or, to be more precise: What do you want to happen next?
It has been 410 days since Rousey lost to Holm, and one could argue that in all that time, she has never really answered that question. What does she really want?
Earlier this month, Rousey told my colleague Ramona Shelburne of ESPN the Magazine that she isn't concerned with promotion entering Friday's return against Nunes, saying, "All I care about is winning this f---ing fight." But what about beyond that?
That the UFC wanted her back was never in doubt. In fact, there was a significant period of time in which UFC president Dana White didn't want Holm to fight anyone unless it was Rousey. Edmond Tarverdyan, Rousey's coach, promised she would return (and be the same fighter). Her boyfriend, Travis Browne, told ESPN.com he felt "bad" for Rousey's next opponent. She was coming back with a vengeance.
And even Rousey herself, speaking to ESPN The Magazine about Holm shortly after the loss, proclaimed "I need to beat this chick."
But if there's one word to truly sum up Rousey's public role since the loss, it might be "absent." Outside of a few appearances (most of which took place in controlled environments), Rousey hasn't talked. She broke down and cried during an emotional appearance on "Ellen," but even that was a safe place. The room was ready and willing to applaud. A tissue box stood at the ready.
This week, Rousey has refused all media. More specifically, fight media. Media that intended to ask pointed, real questions about one of the worst moments of her life, which was seen by millions.
White essentially filled in for Rousey on Wednesday when he hosted a surprise "media scrum" -- an old tradition that White cut off years ago. Early on, he was asked about Rousey's state of mind.
"Her everything is good," White responded. "She's ready to roll. She's ready to fight. She's in a great mood. It's all good."
Rousey appears to be in tremendous physical shape heading into UFC 207, and one loss to Holm does not erase a lifetime of athletic achievement. Just because her public comments have been brief and controlled doesn't mean she can't walk into the Octagon and thoroughly destroy the defending bantamweight champion Nunes.
But in addition to its obsession with looking ahead, another trait of this sport is that it loves the truth.
Rousey made it clear what she's looking to prove by taking this fight, telling Shelburne, "This is a time for redemption and revenge." But she hasn't spoken much about what happens after that.
Does she truly want to step in there again or is she doing it because she has to? By not wanting to face the media, is that an indication as to whether she wants to be here at all?
We'll know for sure on Friday.
Nunes: 'Beating Ronda Rousey is all that matters'
While it has been Rousey's absence from the media that has created headlines, Nunes was also left off the UFC's traditional fight-week media schedule.
Other UFC champions would have surely taken issue with that, but Nunes says that the opportunities for her to shine have never been behind a microphone.
"Honestly, I'm going to do everything the UFC sets up for me, but I don't like to do interviews," Nunes told ESPN.com. "It's part of my job, but English is my second language and I'm shy.
"The only thing that's going to make me into a bigger star is to show everybody I can make a statement in this division. Beating Ronda Rousey on that night is all that matters."
Nunes, 28, says she has watched Rousey's only professional loss closely and praised Holm's technique in that bout -- but she isn't necessarily tailoring her style around that one fight. Originally from Brazil now training out of American Top Team in South Florida, Nunes says she has always possessed the skills to defeat Rousey, she's just now getting the chance to show it.
"I think she's going to be more careful in this fight, and I really think she's going to want to take me down," Nunes said. "I'm a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I've been training it for 10 years. I know everything she's going to bring."
Nunes: 13-4 record (6-1 UFC); making first defense of UFC bantamweight title she won from Miesha Tate at UFC 200
Nunes: Nine wins by knockout, three by submission
Nunes: Four-fight win streak dating to March 2015
Nunes: Ten of 13 wins in first round (five in UFC, tied for most in women's bantamweight division history)
Nunes: Outlanded opponents 167-78 in significant strikes, according to FightMetric (five fights with fewer than 10 significant strikes absorbed)
Rousey: 12-1 record (6-1 UFC); first fight since losing title to Holly Holm in November 2015
Rousey: Three wins by knockout, nine by submission (all by armbar)
Rousey: Eleven of 12 wins in first round (five in UFC, tied for most in women's bantamweight division history)
Rousey: Outlanded by Holm 38-17 in significant strikes (plus-42 in UFC career before Holm fight) according to FightMetric
Rousey: Only fighter in women's bantamweight division to defend title (Holm and Tate lost in first defense)
I have to say it. I can't help it. It just applies so much. I'm sorry.
"Styles make fights."
And nowhere do you see this more than the top of the UFC's female bantamweight division. Rousey's title reign consisted of her moving straight forward and throwing punches to establish the clinch, where her world-class judo took over.
That skill set proved to be disastrous against Holm's patient counterstriking and footwork ... which proved to be disastrous for Holm against Miesha Tate's clever scrambling and submission game ... which proved to be disastrous for Tate against Nunes' strong takedown defense and aggressive striking. This UFC title has been a yearlong game of Rock, Paper, Scissors.
So, which style has the advantage here? On paper, it's Rousey. The clinch is where the magic happens, and Nunes somewhat welcomes it. She's willing to come forward and throw power strikes, which can place her off-balance and potentially vulnerable to a takedown. She's not bad on the ground at all, but in this matchup, it's the last place she wants to be.
At the same time, it's not a bad matchup for Nunes -- especially for when the fight is taking place. Rousey showed no quit in the loss to Holm and an ability to take a punch, but she was also fairly traumatized by the knockout. How will she respond if Nunes lands a big shot early?
Prediction: Nunes via second-round TKO