The bantamweight championship is on the line this weekend at UFC 193 in Australia. Ronda Rousey makes her seventh title defense against former boxing champion Holly Holm at Melbourne's Etihad Stadium.
The co-main event features strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk making her second title defense against Valerie Letourneau. Don't agree with my predictions? Or perhaps you find them insightful and spot-on and you'd wish to compliment me? Do so on Twitter: @bokamotoESPN.
Ronda Rousey (12-0) vs. Holly Holm (9-0)
Odds: Rousey minus-1900; Holm plus-1200
When Holm has lain in bed at night and dreamed of beating Rousey, I have to believe there was always a big left kick involved.
For all the talk of Holm's boxing credentials, her lifeline is that back leg kick. It's what does the most damage, and you can bet it's No. 1 on Rousey's priority list in terms of defending. Holm loves to end combinations with it, either to the body or head, and it has led directly to the majority of her finishes. Surprisingly, she has finished just one fight with punches, and that was against an opponent who fought only twice in her entire career.
Frankly, that kick has to land (and it has to land hard) for Holm to have a chance. There might be some universe in which she can win this five-round fight by decision, but not the one we're living in. Rousey is too good at capitalizing on mistakes, and every single time this fight enters the clinch, Holm fans will be holding their collective breath. So many things can go wrong in the clinch against Rousey.
One thing that's going to stand out right away is Holm's size. She's the biggest opponent Rousey will have fought to date. She's probably strong and athletic enough to make some of those inevitable scrambles interesting, which could be a lot of fun to watch, but she definitely can't win all of them. With her 69-inch reach, Holm has to keep distance. She'll try to do so with push kicks, footwork and a pretty good jab, utilizing her great cage awareness.
All of this is great to talk about, but does she really have a shot? That's the question, and the honest answer is very close to a flat "no." As I mentioned, Holm's size and athleticism are interesting. If she's able to come out of that first clinch alive -- just keep balance, drive Rousey backward into the fence and disengage -- that one moment might be worth the price of admission, just to see Rousey's reaction. The bottom line, though, is Holm lacks one-punch knockout power. She has never had a finish in the first round. She requires volume and time to get things done. Rousey doesn't offer those opportunities.
As far as Holm's grappling, it wouldn't be surprising if, over time, she holds her own against the rest of the division. But in this fight? Against Rousey? How many times can she realistically expect to go to the floor and still have a chance to win? What's that number? One? Certainly it's not more than a couple.
Prediction: Rousey, by signature armbar, at 1:17 of the first round.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk (10-0) vs. Valerie Letourneau (8-3)
Odds: Jedrzejczyk minus-2000; Letourneau plus-1200
If a promotion wished to build up its 115-pound female champion, what would it do? It might have her co-headline a major event alongside Rousey, against an opponent who is tailor-made for her skill set.
Let's not pretend that's not the case here. Letourneau is good, and she's 3-0 in the UFC, but she's not ranked inside the top 10, according to ESPN.com, and doesn't have much of a track record against elite competition. Her best attribute is arguably her toughness, which might be a liability against an offensive juggernaut like Jedrzejczyk. There could come a time when this fight literally becomes hard to watch.
That said, it's not as if Letourneau is a defenseless beginner out there. She's just not particularly versatile. If you look through her career, she basically fights the same regardless of opponent. She has a nice jab, an accurate right hand and a sneaky left head kick that can take an opponent by surprise. She rarely looks to wrestle, and don't expect that to change here. Attempts to take Jedrzejczyk down are likely nothing more than a waste of energy for Letourneau (though she does have decent cardio).
Jedrzejczyk just has so many weapons at her disposal, at every range. As much as there is to like about Letourneau's jab, Jedrzejczyk's is probably twice as effective and capable of stunning opponents all by itself. There's just a weight behind the champion's strikes that doesn't exist with Letourneau. Jedrzejczyk has shown to be a power puncher against wrestlers. Against Letourneau, who really doesn't pose a major threat in terms of taking her down, she'll have even more freedom to sit down on her punches.
It's not surprising that many of Letourneau's fights, particularly ones against better competition, have come down to close decisions. All three of her fights in the UFC have gone the distance. She has prior split-decision losses to Claudia Gadelha and Alexis Davis. A big reason for that is her tendency to give and get equally. She's not tricky in terms of hopping in and out of range. It's not even always clear what her game plan is. She just fights. She throws at a relatively high volume with relatively high accuracy, and she's tough as nails. Against a seasoned Muay Thai killer in Jedrzejczyk, that likely won't be enough.
Prediction: Jedrzejczyk via TKO, late in second round.
Rest of the main card
Mark Hunt (10-10-1) vs. Antonio Silva (19-7-1), heavyweights:
OK, for real this time, there is no way it goes the distance. No. Way. This fight is over within the first two rounds, and Hunt's chin has held up better than Silva has thus far.
Prediction: Hunt by second-round KO.
Uriah Hall (12-5) vs. Robert Whittaker (14-4), middleweights:
The best way to fight Hall is to bring a lot of pressure, and Whittaker is a natural at that. Hall will enjoy a size and speed advantage, though. This could be back and forth.
Prediction: Whittaker by decision.
Stefan Struve (26-7) vs. Jared Rosholt (13-2), heavyweights:
Rosholt's 4-1 UFC record underwhelms the more you study it, but Struve hasn't looked right since he was forced to take a long break for medical issues. Which Struve are we going to get?
Prediction: Rosholt by decision.