This article is part of our MMA Barometer series.
As the transition in ownership from Zuffa to WME-IMG continues, another big change was announced in advance of Friday's event. The latest shake-up is the announcing team, as UFC commentating stalwart Mike Goldberg will call his final event at UFC 207: Nunes vs. Rousey. There have been rumblings about a change coming to the announcing team, but this happened quite suddenly. Goldberg's professionalism and ability to set up color man Joe Rogan will be missed, but who his replacement will be is an intriguing topic.
The rumor has been that Goldberg's replacement will be sports-media icon Jim Rome. Per various media outlets, a deal with Rome has not been finalized, but negotiations are taking place. This selection will likely warrant a variety of feedback from dedicated UFC fans. It could turn out to be a great move for the promotion, but their remains a risk of adverse affects on the viewing experience.
Two potential drawbacks are Rome's lack of mixed martial arts knowledge, and whether Rome and Rogan could co-exist as a commentating team. It's not to say he knows nothing or won't be well prepared, but Goldberg has called hundreds of fights and the knowledge he has gained from that and can share with fans is valuable.
The second potential negative is what I view as the most interesting. Rome seems to like his face time and is used to being the center of attention during any broadcast he is part of. Rogan also likes to give his opinions during fights. This worked perfectly with Rogan and Goldberg, because they developed chemistry and Goldberg was good at setting Rogan up to elaborate on various aspects of the sport. The question is whether Rome will be willing and able to do this as well as Goldberg. Nobody will know the answer unless Rome and Rogan announce together, but it is an important question.
All of that being said, Rome is a well-known sports media personality, and has been in the business for decades. He is a professional and will likely be able to adapt to any situation he is put in. If he does become a member of the UFC broadcast team it will likely work out well, but it will be a big change from hearing Mike Goldberg call events.
This is part of the transition of management for the UFC, and other changes will surely happen in the near future. I, for one, heard Mike Goldberg call events from the time I started watching the sport and will miss hearing him call events. But, as they say, the show must go on and the UFC has generally made good decisions with their commentating teams. Thanks to Mike Goldberg for the years of commentating in the UFC!
As always, below is your MMA barometer with rising, falling, and check status fighters.
RisingDong Hyun Kim, Welterweight
After winning six of his last seven fights and becoming the No.9-ranked UFC welterweight, "Stun Gun" is ready for a run at the top of the division. His only loss was to current UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley over two years ago. The most exciting part about Kim is his current finishing rate, which is 100 percent in the last three years. Kim isn't only outpointing his opponents, but he is beating them soundly with finishes, which is advantageous for DFS participants.
In his upcoming fight against Tarec Saffiedine, there is no doubt Kim will be tested standing up. Kim's goal during the fight should be to take the fight to the floor, as Saffiedine holds a black belt in both karate and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Even though Saffiedine holds a black belt in BJJ he rarely uses it, having just one takedown through seven UFC fights, and 88 percent takedown defense through his career. On the other side, Kim has 34 takedowns in 16 fights, which can likely be attributed to being a fourth-degree black belt in judo. When Kim gets multiple takedowns in a fight he is generally successful, so that should be the story in this fight. If Kim can take the fight to the ground I expect him to come out with a victory, but if he has difficulty securing a takedown, the momentum certainly shifts to Saffiedine.
Next Fight: Tarec Saffiedine, UFC 207: Nunes vs. Rousey (December 30, 2016)
Kelvin Gastelum, Middleweight
Even though Kelvin Gastelum was recently on the "Falling" portion of this list, he is now "Rising" after his convincing victory over Tim Kennedy at UFC 206. This fight took place at middleweight after Gastelum missed weight for the third time at welterweight prior to a scheduled UFC 205 fight with Donald Cerrone. Simply put, Gastelum looked great at middleweight. Even though Kennedy had a two-year layoff from the Octagon, he is still a dominant middleweight whose only professional losses are to Jacare Souza, Luke Rockhold, and Yoel Romero (the three top UFC middleweight contenders). In their fight at UFC 206, Gastelum put on a striking clinic on his way to putting away Kennedy in the third round. This is a welcome sight for Gastelum fans, as he is mainly viewed as a wrestler first and striker second. The victory over Kennedy proved that Gastelum can compete in the middleweight division.
In his next fight, Gastelum is scheduled to fight MMA legend Vitor Belfort in Brazil. This is a fantastic matchup for Gastelum with one caveat. It is a good matchup because of how poorly Belfort has performed since testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) was outlawed in the UFC. Belfort has competed four times under these rules and been dominated each time, save for a first round KO/TKO against fellow former TRT-er Dan Henderson. Aside from that showing, Belfort was taken down and dominated by ground-and-pound against Chris Weidman and, in his most recent fight, destroyed on the feet by Gegard Mousasi. This is positive for Gastelum because he is an accomplished wrestler and his striking seemed greatly improved against Kennedy. There should be nowhere the fight can go that Gastelum doesn't have the advantage.
Even with a perceived skills advantage for Gastelum, the caveat is the fight will take place in Brazil. The Brazilian MMA Athletic Commission is notoriously sketchy on their drug testing policies. Even though the UFC has banned TRT it is not out of the realm of possibilities that the Brazilian MMA Athletic Commission would miss a positive test by Belfort. If that were the case, then expect something like this. However, assuming everything is equal, Gastelum has proven he can compete at a high level at either middleweight or welterweight, given he can win his first fight with the scale.
Next Fight: Vitor Belfort, UFC Fight Night: Belfort vs. Gastelum (March 11, 2017)
Francis Ngannou, Heavyweight
One of the hottest prospects in the UFC heavyweight division is Cameroonian Francis Ngannou. Ever since he entered the UFC, Ngannou has been destroying the competition. In four appearances, he has four finishes, with no fight making it out of the second round. Ngannou is a big, strong heavyweight with devastating power. He has showed both his power and his strength in his last two fights. Against Bojan Mihajlovic he was patient, found his range, and finished Mihajlovic by landing only 8 strikes in the fight. In his last fight against Anthony Hamilton, Ngannou showed his strength by defending a takedown and then cranking on a standing kimura from the clinch to finish Hamilton. Even though he got the submission against Hamilton, the main criticism of Ngannou is that his grappling isn't as high level as many UFC competitors. Another criticism is that he has not faced top competition at heavyweight which, although true, is the right way to bring up a star in the division. The level of competition question will be answered in his next fight against Andrei Arlovski.
Arlovski is the No. 7-ranked UFC heavyweight and will be the first ranked opponent the No. 11-ranked Ngannou faces. Arlovski is a legend of the sport and has some of the best striking in the division. It is not likely the grappling question will be answered in this fight, but if Ngannou can finish Arlovski, it will make him skyrocket in the heavyweight rankings and likely land him a fight against a top-five opponent. This is a tough test for "The Predator" against a veteran like Arlovski, but based on his performances up to this point, there is no reason to doubt Ngannou.
Next fight: Andrei Arlovski, UFC Fight Night: Shevchenko vs. Pena (January 28, 2017)
Check StatusRonda Rousey, Women's Bantamweight
Going into the first non-title fight of her UFC career, there are a lot of questions regarding Ronda Rousey's MMA abilities as well as her willingness to compete in the sport. It has been over a year since Rousey last competed in the UFC and dropped her women's bantamweight title to Holly Holm. Since that time, the belt has changed hands multiple times and Rousey now faces a difficult test in Amanda Nunes. This will be a telling fight for Rousey's future in the sport.
Everybody knows what they get with Rousey. A dominant grappler with Olympic-level judo credentials, along with knockout power. However, even though she has knockout power, her stand-up is suspect. With three KO/TKO wins in the first round, many people viewed Rousey as unbeatable. She was, for lack of a better word, exposed in her matchup with Holly Holm. Holm showed what a multiple time boxing world champion would do against somebody who only began striking at the beginning of her mixed martial arts career. The issue for Rousey in her upcoming matchup is whether she can withstand the striking of Nunes, who dominated Miesha Tate on the feet on her way to winning the UFC women's bantamweight title.
Rousey's matchup with Nunes is compelling in that both fighters are built to sprint and both are great grapplers (Nunes is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu). It is well documented that Nunes comes out with the pedal to the floor from the opening bell, but this leads to stamina issues if the fight gets out of the first round. In almost every instance, except for one, Nunes has lost if the fight goes past the first round. Rousey is like Nunes in that she keeps a high pace from the start of the fight, but her only loss once a fight got through the first was to Holly Holm, the No. 1-ranked UFC women's bantamweight fighter at the time. In that fight, Rousey's conditioning was not brought into question, as she was simply outclassed on the feet. This points to the conclusion that Rousey's conditioning is better than that of Nunes. If she can withstand the initial rush and stand-up of Nunes, it is likely Rousey could finish Nunes in the later rounds with her signature armbar. A win for Rousey would be good for the sport, but with a myriad of obligations outside of the Octagon. it will be interesting to see if she can be focused and hungry enough to compete with a champion like Nunes.
Next Fight: Amanda Nunes, UFC 207: Nunes vs. Rousey (December 30, 2016)
FallingPaige VanZant, Women's Strawweight
VanZant is one of the brightest young stars in the UFC. She has a marketable look and, until recently, had the fighting pedigree to go with it. VanZant is only 22 years old, and won her first three fights in the UFC, including an impressive unanimous decision victory over Felice Herrig. However, since winning her first three UFC contests VanZant has fallen into tough times in the Octagon. Her first loss in the UFC came to Rose Namajunas when VanZant was badly outclassed on the way to a fifth-round submission loss. She was dominated the entire fight, both on the feet (out-struck 57 to 10) and on the mat (taken down eight times and registering zero of her own). Even though she rebounded with a second-round finish of Alex Chambers, she was once again outclassed against Michelle Waterson on Dec. 17, where VanZant was submitted in the first round.
These losses have proven VanZant is not ready to face top competition. She is very successful against middle-tier fighters, but once VanZant was matched up with elite, experienced fighters like Namajunas and Waterson, her inexperience showed. One positive to take away is that VanZant survived for over four rounds while being beaten badly by Namajunas. She showed that she has the heart and toughness of a champion. The next step is for VanZant to continue to gain experience and develop more skills. To this point, it seems that if VanZant can't land her hip toss takedown, she doesn't have very many answers for her opponent. However, she is only 22 years old and has a lot of time to grow in the sport. I expect her skills to improve as time passes, and if her skills can match her heart and toughness VanZant will be a tough opponent for any strawweight.
Next Fight: TBA
Johny Hendricks, Welterweight
Hendricks rarely looks well-nourished on the scale, but when a fighter can't hit their mark, it becomes an issue for Dana White and UFC brass. "Bigg Rigg" missed weight for the second time in 15 months Thursday, weighing in 2.5 pounds greater than the 171-pound welterweight limit. His scheduled fight against Neil Magny will go on as planned, though he will have to forfeit 20 percent of his purse.
Hendricks had stated prior to this fight that he would consider retirement if he were defeated, and another weight cutting fiasco has made it even more apparent that the end could be near. At 33 years old, it certainly doesn't seem like the right time to move up to middleweight, where he would face bigger, stronger fighters. A win over Magny on Friday could buy him some time if he wants it, but expecting championship-caliber efforts from Hendricks at this stage in his career might be asking for too much.
Next Fight: Neil Magny, UFC 207: Rousey vs. Nunes (December 30, 2016)