Six months after the Ultimate Fighting Championship scrapped its UFC 176 event, the promotion will finally make its return to Los Angeles on Saturday, February 28 (10 P.M. EST, Pay Per View), as women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey takes on contender Cat Zingano in the UFC 184 main event.
A fight nearly two years in the making, this matchup between Rousey and Zingano dates back to April 2013, when Zingano (9-0, 2-0 UFC) scored a brutal TKO win over Miesha Tate to earn a crack at promotional gold. But the contest, and coaching appearance on The Ultimate Fighter alongside Rousey, would have to wait, as Zingano was sidelined for 17 months with a torn ACL and the tragic death of her husband and coach, Mauricio Zingano.
Returning to the Octagon in September 2014 at UFC 178, Zingano reclaimed her status as the division's number-one challenger with a come-from-behind TKO over Amanda Nunes. The victory propelled Zingano back into the title picture, setting up her date with the champion.
Undefeated as a professional, Rousey (10-0, 4-0 UFC) has become one of the UFC's most dominant champions, evolving from a Judo-tossing, armbar machine into a deft and agile boxer. Her athletic acumen and competitiveness have set a new standard for women's MMA, evidenced by her 16-second knockout over Alexis Davis at UFC 175, but there is little doubt that Zingano presents the biggest test of Rousey's still-young career.
Rousey presents a unique skillset inside the Octagon. Her Olympic-caliber Judo allows Rousey to easily take opponents down, but a recent preference for striking makes it difficult to tell where the fight will go. However, Zingano does posses a size advantage over Rousey, along with a high-level wrestling pedigree, making the ground a less attractive option.
And while no one has ever taken Rousey the distance, expect Zingano to last until the championship rounds. But the champ will prove to be too much, forcing the tapout in the fourth.
Co-main event: Holly Holm vs. Raquel Pennington
While UFC 184 marks the third time Rousey's name will appear atop the marquee, it will be the first occasion in which female fighters take both headlining spots, as UFC newcomer Holly Holm (7-0, 0-0 UFC) finally makes her long-awaited promotional debut, squaring off against Raquel Pennington (5-4, 2-1 UFC).
An 18-time world champion inside the boxing ring, Holm began her transition to mixed martial arts in 2011. And while she has continued to box and defend her world light welterweight belt, Holm has looked impressive in MMA competition.
For Pennington, who most recently scored a technical submission win over Ashlee Evans-Smith at UFC 181, the contest against Holm represents a big step up in competition.
And although Pennington owns the experience edge inside the Octagon, it's difficult to pick against Holm, who has been touted as a legitimate threat to eventually challenge Rousey for the women's bantamweight title.
Expect Holm to earn a TKO in the second round.
Josh Koscheck vs. Jake Ellenberger
One of the UFC's most experienced athletes and part of the first cast of The Ultimate Fighter, Josh Koscheck (17-8, 15-8 UFC) has been competing inside the Octagon for nearly a decade.
An accomplished wrestler and former NCAA Division-I champion, Koscheck, who is returning to competition for the first time in 16 months, nearly reached the height of MMA success in 2010, challenging Georges St-Pierre for the title. But since his run at the belt, Koscheck's career has stalled, losing three straight bouts, including suffering a vicious knockout loss at the hands of Tyron Woodley at UFC 167.
Another fighter in the midst of a three-fight skid, Ellenberger (29-9, 8-5 UFC) enters UFC 184 in desperate need of a win, having most recently suffered a first-round submission loss at UFC 180.
Ellenberger has seen his star both rise and fall inside the Octagon, and the most common critique of his game has been in inability to transition outside of his wrestling game and into the standup, where he is known to have knockout power, but rarely lets his hand go. Koscheck has always been viewed as a one-dimensional fighter, employing lay-and-pray tactics after landing takedowns.
In the end, neither fighter will be able to land the stoppage, but Ellenberger will do enough to take the decision.
Alan Jouban vs. Richard Walsh
An unlikely candidate for the Pay Per View portion of the UFC 184 card, this welterweight contest between Jouban (10-3, 1-1 UFC) and Walsh (8-2, 1-1 UFC) features a pair of fighters coming off controversial losses.
For Jouban, who comes to MMA after a lengthy career as a male model, the contest against Walsh represents a chance to avenge a questionable loss to Warlley Alves in Brazil. Walsh, a native Australian, fell on the wrong side of a split decision to Kiichi Kunimoto in Japan last September.
Fighting out of LA's 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu and Black House MMA, Jouban owns the hometown advantage. But Walsh, a boxer and Jiu Jitsu practitioner, has proven himself to be a durable specimen, able to take damage and last until the final bell.
This fight between lesser-known competitors should be non-stop and action packed. But in the end look for Jouban to grab the decision.
Tony Ferguson vs. Gleison Tibau
An interesting matchup at lightweight, this contest pits Ferguson's (17-3, 7-1 UFC) flashy submission game against Tibau's (33-10, 16-8 UFC) size and strength.
Ferguson enters the contest in the midst of an impressive three-fight win streak, most recently landing a rear-naked choke win over Abel Trujillo, a fighter with a similar skillset as Tibau, at UFC 181. But he also has a sophisticated stand-up game, evidenced during a knockout win over Katsunori Kikuno at UFC 173.
Tibau, a durable veteran who will make his 25th UFC appearance on Saturday, tied for second all-time, is a crafty grinder, able to control the action against the cage, limiting output from his opponents. A late replacement for an injured Yancy Medeiros, Tibau is in the midst of a three-fight win streak. He also owns a notable win over current lightweight number-one challenger Rafael Dos Anjos, but against Ferguson, Tibau's style may be his undoing.
Ferguson has beaten grinders at their own game in the past. He's not afraid to change levels and go for kneebars and ankle locks. Ferguson plays the MMA game with high stakes, and he is adept at finding openings to beat opponents where they least expect it.
Still, Tibau is a difficult assignment, so look for Ferguson to take the decision.
Best of the Undercard: Mark Munoz vs. Roan Carneiro
It's been almost a year since Munoz (13-5, 8-5 UFC) last competed inside the Octagon, and after a pair of stoppage losses, the former NCAA wrestling champion is looking to return to the win column.
Standing in his way is Carneiro (19-9, 2-3 UFC), a former welterweight, who will begin his second run with the UFC after fighting in regional promotions since 2008.
Carneiro looked impressive in his most recent outing, winning three consecutive bouts in the Battleground MMA One Night Elimination tournament. But those contests all came at 170 pounds, and Munoz is a big middleweight who knows how to impose his size and strength.
Don't expect this contest to last too long, as Munoz will find the early takedown and employ his trademark "Donkey Kong" punches and ground and pound.