The UFC sets to wrap up 2016 with another major event Friday as Las Vegas plays host to UFC 207, featuring two championship fights and the return of Ronda Rousey.
UFC president Dana White has helped take the sport to a new level in recent years, bringing in fans worldwide. Many of these fans are athletes in other sports, and you can see them sitting prominently in the front row at most events. Many of these athletes have a lot in common with the fighters when it comes to athleticism, passion for their sport and their journey to the top.
Here is a look at some of the main-card fighters at UFC 207 and the athlete they share similarities with, along with analysis from ESPN.com MMA writer Brett Okamoto.
Main event: Amanda Nunes vs. Ronda Rousey
Rousey: As the biggest star in the history of women's MMA, Rousey possesses many of the same traits as NBA superstar LeBron James. Rousey, an Olympic medalist in judo, burst onto the scene with incredible hype, something very similar to James. Not only did she face lofty expectations once the UFC created a women's division around her, she delivered and became an even bigger star as each fight wore on.
Both of these athletes have had to overcome odds to win the championship in their sport, but both also eventually lost their reign as champion.
James and the Miami Heat were two-time defending champions when they were dominated in the 2014 NBA Finals, losing in five games to the San Antonio Spurs. To make matters worse, the following year James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Finals, only to once again lose, this time to the Golden State Warriors. However, James was able to bounce back with the incredible championship run last season, rallying from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Warriors in seven games.
Rousey has a similar opportunity on Friday.
At UFC 193, she lost her women's bantamweight title to Holly Holm in a fight that is known as one of the biggest upsets in UFC history. Holm dominated the fight from the very beginning, and in the second round, delivered a vicious head-kick to seal the victory. Rousey took the loss extremely hard and will be stepping back into the Octagon for the first time in 13 months.
James and Rousey are both extremely popular within their respective sports, and each has branched out into Hollywood, with James appearing in the comedy film "Trainwreck" and Rousey landing roles in the action films "Expendables 3" and "Fast and Furious 6."
These two have helped take their sports to new levels, but their postretirement careers could have the potential to surpass their athletic ones.
Okamoto's take: It is hard to truly compare an individual sport to a team sport, but the pressure both of these athletes face is similar. James is always going to carry a big load for any team he plays on, and his title run last year was about doing it in a city he badly wanted to deliver for. Rousey is under a lot of pressure in this fight against Nunes, based on who she was and how hard she fell.
Nunes: From 2011 to 2014, Nunes had an up-and-down run, going just 3-3. It was capped by a tough loss to Cat Zingano in September 2014 by third-round TKO. Nunes has been on a tear of late, however, winning four straight fights. This run is similar to a star in another sport, Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta.
Like Nunes, Arrieta hit a rough patch in nearly the same time frame, as he posted a 24-27 record with a 5.23 ERA from 2010 to 2013. But since the start of 2014, he is 50-19, having won the 2015 National League Cy Young Award as well as a World Series title this fall.
With a starting pitcher and a UFC fighter, the result of a fight or game comes down to how you perform. In the UFC, if you aren't on your A-game, it can be a really short night. In baseball, the offense can help overcome a bad start, but for the most part, a pitcher has to be on top of his game. Both of these two have done a great job of going out and setting the pace, and doing what they do best -- dominating their opponents.
Nunes has finished three of her last four fights in the first round, setting a devastating pace with powerful strikes, evidenced by her dominant first-round submission win over Miesha Tate at UFC 200 to capture the 135-pound title. Both of these athletes are coming off their best performances on the biggest stages of their careers, and for Nunes, she will be on an even bigger stage Friday with the eyes of the sporting world focused on Rousey's return.
Okamoto's take: There are many different ways to lose in MMA, and you can see that on Nunes' resume. She never went through a prolonged losing streak where it was obvious something was missing. She just wasn't getting her hand raised every night. This year in particular though, she proved beyond a reasonable doubt that she could handle the nerves of a big event. She headlined UFC 200 against a popular athlete and looked great.
Co-main event: Dominick Cruz vs. Cody Garbrandt
Cruz: When watching Cruz, you can find yourself in awe at how easy he makes it look. It's easy to forget just how much the bantamweight champion has had to overcome to get to the top. He was a young star, but after serious injuries, many critics doubted he would ever get back to his top form. The way he goes and does his job so consistently and in such a dominant fashion resembles four-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Like Cruz, Brady had many doubters early in his career. He was infamously drafted in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft, with people doubting whether or not he could be more than an NFL backup. Obviously, the rest is history, as he has put together a career that has put him at the front of the conversation for the best quarterback in NFL history.
Brady also suffered a knee injury in 2008 when he tore his ACL in the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs. Injuries have been a huge factor in Cruz's career, as two torn ACLs and a torn groin limited Cruz to just one fight between Oct. 2, 2011, and Jan. 17, 2016. That lone fight was at UFC 178 in 2014, when he knocked out Takeya Mizugaki in 61 seconds.
Cruz is crafty, and his game plans are as good as there is in the sport as he lures opponents into fighting his fight. He rarely gets hit and has defended 76 percent of his opponents' significant strikes in his career. This is very similar to Brady, who has only been hit on 1.81 percent of his career pass attempts (through 2016 Week 13).
Many fighters have come up with a game plan they thought would defeat Cruz, but no one has been successful in doing so since 2007. Game plans and preparation can only get you so far, but there is just no way to simulate what Cruz can do.
Okamoto's take: There are a lot of reasons why Cruz is so tough to hit and prepare for. His footwork, work ethic and endurance are all at a high level among fighters. He also does a great job of disguising his own offense, in large part because he is an intelligent fighter.
Garbrandt: After posting a decent amateur record of 4-2, Garbrandt is unbeaten as a professional at 10-0. Watching him in his last few fights, it is easy to see why Garbrandt is fighting for the title. He is an explosive athlete with devastating knockout power for the 135-pound weight class. He's quickly becoming a fan favorite because of his personality and confidence, which is similar to another California native, Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard.
He wasn't a highly sought-out recruit in high school and was the 48th-ranked point guard in the 2008 class by ESPN. Lillard ended up at Weber State, where he became a star. In his senior year, he averaged 24.5 points and was drafted sixth overall in the 2012 NBA draft.
Lillard is off to a fast start in his NBA career and has been at his best in the biggest games. He led his team to the playoffs in 2014, where he became the first player in NBA playoff history to score at least 30-plus points and have only one turnover in his first playoff game. He also capped off the series with a game winner in Game 6 that helped knock the Houston Rockets out of the playoffs.
Much like Lillard, Garbrandt is now in that situation. He has been great in his past few fights, finishing his last three opponents by first-round TKO, and he's set to compete on the biggest stage of his career Friday. He will also be facing the toughest opponent of his career in Cruz.
Garbrandt has shown that he has everything needed to become an eventual champion, and the belief he has in himself is very similar to that of Lillard. Despite cementing his status as one of the best players in the NBA, Lillard still has the chip on his shoulder to prove everyone wrong.
This title bout is what Garbrandt has been fighting for his entire career, and if he is able go out and get the win, he will have something else in common with Lillard: being one of the very best athletes in his sport.
Okamoto's take: The biggest thing Garbrandt must do is to keep his emotions under control. It will be important for him to not try to do too much. He's a very good striker who is looking to end a fight with the knockout. However, he just needs to let the knockout come to him and not force it.