Pierson vs. Ellenberger - I have to be honest. I'm super conflicted about this one. I know, it's just a prelim. I should relax. I just know that what makes me most excited to watch this fight, makes me equally "not excited" to predict a winner. These two guys are very evenly matched. I love Ellenberger because he always leaves it all in the cage. He's coming off a 3 fight win streak over some fairly impressive opponents. That being said, Pierson is coming off a 6 fight win streak. For anyone who looks on paper and is unimpressed by the fact that he had to go to decision with Matt Riddle: You need to watch that fight before you make any judgments. The majority of fighters would have quit, when Riddle did not. I'm not trying to make this an "I love Matt Riddle" shrine-post, but it was CRAZY that he stood in there and took the punishment that Pierson doled out. Anyway, as far as this fight goes, there are several key factors. Pierson has the obvious home court advantage, which can be a positive or a negative, depending on how he responds to pressure. I think if this thing stays standing, Pierson gets the edge. If it goes to the mat, I think Ellenberger wins. I'm giving the slight edge to Ellenberger and will say he gets it by decision.
Nate Diaz vs. Rory MacDonald - Before he ran into Carlos Condit in June, MacDonald had rattled off 10 wins in a row. He likes to push the pace, and has a solid ground game. You could make both of the aforementioned qualifying statements about Diaz. However, within the past 2 years, Nate has fought 3 fighters of similar ilk (aggressive fighters who are always coming forward and shooting takedown attempts) in Joe Stevenson, Clay Guida and Gray Maynard. The results? All 3 were losses. It's important to note that all 3 of those bouts were at 155 lbs., and this current matchup will be at 170 lbs., where Diaz says he feels more comfortable. I don't feel great about ever picking against Diaz brothers. They are unorthodox, unpredictable, and really good at finding ways to pull victory out of the jaws of defeat. Great feeling or not, I'm doing it. I'm going with MacDonald, also by decision.
The Main Card:
Bocek vs. Henderson - I want to be able to pick Bocek. I think he's a good dude. His triangle choke-out of Hazelett was awesome. I just don't think he can keep up with Bendo's pace (I've never called him that before. I'm trying it out. Not sure how I feel about it yet. I'll keep you posted). I think Henderson is far too athletic. I don't think Bocek can take him down, and I think Henderson's stand-up is far better. I have Henderson winning this one via stoppage in the 2nd or 3rd round.
Matyushenko vs. Brilz - Jason Brilz is a guy who does not get nearly the amount of love he deserves. He is underrated, and under the radar. Since 2002, he has lost only 2 fights. Both losses were via decision, and both decisions were sketchy (in my opinion). Go back and watch the Brilz-Nogueira fight. If you can't say Brilz won that fight, there's something wrong with you. Matyushenko is one of those tough guys that just 'hangs around'. If you give him an opening, you can believe he will put you to sleep. He's got that kind of one-punch knockout power. If Brilz is smart, he will stay away from a stand-up exchange and try and get the fight to the floor. I'm picking Brilz to win by decision.
Couture vs. Machida - I need to go on record as saying that I'm a huge Randy Couture fan. I also need to admit that I've never been much of a Machida fan. I don't enjoy his style, and I believe he did all but refuse to fight Rampage and Rua (during their first fight). Couture will not let him dance around. He will cut off the ring. Machida is a fantastic counter-striker. It's not ridiculous to think he could catch Randy coming in for a takedown attempt. I just don't see it happening. I'm going to take 'The Natural' at his word and believe this really is his last fight (even though Dana White doesn't believe him). That being the case, there's no way I'm going to pick against Randy Couture to lose his last fight. No way. Couture by decision.
Aldo vs. Hominick - It makes me sad to know that a lot of fight fans are only casually aware of Jose Aldo Jr., and that they haven't seen him fight yet. It makes me happy to know both things will change on Saturday night. If you haven't seen him, Aldo is like watching a 145 pound version of Anderson Silva. He's very possibly the fastest fighter in all of MMA. Hominick believes his stand-up will be the best Aldo has ever seen. He may be right. However, it makes me instantly recall when people said the same about Aldo's fight with Mike Brown (WEC). How'd that work out for Brown? Look, I'm not disrespecting Hominick. He's very good. Aldo isn't very good. He's world class. He essentially humiliated Urijah Faber into another weight class. Aldo wins this. I'm going to go outside the box and say he wins by submission in the 2nd round.
St. Pierre vs. Shields - A few months ago, I would have said GSP wins this fight in an embarrassing fashion. Since that point, I've done my homework. I've watched older Shields fights. I've watched his training videos via the UFC hype machine. I have to say, this has become a tough one to call. I watch Shields in his preparation for this fight and I think he trains like a monster. He also trains with REALLY good guys. The problem is that GSP does everything Shields does in training, but a little better. It's a microcosm of their qualities as fighters. GSP does most of what Shields does well....but he does it better. The subject of controversy is that of jiu jitsu. I don't think anyone passionately believes that GSP's jits game is better than Shields. The problem is that I feel like I've watched this movie before and know how it ends. Georges is smart. He doesn't go out there and try to prove his critics wrong by fighting out of his comfort zone and doing stupid things. He will fight his fight, and he will do it well. I just can't pick against GSP. Not in this fight. I've got St. Pierre winning by decision.
Hopefully this all works out better than my March Madness bracket. Let's be honest. It pretty much has to.