Brent Brookhouse: I think we’re due for Aldo to crush someone in the first round, but I’ll play it a bit more safely here. Mendes isn’t a finisher and Aldo is, which means that Mendes has to get takedown after takedown for five rounds. While he certainly has the wrestling credentials to do that, I think Aldo is actually going to prove a pain to get to the ground and after two rounds of tactially picking Mendes apart, he finishes him in the third. Jose Aldo by TKO, round 3.
Leland Roling: Mendes isn’t invincible or without flaws despite many fans putting his NCAA credentials on a pedestal. Omigawa outlasted the onslaught and seemed to be wearing on Mendes by the third frame of their bout at UFC 126. An amazing feat considering Omigawa wielded no head movement and sloppy technical boxing. Aldo is a completely different animal, and bringing in bulky lightweight wrestler Gray Maynard to help him was a brilliant move. Aldo neutralizes Mendes, wears on him, and bombs on him late. Jose Aldo via TKO, Round 4.
Matthew Roth: Honestly I’ve been a Mendes mark since the WEC days and always thought he was the guy to dethrone Jose Aldo. I’m sticking with that and saying he’ll be able to get Aldo down and keep him there for 25 minutes. Chad Mendes by Decision.
Ben Thapa: Given Aldo’s vulnerabilities against Hominick and Florian, I think there is a very real chance for Mendes to bully Jose and take that belt. However, given the state of his striking skills, he probably has to do it for five rounds. That is a very long time to stifle Aldo’s offense and I’m assuming we get a more energetic Jose than the last two times out. Aldo, KO, Round 4.
T.P. Grant: Chad Mendes is a fantastic wrestler, but his striking hasn’t developed like many fans hoped it would. On the feet Aldo has a clear advantage, but Aldo hasn’t looked the same since his surgery. In most other sports it takes athletes a season after a surgery to return their old self and I think we see the Aldo of the WEC. Jose Aldo by TKO, Round 2.
Fraser Coffeen: There’s no doubt how each man approaches this fight (unless Mendes decides to go nuts and try his stand-up, in which case he gets lit up). So the question is, can Aldo avoid being grounded for 25 minutes? I think he can. His takedown defense is good, and though Mendes may get him down some, he won’t do anything with that position, allowing Aldo to beat him up on the feet. Still, I expect Aldo to be cautious again, so no firework KO finish. Jose Aldo by decision
Tim Burke: I’ve never been all that impressed with Mendes. But he obviously has excellent wrestling and all that, and what he preaches about standup cardio being different than ground cardio actually makes sense. After seeing Aldo’s weight cut video for the Hominick fight, I’m always worried about how drained he might be in the cage if that happened again. I know Aldo went 5 with Florian no problem, but Mendes is a different animal and if Aldo doesn’t put him away early, you might be looking at a close 48-47 decision. I was going to Aldo by TKO, but the more I think about it, the more it doesn’t seem that likely. Aldo starts great and fades late. This is odd, but I’m going Jose Aldo by split decision.
Dallas Winston: Not only is Mendes an incredible wrestler, but he’s freakishly quick and agile and I’ve been impressed with his strides in boxing. He was able to carefully avoid the dangerous guard-clutches of Javi Vazquez and has shown a solid chin and cardio. Aldo has great takedown defense and his low-range or flying knees will be a factor if Mendes telegraphs his shots in the slightest bit. A control-based strategy might incite a riot, but Mendes will sacrifice his status with Brazilian fans to snare the belt. Chad Mendes by decision.
KJ Gould: Aldo’s understandably the favourite, but I think too many are sleeping on Mendes. If Aldo genuinely thinks Mendes is more of the same as Faber, he’s going to have a rough time and get beat up on the ground. I see this going the same as Sonnen vs Silva, only without the Hail Mary triangle choke to save the champion. Chad Mendes by Decision.
Staff Picking Aldo: Leland, Brookhouse, Thapa, Grant, Fraser, Tim
Staff Picking Mendes: Roth, Gould, Dallas
Vitor Belfort vs Anthony Johnson
Brent Brookhouse: Belfort’s KO resurgance hasn’t exactly come at the expense of strong, dangerous strikers. Terry Martin isn’t exactly big and strong and he’s quite "knockoutable." Matt Lindland’s chin is far from granite these days. Rich Franklin is talented but not exactly someone Belfort had to worry about one-punching him in a firefight. And Yoshirhio Akiyama was massively undersized at 185. In Johnson, Belfort faces a guy who hits very hard, can muscle him around and can take the fight down if he really wants. This is a miserable fight for Belfort. Anthony Johnson by TKO, round 2.
Leland Roling: I’ve had a tough time trying to figure out how this fight may go down. Reach and size are obvious factors, but Belfort’s style will undoubtedly involve slipping inside Johnson’s hammers and devastating his chin. Johnson’s best course of action? Dominate the clinch early and eliminate Belfort’s quick hands. If he does that, this should be cakewalk. Anthony Johnson via TKO, Round 2.
Matthew Roth: Have you seen Johnson? Have you seen him? Dude is looking like a monster at this weight. I’m not sold on Belfort and never have been. I think Rumble has the skills to put an absolute hurting on an older Belfort. If he can’t win the stand up he’ll go to his wrestling. It’s not like Belfort has ever used his BJJ anyways. Anthony Johnson by TKO.
Ben Thapa: Belfort is vastly better than Johnson on the ground, even with Belfort’s preference to use the ground game to feed into his strikes. I believe Rumble wants no part of a ground battle and will stand and deliver in a striking war. People (who are not Anderson Silva) that choose to stand early with Vitor lose. Vitor, KO, Round 1.
T.P. Grant: I’ve been a big fan of Rumble since UFN 14 and I’ve picture him doing big things down the road, if he would move up to Middleweight. The move has been made and now he is free to actually weight train in the lead up to fights and he is in a shallower talent pool. Vitor is a stiff test, but I think his physical gifts are beginning to fade and Johnson is starting to hit his stride. Johnson’s jiu jitsu sucks, but I don’t think Vitor has the interest or the ability to take Rumble to the mat. Anthony Johnson by KO, Round 3.
Fraser Coffeen: Screw all of you guys, I still believe! Vitor Belfort by KO, round 1
Tim Burke: I’m very surprised people are putting so much stock into Anthony Johnson and his skills here. People were always hyped on him because of the KO’s, but he never really beat anyone highly-ranked at welterweight. And I don’t think the weight cut is an excuse for that. Vitor is, by far, the best opponent he’s ever faced. Johnson’s a slow-ish striker, and Vitor’s got very fast hands. Vitor’s better on the ground as well, if it goes there. This isn’t Pride Vitor, it’s UFC Vitor and he’s going to blow Crumble out of the water. Then people will discredit it because "he beat a welterweight, big deal". Vitor Belfort by TKO, round 1.
KJ Gould: Johnson has power and youth on his side, Belfort has speed, accuracy and experience. It starts on the feed and Belfort is a fast finisher, so I have a feeling it won’t get a chance to go to the ground with Johnson wanting to stand and trade to begin with. Vitor Victorious in front of his home crowd. Vitor Belfort by KO, Round 1
Dallas Winston: AJ is an extremely gifted wrestler and striker and it’s hard not to appreciate the momentum he debuted with. However, at the top level, I’m not quite sold on him yet, even though I think he has the right tools to get there. With Vitor, it’s either a nostalgic first-round flurry of death or a gradually fizzling disappointment. Johnson has to stay in phone-booth range and smother him on the feet or drown him with takedowns. I’m really not impressed with Vitor’s guard but his takedown defense is solid and his hands are blindingly fast. Vitor Belfort by KO.
Staff Picking Belfort: Thapa, Fraser, Tim, Gould, Dallas
Staff Picking Johnson: Roth, Leland, Brookhouse, Grant
Rousimar Palhares vs Mike Massenzio
Brent Brookhouse: I want to say this is a waste of everyone’s time, but it’s always fun to watch guys get leglocked. Rousimar Palhares by submission, round 1.
Leland Roling: Palhares remains the quintessential power grappler, and he’ll make quick work of Massenzio’s already bad knee ligaments. Rousimar Palhares via heel hook, Round 1.
Matthew Roth: Is anyone giving Massenzio a shot to win this fight? I’m really surprised they hate his ACL, MCL, and PCL so much as to match him up with Palhares. Rousimar Palhares by Submission.
KJ Gould: There will be a bidding war for Mike Massenzio after this fight. Not by promoters, but by arthroscopic surgeons salivating at the work coming their way at the hands of a Palhares leg destruction. Massenzio’s getting uprooted by the ADCC Silver Medaling Tree Stump. Rousimar Palhares by submission, Round 1.
Ben Thapa: I like Massenzio’s moxie in taking the short notice fight with Soszynski back in June. I also like his willingness to take a tough bout in the return to the octagon. However, I do not like his submission defense against a guy who has several different set-ups to leglocks and already has three-quarters of the division worried about their legs. The question to me is whether Palhares goes directly to the leglocks or if he spends some time showing off his striking and scrambling with Massenzio. I pick the latter. Palhares, submission, Round 2.
T.P. Grant: My knee hurts just thinking about this. Rousimar Palhares by Submission, Round 1.
Tim Burke: I’m a huge Toquinho fan, but I don’t think this is the blowout that everyone keeps mentioning. Massenzio is a black belt with decent hands and good wrestling. For all of his leg-ripping skills, Palhares still doesn’t have a great chin or great cardio. If it goes past the first round, things are looking up for Massenzio. Either way though, I’ll go the safe route and take Rousimar Palhares by submission, round 1.
Dallas Winston: The medley of striking and boxing Massenzio showed against Cantwell marked a key evolution for him. I would give him a chance here because of his wrestling/sub-grappling combo and Palhares’ unpredictable nature but obvious intentions. Not enough of a chance though. Rousimar Palhares by submission.
Staff Picking Palhares: Roth, Leland, Brookhouse, Thapa, Grant, Fraser, Tim, Gould, Dallas
Staff Picking Massenzio:
Erick Silva vs Carlo Prater
Brent Brookhouse: Silva is very good, Prater is a bit more dangerous here than people have acknowledged but it’s an appropriate step for Silva at this point. Erick Silva by decision.
Leland Roling: This should be a showcase fight for Erick Silva. He’s definitely on the rise, and Anderson Silva already thinks he’s the future at welterweight. Hopefully we see some improvements in terms of conditioning and pace. Erick Silva via TKO, Round 2.
Matthew Roth: Erick Silva is the future of 170. And shout out to my dawg Leland for recognizing it last year on the scouting report. Erick Silva by TKO.
Ben Thapa: Roth, Yuri Villefort should have been the blazing star of 170 in 2011. Let us take a moment to reflect on the sadness that is severe knee injuries to young prospects. Prater’s win in Strikeforce back in February by anaconda was awesome enough for Kid Nate and KJ Gould to do a Judo Chop on it. Since then, Prater has picked up three more submission victories. Erick Silva has his work cut out for him if he’s to live up to the hype. I think he can do it, but it’s contingent on his ability to stay disciplined on the feet and keep Prater from bullying him to the ground early and often in each round. Silva, decision.
T.P. Grant: I’d like to echo Roling, this is a showcase for Erick Silva. He is a fantastic prospect and is ticketed for the upper levels of Welterweight. Silva is going to win, and the UFC is going make sure as many people as possible can see it. Erick Silva via Submission, Round 2.
Tim Burke: Silva showcase, just like they said above. Prater’s scrappy, but not a UFC-caliber fighter. I think Silva wins by sub, but all I want to really see is another awesome cage flip from him when he wins. Erick Silva by submission, round 2.
KJ Gould: Neither guy sticks out to me that much. I’m having a hard time remembering either of these guys’ last fights. Vaguely remember Silva pleasing the crowd on the first Rio card, so I’ll assume he’s being given a winnable fight that sees his star continue to soar. Erik Silva by Submission.
Dallas Winston: Another version of the under-dog having a legit chance -- especially with his complex ground game -- but not enough to capture my vote. Prater is highly experienced and creatively technical on the mat, but Silva is comparable on the ground (I think) and better standing. Erick Silva by TKO.
Staff Picking Silva: Roth, Leland, Brookhouse, Thapa, Grant, Fraser, Tim, Gould, Dallas
Staff Picking Prater:
Edson Barboza vs Terry Etim
Brent Brookhouse: This card keeps feeling more and more like a lot of fights with matchups that benefit the Brazilians. Which makes sense in terms of return business. Etim is tough and skilled but Barboza is going to be able to control this fight reasonably well. Edson Barboza by decision.
Leland Roling: Most fans see Etim has a one-dimensional submission specialist, but his long frame and powerful Muay Thai is a means to an end on the ground. The problem, however, is that Barboza is a highly-credentialed Muay Thai specialist who also happens to possess solid Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. That will wreak havoc on Etim’s strategy as I think he’ll lose the striking exchanges early and be forced to shoot for takedowns. Not his cup of tea. Edson Barboza via decision.
Ben Thapa: Upset special! Swami Guru says that Terry Etim will employ some kind of magic to finish this fight by submission early. He cannot get any more specific because of the Heisenberg Principle. Etim, sub, Round 1.
T.P. Grant: Barboza is on a tear of late and his energy is going to be through roof with a Rio crowd behind him. Etim is an excellent grappler, but he isn’t infallible on the ground and he has often been handed lesser fighters on European cards. I think Barboza punishes him on the feet and survives him on the ground. Edson Barboza via Decision.
Fraser Coffeen: I’m with Ben again. Barboza just barely squeaked by Pearson, and I thought Pearson should have taken that decision, and Etim is comparable to Pearson standing. Difference is, Etim is a finisher. I think he gets the job done here. Terry Etim via submission, round 2
Tim Burke: This is a much closer fight than the oddsmakers say (Etim’s floating around +225, but was +260 earlier in the week). I think Etim has a fair chance of submitting Barboza, but not enough to think he’s going to win over 50% of the time. Etim can strike, but not at the level of Barboza’s last two opponents. I think this will probably be fight of the night, but I’ve gotta go with Barboza. Edson Barboza by decision.
KJ Gould: When’s the last time Etim fought? I’m sure Barboza has been active more recently, and more dominating. I think momentum is on his side, so if it doesn’t end early it’s going to be a really fun scrap that might be a surprise Fight of the Night candidate. Barboza by decision.
Dallas Winston: I fully agree on the "Upset Alert" for Etim. He’s long and lanky like Barboza and a talented kickboxer, though not quite on the Brazilian’s level. I do think Etim’s Luta Livre background could open up takedowns and he’s a dual-threat in the clinch with strikes and subs. I’m playing it safe with Barboza with the disclaimer that Etim is probably the best bet on the card. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him submit Barboza or out-hustle him to a decision. Edson Barboza by decision.
Staff Picking Barboza: Roth, Leland, Brookhouse, Grant, Brookhouse, Tim, Gould, Dallas
Staff Picking Etim: Thapa, Fraser
Thiago Tavares vs Sam Stout
Brent Brookhouse: I have been picking too Brazilian heavy here so we’ll go with Stout to pick up two rounds with striking from range. Sam Stout by decision.
Leland Roling: Not sure where to go with this fight. Stout can falter against better technique on the feet, but his chin is made of granite and Tavares isn’t exactly a world-class striker. His game is more effective on the ground, and Stout isn’t easy to smother in Jiu-Jitsu. I’ll go with Stout, but it’s a toss-up in my mind. Sam Stout via decision.
Ben Thapa: Tougher fight to pick than Barboza/Etim. Swami Guru left for lunch before I could pin him down on this. I hazard a guess that this ends up more like the Jeremy Stephens fight Stout had, with Tavares picking up the decision win. Tavares, decision.
T.P. Grant: This is a tough fight to pick! Two lightweight scrappers getting in the cage, this is a sure thing action fight. I think the energy of the home crowd will make the difference. Thiago Tavares via Decision.
Fraser Coffeen: Stout is not going to get KO’d, which means Tavares will need to outpoint him on the feet for at least 2 rounds. And I don’t see that happening. Barring some wacky Brazilian judging (which is a strong possibility) I go Stout here. Sam Stout via decision
Tim Burke: Tavares isn’t going to keep this standing. He’s going to try and smother Stout and take him down quickly and often. Can he though? It seems that the betting segment of fights fans believe that he can, given all the late money on Tavares. Another thing to consider is that this is Stout’s first fight without Shawn Tompkins in his corner, and he has a lot riding on him after the way Hominick went out. Pressure sucks, but I think Sammy can live up to it. Sam Stout by decision.
KJ Gould: Tavares used to be an up and comer at Lightweight everyone should have been keeping an eye on, but then his performances kind of fell apart against guys he had a decent chance at beating. Stout is a solid journeyman for the weight class, and has started living up to his Hands of Stone moniker. Tavares might initially start strong, but I think he wilts and the more experienced Stout shuts him down and takes a decision. Sam Stout by decision.
Dallas Winston: I’ve never been a huge fan of Stout but think he takes this one handily. His kickboxing is oddly slow but technically stellar and he’s fended off better wrestlers than Tavares in the past. Tavares is quick as hell with electric scrambling but has paid the price for having sloppy stand up, which Stout should expose. Sam Stout by decision.
Staff Picking Tavares: Roth, Grant
Staff Picking Stout: Leland, Brookhouse, Fraser, Tim, Gould, Dallas
Gabriel Gonzaga vs Edinaldo Oliveira
Brent Brookhouse: Bright lights, big stage, old news for one of these guys. Gabriel Gonzaga by TKO, round 2.
Leland Roling: Oliveira would have ranked at #1 on the 2012 World MMA Scouting Report. He is bar none the best heavyweight prospect in the talent pool, and Gabriel Gonzaga’s chin can’t withstand his attack on the feet. Edinaldo Oliveira via TKO.
Ben Thapa: The most recent fight of I saw Squidward showed me a fighter with bad head movement. Gonzaga may not be the world beater his skill set makes him out to be, but the guy who nearly finished Schaub in the third round can batter Oliveira into unconsciousness. Gonzaga, KO, Round 1.
T.P. Grant: MMA is a quickly evolving sport, and the heavyweight division feels change quicker than any other division. Gonzaga could win if he can get this fight to the mat and work his excellent grappling, but Oliveira brings serious artillery into the cage, and I don’t think Gonzaga will survive the barrage. Edinaldo Oliveira via KO, Round 1.
Tim Burke: I doubt a brief retirement has changed the fact that Gabriel Gonzaga is too in love with his own striking to be a force any more. If he can’t batter and intimidate immediately, he crumbles. And he doesn’t take punches well. If he has somehow evolved to the point that he realizes he’s awesome on the ground and takes it there, it’s no contest. But my guess is that’s not gonna happen. And Oliveira will break him down and knock him out. Edinaldo Oliveira by TKO, round 2.
KJ Gould: Gonzaga channels his inner-Blanka and goes full beast mode in Brazil. Which might mean he rolling somersaults into a dragon punch and gets himself KO’d. Oliveira may be on the up but who’s he beaten? Gonzaga has faced the better competition and is used to fighting in the UFC. Debuting for the UFC in Rio may be too much for Oliveira if we’re to believe Octagon jitters effects most people. I’ll stick with what I’m familiar with. Gonzaga by KO.
Dallas Winston: I’m with Thapa here. What I’ve seen of Oliveira’s striking was rather clumsy and awkard boxing that hasn’t been tuned to the dynamics of MMA, especially in the realm of stance, footwork, defense and head movement. This should be Gonzaga’s fight to win as long as he employs his strengths and only strikes to set up takedowns. Gabriel Gonzaga by submission.
Staff Picking Gonzaga: Thapa, Brookhouse, Fraser, Gould, Dallas
Staff Picking Oliveira: Roth, Leland, Grant, Tim
Yuri Alcantara vs Michihiro Omigawa
Brent Brookhouse: Put me down as a guy who has no faith in Omigawa here. Alcantara by decision.
Leland Roling: Don’t let me down, Omigawa! Michihiro Omigawa via decision.
Matthew Roth: At this point in time, can anyone honestly make the case that Michihiro Omigawa is still a top featherweight? Actually scratch that. Can anyone honestly say that Omigawa was ever a top featherweight? Though he’s got the skills to be competitive he just can’t put it together in the UFC. While Alcantara is more of a known-unknown, I’m rolling with him tomorrow. Alcantara, Decision.
Ben Thapa: I have a feeling we see Alcantara display some dominant top control for two rounds. Omigawa got robbed against Elkins and rebounded against Young, but he’s not been as impressive as his hairline. Alcantara, decision.
T.P. Grant: Omigawa has had rough go of it in the UFC thus far, but he is in fact a very good fighter. Alcantara is a solid WEC veteran, but due to injury he has fought once since 2010. I think Omigawa finally show cases his skills and gets a win. Michihiro Omigawa via decision.
Tim Burke: Many will scoff at this, but I truly believe that Yuri Alcantara is the biggest sleeper in the featherweight division. I think he’s an excellent, aggressive fighter and Omigawa won’t be able to handle the onslaught. Alcantara might end up on his back at some point, but it’s not going to be enough for Omigawa to take two rounds. Sleeper beware (even though he’s the favorite)! Yuri Alcantara by decision.
KJ Gould: Yeah … outside of Okami, you just can’t pick the Japanese guy in the UFC these days. Ever. Alcantara wins an ugly, one sided affair. Alcantara by Decision.
Dallas Winston: Put me down as the guy who has no faith in Alcantara here. Peek-a-boo boxing + elite Judo + iron chin + vastly superior experience = Michihiro Omigawa by decision.
Staff Picking Alcantara: Thapa, Brookhouse, Fraser, Tim, Gould
Staff Picking Omigawa: Roth, Leland, Grant, Dallas
Ricardo Funch vs Mike Pyle
Brent Brookhouse: Pyle eats guys like Funch for...dinner. Mike Pyle by TKO, round 1.
Ben Thapa: Kudos to Funch for the late replacement. However, Pyle is probably going to work him on the ground. Pyle, KO, Round 2.
T.P. Grant: To echo Ben, respect to Funch for taking this fight. I expect Pyle to take him down and get the win. Mike Pyle via Decision
Tim Burke: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Mike Pyle is a superstar in the gym and an average fighter in the cage. Funch probably isn’t good enough to beat him, but I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see Pyle turn in a terrible performance and drop a decision. I’ll still go with the obvious though. Mike Pyle by dreary decision.
KJ Gould: I don’t like the name Ricardo Funch. Just reading it in my head irritates me. Mike Pyle by decision.
Dallas Winston: Funch actually exhibited shades of brilliance in shutting down the powerhouse takedowns of Johny Hendricks and thwacking him with short elbows. He’s a tall, game BJJ black belt with so-so striking, which is not unlike Pyle. Plus, "Pyle" isn’t the most flattering last name either, but his striking has been much sharper and I think he’s starting to put things together much better. Mike Pyle by decision.
Staff Picking Funch:
Staff Picking Pyle: Roth, Leland, Thapa, Grant, Brookhouse, Fraser, Tim, Dallas
Felipe Arantes vs Antonio Carvalho
Brent Brookhouse: Arantes is going to do something spectacular here. Arantes by KO, round 1.
Leland Roling: Carvalho is a better striker, and he has enough acumen on the ground to neutralize Arantes’s attacks. Antonio Carvalho via decision.
Ben Thapa: Arantes can be put down and held down for a time. Carvalho looks like he has the skills to do exactly that - and deal out damage too. Carvalho, KO, Round 3.
T.P. Grant: Carvalho isn’t immune to damage and has been hurt in the past. Arantes certainly can KO guys and he will certainly have the crowd behind him and a KO win would bring huge energy. But I think the more likely outcome is a Carvalho win. Antonio Carvalho via decision.
Tim Burke: Finally Pato gets his shot. Took long enough. Carvalho should comfortably take a decision here, because he’s better than Arantes in pretty much every area. Antonio Carvalho by decision.
KJ Gould: Err … who are these guys? #flipacoin Carvalho by Decision.
Dallas Winston: Carvalho was building up quite a reputation as a hot prospect when he started out 8-0 with a win over "Lion" Takeshi. He lost to Curran and then Lion (in the rematch) but also added wins over Rumina Sato and Hatsu f**king Hioki. Even though he hit the skids shortly after, he’s a decent kickboxer with good wrestling and an ace ground game. Antonio Carvalho by decision.
Staff Picking Arantes: Roth, Brookhouse
Staff Picking Carvalho: Leland, Thapa, Grant, Fraser, Tim, Gould, Dallas