Brent Brookhouse: I bounced back and forth a lot on this fight over the last week. Edgar's striking and wrestling are very, very good and he should have the slight edge in both departments over Henderson. But Henderson's tenacity, pacing and toughness may be enough to overcome that. Still, I have to try to be smart here and go with the way I see the fight most likely to play out. I just think Edgar is good enough to win a clear but competitive decision by controlling the fight in pretty much all areas. Frankie Edgar by decision.
Anton Tabuena: I've been having a real hard time deciding on which guy to pick, and while the easy pick would obviously be Edgar, I do think Frankie has finally found an opponent that he cannot out-grind, outwork, or out-grapple. Because of that I think this will be much closer than what everyone thinks. Henderson has been stepping up his game lately improving in all areas, and I think he can pull off the upset. Ben Henderson by Decision.
KJ Gould: Ben Henderson has pleasantly surprised me since his crossing over from the WEC. The loss to Anthony Pettis really focused him and helped him take his game to the next level. In particular the way he smashed Jim Miller was a real eye opener, though reports of Miller suffering kidney problems in the run up to the fight should be taken into consideration. Frankie Edgar is the ultimate over-achiever and it's criminal so few people have been watching his title fights with Gray Maynard - something that's unlikely to change by sticking him on an international PPV instead of showcasing him on the big Fox show. Henderson has a more diverse striking skill set than Maynard and that might prove problematic for Edgar, who despite his footwork still manages to get tagged in every fight, but his ability to recover and his will to endure and find a way to win is unmatched in the sport. Edgar's grappling is more wrestling predominant, where Henderson is developing his Jiujitsu skills focusing on a passing top game that nets him back control, plus has a strong guillotine choke that can end almost anyone's night. I think Edgar's speed and pressure might be the deciding factor, and he may be able to put on a pace Henderson can't quite keep up with, but Edgar may not be able to finish. Frankie Edgar by Unanimous Decision.
Tim Burke: Holy wall of text, KJ. Personally, I think this is Frankie's fight all the way. Yes I'm a huge WEC homer, but I think Frankie's too fast to get caught on the feet by Henderson, who doesn't have excellent standup (people underestimate Gray Maynard's boxing), and Bendo's not going to be able to smother Frankie like he did to Guida and Miller. Henderson decided to add size too, which will work against him late. I think Edgar cruises to an entertaining but wide decision. Frankie Edgar by decision.
Fraser Coffeen: It's all about the stand-up here, which is where Frankie really outclasses Henderson. Not that Hendo's striking is bad - it's not - but Edgar's is better, and his wrestling will allow him to keep the fight standing enough to do damage every round. Frankie Edgar via decision
David Castillo: I think this is the one fight where Edgar won't look so vulnerable, and people may finally stop underestimating him. But I doubt it. However, it's a great match for Edgar on paper. Most of Henderson's opponents were grapplers who had trouble hanging on the feet. While Benson has steadily improved, he's still pretty sloppy and he's not at all imposing. In addition, his defense is pretty shoddy. He's an awesome fighter, but his best chance will be on the ground, which just ain't happening. Edgar's boxing is just plain beautiful, and Benson is gonna make him look like Sweet Pea out there. He'll find openings all day in my opinion. Frankie Edgar by TKO, round 3.
T.P. Grant: Edgar's boxing and footwork are excellent, and everyone agrees, but he gets hit a lot for as good a striker as he is and that makes me nervous. I don't think Henderson is the guy to finally make Edgar go to sleep, but rest assured that if Henderson has Edgar hurt he won't fail himself into gassing. Henderson is a very dangerous grappler but Edgar has excellent scrambles and survived BJ Penn on his back. I think Edgar is going to enjoy a clear advantage on the feet and the last time we say Henderson go five rounds he slowed down badly. Edgar will swarm all over him if that happens again. I expect back and forth action with Edgar commanding the later rounds. Frankie Edgar by Decision.
Ben Thapa: The speed advantage Edgar possesses will last throughout the fight and I frankly don't see Bendo putting Edgar down for any length of time if Maynard couldn't do it. We are in for another splendid display of evasiveness and smart, smart gameplanning. Edgar, decision.
Dallas Winston: Along with Anderson Silva, Edgar has the best footwork in the sport and it gives him just as much control on the feet as an unstoppable wrestler on the ground. I see the clinch-battle deciding this fight, as Bendo is a beast when sliding into tie-ups and doesn't fire off doubles from outside like many of Edgar's past foes. Bendo will also be the first opponent Edgar's faced who can match his lightning quickness in hand-speed and cage motion. Broken record alert: Edgar's conspicuous size might come into play. Bendo will have 3" in height (but 2" less reach) and he's one of the most explosive and athletic fighters in the game. In a razor-thin match up, I think Edgar's stellar shuck and jive, in-and-out striking will be the difference. Frankie Edgar by decision.
Staff Picking Edgar: KJ, Tim, Fraser, David, Grant, Brookhouse, Thapa, Dallas
Staff Picking Henderson: Anton
Brent Brookhouse: I'm not sure what the argument for Bader is here beyond the whole "puncher's chance" thing or the "maybe Rampage isn't motivated and looks old" thing. And that's not a good enough reason to pick him. Rampage Jackson by TKO, round 2.
Anton Tabuena: This is a really bad stylistic match up for Bader. Rampage Jackson by TKO.
Fraser Coffeen: What is there to say here? If Rampage loses, he might as well retire. Sorry Bader. Rampage Jackson by KO, round 1
KJ Gould: Bader losing to Jones is forgivable, but losing to Ortiz the way he did is hard to ignore. Bouncing back against Jason Brilz is a good sign, but is a fight with Rampage too soon for Bader who's in the process of rebuilding himself? If fighting back in Japan doesn't re-energise Rampage for perhaps one last time, nothing will. Bader could possibly play spoiler and grind out a wrestling based decision if Rampage hasn't prepared for all facets of MMA, but I only see one of these fighters being able to get a definitive finish. Rampage Jackson by KO.
Tim Burke: Bader hits hard, but his boxing isn't very good. Obviously his defense on the feet isn't either if he's getting dropped by Tito Ortiz. Bader's going to have a hard time taking Rampage down, and he's going to get beaten up. I want to see a Rampage KO and howl, but my guess is that this will be more like the Rampage/Hamill fight. Bader gets a taste of Rampage's power, and awkwardly looks for takedowns while avoiding shots the rest of the fight. I hope it's better than that, but it probably won't be. Quinton Jackson by decision.
David Castillo: This has all the makings of an incredibly ugly fight. Bader won't initiate, and I can't remember the last time Jackson really unleashed on anyone. Hopefully he'll be fired up in what seems to be his "hometown", and he'll be amped by more Asian reporters to harass. Still, it's a terrible fight for Bader who just isn't dynamic enough to threaten Quinton in any one aspect of the game. Quinton Jackson by decision.
T.P. Grant: The way Rampage wins fights these days is when guys play his game, and Ryan Bader will play his game. I expect this to be a slightly more competitive Hamill/Rampage, I think Bader will hang in there but in the end he will not be able to take Rampage down or out box him and it will become pretty clear that Rampage is the better fighter. Rampage Jackson by Decision.
Ben Thapa: I agree with Grant, that this is going to look like a much better version of Jackson/Hamill. Bader has probably been tearing himself up for months now over being caught out against Tito and putting in the hours of training to fix that. However, Jackson's been at this stand-up game far longer than Bader and we're going to see a plod-a-thon with sporadic moments of excitements. It would be magnificent if Rampage would return to his days of utilizing offensive wrestling, but those days are seemingly gone forever. Jackson, decision.
Dallas Winston: I do envision Bader being able to replicate the Rashad Evans strategy of using his quick hands and feet to catch Rampage off-guard with set-up takedowns. I still think Rampage has some of the best takedown defense in the division and his on-balance boxing and simple but powerful punching keeps his hands in the ideal position to shuck off takedowns. The talk of retirement is a concern but I see Rampage winning via street-smarts, Dad-strength and a decapitating left hook. Rampage Jackson by TKO.
Staff Picking Jackson: Fraser, KJ, Tim, David, Grant, Brookhouse, Anton, Thapa, Dallas
Staff Picking Bader:
Brent Brookhouse: I feel like I'm living in some alternate universe...people really like Hunt to beat Kongo? Really? Kongo isn't exactly an elite level mixed martial artist, but he's a step up the ladder from Hunt. Hunt and Rothwell looked like they were about to die in the final stages of their fight, Kongo is pretty capable of managing his energy and wearing on guys by working them against the cage. To top that off he has decent enough wrestling to make Hunt work constantly. Mark Hunt has...power. I don't really expect this to be close. Cheick Kongo by decision.
Anton Tabuena: Yup, Kongo is really a step up the ladder from Hunt. Styles make fights though, and Kongo won't be able to stand with a guy like Hunt. He will most likely try and outwrestle Hunt, and while that could happen, I think Hunt can fend off a few takedowns, and stop Kongo on the feet to pull off the huge upset. Mark Hunt by KO.
Fraser Coffeen: Kongo is more experienced and is really good at taking other kickboxers, putting them on their back or against the cage, and grinding out the decision. But here's the thing - Hunt is good at takedown defense and and regaining his feet. His huge flaw is submission defense, but that's not Kongo's strength. I'm going out on a limb and saying Hunt is able to outstrike Kongo and keep his miracle run going. Mark Hunt by decision.
KJ Gould: Mark Hunt's chin is legendary, though it has been cracked by Melvin Manhoef back in 2008 much to the surprise of many. Kongo has good hands but lacks the ferocity of Manhoef, and it seems Hunt has rededicated himself after a 6 fight losing streak that included a submission loss to Sean McCorkle. Kongo has looked good recently and is on a roll, but I find it hard to imagine him being able to bully the ‘Super Samoan' up against the fence or put him on his back to pound on him. I think Hunt manages to do what Pat Barry was unable to, and that's put Kongo away without snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Mark Hunt by KO.
Tim Burke: People are actually picking Hunt? Awesome. I'm obviously a huge Hunt fan and completely lost my mind during the Rothwell fight, but...this is still Mark Hunt. He's a lumbering, flawed MMA fighter. Kongo has shown to be at least somewhat versatile at times and while I don't think he's gonna sub the Super Samoan, he has the game to stay on top of him against the cage or take him down and rough him up. My heart says Hunt all the way, and I really want this pic to be wrong. But...Cheick Kongo by decision.
David Castillo: Tough pick. One the one hand, Kongo's submission game is nothing to write home about. On the other hand, he can't wrestle, while Hunt can't. I wouldn't be surprised to see this one end up on the ground with Hunt actually positioning for submissions. It's a bizarre prediction I guess, but Kongo has shown a penchant for taking fights to the ground. The fact that he got caught in a firefight against Barry was pure chance in my opinion. It'll be cool if Hunt wins, but not meaningful: he'll just get submitted against his next opponent. Cheick Kongo by decision.
T.P. Grant: Kongo is a much better fighter than many fans give him credit for, he has stood in the cage with some of the best Heavyweights in the sport and accounted for himself well. The same cannot be said about Hunt, and his win over a gassed out Rothwell doesn't really change much. I am nervous about picking Kongo by decision because he is always a threat to get himself penalized a point, but I don't think Hunt will have much to offer Kongo after the first round. Chieck Kongo by TKO, Round 3.
Ben Thapa: Hunt has a sneaky good uppercut and I think he'll catch Kongo with it. If Pat Barry can almost knock out Kongo, I think Mark Hunt can put Cheick all the way out with a couple of good strikes. Hunt, KO, Round 2.
Dallas Winston: Before Kongo improved his wrestling, this would have been a case of a good kickboxer squaring off with an elite kickboxer. Kongo's size, athleticism and natural instincts with wrestling make him more of a diverse threat, but Hunt has also made promising strides in takedown defense and his defensive guard. Plus, he's deceivingly agile despite his Super Samoan girth. Thapa nailed it by keying in on the uppercut, which Hunt has employed brilliantly against anyone trying to keep him hesitant with takedowns. I have nothing against Kongo but Pride nostalgia and being a Hunt fan influences my pick. Mark Hunt by uppercut TKO.
Staff Picking Hunt: Fraser, KJ, Anton, Thapa, Dallas
Staff Picking Kongo: Tim, David, Grant, Brookhouse
Brent Brookhouse: Akiyama got subbed by Chris Leben. Shields has outwrestled better wrestlers/grapplers than Akiyama. Akiyama also has huge defensive issues in the stand-up. Jake Shields has not fallen to the point where I even dream that Akiyama beats him. Jake Shields by submission, round 2.
Anton Tabuena: Akiyama finally decided to drop down and fight guys his size. He will have the striking advantage, and he will also have the luxury of fighting in his home country where he won't be feeling Jetlag, or any bad effects from travelling for more than 14 hours. That being said, he is being fed to the wolves once again as this is very a bad match up for him. Shields will take him down and he will be grinded out and submitted. Jake Shields by Submission.
Fraser Coffeen: I wrote this whole thing about Shields crashing and burning in the UFC and Akiyama making it a brawl and blah blah blah, but then I realized that my Japan MMA love can only go so far. Shields knows he's got a lot riding on this, and he is more than capable of going into grinding decision mode when needed. It's needed, and it will happen. Though I still think he will ultimately amount to nothing in the UFC. Jake Shields by decision.
KJ Gould: Akiyama is finally at the weight class he was always meant to be in, and his striking power is enough to cause a lot in the welterweight division problems. Shields striking has always been poor, and it's hard to think he won't be even more gun-shy after he got laid to waste by Jake Ellenberger - though the loss of his father in the run up to that fight has to be taken into consideration regarding his mindset going into it. I think Shields returns to what got him to the dance, and that's putting on his superlative ‘American Jiu Jitsu' to use in taking Akiyama down and submitting him. Jake Shields by Submission.
Tim Burke: I'm not jumping off the Shields wagon just because he got blasted by Ellenberger. He's an enormous 170 and his MMA wrestling is still top-notch. Akiyama has shown that he won't fight to his strengths in previous UFC fights and I don't expect that to change in Japan. He'll look to land a home run shot, and forget his judo. Shields is gonna put him on his back, pass his guard a lot, and...win a decision. I am curious to see if Akiyama gets booed though. Jake Shields by decision.
David Castillo: I think Shields is still great, and it sucks that people constantly try to take away from his win over Dan Henderson, but it's hard to really harmonize his incredible resume and total lack of anything resembling standup: though to be fair, he nearly beat GSP with a jab of his own, at least according to some of the idiot judges at 129. For this reason I think Akiyama stands a really good chance, but his cardio has, and will be a problem, and Shields will capitalize. It'll be a tough first round, but Jake has this, and given what has gone on in his personal life, I'll be rooting for him. Jake Shields by submission, round 3.
T.P. Grant: Shields is a better wrestler, a better grappler, has better cardio and his stand up took some serious strides forward in the GSP fight. I've never been very impressed by Akiyama either by his skills or his attitude, as greasing scandals following his constantly. I think Shields wins this one rather easily. Jake Shields by Submission, Round 2.
Ben Thapa: This is a closer fight than people here are making it out to be. Akiyama has terrific takedown defense skills and is finally fighting at his "real" size. Presumably, while studying fight tapes, Akiyama saw the same thing that Georges did - Shields shoots in for a takedown from two angles/situations. I think Akiyama can shut those angles down and force Shields into a standing battle for a decision win. Akiyama, decision.
Dallas Winston: On board with Thapa again -- I think this is a horrible match up for Shields, who struggles against strong grapplers with sharp striking who can stay upright. Still, Akiyama's newaza makes him tough in the clinch but I expect Shields to drop and hover in for low singles that he'll relentlessly pursue like a rabid dog gnawing on a nicely tanned and hopefully not over-moisturized leg. Shields is a lunatic sub-grappler from the top and will take over from there. Jake Shields by submission.
Staff Picking Akiyama: Thapa
Staff Picking Shields: KJ, Tim, Fraser, David, Grant, Brookhouse, Anton, Dallas
Brent Brookhouse: I feel like there's a repeating story in these picks where one guy is totally likeable (Akiyama, Hunt, Boetsch) but reality is that they are facing guys who are proven better fighters. And in each case it's been proven over lengthy careers on both fighters' part, so it's not like we don't have the data to base our decisions on. Yushin Okami by decision.
Fraser Coffeen: Boetsch has looked good at MW, but he's also been rather one-dimensional, and it's a dimension Okami knows how to deal with. My only worry is that Okami won't be as dedicated anymore - his career is getting long, and he's made it to the top and lost, so will he have the drive to make it back up again? Something tells me he won't. Tim Boetsch by decision.
KJ Gould: I like Boetsch, he's put on exciting fights and demonstrated some interesting ‘Redneck Judo', but Okami is just a better all around fighter who won't be intimidated by his opponent this time out. Okami's use of stiff jabs to weaken an opponent, combined with his wrestling and ground and pound to wear opponents down makes this a fairly easy pick for me - especially with Okami fighting on home soil. Yushin Okami by Decision.
Tim Burke: I don't think I've ever seen a more fitting nickname than "The Barbarian". Boetsch is a caveman in the cage, and I love it. But Okami is much more polished and he's not going to get bodied around like Kendall Grove did. Okami has never been known as a top striker, but he's definitely got the edge in that department as well. He can do whatever he wants in this fight, methinks. For those counting, I've picked five straight decisions now. Yushin Okami by decision.
T.P. Grant: Boetsch has a very entertaining and interesting skill set and I love watching him fight. He combines over-powering strength with some nice Judo and pure aggression. The problem is Okami is on a different level in terms of skills, and Boetsch likely can't throw anything at Okami that he hasn't already seen. Expect a grinding Okaimi win. Yushin Okami by Decision.
David Castillo: I can't really get on the Boetsch bandwagon. His "redneck judo" was fun while it lasted, but the dude is a career .500 fighter in the UFC. Okami is a perennial contender. As always, it'll be a plodding fight, but I expect Okami to dominate on the ground, and on the feet in typical Okami fashion. Yushin Okami by decision.
Ben Thapa: I'm still angry that Okami was so tentative in the cage against Anderson Silva. He is much better than the performance he put on that night and I look forwards to seeing the statement he makes with this fight. The thing about Boetsch is that he's VERY good at taking advantage of balance shifts to get those trips and throws, but Okami is perhaps the very definition of "a fighter with a solid base". Yushin should be able to batter Tim standing and force him into the clinch now and then. Okami, decision.
Dallas Winston: I'm treading on thin ice after crediting Akiyama's bronzed quadriceps and will push the envelope by proclaiming that Boetsch is the only considerable candidate for the Conan-style trappings of a leather loin cloth. I'm just saying -- you know you would cringe at first, then shrug it off because it just coalesces perfectly with his acceptably uncivilized savagery. All of Boetsch's losses were to wrestlers he couldn't take down. His frustration showed in barreling into range with flying meathooks, which only resulted in getting tagged with counters or put on his back. Okami's boxing has advanced significantly and his unwavering balance and composure along with his snapping jab and straight combinations should be an antithetical mixture. Yushin Okami by commanding decision.
Staff Picking Okami: KJ, Tim, Grant, David, Brookhouse, Anton, Thapa, Dallas
Staff Picking Boetsch: Fraser
Brent Brookhouse: I really like Hioki but something about this fight for him is just bothering me. I'm going to take Bart here because I think he's too big and will spend time on top landing elbows that Hioki isn't going to be comfortable taking, but I'm doing so with great reservation. Palaszewski by decision.
KJ Gould: Hioki all day, hopefully by an awesome sub this time. Plus, you know, Polish surnames are a huge gripe of mine. OK, Palaszewski beat Tyson Griffin but that doesn't mean anything remotely like it used to a few years ago. Hioki had a ropey debut against Georges Roop, but I expect to see he'll have adjusted this time out and in a more favourable timezone. Hioki by Submission.
Tim Burke: I've never been a Bartimus fan, but I have to give him props for his devastation of Tyson Griffin. I still see him as a very flawed fighter, and when Hioki is dialed in, he's awesome and finding those flaws in opponents and exploiting them. Bart's got a big size advantage and could plant Hioki on his back for three rounds, but I think Hioki will work his magic, mount Bartimus, and put him away with an armbar. Hatsu Hioki by submission.
T.P. Grant: Hatsu Hioki is an excellent fighter and under a lot of radars because of the Roop fight. While many decried Roop as a light weight, he has proven a solid featherweight. Palazewski is a solid fighter and a good enough grappler to not get tapped out but I think Hioki is the better all-around fighter. Hatsu Hioki by Decision.
David Castillo: Man, I'll do it and call the upset on this one. It's not that Bart is the better fighter, because he's not. It's that Hioki is a maddeningly inconsistent one. Which is not really reflected in his record, but that still shows up in his performances, like the Roop fight. I expect Bart to keep it on the feet just long enough, and for Hatsu to indulge him just enough on the feet to allow Bart to find an opening, and crack Hioki's chin through his shoddy defense. I hate making this pick, but I gotta go with my gut on this one. Though Hioki has never been finished by TKO, Bart has just enough power to make this interesting. Bart Palaszewski by decision.
Ben Thapa: I doubt anyone outside of Aldo "cracks" Hioki's chin. The man is durable in a way that's been proven time and again. He's also a relentless grappler that grind his opponents to dust. Bartimus is a great person and a fun fighter to watch, but I don't think he has the chops to fend Hioki off for all three rounds and score points on top of that. Hioki, decision.
Dallas Winston: Bart's keen edge is his overall versatility and the obvious knowledge of Hioki's intentions. The gateway for 100% of Hioki's success is getting to the clinch and working his nefarious trips and throws and Bart's cage motion and footwork will dictate that success. Bart's a crafty and scrappy gamer with a knack for thwacking power punches without leaving himself exposed for takedowns. Hioki's not nearly the poor striker everyone paints him as and won't be burdened with the mile-long reach that Roop had. Bart will make him work hard to implement his strengths but I see Hioki eventually doing so and wreaking top-side havoc on the mat. Hatsu Hioki by late submission.
Staff Picking Hioki: Fraser, KJ, Tim, Anton, Thapa, Dallas
Staff Picking Palaszewski: David, Brookhouse
Brent Brookhouse: When facing top level talents, Lauzon has historically come up short. The Guillard fight was the exception rather than the rule, at least for now. If Lauzon wins this fight I'll need to reevaluate my stance on him, but I think Pettis is just too versitile, too athletic and not prone to the kind of mistakes of a Guillard. Anthony Pettis by TKO, round 2.
Anton Tabuena: Tough fight to pick. Lauzon can end it early, but Pettis is the more logical pick as he has better striking, better cardio, and has serviceable grappling. He just has to survive the early onslaught and from there it is his figh to lose. Anthony Pettis by Decision.
KJ Gould: Joe Lauzon has been training diligently to improve his grappling with Ricky Lundell, a Pedro Sauer BJJ Blackbelt and a Cael Sanderson Iowa Cyclones Division 1 Wrestler who helped coach Frank Mir to his amazing arm breaking win over Antonio Nogueira. Joe Lauzon was already pretty good, and I think working with Lundell will make him that much better. Pettis is still less developed than Lauzon as a MMA-ist, and it's hard to tell if he's improved of regressed in the last couple of fights despite working with the likes of Ben Askren and Duke Roufus. Pettis' benefits from reflexes and athleticism, but I think Lauzon is enough of a veteran who's cunning enough to take advantage of any mistake Pettis might make. In some ways a similar fight to Lauzon vs Guillard. Joe Lauzon by Submission.
Tim Burke: I like Joe Lauzon and have always considered him to be a bit underrated, but I don't think this is a good fight for him. His takedowns aren't good enough to put Pettis on the mat for long periods of time, and despite catching Guillard flush, his standup doesn't measure up to Showtime's. I think this will go like Lauzon vs. Sam Stout at UFC 108 - Lauzon threatens early, but is controlled standing the rest of the way. As long as Showtime sticks to the basics and doesn't get too flashy, he can pick up a respectable win. Anthony Pettis by decision.
Fraser Coffeen: I really have not been impressed at all by Pettis in the UFC, and I think if he gets hot-shotted into a title fight it won't be pretty, but this is a good fight for him. Lauzon is a tenacious submission fighter, but Pettis have enough defense to avoid being tapped, and over the course of 15 minutes, I see him controlling enough of the stand-up to get the win. Anthony Pettis by decision
T.P. Grant: Lauzon likes to swarm in the first round and go for submissions while both fighters are still dry. I don't think that strategy will work out for him here as Pettis is quite able off his back and tends to get stronger as fights go on. I think Lauzon wins the first round and then Pettis takes over in rounds two and three, getting a late TKO win. Anthony Pettis by TKO, Round 3.
David Castillo: The trouble with picking this fight is that I think Lauzon is not as good as his last fight showed, and that Pettis is much better than his last performance revealed. Still, Pettis looked flat, while Lauzon looked like he was shot out of a cannon. But Pettis won't make stupid mistakes, and he doesn't consider jiu jitsu a joke. Lauzon's finishing skills, which only ever occur before the seven minute mark, won't be a factor here. Pettis is a better striker, and his grappling is more than capable. Joe's a massive front runner, but only against lesser fighters will he look like a world beater. Pettis is not a lesser fighter, and should take a comfortable victory. The real question is whether he's improved enough to make us forget his fight against Stephens. Anthony Pettis by decision.
Ben Thapa: I believe that Sergio Pettis is already the best fighter at Roufus's camp. We'll see both brothers in the UFC in a couple years and how well my prediction holds up. Lauzon has the grappling to climb onto the back and finish Pettis and the boxing to counter Pettis's leg kicks and one-twos. This is an extremely fun match-up and I'd not be dismayed to be wrong though. Lauzon, submission, Round 2.
Dallas Winston: Lauzon is laudably aggressive and highly technical on the ground, but his mediocre wrestling means he has to rely on an insane flurry of leather to set up his shots. If he can get his hands on Pettis consistently, I think his sub-grappling will be too creative. Pettis has to play the tactical kickboxer here and evade the wild bull-rush with tight countering and precise circling. I lean slightly towards Pettis but Lauzon's trend of sputtering out after the first seals it for me. Anthony Pettis by decision.
Staff Picking Pettis: Tim, Fraser, Grant, David, Brookhouse, Dallas
Staff Picking Lauzon: KJ, Thapa
Brent Brookhouse: As much as I'd love to see Gomi get a win in front of his home crowd on a big stage and then hang up the gloves, I think it's much more likely that Mitsuoka outworks him to a decision. Mitsuoka by decision.
Anton Tabuena: I'll be really sad if Gomi can't beat a guy like Mitsuoka. Takanori Gomi by KO.
KJ Gould: Man, what the hell happened to Gomi? We saw a flash of the Fireball Kid against Tyson Griffin, but as I mention in the Hioki vs Palaszewski prediction, that kind of win means very little these days. Mitsuoka is the right sort of opponent Gomi can shine against, someone with a decent enough record in Japanese MMA but doesn't look like a can either. If Gomi can't win this, it's got to be the end of his UFC career if not his MMA career. Gomi by KO.
Tim Burke: I like this fight better than Gomi/Sotiropoulos, but come on man, can't we give Gomi a striker for once? Why is it always wrestlers and sub guys? Gomi can knock out anyone, but Mitsuoka has a really good chin and a crafty ground game. Problem is, he doesn't really have great takedowns, and despite Gomi being put on his back a lot in the UFC, Mitsuoka isn't a UFC-caliber fighter. I picked against Hunt and it hurt my soul, but I am NOT picking against Gomi. Not now. Not ever. Takanori Gomi by epic KO.
T.P. Grant: I sadly get the feeling that Gomi's motivation has almost completely worn away. I just have a bad feeling that KO win over Griffin was Gomi's last moment of glory. Eiji Mitsuoka via Submission, Round 1.
Fraser Coffeen: Tim is correct, Mitsuoka is not quite a UFC caliber fighter. But neither is Takanori Gomi in 2012. Mitusoka had a very good run in Sengoku, a win over Joachim Hansen, and his last fight was a solid win over Bruno Carvalho. He's not a known Japanese fighter exactly, but he's solid, and that's enough to get by Gomi here. Eiji Mitsuoka via submission, round 2.
David Castillo: Takanori Gomi is looking to pay for his tab, and his car payments these days, and nothing much else. The guy's head was really never in the game when you think about it, but at least his body fought against his mind to produce brilliant violence. Now his body is right there with his brain: in a caged river without a paddle. Even worse, Mitsuoka is a solid veteran, and has been pretty consistent, only losing to underrated fighters themselves, like Yokota, Boku, and Kitaoka...only 3 losses since 2006. Easy pick here. Eiji Mitsuoka by submission, round 2.
Ben Thapa: I am refusing to make a pick here because I do not want to jinx Gomi in any way, shape or form. To tide you over, I remind you of the Tyson Griffin knockouts at the hands of Gomi and Bartimus. Ka-BLAAAOOW versus "Bap, bap, bap bap bap bap, boom."
Dallas Winston: I agree with Burke on everything but the statement that Mitsuoaka isn't a UFC-level fighter. I'd say he is for sure. No offense to these guys but let's not forget that we have lightweights like John Cholish and Mitch Clarke on the roster. Mitsuoka has already finished UFC-caliber opponents in Tibau and Strebendt by TKO and Schiavo and Cobb by sub. That being said, my lifelong career accomplishments include creating the legendary "Gomi Head". Google it to recognize my gushing adoration for "The Fireball Kid." Takanori Gomi by soul-rending KO.
Staff Picking Gomi: KJ, Tim, Anton, Dallas
Staff Picking Mitsuoka: Fraser, Grant, David, Brookhouse
Staff Refusing to Pick: Thapa
Brent Brookhouse: Yamamoto is faded, but still good enough to beat a Vaughn Lee. Yamamoto by decision.
Anton Tabuena: See Gomi vs. Mitsuoka prediction. Kid Yamamoto by TKO.
KJ Gould: Another Japanese juggernaut reduced to a shell of his former self, ‘Kid' Yamamoto needs this win just as badly as Gomi, and Vaughn Lee is the perfect opponent for him to do so against and keep his job. Lee's still young enough to develop as a fighter, while Kid's injuries over recent years means there aren't many good fights left in him. Kid should still get this, but it wouldn't surprise me to see the final sad chapter play out in Yamamoto's fight career. Kid Yamamoto
Tim Burke: Lee's...not very good. He did okay in the first round against Chris Cariaso, but he got mounted five times in the last two rounds. And Cariaso isn't even that great of a grappler. Somehow one judge gave him one of those rounds, which boggles the mind. Sure, Kid has looked pretty bad in the UFC so far. But if there was ever an opponent that would make him look good, this is him. Leg kicks aplenty, and eventually a finish. Kid Yamamoto by TKO.
T.P. Grant: Not sure what to make of Yamamoto these days. Injuries have worn him down, but Lee's lack of wrestling makes me think this is Yamamoto's fight. Kid Yamamoto by Decision.
David Castillo: Unlike Gomi, I think Kid is still halfway in the game. Injuries have been the biggest threat to his career, and hasn't even looked so bad, but rather, just tentative. He still clocked Darren pretty good. Still, he doesn't need to be terrible aggressive to beat Lee. Kid Yamamoto by TKO, round 2.
Ben Thapa: Yamamoto has been hindered by a set of injuries for a while, but his biggest flaw is his defensive grappling. Uyenoyama made a fool of him for three rounds last time out and was able to do because Kid was making rookie mistakes. Lee is not as good as Uyenoyama at forcing the takedown and climbing to the back, so Kid should be able to smash him into oblivion while standing. Kid, KO, Round 1.
Dallas Winston: Well Kid, here's your slow-moving softball right across the center of the plate. Kid Yamamoto by flying knee KO (please).
Staff Picking Yamamoto: KJ, Tim, Fraser, Grant, David, Brookhouse, Thapa, Dallas
Staff Picking Lee:
Brent Brookhouse: Cantwell is one of the biggest disappointments in MMA in recent memory for me. He was developing well and I thought the sky was the limit for him. Then his growth not only stopped, but he seemed to regress. He'll be fighting for his career, basically. So I'm going to think he pulls it out. Cantwell by TKO, round 1.
Anton Tabuena: Riki is coming off an unfortunate car accident, and there are also rumors that he hasn't been able to train properly on this camp. Steve Cantwell by TKO.
KJ Gould: Riki Fukuda should have beat Nick Ring and was robbed on the scorecards. However he's not fought in just over a year, and while Steve Cantwell is on a 4 fight skid, fighting more recently in October of last year might be a factor. Despite the lay off, Fukuda appeared to have more career momentum going for him so it's still hard to pick against him. Riki Fukuda by Decision.
Tim Burke: This one's tough. Fukuda is coming off a bad car accident, and there's no telling how good he'll look. Yes, Steve Cantwell loses all the damn time, but he is actually a pretty skilled fighter. He just doesn't fight up to his potential. Fukuda is extremely durable normally, so I'll lean that way. But I wouldn't be surprised at all if Cantwell grinded out a W. Riki Fukuda by decision.
T.P. Grant: Cantwell used to be an interesting prospect at Light Heavyweight, but things just have not panned out for him. He has been trying his wares at middleweight and it isn't going much better. That said, Cantwell is still very young and is still quite talented. I think he gets off the slide and notches a much needed win. Steve Cantwell by Decision.
David Castillo: I can't dismiss what Fukuda has had to go through during his layoff. Even without the layoff and the accident, it's a tough fight for Riki, but only because he's always been such a grinder. Will he be able to wade through what should be a very gritty and tough affair? Given the layoff, I‘m inclined to say no. Injuries have plagued Cantwell's career too, but at least he's been fairly active. Steve Cantwell by decision.
Ben Thapa: Tough pick here, due to the recent injury suffered by Fukuda and the dojo wandering he's had to do in order to train for this fight. Cantwell has the benefit of stability and the youth, but Fukuda is going to push him into the cage for three rounds. I'm ultimately going with Riki here because I believe Cantwell is going to have a devil of a time getting off the cage and into his own offense. Fukuda, decision.
Dallas Winston: I had high hopes for Cantwell too and love watching his creative kickboxing. Unfortunately, it's heavy on intricate technique and light on raw effectiveness and I kind of lost faith after four-straight letdowns. Fukuda is oddly similar to Massenzio as a southpaw wrestle-boxer who pressures with alternating attacks of crisp combos and double-legs. I'm giving Cantwell a little lenience for his last fight because it was his first-run at 185 and he'll also be the most dangerous submissionist that Fukuda has encountered. Riki Fukuda by decision.
Staff Picking Fukuda: KJ, Tim, Fraser, Thapa, Dallas
Staff Picking Cantwell: Grant, David, Anton, Brookhouse
Brent Brookhouse: Yeah, this isn't too hard. Mizugaki by decision.
KJ Gould: Mizugaki's career in the last 3 years has been the very definition of hit and miss, but he has been in there with some of the best in his weight class. He's a bit more experienced and has faced better fighters than Cariaso and based on that alone I have to give it to Mizugaki - even if the pattern of his record shows a loss is due. I expect the cycle to be broken, though. Mizugaki by Decision.
Tim Burke: Mizu all the way. He's much bigger than Cariaso and has the better grappling. It's pretty clear-cut to me. Takeya Mizugaki by decision.
T.P. Grant: This seems like a match meant to give the home crowd a reason to cheer, Mizugaki should be all over Cariaso. Takeya Mizugaki by Decision.
David Castillo: Mizugaki is not immune to an off performance, but he's never been a dumb fighter, and the only way he loses to Cariaso is if he gets reckless, or makes multiple mistakes. Instead he should do what he's able to do on paper: bully, and beat Chris Cariaso who will be feeling like John Lithgow in the Twilight Zone on his trip to Japan. Takeya Mizugaki by TKO, round 3.
Ben Thapa: Who still watches Twilight Zone in this day and age? Adventure Time is where it's at and it's a better show than the new or old Serling versions ever were. Mizugaki, decision.
Dallas Winston: Mizugaki by more height and reach and technical brawling. Takeya Mizugaki by decision.
Staff Picking Mizugaki: KJ, Tim, Fraser, Grant, David, Anton, Brookhouse, Dallas
Staff Picking Cariaso:
Brent Brookhouse: They're just going to keep trying to give Zhang all the softballs they can. He's not good. Tamura is also not good. Before anyone gets all weepy about saying a fighter isn't good, it's in the context of "UFC level." But whatever, this is set up to give Zhang a win, even though he can botch that. Tiequan by decision.
Anton Tabuena: I don't even know why they even placed Zhang on this card in the first place. Why would the Japanese crowd be interested in seeing a Chinese fighter against an American (his original opponent)? Either way, Tamura isn't as good, and he's coming in on short notice, so he will probably get stopped by the former URCC champion. Zhang Tie Quan by Submission.
KJ Gould: I have not been even remotely impressed with Tiequan at all, anf he's had a couple of favourable match ups thrown his way. Tamura may be another one of those bones, but I could easily see Tamura take a decision. There's a reason this is the first fight of the preliminary card, so if it ends up being good consider yourself fortunate. Tamura by Decision.
Tim Burke: Tamura has no finish, and he's going to get outwrestled. Even if Zhang drops for 600 guillotines, he's gonna get up 604 times and get back on top. And so what if I suck at math? What's it to you? Tiequan Zhang by decision.
T.P. Grant: Tamura is a late replacement, with moderate success in Shooto in a young career. This is a huge jump for him and he isn't ready for it. Tiequan Zhang by Guillotine, Round 1.
David Castillo: While I think KJ is being a little tough on Zhang, he's still correct. But for all of his faults, I don't think he's a sub-par fighter. If he was a bit smarter, he might have saved himself from the loss to someone like Danny Downes (ok so maybe ‘sub par' is apt, but whatever), and Elkins is pretty underrated, despite not being a spectacular fighter. Tamura is not the fighter to replicate some of their success. Plus, no matter how silly he is about guillotine attempts, it's still a pretty good guillotine. Tiequan Zhang by submission, round 1.
Ben Thapa: Zhang is a brown belt now. That kind of boggles my mind because he was just a blue belt when he first came onto my radar. That kind of dedication and work ethic is a great thing to have and I think it shows more improvement than Tamura has been able to accomplish in his short career. I do hope Tamura gets another shot after this, because he can be entertaining and a threat in the right spots. Zhang, decision.
Dallas Winston: Tamura is actually a decent wrestler with great submission defense and I'm with K.J. in that Zhang's yet to impress. That's all I got. Tiequan Zhang by submission.
Staff Picking Zhang: Tim, Fraser, Grant, David, Anton, Brookhouse, Dallas
Staff Picking Tamura: KJ