Vitor Belfort vs. Michael Bisping
Brent Brookhouse: I’ve always maintained that the "Bisping has a bad chin" thing is way overstated. He can be hurt, but we’re not talking about a guy who gets finished all the time. The only time someone actually finished him was the absolute bomb from Henderson that likely finishes any man on the planet. He’s been buzzed plenty, but he recovers well and doesn’t start running scared if he gets hurt. Belfort hits hard enough to finish anyone and he could get a stoppage here if he connects, but I think Bisping is the better fighter. I really hope to see him score a takedown and work his ground and pound, which has been furious when he’s used it in the past, with this being a 5 rounder I’ll even go out on a limb and say he gets the late stoppage. Bisping by TKO, round 4.
Tim Burke: I’m with Brent, except for the finishing part. Bisping does get his bell rung from time to time, but he recovers very fast. Belfort has very fast hands and all that, but I think Bisping can use either an outside striking game or his wrestling with success. The longer it goes, the better it is for Bisping, because Belfort will gas. The longest he’s ever gone as a middleweight was just over eight minutes with Terry Martin in Affliction. If Bisping doesn’t get knocked out in the first round, he’s got this. Michael Bisping by decision.
Mookie Alexander: I’ve rode the "Belfort is going to smoke him" train for the longest time, even when this was merely a hypothetical fight. Well guess what? I’m pulling a total 180. Am I concerned that Bisping is going to have problems with Vitor’s power should Vitor connect? Hell yeah. But this is a five-round fight, and as far as overall skills, Bisping is the superior fighter. He should be able to weather the early Belfort storm, get his takedowns in, deliver good ground-and-pound, mix in some solid boxing on the feet, and ride out a decision win. Michael Bisping by unanimous decision (49-46).
T.P. Grant: This fight is a chance for Bisping to showcase his improved and more intelligent footwork and Octagon generalship. In the past those things have cost him fights, famously when Bisping circled into Dan Henderson’s right hand and when he moved straight backwards in the face of Wanderlei Silva’s frontal assaults. Belfort rushes forward in a similar fashion to Wanderlei and tries to turn fights into brawls. Bisping should be able to out maneuver Belfort and stay on the outside, pumping jabs and working combinations, while not allowing Belfort to set his feet for power shots. Bisping’s wrestling is also good enough to keep from being taken down and might even take Belfort down to try to replicate some of the success Jones had on top of Belfort. Barring a shocking knockout or submission, I expect Bisping to take this one on the cards. Michael Bisping by Decision.
Fraser Coffeen: I LOVE this fight, but I hate trying to predict it. I’ve been back and forth all week, and I’m still unsure. Generally, I think people underrate Bisping because they hate him. But they also underrate the current version of Vitor, who is much more patient than he used to be. I think it’s entirely possible Bisping uses the clinch and a jab to stay away from Vitor and slowly amass points. But I can’t shake the Belfort vs. Franklin fight, and keep reminding myself that since changing up his training and his style, Vitor’s only loses are against Silva and Jones. He was overhyped for years, but I think in 2013, the hype is for real. Vitor Belfort by KO, round 1
David Castillo: I think this is pretty clear in terms of outcome. Old, new, deceased, or from the future...any version of Belfort can’t handle shifts between boxing and wrestling. Bisping will keep him guessing, despite giving Mike a scare here and there. Michael Bisping by Decision.
Darth Dallas: Everyone pretty much summed up the variables here, and it’s good to see Bisping getting some respect. I’ll go with Scenario B, thinking Vitor’s power and hand speed will be too much early -- though I agree that "The Phenom" is finito if this goes past the 2nd.
Staff picking Belfort: Fraser, Dallas
Staff picking Bisping: Stephie, Grant, Mookie, Brookhouse, David, Tim
C.B. Dollaway vs. Daniel Sarafian
Tim Burke: Sarafian undoubtedly will be a very good fighter in the UFC. But Dollaway can use that wrestler grindiing BS he used on Mayhem to frustrate the hell out of him. He could even use the 4-odd inches of reach to frustrate him from the outside. I don’t particularly believe in Dollaway’s smarts, but...bah, this is C.B. freakin Dollaway we’re talking about. He’ll probably get submitted. Daniel Sarafian by submission, round 2.
Mookie Alexander: This is the real main event of the evening. And I don’t entirely agree with T.P that Dollaway is savvy enough to stay out of Sarafian’s submissions. I’m pretty sure CB was the one who dove head-first into a Tom Lawlor guillotine and was submitted by Amir Sadollah twice. He’s probably going to take Sarafian down and work from the top, but I’m predicting Sarafian figures CB out in the 2nd round and gets a submission win. Daniel Sarafian by submission, round 2.
T.P. Grant: This one seems to be made for a Dollaway win. Dollaway is now savvy enough to stay out of submissions and pass Sarafian's guard. C.B. Dollaway by Decision.
Fraser Coffeen: I’m with Mookie. I see no savvy in Dollaway, and while I’m not entirely sold on Sarafian, this is built to give him the win. Daniel Sarafian by submission, round 1
Darth Dallas: I’m still uncertain if everyone’s ultra-high on Sarafian or ultra-down on Dolloway. I’ve been impressed with Dolloway’s offensive improvements with submissions, but he’s definitely flaky and inconsistent, like gassing in a minute or two against Hamman. Regardless, I’m not convinced that Sarafian, who was pounded out in the 1st by Gary Padilla four fights ago, has a more proven sub game than someone like Mayhem, and I expect C.B. to rely on that same strategy here for the win. C.B. Dollaway by decision.
Staff picking Dollaway: Stephie, Grant, Dallas
Staff picking Sarafian: Mookie, Fraser, Brookhouse, Tim
Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Ben Rothwell
Brent Brookhouse: This is set up to be a really bad fight. I don’t think either guy will be stopped quickly and that means a long fight with two heavyweights who will probably be pretty tired. So it becomes a matter of who has the better second and third round. I guess I’ll take Ben. Ben Rothwell by decision.
Tim Burke: To me, the key is whether Rothwell lands a bomb on Gonzaga’s chin or not. Gonzaga could completely destroy Rothwell with leg kicks if he wants, but GG always folds like a pup tent as soon as he gets hit hard. If he doesn’t go down, he curls up into a safe little shell and stops striking. Rothwell definitely has the power to do that, and he has a four-inch reach advantage. I’ll lean towards GG chopping down the tree and finishing it mid-fight. Gabriel Gonzaga by submission, round 2.
Mookie Alexander: I’m really hoping this fight ends within 5-8 minutes because anything past that and it’s surely going to be terrible to watch. Rothwell is a tricky one for me to pick because he’s not been spectacular in his wins and has looked horrendous when he’s lost. On paper Gonzaga clearly has better grappling and powerful striking, but in the past he’s shown huge defensive liabilities which have led to him being unconscious on the mat. Rothwell has definitely proven he can take a punch and can land a hard shot of his own, but I’m going to go with Gonzaga using his ground game to pull off the W. Gabriel Gonzaga by submission, round 2.
T.P. Grant: Gonzaga is the perfect acid-test sort of MMA heavyweight. His well rounded skill set poses problems for many heavyweights. Rothwell has struggled with big heavyweights with power and better grappling ability. I'll take Gonzaga in a win that might surprise some. Gabriel Gonzaga by TKO, Round 2.
Fraser Coffeen: Another tough pick here. But the difference maker to me is that Rothwell is tough to stop, and Gonzaga doesn’t have a ton of heart after round 1. Ben Rothwell by (increasingly boring) decision
Darth Dallas: I was going to assert Big Ben’s balanced finishing ratio, which consists of 18 TKOs and 11 subs, to prove that he’s not a one-trick pony, but it’s interesting that 7 of those 11 are subs from either injury or strikes. Either way, I don’t think the comments reflect his true presence. His cardio has come under fire, but most or all of that stems from one high-altitude blunder. Half of his 8 losses are to fighters who either were or are UFC champions, Velasquez had his hands full trying to take him down and keep him there, and the trimmed physique and "I WILL eat your children" glare from the Schaub fight steer me his way. He is, after all, only 31-years-old. Ben Rothwell by TKO.
Staff picking Gonzaga: Grant, Mookie, Tim
Staff picking Rothwell: Stephie, Fraser, Brookhouse, Dallas
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Thiago Tavares
Tim Burke: Nurmy’s not even here right now if Tibau threw more than two punches in their entire fight. I like Khabib’s game and all that, but he won the fight with Tibau simply by being the aggressor, despite missing with almost everything he threw. He won’t have that luxury against Tavares, who will bring the fight to him. Nurmy is wild with his striking, and Tavares has been good enough to take advantage of that in the past. But Tavares has had trouble with strong grapplers in the past, and if that’s the gameplan for Nurmagomedov, it’s his fight to lose. Khabib Nurmagomedov by decision.
Mookie Alexander: I wasn’t too impressed with Khabib’s win over Gleison Tibau, but overall he seems like a decent prospect to watch. He does get a little wild on the feet sometimes but to me Thiago isn’t the type of guy to take advantage of that. The problem with Tavares is that he’s never shown any consistency in the UFC, and he’s been here since 2007. He’s yet to win 3 in a row with the promotion and each time he’s taken a step up in competition he’s lost. I see Khabib using his strength and wrestling to take another decision win. Khabib Nurmagomedov by unanimous decision.
T.P. Grant: This should be a great fight. Both are aggressive grapplers that nicely represent their national MMA style. Tavares has that brawling Brazilian style with hard Thai kicks and aggressive, dynamic jiu jitsu. Nurmagomedov is a combat sambo champion, a judo black belt and has wrestling experience, and nicely embodies that gritty, Russian style. The big indicators of Sambo based fighters will fair in higher level MMA is how they look off their backs when in positional grappling battles. Nurmagomedov's time at AKA might have equipped him with skills to win that kind of prolonged battle but it has yet to be seen. He circles into the power hand on the feet and gets wild at times. Tavares has faced a trial by fire in the UFC and I think he is starting to emerge from that fire tempered. Tavares is 28-years-old and a win here would be his third in a row, he seems to be on the verge of breaking out as a possible contender. Thiago Tavares by Decision.
Darth Dallas: While Nurmy’s margin of victory over Tibau was far from mind-blowing, I was extremely impressed with his strength, wrestling and ring generalship against such a monstrous and powerful 155er. Tibau was able to take him down once but he was right back up a moment later, and I think Tavares has gotten by with the old Diego Sanchez strategy of bursting forward with an explosion of wild haymakers to shrink the gap. Nurmy’s height, length, counter-striking and takedown defense should be sound enough to force a stand-up fight, where Tavares is at a serious disadvantage. Nurmy’s frenetic pace has been key for him though, and Tavares is one of the few who can match or exceed it. Khabib Nurmagomedov by TKO.
Staff picking Nurmagomedov: Stephie, Mookie, Fraser, Tim, Dallas
Staff picking Tavares: Grant, Brookhouse
Godofredo Castro vs. Milton Vieira
Tim Burke: I’m surprised everyone is taking Vieira. Pepey has a ridiculous reach for a featherweight (78.5 inches) and his striking is better than Vieira’s. I don’t expect this to be a very exciting fight, but I’m definitely leaning towards the younger fighter here. Godofredo Castro by decision.
T.P. Grant: Two submission specialist journeymen who have been fighting since the early 2000s. Both have never been finished, but that means a bit more for Vieira as he has twice as many fights and has been in with Jake Shields and Hayato Sakurai. I'll take Vieira based on that experience. Milton Vieira by Decision.
Darth Dallas: Maybe I’m overlooking Pepey, but Vieira seems like a bad match up. Neither are known for their striking but I don’t see Pepey having any tangible advantage other than reach, as I’d consider Vieira a better wrestler and more proven submission grappler. Milton Vieira by decision.
Staff picking Castro: Tim
Staff picking Vieira: Grant, Stephie, Mookie, Fraser, Brookhouse, Dallas
Andrew Craig vs. Ronny Markes
Tim Burke: Markes is a damn tank at 185. Craig’s comeback win against Natal was great, but he’s going to get ragdolled by the big Brazilian here. Ronny Markes by TKO, round 2.
T.P. Grant: Two big, aggressive middleweights clashing in what should be a fun match. Craig fights like a wild man at times, and while Markes isn't a model of control he is a much more finished product. Markes will make good use of leg kicks at range and will be able to take Craig down. Ronny Markes by Decision.
Darth Dallas: Interested to see how Craig looks here: he was phenomenal against Noke but got lit up by a sub-par striker in Natal. Markes is a leviathan 185er with a rock-solid arsenal of Muay Thai, wrestling and BJJ, and I think his takedowns will make the difference. Ronny Markes by decision.
Staff picking Craig: Stephie
Staff picking Markes: Grant, Mookie, Fraser, Brookhouse, Tim, Dallas
Nik Lentz vs. Diego Nunes
Tim Burke: This is a weird style matchup. Nunes likes to use range to throw his varying arsenal of unique offense (most of which doesn’t land, but still). But he’s going to have a real hard time doing that here. I mean come on...they call him Fence n’ Lentz for a reason. Nunes can definitely grapple too, and his takedown D is good. But Lentz just drains guys. Nunes is definitely the more talented fighter overall, so I’m gonna lean towards him. Diego Nunes by split decision.
Mookie Alexander: I’m going to keep copy-and-pasting this fact until it’s no longer true. Nik Lentz is about to enter his 11th UFC fight, and all of them have been placed on the preliminary card. This is only the 3rd time they’ve even bothered to put him on live TV (Dunham and Winner fights were the others). Will a quality win over Nunes finally get him on the main card? I think so. Nik Lentz by decision.
T.P. Grant: For all the crap he caught in the aftermath of the Andre Winner fight, Lentz is a good fighter. Nunes has a habit of losing to fighters dropping down from Lightweight despite being well rounded fighter. I don't think Nunes will be able to submit Lentz or knock him out, and Lentz will use his wrestling to control the fight. Nik Lentz by Decision.
Fraser Coffeen: Nunes is really good at outpointing his opponents, doing enough to get him by. In his last fight, he added a bit of aggression to the mix, which was a nice addition. He has good enough takedown defense, and should be able to avoid the Lentz grind. Diego Nunes by decision.
Darth Dallas: I like Nunes and respect him as a fighter, but I’m concerned that he prioritizes speed over power in his kickboxing. Every fight under the Zuffa banner has been a decision and I don’t think his quickness can withstand the strength and tenacious wrestling of Lentz. Nik Lentz by decision.
Staff picking Lentz: Grant, Stephie, Mookie, Dallas
Staff picking Nunes: Fraser, Brookhouse, Tim
Edson Barboza vs. Lucas Martins
Tim Burke: How will Barboza bounce back from getting blasted by Varner? I think he’ll bounce back very well. Striker vs. striker is a good thing here for Edson, and he’ll get the W. Edson Barboza by decision.
T.P. Grant: Not a lot of info out on Martins, but he is a young fighter out of Chute Box with a 12-0 record and a bunch of finishes. However many of those wins came against local chaff in Brazil with 1-4 records. If he fights anything like other fighters out of Chute Boxe he should be the perfect foil for Barboza. I expect a fight with wild action in which Barboza emerges with the win. Edson Barboza by Decision.
Staff picking Barboza: Grant, Stephie, Mookie, Fraser, Brookhouse, Tim, Dallas
Staff picking Martins:
Yuri Alcantara vs. Pedro Nobre
Tim Burke: Nobre is a flyweight who stepped in on late notice against one of the most underrated guys in the UFC. Alcantara is dropping to 135 for the first time and the cut might be a tad rough on him, but he’ll get it done. He might have lost to Hacran Dias, but remember WEC 53? Marajo knocked out top featherweight contender Ricardo Lamas. At lightweight. At 135, he’s gonna be an animal. Yuri Alcantara by TKO, round 1
T.P. Grant: Nobre is a pretty decent Brazilian brawler type, likes to trade on the feet and more than happy to submit you on the ground. But he is facing an excellent grappler in Alcantara on short notice, two weightclasses above his normal weight. Yuri Alcantara by Submission, Round 2
Staff picking Alcantara: Grant, Stephie, Mookie, Fraser, Brookhouse, Tim, Dallas
Staff picking Nobre:
Ildemar Alcantara vs. Wagner Prado
Tim Burke: Ildemar isn’t half the talent his brother is. And he’s undersized against Prado. Should be fun while it lasts, but the outcome seems...well, predictable. Wagner Prado by TKO, round 1.
T.P. Grant: Both guys are strikers first and primarily based in Muay Thai. Prado has better hands, Alcantara makes better use of knees. The big issue here is size, Prado is a fairly large Light Heavyweight while Alcantara has fought at Middleweight. Prado also has a thumping power to all his strikes. Prado is going to be able muscle Alcantara around in the clinch and punish him with punches. Wagner Prado by KO, Round 1.
Staff picking Alcantara:
Staff picking Prado: Grant, Stephie, Mookie, Fraser, Brookhouse, Tim, Dallas
C.J. Keith vs. Francisco Trinaldo
Tim Burke: Massaranduba didn’t have the experience to hang with Tibau, and that’s okay. But he’s a huge lightweight and he’s going to be all over Keith here. Francisco Trinaldo by decision.
T.P. Grant: Keith will have a huge reach advantage here as he is a long and lean for a Lightweight, but the compact Trinaldo is the better striker. Keith will often leap in with strikes and likes to operate more as a ground-and-pound fighter, but I think Trinaldo will be able to get out from under Keith and win this one on the feet. Francisco Trinaldo by TKO, Round 2.
Staff picking Keith:
Staff picking Trinaldo: Grant, Stephie, Mookie, Fraser, Brookhouse, Tim, Dallas