Tim Burke: I'm leaning towards Joe B. this time. and not just because of the improved standup with Ludwig. It's because the first fight was so close and could have easily gone Joe's way, and he seems to have a ton of momentum coming into this shot. He's as good as Johnson everywhere, and it'll probably be razor-thin again. But I'm predicting that Team Alpha Male takes home UFC gold for the first time. Joseph Benavidez by decision.
Anton Tabuena: First fight was very competitive, and while both have improved since then, Benavidez has tightened up his striking a lot and I just think that this time it will be tougher for Demetrious to stay away from those heavy hands for the entire 25 minutes. Joseph Benavidez by TKO.
T.P. Grant: Their first meeting was an excellent fight and razor close, I feel this is about the most evenly match title fight we've seen in some time. Both have improved since their last fight, Johnson is consistently improving and showed he can rally from behind in the Dodson fight, Benavidez has built up his striking under the tutelage of Duane Ludwig. Benavidez seemed to have the wrestling and grappling advantage in their first fight, but Johnson won rounds against the cage and with striking. It seems that Johnson may have closed the gap grappling just as Benavidez closed the gap striking. I think the fight plays out with Johnson looking to mostly keep things at range to try to leverage his speed, picking his spots to attack Benavidez's grappling, but Benavidez getting the better of those standing exchanges more often than not. I think we have another excellent title fight, one where the title changes hands. Joseph Benavidez by Decision.
Mookie Alexander: Team Alpha Male is collectively 0-8 in their last 8 Zuffa title fights (Benavidez, Mendes, and Faber). Their combined takedown percentage in that span is 3/50 (6%), which is dismal. I don't think Benavidez can outwrestle Mighty Mouse, so the true test of the "Duane Ludwig" bump comes here. Benavidez, already a good striker, has improved significantly over the last few fights and has become less prone to throwing like he's Randy Johnson. I think he will be able to catch Mighty Mouse more than he did in his last fight, but I believe Johnson is just the better fighter and as Fraser says below he's improving everywhere. He's got the speed advantage, wickedly good transitions, and a slight edge in cardio. I wouldn't rule out a Benavidez TKO as he has great killer instinct, but I'm sticking with Mighty Mouse. I think I picked against him in all 3 of his tournament fights and I'm not doubting him anymore. Demetrious Johnson by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Man this card is full of tough fights to pick. First and foremost it's so hard for me to pick an Alpha Male fighter to win a title fight, it's just not something they do. That being said, Benavidez has every possible tool he needs to win this one. To start, he's got a lot more striking power than Johnson and I'd say he's every bit as capable grappling and wrestling. The advantage for Johnson here is his speed. Even over a fighter like Benavidez, Johnson has a decent speed advantage. The question is, is that still enough? Before, Benavidez was a decent but not terribly polished striker. With the recent camp changes at Alpha those holes have been plugged. That being the case, I'm going with Benavidez by TKO, Round 3.
Fraser Coffeen: Great, great fight here and so hard to pick. My one and only complaint is that it's the same night as Broner vs. Maidana, so I hope timing works out in my favor. Both of these guys have made some impressive changes to their game since the first fight (which was also ridiculously close). Obviously, the higher profile changes point towards Benavidez, as Ludwig has made a real impact at Alpha Male. But the changes to Mighty Mouse should not be overlooked. He's consistently brought something new to the table in his title run, and has looked more and more like a serious pound for pound fighter every time. He also is a smart fighter, with a smart, gameplan oriented corner, and in a rematch, that's a serious plus. I will likely flip-flop on this right up until the opening bell, but for now, I'm going Demetrious Johnson by decision.
Dallas Winston: Hi. I just want to optimistically point out that consistently earning title shot after title shot in multiple divisions and with multiple fighters isn't the gross and icky trend that it's often portrayed as. It kind of signifies that Team Alpha Male has a shit-ton of elite contenders. That takedown stat that Mookie cited is rather shocking, in a "oops, I sat down before I realized this bathroom stall was already occupied" kind of way. I actually didn't think the first fight was that close. Well, it wasn't a blowout but I had DJ winning four close rounds of the five. It was a gradual process but my respect for Mighty Mouse shot through the roof after his string of defenses, especially his tactics to overcome John Dodson. I'm intrigued as to how "Bang" Ludwig's Pope-like aura might enhance Joe-B-Wan Kenobi's stand up but overall expect Johnson's unparalleled phase shifting to be the difference. Demetrious Johnson by decision.
David Castillo: I feel like Joseph has made enough strides in his striking to really make a difference in this one. I'm a big fan of Demetrious, but the division is extremely competitive inside of its tightly knit group of contenders. So competitive that I feel these bouts are rolls of the dice. The guys will throw and exchange takedowns and takedown defenses but not do enough significant damage to pull ahead, resulting in a very controversial decision favoring one Jo-Ben. Jospeh Benavidez by Decision.
Staff picking Johnson: Mookie, Fraser, DSM, Dallas
Staff picking Benavidez: Grant, Zane, Stephie, Anton, David, Tim
Tim Burke: As much as I want Mayday to win, catching Faber is really hard. He's not as reckless as he was back in the WEC days, and he knows that he's not going to win a straight standup fight with McDonald. So he'll wrestle. And McDonald isn't subbing a guy like Urijah from the bottom, so while it should be a good fight, I think Urijah's grappling and experience will guide him to a win. Urijah Faber by decision
Anton Tabuena: Faber lost most of his title fights when he couldn't rely on his wrestling and decide where the fight takes place. He will surely need it against a very good striker in McDonald, so I really think this all boils down to his takedowns. My gut says I could be wrong, but I think Faber will be able to drag him down and grind out a win. Urijah Faber by Decision.
T.P. Grant: Is there a more perfect old guard vs new breed kind of fight? Faber is a legend, an explosive athlete with excellent grappling and wrestling. Faber is dangerous any time on the ground. McDonald is dangerous everywhere, an amazingly well rounded fighter who has excellent power in his hands and a dangerous guard. Faber might be one of the best MMA grapplers of all time with his front headlock game, excellent takedowns, and speed scrambling game. I think Faber holds a slight advantage on the ground but standing this fight is all Mayday. Faber has been a force for so long it is hard to imagine him losing a three round fight, but I feel like the twilight of his career may be arriving and Mayday is entering his prime. Michael McDonald by (T)KO, Round 3.
Mookie Alexander: Favorite fight on the card. Faber has never lost a 3 round fight -- side note: this is the perfect example of a co-main event that should be 5 rounds -- which is a remarkable achievement. McDonald winning would effectively mark the end of Faber getting another title shot, and he can pull it off. Boxing advantage is clearly Mayday's, and if there's anyone in this division capable of denting the Buttchin, it's the guy from The Doobie Brothers. This is such a coin flip fight to me because McDonald is a supremely talented fighter but I'm not sure if he's good enough to outclass Faber at this stage. I'll go with Faber to struggle in round 1, adjust in the later rounds and work his usual gameplan in what will likely be FOTN. Urijah Faber by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: And here we have the exact opposite end of the Alpha Male spectrum. In a non title fight I find it incredibly difficult to pick against their fighters, who are generally a class above the competition. That said McDonald is exactly the kind of fighter to take the torch and become the next generation of guys who never win a title but fight for it their whole career. He's got power and speed and wrestling... But he's not actually that great a grappler, and while he's a very good boxer he never kicks, making him eventually a bit predictable. Most fighters don't last long enough to find out, but it's there. Eventually I don't doubt that McDonald replaces Faber, but I'm not entirely sure that day is today. At this point Faber's earned the right to be picked for a non title fight and in a fairly even match I'm going with him. Urijah Faber by Submission, Round 3.
Dallas Winston: With DJ and Urijah, this card might feature MMA's two best phase shifters. "Mayday" reminds me of Faber -- I see this as two very similarly styled fighters from two very different generations. Faber's boxing has come a long way but his low guard and bent-arm loopers could be exploited by McDonald's quick, accurate and straight-punch salvos. As T.P. Grant mentioned, Urijah's front headlock game is ridiculous and also mentionable in the "best in MMA" context, and I think his pace -- while it doesn't necessarily exceed McDonald's -- is a little more controlled and calculating, and I also give him the edge in Fight I.Q. and takedown efficacy. Urijah Faber by 3rd-round choke.
David Castillo: Afetr Mayday's performance against Barao, I hate the idea of picking against him, especially over Faber but people seem to think Faber's time is passing, and that he's gotten too old. Yet he keeps improving and looking better. His problem is that he's running into guys who are not only elite, but that have just enough over him stylistically to beat him. I think he'll avoid Mike's punching power, landing strikes of his own, and turning wild scrambles into submission threats. Urijah Faber by Decision.
Staff picking Faber: Mookie, Zane, Fraser, Dallas, Anton, David, Tim
Staff picking Mayday: Grant, DSM, Stephie
Tim Burke: I know Lentz has a lot of confidence coming into this bout, but Mendes is an awful style matchup for him. Just awful. Mendes has been on a streak of KO's lately, but I at least think this will go to decision, and one of Lentz's eyes will be swollen shut. Chad Mendes by decision
Anton Tabuena: This will probably look, and end like the Clay Guida fight, as Mendes will be slightly better at everything his opponent does. Chad Mendes by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: Poor Nik Lentz. The guy has been in the UFC for 4 years and over a dozen fights, and his first main card fight ... ever, is basically a showcase fight for Mendes. There really is no path to victory for Lentz. Inferior wrestler, inferior striker (offensively and defensively), and there's no way he's going to grind out a decision here. Basically it's a matter of what method of victory Mendes chooses, and why change recent history? He'll crack his chin over and over before scoring a late TKO. Chad Mendes by 3rd round TKO.
T.P. Grant: Lentz has looked good as a Featherweight, but Mendes has looked flat out scary since his loss to Aldo. Mendes' new found power tips the balance in his favor, but even if Lentz uglies up this fight we all know Mendes can fight ugly with the best of them. Chad Mendes by Decision.
Zane Simon: This, at least is predictable. Lentz is sort of a FW Jake Shields without the long term effectiveness. He's great at grinding fighters down over two rounds using his tenacity and speed, but once fighters actually realize they can counter wrestle and walk him down, he tends to get beat up late. Mendes should have none of those problems. He's stronger, faster, more athletic, and a better striker and grappler. Chad Mendes by KO, Round 1.
Dallas Winston: Lentz is a guy who's never ingratiated himself to fans but he's done a phenomenal job of working with what he's got and improving steadily. He'll be a tad bigger than Mendes which makes the pivotal battle of wrestling all the more intriguing, but Mendes will likely have the edge there and the addition of his substantial speed and striking advantage seals it for me. Chad Mendes by TKO.
David Castillo: Mendes keeps getting better and Lentz is basically a poor man's version of Chad who isn't getting better. With the advantage in power and wrestling, Mendes will be able to do whatever he wants, and that includes scoring a TKO win. Chad Mendes by TKO, round 2.
Staff picking Lentz:
Staff picking Mendes: Grant, Mookie, Zane, Fraser, DSM, Stephie, Dallas, Anton, David, Tim
Tim Burke: I sure hope Lauzon doesn't look like he did against Johnson, because that was horrible. Other than powerful hands, Lauzon holds most of the skill advantages in this fight and he should be able to make it entertaining. Joe Lauzon by submission, round 3
Anton Tabuena: Two fighters with very similar skill sets, should make this an early FOTN pick. It could go either way, but I think Lauzon blitzes his way to another bonus. Joe Lauzon by Submission.
Mookie Alexander: I'm concerned about Lauzon because he's taken two brutal beatings in his last two fights, and I do wonder if the wars have finally caught up with him. Not that Danzig has been any better (3-7 in his last 10 and none of the 3 he's beaten is still in the UFC), but I believe this fight will end up being way closer than it should be. Lauzon has never won a fight by decision, so I'm inclined to think he'll submit Mac. Joe Lauzon by submission, round 2.
T.P. Grant: If you can survive Lauzon's grappling assault you have a pretty good chance of beating him in exciting fashion. Danzig is an adept grappler but he is not a smothering force and he relies on his own grappling more often than not to get wins. I expect this to be a match full of fun grappling exchanges, in which I think Lauzon gets the better of Danzig. Joe Lauzon by Decision.
Zane Simon: This fight is just, bleah. I know it's hard not to love Joe Lauzon, but he's looked bad in two straight fights now and the writing is on the wall that his career is in decline. He's taking more punishment than ever, and looking slower and less capable. Unfortunately Danzig can't be said to be faring much better as he was dogged in his gameplan against Melvin Guillard that got him utterly annihilated last time out. If Danzig beats Lauzon, Lauzon is effectively done as a fighter to watch and, personally I've never been particularly excited by Danzig anyway, but I suppose the same could be said of him. I'll take Joe, but I'm not looking forward to watching someone effectively get put to pasture. Joe Lauzon by Submission.
Dallas Winston: Ever the contrarian (I guess), I love this match up. I'm not particularly biased towards Mac but I don't think he gets credit for how technically sound he is in all aspects. I'd say he's just as technically adept as Joe on the mat -- more so on the feet -- but they're on opposite sides of the spectrum as far as mentality: Joe thrives with unfathomably risky and aggressive tactics while Danzig is a methodical counter-fighter. It's impossible not to like and respect J-Lau for his gunslinging style but going like a (fruit) bat out of hell for 1.5 rounds and making sure someone gets finished is a less than ideal approach against someone as smart, skilled and durable as Mac. Mac Danzig by decision.
David Castillo: I'm still haunted by Mac's post-KO demeanor after the Guillard bout. With that bit of arbitrary info out of the way, I like Danzig in this one. It's 50/50 but Mac is too smart to get stuck in Lauzon's rushdown schtick. Joe is one of the most entertaining guys in MMA and I don't mean to oversimplify his game as a one round kitchen sink fighter, but I don't see how he figures out Mac's methodical pace without the power of someone like Melvin. This will be very very close though. No question. I could see Mac winning but losing the judges decision, and vice versa. Mac Danzig by Decision.
Staff picking Danzig: Dallas, David
Staff picking Lauzon: Grant, Mookie, Zane, Fraser, DSM, Stephie, Anton, Tim
Tim Burke: I've never really seen much in McGee to be honest. He's tough and definitely has some skill, but I found him to be a middle-of-the-road guy at MW and maybe a little less than that at WW. LaFlare seems to have a lot more upside, and I think he can take this fight anywhere he wants. Ryan LaFlare by decision.
T.P. Grant: Ryan LaFlare was once a pretty solid prospect but took three years off from the sport. Since coming back he has looked strong and his last performance was excellent. McGee excels at making fights ugly and unwatchable, and this is a test is LaFlare can handle a neutralizer like McGee. McGee has not been thrilling as a Welterweight and I think/hope LaFlare is able to get by him. Ryan LaFlare by Split Decision.
Mookie Alexander: McGee is pretty much the poster boy for what TUF has essentially been since season 6. Good enough to stay in the UFC but not good enough to be anywhere near the top 15. I believe LaFlare is better than both Josh Neer and Robert Whittaker, and he'll avoid getting into an ugly, grueling brawl with McGee and overpower Court with his wrestling and work from top position. Ryan LaFlare by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: McGee is tough. He's got a great chin and great endurance and he sticks in there with his head down and grinds away for round after round. His losses have only come to much larger middleweights that could drive him off his game. LaFlare is not that fighter, he's a big welterweight, but he's still 170. He is however, a much more skilled wrestler than anyone McGee has faced to date. This is LaFlare's litmus test. Pass it and he's officially a fighter to watch at 170, fail and he's back with the rest of the pack. I think his athleticism and superior skills will live up to the task. Ryan LaFlare by Decision.
David Castillo: McGee just isn't dynamic enough. McGee just isn't dynamic enough. McGee just isn't...you get the point. Neither is LaFlare but he's good at bullying the opposition into a clinch war and should be able to wrestle McGee to the ground. Ryan LaFlare by Decision.
Staff picking LaFlare: Grant, Mookie, Zane, Stephie, Anton, David, Tim
Staff picking McGee: Fraser, DSM, Dallas
Tim Burke: Wow, lotsa Castillo love from my homies here. I don't really think Castillo has much at all for Barboza to be honest. Castillo's obviously not winning the standup, and I'm not so sure he can just lay on Barboza for 15 minutes. Edson Barboza by decision.
Mookie Alexander: Can I be unpopular and say Edson Barboza is overrated? He's got great striking, but let's put his UFC career into perspective. His best win is Ross Pearson in an otherwise debatable decision. After that it's ... Anthony Njokuani? I'm not sold on his takedown defense or his ability to do anything off of his back (and the one guy that could've tested him in that area knocked him out instead). Castillo isn't fun to watch, but I definitely believe he's someone who can take Barboza down and hold him there for at least 2 rounds. My only concern with Castillo is he has neither excellent striking defense nor a good chin, so it may not take much for Barboza to put him out early. I'll take my chances here and go with Castillo to play it safe. Danny Castillo by decision.
Zane Simon: Danny Castillo is much closer to Jamie Varner than Mike Lullo. And as such I think he's pretty likely to hand Barboza his second career loss. Could Barboza end it at any time, sure... Castillo is probably going to have a lot more faith in his hands and may want to strike more because of it. That could be a disaster. But honestly, he seems like a smart, prepared fighter. Who will show up knowing Barboza's holes and exploit them. Danny Castillo by Decision.
David Castillo: Barboza makes a statement here. I think he does have solid takedown defense. Varner was expected to put him on his back but did in another way. I suspect Edson learned from that fight; just because a guy is trying to wrestle you down doesn't mean he still can't punch you in the face. Castillo isn't durable enough to handle Edson for 3 rounds, and he doesn't have Varner's face melting power to pull off the upset of winning on the feet. Edson Barboza by TKO, round 2.
Staff picking Barboza: DSM, Dallas, David, Tim
Staff picking Castillo: Grant, Zane, Fraser, Stephie, Mookie, Anton
Tim Burke: Green's a dynamic fighter but he's going to fall into that Healy grappling vortex and get grinded out. Pat Healy by decision.
Mookie Alexander: Pat Healy by DQ (15 groin kicks).
Zane Simon: A lot of people are really high on Green and I'm not saying I'm not one of them, but I'm not sure he's prepared to deal with the top 20 fighters in the lightweight division. His striking is dynamic, but it's still raw. He's more likely to wing single shots than set up combinations with care. And his tendency towards groin kicks show that he's either not a very clean fighter or lacks a lot of accuracy and decisiveness when throwing strikes. Healy may have gotten totally shocked by Nurmagomedov, but I think he's ready for a more traditionally unpolished fighter in Green. Pat Healy by Decision.
David Castillo: Healy will handle Green by being the more composed, and physically stronger guy. He's got chops anywhere the fight takes place. I think Green is actually good, but Healy Rancor-ly devours bouts like this. Pat Healy by Decision.
Staff picking Green: Fraser, Stephie
Staff picking Healy: Grant, Zane, DSM, Mookie, Anton, Dallas, David, Tim
Tim Burke: How will Jorgensen handle the cut? How will Makovsky handle the pressure? Jorgensen's chin has looked a little wobbly of late, but Makovsky isn't going to exploit it. And he's not going to outwrestle him. So unless Makovsky has some tricks up his sleeve, it's going to be a long night for him in his UFC debut. Scott Jorgensen by decision
Zane Simon: This is a hell of a tough introduction to the UFC for Zach Makovsky. Jorgensen is a power punching sprawl-n-brawl fighter and, as Coach Mike was quick to point out, one of the best amateur wrestlers in the UFC at under 155 lbs. When it actually comes to fighting Jorgensen does wrestle, but it's more of a sporadic tempo change than the foundation of his game. Makovsky, on the other hand, has built his MMA career of his power takedown game. He has some decent boxing, but not a lot of power. Mostly he's there to shoot in under punches and grind away from top control. I'm just not sure that's something he'll get done against Jorgensen, especially on short notice. Scott Jorgensen by Decision.
David Castillo: I think this is a winnable fight for Zach but it doesn't mean he'll take it tomorrow night. Scott has been doing the sprawl and brawl for a long time against far superior fighters. He should be able to successfully sprawl and brawl against Makovsky who isn't interested in getting dirty on the feet but will be forced to. Scott Jorgensen by Decision.
Staff picking Jorgensen: Grant, Fraser, Zane, DSM, Stephie, Mookie, Anton, Dallas, David, Tim
Staff picking Makovsky:
Tim Burke: LOL. Sam Stout by decision.
Mookie Alexander: Short of McKenzie catching Stout with the "McKenzietine", Stout is going to box him up, hurt him at no point in time, and coast to an easy decision. Sam Stout by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: I'm tempted to pick McKenzie here just because I've got a soft spot for the fact that he's been able to win as often as he's lost (3 times, can you believe it!). And Stout, god love him, is just not a fighter that I find particularly entertaining to watch for whatever reason (and yeah I remember his great fights with Spencer Fisher). Anyway, all that aside, Stout schools McKenzie pretty easily here unless he decides he needs to shoot for a half-hearted takedown. Sam Stout by TKO.
Staff picking McKenzie:
Staff picking Stout: Grant, Mookie, Fraser, Zane, DSM, Stephie, Anton, Dallas, David, Tim
Tim Burke: I thought Abel was handling him the first time around, and I can't see Bowling bringing something that different this time. Abel Trujillo by decision.
Zane Simon: Abel Trujillo is the better fighter of the two, although they are practically mirror images, Trujillo's technique is just a bit cleaner and more varied. Unfortunately, Trujillo is also incredibly unpredictable and reckless, which means he can easily give up fights he's winning because he doesn't (to pull an example totally at random) understand what a downed fighter is. Essentially we're going to watch two fast, strong guys clubber each other until one of them gasses and I'm betting Bowling gasses first. Abel Trujillo by KO, Round 2.
Staff picking Bowling: David
Staff picking Trujillo: Grant, Mookie, Zane, DSM, Stephie, Fraser, Anton, Dallas, Tim
Alpetkin Ozkilic vs.
Tim Burke: I'm with the others here - I've been a fan of Darren for a while, and I think the Turkish wrestler plays right into his hands. Darren Uyenoyama by submission, round 2
Fraser Coffeen: I was a fan of Uyenoyama back in his Strikeforce/Dream days, and I thought he had a lot going for him. He started his UFC career well, but the step up to fighting Benavidez was a tough, tough test, and it's understandable that he didn't clear that. Still, I think he has potential to be at a much higher level than way down here on the early prelims. I would be pretty surprised if he had much trouble here. Darren Uyenoyama by submission round 2
Zane Simon: Ozkilic isn't some kind of striking machine, and while he's a very decent wrestler, I Uyenoyama is very similar to a fighter that's already beaten him in Chico Camus. He's a big, strong, grappling savvy flyweight who can impose himself physically on the ground. Darren Uyenoyama by Submission.
Staff picking Ozkilic: Mookie, David
Staff picking Uyenoyama: Grant, Fraser, Zane, DSM, Stephie, Anton, Dallas, Tim