Renan Barao vs. Michael McDonald
Brent Brookhouse: I think this looks like a Jose Aldo fight in reverse for Barao. I think he’ll start a little bit slow before taking over late in the second round after his leg kicks, pacing and timing start to dictate how the fight goes. Once he starts to dictate pace and timing he will also start to get the fight down and dominate the remainder of the fight. Renan Barao by decision.
Tim Burke: It depends on how Barao wants to fight. If he’s methodical and does his best to take away McDonald’s striking game, he can probably take a wide decision. If he decides to throw down like he did in the Pickett fight, he could easily eat a counter shot and get slept. I really want to pick Mayday and I’m betting on him (+284? Wha?) but Barao has more paths to victory in my eyes. Renan Barao by decision.
Anton Tabuena: Barao should be the more dynamic striker, but I think McDonald can land some of those bombs that eventually turn the tide. I’m going with the upset, Michael McDonald by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: McDonald not only has power, but he also has a strong voice for R&B covers. Barao hasn’t faced anyone with the KO abilities of the former Mad TV star, but I think Renan also has superior overall ability. He has very good and diverse standup, good takedown defense, a solid ground game with slick submission skills. Barao can win this just about anywhere the fight takes place, and I think he’ll also use his length and size advantage well enough to avoid the power shots from the ex K-1 kickboxer. I’ve run out of McDonald jokes so I guess I’ll just finish with Renan Barao by unanimous decision.
T.P. Grant: McDonald has a big future in this sport and his serious physical gifts, but he also has a pretty impressive skill set. His striking is very well developed, as McDonald throws very powerful and hard punches. Barao has the Nova Uniao game: good boxing, hard leg kicks, surprisingly good wrestling, and very good jiu jitsu. Barao’s best chance of winning is slowing things down on the feet and getting McDonald down, passing his highly aggressive guard, and working some top game on him. In the end I think five rounds is a long time to stand with a guy with McDonald’s power, but I think Barao gets him down and once passed him guard is able to work some of his often overlooked ground game. Renan Barao by Submission, Round 4.
Dallas Winston: 22-year-old Mayday is always billed as the youngun but Barao is just 25 himself. I think their striking is comparable but that Barao has a much better range-game with his jabs and low kicks, giving him more diversity and options on the feet. That also means that McDonald will be tasked with how to both get inside and counter Barao’s distance strikes. McDonald’s power is obvious but it hasn’t been consistent -- it was overwhelming against Soto and Torres but amiss against Cariaso and Figueroa, the latter of whom is highly hittable. I think McDonald’s wrestling and ability to inject it fluently into his striking combinations is the ideal format to disrupt Barao; Jorgensen is a better wrestler but McDonald’s skill should be more emphasized because he sets it up so much better, and Barao hasn’t encountered too many artful strikers with serious power. Even though I’m going with Barao, the betting odds don’t do McDonald any justice. Renan Barao by decision.
Staff picking Barao: Stephie, Mookie, Grant, Fraser, Brookhouse, Tim, Dallas
Staff picking McDonald: Anton
Dustin Poirier vs. Cub Swanson
Brent Brookhouse: Swanson has looked really good, but I just have so much trouble thinking he has improved as much as advertised as a fighter. I think Poirier will be able to survive an initial flurry and then wear Swanson down and stop him late. Dustin Poirier by TKO, round 3.
Tim Burke: Muckie pretty much nailed my issues with Poirier below - If he shows total disregard for Cub’s striking like he did against Brookins, he’s going to get knocked out. But he’s the much more dynamic fighter overall and he can outpoint Swanson by taking the fight to the ground or even showing a more measured approach standing. Dustin Poirier by decision.
Mookie Alexander: I’ve downplayed Swanson’s recent (but admittedly solid) run because of his competition, and I’ve perhaps inflated Poirier’s status as a contender … but I’m going with Cub. Poirier really concerns me with the way he was taking strikes in the Jonathan Brookins and Korean Zombie fights. Swanson has legitimate KO power -- certainly more proven than Brookins or KZ -- that could give Dustin huge problems. If this goes to the ground I’d give the advantage to Poirier, but otherwise I see this fight being largely contested on the feet and Swanson getting a huge win. Cub Swanson by TKO, round 2.
Anton Tabuena: Poirier hasn’t looked that great recently, and after a rough stretch a few years back, Swanson seems to be coming into his own and looks much improved. I think he continues that impressive run on this card. Cub Swanson by Decision.
Dallas Winston: I’m a big fan of both and this is a tough fight to call, but probably the one I’m anticipating most. The victims in Cub’s current streak all questionably stood right in his wheelhouse and I think Poirier’s too smart to do the same, plus his height/reach advantage, straighter punches and crisper combinations should make shrinking the gap a big hurdle for Cub. I do give Cub the edge in confidence, momentum and raw gameness, but I don’t think that’s enough to overcome Poirier’s length, intelligence, and quick and compact flurries. Dustin Poirier by decision.
Staff picking Poirier: Grant, Brookhouse, Tim, Dallas
Staff picking Swanson: Stephie, Mookie, Anton, Fraser
Cyrille Diabate vs. Jimi Manuwa
Brent Brookhouse: Diabate gets clipped in the stand-up early and finished. Jimi Manuwa by TKO, round 1.
Tim Burke: Diabate is a seasoned striker. Manuwa’s a beast, but he’s out of his element a bit against someone as polished as The Snake. Diabate is also much better on the ground. Cyrille’s only been finished by strikes once in his career, and I think he’ll be able to hold up until Manuwa gasses out. Cyrille Diabate by submission, round 2.
Mookie Alexander: Diabate is the more technical striker, but Manuwa hits harder. Best way for Diabate to win is to actually take the fight to the ground, something a half-dead Kyle Kingsbury was able to do in the 2nd round of Manuwa’s debut. I think Manuwa goes after Diabate early and finishes him within 5 minutes. Jimi Manuwa by TKO, round 1.
Anton Tabuena: Going to pick another upset. I think this fight will have several minutes contested on the feet, and this is where Diabate will take it. Cyrille Diabate by TKO.
Dallas Winston: I had high hopes for Diabate as a potential contender and, even if that’s dwindled, he’s still guaranteed excitement. However, for such a prestigiously refined kickboxer, his defense leaves much to be desired. Despite only one TKO loss, he was wobbled by Cane and is far too hittable for a technician with his length advantage. If Diabate sticks to his guns and imposes a regimented range-game like he did with Cantwell, I can see him out-pointing Manuwa. My initial inclination was that he’d get too overly aggressive and walk into a monstrous left hook, but I’ll hesitantly assume he’ll respect Manuwa’s power and keep him on the outside with long punches and circling. Cyrille will also have to protect his chin and be cautious when throwing his short-range knees. Cyrille Diabate by decision.
Staff picking Diabate: Anton, Tim, Dallas
Staff picking Manuwa: Stephie, Mookie, Grant, Fraser, Brookhouse
Gunnar Nelson vs. Jorge Santiago
Brent Brookhouse: My 2013 has been embarrassingly bad in terms of fight picks. Why not make it even worse? I’ll say this fight doesn’t ever really hit the ground for any length of time and Santiago wins wide in the stand-up. Jorge Santiago by decision.
Tim Burke: This is actually a pretty tough call. What can Nelson do against a guy with really good submission defense? Does he just outwrestle Jorge? Despite Santiago’s bad UFC runs in the past, this is the toughest fight of Gunnar’s career by far. I want Nelson to win, but I can totally see Santiago savaging him early and getting the finish. I don’t really like writing this, but Jorge Santiago, KO, round 1
Anton Tabuena: Really looking forward to this bout. Win or lose, he’ll still be a prospect to keep an eye on, but this a perfect way to see if Nelson is ready to take on the high level guys. Can he do it? I think he can. Nelson by Submission.
Mookie Alexander: This is a really good fight on paper. Santiago’s issue has always been his chin -- even Manny Gamburyan knocked him out -- but he isn’t some sort of easy submission target for Gunnar. Jorge has never been submitted in his career and has fought some damn good competition over the years. I’d be very surprised if Nelson took this one with ease. I see Nelson definitely dragging this fight to his comfort zone on the mat, but he will not finish Jorge. Gunnar Nelson by decision.
Fraser Coffeen: I considered myself a big Santiago supporter for a long time, but I just can’t get on that train anymore. I think it’s clear he is someone who can look great against the right opponent, but is for whatever reason unable to translate that into UFC success. His primary weakness has been his chin, which doesn’t play to Nelson’s strengths, but Nelson is just way too skilled on the ground to be denied. I’m not sure he can close the show, because Santiago is a tough one to finish on the ground, but I’ll give him the nod. Gunnar Nelson by decision.
Dallas Winston: Nelson’s wrestling will be huge here. Even if he can’t finish Santiago, a BJJ black belt himself, he can surely wreak havoc with positional dominance ala Demian Maia in his grappling-heavy decisions. Santiago is much more polished on the feet but Nelson proved he’s no slouch in that department and Santiago’s brittle chin evens the scales. I envision Nelson being able to score takedowns when Santiago’s engaging him on the feet and also hold his own to an acceptable level in the periods he cannot. Gunnar Nelson by decision.
Staff picking Nelson: Stephie, Anton, Grant, Mookie, Fraser, Dallas
Staff picking Santiago:Brookhouse, Tim
Ryan Jimmo vs. James Te Huna
Brent Brookhouse: I’m looking forward to this because Jimmo has been in so many bad fights and put on so many abysmally boring performances, but because he scored a big quick KO in his UFC debut everyone acted like those things weren’t true. "OH! I THOUGHT HE WAS BORING! YOU WERE ALL WRONG!" no, everyone who said it was right because it was based on a provable history. He can score another sub-10 second KO this fight and he’d still have a history of being a boring fighter. Regardless, Te Huna is a bad fight for Jimmo and I think he wins this one with a pretty impressive stoppage. James Te Huna by TKO, round 1.
Tim Burke: I cannot wait for Te Huna to send Jimmo to dreamland. It will be the highlight of my month. I will buy a 24 pack of Steinlager and race around the house shotgunning them all in celebration of this glorious victory while doing a Haka. I will watch rugby for the rest of the weekend. I’ll watch all of the Lord of the Rings movies in between matches. I will be kind to sheep (shut up). Oh sweet gods of Darfield, PLEASE, PLEASE LET THIS HAPPEN. James Te Huna by epic beheading, round 1.
Mookie Alexander: A seven-second KO doesn’t magically erase the ugly history of past Ryan Jimmo fights. I’m a little worried about Te Huna’s gas tank, which certainly slowed against Joey Beltran, but he’s got impressive power, good stand-up, and I like him as a "top 15" type of prospect at 205. If he’s effectively aggressive and pushes the pace then I believe he has the offensive capabilities to trouble Jimmo. James Te Huna by decision.
Fraser Coffeen: Sorry to be the party pooper, but Jimmo takes this I think. He has the ability to avoid the big shots, drag Te Huna into later rounds, and just kind of generally wear him down for the win. Ryan Jimmo by decision.
Dallas Winston: Regarding Fraser’s comment above -- I agree that Jimmo might be able to avoid the home-run blow, but I’m not sure what kind of effective offense he can generate. Te Huna has been quite capable with defensive clinching and is not easy to take down, and I don’t think Jimmo has the finishing voracity to capitalize even if he can avoid Armageddon and force Te Huna to the floor. James Te Huna by TKO.
Staff picking Jimmo: Grant, Fraser
Staff picking Te Huna: Stephie, Mookie, Anton, Brookhouse, Tim, Dallas
Matt Riddle vs.
Tim Burke: I’ll leave the funny to Mookie. by decision.
Mookie Alexander: Che Mills is often described as a killer, primarily because he is a killer. As Joe Rogan pointed out, he’s elite. He just defeated Duane Ludwig without even touching him. Mills’ killing skills are off the charts. In England, Orcas are known as Che Mills Whales. Che personally traveled back in time to kill Billy the Kid, but the history textbooks won’t tell you that because they don’t want you to fear him. Between Che Mills’ "oozing of elite" and Mike Russow’s "Hammerfist of Doom", those two in tandem would easily destroy the entire Superfriends team if we matched them up in a fight. Matt Riddle is unbeaten in his last 3, but he’s run into a buzzsaw here. Che Mills by KO, any round he chooses.
Dallas Winston: Well … that makes for a nice segue. I’ve always been more impressed with Riddle than the consensus opinion. His stand-up is far from polished but still effective due to his gameness, length and his opponent’s concern of being taken down. Mills has a cleaner arsenal and one that’s well equipped to deter takedowns with his uppercuts and step-in or flying knees. I’m unsure how Mills will fare off his back at the top level -- until he proves that facet, I’ll side with Riddle’s size, wrestling and athleticism in a tough fight to call. Matt Riddle by decision.
Staff picking Mills: Mookie, Anton, Grant, Fraser
Staff picking Riddle: Stephie, Brookhouse, Tim, Dallas
Terry Etim vs. Renee Forte
Tim Burke: Fact - Terry Etim finally woke up from the Barboza kick two weeks ago, and found out he had a fight coming up. So it’s been a short camp for him, but he’ll get it done. He’s one of those guys that savages the lower-level guys but can’t quite hang with the upper level. Forte isn’t upper level, so fear the wrath of Liverpool. Terry Etim by submission, round 2.
Mookie Alexander: This is Etim’s first fight since they retrieved his head from the HSBC Arena in Rio and reattached it to the rest of his body. Forte looks like the type of opponent Etim can handle without fear of his brain being shut off. Terry Etim by submission, round 2.
Staff picking Etim: Stephie, Mookie, Anton, Grant, Brookhouse, Tim, Fraser
Staff picking Forte:
Danny Castillo vs. Paul Sass
Tim Burke: Again, fear the wrath of Liverpool. Watching Castillo tap will be awesome. Team Alpha Male has trained nothing but triangle defense for four months, so...Sass will finish him with a leglock. That’s what you get for wearing a headband. Paul Sass by submission, round 1.
Mookie Alexander: Paul Sass by Sassangle, round 1.
Anton Tabuena: Paul Sass by triangle choke.
Staff picking Castillo: Stephie
Staff picking Sass: Mookie, Anton, Grant, Brookhouse, Tim, Fraser
Josh Grispi vs. Andy Ogle
Tim Burke: I really don’t think Grispi’s that bad. Getting submitted by Rani Yahya isn’t the worst thing that could ever happen to a guy. It’s not like Pat Barry subbed him or anything. There’s still a lot of talent there, he just needs to show some urgency. Josh Grispi by submission, round 1.
Mookie Alexander: I really cannot believe how bad Grispi looks. This guy was going to fight JOSE ALDO and here he is fighting Andy Ogle to stave off a 4th loss in a row. Even if he wins he’s on borrowed time because he hasn’t shown any of the promise he’d displayed in the WEC. I’ll take Ogle here. Andy Ogle by decision.
Staff picking Grispi: Anton, Tim
Staff picking Ogle: Stephie, Mookie, Grant, Brookhouse, Fraser
Stanislav Nedkov vs. Tom Watson
Tim Burke: Nedkov made weight, and looked okay. Watson barely beat Alex Reid. Come on, paint by numbers here. Stanislav Nedkov by decision.
Mookie Alexander: There are some fights you can look at and just tell that they won’t be very good. I see no reason to get even mildly enthused over either of these two. Nedkov is better, so I’ll go with him. Stanislav Nedkov by decision.
Staff picking Nedkov: Stephie, Anton, Mookie, Brookhouse, Tim, Fraser
Staff picking Watson:
Vaughan Lee vs. Motonobu Tezuka
Tim Burke: This is...uh, not a good fight. Either Lee destroys him pretty much right away, or he gets stuck in a grappling match he wants no part of against an opponent with no finish. I hope this ends quick, but it probably won’t. Motonobu Tezuka by decision.
Staff picking Lee: Stephie, Anton, Mookie, Brookhouse, Fraser
Staff picking Tezuka: Tim
Ulysses Gomez vs. Phil Harris
Tim Burke: Toquinho’s little brother was my favorite captain on The Deadliest Catch. See, I can play with names too Mookie! I’m just not as good at it. Ulysses Gomez by submission, round 2,
Mookie Alexander: Gomez’s grappling skills will be too much for Phil Billy to handle. Ulysses Gomez by submission, round 2.
Staff picking Gomez: Stephie, Mookie, Anton, Brookhouse, Tim, Fraser
Staff picking Harris: