England-based Brad Pickett (22-7), who reps Team Titan but also spends time with American Top Team in the states, has been a staple in the 135-pound rankings for years. On the big stage, Pickett closed out his WEC run with a 3-1 pace (lost to Scott Jorgensen; wins over Kyle Dietz, Demetrious Johnson and Ivan Menjivar) is dead even in the Octagon after 4 turns (losses to Renan Barao and Eddie Wineland betwixt wins over Damacio Page and Yves Jabouin). "One Punch" has more weapons than his nickname would indicate -- he's a skilled boxer, wrestler and submission grappler.
Mike Easton (13-2) extended the 5-fight streak he carried into his UFC debut (which included wins over Chase Beebe and John Dodson) with a trio of victories: Byron Bloodworth by TKO and Jared Papazian and Ivan Menjivar by decision. The roll was finally stopped by Rafael Assuncao in Easton's last outing at UFC 155. "The Hulk" is an exceptional physical specimen with serious strength, adequate striking, and solid wrestling to complement his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt.
In what seems a contrast to his horsepower, Easton has been notably composed -- at times nearing complacency -- with highly tempered aggression. He's a methodical stalker on the feet who'll walk his opponent down and then gradually chip away with measured attacks, whether they're controlled bursts of strikes, closing distance to initiate a clinch or rifling for takedowns. His reserved mentality has served him well in most cases but it seems he'd benefit from pulling the trigger more often and more aggressively.The downside of his style definitely applied to his recent and only UFC loss, as Easton spent too much time cornering Assuncao and then standing in his wheelhouse rather than getting off and getting out of range.
Pickett has the type of assertive boxing to exploit Easton's lulls in alacrity. While his punching regimen is not necessarily the prototypical boxing style, it's well tuned to the variables of MMA, he does a good job of darting in, doing damage and dodging counters on his way out, and he has a good sense of when to turn it on or off. In fact, Pickett's striking characteristics are precisely what it seems Easton could use a dose of, as his standing M.O. generally actualizes in one speed, at one tempo and in one direction, whereas Pickett is busy with head movement, he attacks from different angles and is flat-out more vivacious and dynamic on the feet.
I'm not sure Pickett could come out on top in a straight wrestling match, but he transitions between striking and wrestling much better than Easton, much of which is attributed to his aforementioned movement. He's usually content to let his hands decide his fate, but Pickett is intelligent enough to launch a few surprise takedowns just when you think he's settling in for a striking match on the feet.
In the realm of submission grappling, Easton's BJJ black belt comes into play more as a complement to his top game and wrestling rather than a standalone aspect of threatening offense. He's a fierce and frenetic scrambler and his BJJ acumen allows for the constant threat of basic top-side chokes and taking the back in pursuit of rear-naked chokes. Pickett is more inclined to rock the boat with avid submission offense that's culled from a wider menu of techniques and often benefits from unsuccessful attempts by using it as a means to escape.
The betting lines have Pickett as the marginal favorite, which I'm in agreement with. Both fighters are considerably well rounded and experienced, yet Pickett just seems to be a little more potent and effective in the pivotal areas of striking, clinching and wrestling. While you can never rule out the possibility of Easton wearing an opponent down with grinding clinch-work or takedowns, or even finding the mark on the feet, Pickett's toolbox and intelligence should carry him through to a decision.
My Prediction: Brad Pickett by decision.