Two words: Conor McGregor. That's what you came here for right?
History Lesson: Before we get to the real star of the show, Pickett and McDonald will look to throw down in an excellent bit of Joe Silva matchmaking. Pickett is 6-3 in his Zuffa career, starting out with a huge victory over current Flyweight champion, Demetrious Johnson. For what it's worth, he owns 4 Fight of the Night bonuses, but he's remembered less for his brief but ridiculous slugfest with Renan Barao, and more for his Peruvian Necktie victory over Kyle Dietz in the WEC.
Fresh off a win over Mike Easton, Brad will be facing off against power puncher, Michael McDonald; currently 5-1 in his Zuffa career. McDonald has come into his own as a prospect, and some argued was rushed too soon into title contention despite putting up a worthy effort against interim BW champ Renan Barao. As a viewing experience, you may come to watch for McGregor, but you still stay for Pickett/McDonald. This has FOTY written all over it.
What both men can do: Though Pickett has earned himself the nickname "One Punch", this says less about his punching power, and more about the hilarious lack of imagination when it comes to nicknaming MMA fighters; the sport comes with its own name generator, apparently....controlled and regulated by hundreds of monkeys, all sitting their ass on a typewriter to see what random words their primate posteriors can come up with.
Anyway, while Brad's punching power isn't his real game, he's still a solid enough boxer to be taken seriously. He has a good overhand right like most efficient strikers in MMA, and can throw in combination, if a bit wildly, at times. He likes to throw an awkward but rigid lead left hook. However, Pickett's real game is defined by his grappling. A much better wrestler than advertised ('One Wrestle' will never have the same ring), he was able to beat Mighty Mouse on the strength of his grappling, which is much more conservative than his striking, but also much more polished.
I never gave much credit to McDonald before his bout with Barao. Not only was it too soon, but I didn't even think it would be competitive. The guy couldn't even look like a world beater against Chris Cariaso. Why would he threaten Barao? While the fight wasn't close, it was competitive (especially early on). McDonald has a solid ability to time his counters, which is where he excels.
His money punch is the right uppercut, but his boxing in general is very good. While he's prone to mixing up his striking, he's best served softening up his opponent before attempting the money punch. Which is what good boxers do. There's not much to say about his ground game other than that it's very capable; Barao had to fight like hell just to get the bout to the ground, where he encountered a much better guard that I, or others gave him credit for. The fight won't end up on the ground unless someone's unconscious though so...
What both men can't do: The reason why I have to lean towards McDonald is that Brad's just not the better boxer. When he lunges in with his left hook, his right hand sits well below his chin, which protects none of the punches McDonald will land on Brad. It's easily the weakest part of Pickett's game that is usually not enough to put him away because of his excellent chin.
While McDonald is not perfect either, his problems with will come against dynamic strikers like Barao, or dynamic wrestlers like a Urijah Faber (?). Pickett is your classic plodder. Talented...but still too flat footed to gain any real advantage against a superior striker who will be able to defend Pickett's takedowns. And no matter how sturdy his chin, Barao won the fight on the feet by hurting him early. Expect Mike McD. to do the same.
X-Factor: The Judges. I don't at all expect this fight to go to a decision, but it's possible Pickett wings his punches while getting countered all day with jabs, hooks, and crosses. It wouldn't be the first time the judges gave the decision to the guy who lost every round, and was a brain cell away from full system shutdown.
Prediction: Michael McDonald by TKO, round 3.
History Lesson: If you're Max Holloway, you don't care about Conor's last fight in the UFC in Sweden, where he destroyed the underrated Marcus Brimage. Nor do you care about your split decision loss to Dennis Bermudez at UFC 160. All you care about is the footage of McGregor hanging out with Dana White, giggling while he sticks his head out of Dana's Ferrari like some sort of Pomeranian begging for an odor other than newcar. I'm sure Max has had many a sleepless night, asking himself "Where was my dangerous no speed limit ride down the Vegas strip?"
What both men can do: There's been a lot of hype foisted upon McGregor, who is thus far simply doing what's been asked of him. Against Brimage, he displayed a technical brilliance rarely seen in the octagon. While he draws comparisons to Lyoto Machida with his wide stand, he's nothing like Machida in function. Easily the best part of Conor's game is his boxing, which he excels at through positioning.
His feet are constantly square with his opponent, which allows him to be in the right position to defend strikes while countering with his own. If you haven't seen the Brimage fight, the UFC has the full fight video up on their website. His effortless movement is evident elsewhere, but this is his game; efficient, economic footwork to emphasize that boxing dominance. Being a southpaw just adds to the complexity of his game.
He's finished all of his fights, not because he's particularly powerful, but because he lands with ridiculous accuracy. He can kick just fine, and his front kick, and snapping left knee compliment his boxing style, but it's not where he truly excels. His best punch is far his uppercut, which he uses both hands to land. Because he's adept at throwing in combination, an uppercut followed up by a right/left is often all that it takes to stun an opponent.
Though Holloway has been lost in the shuffle, McGregor would be wise not to underestimate him. Holloway has a solid striking game himself. With his hands held high, he's a large FW at 5'11. He's got a solid left hook, and very good knees in close, which would create an interesting dynamic if the fight ends up against the cage, and all over the place, which is not where McGregor wants to be, which leads us to...
What both men can't do: MMA fans should proceed with caution. The comparison to Machida should set off the hyperbole alarms; just like Machida's elusiveness proved to be penetrable, McGregor's game isn't so well rounded as to put all the promotional eggs into this mohawked Irish basket.
For one, like Machida, he prefers to avoid punches by shifting his weight, relying on being out the way using his legs rather than exhibiting head movement. Brimage comes close to landing wild punches in their bout. Yes, he misses because Conor has excellent positioning, but it's also because Brimage is 5'4. Machida does the same thing, and still gets caught from time to time.
In addition, there's his ground game. While his last defeat by submission was in 2010, that's not that far removed from getting dummied by Joseph Duffy inside of a minute; a name that is probably only familiar to Kyle Watson...a TUF'er now himself more famous for his defeat by spinning backfist against John Makdessi. Duffy easily passed McGregor's guard after a takedown from side control, and into a quick arm triangle. Grappling is not easy to pick up quickly; just look at guys like Duane Ludwig and Melvin Guillard who have had a Cambrian Explosion's worth of time to learn when not to bridge and roll.
Holloway would be wise to get the fight to the ground. While it's not his strength, he's show himself to be capable on top, and from his back. Of course, this is not to oversell Conor's weakness on the ground. He maintains distance well enough that I don't expect Holloway to get close enough to make this a dirty, clinch fest. I expect this to be the story of the fight; Conor staying at range, keeping the fight in the center of the octagon where he'll be able to capitalize on Holloway's flat footed mistakes.
X-Factor: The MMA Gods. Just like you don't invite Roy Jones Jr. to an Anderson Silva fight for a potential crossover bout, you don't start telling Conor McGregor that he'll be headlining the UFC's Dublin events.
Prediction: Conor McGregor by Decision.