The matchup: Both gentlemen were teammates on TUF, although I couldn't tell you if they were BFFs or bitter drunken made for television enemies.
The fight itself is like an NHL game between two teams from the Metropoliton division: sporadic talent, and moments of flash lay mostly dormant against superior competition. Nijem's raw power has led him to victory outside of the UFC. With a wrestling background that is aided by wanting to beat up his brother in training, and some solid power on his fists, Nijem is better than his record indicates.
But he's still a flawed fighter. His defense on the feet is putrid, and he has the death certificate from his bout with Myles Jury to prove it. On top of that he'll be looking to get the fight to the ground, which plays into Edward's plan to stick him with a guillotine. Five of Justin's six submission wins are via guillotine, and even in fights where the guillotine didn't finish the job, he's always looking for it.
This is a fairly tough fight to predict that I believe favors Edwards by a chest pube. He's got better instincts to finish and is tough to boot, only losing via TKO once to a massive welterweight in Thatch (who is quietly destroying everyone basically). While I think Nijem is a more polished, he's not as defensively sound, which I predict will be the difference.
Prediction: Justin Edwards via guillotine, round 2.
The matchup: Flagg is that kind of fighter you don't expect to win but does...sometimes through "luck"...sometimes through sheer hard work and determination. His last three wins (of a 12 fight unbeaten streak) are over Yves Edwards, Gesias Cavalcante, and Brian Melancon. Not a bad list of fighters (despite some controversy).
He'll be facing the unbeaten "Xuxu". Elias isn't a spectacular fighter in my view but his fundamentals on the ground are top notch. He has incredible top control and is coming down in weight, which means Flagg will have a difficult time dealing with his size. However, he did a fairly good job against JZ, who only seemed to muscle him early. The JZ fight is a good barometer for this bout in my opinion because Elias is similar to JZ minus the dynamic striking. Or dynamism in general.
Elias is a solid fighter with room to grow, but I feel like Flagg's body work (he loves digging to the body with punches, kicks, or knees) will be the difference against a fighter who often looks exhausted heading towards the finish line.
I'm not completely confident; Flagg has faced far superior competition and beaten far superior competition but Silverio has a little Arona in him, which could make this one a stylistic nightmare. I'm taking Flagg in a bit of a coin toss - he's got the resume on paper, but I worry he'll be smothered for the first two rounds. I'm betting he doesn't let it happen. Elias' lack of foot speed will leave him vulnerable to Flagg's offensive output, therefore...
Prediction: Isaac Vallie-Flagg by (for his 4th consecutive) Split Decision.
The matchup: While his name is easily forgettable by virtue of its plainness, there is nothing forgettable about his style. Trevor's fight with Ed Herman was a Ren and Stimpy exchange...a little grotesque at times, with a disdain for subtlety but utterly endearing.
It'll be interesting to see how Smith reacts. Some fighters learn from fights like that; namely that stopping punches with your wide eyed face isn't always a great plan. Others feel like it's a way of branding themselves. Smith would be wise to avoid standing for too long against "B-hue". Though Houston is coming off a loss to Derek Brunson, he's an imposing striker - the kind Rogan will never stop telling us needs to conserve his energy lest his muscles dry up all the oxygen in his body like a vampire stuck in a disco ballroom dance floor.
Houston is not the better fighter so don't misunderstand me. But he's got a powerful left hook (that he also throws in tight, and with accuracy), and moves his feet. While I think Herman is inexplicably a better striker than he looks, I feel like Houston's movement will be harder for Smith to deal with if he slugs it out.
I wouldn't bet on it though. Smith showed how tough he was against Herman, and his guillotine is brutal. This one should be fun for the first minute, but Smith's superiority on the feet will be the difference.
Prediction: Trevor Smith via Guillotine, round 1.
The matchup: I felt pretty good about finally getting something right the other day with these predictions in feeling like Ozkilic had what it took to beat Darren Uyenoyama in a bit of an upset. Darren is a solid well rounded fighter, but the "Turkish Delight" found a way to win with his stifling top control grappling and measured boxing approach.
This is a good matchup for Ozkilic who is taking on the lanky, submission happy Smolka. When Smolka is facing subpar competition (as he has most of his short career) he looks incredible with his ground and pound. He does a good job of creating distance on the ground and leveraging high impact elbows in guard, and he's adept at sniffing out the submission while mixing it up with strikes (explaining why he's finished all of his bouts) but he'll need to get the fight to the ground in order to do that.
Against Ozkilic's takedown defense and crisp, patient striking, Smolka will find himself on the wrong end of the decision. I think Smolka will have some moments, but Ozkilic should take it comfortably.
Prediction: Alpetkin Ozkilic by Decision.
The matchup: Pichel is probably a better fighter than his highlight reel indicates. For those that don't remember the reference, Pichel is the unfortunate soul who got power bombed into the core of the earth with a suplex by Rustam Khabilov. He's been nursing the defeat (among other things) ever since, as he hasn't seen action in the cage since.
He'll be up against Whiteley who was tearing it up outside of the UFC, finishing in all of his victories, before losing in his debut to Alan Alves. While it's true Pichel is better than his bout with Rustam indicates, it's still par for the course for what it expect in terms of general outcome.
He's got good power, and throws accurately, but he's a plodding fighter with no movement on the feet. It'll make him an interesting foil for Whiteley who also likes to keep it standing. He throws a mean straight right and is vicious when smelling blood in the water. However, my problem with Whiteley is that he throws punches and strikes in close quarters where I feel he's less effective. With his efficient kicks, I feel like he should be at range, and you saw why against Alves.
Pichel is nothing if not a strong puncher (all of his wins are by TKO/KO). Though Whiteley is quicker and more athletic, I feel like Pichel will be able to land with the opportunities Garrett gives up. Not an easy pick in my view, but the correct one.
Prediction: Vinc Pichel by TKO, round 2.
The matchup: While Brenneman is the far more experienced fighter, I expect this to be a tough stylistic matchup for him despite Beneil, the undefeated Iranian prospects, being a little too green for my taste.
Charlie has benefited from getting the UFC pink slip, going 4-0 since losing to Kyle Noke by TKO at UFC 152. He's got three submission wins in that time, one of them involving a Peruvian necktie choke over Jeremy Castro (who is 10-12, granted).
I like Brenneman's game insofar as he's slowly improved over the years (in the past he was comically one dimensional). But Beneil did well for himself early when he was focused on jiu jitsu training under Rafael Cordeiro, so his ground game is legit. His striking needs work but he's got a unique ryhthm; while not much to speak of as a boxer, he does a really good (though predictable) job of chambering his left leg from his southpaw stance for the leg kick, front kick followup.
Charlie still isn't one for boxing, so under normal circumstances I might favor him but Beneil does a good job of keeping his distance with that front kick and I feel like he could easily create an opening for a submission during a scramble.
Prediction: Beneil Dariusch by Decision.