Tim Burke: This is just a weird fight. Saffiedine has a lot of pressure on him and he hasn't fought in a long time. Lim has absolutely nothing to lose. But Saffiedine is probably better than the current version of Lim everywhere except power. If Tarec fights his regular fight, it's his by decision. But Lim could surprise him. I'll go with the more realistic pick though. Tarec Saffiedine by decision.
Mookie Alexander: Saffiedine is a technically sound striker with practically no threatening power. Lim has power, brick-breaking knees, and could be poised for the upset. Truth be told I'd have picked Ellenberger to beat Saffiedine if he'd remained healthy, and I'm tempted to pick Lim now, but looking at the match-up I just think Saffiedine can stifle Lim's best offense, deliver strikes of his own, and ultimately tire Lim out in the later rounds (by that I mean 4 and 5). Tarec Saffiedine by unanimous decision.
Anton Tabuena: Hyun Gyu Lim will obviously be the underdog here, with him taking a huge step up in competition. He goes from facing prelim fighters to headlining against a former Strikeforce champ on short notice, so there's really nothing much to lose here, and everything to gain. Lim has the tools and the power to win a stand up battle against Tarec, but I think he will have trouble dealing with a much more technical striker. I hope I'm wrong, but I'm thinking it will be Tarec Saffiediene by a close Decision.
T.P. Grant: I'm a believer in South Korean MMA, I think it is on the verge of becoming a hot bed of MMA talent coming out of Asia. We are seeing very good, athletic fighters hailing from South Korea in the UFC and with that nation's strong martial art programs in Judo, TKD, and Wrestling it seems a natural source of talent. Lim is a fluid athlete with power and speed in his strikes. Saffiedine is the more proven and tempered striker, but he has been out of action for just about a year at this point, this will be his first UFC fight. I feel like it is a close fight early that either the experience and technique or Saffiedine or the athleticism of Lim will take over late. It is important to note that Lim has only gone three rounds once in his career, so I'll take the proven endurance of Saffiedine as the deciding factor. Tarec Saffiedine by Decision.
Fraser Coffeen: Like Mookie said, Lim has the power to pull off the upset here, but my problem with him is that he's just too wild. I expect he will struggle in the UFC when paired with a more technical striker. Tarec is a good barometer for Lim's future success, as he is indeed the technically superior striker, but also has some defensive flaws. If Lim can muscle his way in and get the KO here, he has a lot of potential. But I think Saffiedine stays on the outside, is too elusive, and wears down the bigger, more reckless Lim. Tarec Saffiedine by TKO round 3
Zane Simon: This card is filled with obvious favorites facing incredibly dangerous underdogs. A lot of guys who have had long layoffs, or faced questionable competition recently facing young, talented prospects. This fight is the prototype of that setup and everything that has already been said by my colleagues stands as true. Saffiedine should win this, but there is every possibility that he doesn't. Tarec Saffiedine by Decision.
Dallas Winston: Of course Saffiedine is the more logical and obvious pick, but his bread and butter is a very technical and complex range-striking game. His footwork, movement, angles and judicious strike selection is excellent from out on the fringe, but Lim's 4" height and 9" reach advantage will take a huge bite out of his effectiveness. Lim is nowhere near as polished as Saffiedine on the feet and likely has no intentions to be -- he's a hard-nosed brawler who excels with nasty short-range/clinch striking and he throws long and straight boxing combinations on his way in. Saffiedine's takedown defense has improved but I think Lim will be content to stay clinched up if he has to and maul him with dirty boxing, elbows and those crushing knees. Since he's heralded more for his finesse than power, that means Saffiedine will have to keep Lim at a distance and out-point for him for all 5 rounds, and Lim's bruiser style and aggression should make more of an impact scoring-wise. Lim's steep weight cut could very well take its toll as the fight progresses though. "Ace" Lim by decision.
Staff picking Saffiedine: Anton, Mookie, Fraser, Grant, Zane, Stephie, Tim
Staff picking Lim: Dallas
Tim Burke: I was gonna say Crusher gonna crush, but Grant took my line! Tatsuya Kawajiri by KO, round 1
Mookie Alexander: Kawajiri has a lot of mileage on him, and featherweight is one of the divisions that is very unkind to aging fighters, so just on that alone I can't consider him a serious title contender. However, I'd pick him to beat Hacran Dias if he was healthy and I've got him beating Soriano, who is an intriguing prospect but not quite ready for someone on Crusher's level. Tatsuya Kawajiri by unanimous decision.
Anton Tabuena: I just want to know what that new special hold he told me about really looks like. Tatsuya Kawajiri by ‘Kawa-Chan' hold.
Fraser Coffeen: The total failure of guys like Gomi and Kid Yamamoto in the UFC makes me very leery of picking the JMMA all-stars, but I like Kawajiri's chances here. That power - got to love it. Tatsuya Kawajiri by KO round 1
T.P. Grant: The Crusher gonna crush. Tatsuya Kawajiri by TKO, Round 1.
Zane Simon: I took some time not long ago to really watch some tape on Soriano and I was shocked by his potential. He's a phenomenal athlete who looks like he's really absorbed every bit of instruction that the Blackzilian coaches have to offer. Because I have very little faith in well regarded JMMA guys making UFC debuts against tough, but unknown prospects, I'm going to make a gut pick and go for the upset. Sean Soriano by KO, round 2.
Dallas Winston: Soriano is a legit prospect with good potential. The tipping point for me is that he's 8-fights deep and his opponents have a cumulative record of 37-34, and he's facing one of the most experienced and crafty featherweights in the game who's been immersed in far superior competition for almost the entire last decade. Soriano also has a style that's somewhat similar to Kawajiri's and executing it more effectively than Crusher is hard to fathom. Tatsuya Kawajiri by TKO.
Staff picking Crusher: Anton, Mookie, Fraser, Grant, Stephie, Tim, Dallas
Staff picking Soriano: Zane
Tim Burke: Why is Dutra even in this fight? Kiichi Kunimoto by decision
Anton Tabuena: Tough pick. I'm leaning towards the Japanese fighter on this one. Kiichi Kunimoto by Decision
Fraser Coffeen: This is only Dutra's 2nd fight since 2009. That's no good at all. Kiichi Kunimoto by submission round 2
T.P. Grant: Both are veterans of their domestic circuits, Kunimoto has come a long way from being that dude that got blasted with a head kick in 5 seconds flat in Pancrase. Dutra has not been super active and while he got a fairly easy win his last time out, woof did he look big, and not in a good way. I think Dutra gasses in a big way and Kunimoto gets this win. Kiichi Kunimoto by Submission, Round 2.
Zane Simon: Kiichi Kunimoto strikes me as one of those Motonobu Tezuka kind of guys. Relatively successful on the JMMA circuit, but with very little upside and very few fights against really good competition. He's a grapple first fighter who's not a spectacular wrestler. Dutra, on the other hand, reminds me a bit of Rony Jason or Hugo Viana on the feet in that he's willing to throw anything at any time and do so with power. Add to that that he's already fought UFC vets like Fabricio Camoes (who he beat twice) and Paulo Thiago and I'm giving him a huge edge in debut comfort. Luiz Dutra by KO, Round 1.
Dallas Winston: Jeez. Well, "Besouro" is a Luta Livre specialist out of RFT and was the first pick on TUF: Brazil 2, leaving the show after injuring his hand. He has wins over UFC-caliber opposition in Fabricio Camoes (2x) and Luis Ramos while Paulo Thiago accounts for one of his two losses. So someone will be miserably incorrect as I believe he'll more than hold his own here against Kunimoto, who's biggest win is Edward Faaloloto. "Besouro" by TKO.
Staff picking Dutra: Zane, Dallas
Staff picking Kunimoto: Anton, Mookie, Fraser, Grant, Stephie, Tim
Tim Burke: Kyung Ho Kang by decision.
Anton Tabuena: Slightly unrelated to my pick, but during Kang's open-workouts, Shimizu was beside me taking selfies with his thumbs up as he tried to take pics with his opponent in the background. He's a genuinely nice and goofy dude that was surprisingly relaxed for a fighter making their UFC debut. He's a really talented prospect too, but even without Octagon jitters, I have a feeling he will have trouble dealing with Kang's size and strength advantage. Kyung Ho Kang by Decision.
T.P. Grant: Kang has bad judge juju, as he very well could be 2-0 at this point in his UFC career, but even if you thought Caceres won their fight, Kang deserves to be at the very least 1-1, not 0-2. Short of another awful head scratcher from the judges I think we see Kang get his first win official win the Octagon. Kyung Ho Kang by Decision.
Zane Simon: I still have a ton of belief in Kang as a prospect. I think he has everything he needs to be a great fighter for the UFC, but isn't quite putting it all together yet. Shimizu is a lot of fun, he's a flying submission, go for anything at any time kind of fighter, but that's not a very reliable skill set for the UFC. He could become a fun attraction fighter (someone people are interested in on the card despite never contending) but even for that he may have to drop to 125. Kyung ho Kang by TKO, Round 2.
Dallas Winston: Slightly unrelated to Anton's story, but Kang just Skyped me whilst combing his Clark-Kent-like hair and told me Anton is lying. Just kidding, but Grant is correct on Kang's bad juju. Kyung Ho Kang by decision.
Staff picking Kang: Anton, Mookie, Fraser, Stephie, Grant, Zane, Tim
Staff picking Shimizu:
Anton Tabuena: I like Will Chope. Some people give him shit for his strength of competition, but the guy is young, fights as much as humanly possible regardless of combat sport, improves every time out, and looked excellent as he defeated a highly regarded King of Pancrase that got him signed. Chope also makes up for any lack of technical ability with heart, aggression, and that massive reach advantage from his 6-foot-4 frame. Unfortunately, he's dealing with a very good striker who is also very tall for the division, so I expect both men to have trouble with judging distance early. If he can't get any one of his patented chokes, I feel like Holloway will be able to land cleaner strikes as the fight progresses. As the trend on my picks on this card, head over heart, so I'm picking Max Holloway by TKO.
T.P. Grant: Chope is huge for the division at 6'4" and he relies very heavily on his size and length in both striking and grappling. He has 12 submissions but he isn't a wizz on the ground, and has mostly feasted on very weak grapplers. Holloway is a good striker who has fairly good counter wrestling, and mixes his strikes very well. Both guys are hitable, Holloway mixes in body shots really well and Chope leaves his chin way out there to be hit fairly frequently, and mostly just guts through stuff than havintechnicalal solutions. Holloway should get the better of him. Max Holloway by TKO, Round 2.
Zane Simon: Once again, obvious favorite facing a dangerous underdog. I haven't seen anything from Chope yet to suggest that he has a really huge upside, however, so I'm taking Holloway here to get out in front and stay there for three rounds. Max Holloway by Unanimous Decision.
Dallas Winston: Damn y'all. Homeboy is age 23, the tallest known featherweight alive at 6'4", he has serious striking experience but has finished more fights by submission. I see many an upside there. I think he has an excellent chance to upset Holloway but I'm picking Max just because, as a young and legit prospect, he's due for a win and can't afford another loss. I like Chope's chances here though. Max Holloway by decision.
Staff picking Chope:
Staff picking Holloway: Anton, Mookie, Fraser, Stephie, Grant, Zane, Tim
Anton Tabuena: Mulhern is 6-foot-3. Katsunori Kikuno by higher aimed Crescent Kick.
Mookie Alexander: Mulhern has nothing for Kikuno on the feet. And Kikuno will KO him before he even contemplates getting it to the ground. Katsunori Kikuno by KO round 1.
Fraser Coffeen: If you have never seen Kikuno fight, be prepared - he is a weird fighter. He has probably the oddest stance of anyone in MMA, and yet he works it. Kikuno has excellent striking, and though he'll be giving up a reach advantage here, I prefer his striking to Mulhern's awkward attacks. I think he takes this early, but if Mulhern is evasive, I still like Kikuno in a decision. Katsunori Kikuno by KO round 1
Zane Simon: Either Kikuno is worthy of being thought of as one of MMA's better strikers, or he's thrived on a bunch of favorable matchups and will never make it in the UFC. This is a really important fight for him and I strongly believe that he fits into the former description and takes Mulhern out early. Katsunori Kikuno by KO, Round 1.
T.P. Grant: I'm not in love with either fighter as they both have pretty clear ceilings. Kikuno has a clear advantage on the feet, Mulhern is the young, larger fighter with a fairly solid ground game. Kikuno is stiff despite his power and funky striking, but Mulhern is just awful on the feet so I'm not ruling out a KO win for Kikno, but I think Mulhern gets this fight against the cage, lean on Kikuno for a bit, get him down, and work some of his top game. Quinn Mulhern by Decision.
Dallas Winston: LOL @ Anton. I'm a Kikuno mark but see Mulhern as a legit threat with his combination of length and submission prowess. He's also come a long way in rounding out in his game, but his wrestling savvy should dictate everything here: if he can take Kikuno down or even neutralize his Machida-esque striking irregularities with any consistency, Kikuno is in for a long night. It's more likely that he'll be relegated to a striking match, where Kikuno wins. Because crescentness. Katsunori Kikuno by TKO.
Staff picking Kikuno: Anton, Mookie, Fraser, Stephie, Zane, Tim, Dallas
Staff picking Mulhern: Grant
Dave Galera vs. Royston Wee
Mookie Alexander: "The UFC signed Royston Wee but wouldn't sign Ben Askren? That's pathetic." Just wanted to get that comment out of the way before it makes its way into the comments section of this post. You know you want to say it so I've already said it for you. Anyway, Dave Galera by KO, round 1.
Anton Tabuena: Interesting tidbit, Mark Fischer said that Royston Wee tried out for TUF: China but didn't pass the first cut. He was flown in as an alternate for the show, but the UFC then decided they want him to be the flag bearer for the local Singapore crowd on this card. He hasn't fought in two years too. Galera on the other hand, is a URCC champion, and is one of Team Lakay's good prospects. Apart from having a better camp, he will also have a huge size advantage as well. Anyway, even without those reasons, it's not like I'd pick against the first Filipino national signed by the UFC. Dave Galera by TKO.
Zane Simon: This fight would have been a total tossup for me, but Anton just made it pretty clear who the strong favorite should be. Dave Galera by some sort of domination.
T.P. Grant: Yeah what Anton said. Dave Galera by Murder, Death, Kill.
Staff picking Galera: Anton, Mookie, Fraser, Stephie, Zane, Grant, Tim, Dallas
Staff picking Wee:
Anton Tabuena: Gritty Russian, or Korean Top Team guy? Tough one, but I'm leaning towards Taisumov to continue the Russian MMA resurgence as of late. Mairbek Taisumov by TKO.
Zane Simon: Mairbek Taisumov is another of those fighters that I watched with very little anticipation and came away thinking "Damn, this guy could be a future contender!" His punching game is okay but not great, but his kicking game is absolutely brutal. He's basically a less flashy Adlan Amagov or Edson Barboza and unfortunately for Tae Hyun Bang, his stand and *ahem* bang fighting style will play right into that. Mairbek Taisumov by TKO (leg kicks).
T.P. Grant: Zane hit the mark here, Taisumov is a damn fine prospect. He has a ton of fights for his age, he has good clinch grappling, good takedowns, and power. Bang plays right into his strengths and this one is could get ugly. Mairbek Taisumov by TKO, Round 2.
Staff picking Bang:
Staff picking Taisumov: Anton, Mookie, Fraser, Stephie, Zane, Grant, Tim, Dallas
Anton Tabuena: Jon Delos Reyes is a Filipino born in Guam and training with Jon Tuck, Ben Henderson and other fighters out of that camp. He's a good prospect, and his heritage will make me root for him, but I think his fellow PXC veteran opponent will be slightly better on all areas. Dustin Kimura by Submission (Kimura I hope).
Zane Simon: Dustin Kimura surprised a lot of people when he beat Chico Camus, and then went out and got physically bullied into submission by Mitch Gagnon. I expect a full return to his scramble happy form in this fight against Jon Delos Reyes who not only hasn't competed for over a year, but just hasn't faced the same level of competition. Dustin Kimura by Submission.
T.P. Grant: Kimura is younger but more experienced, has had success before in the UFC, and has fought since 2012. Dustin Kimura by Submission, Round 2
Staff picking Kimura: Anton, Mookie, Fraser, Stephie, Zane, Grant, Tim, Dallas
Staff picking Delos Reyes:
Anton Tabuena: Prior to that win over Jared Papazian that got him to the UFC, Doane was thoroughly dominated on the ground against PXC champ, Michinori Tanaka (who they should sign too). Issa on the other hand, has improved his striking leaps and bounds since joining Evolve MMA, but his bread and butter is still his high level BJJ. I think Doane will still have a slight advantage with striking, but if Issa fights smart and mixes stand up exchanges with his ground game, he can get win this. Leandro Issa by Decision.
Zane Simon: This is a total toss up fight for me. Issa is much, much better on the ground, but I felt like Doane was a decent prospect all the way back in his KOTC days. I'll ride with the Hawaiian here by virtue of his incredibly fast hands and big power. He's a good scrambler as well and Issa isn't a takedown wizard. The striking I saw from Issa in just his last fight was bad, and his defense is worse. He could take this, but I don't see it happening. Russell Doane by KO, Round 2.
T.P. Grant: Doane is an athlete and aggressive as all get out, he just goes for stuff. Issa is a bit more thoughtful about his fighting style, I think he gets Doane down, breaks him down as he tries to athlete out of stuff, and taps him. Leandro Issa by Submission, Round 1.
Staff picking Doane: Zane, Tim
Staff picking Issa: Anton, Mookie, Fraser, Stephie, Grant, Dallas