Tim Burke: Read below for real analysis. I'm just taking Gustafsson because he's awesome. Alexander Gustafsson, submission, round 1
Anton Tabuena: Well don't look at me, I just want him to get a rematch with Jones. Alexander Gustafsson by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: I don't even think Manuwa makes it to round 3. Gustafsson might have a tiny bit of trouble with Manuwa early on, but I think he's going to take Manuwa out of his element ASAP and put him on his back, where I don't really have reason to believe he can hang with Gustafsson on the ground for anything stronger than "don't tap out". That will run its course eventually and Gustafsson will get the stoppage. Alexander Gustafsson, submission, round 2.
Patrick Wyman: Not that many people are picking Manuwa, but there seems to be some confusion about his game. He's not really a range striker, though he has some dangerous weapons there and is certainly proficient, but more of an in-fighter, with really dangerous knees and elbows and solid positional grappling in the clinch. If Jon Jones couldn't keep Gustafsson in the clinch for longer than a few seconds, however, there's no compelling reason to think Manuwa will have any success there. Leaving aside the fact that he's younger, longer, and has fought infinitely better competition, Gustafsson's movement, pace, and volume at range should be sufficient to frustrate Manuwa before dropping him (probably with an uppercut) or taking him down and grabbing a late submission. Gustafsson, rear-naked choke, round 3.
T.P. Grant: As Pat pointed out, Manuwa's strength is really kind of a bully fighting style. He gets inside, roughs guys up. Alex is the superior outside striking, he is better in the clinch, on the ground, all in addition to being younger, longer, and more experienced with high level competition. While I think Gustafsson will work his outside striking, he is more and more working in really excellently time takedowns into his game. I expect him to take Manuwa down some point later in the fight and getting a submission on a tired and battered Manuwa. Alexander Gustafsson by Submission (Rear Naked Choke), Round 3.
Zane Simon: I really think that Manuwa is a special athlete. He has fantastic speed, great power, and solid cardio. He paces himself well and unloads with vicious kicks, knees, elbows, and punches in the pocket. But he's not great at closing the distance, he's great scrambling, but not otherwise polished on the ground, and just doesn't have a lot of dimension to his game. Gustafsson is no slouch as an athlete and is far more polished in every area of the fight game. I think his takedowns will be key if he lets Manuwa in past his jab, but he should be able to control this fight wherever it goes. Alexander Gustafsson, by Submission, Round 2.
Fraser Coffeen: Listen folks, I got 2 picks right on the last card. TWO. That is pathetic. A blind monkey throwing excrement at a wall could have been more accurate. So you probably shouldn't put much faith in me at this point. That said, you can analyze this fight all you want, but at the end of the day, Gus is just the better fighter, so he has to win this one, right? Right?! Alexander Gustafsson by submission round 3
Staff picking Gustafsson: Patrick, DSM, Mookie, Grant, Stephie, Zane, Fraser, Iain, Tim, Dallas, Anton
Staff picking Manuwa:
Tim Burke: I'm still not buying into the Michael Johnson hype at all. Guillard is hugely inconsistent, but he hits harder and has his bases covered in other areas. It's not like Johnson's going to submit him or anything. Melvin Guillard by TKO, round 1.
Mookie Alexander: If Michael Johnson wins then his status as a future contender is confirmed.I he loses then we have two Melvin Guillards. Johnson was on a two-fight losing skid just last year so I don't know why he's been elevated so quickly when he's been fairly uneven in his UFC career. This is a very difficult fight to pick for that very reason. Guillard is arguably the best striker Johnson has faced, and when he's on his game he can crumble anyone's chin. Johnson's striking looked much improved from previous outings, and his footwork and power can definitely pose problems for Guillard, who has historically reacted poorly to getting hit with even a jab. I'm really stuck on who to definitively pick, so I'm going against the grain and siding with Guillard ... because that hasn't backfired on numerous occasions before. Melvin Guillard, TKO, round 1.
T.P. Grant: The Michael Johnson that took Gleison Tibau apart at UFC 168 really looked like a guy that was starting to put it together as fighter. His wrestling was on point, his striking crisp, his footwork sharp, and it was all melding together quite nicely. Guillard has struggled against phase changers and grapplers historically, so while I'm never really confident picking either of these fighters to win or lose, I think Johnson gets the decision here with some good solid mixing of martial arts. Michael Johnson by Decision.
Patrick Wyman: This is the most difficult fight to predict on the card, and one of the closest fights of the year. You could make a strong argument for Guillard's greater experience or Johnson's slight technical edge in combination striking. Power is basically even, they're both spectacular athletes, they can both wrestle a bit...the list goes on. It's effectively a coin-flip, but one thing of which I'm certain is that it'll play out almost entirely on the feet, and given those parameters I think Johnson's chin will hold up just a bit better. Johnson, unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: I honestly think that if Johnson doesn't mix it up with takedowns (something which he is totally capable of) at least a little, this fight becomes a bit of a coinflip. Johnson has the pure striking tools to hang with Guillard on the feet, but even Donald Cerrone pretty much put himself in 50/50 territory doing that. If Johnson works his total range of skills this is his fight to lose, if he doesn't it's anybody's game. Michael Johnson by Decision.
Staff picking Guillard: Mookie, Tim, Anton
Staff picking Johnson: DSM, Grant, Stephie, Patrick, Zane, Fraser, Iain, Dallas
Mookie Alexander: I am really skeptical about Pickett's chances at flyweight. He's well into his 30s and wasn't particularly fast at bantamweight, so I doubt whether he can climb into the top 5. Seery is prone to submissions and Pickett, having dubbed himself "One Punch" actually has won most of his fights by tapout. He'll get another one here. Brad Pickett, submission, round 2.
Patrick Wyman: Seery is an inspiring story, a 34-year old journeyman with a whole passel of children who's getting his shot in the big show. Unfortunately, inspiring stories can't overcome drastic skill deficits in every major category, nor a distinct propensity for giving up the submission. Pickett is a seriously competent grappler, and if he doesn't screw around on the feet too much, the tap should be his for the taking. Pickett, submission, round 1.
T.P. Grant: Rough fight here for Seery. While Brad Pickett isn't a great MMA grappler, he tends to get submitted by those, he is a really, really good MMA grappler. Pickett is also aggressive on the mat, which isn't good for Seery, who has a tendency to get sloppy on the floor. Brad Pickett by Submission, Round 1.
Zane Simon: I feel like the narrative on Seery is just a little bit off. He's not quite so much a journeyman as he is a guy that took a long time to find his natural weightclass, and currently sits as one of the better European flyweights. He has excellent offensive boxing (his defense can be great but isn't always) and otherwise relies on quick movement and scrambling to keep fights where he wants them. He could be a very solid fighter in the UFC and against a less adept opponent than Pickett I would probably give him the edge. But Pickett is exceptionally well rounded and while he's not as good a striker as Seery, he's not way worse. I expect a few early exchanges that end up with picket getting inside, getting Seery down and, at some point, hooking up a submission. Brad Pickett by Submission, Round 2.
Staff picking Pickett: Patrick, DSM, Grant, Stephie, Zane, Mookie, Fraser, Iain, Tim, Dallas, Anton
Staff picking Seery:
Mookie Alexander: We've had a paucity of submissions over the past few shows, but thankfully Gunnar Nelson is here to fix that. Gunnar Nelson, submission, round 1.
Patrick Wyman: I have to say that I'm shocked that Nelson is such a big favorite (currently hovering around -300), because this seems like a much closer contest than the betting lines would indicate. Akhmedov is going to be an enormous welterweight - especially compared to Nelson, who will almost certainly end up dropping to lightweight at some point in the future - and he packs real power in his strikes to go along with a solid wrestling base and excellent phase-shifting instincts. With that said, I don't think Akhmedov will be the opponent to force Nelson to drop down. He gets a little careless in scrambles, and the most likely scenario is Nelson finding his way to a dominant position and securing a submission. Nelson, submission, round 2.
T.P. Grant: Gunnar is a really interesting talent. He is 25-years-old and he was a BJJ prodigy with a rise to black belt that rivals that of BJ Penn and Caio Terra. He made some noise in his short stay in competitive grappling, and has been fighting MMA now for almost 7 years. He takes long breaks from the sport to build up a skill, the most recent he was working on his wrestling. If he takes to wrestling as quickly as he did to jiu jitsu, the welterweight division might be in deep trouble. That all said, Gunnar's striking has not looked great despite his karate background, and while he is very skilled at the components of MMA, I've not seen him put it all together. As a result I feel Akhemdov is a pretty legitimate threat to Gunnar, he is pretty good at shifting between wrestling and striking and packs a real punch. He is also huge, and Gunnar is going to have likely work hard to get this fight down, but Gunnar is likely the far superior grappler, so as long as he stays out of trouble on the feet. Gunnar Nelson by Submission, Round 1.
Zane Simon: I'm really not high on Omari Akhmedov at all. Quite frankly I think that Thiago Perpetuo gave away a win over Akhmedov by charging in with reckless abandon. He definitely has power and timing, but that's not enough to consistently win fights in the UFC. He's not a great wrestler, he's not a great grappler and his combination striking is poor at best. Unless Nelson just can't stop himself from getting hit coming in, this is his fight to lose. Gunnar Nelson by Submission, Round 1.
Staff picking Akhmedov:
Staff picking Nelson: DSM, Patrick, Grant, Stephie, Mookie, Zane, Fraser, Iain, Tim, Dallas, Anton
Tim Burke: People are picking Latifi? Really? I don't care if this is Diabate's last fight or not, he's gonna whoop that 5'8 ass. Cyrille Diabate by TKO, round 1
Anton Tabuena: Latifi hasn't beaten anyone of note, and looked horrendous at his UFC debut. I don't care if Diabate is retiring, he was still at least good enough to beat 4 notable guys in his UFC career. Cyrille Diabate by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: Diabate won't know what hit him and who grabbed him. Ilir Latifi, death clutch, round 2.
Patrick Wyman: The fact that Diabate is still hanging around the UFC's light heavyweight division says a very great deal about its strength. Nobody's going to call Latifi a world-beater in the making, but he is a very solid wrestler with some pop in his hands. At this point in Diabate's career, I think that's enough to grind down the Snake, who's never had great takedown defense, and take a decision. Latifi, unanimous decision.
T.P. Grant: All the respect in the world to the Snake, Diabate is a true warrior. But the last time we saw him was over a year ago and he was getting taken apart by Manuwa and just looked done as a fighter. Diabate is now good enough on the ground not to get tapped by Latifi, but I think Latifi grinds this one out in a clunker. Ilir Latifi by Decision.
Zane Simon: Okay, okay Latifi is a better fighter than his first UFC fight showed... but how much better? Diabate isn't gunning for a title, but his UFC run has not been bad. Perosh loss notwithstanding he dropped a decision to Gustafsson and got injured fighting Manuwa. His last loss before that was to Shogun back in Pride. I'm not willing to bet that the wheels have fallen off his cart just yet and if he can beat Steve Cantwell and Luiz Cane, I think he can beat a pretty balse fighter in Ilir Latifi too. If Diabate is done, he's done, but I have to see it to believe it. Cyrille Diabate by Decision.
Fraser Coffeen: My feeling is that this is a close fight and a tough one to call. At 40, Dibate has clearly lost a step, but I don't think he's a shell of himself or anything,and he has enough veteran smarts and striking skills to be a challenge to most fighters. All that said, he just announced that this is his retirement fight, which makes me think it won't be the best performance we've seen from him. Ilir Latifi by decision
Staff picking Diabate: Zane, Iain, Tim, Dallas, Anton
Staff picking Latifi: Patrick, DSM, Mookie, Grant, Stephie, Fraser
Luke Barnatt vs. Mats Nilsson
Mookie Alexander: Did someone say Nilsson? Well here's Luke Barnatt's path to victory: "You put the lime in the coconut you drink them both up, you put the lime in the coconut you drink them both up." Luke Barnatt, unanimous decision.
Patrick Wyman: Barnatt has quietly shown signs of developing into a quality middleweight, using his height and reach to great advantage, demonstrating surprising power in his hands, and fighting at an exceptional pace. I watched some tape on Nilsson, a solid and well-rounded Swede with decent takedowns and an excellent top game. Barnatt, however, has shown really excellent takedown defense in his first two UFC bouts, and I have a hard time seeing how Nilsson wins this on the feet. Barnatt, unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Somewhere down the road someone is going to give Barnatt one hell of a chin check. Maybe a fighter like Yoel Romero or Lorenz Larkin. But, until that day comes, Barnatt is a very solid and improving middleweight who shows solid power, improving standup and a really vicious clinch game. Nilsson is definitely one of the better wrestler/grapplers on the European circuit, but I think Barnatt's great use of his size and leverage against the cage will neutralize Nilsson's effective ground skills. And Nilsson just doesn't have much of a striking game on his feet at all. I won't be shocked if Nilsson comes out, bully's Barnatt down and subs him or pounds him out, but I have a much easier time seeing Barnatt keep this standing where he can do some real damage. Luke Barnatt by TKO, Round 1.
Staff picking Barnatt: DSM, Patrick, Grant, Stephie, Mookie, Zane, Fraser, Iain, Tim, Dallas, Anton
Staff picking Nilsson:
T.P. Grant: SUPA FIGHT LEEEEG!!!!!! Claudio Henrique da Silva by Boom, Pow, Punch, Kick, WOW! Round 1
Patrick Wyman: Scott doesn't project as a world-beater, but neither does da Silva, who's older, hasn't fought in a year and a half, and has faced much weaker competition. Scott, unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Brad Scott is definitely a better fighter than he looks. He's not a bad striker and is great in clinch transitions looking for subs and strikes. Henrique da Silva is very much a skill player. He's a clinging grappler and an aggressive submission hunter, but he's a terrible striker and his takedown game lacks depth and nuance. Frankly I don't think he's ready for this level of competition and is going to get beat up by Scott. Brad Scott by Unanimous Decision.
Staff picking Scott: Patrick, Mookie, Zane, Fraser, Dallas, Anton
Staff picking Da Silva: DSM, Grant, Stephie, Iain, Tim
Mookie Alexander: I am very confident in Roland Delorme beating Davey Grant, who seems so low in confidence that "Grant" isn't even picking himself to win this one (see below). Roland Delorme by submission, round 1.
Patrick Wyman: I didn't see anything in Grant's game to make me think he's going to stick around for a while. He likes to grapple, but there's every reason to think Delorme should have the advantage in that category. Delorme, submission, round 1.
Zane Simon: I was actually pretty impressed by Grant's power and aggression when he fought Chris Holdsworth. He has a wealth of submission wins, but he looked like he could have a pretty devastating muay thai arsenal if he put some real work into it. Unfortunately for him, while he does possess a clear advantage in one area (there are few UFC strikers more hittable than Delorme), he is the vastly inferior grappler and wrestler. Delorme is a gritty fighter who knows how to take a beating and stick to his guns. He'll get Grant down, and sub him out here, even if he has to take some shots to do it. Roland Delorme by Submission.
Staff picking Delorme: DSM, Grant, Mookie, Stephie, Patrick, Zane, Fraser, Iain, Tim, Anton
Staff picking Grant: Dallas
Zane Simon: A loss to Colton Smith (and a generally poor overall performance) cooled a lot of people to Araujo as an even halfway decent fighter, but truthfully he's been a picture of midlevel consistency over his career. His only loss in the past five years is to Rashid Magomedov, who showed his talent in the UFC just recently. Araujo is a large, aggressive takedown and grappling fighter with decent striking. Mitchell is too, but has fewer range tools and is a bit better with his knees and elbows in the clinch. I think both guys are going to want this fight on the ground though, and while Mitchell is a bit flashier (he loves flying submissions) I don't think he's as technical or as consistent. Igor Araujo by Decision.
Staff picking Araujo: Grant, Zane, Patrick, Mookie, Fraser, Tim, Dallas, Anton
Staff picking Mitchell: DSM, Iain
Patrick Wyman: Don't be fooled by the fact that the official UFC rankings have Gaudinot at 11. He's ridiculously hittable: Lineker and Bedford beat him up in ways that would shame rented mules and red-headed stepchildren. More worryingly, he doesn't generate a ton of his own offense, and his takedown defense has been terrible. Harris hasn't looked nearly as bad against comparable competition, and while he's not a world-beater by any means, I think his wrestling and top control should be good enough to ride out a decision. Harris, unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: As Wyman said, when Gaudinot gets beat, he tends to get beat bad, but he also only tends to lose to much larger fighters. Both Bedford and Elliott had serious size on Gaudinot and while Lineker may have given him a bit of a drubbing he still lost. Harris isn't high output, he's not large and he's a not a marvelous wrestler. I think Gaudinot can do enough to keep himself upright and will be the more active striker against a fighter who just doesn't have the right tools for this matchup. Louis Gaudinot by Decision.
Staff picking Gaudinot: Zane, Fraser, Tim, Dallas
Staff picking Harris: DSM, Patrick, Grant, Stephie, Mookie, Iain, Anton