Anton Tabuena: I think Bagautinov can cause some serious problems if he employs a clinch and wrestling-centric game plan, but it's hard to pick against a guy who just has the more complete and diverse skill set. Demetrious Johnson by Decision.
Mookie Alexander: Speed kills and Mighty Mouse has loads of it in addition to his development as a great fighter anywhere the fight takes place. His striking has improved (as evidenced by the shock Benavidez KO), his transitions on the ground are so fluid that opponents don't even have time to counter, and his wrestling is the best in the division. Bagautinov is a really good fighter and has power in his strikes, but Mighty Mouse is just so much better than most of the division. And selfishly, I really want to see Mighty Mouse vs. Dodson 2, so this result accomplishes it. Demetrious Johnson by unanimous decision.
Iain Kidd: As much as I love Bagautinov's Sambo stylings, DJ is just too well rounded and too quick here. I expect there to be a few very close rounds, but that DJ will pull away in the later rounds
Kyle McLachlan: Mighty Mouse phase shifts a lot more smoothly than Bagautinov, and offers more output with his crisp striking as well as having the clear speed advantage. The Dagestani appears to have the heavier whallop (Benavidez II excepted), but his striking is distributed more sporadically, and even then he appears to fade as the fight goes on. It might be that while Ali is waiting to get his timing down on his overhand right that Demetrious is taking him down and working him over. The safe bet is that Johnson takes a hard fought decision and pulls away in the championship rounds, but he might just overwhelm Bagautinov as the fight goes on. Johnson Unanimous Decision
Patrick Wyman: "The Puncher King" is a legitimate threat to Mighty Mouse's reign of terror, and I think the betting lines (as high as +500) aren't giving him nearly enough credit for his well-rounded game and ridiculously powerful right hand. With that said, it's easy to see why Johnson is the favorite here. He should own the striking at range with his volume, movement, and control of angles, he has the far quicker wrestling shot, and he's probably the superior grappler and scrambler as well. Where this gets interesting is at close range and in the clinch. Bagautinov has a dramatic edge in punching power and throws beautifully in transitions and on clinch breaks, and he's perfectly capable of ending Johnson's night with one overhand or uppercut from his vicious right. The smart pick is Johnson by unanimous decision given his greater output and ability to push the pace, but don't sleep on Bagautinov.
Paul Gift: Ditto Patrick's Bagautinov comments except taken just a little further. Bags at 53.4%.
Dallas Winston: Personally, I think deeming Bagautinov "the number-one contender" is kinda flimsy as he's just the most "sensible" contender at the moment. I'm not saying he doesn't deserve a shot but decisions over Lineker and Elliott don't compare to the footprints that true top-contenders like Benavidez and Dodson have left in the division. Barring that right hand sneaking through, DJ is superior in all aspects. Demetrious Johnson by late submission.
Fraser Coffeen: Been watching a lot of both guys in the lead up to this, and I'm just not seeing Bagautinov as a huge threat. He's a solid, above average fighter - like an Alexander Shlemenko level. Johnson is fast approaching #1 in the world. Mismatch is far too strong a word, but this doesn't feel like a huge threat to Johnson. Yes there's the power, but I actually think Bagautinov's best shot is to outwrestle Mighty Mouse, as that has been the one area where he has struggled before. Of course, all of this means the real result will be Bagautinov KO 1, but I'll be logical here. Demetrious Johnson by decision
Staff picking Johnson: Mookie, Iain, Kyle, Patrick, DSM, Karim, Dallas, Fraser, Stephie, Tim, Zane, Anton
Staff picking Bagautinov: Paul
Tim Burke: Woodley can't blanket Rory or box with him. Rory MacDonald by decision.
Anton Tabuena: I think Woodley's constant threat of a takedown coupled with his power will make this a real stiff test for Rory. Macdonald has all the tools to win though, as I think he is the more complete fighter, but if he stays tentative once again, he will lose this one. Tough tough pick, but I'm going for the (slight) upset, Tyron Woodley by Decision.
Mookie Alexander: I'm sold on Woodley's improvement and don't hold it against him that the Condit fight ended in a knee injury TKO. He was winning up until that point and was cracking Condit plenty of times. For as much as Joe Rogan harps on Rory's striking, he routinely fails to string together combinations and the height of his game is really his jab and body kicks. I don't expect Woodley to be befuddled by a jab like Ellenberger has been on two separate occasions, and I don't think this one goes to the ground. The power edge is Woodley's and my only concern about this fight is that Woodley becomes inactive and tries to look for single shots and we end up with an uneventful fight. Tyron Woodley, TKO, round 2.
Iain Kidd: Woodley has been super impressive, and Rory Mac hasn't quite lived up to his world-beating potential in his last few fights, but I think at this point Rory is still just that little bit better than Woodley. I anticipate a close fight either way, though.
Kyle McLachlan: Such a horrible fight to pick. Rory has a solid and consistent jab but I can see Woodley coming over it with his right hand, and Woodley is far more explosive out of the two. Rory seems able to absorb a beating, as Condit and Lawler had to chip away at him in the third round to get the win. This could really go either way but I think Rory's best bet is to revert to his older form and put the pressure on Woodley, push him back and nullify his power. I'll say Rory overcomes a few scares and wins a close one. Rory MacDonald via Decision
Patrick Wyman: Given both fighters' outstanding takedown defense - 94 percent for Woodley and 88 for MacDonald - the fight is almost certain to take place on the feet. If Rory made any effort to control the furthest edges of striking distance with low kicks, I'd lean toward him here, but he throws at most one or two a fight. That means that this fight is going to take place at the fringes of boxing range, where Rory can work his jab and kicks to the body and head. Unfortunately for MacDonald, that's also within striking distance for Woodley, and the American Top Team product has the edge in speed and explosiveness necessary to get his drastically more powerful shots off first. This is a coin-flip fight, but I'll take Woodley by unanimous decision.
Dallas Winston: MacDonald's range striking was excellent against Condit and Ellenberger, but neither presented the threat of phase shifting/takedowns. MacDonald's TDD was excellent against Maia because he had little to fear on the feet. Who is the best and/or most credentialed wrestler that Rory's faced? It's probably Maia. He's never encountered a wrestler even close to Woodley's caliber and, in addition, Woodley's developed serious and quickly unhinged power on his feet. It's obviously a competitive fight but the on-paper mechanics favor Woodley. Tyron Woodley by decision.
Staff picking MacDonald: Iain, Kyle, Paul, Fraser. Tim
Staff picking Woodley: Mookie, Patrick, DSM, Karim, Dallas, Stephie, Zane, Anton
Anton Tabuena: I look at it this way, Bader will probably strike with a superior striker, and he will run in all sorts of trouble. Rafael Cavalcante by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: Bader isn't a bad boxer by any means, but Feijao is way better than him on the feet. He's also got incredible takedown defense that should leave the bulk of this fight contested standing. So it's up to Feijao to not gas and to not get his chin blasted by the one strike Bader is capable of landing at a consistent rate (a thudding right hand). Rafael Feijao, KO, round 1.
Iain Kidd: If you look at the guys Cavalcante has lost to, Bader is pretty much at the same level. I think he'll be too much for JZ to handle over 3 rounds, though the first round should have some fireworks.
Kyle McLachlan: It's clear that Feijao's window is in the first round. He's the much more diverse and technical striker and Bader's defence has more holes than a chunk of Swiss cheese. Still, if Bader goes in with a smart gameplan as he did against Hippo, he will likely tire Feijao out. Feijao KO Round 1
Patrick Wyman: All credit to Bader, who's finally starting to come into his own on the feet, but this is a horrendous matchup for him. Feijao has always had excellent takedown defense, which means this is likely to end up a striking contest, and in that phase there's no question as to who holds the technical advantage. Bader isn't the kind of guy who can really push a pace and wear out Feijao, either. Both guys have a questionable ability to absorb punishment, but Bader's chin is more likely to crack first in a slugging match. Feijao, KO, round 2.
Dallas Winston: I would add that Bader's shown much more than a right hand, as he was piecing together fluid 3-4 punch combos with both hands against Lil' Nog. His athleticism and intelligence might also pave the way for a strategy that entails avoiding exchanges from range, but that will drastically emphasize his entries and the footwork, feints and head movement associated with it. Typically, he's just lulled strikers into a firefight before surprising them with a duck-under takedown, and Feijao should be well equipped to stifle the gist of his attempts and exploit his advantage on the feet. Feijao by TKO.
Staff picking Bader: Iain, DSM, Paul, Karim, Fraser, Zane
Staff picking Feijao: Mookie, Kyle, Patrick, Dallas, Stephie, Tim, Anton
Anton Tabuena: Arlovski has a slowly diminishing skill set, which was pretty evident even during his fights outside the Zuffa banner on the past couple of years. He should match up stylistically well against Schaub which should make it more interesting, but I am really having a hard time trying to justify picking Arlovski in 2014. Brendan Schaub by Decision.
Mookie Alexander: Pretty simple to me. Arlovski is likely not going to be taken down and held at will so this becomes a striking battle. Both men have huge problems defensively and Schaub has the worse chin. It's ending in a KO either way and I'll favor Arlovski in this one just on his historical prowess as a striker. Andrei Arlovski winning a UFC fight in 2014 is my everything. Andrei Arlovski, KO, round 1.
Kyle McLachlan: As per Bader-Feijao, this fight is hard to pick because of each fighters deficiencies. I can see Arlovski playing it safety first in the hope a victory will secure him a future engagement with the UFC. Arlovski UD
Patrick Wyman: Schaub's transformation into a Metamoris-level grappler aside, this is another fight that's likely to end up a striking match given Arlovski's historically-excellent takedown defense. In that case, it's basically another coin flip as to whose chin will crack first. I think that'll be Schaub. Arlovski, KO, round 2.
Dallas Winston: While many fans are in "LOL Arlovski" mode, he's extremely athletic for his size and has quite a proven and diverse skill set: technical boxing/kickboxing, sound TDD, savvy submission grappling and he was a Sambo champion nearly a decade before it was trendy. Schaub has always enjoyed at least one glaring advantage in his marquee wins, i.e. takedowns/grappling against Mitrione, Lavar and Mirko. He'll have the edge in takedown prowess here and also, of course, the ability to catch AA standing, but that's not enough to overcome AA's aforementioned advantages. Andrei Arlovski by decision.
Staff picking Arlovski: Mookie, Iain, Kyle, Patrick, Dallas, Fraser, Stephie, Tim
Staff picking Schaub: DSM, Karim, Zane, Anton
Tim Burke: This fight won't even happen. Jimmo will hurt his leg doing the 70's sprinkler dance or some other stupid shit on the way to the cage and tap out on Stitch Duran's shoulder. OSP by not being Jimmo.
Mookie Alexander: Whatever Tim just wrote, I agree with it.by something, round 2.
Kyle McLachlan: There's the chance that Jimmo can slow OSP down. In Strikeforce OSP fluttered from looking like a destroyer of men to an admirer of his own work, and Jimmo has a way of stifling his opposition to a stalemate. Neither has much of a sub game, and both are strong physical presences, which might be the reason Jimmo can't consistently shut down OSP's offence. I'd prefer OSP to win that's for sure. Might be a stinker, though St-Preux has looked good thus far in the UFC. OSP via decision
Patrick Wyman: I don't want to go too far overboard, but I think Saint Preux is finally becoming the fighter a lot of us thought he'd be back in Strikeforce. He's unquestionably the better athlete - how many guys can hit a high kick to double-leg combo? - but as Kyle pointed out, Jimmo's ability to slow the fight down and make it ugly could take over. I doubt it, though. OSP, unanimous decision.
Dallas Winston: I concur with Wyman's opening comment. Usually, when Jimmo "slows the fight down," he does so in the clinch where OSP's phenomenal strength and athleticism will make that a tall order. I think Jimmo's best bet is to keep OSP on the fringe but I'm not sure he has the movement, footwork, TDD and/or discipline to win the fight with that strategy. My biggest concern is the offensive potency of OSP, meaning he has the physicality to control the fight but perhaps not the weaponry to capitalize. Jimmo is also deceivingly rugged in the clinch but I envision him spending most of that time defending. OSP by decision.
Staff picking Jimmo: Paul
Staff picking OSP: Mookie, Iain, Kyle, Patrick, DSM, Karim, Dallas, Fraser, Stephie, Tim, Zane, Anton
Anton Tabuena: Even the Japanese people I spoke to were pretty surprised that Kunimoto made it to the UFC, as they really don't hold him to high regard as the other Japanese prospects. Sarafian by Decision.
Mookie Alexander: This has to be one of the single worst "prelim headliners" the UFC has ever had for a PPV. Glad that Sarafian moved down to 170 but otherwise this fight holds little interest for me. All I've seen of Kunimoto is him get elbowed illegally so many times that Luiz Dutra should've been immediately cut in addition to the DQ. Daniel Sarafian by unanimous decision.
Kyle McLachlan: Kunimoto did not look brilliant against Dutra, and lacks the strength to deal with Sarafian, who looks like a Sherman tank at 170lbs. Sarafian SUB 1 (RNC).
Dallas Winston: I love having a JMMA presence in the UFC, but Kunimoto is such an odd candidate. He's tough as nails and there's no quit in him, but he simply lacks the offensive firepower to threaten Sarafian, who should be a brick shit-house at 170. Daniel Sarafian by TKO.
Staff picking Kunimoto:
Staff picking Sarafian: Mookie, Iain, Patrick, DSM, Kyle, Karim, Dallas, Fraser, Stephie, Tim, Zane, Anton
Staff picking Letourneau: Mookie, Karim, Dallas, Fraser, Stephie, Anton
Staff picking Phillips: Iain, Tim, Zane
Mookie Alexander: Easton's top 10 ranking is 100% unjustifiable. He's got 3 UFC wins and 2 of them came against Byron Bloodworth and Jared Papazian, neither of whom won a UFC fight. Every fighter in the top 10 he's faced he's lost to and I think any hope of Easton being a contender has sailed. That said, Jabouin is on a rough decline and if not for a very contestable decision against Dustin Pague, he should probably be on a losing streak. Easton is the better fighter and he'll get the win. Mike Easton by unanimous decision.
Kyle McLachlan: Easton's chance to be a legitimate contender has been and gone, but while Jabouin is the far cleaner and diverse striker, he's also much smaller and doesn't have enough pop to keep ‘The Hulk' off of him. Easton Unanimous Decision
Staff picking Easton: Mookie, Kyle, Patrick, DSM, Paul, Karim, Dallas, Fraser, Stephie, Tim, Zane, Anton
Staff picking Jabouin: Iain
Anton Tabuena: I wasn't impressed with bang during his UFC debut, but Johnson wasn't that spectacular either, so I'm going with the gritty Korean. Tae Hyun Bang by Decision.
Kyle McLachlan: Johnson will have the height and reach advantage, but Bang is scrappy and I can't get the image of Johnson getting wrecked on TUF out of my head. Bang TKO3
Staff picking Johnson: Iain, DSM, Zane
Staff picking Bang: Mookie, Kyle, Karim, Dallas, Fraser, Patrick, Stephie, Tim, Anton
Anton Tabuena: Regardless of the outcome, Michinori has a bright future and is truly one of Japan's brightest prospects. He has good wrestling, and while he tends to lose position when frantically going for submissions, he more than makes up for it with smooth and fantastic scrambling ability. There's a case to be made that a guy like Delorme could be too much too soon for the 23-year-old, but Tanaka improves massively every time, and I think the former PXC champ can get over the hump. Michinori Tanaka by Decision.
Kyle McLachlan: Tanaka seems like a mini-Gomi on the feet, quite loose and not particularly slick but a lot of feints and activity. Lacking pop though, he makes up for it with a good shot and a solid top game, particularly in transitioning to submissions. He'll gladly rain down leather on his man if he doesn't see the opportunity, and works hard.
Delorme has already shown himself to be a solid grappler himself, and I'll always hesitate in picking against him after he annihilated Nick Denis, who I was quite high on. All in all a perfect entry fight for a relatively unproven undefeated prospect. I'll edge towards Tanaka, he's gone five rounds twice and looks like he can survive Delorme, but this should be a pretty good fight I think. Tanaka via decision
Patrick Wyman: I scouted Tanaka for my prospect series and I'm pretty high on his long-term potential. He's young, athletic, and has a beautiful right hand to go along with ultra-quick takedowns and some smooth scrambling ability. Unfortunately, he's given up a massive amount of size to Delorme, which should hamper his preferred grappling game, and at this point in his career I'm not certain that Tanaka can win a fight on the feet against a bigger, longer, much more experienced guy. Tanaka will have an awesome career when he drops to flyweight, but Delorme will be too much for him. Delorme, submission, round 2.
Staff picking Delorme: Iain, Patrick, DSM, Mookie, Karim, Fraser, Stephie, Tim, Zane
Staff picking Tanaka: Kyle, Dallas, Anton
Tim Burke: Never underestimate the power of a yogi. Jason Saggo by submission.
Staff picking Saggo: Mookie, Tim, Zane
Staff picking Shockley: Iain, DSM, Karim, Dallas, Fraser, Patrick, Stephie, Anton