Mookie Alexander: I really don't buy Jeremy Stephens as an elite featherweight. He's confirmed as a top 10-15 guy, but Swanson's improvements over the past few years far exceed any improvements Stephens has shown. Cub is the better striker, grappler, and as much as Stephens' power gets lauded, Cub has shown fantastic finishing skills in the UFC. He's beaten much better opposition and in convincing fashion, and I don't see much of a reason to go against him barring Stephens' doing that Shoryuken uppercut thing again. Cub Swanson by TKO, round 2.
Anton Tabuena: This bout is much closer than what most people think. Stephens has looked really good since dropping to featherweight, and while he has holes in his overall game, this bout will likely be contested in the feet for the most part, and that negates a lot of his shortcomings. Swanson is obviously the safer pick, but Stephens is more than capable of stopping him on the feet. Tough choice, but I'm going with the upset. Jeremy Stephens by TKO.
Zane Simon: Jeremy Stephens has definitely turned a corner in his MMA career, and is probably fighting at the height of his ability right now. But does that make him good enough to beat Cub Swanson... I'm not so sure. Stephens got hit by Darren Elkins a lot, certainly a lot more than he needed to, and he showed an old trait that could easily come back to haunt him. Stephens tends to freeze up a bit when he gets hit hard, and can take a little while to clear the cobwebs. Swanson not only hits hard, but his aggression makes him primed to take advantage in any lapses in Stephens' game. Cub Swanson by TKO, Round 3.
Patrick Wyman: As Zane pointed out, Stephens is in his prime right now, and he's shown real and demonstrable improvement in his game since cutting to 145 and moving to Alliance. This is basically a coin-flip fight to me - I don't buy Swanson as a -260 favorite - but I'm leaning Swanson on the basis of his diversity on the feet, dynamic and surprisingly well-timed takedowns, and superior grappling ability. The fact that he's very hard to hit cleanly seals the deal. At any rate, however, I expect this to be a back-and-forth barnburner with Swanson edging it out. Swanson, unanimous decision.
Kyle McLachlan: This is Stephens' straight-up, basic but effective kickboxing game versus Swanson's awkward, explosive striking. Stephens is the more patient of the two, and he might find the opportunity to crack Cub, but while he's waiting he'll be getting beat up from all angles. I'll take Cub to get through some rough patches and knock Stephens out late. Swanson, KO, round 4.
Staff picking Swanson: Patrick, Zane, Mookie, DSM, Stephie, Kyle, Tim, Fraser, Paul
Staff picking Stephens: Anton
Kelvin Gastelum vs. Nicholas Musoke
Mookie Alexander: By no means a mismatch, but Gastelum's striking has improved significantly and he has the power to crack the quite crackable Mustoke, who was fortunate that Viscardi Andrade prematurely celebrated what he thought was a KO win. Kelvin Gastelum by TKO, round 2.
Patrick Wyman: More than a few people have referred to this fight as a squash match, and they shouldn't: Musoke is a talented, up-and-coming welterweight with legitimate wrestling and grappling skills, and Gastelum is still pretty raw. With that said, the TUF winner possesses incredible physical gifts, and Musoke can't hope to equal Gastelum's speed, power, and explosiveness. He'll need to slow Gastelum down in the clinch and utilize a steady stream of takedowns, and while he could theoretically take a decision with that strategy, I don't think he can do it for all three rounds without eating a few big shots along the way. Musoke doesn't have a great chin or even solid defensive skills on the feet - he was wobbled by Sakara and knocked down by Viscardi Andrade - and I think that comes back to haunt him here. Gastelum, KO, round 2.
Zane Simon: This isn't so much a squash match as it is a big step back from Rick Story for Kelvin Gastelum. And as noted, Musoke has some big problems with striking defense. Given that Gastelum has a lot of power and a lot more tools than either Sakara or Andrade, I see an early knockdown that leads to an early stoppage in this one. Kelvin Gastelum by KO, Round 1.
Kyle McLachlan: This will be fireworks while it lasts. Musoke went life and death with Sakara and Andrade, and seems to have a slick enough ground game, but Gastelum fights like a Team Alpha Male fighter; good hands, strong wrestling, great phase shifter and quick to snatch up a sub when the fight hits the mat. His boxing looked great against Story, and he showed he has the toughness and powers of recovery to get through any bad spots. Musoke just seems to wing it on the feet, so I'll go for Gastelum, who I'm high on, to stop him. Gastelum, TKO, round 2
Staff picking Gastelum: Patrick, Anton, Zane, Mookie, DSM, Stephie, Kyle, Tim, Fraser
Staff picking Musoke:
Mookie Alexander: This is not a main card caliber fight even on FS1. So let me just tell everyone that I keep thinking Andrew Craig is the guy currently playing James Bond. I'll pick him since Ferreira looks to be lumped in the same bucket as the rest of the underwhelming TUF Brazil 1 cast. Andrew Craig by decision.
Patrick Wyman: Craig has managed to build a nice career on the basis of excellent athleticism and relatively limited technical ability, but there's a hard ceiling on how good he can be without massive skill improvement. Given that Ferreira can easily match his physical tools with better technical skill in every department, it's hard not to pick him. I think he takes a decision that features a little bit of striking, a little bit of clinching, and some work from top position. Mutante, unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: This is an ugly fight, between two middle of the road 185ers that I'm just not all that thrilled by. Mutante is the better, stronger fighter here, but he also seems to get really stuck in modes where he's either striking or grappling. Craig is no striking wizard, but he's shown that if he can hang around long enough he has the ability to make something happen. Still, I expect Mutante to come out with a point to prove and use Craig to prove it. Cezar Ferreira by submission, round 2.
Staff picking Craig: Mookie, Paul
Staff picking Mutante: Patrick, Anton, Zane, DSM, Stephie, Kyle, Tim, Fraser
Zane Simon: Hacran Dias is in a weird place. A highly touted recruit upon signing, he was good enough to take out an undersized Iuri Alcantara at 145, but struggled mightily to find space against Nik Lentz, in much the same way everyone seems to. At the end of the day, Dias is probably a borderline top 15 talent, but a matchup against Ricardo Lamas, coming off the biggest loss of his career, is probably not going to help Dias show his skill. I expect this to get ugly and stay ugly for Dias in a decision loss. Ricardo Lamas by Decision.
Patrick Wyman: I'll go a step further than Zane and say that this is a weird matchup, period, with a lot of potential to turn into an ugly, boring fight between two fighters who don't produce much offense in any phase. Lamas gets a very slight edge in the wrestling and the striking departments, while Dias is a better grappler and probably a slightly better clinch fighter. I'm not sold on Lamas as a top-5 or even necessarily a top-10 featherweight, but I'm even less sold on Dias, so I guess it's Lamas by decision.
Kyle McLachlan: Lamas is a slow starter, but barring Dias doing something crazy from the bottom, I think Lamas will grind on him, and pound on him through the second and third rounds. Lamas by decision
Staff picking Dias: Tim
Staff picking Lamas: Patrick, Anton, Zane, Mookie, DSM, Stephie, Kyle, Fraser
Patrick Wyman: This is an intriguing matchup between two talented young middleweights. The battle lines are clear: Hester is the much better striker, while Braga Neto is obviously the far superior grappler. Hester's takedown defense has been decent if not outstanding, but it'll have to be picture-perfect here if he's going to avoid Braga Neto's venomous submission game. Although a single shot from Hester could end the fight at any time, I think that's asking too much. Braga Neto, submission, round 1.
Zane Simon: I'm less sure Antonio Braga Neto wins this than I am sure that I want him to win it. He's one of the more exciting middleweight prospects in the UFC, and injury has robbed me of getting to see him work. At this point in Hester's career, I'm just not seeing any of the improvement I'd hoped to see out of him and he often seems to coast in easy fights until he gets caught. Basically, he fights down to his opponent's level. If his output were higher, or his striking more dominant, I might take him, but I think Braga Neto will go after him and drag him down for the submission. Antonio Braga Neto by submission, round 2.
Kyle McLachlan: Hester is as one dimensional as they come, but what power he possesses. Neto is likely to take Hester down and sub him, but I get a funny feeling Hester will continue to ride the wave. Hester, by knockout, round 1
Staff picking Hester: Kyle
Staff picking Braga Neto: Patrick, Anton, Zane, Mookie, DSM, Stephie, Tim, Fraser
Mookie Alexander: It's come to this, folks. Colton Smith is the lead-in prelim to the main card. Carlos Diego Ferreira by submission, round 3.
Zane Simon: In some ways, Ferreira is the prototypical BJJ black belt in MMA, in that he mostly fights like Jiu Jitsu is a last resort. Obviously, it's not quite that bad, as a run of submission wins shows, but he has a habit for all out brawling using a wide variety of kicks and punches to overwhelm opponents and then jump on submission opportunities. Against really good strikers this might be a problem, against someone like Smith, who's mostly looking to grapple, it's probably a solution. Carlos Diego Ferreira by decision.
Staff picking Ferreira: Patrick, Anton, Zane, Mookie, DSM, Stephie, Kyle. Fraser, Tim
Staff picking Smith:
Patrick Wyman: Gibson had an entertaining and highly competitive debut with uber-prospect Aljamain Sterling on extremely short notice, and the long, rangy bantamweight showed flashes of real talent in the loss. Bedford has made a pretty solid career out of bullying much smaller fighters with his size and clinch skill, and I don't think he'll have either of those advantages here. Gibson is a skilled and sneaky wrestler with a great repertoire of trips and throws, and Bedford's emphasis on the inside game plays right into that. Gibson will work his takedown game and eventually snag an opportunistic submission in transition. Gibson, submission (guillotine), round 2.
Zane Simon: Cody Gibson isn't way smaller than Johnny Bedford, so he probably has a good chance of putting a beating on him. Cody Gibson by decision.
Staff picking Bedford: Anton, DSM, Tim, Fraser
Staff picking Gibson: Patrick, Zane, Mookie, Stephie, Kyle
Zane Simon: Ugh... can't say I'm enthused for this at all. Enz is strong in top control when he gets there, but his fight with Hester showed that he doesn't have many tools to get there. His striking is incredibly raw and without serious takedown offense that basically leaves him looking for luck. Guimaraes is more capable than that, if not by a whole lot. Marcelo Guimaraes by decision.
Staff picking Enz: Anton, DSM, Kyle
Staff picking Guimaraes: Patrick, Zane, Mookie, Stephie, Tim, Fraser
Patrick Wyman: Borg showed flashes of incredible talent in his contentious debut loss to Dustin Ortiz. Howell's been on a nice little run lately, but there's no reason to think that he's on Borg's level athletically or in terms of his overall skills. Borg, submission, round 2.
Zane Simon: Howell strikes me as one of those fighters who is big on heart, and works really hard, but probably lacks a lot of the pure athletic gifts needed for top end competition. Add on to that that he doesn't really seem to transition well between his skills and I think he's going to end up being a showcase win for Borg. Ray Borg by assimilation, round 1.
Kyle McLachlan: Borg has been more active, and looked good on short notice against Ortiz. Really good. Borg is gonna' destroy Howell methinks. Ray Borg, somehow, round 1.
Staff picking Borg: Patrick, Anton, Zane, Mookie, DSM, Stephie, Kyle, Tim, Fraser
Staff picking Howell:
Zane Simon: I'm really unconvinced that Hamilton can use his size well enough and consistently enough to wear Oliynyk out. And if he can't Olynik has the power in his hands to make Hamilton wary and the wrestling and grappling to submit him. Hamilton is much larger, so the opportunities for him to land something big or really impose his size are there, but I have yet to see anything out of him that suggests he will take advantage of that. Oleksiy Oliynyk by submission, round 2.
Staff picking Hamilton: Patrick
Staff picking Oliynyk: Anton, Zane, Mookie, DSM, Stephie, Kyle, Tim, Fraser