Mookie Alexander: I don't want to outright say that the UFC wants Khabilov to win, but Henderson is dangerously close to becoming a bottleneck at lightweight much as Fitch and Okami were in their weight classes. Henderson has stopped being "exciting Bendo" from the WEC and his early UFC fights, and my biggest takeaway from his showing against Josh Thomson is that Anthony Pettis is just so much better than him right now. That said, has Henderson fallen off so badly that he could lose to someone who is fringe top 15? Mayyyyybe. For Khabilov to win he has to avoid letting Henderson slow the pace down and making it a clinch-fest against the cage. While I'm not sold on Khabilov being able to suplex Bendo like he has with everyone else, Henderson's striking just hasn't developed and he might have problems with Khabilov's attacks, particularly his kicks. I don't expect a thriller, but I do expect a very tactical fight with exciting moments. What's holding me back from confidently picking Khabilov is that he's never been past round 3 while Henderson has boatloads of 5 round fights, so this is a real test of Rustam's cardio and pacing. I'll go with Rustam to start out strong and hold on in the later rounds. Rustam Khabilov by 48-47 unanimous decision.
Patrick Wyman: Trashing Bendo after his last performance against Thomson is the fashionable thing to do right now, and with good reason. His output in takedowns, submission attempts, and strikes thrown has dropped drastically since his first bout with Frankie Edgar, with only the Diaz fight standing as an exception to the general trend: for all the talk of his endless cardio, he certainly doesn't fight like he has an unlimited gas tank. More importantly, for a relatively young guy who should still be getting better from fight to fight, Henderson seems like he's stopped improving. Khabilov, on the other hand, is showing new skills every time out. He's a hell of a wrestler and grappler, and he's also a nicely developing and diverse striker with big power in his shots, all of which is complemented by his plus speed and athleticism. If Bendo comes out looking like he has for the vast majority of the last two years - i.e. working at a slow pace without doing much to try to finish even when the opportunities are there - he's going to get beaten by a more dynamic fighter, and I think that's exactly what's going to happen here. Khabilov, unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: This is sort of the ultimate test of Khabilov, who, up until his win over Jorge Masvidal, had struck me as something of a one trick poney. I'm not yet entirely sure that that isn't still the truth, his win over Masvidal was impressive, but felt in part, like a condemnation of Masvidal's tendency to let his opponent dictate the range and pace of the fight. Khabilov was able to force Masvidal into a pace that suited his style, I'm not sure that Henderson will be so easily forced off his game. Essentially, and inevitably, I think I'm going to have to say the same thing that I said going into his fight with Josh Thomson. Henderson knows how to win in the UFC, even when fans don't think he deserves to. And I think this is another notch in that belt. Benson Henderson by contested decision.
Anton Tabuena: Khabilov has massive potential, but at this point, I still think Bendo is the more polished and well-rounded fighter. It will probably still end up being close, but I believe Khabilov still isn't at Bendo's level just yet, and the former champ will have all the tools to end up with the victory. Ben Henderson by Decision.
Staff picking Bendo: Zane, DSM, Karim, Tim, Fraser, Dallas, Anton
Staff picking Khabilov: Patrick, Iain, Mookie, Stephie
Tim Burke: Pearson doesn't handle pressure very well, and it might be the only thing Diego's really good at anymore. I think he can actually beat Pearson. Barring any tartare issues. Diego Sanchez by decision.
Mookie Alexander: Well damn. I thought I was going to pick Pearson to destroy Diego, but I needed to give this some (over)thought. Sanchez's losses in the past 2-3 years have been to established top 10 fighters -- I know, Gomi beat him, but I can't use that for this argument -- which Pearson is decidedly not. Pearson is a really good boxer, but he's not a particularly quick starter and Diego thrives off of chaos and fast-paced fighting, which I'm not sure Pearson has really conquered. I'm going with a stupid pick (and it's Tim's fault if I'm wrong) and riding on Diego to win over the judges one more time. Diego Sanchez by split decision.
Anton Tabuena: As I mentioned on twitter, at -155, betting on Pearson is a massive steal as this is a pretty easy fight to pick. Diego is on a crazy downfall, and I don't think he has much left in the tank these days. He always "brings it" and still makes for entertaining bouts, but the guy has been out struck and battered by all but one guy (Paulo Thiago) he faced since 2009. His game is very predictable, and I don't think he will be able to out-strike or hold Pearson down for 15 mins. This is why I can't believe that in 2014, people are still predicting (and betting) that his robot punches will eventually triumph over actual legit striking. I think this will look exactly like every single Diego bout for the past 5 years, with him eating a bunch of punches while holding on to the hope that judges reward him for his ineffective 'aggression'. Ross Pearson by Unanimous Decision.
Patrick Wyman: This seems pretty straightforward to me. Diego's going to come straight at Pearson throwing shots and shooting takedowns with no setup, Pearson's going to use his fine circular footwork and excellent takedown defense to avoid them, and he'll take a decision on volume and superior technical striking. It's time to accept the fact that Diego's best days are years in the past. Pearson, unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: I will be very sad if Diego wins this fight. He's been getting by for quite a while now on reputation, volume, and chin, but more and more that seems to be a losing proposition. Jury exposed that, even in a pretty uninspiring performance, it's not that hard to outpoint the Diego Sanchez of today. Pearson has all the tools he needs, which is really just his boxing. Diego's not going to be filling any of the holes he's had for years now, so it's just up to Pearson to exploit them. Ross Pearson by decision.
Staff picking Pearson: Patrick, Zane, Iain, DSM, Fraser, Dallas, Anton
Staff picking Sanchez: Mookie, Karim, Stephie, Tim
Mookie Alexander: Moraga's ranking is completely inflated and it essentially had to do with the UFC being starved for title challengers at flyweight. Dodson apparently beat Moraga at BW in a close decision, although with no video of it I can't make any statements about their first encounter. What I do know is that Dodson is way better than Moraga right now. Moraga seems very uncomfortable on his back and while his boxing is functional and sharp, he lacks Dodson's vicious power. Moraga also isn't going to outmuscle Dodson or get past his athleticism. So on that note ... John Dodson via TKO, round 2. Sets up Mighty Mouse/Dodson 2 in my fantasy land.
Zane Simon: John Moraga is a good sprawl-n-brawl fighter with a classic style that just doesn't cut it at the upper levels anymore. Especially at flyweight which is full of guys who are as athletic if not moreso than he is, and almost all of whom are much better wrestlers than he is sprawler. Dodson is faster, hits harder, and has all the technical tools to compete with and outwork Moraga pretty much every where this fight can go. He's classically been a little shoddy in his fight IQ, but that's a problem that seems to have corrected itself with time and consistent top competition. John Dodson today is one of the 5 best flyweights in the world. John Moraga simply isn't. John Dodson via KO, round 1.
Patrick Wyman: Moraga's still young enough that he has a lot of room to grow into an upper-echelon fighter. Unfortunately, Dodson's already there. He also has the benefit of a previous win over Moraga back on the regional scene, and based on what they've shown over the last couple of years, I don't think there's any reason to expect a different outcome this time around. Dodson, unanimous decision.
Staff picking Dodson: Patrick, Mookie, Zane, Iain, DSM, Karim, Stephie, Tim, Fraser, Dodson, Anton
Staff picking Moraga:
Mookie Alexander: Bit of surprising matchmaking with High dropping a weight class to go directly to top 10 competition. Either the UFC saw this was a bounce back type of fight for RDA or they think rather highly of High (tee-hee) in this one and believe he has the tools to win this. Dos Anjos' kickboxing will be the difference here, especially if the grappling ends up canceling out or not being decisive towards one of these two. Rafael dos Anjos by decision.
Patrick Wyman: I've actually done scouting work for both of these guys and like them a great deal: it's unfortunate that one of MMA's good guys has to lose here. My strong suspicion is that this ends up mostly as a grappling match, and unless High's takedown defense improves dramatically with the drop in weight - it's entirely possible that will be the case, given the experience of guys like TJ Grant - it's RDA's fight to lose. Dos Anjos has rock-solid defensive wrestling and surprisingly technical takedowns to go along with his smooth BJJ and effective if low-output striking, while it's hard to see the even lower output of High winning this for him on the feet. Barring High putting on the performance of his career, I think RDA takes a closer-than-expected decision full of fun scrambles and extended grappling sequences. Dos Anjos, split decision.
Zane Simon: I've gotta go with Pat here. Not just because he's put in some serious work that I haven't, but also because High, for all his talent, is simply not a three dimensional fighter. He's got a great top game and solid wrestling, but so does RDA. The difference is, that RDA is a rock solid kickboxer with sharp hands. High can survive on his feet, but he's not competitive standing with the best. If he can't get RDA down, he'll probably get picked apart for three rounds. Rafael dos Anjos by decision.
Staff picking RDA: Patrick, Mookie, Zane, DSM, Karim, Stephie, Tim, Fraser, Dallas, Anton
Staff picking High: Iain
Mookie Alexander: I've irrationally picked Yves Edwards to win his last 6 or 7 fights. I can't do that anymore. Piotr "Not Dennis" Hallmann, unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Speaking of Diego Sanchez and guys who've lost a step, Yves Edwards seems to have finally lost a big step in the cage. His fight with Yancy Medeiros was an eye opener for many, as it was a fight he was winning technically, right up until he got put to sleep. Edwards just doesn't seem to have the physical tools to fight his patient 2nd gear striking game anymore. Hallmann is inconsistent, but he's also big, tough, and capable everywhere. Piotr Hallmann by decision.
Patrick Wyman: It's sad to say, but I think we're close to the end of the line for one of MMA's real veterans. Edwards' athleticism has declined, and so has his ability to take a shot; the skills are obviously still there, but the ability to apply them isn't. Hallman's a tough guy who can push the pace, and I think he'll grind out a tougher-than-expected decision. Hallmann, unanimous decision.
Staff picking Edwards: Tim
Staff picking Hallmann: Patrick, Zane, Iain, DSM, Mookie, Karim, Stephie, Fraser, Dallas, Anton
Mookie Alexander: You know how in football they have "trap" games projected by analysts? This is a "trap" fight for Perez. Caraway has the skills to make Perez miserable on the ground if not pluck a submission, so Perez's takedown defense will have to be on point. The striking should be all Perez but he absolutely needs to tighten up his defense and not overcommit coming forward to the point where Caraway can counter with a takedown. For now, I'm going with Perez, but I wouldn't be surprised if Caraway can grind out a win (before pissing it away in round 3 by coasting). Erik Perez by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Erik Perez needs this fight. Not just that he needs to win it, that goes without saying. But, he needs to show that he can win this fight. Caraway may not win many popularity contests, but he wins most of his fights with a tough, single minded wrestling/grappling game. Perez was pegged early on as a future star, but his rough edges haven't sanded off as quickly as many hoped or expected. His offensive wrestling is decent, but his striking is wild and defensively void. And too often he allows himself to get way out of position and out worked by more technical wrestlers. He's lucky in that Caraway is a step down from Mizugaki, he doesn't have nearly the fluid combination boxing that threw Perez off so much. But, if he gets wild and over confident, Caraway has the defensive mindset and power wrestling and grappling to make this a grueling fight for Perez. I'll pick Perez here, because I think he has enough raw gifts to eke out the win, but it'll be close. Erik Perez by decision.
Patrick Wyman: As Zane pointed out, I'm not sure Perez is ever going to be the dynamic gateway to Mexico the UFC is hoping he'll become, but I do think he's more than good enough to beat Bryan Caraway. He's shown excellent takedown defense over a limited sample size, throws a lot of volume on the feet, and can finish in any phase, all of which makes him the more dynamic fighter in this matchup. Perez, unanimous decision.
Staff picking Caraway: Iain
Staff picking Perez: Patrick, Zane, Mookie, DSM, Karim, Stephie, Tim, Dallas, Fraser, Anton
Mookie Alexander: Yahtzee Meza doesn't really have anything for Pettis here. Healthy Pettis, unanimous decision.
Patrick Wyman: There's no reason to think this will be competitive, and this is pretty clearly a fight that's meant to get the talented youngster back on track after his heart-breaking submission loss to Alex Caceres. Pettis is better everywhere and should have his pick of ways to finish, but I'll go with a knockout. Pettis, head kick KO off a clinch break, round 2.
Zane Simon: I actually had just a little hope for Meza, as I was one of the few to pick him to beat John Albert after his loss to Chad Mendes, but most of that hope has vanished with a pretty bold lack of improvement for a guy who's already 33 with 8 years of work put in. Meza is big and has some okay grappling, but his fight with Chico Camus pretty clearly showed that even middle of the pack fighters could outwork him in every area. Pettis may have hit a speed bump with his Caceres fight, but this is made for him to show off a little and get back some of the hype he lost. Sergio Pettis, TKO, round 2.
Staff picking Meza:
Staff picking Pettis: Patrick, Mookie, Zane, Iain, DSM, Karim, Stephie, Tim, Dallas, Fraser, Anton
Patrick Wyman: Benoist has fallen off everyone's radar due to the fact that he's riding a two-fight losing streak and hasn't fought since September of 2012. However, there's a solid argument to be made that he should be 3-0 in the UFC; he's young and talented, and if cage rust doesn't leave him tentative, he should handle a guy who's as hittable as Voelker. Seriously, Voelker gets hit more than just about anybody I've ever seen, and his power isn't nearly enough to make up for the lack of defensive skill. Benoist, unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: I gotta say, I see this as a bit of a coin flip fight. I love Bobby Voelker, nobody fights with as much grit as he does, but his performance against William Macario was bad bad bad. He looked like a punching bag for three rounds and it's pretty clear that he's not been able to make any useful changes to his game in a while. But, who is Lance Benoist? Wyman can talk about fights he "could have won" but they were against Seth Baczynski and Sean Pierson, both decent fighters, but not worlds better than Voelker. If Benoist has used the last two years on the sidelines to improve, the avenue to beating Voelker is there for him. But right now he's just too unknown for me to feel comfortable saying he won't get rocked at some point. Bobby Voelker by TKO.
Staff picking Benoist: Patrick, Mookie, Stephie, Tim, Dallas, Fraser
Staff picking Voelker: Zane, Iain, DSM, Karim, Anton
Mookie Alexander: Martinez only loses to veterans with a proven track record, which fits Jorgensen well enough even though he's on the downside of his career. Scott Jorgensen via unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Martinez is really really one dimensional. He's a wrestler, he wrestles. He's got enough raw athletic ability to wing punches at opponents and occasionally catch them, but for all intents and purposes he can't strike or grapple a lick. If Jorgensen has fallen so far that he loses this fight, then it may be time for him to hang ‘em up, because he's not really competing anymore. Scott Jorgensen by decision.
Patrick Wyman: Jorgensen's fallen hard since his loss to Dominick Cruz a few years back, but if he isn't better than Danny Martinez, then it's time to look for an alternate career. He should be the better wrestler, he should have the sharper striking game, and he should be the better athlete, "should" being the operative term here. Jorgensen, unanimous decision.
Staff picking Jorgensen: Patrick, Mookie, Zane, DSM, Karim, Stephie, Tim, Dallas, Fraser, Anton
Staff picking Martinez: Iain
Mookie Alexander: Can you really go wrong with a guy whose nickname is "The Librarian"? I mean, you have Josh "The Dentist" Neer, which means he can rearrange your teeth. Then there's Clay "The Carpenter" Guida, which makes him distinctly different from the famous easy listening brother-sister duo of the 1970s ... but "The Librarian"? He's going to tell Tuck to be quiet. Jake Lindsey via Dewey Decimal System.
Zane Simon: John Tuck is the more natural athlete and the more technical fighter. He moves much more fluidly at range and his strikes have a lot more snap and style behind them. But, Lindsey has a lot of power, the kind that just can't be bought, or taught. Still, Tuck's never shown a lack of chin, so I expect he'll be able to stay outside and pick Lindsey off from range. Jon Tuck by decision.
Staff picking Lindsey: Mookie, Dallas
Staff picking Tuck: Patrick, Zane, Iain, DSM, Karim, Stephie, Tim, Fraser, Anton
Mookie Alexander: I'm amazed the UFC was able to book Patrick Cummins when 80% of the world's light heavyweights don't want to fight him. Patrick Cummins, coffee spill, round 2.
Zane Simon: Narvaez is basically Patrick Cummins, but without all the wrestling background and with more fights at middleweight than light heavyweight. So, he's nothing like Cummins, except to say that he's really raw. Despite having fought a lot at 185, he shouldn't be severely smaller than Cummins, but he throws a lot of arm punches with his chin up and comes in aggressive, perfect for getting countered with an overhand right or double leg, or both. Patrick Cummins via TKO, round 1.
Staff picking Cummins: Patrick, Zane, Iain, DSM, Mookie, Karim, Stephie, Tim, Dallas, Fraser, Anton
Staff picking Narvaez: