Conor McGregor vs. Diego Brandao
Mookie Alexander: Brandao can chop down McGregor with leg kicks, stun him with haymakers, and maybe even try to submit him if he can get it to the ground. But that's within a finite space of time within the finite 25 minute limit. McGregor's striking is on another level. He should be able to keep Brandao at distance and snipe him from there. Brandao's cardio won't be a real issue because this fight is unlikely to get to round 3. Is McGregor a top 10 featherweight? Not sold on that yet. But he's good enough to beat Brandao and keep the hype train running. Conor McGregor by KO, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: Like poor Evan Dunham with his back-to-back fights against Cerrone and Barboza, Brandao ran into a horrible matchup in Dustin Poirier and now is fighting another matchup which is horrible for him for much the same reasons. Brandao is a solid grappler with a great top game, and has really good power, but he's fighting a much better and longer striker who throws a ton of volume and has power to boot. He's just not going to get in on McGregor.
Conor McGregor by KO, round 1.
Zane Simon: I missed the weigh in video, but I hear it got emotional. That spells disaster for Brandao, who tends to let his emotions completely overrun his sense and the following adrenaline dump often leaves him totally gassed. McGregor tends to come from more of the Bisping school, in which most of his out of the cage talk and bluster is really just talk and bluster to get in his opponent's head. He fights with extreme calm and poise in the cage, and unlike Brandao seems to suffer from none of the emotional fallout. Even if that weren't the case, he's a much more skilled striker, both offensively and defensively, so as long as he doesn't get stupid and try and out-scramble Brandao, this is his fight to lose. Conor McGregor by KO, Round 2.
Kyle McLachlan: Brandao is going to walk straight forward, and while he has relatively fast hands and puts nasty intent into every shot he throws, McGregor utilises angles well, and can use his opponents forward movement against them. With a year off, and in front of his hometown crowd, I expect McGregor to pick his spots early, but he'll get his timing down before long and take Brandao out with something flashy. Conor McGregor, by KO, Round 2
Paul Gift: McGregor doesn't have enough data to do an analytics prediction for the main event. Damn you Fight Pass!
Staff picking McGregor: Mookie, DSM, Phil, Dallas, Fraser, Karim, Zane, Kyle, Stephie
Staff picking Brandao:
Mookie Alexander: Gunnar Nelson is going to take a nap 2 hours before the fight. Wake up 3 minutes before cage walkouts. He will casually get up from the floor, still in his pajamas and slippers, walk to the cage with his permanent expression of "I need a lie down", step into the cage, commence super sexy grappling on Zak Cummings, get the submission and then have a warm cup of tea on the way out of the Octagon. Gunnar Nelson, rear-naked choke, round 1.
Phil Mackenzie: Ryan LaFlare was a pick-em fight for Gunni, but I can't see the same for Zak Cummings. I think Nelson will run into problems higher up the division unless his striking dramatically improves- he's both undersized and fairly hittable thus far. However, Cummings is a grappling specialist, Nelson is much better at what Cummings is good at, and that's pretty much that. Add in that Cummings was getting outgrappled by Cabral before Cabral gassed out, and that Nelson showed that he can handle bigger grapplers when he beat Jeff Monson in sport BJJ and... well. Gunnar Nelson by submission, round 1
Zane Simon: I honestly think this is a much, much closer fight than many assume. Cummings isn't going to outstrike Nelson, but I don't see Nelson tooling him at range either. He'll have to stay wary of Cummings power, and his ability to translate big punches into dynamic shots. From there, Cummings is a competent defensive grappler with good, wrestling heavy submission offense. He's a bit prone to getting swept, which will be his biggest potential weakness against Nelson, but I wouldn't be surprised if he makes it all three rounds. Gunnar Nelson by Decision.
Kyle McLachlan: I'm not completely on the Gunnar Nelson hype train just yet, but he looks a level or so above Cummings. Cummings is strong, but pretty slow all-round. Nelson might hurt him and snatch a sub, but Cummings is strong and good in the clinch. I'll take Nelson to land the flashier striking throughout and take an easy, and uneventful, decision. I'd be very excited if Ryan Laflare was still on this card, that was a genuinely good matchup of 11-15 welterweights on the cusp of being serious contenders. Gunnar Nelson via decision
Staff picking Nelson: Mookie, DSM, Phil, Dallas, Fraser, Karim, Zane, Kyle, Nelson
Staff picking Cummings:
Mookie Alexander: I've been "against" the Pickett move to flyweight since he announced it last year. He wasn't fast at bantamweight and he's well into his 30s with a lot of wear and tear on his body. McCall hasn't really hit it off in the UFC aside from his contentious draw with Demetrious Johnson, but he established himself as a top flyweight well before the UFC struggles, and unless he's boxed from pillar to post by Pickett, he should win this through his grappling and overall speed. Fun fight, but McCall should win this clearly. Ian McCall by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: I think Brad Pickett is pretty much done as a top contender. At his peak, he was just slightly worse than Scotty Jorgensen, and now the game is passing both of them by. He struggled badly against Neil Seery, and, like Jorgensen, looks to be facing a massive speed differential in this division. He's still tough as hell, but I expect McCall to just beat him up from the outside. Leg kicks, 1,2s, some fun scrambles, a great fight and a clear-cut decision. McCall by unanimous decision
Zane Simon: McCall always has the potential to get drawn into a stupid fight that he doesn't have to be in. He gets hit hard a few times and gameplanning and skill diversity kind of go out the window. That said, even if he just decides to sit in front of Pickett and trade hands, I think he's the better fighter. McCall is an elite athlete at 125. He's fast, he's powerful, he scrambles expertly, and he's not weak anywhere. Pickett isn't bad, but I just see him getting beat to the punch all night by the faster fighter, and if McCall holds it all together, potentially outwrestled and out-grappled as well. Ian McCall by Decision.
Kyle McLachlan: Pickett wasn't the quickest at 135lbs, he's past his prime anyway, and looked tight making bantamweight so I'm surprised he's made the move down to flyweight. Having a hard fight with Neil Seery doesn't lead me to believe he has much to offer ‘Uncle Creepy', who is still one of the best flyweights in the World despite struggling with injuries and not being the most active in the division. Pickett will hit him as McCall does keep his head fairly static, but McCall is the better wrestler and more varied striker. Ian McCall by decision
Paul Gift: McCall (62.0%) by decision (36.5%)
Staff picking Pickett: Stephie
Staff picking McCall: Mookie, DSM, Dallas, Fraser, Karim, Zane, Kyle, Paul
Mookie Alexander: Yeah, this fight holds very little interest to me and I'm not going to fake my way through that. Parke is a skilled judoka who can strike but doesn't really have much power in his hands, and the Leo Santos fight was objectively bad. Kotani's winning streak seems to be born out of fighting exclusively Japanese fighters, none of whom is really notable. Kotani has a real bad record against notable UFC and JMMA vets, and I don't see much reason for him to have found an "on" switch this late into his career to the point where beating even a 3rd tier LW in the UFC is going to happen. Norman Parke by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Parke is an excellent volume striker. It remains to be seen whether his style can get him those all-important finishes, but he's good at mid range and particularly adept at racking up points and damage in close. Naoyuki is a decent fighter and an atypically large Japanese lightweight, but his game of holding distance and then getting takedowns when the opponent comes in seems to match up very poorly with Parke's intelligent aggression. Norman Parke by TKO, round 2
Zane Simon: I'm honestly a bit excited to see "The Catch Kid" back in the UFC as he's a fun outlier in his wrestling submission offense and funky catch grappling. He's got fantastic sweeps and great top control and has some surprising speed and power in his hands. Unfortunately, like so many "classic" JMMA fighters, he tends to fight at a snails pace. And while I doubt Parke can put him away, his excellent offensive and defensive wrestling and his fantastic cage control, are pretty much tailor made to grind Kotani down for three rounds. I'll hope for some fun scrambles and sub attempts, but expect a grinding three rounds to Norman Parke by Decision.
Kyle McLachlan: I was never too impressed with Parke until he beat Jon Tuck, who I was pretty high on at the time. I'm still not sold on him as much of a fighter to look at going forward, but Kotani should be pretty much a blank canvas for him to have his way. Look for Parke to stifle Kotani in the clinch and with his sharp, accurate, but ultimately not very hurtful punches. Maybe Parke will outclass him and wear him down. I'll take it. Norman Parke, by TKO, Round 3
Staff picking Parke: Mookie, DSM, Phil, Fraser, Karim, Zane, Kyle, Stephie
Staff picking Kotani: Dallas
Mookie Alexander: Dempsey is certainly a great player for the US soccer team, but he's not got a prayer against the future light heavyweight champ. Ilir Latifi by death choke, round 1.
Phil Mackenzie: No longer a punchline! Latifi is a solid grappler, and a ball of muscle. Rack up another one for the Euros. Ilir Latifi by submission, round 2.
Zane Simon: Dempsey continues the UFC's recent trend of finding capable regional middleweights to fill in as short notice light heavyweights. Which, thus far, has meant losses for all of them. That trend should continue as Latifi is smaller, but far more suited to 205 with his immensely muscular frame and powerful wrestleboxing, bulldog style. Ilir Latifi by submission, Round 1.
Kyle McLachlan: Latifi is all kinds of strong. Illir Latifi by school yard headlock, Round 1
Staff picking Dempsey:
Staff picking Latifi: Mookie, DSM, Phil, Dallas, Fraser, Karim, Zane, Stephie
Neil Seery vs. Phil Harris
Mookie Alexander: Apparently these two fought before, with Harris winning back in 2010 when neither man was a flyweight. Phil Harris was brought back because Louis Gaudinot failed his drug test. Otherwise his UFC tenure has been thoroughly underwhelming, with only a so-so decision win against Ulysses Gomez standing as his UFC win. Seery really impressed vs. Pickett and probably had a case for a win. His boxing is really solid and Harris is just deficient there. Add his already good ground game to the mix and I just can't see how Harris wins. Neil Seery by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Neil Seery is never going to contend for a title, but he has some serious pop in his punches and his takedown defense is probably good enough to handle whatever Harris has.
Neil Seery by TKO, round 2.
Zane Simon: I realize that Harris already has a win over Seery, but I honestly feel like, between the two of them, Seery has improved since then and Harris may have declined. His scrambling also appears to be much better at 125, even if his TDD isn't. If he can remember to keep his feet moving at range and get back up when he gets taken down, he has everything he needs to beat a very beatable Harris. Neil Seery by decision.
Staff picking Seery: Mookie, Phil, Dallas, Fraser, Karim, Zane, Kyle, Stephie
Staff picking Harris: DSM
Phil Mackenzie: Although Pendred is the favourite due to his name, I think this is a very close and difficult fight to call, and has a very solid chance of being inexpressibly boring. As most of TUF 19 apparently was. Mike King by split decision.
Fraser Coffeen: TUF fight! Sadly though, it's a TUF fight from the pretty awful season 19. Pendred was one of the most hyped fighters heading into that season, as he had a very good run in the pretty decent Cage Warrios promotion in Ireland (including a win over the elite and deadly Che Mills). But his TUF run was marked by dull fights and a close split decision loss to eventual winner Eddie Gordon. Despite the hype, that slightly boring TUF Pendred is the same Pendred that fought in Ireland - he's a solid/OK fighter who wins most often by wearing guys down. King also lost to Gordon, but looked good in his victory over Nordine Taleb to get into the house. I'm glad he gets a UFC shot here as he deserves it. That said, this is a bad match up for him. Pendred should be too patient and focused to allow King to push the pace. With the stakes high, I expect Pendred will opt for a safe, dull win, and he has the tools to make that happen. Cathal Pendred by decision
Zane Simon: I wish I knew more about King, but I'm just not willing to watch a bunch of TUF tape on him to find out. What I do know is that Pendred is a very good athlete with an overly cautious, grinding wall and stall style. That doesn't promise fun, but it'll probably get him a win over a very green fighter in King. Cathal Pendred by decision.
Staff picking King: Phil
Staff picking Pendred: Mookie, DSM, Dallas, Fraser, Karim, Zane, Kyle, Stephie
Mookie Alexander: I really really don't get why Trevor Smith got another fight in the UFC. He's 1-4 in his last 5 Strikeforce/UFC bouts and somehow was knocked out by Thales Leites. Troeng should school him. Tor Troeng by submission, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: Troeng is a tough, well-conditioned grappling specialist. Smith has horrible takedown defense, not much power, and a very suspect ground game. Tor Troeng by submission, round two.
Zane Simon: Smith appears to be one of those fighters who started out as a really tough, competent submission wrestling guy, and then learned how to strike a little and has regressed badly because of it. He may be considered an "action fighter" now, but he's not been a very good one. Troeng, on the other hand, was once a pretty hyped prospect for his excellent clinch striking, persistent wrestling, and brutal top control, ground and pound, and aggressive submission game. Assuming he hasn't lost all of that, and that Smith just wants to stand-n-wang, I have to take Troeng here. Tor Troeng by unanimous decision.
Staff picking Troeng: Mookie, DSM, Dallas, Fraser, Karim, Zane, Kyle, Stephie
Staff picking Smith:
Phil Mackenzie: Oh man. Jeez. This fight. OK. Well, Krylov has shown flashes of... something, and it actually took quite a lot for Soa Palelei to put him away (who has subsequently demonstrated monster power). So, I guess Krylov has a better chin, is younger and has more potential for improvement. On the other hand, he's also the guy who got Von Flue choked in his 20th pro bout. Krylov by something sad but also kind of funny.
Zane Simon: It's mostly all been said above, but Krylov is a very competent kicker (still rare for 205 and up) with zero fluidity in his hands and a face-forward style... He's also a terrible grappler. Donovan, to this point, is a sprawl and brawl brawler, without much sprawl and a face-forward style. Krylov hasn't been chinny, Donovan has. In a battle of two guys who are going to run their chins out on a flagpole to be hit, I'll take the less chinny one. Nikita Krylov by KO, Round 1.
Paul Gift: Yep, a decision's a wee bit unlikely here. The best odds are for Krylov by TKO or Donovan by sub. Donovan (62.9%) by submission (49.7%).
Staff picking Donovan: Mookie, DSM, Paul
Staff picking Krylov: Phil, Dallas, Fraser, Karim, Kyle, Zane, Stephie
Phil Mackenzie: Holohan has one of those games which racks up tons of impressive wins of the regional circuit and normally hits a brick wall somewhere in the mid / lower-mid mark of the UFC. Sampo is a very solid fighter who merely came up against an even better one who's finding his stride in Makovsky. Josh Sampo by unanimous decision
Zane Simon: I've been randomly assured by a guy on Twitter, that Holohan's two year break from fighting is actually a huge bonus, because he's gotten 10X better in the interim. Far be it from me to suggest that that's not really how this sort of thing works, but it's given me a bit more interest in seeing a fighter that I generally think will be outclassed by a top ten-ish fighter in Josh Sampo. Sampo is a great wrestler with great grappling and serviceable striking, who is defensively rock solid. If Holohan sees the end of this fight, I'd be pretty impressed. Josh Sampo by Submission, Round 2.
Kyle McLachlan: Holohan is a solid submission artist, but Sampo is solid all-round, and should have the top position chops to stifle the Irishman's only avenue of victory. He got a rough deal fighting Makovsky, but I still like Sampo to prove himself a lower top ten guy in the 125lb division. Josh Sampo, by unanimous decision
Staff picking Holohan:
Staff picking Sampo: Mookie, DSM, Phil, Dallas, Fraser, Karim, Kyle, Zane, Stephie