Ben Henderson vs. Josh Thomson
Tim Burke: I just don't see Thomson being better than Henderson at anything. That's really what it comes down to. Ben Henderson by decision.
Anton Tabuena: Thomson seemed to have lucked into a title shot, but with Pettis pulling out, instead he's taking on Henderson who I think is a pretty bad stylistic match up for him. Henderson should be better with wrestling and grappling in general, and I don't think Thomson will be able to outstrike him for enough rounds to win the fight. Ben Henderson by Decision.
Mookie Alexander: For whatever reason this fight feels like one where Thomson can pull off the upset, but maybe that's just me overthinking things. The "worst camp of my life" is definitely a legitimate concern and I don't pass it off as head games, and all signs point to Henderson being able to win this comfortably. I think Thomson is a good striker but not great, and he might stand to even outbox Ben Henderson, who hasn't really developed even a good jab at this stage in his career. Grappling and wrestling definitely goes to Bendo, and his cardio is obviously excellent. I see no way this ends inside the distance, but I do see Ben Henderson by unanimous decision.
KJ Gould: I think whatever mental block Henderson might have when fighting Anthony Pettis shouldn't be present when fighting anyone else at Lightweight. Thomson is very good and a true veteran who surprised many with his dismantling of Nate Diaz, but I don't see him having the same success against the very top of the Lightweights which Henderson still very much is. Ben Henderson by Decision.
Zane Simon: I feel like this is a fight I've already seen. Henderson and Thomson are both high intensity kickboxers who can wrestle, as is Gilbert Melendez (although he's really more of a boxer). Not using MMA math, but using Melendez as a measuring stick as to how well they face similar levels of opposition, it's pretty clear that Benson's ceiling is just a little higher than Thomson's. Thomson is a solid striker, but he's not at the truly elite level that can sink Henderson, and as such I think he'll get out muscled and outpointed over 5 rounds. Ben Henderson by Decision.
Fraser Coffeen: I like Thomson, and think he is frequently underrated. Were this indeed Thomson vs. Pettis, I might consider the upset. But Bendo is a bad match-up for him. What's worse is the "worst camp of my life" talk from Thomson. That's the sound of a guy who has already mentally prepared himself to lose, and Henderson will be happy to oblige. Ben Henderson by decision
Connor Ruebusch: I'm pretty surprised that no one except Steph (whose impressive picks are nonetheless unexplained) is picking Thomson here. I honestly think he's the more well-rounded fighter, which is why it's strange that I still expect Henderson to beat him. Thomson can outstrike Ben, but I don't know if he can outgrapple him. Bendo's strength and athleticism, as well as his kick-heavy striking game, will likely keep Thomson off-balance and unable to implement his gameplan. Ben Henderson by Unanimous Decision.
Dallas Winston: Thomson has been somewhat curiously overlooked since leaving the UFC despite fighting to what was basically an overall stalemate with Gil, who gets serious respect in the world rankings. Bendo is unquestionably a rough match up for Josh but has riskily fought to his opponent's strengths throughout his UFC tenure, whereas Thomson tends to fight at his opponent's level (which isn't a bad thing here). Josh's success seems to rest heavily on his quickness and ability to explode, which has been hit and miss. It's a bit of a longshot but I'll go with Josh, though I'm concerned that Bendo's strength and wrestling could make the difference if he's aggressive with it. Josh Thomson by decision.
Staff picking Henderson: Anton, Mookie, KJ, Zane, Grant, DSM, Fraser, Iain, Connor, Tim
Staff picking Thomson: Stephie, Dallas
Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Stipe Miocic
Tim Burke: As usual, it depends what Napao shows. If he takes it to the floor, he should be able to submit Miocic. If he wants to strike, I think he gets blasted to high heaven in an early exchange. And GG don't like getting hit. Stipe Miocic by TKO, round 1
Anton Tabuena: Tough pick. Miocic should have the skills to pull it off, but Gonzaga has looked great since returning to the UFC, especially with him mixing up his striking and grappling well as of late. I think Miocic is a justifiable favorite, but I'm going with the upset and picking Gonzaga to continue his streak. Gabriel Gonzaga by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: I've picked against Gonzaga in his last 3 fights and I've bombed on the last two. Miocic took apart Roy Nelson's very predictable stand-up and improved his defense from his loss to Stefan Struve. Gonzaga's run has been nice, but he is still chinny and Miocic packs a punch. Stipe Miocic by TKO, round 1.
KJ Gould: I just think Gonzaga is very open to smart technical boxing which Miocic showed he really has in his one sided victory over Roy Nelson. Miocic is good enough to keep it standing against Gonzaga and should pick him apart. Stipe Miocic by Decision.
Zane Simon: This is really primed for another HW up-and-comer to have the brakes put on him in a bad way. Gonzaga has been putting his game together better than ever before and while he's had 11 years in the fight game, it's possible he's still at his prime as a 34 year old heavyweight. Miocic, for his part, is a firefighter and an EMT outside of his MMA career and the potential for a part time training regimen to cap a fighter's progression is a real threat. All that being said, I'm going with Stipe because I believe that he's lighter on his feet and can keep Gonzaga at range all night, but I won't be surprised if Gonzaga pulls a big upset here. Stipe Miocic by TKO Round 2.
Fraser Coffeen: I'm pretty sure I have picked against Gonzaga in every single one of his fights in this UFC return, and he has made me look like a chump again and again. And you know what? I'm going to give him the chance to do it again. I just don't see Gonzaga being able to deal with Miocic's higher skill level, particularly in the striking department. If Gonzaga can;t put Miocic away early, he'll fade, and Miocic will take over. I think. Stipe Miocic by decision
Connor Ruebusch: If he's smart Stipe will look to stick and move the way he did against Roy Nelson, because unlike Big Country, Gonzaga is more than willing to use his jiu jitsu to get the win. Gonzaga's plenty dangerous with his strikes as well, but aside from the slip up against Struve, Miocic has looked pretty good with his boxing so far in the UFC. In fact, he looked better than ever against Roy last time out. Whether that's actual improvement or a product of his level of competition we'll soon find out. Stipe Miocic by Unanimous Decision.
Dallas Winston: Miocic's wrestle-boxing is phenomenal when he's on. Gonzaga might have the short-range power advantage and definitely has the better BJJ, but I just see him having difficulty implementing those traits. Miocic would be foolish to hang out in the phone booth so I expect a boxing-heavy strategy with a lot of distance and angles, low kicks from outside and level changes if Gonzaga tries to force the clinch or a close-range brawl. Stipe Miocic by decision.
Staff picking Gonzaga: Anton, DSM, Iain
Staff picking Miocic: Mookie, KJ, Zane, Grant, Fraser, Stephie, Connor, Dallas
Darren Elkins vs. Jeremy Stephens
Tim Burke: Lil' Heathen has looked pretty good at featherweight so far, but Elkins is about to pull off the grinder special on him. I'm really surprised he's getting so little love by the rest of the staff. Darren Elkins by decision.
Anton Tabuena: Not exactly an exact science, but Hioki hurt Elkins standing, and I can just picture what a guy like Stephens is going to do to him. I think Lil' Heathen remains unbeaten at featherweight with this one. Jeremy Stephens by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: As much as I want Elkins to win ... he won't. Elkins isn't completely out of his depth as a striker, but he's not good enough to hang with Stephens too long without getting clipped and put to sleep. Jeremy Stephens by KO, round 1.
KJ Gould: Similar reasoning to Anton. Stephens has more tools in his belt and Elkins has always struck me as fairly one dimensional. It starts standing, Stephens hits hard and can potentially finish anyone in his weight class if he connects enough. Jeremy Stephens by KO.
Zane Simon: Five years ago I would have said that Elkins takes this every day of the week. Losses to guys like Gleison Tibau and Joe Lauzon painted a picture of Jeremy Stephens that he could be taken down and tangled up. Since then, however, he's only lost to fighters that could outstrike him and out maneuver him on the feet. Elkins, a grinder if ever there was one, is not that fighter. I expect Stephens good enough sprawl and more than capable brawl will put a definitive stamp on this fight and send Elkins out early. Jeremy Stephens by KO, Round 1.
Fraser Coffeen: Maybe I'm just not high enough on the new version of Jeremy Stephens, but when did he last fight a true grinder? It's been awhile. Elkins can grind down the best of them, and while Mendes showed that yes, he can be outstruck (and yes, Stephens will outstrike him), I still like Elkins for the ability to drag this to the mat or the cage and nullify that disadvantage. Darren Elkins by decision
Connor Ruebusch: Goodness, there are a lot more folks picking Stephens than I would have expected. Sure, he's got power and decent technique on the feet, but if Stephens is dynamite, Elkins is a diffuser, through and through. Stephens doesn't fare too well against stifling grapplers, and I doubt Elkins will make the same mistake he did against Hioki--this one's going to the ground quickly, and at that point it's all Elkins. Darren Elkins by Unanimous Decision.
Dallas Winston: I'm geeked about Stephens' new life at featherweight and will be rooting for him. While his wrestling has improved, it's mostly been offensively. I just don't think he can consistently repel Elkin's shots and, since he'll be vulnerable to takedowns if he plants his feet for the money shot, a decision loss seems more likely than a TKO win.
Staff picking Elkins: Grant, Fraser, Stephie, Iain, Connor, Tim Dallas
Staff picking Stephens: Anton, KJ, Zane, Mookie, DSM
Donald Cerrone vs. Adriano Martins
Tim Burke: Cowboy all day. Not sure why they even booked this. Donald Cerrone by submission, round 2.
Mookie Alexander: A Martins win would tell us a lot about both fighters. He would assert himself as a top 15 guy while Cerrone's last gasp at a title run goes to pieces. Cerrone should be able to win the striking battle and he's definitely a lot more savvy on the ground than Daron Cruickshank. This feels like a gimme for Cerrone just because Martins doesn't have name value, but I think Martins will put up a good fight and come up just short in the end. Donald Cerrone by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: This is one of those fights where I just don't know what is going to happen. The version of Cerrone that fought Evan Dunham looked like a complete crusher, especially compared to the version of Cerrone that fought Rafael dos Anjos. If that's the same guy that shows up to fight Adriano Martins, I expect Martins will have a very bad night. But that version of Cerrone is not a guarantee and Martins, for his limited exposure, is a big, technical lightweight. He's got crisp, powerful boxing and showed off a beastly ground game against Daron Cruickshank. However, that was Daron Cruickshank. If Cerrone can fight the fight that Cruickshank should have and stay on the outside and make use of a kicking game that Martins doesn't have, I expect he'll get the win here. Donald Cerrone by Decision.
Connor Ruebusch: Lots of folks are underselling Martins and expecting Cerrone to crush him. That wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, but Cerrone seems to share the same mentality. His recent comments about Martins give me the impression that he's brushing off his next opponent, just like he did to Dos Anjos before getting a kickboxing lesson. I'm going with the safe pick in Cerrone, but if he doesn't show up prepared, I would not be surprised at all to see Martins win, even by late TKO. Donald Cerrone by Unanimous Decision.
Dallas Winston: Martins is a bruiser and Cerrone's takedown defense and footwork have to be on point here. Cowboy is more devastating when he lets it all hang out but this opponent calls for a little patience and caution. Donald Cerrone by decision.
Staff picking Cerrone: Anton, KJ, Zane, Grant, DSM, Mookie, Fraser, Stephie, Iain, Connor, Tim, Dallas
Staff picking Martins:
Alex Caceres vs. Sergio Pettis
Tim Burke: I used to make fun of Caceres a lot, saying that his submission defense was so bad that he could drop to amoebaweight and he'd still get submitted by a virus. But I have to be fair - he's looked pretty good at 135, and I like this fight. I think Pettis is too well-rounded for him overall though. Sergio Pettis by submission, round 2
Mookie Alexander: I feel like Caceres' run on TUF compared to the fighter he is now has made it seem like he's nearing the top 10, but he's squeaked by too often for me to be completely convinced he's made it there. Granted, Pettis hasn't earned that honor yet and is still a pretty raw prospect, but I think he's just slightly better than Caceres and will get the victory. Sergio Pettis by split decision.
Zane Simon: Part of me feels like this is too much too soon for Sergio Pettis. Caceres may not have the record to show it, but I think he's in the top 20 at bantamweight. A win over him right now would be an announcement that Pettis was already in the conversation as one of the best 135ers in the world (not way up the list, but in the conversation). Pettis beat Will Campuzano in a short notice affair, but it was hardly a definitive result. I expect a similar fight, but with him on the wrong side of the judges this time around. Alex Caceres by Decision.
Connor Ruebusch: Both of these guys have already established that they can be too willing to ride out close decisions in the UFC. Sergio's win over Will Campuzano wasn't quite the coming out party many were expecting, and Caceres has nearly let more than a few wins slip through his fingers. Still, I'm very impressed by Caceres technically as of late, and I think we'll see Pettis learn a few lessons about boxing a southpaw. Alex Caceres by Split Decision.
Dallas Winston: This leap in competition for Pettis cannot be overstated. Cacares' height and length are somewhat absurd for 135 and his skill set is not unlike Pettis'. Pettis is quicker and more technical standing and on the mat, but I think the range and scrambling ability of Caceres will see him through as long as he has a steady and smart showing. Alex Caceres by decision.
Staff picking Caceres: Zane, Grant, Stephie, Connor, Dallas
Staff picking Pettis: Anton, KJ, DSM, Mookie, Fraser, Iain, Tim
Yves Jabouin vs. Eddie Wineland
Mookie Alexander: Jabouin (pronounced "Jab-way") is a fun fighter with zero killer instinct. Wineland is a fun fighter, top 5 in his weight class, and has great finishing skills. I'll enjoy this for as long as it lasts, but Jabouin (pronounced "Jab-wahn") really doesn't have anything for Wineland. Chances are Wineland will bust up Jabouin (pronounced "Zhab-when") with his stellar boxing and get a big KO win. Eddie Wineland by KO, round 2.
Tim Burke: Wineland (pronounced "Wine-Land") is a fun fighter with some good killer instinct. Jabouin is a fun fighter, top 40 in his weight class, and has zero finishing skills. I'll enjoy this for as long as it lasts, but Wineland (pronounced "Wine-Land") really should have his way with Jabouin. Chances are that Jabouin will get busted up by Wineland (still pronounced "Wine-Land") with his non-stellar boxing defense and will end up on the wrong end of a big KO win. Eddie Wineland by KO, round 2
Zane Simon: This is not a close fight and highlights how badly the bantamweight division is in need of new blood in it's top 10-15. Jabouin is entertaining, but the only fighter he's beaten in his entire UFC/WEC career that is still on the roster is Dustin Pague, and I expect that's a mere formality. Eddie Wineland is clearly among the divisional elite and he's going to smash Jabouin up bad. Eddie Wineland by Explosive Athleticism.
Connor Ruebusch (pronounced "REE-bush"): There's nothing to think about here. Wineland was a good enough boxer to give Renan Barao trouble before getting knocked out, and that means he's more than good enough to put Jaboin awoin. Eddie Wineland by KO, round 2.
Staff picking Jabouin:
Staff picking Wineland: Anton, KJ, Zane, Grant, DSM, Fraser, Stephie, Mookie, Iain, Tim, Connor, Dallas
Tim Burke: I'm not really sure what to think of this. I'll lean Camus, but this looks like a tossup to me. Chico Camus by split decision.
Zane Simon: If I had to make a career prediction I'd say it's very likely that both these guys experience a Ivan Menjivar/Yves Jabouin like career of hanging around and putting on a lot of fun fights without ever turning the corner into a title threat. Meza was the victim of a terrible debut matchup when he stepped in to fight Chad Mendes on short notice. He lost, quickly, but of course he did. Meza looked way better in his second offering, down a weight class, where he submitted John Albert. Camus has been up and down a bit as well, beating Dustin Pague and Kyung Ho Kang, but losing to Dustin Kimura. I honestly think that Meza's size and submission savvy could put Camus in trouble here again, but I wouldn't be surprised whatever the outcome. This should be a fun fight of scrambling and back and forth action. Yaotzin Meza by submission, Round 2.
Staff picking Camus: Anton, Mookie, Fraser, Stephie, Iain, Tim
Staff picking Meza: Zane, Grant, DSM, Connor, Dallas
Junior Hernandez vs. Hugo Viana
Tim Burke: Hugo Viana is quickly becoming one of my favorite fighters. Seriously, he's awesome. Hugo Viana by TKO, round 1.
Zane Simon: I had high hopes for Hernandez as a fast handed boxer before his debut. Unfortunately that debut told me a lot. Most notably that he may not have the raw athleticism to keep more powerful fighters from finding his chin at the UFC level. Whatever his flaws Viana is certainly an athletic specimen and comes with aggression and power. Hugo Viana via TKO, Round 1.
Staff picking Hernandez:
Staff picking Viana: Anton, Zane, Grant, DSM, Mookie, Fraser, Stephie, Iain, Tim, Connor, Dallas
Daron Cruickshank vs. Mike Rio
Tim Burke: Workin' hard to get my fill. Everybody wants a thrill. Payin' anything to roll the dice. Just one more time. Some will win (Cruickshank). Some will lose (Rio). Some were born to sing the blues (Tito Ortiz).
There really is a strong Duran Duran response to this if anyone is actually picking against The Detroit Superstar. Daron Cruickshank by TKO, round 2
Mookie Alexander: His name is Rio and he's going to get knocked all the way to the Rio Grande. Daron Cruickshank by KO, round 2.
Zane Simon: Cruickshank is one of those fighters, either you can beat him or you can't, and Mike Rio can't. Unless Rio has complicated his game a lot in the past few months Cruickshank should have everything he needs to sprawl and brawl his way to victory. Daron Cruickshank by Decision.
Fraser Coffeen: I actually thought Rio was one of the fighters with a high upside on his season of TUF, but it really hasn't gone well for him. From that upset loss to Andy Ogle (which Rio really should have been able to win) to back to back UFC sub losses, he just has not shown enough. Cruickshank sends him packing here. The only question is, does he keep it standing and TKD Rio to death, or does Rio take him down and get submitted? I'll go with the second option, though would prefer to see #1. Daron Cruickshank by submission round 1
Connor Ruebusch: Cruickshank is a very exciting fighter to watch. He's not quite good enough at boxing to avoid the slugfests, and he's got some really spectacular kicks that he's not afraid to throw because of his slick guard game. Cruicksank may not be able to beat the John Makdessis of the lightweight division, but he can definitely beat the Mike Rios. Daron Cruickshank by TKO, round 3.
Dallas Winston: I'm actually a huge Cruickshank mark but think Rio is a tough match up for him, mostly because we haven't seen him roll out a consistent sprawl-and-brawl. His venom lies in his kicks and it's a tall order to pull that shit off with a wrestler diving at your hips, and Rio's scrambling is very impressive. And yes, I'll feel stupid if Cruickshank wins. Mike Rio by submission.
Staff picking Cruickshank: Anton, KJ, Zane, Grant, DSM, Mookie, Fraser, Stephie, Iain, Tim, Connor
Staff picking Rio: Dallas
Mike Rhodes vs. George Sullivan
Tim Burke: Rhodes looks to be pretty good. Mike Rhodes by TKO, round 1
Mookie Alexander: I'll just go with Patrick Wyman's word on Rhodes. Also his nickname is "Biggie" and while I know the context of how he got that nickname, I'm going to pretend that it's related to Biggie Smalls. Mike Rhodes by decision.
Zane Simon: Not a lot of people know who these guys are, but Mike Rhodes is a serious talent. Patrick Wyman is pretty high on him and watching tape, I can see why. Sullivan, is sort of a late bloomer, coming up through the CFFC circuit. He's rangy, has a lot of power, and creates consistent offense. I expect he'll trouble Rhodes, who has yet to beat an opponent of his caliber, but I think Rhodes' natural athletic gifts will win out. Mike Rhodes by Decision.
Connor Ruebusch: Like the others, I trust Patrick's analysis. Rhodes it is. Mike Rhodes by TKO, round 2.
Staff picking Rhodes: Anton, Zane, Grant, DSM, Mookie, Fraser, Iain, Tim, Connor
Staff picking Sullivan: Stephie, Dallas
Walt Harris vs. Nikita Krylov
Mookie Alexander: Fight. Of. The. Century. Walt Harris by TKO (exhaustion), round 3.
Zane Simon: Mookie's got this one. Walt Harris, something silly, sometime unexpected.
Tim Burke: In Soviet Russia, gas tank beats you. I know I did it wrong, leave me alone. Walt Harris by TKO, round 1
Iain Kidd: Krylov is going to win this fight, and be UFC HW champion by the end of 2014. Probably LHW champion by the end of 2015. Soa landed a lucky shot in that first fight, and we'll be talking about that result the way we talk about TK beating Fedor. Literally nothing I just said is true, but i'm still picking him to win because both guys are going to gas out and swing haymakers, and I feel like Krylov might just hit slightly harder.
Connor Ruebusch: Harris should have this easily. Krylov really hasn't fought anybody of note without losing, and Harris looked pretty solid against Rosholt before gassing. My hope is that Harris will sideline some of that unnecessary "cool"-looking movement he was using in his last fight, and stick to simple, basic boxing. If he does, he should be able to put the Russian away mid-fight. Walt Harris by TKO, round 2.
Staff picking Harris: Anton, Mookie, Zane, Grant, DSM, Fraser, Stephie, Tim, Connor, Dallas
Staff picking Krylov: Iain