Anton Tabuena: I don’t understand the odds here being up to -800 for Rory. I think Rory is rightfully the favorite, but Saffiedine has the perfect style to cause a lot of problems here, and it will certainly be much closer than that bonkers line. If Rory mixes up his takedowns, he can win a decision, but I really doubt he can strike with Tarec for 25 mins if he doesn’t. Tough pick, but f*ck it, I’m going for the upset. Tarec Saffiedine by Decision.
Mookie Alexander: Leg kicks. Leg kicks. Leg kicks. If Rory won’t check those, his thighs will be more purple than Barney the Dinosaur. MacDonald isn’t the better striker here but he is (at least to me) the clearly better fighter. Rory’s path to victory is taking Saffiedine down and working his punishing, highly active top game. I think MacDonald has been really undersold since the Ellenberger fight, and even acknowledging the Lawler defeat, it’s time to realize he’s a fantastic fighter who should be the next title challenger with a win tomorrow night. There’s so much intrigue here, but in the end I’ll side with Rory to rebound from a slow round 1 to win rounds 2-5. Rory MacDonald by decision.
Kyle McLachlan: Very interesting matchup that should be a technical kickboxing match. Will be interesting to see if Rory mixes up his approach, and as Saffiedine has solid takedown defence, this might not work for the Canadian. I’ll take MacDonald to eek out a win by being more diverse with his striking, but Saffiedine’s leg kicks and movement might stifle the Tristar product’s output. Rory MacDonald by decision
Phil Mackenzie: Very, very tough to call. Basically this may well come down to whether Rory can land reactive takedowns or whether Saffiedine can chip him away on the feet. Both have shown issues with volume and pace, but what leads me towards Saffiedine is that his style is just naturally more attritional- it’s going to be harder for Rory to pick up the pace on a damaged lead leg than it will be for Tarec after a ground and pound flurry. Tarec Saffiedine by decision.
Zane Simon: I’m really feeling the upset here, honestly. I don’t think that Saffiedine is on the level of Robbie Lawler, and I don’t think he’s as well rounded as MacDonald, but I just don’t trust Rory to fight well against opponents that won’t back down or show him respect. If he can get his opponents to fear him, to give him time and space at range, MacDonald is a monster. He’s great at taking the initiative and turning it into a wave of momentum. But, I think Saffiedine’s standup is just too technical and he’s too confident there, to let MacDonald work at range. At which point this fight is reliant on Rory wrestling consistently and I just don’t have the faith I used to in his ability to do that. Tarec Saffiedine by decision.
Staff picking MacDonald: Patrick, Mookie, Stephie, DSM, Karim, Paul, Kyle, Fraser
Staff picking Saffiedine: Phil, Anton, Zane
Anton Tabuena: I don’t get this match up, unless they really just want Assuncao to look good. Raphael Assuncao by Domination.
Mookie Alexander: Oooooh tough call. Assuncao was passed over on his first title shot, and now the guy he beat is the reigning champion. The former champion (Cruz) is now going to with Dillashaw, leaving Assuncao in the dust again. Decisions decisions. Ah! I’ve got it! The gods smile on the UFC and their problem is alleviated with an unexplained upset win by Caraway, who will continue to annoy fans until one of the asteroids in outer space destroys this planet. Bryan Caraway by split decision.
Kyle McLachlan: I hope Assuncao takes it, but Caraway has a way of forcing his game on his opponents. I can’t see Caraway controlling Assuncao on the mat for extended periods of time, so I’ll take the Brazilian to do the better work over three rounds. Raphael Assuncao by decision
Phil Mackenzie: Ho ho ho Bryan Caraway! He’s so funny and bad at MMA… only he’s not. His only UFC loss was to Takeya Mizugaki, and it was incredibly close. He’s got the blend of swampy, relentless grappling and pure cockroach toughness that Jake Shields brought to the table, and remember how confident (almost) everyone was that Maia was going to win? Assuncao might be better at everything apart from pure grappling, but is that going to matter? I feel that the difference maker might be that Caraway does not have the deadly high-volume striking which became one of Shields’ trademarks. Raphael Assuncao by split decision
Zane Simon: Caraway is a legit top ten talent in the not quite so deep bantamweight division, but there is literally nothing he does better than Assuncao. Even his wrestling isn’t notably better than the Brazilian’s, who at this point has a legit claim to being a top 5 talent and a hairsbreadth from a title shot. Caraway is a tough out and a bad matchup for a lot of his division, but Assuncao is just a terrible matchup for him. Raphael Assuncao by decision.
Staff picking Assuncao: Patrick, Phil, Stephie, DSM, Karim, Anton, Paul, Kyle, Fraser, Zane
Staff picking Caraway: Mookie
Phil Mackenzie: Pretty decent fight. Cedeno packs some good power in his punches, but Laprise is a really surprisingly solid striker who racks up volume combined with sound wrestling defense. I expect competitive early going, but Laprise to pull away. Chad Laprise by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Cedeno has yet to prove himself to be more than a one round fighter. He’s exciting for that round, but doesn’t have the fundamentals to ensure that the crazy striking he does will actually land. Beyond that, Laprise is exactly the kind of low power, high output boxer that beat Cedeno in his debut. I expect a fairly workman like performance to get him the win, although it may involve getting cracked early. Chad Laprise by decision.
Staff picking Laprise: Phil, Mookie, Stephie, DSM, Anton, Kyle, Fraser, Zane
Staff picking Cedeno: Patrick
Mookie Alexander: I’d rather jab sharp pencils directly into my eyes than sit through a Bruno Santos fight. At least Theodorou has the edge in skill (and a substantial hair advantage) to prevent me from blinding myself. Elias Theodorou, unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: At this point, Bruno Santos should be pretty well scouted by anyone who fights him. His offense is so predictable and consistent in it’s bland, grinding nature, that there’s no good reason to come in not knowing what to expect. Theodorou is a great physical fighter with a lot of developing tools, and someone who I expect to find his way eventually to the top quarter of his division. Bruno Santos should be just another step down that path. Elias Theodorou by decision.
Staff picking Theodorou: Patrick, Phil, Mookie, Stephie, DSM, Karim, Anton, Zane
Staff picking Santos: Fraser
Nordine Taleb vs. Jingliang Li
Mookie Alexander: Wow. This card is just totally lacking depth after the co-main event. Two events in a day is a pain, isn’t it? Nordine Taleb by whatever he wants.
Anton Tabuena: Really tough test for the Chinese prospect, but I think he can pass. Li Jingliang by Decision
Zane Simon: This is probably Taleb’s fight to lose, as he’s the more explosive, well rounded talent. But, Li JiangLiang really does look to be developing. He came in as a grinding wrestler grappler, and firmly outstruck David Michaud on his way to a split decision, but he also showed a noted lack of physicality in the clinch, that’s something that Taleb can probably exploit. I’d expect this to be a closer fight than the betting lines would have us believe however, as Taleb is not a fighter I’d trust for consistency and JiangLiang is extremely tough. Nordine Taleb by decision.
Staff picking Taleb: Patrick, Phil, Mookie, Stephie, DSM, Karim, Fraser, Zane
Staff picking Li: Anton
Mookie Alexander: Ugh, so many late replacements fighting good opposition likely to destroy them. Gagnon’s submission game is already strong, coupled with his improving striking and overall physical strength, this is a rough night for Salazar. Mitch Gagnon, submission, round 2.
Kyle McLachlan: Uninspiring fight. Not surprising given the circumstances. Gagnon is nasty, solid striking, and vicious subs. He’ll take this without much hassle Mitch Gagnon by submission, round 1, guillotine
Zane Simon: Should be fun to watch Gagnon roll over an overmatched opponent. Especially one who fits right into his heavy-handed/power-grappling style. Gagnon by submission, round 1.
Staff picking Gagnon: Patrick, Phil, Mookie, Stephie, DSM, Karim, Anton, Kyle, Fraser, Zane
Staff picking Salazar:
Mookie Alexander: When Njokuani had some hype behind him in the WEC I’d probably pick him to win this one. But injuries, decreased output, and general lack of evolution in his game makes me think Cruickshank completely styles on him. Daron Cruickshank by dominant unanimous decision.
Kyle McLachlan: Sad to say but Njokuani is past his best, and Cruickshank is much sharper on the feet. Daron Cruickshank by decision
Phil Mackenzie: Njokuani still has the capacity to surprise. However, in what will likely be a distance kickboxing bout, Cruickshank has looked noticeably quicker and is even developing more power and snap in his hands, whilst Njokuani is plateaued at best, and slowing down at worst. Njokuani does have more reach on his punches and Cruickshank isn’t enormously durable, but Daron Cruickshank by unanimous decision.
Fraser Coffeen: Striker battle! I love these clashes between weird striking styles, though I recognize that I am often in the minority here. The MMAth with fellow funky striker John Makdessi indicates a Njokuani win, but I don’t buy that. Cruickshank has been steadily improving, and has a nice enough wrestling game to complement his TKD. Meanwhile, Njokuani has slowed in his game over the past few years. He’s still a threat though. A lot of this comes down to how Cruickshank approaches it - if he only makes it a kickboxing fight, Njokuani has a shot. But if he mixes in some takedowns, he should score the needed points to get the decision. Daron Cruickshank by decision
Zane Simon: Anthony Njokuani has a serious shot at winning this fight, if he can get inside and outbox and outwork Daron Cruickshank in the clinch and in phonebooth range. That’s where Cruickshank is weak to strikers. But, for the most part Njokuani likes to sit at range and try to counter fighters when they rush in on predictable patterns. If you sit back against Cruickshank, his offense is just too unpredictable and diverse. Daron Cruickshank by TKO, round 2.
Staff picking Cruickshank: Patrick, Phil, Mookie, Stephie, DSM, Karim, Anton, Paul, Fraser, Zane
Staff picking Njokuani:
Mookie Alexander: There’s nothing intimidating about a fighter whose nickname is "The Librarian". Olivier Aubin-Mercier by decision.
Phil Mackenzie: OAM is a solid (if super-raw) prospect. He’s young, fighting out of a great camp, and up against a guy who got finished by heel strikes to the kidney by Jon Tuck. Welp. Olivier Aubin-Mercier by submission, round 2.
Zane Simon: Lindsey has some legit, scrappy talent, the most important of which is that he packs great natural power in an otherwise not terribly polished style. Unfortunately it’s that whole "not terribly polished" part that’s going to get him in trouble. Aubin-Mercier’s striking is bad bad bad bad, but his clinch wrestling and transition grappling are both really good. That should be enough to get him by Lindsey here. Olivier Aubin-Mercier by submission, round 1.
Staff picking Aubin-Mercier: Patrick, Phil, Mookie, Stephie, DSM, Karim, Anton, Kyle, Fraser, Zane
Staff picking Lindsey:
Zane Simon: Saggo and Felder are pretty similar fighters in terms of style and talent. Both men kick well and with confidence from the outside, and lack a lot of basic boxing tools. Both men are strong in the clinch, although Felder is probably the more dynamic clinch striker. The big difference is really that Saggo has shown himself to be a very technical and consistent grappler and wrestler and is very good at chaining takedowns for dominant positions and getting easy submissions because of it. Felder’s ground game is still raw, and given his desire to get inside, I think he’ll end up with Saggo on his back, choking him out. Jason Saggo by submission, round 2.
Staff picking Saggo: Anton, Zane
Staff picking Felder: Patrick, Phil, Mookie, Stephie, DSM, Karim, Kyle, Fraser
Mookie Alexander: Just gonna spam pick Irish people now since that’s the in-thing these days. Patrick Holohan by submission, round 1.
Kyle McLachlan: Shame the Gaudinot fight fell out of bed. Look for another Holohan victory here. Patrick Holohan by submission, round one, rear naked choke
Phil Mackenzie: I’m coming across as super anti-Irish in my picks lately, but I feel like I’m the only person who honestly wasn’t impressed with Holohan against Josh Sampo. He flew around the cage doing silly high-octane techniques, started to get countered on them, and then landed one out of nowhere and won. That said, Kelades is a lesser version of Holohan, on short notice. Patrick Holohan by submission, round 2.
Zane Simon: Kelades just isn’t UFC level, at all. He’s got a nice transitional wrestling and submission game, once the fight hits the mat, but his striking is really raw and his takedown game is non-existent. Holohan should school him. Patrick Holohan by KO, Round 1.
Staff picking Holohan: Patrick, Phil, Mookie, Stephie, DSM, Karim, Anton, Fraser, Zane
Staff picking Kelades:
Mookie Alexander: Albert Tumenov does not care for your brain. That is all. Albert Tumenov via KO, round 1.
Phil Mackenzie: Tall guys tend to collapse in really dramatic ways, and make excellent additions to highlight reels. Albert Tumenov by TKO, round 1.
Zane Simon: Matt Dwyer is stupid tough and stupid aggressive, but he’s really not very technical at all, and thus far has depended on overwhelming less athletic fighters. Tumenov has some cardio issues that could rear their head if he get’s caught up in a brawl, but he’s a terrifically technical striker and a fighter that I expect to improve by leaps and bounds over the next few years. Albert Tumenov by KO, Round 1.
Staff picking Tumenov: Patrick, Phil, Mookie, Stephie, DSM, Karim, Anton, Kyle, Fraser, Zane
Staff picking Dwyer:
Mookie Alexander: Odd match-up to have Winner vs. Loser here of all places. Sanders is moving down two weight classes to face a great grappler with a wicked submission game. Munhoz has beaten a higher level of competition and however raw he may be, and he’ll continue his run with a win here. Pedro Munhoz, submission, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: Munhoz is legit as hell. He gave Rafael freaking Assuncao a tough (if one-sided) fight on incredibly short notice as his debut, and now he’s being matched up a bit more appropriately towards the lower end of the 135 division, so he’s going to carry on picking up stoppage wins. Pedro Munhoz by submission, round 1.
Zane Simon: Munhoz is probably the more technical wrestler, grappler, and striker between himself and Sanders. Sanders may hold an edge in raw physicality, but it’s not one I expect will do him a whole lot of good against a fighter that could be in the hunt for a title shot a little further down the line. Pedro Munhoz by Submission, Round 2.
Staff picking Munhoz: Patrick, Phil, Mookie, Stephie, DSM, Karim, Anton, Kyle, Fraser, Zane
Staff picking Sanders: