Junior dos Santos vs. Stipe Miocic
Mookie Alexander: The way to beat Junior dos Santos (aside from "haha heavyweights with small gloves hit hard and make people fall") is to wear him down and be the better boxer. That basically leaves you with Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier, who currently isn't a heavyweight. Miocic is a solid all-around fighter, but he's not a takedown machine, doesn't have Cain's ridiculous pace, prefers to set up single strikes without a whole lot of power, and has never fought someone with Junior's boxing. His power will be too much for Stipe to handle and we will see a smiling JDS by round 2. Junior dos Santos by KO, round 2.
Zane Simon: I've been hearing a lot of talk about how JDS is "done" as an elite HW after his losses to Cain Velasquez. And honestly, I think that's just the dumbest thing. Junior dos Santos is, at this moment easily one of the two best heavyweights in the world. He's still in the prime of his career, and there's nothing that should convince anyone otherwise. His inability to beat Cain Velasquez is everyone's inability to beat Cain Velasquez. I don't think JDS can ever have the kind of cardio or wrestling necessary to win that matchup. Otherwise he's slowly evolved a more complete, technical kickboxing game to go with his venomous power, is still practically impossible to take down, and still has elite cardio. This is JDS's fight to lose, and too much too soon for Stipe. JDS by KO, round 2.
Staff picking JDS: Mookie, DSM, Stephie, Tim, Fraser, Zane, Phil
Staff picking Miocic:
Nate Diaz vs. Rafael dos Anjos
(Ed. note: These picks were submitted before Nate Diaz missed weight by nearly 5 lbs in the weigh-ins.)
Mookie Alexander: Nate Diaz's last three fights - Destroying Gray Maynard's remains, destroyed by Josh Thomson, destroyed by Ben Henderson. There's no shame in losing to Bendo and Thomson, but he hasn't been competitive versus a top lightweight since 2012 Jim Miller. I am fully sold on dos Anjos' game being too much for Nate to handle. His striking has improved leaps and bounds and now he's added power to it, his takedowns are very good, and he should have enough grappling chops not to get caught in a submission. Rafael has evolved into a really solid three-dimensional fighter -- actually all fighters are three-dimensional ... ditto people -- and guys in the mold of Thomson/Henderson/Dos Anjos are guys he just flat out can't beat. Rafael dos Anjos by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Nate Diaz is a fun fighter with a fun style. He's capable of beating anyone who gives him the time, space, and respect to let him work his game. RDA is not that man. Lately, dos Anjos has looked like a supreme gameplanner. He had just the right tactical style to beat Donald Cerrone and Benson Henderson, and if we're being honest, just the right style to beat Khabib Nurmagomedov... which just proves how much a beast Khabib is. Nate Diaz is very beatable with the right style and pressure, and I see no reason that RDA won't see that and exploit it to his fullest ability. Rafael dos Anjos by TKO, Round 1.
Phil Mackenzie: This fight is closer than it seems. If RDA has struggled with one thing, it's being closed in on and bullied- Tibau and Nurmagomedov most notably. Diaz is a phenomenal phonebooth puncher, and what he lacks in physicality when compared to his brother, he makes up for in speed. Finally, Cordeiro fighters are not really good at movement based kickboxing, aka what is required to really throw Diaz off his game. All that said, I still think RDA can throw in enough takedowns, top control and kicks to cement two out of three. Rafael dos Anjos by unanimous decision.
Staff picking Diaz: Tim
Staff picking dos Anjos: Mookie, DSM, Stephie, Karim, Fraser, Zane, Phil
Stefan Struve vs. Alistair Overeem
Mookie Alexander: Bah, whatever. Stefan Struve gets his silly flying knee thing to work. Totally done with believing in Overeem. Stefan Struve by KO, round 1.
Zane Simon: This is a weird fight that will have me on the edge of my seat all the way through. Like everything that Overeem's done in the past couple years, he should win it. Even the intangibles are in his favor, what with Struves layoff due to medical issues and his fainting spell/panic attack. But I trust Overeem to win a fight about as much as I trust Joe Rogan not to say "It's AMAZING!" Stefan Struve by TKO, Round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: This makes a mockery of the entire idea of picking fights. Given Overeem's skillset, he should utterly steamroll Struve. However, if he doesn't utterly steamroll Struve... if, after 2 minutes or so, he has only mostly steamrolled Struve, and Struve peels himself up off the canvas like Judge Doom... then Overeem is probably toast. It still feels like the most likely outcome is Alistair Overeem by TKO, round 1.
Staff picking Struve: Mookie, Zane
Staff picking Overeem: DSM, Stephie, Karim, Tim, Fraser, Phil
Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Matt Mitrione
Mookie Alexander: Tempted to pick Napao because of his little resurgence (aside from the poor showing vs. Miocic), but Mitrione is one of the better athletes in the HW division and his speed and power as a striker is likely too much for Gonzaga to handle. Matt Mitrione via KO, round 1.
Zane Simon: Matt Mitrione has the distinct benefit and loss of fighting his entire career in the UFC, on the big stage. What that means is that by the third year of his career as a professional fighter, he'd basically been written off by everyone as ever developing into any sort of talent. That's not fair, but that's the way fans work. Instead, he made the move from Alliance to Blackzilians and has slowly developed into one of the best strikers in the heavyweight division. He throws tight technical combinations and has the athleticism, power, and chin to be a danger to everyone on the feet. He also got taken down like a sack of potatoes and subbed in a heartbeat by Brendan Schaub. If Gonzaga can do that, he can win, if he can't he wont. Matt Mitrione by KO, round 1.
Phil Mackenzie: Mitrione looked so, so bad against Schaub, so unbelievably terrible, that I have to think is that all Gonzaga has to do is bumrush him until he does something silly. Gabriel Gonzaga by submission, round 1.
Staff picking Gonzaga: Karim, Tim, Phil
Staff picking Mitrione: Mookie, DSM, Stephie, Fraser, Zane
Zane Simon: Moraga has the kind of holes in his game that almost any reasonably talented fighter can exploit. He's hittable from range, and easy to takedown. He's also a venomous opportunist. When he sees an opening he jumps on it for the finish. Gates has the raw athletic skills and power to put a scare in Moraga early, but he's almost certain to leave an opening that Moraga can exploit. John Moraga by Submission, Round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: Moraga is one of those weird dudes that only seems to finish people who are better than him. John Moraga by unanimous decision.
Staff picking Moraga: Mookie, DSM, Stephie, Karim, Tim, Fraser, Zane
Staff picking Gates:
Claudia Gadelha vs. Joanna Jedrzejzcyk
Mookie Alexander: Poor Mike Goldberg. Claudia Gadelha by decision.
Zane Simon: Honestly, this has the potential to be one of the most closely contested, best fights on the card. Jedrzejzcyk has some of the best combination kickboxing and takedown defense in women's MMA. She's a great athlete, and has the cardio to keep her style going for 3 hard rounds. But she's not Claudia Gadelha great, in terms of athleticism, and she's not as well rounded as Gadelha either. Gadelha is one of the only true three dimensional talents in women's MMA. She's a great wrestler, striker, and grappler and does all three with amazing power and athleticism. There's a good argument that she'll be the strawweight champ by next year. This fight will be close, but I just can't see Gadelha losing it, with her mix of skills, experience and athletic ability. Claudia Gadelha by decision.
Phil Mackenzie: I am very high on both these women, but Gadelha moreso. She has the key advantages in takedown and ground offense. Should be fantastic stuff, but Claudia Gadelha by decision.
Staff picking Gadelha: Mookie, DSM, Karim, Tim, Fraser, Zane, Phil
Staff picking Jedrzejzcyk: Stephie
Mookie Alexander: BE represent. Ben Saunders by flying gogoplata, round 1.
Zane Simon: Even if this weren't a case for blatant homerism, I'd pick Saunders to win. He's just been competing much better at a much higher level than Riggs has lately. He's the more complete and dangerous fighter right now, and I don't see him losing here. Ben Saunders By Submission, Round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: I still think that Ben's wrestling defense and tendency to throw up incessant submissions rather than fighting to his feet is going to get him into trouble, and soon, but he's simply the far more effective offensive fighter. Ben Saunders via the Bee's Knees, TKO round 2.
Staff picking Saunders: Mookie, DSM, Stephie, Karim, Tim, Fraser, Zane, Phil
Staff picking Riggs:
Zane Simon: It's easy to pick Jamie Varner to win this fight. He's looked decent, win or lose lately and when black holes aren't being punched into him and his ankle isn't exploding, he seems like a very competitive lightweight. But, these things happening are also the signs of a fighter that is 12 years into his pro career and highly dependent on explosive athleticism. Things start to fall apart. Drew Dober isn't powerful, isn't varied, but he is a consistent, aggressive, high output kickboxer with a good chin. I'm still picking Varner to get it done by being the crafty vet and better athlete, but that's mostly because Dober hasn't shown the power to put people away or the variety to take them down... There's still a really good chance he loses, but Jamie Varner by decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Dober doesn't have the violent, fight-ending power or pure technique that a guy as short as him desperately needs in the UFC's lightweight division. Varner tends to be incredibly aggressive (to a fault) but Dober's effective radius of offense is too small, and his power is too low to punish the former WEC champ for his boxing combinations and takedown attempts. Jamie Varner by unanimous decision.
Staff picking Varner: DSM, Stephie, Karim, Tim, Fraser, Mookie, Zane, Phil
Staff picking Dober:
Mookie Alexander: I thoroughly dislike watching Ed Herman's fights now. He has been completely unwatchable in his last 4 UFC outings. Brunson has improved tremendously from his Strikeforce days and while he might not be a real contender down the line, he's more than capable of shutting down whatever is left of Herman's offense. Derek Brunson by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Like I talked about with Matt Mitrione above, fighters that fans have seen for a long time tend to get easily overlooked. Brunson has been fighting for less than 5 years. He's still a developing talent. Lately, he's shown himself to be a smarter, more technical fighter who's adept at keeping his bouts out of his opponent's strengths. Ed Herman is going to go out and try to brawl Brunson, but I don't see it happening. Derek Brunson by decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Ed Herman is one of those dudes who is about as good as he can feasibly get. He's been bumped up against the ceiling of his own athleticism time and again. Brunson is a still-developing fighter who is never going to contend for a title, but who has already passed the level of "Short Fuse." Derek Brunson by unanimous decision.
Staff picking Brunson: Mookie, DSM, Stephie, Karim, Zane
Staff picking Herman: Tim, Fraser
Joe Ellenberger vs. Bryan Barberena
Zane Simon: Name value pick, I guess. Ellenberger is like Barberena, but a little better... maybe. Joe Ellenberger by decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Joe Ellenberger is, thus far, the lesser version of his brother (who has himself stumbled badly of late). However, Barberena is really... not good. He's glacially slow, has a poor gas tank, and has only average finishing ability. Joe Ellenberger by TKO round 2.
Staff picking Ellenberger: Mookie, DSM, Stephie, Karim, Tim, Fraser, Zane, Phil
Staff picking Barberena:
David Michaud vs. Garrett Whiteley
Zane Simon: I had some interest in Garrett Whiteley when he got signed. He's got some power in his hands and some dynamic offense when he gets the chance to use it. Unfortunately I think, at this point, he's just not a good enough athlete to succeed in the UFC. Michaud may be very raw, but he's a decent infighter and a solid athlete. I think he'll take this. David Michaud by decision.
Staff picking Michaud: Mookie, DSM, Stephie, Karim, Tim, Fraser, Zane, Phil
Staff picking Whiteley:
Henry Cejudo vs. Dustin Kimura
Mookie Alexander: We posted these predictions before the weigh-ins, so if Cejudo made weight then he probably wins. If not then Dana White probably has already fired him. Henry Cejudo by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Henry Cejudo should be favored to win this fight. Kimura is good and capable and well rounded, but not so venomous in any one area that he should be a massive threat to an athlete of Cejudo's rare caliber. But, Kimura is also the exact type of fighter that beats young hot prospects. He's a large, aggressive grappler who is willing to go for submission after submission. Those types of fighters beat Jose Aldo, Junior dos Santos, Anderson Silva... you get the idea. Young fighters make mistakes, and Kimura is the kind of fighter that capitalizes... That said, I'm still picking Cejudo, just don't be surprised if he loses. Henry Cejudo by decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Nothing about Cejudo makes me think his head is in the game here. Kimura is a voracious submission artist who has struggled against guys who can match him both athletically and technically such as Mitch Gagnon, or against George "I eat sub artists for breakfast" Roop. Cejudo doesn't have Gagnon's sub grappling, or Roop's size advantage, and while he's (by far) the better athlete, I find myself struggling to not see him doing something dumb and getting tapped. Dustin Kimura by submission, round 1.
Staff picking Cejudo: Mookie, DSM, Stephie, Karim, Tim, Fraser, Zane
Staff picking Kimura: Phil
Anthony Birchak vs. Ian Entwistle
Zane Simon: Ian Entwistle is fun to watch, but he doesn't have a very functional "MMA game". He will almost certainly dive on a flying heel hook from the opening bell. If he doesn't have success with his submission chains early, he's going to lose. Anthony Birchak by KO, Round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: If you're going to be an all-in sub artist, you'd better either have a cast-iron chin, or you'd better be absolutely incredible at it, like Shinya Aoki. Watching Entwistle get smashed from the 50/50 guard by Daniel Hooker (who has subsequently showed that he really doesn't have much in the way of natural power) was very damning. At this kind of level, Entwistle remains a live wire, but Anthony Birchak by TKO, round 1.
Staff picking Birchak: DSM, Stephie, Tim, Fraser, Mookie, Zane, Phil
Staff picking Entwistle: Karim