Note 2: The staff obviously made these picks before Renan Barao pulled out of his fight with TJ Dillashaw.
Anton Tabuena: I'm really not a fan of immediate rematches, especially ones that were that one-sided and this recent. It has only been 3 months since their last fight. Three. Freaking. Months... Barao used a lot of that time recovering from that beating too, so how much improvements and adjustments can he really make in that short span? Even then, I doubt any tiny changes for Barao will matter. Dillashaw was clearly head and shoulders above him, and now TJ knows it for sure too, so now there won't be any hesitation pulling the trigger whatsoever. I'm going ahead and say that he will actually do it worse and end it earlier this time. TJ Dillashaw by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: I'll make it perfectly clear - If Dillashaw cropdusts Barao again, he could be even more dominant than Barao was as champion. His striking was outstanding, his wrestling is already there, but what impressed me the most was his speed and fluidity. Barao (obviously) has to adjust and go back to his leg kicks, perhaps be a little more conservative going forward, and at least try to challenge Dillashaw to a grappling battle, where I'd probably favor Barao. I don't expect a total blowout like the first fight, but Barao was so thoroughly beaten the first time I can't bring myself to see Barao winning an immediate re-match. T.J. Dillashaw by 3rd round TKO.
Kyle McLachlan: Even if Barao makes some adjustments, Dillashaw looked so much quicker, as well as being an equally complete fighter, that he is likely a stylistic foil for the former champion. Maybe Barao will be better prepared and less surprised at Dillashaw's quality, and it will lead to a less emphatic victory for the Team Alpha Male and ‘Bang Ludwig protege, but I do not envision a complete turnaround of fortune for Barao. T.J Dillashaw by unanimous decision
Phil Mackenzie: Barao is a great fighter from a great camp, I'm sure they will prepare diligently for the new champion. However, Dillashaw looked much, much better than Barao last time out. Even with improvements, it's going to have to be an utterly different fight and I can't really see it. Tyler Jeffery by unanimous decision
Zane Simon: I don't want to say Barao only has a punchers chance to beat Dillashaw, obviously it's much much better than that. But, it does feel like Dillashaw has "solved" Barao. And Nova Uniao, as great a camp as that is for producing well rounded, technical fighters, isn't exactly known for it's great game-plan adjustments and re-tooling. Jose Aldo has more or less been Jose Aldo for years. He's amazing, but he's not an evolutionary marvel of cutting edge technique. He's more of a living proof of just how far really strong fundamentals can take you when you're also an amazing athlete. Likewise, Renan Barao isn't always the most polished striker. He's fast, he's powerful, and when his timing is on, his aggression is relentless. But he's more or less been the same guy who's happy to kickbox and counter at range, and be deadly in grappling scrambles. Given the short turnaround for the rematch of this fight, how much can we really expect him to have evolved to make up for the huge gap between them in their first fight. T.J. Dillashaw by TKO, Round 4.
Staff picking Dillashaw: Patrick, Kyle, Phil, Mookie, Stephie, Anton, Karim, Dallas, Zane, Fraser
Staff picking Barao: Paul, DSM
Anton Tabuena: I'm picking the upset here. I think Castillo, especially with recent improvements, is good enough to grind out a win in his home town. Danny Castillo by Decision.
Mookie Alexander: I think Castillo's ceiling is fairly well established. He came close to beating Michael Johnson and Edson Barboza but failed to do so after fading and getting dropped. Better strikers have been able to clip him frequently and he is way too deep into his career for it to be magically corrected. His takedowns are good but he's not your typical Alpha Male powerhouse who can just plant you and choke your brains out. Ferguson's boxing is sharp, powerful, fast, and he has big potential to be a top 15 guy. I side with "El Cucuy". Tony Ferguson by KO, round 1.
Kyle McLachlan: Ferguson is a beast at 155. He's big for the weight, and hits hard. Castillo has found more power as of late, as well as being the better MMA wrestler, so if he mixes up his approach he should be able to take a hard-fought decision in a fun fight, assuming he paces himself and doesn't gas like he did against Barboza. Danny Castillo by decision
Phil Mackenzie: I like Danny Castillo. He's the kind of diligent workhorse who takes fights on short notice, slowly rounds out his game, and finally starts organically showing explosive offense. Ludwig specifically named him as the most improved member of TAM (above TJ!). However. He's still basically a wrestle-boxer, and Ferguson is a wrestle-boxer designed to destroy other wrestle-boxers. He's like Metal Gear Ray... if Metal Gear Ray wasn't crap. "El Cucuy" has a borderline-simian reach for a lightweight and loads up nasty straight punches from the shoulder to maximize that advantage. It looks biomechanically inefficient (and startlingly like Chuck Liddell) but it makes a brutal cannonade for any opponent to walk through. Unless Castillo can suddenly show a distance kickboxing game like Michael Johnson, or a step-in and slip game like Yves Edwards, he's facing pretty big differentials in power, durability and reach. As a final threat, Ferguson also uses those freaky arms for a nasty array of Jones-style choke submissions. Tony Ferguson by TKO, round 2.
Patrick Wyman: Ferguson has flown way, way under the radar due to his limited action over the last couple of years, but he's one of the most talented young fighters at 155. He'll prove it here. Castillo doesn't do a single thing better than Ferguson, and Ferguson is also the superior athlete, hits harder, and pushes a much better pace. Ferguson, KO, round 2 (counter right).
Zane Simon: When Castillo doesn't get the early stoppage, he tends to fade. Whether that's due to confidence issues, gas tank problems, or having his opponents find his rhythm and counter him better (he's not the most complex attacking fighter in the world), it's hard to say. Against someone like Ferguson, whose shown himself to be a pretty strong sprawl and brawl fighter with a great gas tank and polished boxing, I'm not sure that Castillo can stay ahead of him for three rounds. I wouldn't be surprised if he came out hard early, and took the first, but I don't think he gets the win. Tony Ferguson by TKO, round 2.
Staff picking Ferguson: Patrick, Paul, Phil, Mookie, Stephie, DSM, Karim, Dallas, Fraser, Zane
Staff picking Castillo: Kyle, Anton
Mookie Alexander: I don't care about the Four Horsewomen and all this accomplishes for Correia is a 3-0 record despite beating no actual contenders. Then she'll fight an actual contender to determine if she'll fight Rousey. Bethe Correia by unanimous decision.
Kyle McLachlan: Correia will outwork Baszler I think. She's on a good run of form, and although she doesn't seem to be exceptional in any one department, I've been more impressed with her as of late. Bethe Correia by decision
Phil Mackenzie: Baszler dramatically underwhelmed on TUF, and Correia's fairly tepid decision over Jessamyn Duke looks even worse when you consider that Leslie Smith absolutely stomped Duke in her follow-up fight. However, training with the Freire brothers, Correia has showed shades of the solid offensive boxing which is one of Patricio's calling cards and has generally looked the more impressive fighter, as Kyle said above. Expect a reasonably uninteresting fight and Bethe Correia by unanimous decision
Fraser Coffeen: I'm a big fan of Shayna Baszler and all she has accomplished in WMMA. She deserves much, much respect. But my fear is that these early generation WMMA fighters have seen their time pass. We saw it on TUF with fighters like Roxanne Modafferi, Tonya Evinger, and Tara La Rosa, and I fear we're going to see it again here with Baszler. She's just 1-2 in the past 4 years (!) and I suspect the game has just passed her on. I would be happy to be wrong, but look for Correia to have the advantage in explosiveness and be able to take out the pioneer. Bethe Correia by decision
Zane Simon: Correia isn't the most dominant fighter in the world. She's got a solid game going, that's likely to win her a lot of close decisions, but she's not blowing people away. That said, I don't expect this fight to be all that close. Unless Basler has revolutionized her striking late in the game, she doesn't have the hands or the wrestling to really trouble Correia. Her clinch grind and pull guard offense is exactly the kind of thing that just doesn't work in the current women's division, and I expect Correia to roll over her for a fairly easy unanimous decision. Bethe Correia by Unanimous decision.
Staff picking Correia: Patrick, Kyle, Phil, Mookie, Stephie, Anton, DSM, Karim, Fraser, Zane
Staff picking Baszler: Dallas
Mookie Alexander: Dusting Colton Smith does nothing for me because Colton Smith may go down as one of the worst fighters to grace the Octagon in the TUF era. But I will never confidently pick Nijem in a fight, and I've randomly pegged this one as a winnable fight that he'll end up losing. Carlos Diego Ferreira by submission, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: I will never be comfortable picking Nijem. He is a long, rangy guy who generally tends to fight like an utter loon, flailing punches, kicks and takedowns against opponents until they either fall over or crack him in the face so that he falls over. Ferreira hasn't shown much in the way of power, but he showed that he can capitalize quickly and fatally on over-aggressive opponents when he dusted Colton Smith. However, Nijem is at least becoming more accurate, mobile and dangerous, and I think he will pile up the strikes from the outside, while being an adept enough scrambler to survive if Ferreira takes him down. Ramsey Nijem by TKO, round 2.
Kyle McLachlan: Ferreira's quick win over Smith was, as mentioned by the others above me, more due to Smith's ineptitude in every facet of the game. It was impressive, but although Nijem is most susceptible in the durability department and fights haphazardly, I've only seen him submitted by someone much bigger than him, which Ferreira is not. This should be a really good matchup on paper, but I lean towards Nijem to put a pace on Ferreira like he did Beneil Dariush and get the better work done. Ramsey Nijem, by unanimous decision
Zane Simon: This is a brutal fight to pick. Nijem has looked better lately, but that was against the very undersized Beneil Dariush, and a lot of Nijem's improvements were based on his ability to walk through whatever Dariush threw at him while landing his own shots. I don't think he can do that with Ferreira, if for no other reason than that Ferreira uses a lot more variety in his strikes. But Nijem is a big step up for Ferreira, has been a thoroughly dominant wrestler at times, and may have really turned a striking corner. If he has, this is his fight to win, if he hasn't this may be a toss up. Ramsey Nijem, by Unanimous Decision.
Staff picking Ferreira: Mookie, Anton
Staff picking Nijem: Patrick, Kyle, Phil, Stephie, DSM, Kyle, Karim, Dallas, Fraser, Zane
Kyle McLachlan: This is pretty much style versus style. Jackson doesn't seem that athletic, but he's persistent in the takedown. I think Medeiros will wreck him before he gets it. Yancy Medeiros, by KO, round 1.
Zane Simon: I hate picking a fighter on short notice, and Medeiros is a huge beast of a lightweight with fight ending power. But Jackson has a complex takedown game, a great, aggressive transition grappling game, and is the exact kind of fighter who should be able to totally run over fairly unpolished opposition. I hoped to see a fighter progressing in Medeiros, and I haven't seen it yet. So, Damon Jackson, by submission, round 1.
Staff picking Jackson: Dallas, Zane
Staff picking Medeiros: Patrick, Kyle, Phil, Mookie, Stephie, Anton, DSM, Karim, Fraser
Mookie Alexander: Remember when Larkin clearly beat Francis Carmont (screw the judges) and dominated Robbie Lawler? Well those days are gone now. Sadly I've given up on him, and while I recall being harsh on Brunson in his dreadful fight with Chris Leben, he's clearly improved his game and can definitely grind this one out. He was on his way to beating Yoel Romero before Romero's powers were activated by soiling himself, and that's a pretty big deal. Brunson sends Larkin packing. Derek Brunson by unanimous decision.
Kyle McLachlan: Larkin has the more unconventional and athletic style in terms of his striking, and impressed at 205 back in Strikeforce (as well as being robbed against Carmont at 185 in the UFC) but Brunson has impressed me even in his losing efforts and has improved his striking to the extent that it compliments his wrestling quite well. Brunson's biggest problem seems to be that if he has initial success he doesn't follow up on it, and is still quite tentative. Tough to pick I think. As Larkin is coming off the more devastating loss, I'm inclined to pick Brunson, even if Larkin may be able to get off first. Derek Brunson, via decision
Phil Mackenzie: Look at everyone with their "fun" picks. Brunson is a more meat-and-potatoes mixed martial artist, but Larkin is by far the more entertaining and optimistic selection. He's very talented, appears to have a decent head on his shoulders, and is genuinely attempting to round out his game. However, he has been struggling with the fact that ameliorating one issue seems to bring another to the forefront: Brad Tavares beat him on volume, so he stepped up his aggression, and then Costas Phillippou summarily knocked him cold. Fine, fine, I'll pick with fun, but I have no real confidence, and am slightly worried that Larkin continues down the long slide, like a free bloody bird. Larkin by obscure poetry reference.
Zane Simon: I honestly think Lorenz Larkin should win this fight. He looked like he was really making the right adjustments against Phillippou, but unfortunately for him "was making" and "had already made" are two totally different things. If he continues to stay aggressive and improves his defensive movement and positioning in combination, he could be a very good middleweight... But that's a lot of ifs. In the meantime, it feels like Brunson is just more diverse and bigger, and tougher, and stronger. I could see this being a slightly better version of the Carmont fight, where Brunson doesn't get a lot done but controls the cage the whole way through. Derek Brunson by split decision.
Staff picking Larkin: Patrick, Paul, Phil
Staff picking Brunson: Kyle, Mookie, Stephie, Anton, DSM, Karim, Dallas, Fraser, Zane
Mookie Alexander: HEAVYWEIGHTS ALWAYS BRING IT! WA----*fart noise*. Anthony Hamilton by KO, round 1.
Patrick Wyman: If there were a way to pick "neither," I would definitely do so. Since that isn't an option, I think Hamilton offers slightly better rounded skills and more athleticism. Hamilton, unanimous decision.
Kyle McLachlan: Both looked....well, pretty dismal last time out. As Patrick says, Hamilton looks a bit better athletically. Anthony Hamilton via decision
Phil Mackenzie: Do I want to watch this? No Fangzz. Anthony Hamilton by huffing, puffing decision
Fraser Coffeen: I'm not picking the guy who loses by neck crank in 2014, no way. Ruan Potts by KO, round 1
Zane Simon: Ugh, what the hell. I thought he'd be half decent coming in. I was wrong. Might as well be wrong twice. Ruan Potts by submission, round 1.
Staff picking Potts: Fraser, Zane
Staff picking Hamilton: Patrick, Kyle, Phil, Mookie, Stephie, Anton, DSM, Karim, Dallas
Phil Mackenzie: Cool fight. Should be some fun scrambles and good wrestling, but I expect Birchak's slight power advantage and Soto's slightly suspect chin to be the difference-maker when it comes to winning rounds. Anthony Birchak by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Soto may be a bit more polished and controlling on the ground, but he and Birchak bring pretty similar wrestling chops to the cage with them. As such, I wouldn't be surprised if they end up in a kickboxing bout for three rounds. On the feet, Brichak has a decided advantage, as he comes forward with power and aggression, where as Soto tends to shell and whether the storm. Anthony Birchak by decision.
Staff picking Soto: Anton, Fraser
Staff picking Birchak: Patrick, Kyle, Phil, Mookie, Stephie, DSM, Karim, Dallas
Zane Simon: Normally, everything about this fight would favor Wade. He comes from a much better background with his wrestling and kickboxing credentials, he fights out of a solid camp, and he generally cuts an imposing figure in the cage... Except, he doesn't really fight with any aggression or power, in any area. His kickboxing tends to be technically solid, but almost always probing one strike at a time shots. His wrestling hasn't ever really looked that dominant. He tends to get stuck on his feet in kickboxing mode, and then tries to shoot when he gets overwhelmed by more aggressive strikers. He's a decent technical wrestler when he actually gets in on a shot, but that doesn't seem to happen that often. Add in that he's not very heavy on top and isn't too active with his ground and pound and you've got a guy who's made to give aggressive opponents lots of chances. Carrizosa, on the other hand, tends to bull into the clinch for drag and trip takedowns, and will even pull guard to engage his submission chain offense, but he at least shows a lot of aggression and solid controlling technique on the ground. I'll take the aggressive fighter in his debut. Cain Carrizosa by submission, round 2.
Mookie Alexander: Chris Wade is from Long Island. I hear good MMA fighters come from there. Soooooooooo ... Chris Wade via unanimous decision.
Staff picking Wade: Patrick, Kyle, Phil, Mookie, stephie, Anton, DSM, Karim, Dallas, Fraser
Staff picking Carrizosa: Zane