(Ed. Note: The "Roy" you see in the staff predictions is a Mr. Roy Billington, who will be formally joining the BE team on February 1st.)
Anton Tabuena: Stylistically, Silva should have this in the bag. But there are just too many question marks on both guys that no one can really pretend like they know what will happen here. I think it is interesting to note that without even considering the layoff, Silva, in a little over two months time, turns 40... 40! The guy relied heavily on his reaction time and an incredible chin, but even almost 2 years ago it was already fading. It's impossible to tell, really, but since we're all just guessing here, I'm going against the grain. Maybe father time really has caught up to Silva. Nick Diaz by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: I've got that "Roy Jones Jr. post-Tarver KO" vibe with Anderson's chin. Diaz isn't a power puncher, and he's more of a volume boxer, but that again draws comparisons to Glen Johnson when he KO'd RJJ. But stylistically, I don't see Anderson getting tooled with the Stockton slap. He's clearly on the downside of his career, and I have serious doubts that he will be able to contend again, but he should defeat Diaz in an entertaining but one-sided fight. Anderson Silva by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: The question is: "Is Anderson completely shot to the extent that he'll lose to a stylistic lay-up such as Diaz?" The answer is yes. Yes he is. Nick Diaz by TKO, round 3
Fraser Coffeen: Between the massive layoffs for both men and the way Silva looked in his last fight (and for the record, he looked terrible even before The Destruction), this is an impossible fight to call. All we can do is speculate how each man will look in the cage Saturday night. There, I agree that Silva is not even remotely close to his prime anymore, and I worry that Weidman (and about 10 other MWs) do scary, scary things to him right now. But Diaz? At Middleweight? After 2 years of retirement? Nah. Anderson Silva by decision
Zane Simon: I guess I'm taking Anderson here, because that just makes sense. But, if I'm being realistic, there's a really good chance that Anderson has fallen far enough fast enough that Diaz could be the better man on the day. Much like the recent Zaromskis vs. Gonzalez bout or Fedor vs. Bigfoot, timing can be everything. Diaz is no spring chicken in the game either, but he has a style that seems much less likely to be broken by time than Silva's. If Diaz is on point and Silva has lost a bunch of steps, then this fight could turn in favor of the 209 quick. Still, that's highly speculative, and speculation aside, I gotta go with the Spider. Anderson Silva, by TKO, Round 3.
Staff picking Silva: Rainer, Mookie, Stephie, DSM, Tim, Roy, Paul, Fraser, Karim, Zane
Staff picking Diaz: Phil, Anton
(Ed. Note: Staff picks were written before news of Gastelum's apparent bad weight cut first broke.)
Anton Tabuena: Stylistically, I still don't get why Gastelum is the favorite here. The only way I see him winning is if he tires out Woodley without getting hurt, and that's easier said than done. Gastelum is less experienced, doesn't have better wrestling, and unlike Rory, he won't be able to pick him apart with technical strikes from range. While he has improved offensively, he still has shown historically bad striking defense and has been far too easy to hit with flush shots. That's a really bad idea against a guy like Woodley. Tyron Woodley by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: If Gastelum can pressure Woodley and keep him off of his rhythm, then this fight is Kelvin's to lose. Woodley's offense has gotten better, but his ability to implement it in fights is wildly inconsistent. I see Gastelum being able to avoid Woodley's powerful right hand while winning with his own boxing, as well as being able to tire Woodley out in the later rounds and maybe even getting him on his back. Kelvin Gastelum by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: The more I think about this fight the more I like Woodley's chances. My big problem for him is that, when he's hot, he's on fire, but when he's cold, all hell freezes over. When Woodley loses he loses bad. Gastelum, on the other hand seems capable of putting on a consistent, aggressive performance, no matter how good or bad his camp has been. He's young, he's charging up the ranks hard, and everything seems to be clicking. Woodley has shown himself to be the better fighter statistically, to date, but he's also shown the kind of fights that make him a hard man to trust. Kevlin Gastelum by Decision.
Staff picking Gastelum: Mookie, Phil, Tim, Roy, Fraser, Karim, Zane
Staff picking Woodley: Rainer, Stephie, DSM, Paul, Anton
Anton Tabuena: Iaquinta has been on a great stretch lately and looks better than ever. That's why I'm not so sure if it's just my love for Lauzon's entertainment factor that's blindly leading me to pick him here. Joe Lauzon by Submission.
Mookie Alexander: As an unabashed Joe Lauzon fan, this is a stupidly tough fight to pick. He's about as apt a test for Iaquinta's development as the UFC can provide. Lauzon seems to be slowing down a bit after all of those wars he's been involved in, and that could prove costly if he stands and trades with Iaquinta for too long. As Rainer says below, Lauzon is masterful at seizing opportunities, which means if Iaquinta gets careless, Lauzon will lock in a submission and Iaquinta will be tapping. I have a feeling that's what we'll see again on Saturday. Joe Lauzon by submission, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: Lauzon has fixed his early-mid career gas tank issues, but remains an above-average athlete who normally follows low percentage paths to victory. Similar to when Johnson fought Lauzon, I think Iaquinta will be more aware of the sub threat than he usually is, and is a bigger, stronger athlete and better stand-up technician. I also feel like Lauzon is on the downslope- if he hadn't cut Chiesa, I don't think he would have won that fight. Al Iaquinta by TKO, round 3.
Rainer: Lauzon looked surprisingly vulnerable on his feet against Michael Chiesa, so I think it's safe to say that he's likely to catch hell if he keeps it standing too long with Iaquinta. Nevertheless, he has a great knack for seizing on an opportunity, and I don't think Iaquinta's game is so air-tight that Lauzon can't find his opening for a submission. Call it wishful thinking if you like, but Lauzon, Submission, Round 1.
Zane Simon: This is a fight that, if Iaquinta doesn't make some mind bendingly foolish error, he should walk away with. Things really seem to be clicking for him, and even in Lauzon's best areas, Iaquinta is at least capable (when his head is on right) of competing. And in Iaquinta's best areas, Lauzon really isn't. I just don't see Iaquinta coming in underprepared at this point in his career, but that's been wrong before... Al Iaquinta by TKO, Round 2.
Staff picking Lauzon: Mookie, Rainer, Roy, Karim, Anton
Staff picking Iaquinta: Stephie, Phil, DSM, Tim, Paul, Fraser, Zane
Mookie Alexander: Bad match-up for Boetsch. Leites has been working on his striking for quite some time and it's paying off in the form of consecutive knockout wins. He'll also control Boetsch on the ground if it goes there, and barring another miracle from Tim -- which can't be discounted -- I think Leites keeps the comeback trail going. Thales Leites by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: These guys are a little like the more physical and dynamic versions of the Natal-Watson fight lower down the card. However, Boetsch has been skating a very thin line of late: sudden, shocking comebacks shouldn't be your MO, and he's always tried to power his way out of ground exchanges. I don't think even the "new" Leites has quite the necessary crushing physical strength that Rockhold and Davis used to tap Boetsch, but I do like Leites for 3 rounds of control. Thales Leites by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Obviously Boetsch has an avenue to win. Usually I'd dismiss the "puncher's chance" but he's made good an honest work of it before, and Leites is very likely to look to hook up with him in the pocket and exchange blows. Still, Boetsch really seems to have stalled out badly, at a point when he should still be progressing. And Leites seems to have found new power, new skills, and a second run, at a point when most fighters are looking to retire. Leites is the easy pick, and I'm picking him, most particularly because he can always outwrestle Boetsch even if he doesn't want to trade with him. Thales Leites by KO, Round 2.
Staff picking Boetsch: Roy
Staff picking Leites: Rainer, Mookie, Stephie, Phil, DSM, Tim, Paul, Fraser, Karim, Anton, Zane
Mookie Alexander: I have no idea who to pick. This card really has a lot of highly compelling bouts that are worth everyone's time. I don't want to pull out the ring rust card, but Alves has fought only 4 times since 2011 and he's not won consecutive fights since 2008. I like Mein's physical advantages (4 inches taller, 5 inch reach advantage) to frustrate Thiago and let his multi-faceted game break Pitbull down in the middle of the 3nf. Jordan Mein by TKO, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: I think Mein is a horrible matchup for Alves. The division has changed around Pitbull. Most notably, he is short as hell for a WW in 2015, and he's not really an in-fighter. Thus, his t-rex arms mean that he's constantly battling against a massive reach differential. Mein is a huge, young, and athletic WW with a great jab that he will stick in Alves's face a lot. Whatever happens, expect it to be awesome, and for both men to return to their home dimension of the Sean Sherk Eternal Injury Vortex(TM) afterwards. Because they pretty much always do. Sigh. Jordan Mein by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: I love Thiago Alves, and I can't wait to see him get back in the cage. But, right now, at this moment, I think Mein is faster, hits harder, and is every bit as technical. That's a rough spot for Alves to be in, especially after all his injury woes. Jordan Mein by KO, Round 1.
Staff picking Alves: Rainer, Stephie, DSM, Roy, Karim
Staff picking Mein: Mookie, Phil, Tim, Paul, Fraser, Anton, Zane
Mookie Alexander: Miesha Tate isn't the woman to beat Ronda Rousey (duh). I do know that Sara McMann IS the woman to make sure we never see Tate vs. Rousey 3 under any circumstances. Sara McMann by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: People seem way more excited for this fight than, say, Bader-Davis. Which is strange, because I think there is a solid chance that it will be equally dreadful, or even worse. Two top control fighters, one of whom does damage, while the other is the far superior wrestler. I expect McMann to stalemate Tate much like Liz Carmouche did, but to do it for all three rounds, and that it will be awful. If either woman shows the improvements necessary to prevent this prediction from occurring, I will be happy. Sara McMann by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Tate rarely beats many people on the strength of her kickboxing, and she's not about to out wrestle McMann. She might be able to pull out a miracle submission, but it's much more likely she gets ground out for 3 rounds. Sara McMann by Decision.
Staff picking Tate: DSM, Tim, Roy, Paul, Fraser
Staff picking McMann: Rainer, Mookie, Stephie, Phil, Karim, Anton
Mookie Alexander: I was very down on Derek Brunson before he made it into the UFC. He's improved substantially from the Strikeforce days and he's just a flat out bad match-up for the declining "Short Fuse". Derek Brunson by TKO, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: Herman is actually more well-rounded than the majority of his Scrappy Blue Collar peers at 185lbs, but he moves and reacts like he's being controlled via dial-up modem, and Brunson has really stepped up his game lately. Derek Brunson by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Brunson is the better wrestler, better grappler, and at this point probably the better striker. Herman is weird in his crazy toughness and strength, but I can't see him giving Brunson more trouble than Lorenz Larkin did. Derek Brunson by Decision.
Staff picking Herman:
Staff picking Brunson: Rainer, Mookie, Stephie, Phil, DSM, Tim, Roy, Paul, Fraser, Karim, Anton, Zane
Anton Tabuena: Also shocked at the odds here. I think McCall's takedown game gets a bit overrated and masked by his excellent top control, and I think he will have a tough time trying to get Lineker down long enough. That part may also be moot as McCall has a tendency to brawl with everyone even if it's unnecessary. I think this should be pretty even, and the odds don't really reflect how close this should be. Toss up, but I'm picking John Lineker by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: Pretty certain I picked Lineker the last time even though McCall has the wrestling and grappling to school Hands of Stone. Alternatively, JOHN LINEKER VIOLENCE emerges and completely erases that factor out of McCall, and this applies whether or not Lineker weighs in at 129 lbs or 127 lbs. John Lineker by TKO, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: Close fight when it was announced the first time. Still a close fight. McCall has shown a tendency towards ill-advised brawls, and getting outworked by stronger fighters and harder hitters. Lineker, conversely, has always struggled with phase-shifting. He looked technically massively improved against Alptekin Ozkilic, but he still probably dropped the first round in a fight he was heavily favoured to win. In the end, I think his slow footspeed for a flyweight allows McCall room to potshot, force Lineker to chase and then allows Uncle Creepy to work the takedowns. Ian McCall by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Ian McCall is a very good fighter when he's on point. Clearly a level above the Brad Picketts of the world. But, against guys who stay on him and don't give him room to reset, to think about his game, McCall has a tendency to brawl, often at his own expense. If he can stick with a wrestle first, in and out striking game, he can take Lineker. But, if he gets sucked into the pocket and just decides to go shot for shot, I think Lineker will make the fight hell on him. John Lineker by Decision.
Staff picking Lineker: Mookie, Anton, Zane
Staff picking McCall: Rainer, Stephie, Phil, DSM, Tim, Roy, Paul, Fraser, Karim
Mookie Alexander: Ick. Natal was kinda fun to watch in his early UFC days, but now I just actively avoid watching him because he's just too sloppy with his striking and makes some ... questionable in-fight decisions. Oh, an his gas tank sucks. Watson doesn't do much for me so basically this is a coin flip fight. Tom Watson by unanimous decision.
Rainer: Natal seems to have more tools, but his woeful fight IQ makes me think that Watson will ultimately walk away the winner. Watson, TKO, Round 3.
Phil Mackenzie: We've seen this exact fight play out multiple times at this weight class. Sometimes BJJ Guy manages to get the takedowns going and picks up two rounds before he gasses out. Sometimes it ends up with Scrappy Blue Collar Guy with a slight edge as they huff and sweat and trade leg kicks. It's almost always close and not all that fun to watch. Tom Watson by split decision.
Zane Simon: This is such an ugly fight. Natal is the clearly more diverse, athletic talent, but he's also way way more inconsistent. At sort of a c-grade level, this fight sort of mirrors the Woodley Gastelum fight above. And much like that fight, I'm picking the guy I feel like shows up in every single fight. Watson may not be a thrill a minute fighter, but he's tough and he stays busy and Natal leaves a ton of opportunities. Tom Watson by Decision.
Staff picking Watson: Rainer, Mookie, Stephie, Phil, Roy, Zane
Staff picking Natal: DSM, Tim, Paul, Fraser, Karim, Anton
Diego Brandao vs. Jimy Hettes
Mookie Alexander: Brandao is inconsistent, but unlike Hettes, Diego can strike and he has serious power. Hettes just doesn't have the athleticism or the well-rounded skills to further advance himself up the featherweight division. Diego avoids the gas tank questions by flattening Hettes in a round. Diego Brandao by KO, round 1.
Rainer: It's hard to know what to make of Hettes at this point. I love his go-for-broke grappling, but Brandao has been a far more reliable competitor, and he's got a wider arsenal. Brandao, Unanimous Decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Brandao has a strong top game and good power, but a sketchy gas tank and often seems to struggle with the mental side. Hettes has not improved at all since dominating Nam Phan, and his overall lack of physicality and any kind of striking game got him dummied by Bermudez. Brandao just can't put out the kind of sustained violence that Bermudez did, but he can win this fight on the feet or on the ground, unless Hettes has shown substantial improvement. I expect the Overeem/Lombard "brief flurry of offense- takedown- rest- repeat" gameplan and Diego Brandao by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Jimy Hettes has some real technical tools. His striking is serviceable, and his judo and grappling are both sneaky good. But, he really seems to be physically lacking. Going back, his wins over Phan and Caceres aren't as impressive as they seemed at the time, and his win over Whiteford had a lot to do with Whiteford looking to implement his own Judo base. Brandao may be subject to gassing, may be inconsistent, but he's aggressive and decently technical everywhere, and fast and strong. I just don't see Hettes having the tools to handle him. Diego Brandao by decision.
Staff picking Brandao: Rainer, Mookie, Stephie, Phil, DSM, Fraser, Karim, Anton, Zane
Staff picking Hettes: Tim, Roy, Paul
Rainer: I'm generally skeptical of anyone from TUF's international teams, though I haven't checked to see if their UFC records support that bias or not. Regardless, Alcantara's smothering game should be enough to earn a victory, if not fans. Alcantara, Unanimous Decision.
Phil Mackenzie: First Alcantara was a small LHW, then he was a hilariously massive WW. Now, he's at a proper weight class. I feel like his sneaky 1st round dynamism was eroded when he was a lumbering welter, so I hope to see a return of it at middleweight. Ildemar Alcantara by submission, round 1
Zane SImon: I've seen nothing in Rick Monstro's game that makes me think he's got a bright future. Worst of all, his regional submissions are largely leg-lock based, which rarely translates to the highest level. He got bombed out in his UFC debut, and while that may not happen here, he's still probably going to lose. Ildemar Alcantara by decision.
Staff picking Moreira:
Staff picking Alcantara: Rainer, Mookie, Stephie, Phil, DSM, Tim, Roy, Fraser, Karim, Zane
Rainer: Anyone who loses to Marcelo Guimaraes, who himself has been thoroughly underwhelming, can't receive much confidence from me. Santos, Unanimous Decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Hmm. Santos has had two straight fights where his grappling wasn't tested at all (he punted Ronny Markes in the gut and then lost to Uriah Hall), which is sort of worrying for a medium power kickboxer's future success. Enz is, at the very least, quite aggressive and the more durable fighter. This feels like a stupid idea, but I feel that I should make at least one wacky pick. Andy Enz by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Andy Enz has some decent raw tools. Most notably, a good top game. But he doesn't have much wrestling or striking to implement that top game. Santos may be undersized at 185 and may not be the most well rounded fighter, but his striking and aggression should see him through here. Thiago Santos by Decision.
Staff picking Santos: Rainer, Mookie, Stephie, DSM, Tim, Roy, Fraser, Karim, Anton, Zane
Staff picking Enz: Phil