The UFC is in Monterrey, Mexico for tomorrow's TUF Latin America 2 Finale. Bloody Elbow's staff is (somewhat surprisingly) entirely in agreement that Kelvin Gastelum will beat Neil Magny in the main event. Not so surprising? Ricardo Lamas over Diego Sanchez in the co-main, as well as Henry Cejudo likely clinching a title shot for himself against Jussier Formiga.
NOTE: Predictions are entered throughout the week and collected on Friday. Explanations behind each pick are not required and some writers opt not to do so for their own reasons. For example, if Phil Mackenzie entered all of his predictions on Tuesday without adding in any explanations, he has no idea if he's going to be the only one siding with one fighter for any given fight.
Mookie Alexander: This feels weird that everyone is picking Gastelum. Obviously I'm picking Gastelum too, but I'd have figured someone would've picked the upset. Magny's only looked completely outclassed against guys who can completely overwhelm him with their grappling, so that's Sergio Moraes and Demian Maia. Gastelum really doesn't fit the Maia/Moraes mold, but he possesses better all-around offense than the both of them combined. His pressuring style can easily make Magny uncomfortable, as Neil is better when he has space to work with. On the flip side, Magny is a sharp, crafty striker and Gastelum is hittable. Gastelum should have the advantage on the mat, especially since he's much stronger and more composed there, unlike Erick Silva. Two x-factors for me are how their gas tanks hold up if it goes to round 4, and also Magny once again taking a fight on short notice. That's not something you do regularly and manage to win consistently. I expect a good bout, with Magny slowly fading as the fight goes on and Gastelum asserting his dominance everywhere. Kelvin Gastelum by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: The fact that I'm picking Gastelum along with the rest of the staff really shouldn't undercut the major x-factor in this fight. This feels like the perfect measuring stick as to just how seriously Gastelum is taking his fight prep. If he is out of shape Magny is difficult enough to put away and aggressive enough in his output to survive early and rally to win the late rounds in a 5 round fight. If Gastelum is in shape, this is the kind of fight he's shown that he's already very capable of winning. I'll assume the latter even though there's no reason not to bet on the former, given his history. Kelvin Gastelum by RNC round 3.
Staff picking Gastelum: Nick, Phil, Mookie, Fraser, Stephie, James, Tim, Zane
Staff picking Magny:
Mookie Alexander: Lamas all day. Sanchez really doesn't have a prayer here and it will not be that fun watching him fight, at least compared to the Diego of even the Melendez fight. I'd be really surprised if Lamas finished Diego. Ricardo Lamas by split decision (30-15, 30-0, 28-29)
Phil Mackenzie: The wheels fell off Diego a while ago, but somehow he's kept moving through sheer fan goodwill and terrible judging. I have a sneaking suspicion this is the one where the exhaust manifold, underside and axles all fall off too. Sanchez hasn't had any remotely legit wins for a minute, he's sucking the moisture out of his brain with an extreme weight cut, and even his legendary durability has to go one day. Ricardo Lamas is pretty uninspiring unless his opponent makes a mistake... but hey, guess who he's fighting? Punch, RNC, Ricardo Lamas by submission, round 1.
Zane Simon: I'm right in line with Phil here. And even if Lamas is uninspiring at times, he's still a major cut above anyone that Sanchez has beat in a long time, and unlike Melendez, is a much more consistent finishing threat (even if he's a less technically sound fighter). I think Sanchez's first fight at a new weight will be damned ugly. Ricardo Lamas by submission, Round 1.
Staff picking Lamas: Nick, Mookie, Phil, Fraser, Stephie, James, Tim, Zane
Staff picking Sanchez:
Mookie Alexander: Formiga's boxing has improved, he definitely has power in his hands, but unless he picks up his output and can work with Cejudo's pace, he can't win the fight from there. That leaves him with trying to take Cejudo down, which I doubt happens even once, so it'll be down to Cejudo making a mistake and Formiga getting his sick back take game in full motion for Jussier to get the upset. Otherwise, Cejudo will get the win. Henry Cejudo by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Cejudo's fight progression has been pretty much perfect. Kimura was a good question mark for whether he could mind his P's and Q's against an aggressive sub grappler, Cariaso and Camus were about whether he could outwork tough, skilled veterans who won't go away. This is basically a combination of the two. Formiga's greatly improved boxing is probably the wild card here, but he's not a hitter and Cejudo works at a hellacious pace. Probably a little like the Camus fight- moments of success from Formiga, but Henry Cejudo by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: What's the grappling version of a puncher's chance? That's what Formiga has, and it's a damn good one. Cejudo's pathological aggression and face first boxing leave him ripe to be cracked coming in, have his back taken, and be subbed out. But... That's one of those win/lose opportunities. Cejudo isn't the kind of fighter who will let his opponent coast out rounds against him. If you're going to beat him in MMA, it looks like you're going to have to be supremely better technically, or you're going to have to stop him. Formiga's muay thais has improved, but I'm not sure he's to the point that he can just school Cejudo and while he's the much better grappler, he's not the better wrestler. I won't be surprised at all if Formiga wins this, beating him will pretty much solidify Cejudo as the legit next no. 1 conteder. That's a major leap for Cejudo to take. But, I think he's ready. Henry Cejudo by decision.
Staff picking Cejudo: Nick, Mookie, Phil, Fraser, Stephie, James, Tim, Zane
Staff picking Formiga:
Enrique Marin vs. Erick Montano - TUF Latin America 2 Welterweight Final
Mookie Alexander: Too many events and too many stories to write means I surprisingly didn't really watch TUF Latin America 2 like real fans pretend they watched. It's too late for me now! Enrique Marin by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: TUF finales historically seem to have a really defined hierarchy of wrestlers>sub grapplers>strikers. Hungry sub grappler against fairly lackadaisical counter puncher isn't a hard pick, but it's not one I have any real confidence in. Enrique Marin by submission, round 2.
Zane Simon: *Flips coin* *picks the guy everyone else picked anyway*
Staff picking Marin: Nick, Phil, Fraser, Stephie, James, Zane, Mookie
Staff picking Montano: Tim
Enrique Barzola vs. Horacio Gutierrez
Phil Mackenzie: Like the Goku vs Bull matchup towards the bottom of the card, this should be a throwdown between aggressive, fairly athletic fighters with not much in the way of defense. Gutierrez seems a better athlete with cleaner technique, so the question is really whether Barzola can throw him off his game with sheer awkwardness. Horacio Gutierrez by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: I've been hearing better things about this fight than it's welterweight counterpart above. But I didn't watch TUF LA 2 at all. That said, Connor convinced me on the vivi. Barzola by awkward TKO.
Staff picking Barzola: Fraser, Zane
Staff picking Gutierrez: Nick, Stephie, Phil, James, Tim, Mookie
Mookie Alexander: This card below the top 3 fights ... man. At least December's schedule is looking fine! Efrain Escudero by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: I just don't know. Buscape is a much better athlete than Escudero at this stage in their careers, but he's just so low-pace. Escudero is a strange and oddly inspiring story. He was the Cejudo / Gastelum "if only he could get his head together and get disciplined" tale long before they were. One of the first TUF winners to get bounced, he seemed like he'd wash out of the sport, a conception reinforced by some really awful loss streaks... but here he is. A redemption story where he's come back not as a star, but as a solid workhorse. He's a good boxer, and Silva has a horribly disconnected game of yolo kicks and submission grappling, and I guess I just can't bear to pick that. I've hugely underestimated Efrain in his current run, maybe this is moving too far the other way, but Efrain Escudero by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: I'll never be surprised if anyone ever beats Efrain Escudero. He seems totally willing to give whatever fight he's in away. But Leandro Silva is just so... bleah. He fights for about 45 seconds of every round, that's sometimes enough to win, but Escudero seems to be fighting well right now so Efrain Escudero by decision.
Staff picking Escudero: Phil, Fraser, Stephie, James, Tim, Zane, Mookie
Staff picking Silva: Nick
Phil Mackenzie: Taylor Lapilus is a way, way harder matchup than Damian Stasiak, who was likely booked as an easy bounce-back for Perez. Goyito is hard to get a handle on. Much of his early Zuffa career was beating up on some of the most defensively frail bantamweights ever to step into a UFC or WEC cage. He's been out for a long time, and his last fight, like Fili, was a classic "prospect unable to disengage offensive grappling" loss. Lots of unknowns. I believe he's also left Jackson's for Alliance. Lapilus conversely is just very technically sound when it comes to defending takedowns and striking. I think I like Perez's slightly superior physicality and pace but this is very hard to call. Erik Perez by unanimous decision
Zane Simon: The ship has kind of sailed on Erik Perez for me. He's been around long enough that he's not really a prospect anymore, and while he's definitely a great athlete, it just seems like his game never really got any more complex or technical than when he first came to the UFC. Still, he's a huge test for Lapilus, who has so far shown he can handle the lowest class of UFC bantamweight with ease, but has yet to prove much else. Still, I just have a feeling he'll come out ahead here, and Perez will be on the wrong end of another ugly, somewhat head scratching loss. Taylor Lapilus by decision.
Staff picking Lapilus: Nick, Zane
Staff picking Perez: Mookie, Fraser, Phil, Stephie, James, Tim
Phil Mackenzie: This fight may be mind-rendingly awful. Two plodding clinch grinders who'll exchange winging strikes before locking up. Fabinski seems better at the key grindy skillsets, but not by enough that it'll make the fight entertaining in the slightest. Bartosz Fabinski by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: More nuanced fighters will beat Fabinski with better footwork, slicker grappling, and sharp counter punching. Hector Urbina hasn't ever struck me as that dude. Bartosz Fabinski via decision.
Staff picking Fabinski: Phil, Mookie, Stephie, Tim, Zane
Staff picking Urbina: Nick, Fraser, James
Mookie Alexander: Pretty much picking heart over head here. When lighter weight class fighters fall off, it's REALLY noticeable. Jorgensen fits the bill perfectly, and it was really evident when he dropped to flyweight. But can I get one more decent showing out of Young Guns? Please? Scott Jorgensen by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Young Guns might have lost a step or three, but he showed against Danny Martinez and to a lesser extent even Gamburyan that he's got a tiny bit left in the tank, particularly at 135. We tend to think of the Latin American fighters in the UFC as being raw and that WEC vets are old, but Scotty started his career after Perez. While a WEC/UFC career is inherently more stressful on the body than a regional one, and pretty much all the things which made Scott good are fading away (physical strength, durability) I just don't think Perez will show the necessary improvements to beat even a declining version of a good fighter. Scott Jorgensen by unanimous decision.
Fraser Coffeen: Listen, like any good WEC fan, I love Jorgensen, and will be rooting for him, but he's on a 2-7 run and Perez is not a bad fighter. Alejandro Perez, decision
Zane Simon: I expect this fight will show me sad things. Alejandro Perez by submission, round 2.
Staff picking Jorgensen: Phil, Nick, Mookie
Staff picking Perez: Fraser, Stephie, James, Tim, Zane
Phil Mackenzie: Great fight. I still think Fili is a very good (if not quite blue-chip) prospect at 145. His losses are both more than explicable, having come against Max Holloway who is one of the best in the division, and in a classic trap fight against Godofredo Pepey. As with Magny in the main event, sometimes a well-rounded game can be a problem, when a fighter can't, for example, stop himself trying to pick up takedowns and ground positions. Benitez is another improved TUF LatAm fighter, but in particular I'm not a fan of his tendency to jump guillotines and give his back up when he's on grappling defense. Think Benitez's cleaner, straighter strikes may pick up the early going, but pace and takedowns will slow him as Fili angles off and lands combinations. Andre Fili by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Benitez has already showed me he's better than the worst bantamweights in the UFC (That's honestly more than I expected). But, Fili is just at the fringes of being a top 15-20 guy. He's a great athlete and good everywhere, just too willing to take on specialists in their strengths. But Benitez isn't a specialist, he's just kind of a jack of all trades and a less athletic one than his opponent. Andre Fili by decision.
Staff picking Benitez:
Staff picking Fili: Nick, Mookie, Phil, Fraser, Stephie, James, Tim, Zane
Phil Mackenzie: Picking between raw fighters, I'll generally take the one who's shown to be an aggressive, tough grappler over the one with better stand-up and power. Thus, Vernon Ramos by unanimous decision.
Staff picking Ramos: Nick, Phil
Staff picking Herrera: Mookie, Fraser, Stephie, James, Tim, Zane
Cezar Arzamendia vs. Marco Polo Reyes
Mookie Alexander: I'm just picking based on Phil's predictions. Marco Polo Reyes by slightly superior name.
Phil Mackenzie: Arzamendia reminds me of no-one so much as Alex White. He's big, aggressive, and a varied striker who mixes in hooks, body shots and knees. "Goku" also has Alex White-level terrible striking defense, relying as he does on the ability of Saiyans to get stronger after every defeat. Reyes is no defensive wizard himself, but he's a bit more responsible and leans less on sheer physicality and workrate to scare people off in exchanges. While Reyes is probably the lesser athlete, I also think he has a bit more technique and power in his shots. This fight will be really, really fun but I don't expect it to last long either way. Marco Polo Reyes by TKO, round 1.
Staff picking Arzamendia: Nick, Fraser, Tim
Staff picking Reyes: Phil, Stephie, James, Zane, Mookie
Phil Mackenzie: In the Tibau Power Rankings, Trator has fallen down to Tertiary Tibau, primarily due to inactivity after his loss to Kevin Lee. This is actually a pretty skilled fight between two super tough dudes, but it might not go down well with an audience expecting one-sided drubbings at this early point in the card. I think Lazaro's takedown defense probably holds up (although it's still a bit of a question mark), and he's a good rough-hewn kicker and an equal opportunities head and body puncher. Valmir Lazaro by unanimous decision
Zane Simon: I have to pick between two of my favorite random dudes to see on the prelims. Lazaro is funky but a fun, aggressive, powerful striker, and Prazeres is just kind of a practiced machine when it comes to his in cage process. Overhand to double leg to mount, to submission. Rinse and repeat. That approach may just be too much for Lazaro, who has a tendency to get himself off balance while striking. Michel Prazeres via submission, round 1.
Staff picking Lazaro: Phil, Nick, Mookie, Fraser, Stephie, James, Tim
Staff picking Prazeres: Zane