Would you believe that the majority of Bloody Elbow's staff is actually picking Conor McGregor and Luke Rockhold to become the new, undisputed UFC champions in their respective weight classes? I cannot remember a time where we've ever had that happen, but it's happened for UFC 194. In fact, only 3 people (Zane Simon, Fraser Coffeen, and Lewis McKeever) are going with Weidman over Rockhold.
Just how well matched is the whole of this card? We only have three clean-sweeps out of 12 fights. No one is going with Jeremy Stephens over Max Holloway, Marcio Alexandre Jr. over Court McGee, or Joe Proctor over Magomed Mustafaev. Every other fight has at least one person going against the grain, including Zane and Phil Mackenzie going with Frankie Saenz over Urijah Faber.
Hopefully you have carved out the time to read our UFC 194 analysis, as this is one of our bigger predictions posts in recent history.
NOTE: Predictions are always entered throughout the week (in other words, we don't do them simultaneously) and collected the day before the event. Explanations behind each pick are not required and some writers opt not to do so for their own reasons. For example, if Zane Simon 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.
PPV main card (10 PM ET)
Jose Aldo (c) vs. Conor McGregor (ic) - UFC featherweight championship
Anton Tabuena: While I do believe Aldo will try for some takedowns on this fight, I do believe that this fight will mostly be contested (and decided) on the feet. If Aldo gets pressed on the fence, McGregor wins this. But at range, it will be an very interesting battle for me. Will Aldo be able to take advantage of that wide stance and chop down that lead leg? That may very well be the key for Aldo at range if he wants to stifle his movement. If not, I doubt Aldo can still be able to counter as effectively now that he's facing a much longer fighter with conceivably better hands. Also considering that Aldo has constantly been tagged by far lesser strikers before in Mendes, Zombie, and others, that may not bode well against a guy with McGregor's power. Tough pick, but I believe if McGregor doesn't get overwhelmed by leg kicks, he should be able to push the pace and drive Aldo back. That's where I expect him to use his feints and movement to avoid counters and land hard shots that should end Aldo's night. Conor McGregor by TKO.
Victor Rodriguez: First off, I'm glad the betting lines are closer now as they should be. This could end up being a very close decision and McGregor's going to be dragged into deep water. Neither guy fears the other and both have outstanding attributes and this will mostly be a fight that will remain standing. I'm swept in the Conormania phenomenon, but I have to stick with Aldo here. He fights to the level of his opponent, and this is the kind of guy that will make him raise his game to the fullest. He's composed, faced the best of the best and won't be fazed by what McGregor will throw his way in terms of unorthodox movement and stellar use of range. He'll watch out for the killer left hand and will probably finish Conor deep in the fight, possibly around the middle of the fifth round. Aldo by KO
Mookie Alexander: This is a fight filled with unknowns. Will Aldo be rusty after a 1+ year layoff? Is he going to take McGregor down proactively or as a response to feeling threatened by Conor's power? Will Conor check any leg kicks? Will McGregor use his length, speed, and range to pick apart a superb defensive fighter? Will his body kicks where Aldo down? Will he get too careless going for the KO? How does Conor's chin hold up to Jose's power? That's what makes this fight so difficult to pick. If it were straightforward then I'd go with Aldo by submission (!), and I genuinely think that Aldo is more likely to submit Conor in this fight than Conor is to KO Aldo. This is such a close call, but you know what? I'm going McGregor. It's the end of the year, several new champions have been crowned, and the only time I've picked "....And NEW!" all year is Rory MacDonald against Robbie Lawler at UFC 189. I might as well live a little. It's nothing against Aldo, who is one of the 3 greatest fighters in MMA history, but I truly feel Saturday night will be the night McGregor backs up the ultimate talk and beats Jose. It'll be an all-time classic. Conor McGregor by unanimous decision.
Roy Billington: Is Conor McGregor a great fighter? Absolutely, but Jose Aldo is the greatest of all time. Aldo's speed will be a telling factor, expect him to clip the oncoming McGregor before navigating away from the Irishman's devastating left hand. Aldo by UD
Zane Simon: I think the biggest driver for me here is that I want Jose Aldo to win. Not because I dislike McGregor, I really enjoy him and his fighting and all the circus a lot, but because I want to see Jose Aldo put the stamp on what I'd say would be the greatest title reign in MMA history with this win. There are strong arguments to be made for both guys. Aldo is an amazing leg kicker, McGregor's legs are there to be kicked. Aldo will try to take his foot off the gas and coast at every opportunity, McGregor is an unfathomable well of constant aggression. Both men have great punching power, but McGregor walks into more shots and Aldo gets tagged by more random single strikes, when he's taking his foot off the gas. McGregor's defensive wrestling (much to my surprise) actually seems to be a problem, mostly because he plants his feet and has so much faith in his offense that he just doesn't seem to care about being taken down. Basically, this comes down to whether or not Aldo can draw from the aggression we've seen him display in flashes for complete rounds while still fighting a reasonably smart fight. And for McGregor, can he remain unhampered by eating powerful strikes flush, taking hard leg kicks, and maybe even getting taken down? I have to lean toward Aldo, because I want him to win and because I think he has enough small advantages that I'm willing to bet on his unknowns. But this is an amazing fight. Jose Aldo by TKO, round 3.
Fraser Coffeen: This is such a great fight. Seriously. It's also a really tough fight to pick. Smart and easy pick is Aldo far all kinds of reasons, and I think there's a very strong chance that this is an Aldo massacre. At the same time, I put a lot of stock on various intangibles in fighting, and ALL of those point to McGregor. He's got the momentum and the confidence, while Aldo has the injuries and the talk of retirement. If I get all technical about it, I'll pick Aldo, because I honestly have a tough time seeing the path to a McGregor victory. But my heart says this just feels like a changing of the guard, and sometimes, you have to trust your heart and not your head. Conor McGregor, TKO, round 3
Lewis Mckeever: McGregor's unwavering self belief is something I haven't ever seen in this sport before. He is without a doubt the most confident fighter on the UFC roster and I do not believe that even for a second he doubts his chances against Aldo. Right back from his Cage Warriors days he boldly made the prediction that he'd become a UFC champion with more money than he knew what to do with. He keeps making predictions and they keep coming true. It seems like he's on a collision course with destiny. His work ethic and passion for mixed martial arts is also undeniable. Aldo's accomplishments cement him as one of the greatest of all time, but I think he suffers a fate similar to his teammate Renan Barao in this one. McGregor is here to take over. Conor McGregor via TKO, round 1.
Tim Burke: Jose Aldo is one of the best fighters in history, and he's being seriously slept on here. I think Aldo fights like he usually does - smart. He'll crack him with some leg kicks, avoid the straight left, take the fight to the floor, and make Conor tap. Then we can see Aldo/Edgar 2. Jose Aldo by submission, round 2
Staff picking Aldo: Phil, Victor, Roy, Zane, Tim
Staff picking McGregor: Anton, Nick, Stephie, Mookie, Fraser, Lewis
Chris Weidman (c) vs. Luke Rockhold - UFC middleweight championship
Anton Tabuena: On the feet, I think Weidman may have better hands and more power in them, but Rockhold has better kicks and is more diverse with his strikes. On the ground I think they're equally good -- maybe Weidman has slightly better takedowns, but Rockhold has better transitions and guard passing. I do believe that Rockhold is more athletic, faster, and has better movement, and those things could be the deciding factor on the areas/skillsets that may be very even or similar between them. I have been flip flopping on this pick for a while now, but ultimately that's why I'm going with the upset. Luke Rockhold by Decision.
Mookie Alexander: Holy moly. I thought I'd be one of 2 or 3 people at most picking Rockhold. Here's the thing, I've said for a while that Rockhold is the only guy at 185 who poses a considerable threat to Weidman's title reign. He has the size, strength, athleticism, and cardio that all of the other past Weidman foes have not really managed all in one bundle. I will say this though about Rockhold, he's not that good a boxer. His hands are slow and awkward and he doesn't throw combinations that well. But his kicks are lethal and he can really wear you down that way. His timing is excellent and his placement is beautiful. The story of this fight will be dictated by how well Weidman copes (if at all) with Rockhold's ground game. Weidman is really good as a grappler but Rockhold is phenomenal and has overpowered so many people. If it's close to even on the mat, then Rockhold may be in trouble because I don't see him just kickboxing his way to a win against Weidman over 5 rounds. But if Rockhold dominates Weidman and dictates the fight on his terms, then we've got ourselves a new champion. Oh, and if Weidman wins easily then he's got about 1 more fight (Jacare/Romero winner) and I think it's time to start talking about him as an all-time great and setting up some superfights. Luke Rockhold by unanimous decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Weidman has dropped a considerable amount of walking-around weight, likely in hopes of improving cardio and ensuring that the weight cut won't take a heavy toll on him. His wrestling is still world-class and being under the tutelage of Ray Longo makes him a threat standing. Still picking Rockhold based on movement, timing, diversity of strikes and by virtue of being a bigger opponent than pretty much anyone he's fought. Also, let's give credit to Javier Mendez and his ability to formulate excellent gameplans as well. Weidman cannot bully Luke around and will have a harder time controlling him than he did other opponents. Rockhold finishes him in the third. Luke Rockhold by TKO
Zane Simon: Wow... a clean sweep for Luke Rockhold (so far). I'm not saying I don't get it.... but I'm not sure I get it. Luke Rockhold is good. He's an opportunistic grappler, a lightning quick scrambler, and a vicious kicker. But I'm really not sold on his boxing. He's got decent technique in small moments, when throwing individual counters, when landing single shots, but actually sitting down in the pocket, throwing strikes? That's not something I've ever seen him do that well or consistently. And to that end, I think that Weidman will back him down and push him into the pocket a lot. That's generally what Weidman likes to do. He creates pressure. And while Rockhold is big and powerful and has some decent takedowns, Weidman isn't exactly a defensive liability in the clinch or with his wrestling. The idea that Rockhold will just win the inside battle via athleticism doesn't feel right to me. It doesn't ring true. It might happen, I could be wrong, but I expect a lot of this fight to happen in the phone booth where Rockhold is just not that comfortable when he has to let his hands go. Chris Weidman by decision.
Fraser Coffeen: Wow, I am really surprised by these picks. Am I just massively underrating Rockhold here? He seems like a perfectly fine challenger, but not the man to take out Weidman, at all. Chris Weidman, decision
Lewis Mckeever: I believe Chris Weidman hit the nail on the head at the press conference when he said Rockhold is mentally fragile. The embedded series has been very revealing; while Weidman seems calm and relaxed, Rockhold constantly needs to reassure himself that he's the better man. Two years on and he also still seems very bitter about the Vitor Belfort loss. While both men are near even on a technical and physical level, I believe Rockhold's ego will be his downfall in this one. Chris Weidman via decision
Staff picking Weidman: Zane, Fraser, Lewis, Tim
Staff picking Rockhold: Nick, Stephie, Phil, Anton, Victor, Mookie, Roy
Yoel Romero vs. Ronaldo Souza - Middleweights
Anton Tabuena: Romero has the power to end anyone's night, but I believe Jacare is just the better MMA fighter overall, so I'm not picking against the guy. Jacare Souza by Decision.
Mookie Alexander: THIS FIGHT SHOULD BE FIVE ROUNDS. *ahem* Is Jacare the better MMA fighter on paper? Yes? Is he the better athlete? Hell no. Can he win with the former in spite of the latter? Yup. Romero has improved rapidly and it wouldn't surprise me if he one-shot KO'd or Cuban hulk-smashed Jacare into extinction, but I also believe Jacare can really win this fight standing. Romero is great offensively but that doesn't mean he hasn't been consistently vulnerable against guys who throw volume and possess some sort of power. If Jacare gets his offense going early and doesn't give Romero time or space to set up his offensive attacks, which never really come at a sustained pace, then the fight is his. I think he hurts Romero with hard power shots in the 2nd and gets the victory. Jacare Souza by KO, round 2.
Victor Rodriguez: Jacare is an exceptional talent, but he won't be able to handle Romero's speed and power, plus his top game will give the BJJ phenom some fits. Jacare's standup is better than a lot of people may have expected, but Romero's funky boxing and explosive takedowns mixed in will be a determining factor. Romero by TKO.
Phil Mackenzie: If Romero has consistently struggled with anything, it's been physical pressure, phase-shifting offense, and people who can come close to matching him athletically. He throws bursts of terrifying offense, but relies on the time between them to "charge up". This made him perfect for a low pace counterstriker like Machida, but he also basically got knocked out by Tim Kennedy in the fight before that. Jacare Souza by submission, round 3.
Zane Simon: This is a weirdly tricky fight to predict. Essentially Yoel Romero has been and should continue to get better. This should be the best Romero we've seen to date. Jacare has been at his peak for a while. Not to parrot myself too much, but Romero seems to have a rare gift for fighting (predicated in part on his extreme athleticism) in that he just seems to understand all the options laid out in front of him at any given moment in a fight. He doesn't seem to plan or seem to need to, because he has the speed and power (and technical skills) to take advantage of whatever opportunity is there in the moment. Jacare is no less skilled and perhaps even not much less physically gifted, but he's a very tracked in fighter. He winds in behind sharp, powerful punches, traps his opponent against the cage, wrestles them down and then punishes them for whatever openings they give him on the mat. Kennedy was able to catch Romero time and again because Kennedy is a bit wild, a bit unpredictable in his use of distance power strikes and his willingness to leap in with big shots from odd angles. I think Jacare is a little too tracked in for that, a little too predictable. And as such, I think Romero is going to be able to see his movements and stop his takedowns and pull off the win. Yoel Romero by decision.
Lewis Mckeever: I'm with Anton in that I believe Jacare is the more well-rounded fighter. Souza pushes the pace here and gets the sub late in the fight. Jacare Souza via submission
Staff picking Romero: Stephie, Victor, Zane
Staff picking Souza: Nick, Phil, Anton, Mookie, Roy, Fraser, Lewis, Tim
Demian Maia vs. Gunnar Nelson - Welterweights
Anton Tabuena: Apart from the main event, this is the fight I've been looking forward to the most this weekend. Nelson should be faster and have better striking, but Maia should have better wrestling. If they do go to the ground what happens with these two high level grapplers? Will it be a scramble fest and a test of BJJ skills, or will Maia just smother him from top position? Will Nelson even want to stay on the ground instead of just trying to get up each time to take advantage of his striking? I'm not quite sure, really, but I'm truly excited to find out. If you put a gun to my head, I guess I'll predict Nelson surviving the early grappling exchanges to end up picking apart a slower and older Maia on the later rounds. Gunnar Nelson by Decision.
Mookie Alexander: Gunnar wins this if he can be super competitive with Maia on the ground to the point where Demian tires, or if Gunnar defends Maia's supremely underrated wrestling and it becomes a kickboxing contest. I think I've picked against Demian Maia far too often lately for me to do so again, so I'm going with the Brazilian to win the first two and survive for dear life in round 3. Demian Maia by unanimous decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Another matchup that makes me sad, because I don't want either guy to lose. Maia's cardio is something I can't trust. If it stays standing, we get a sloppy kickboxing match that Nelson will bring more power and precision to. If it goes to the ground, Nelson will integrate his striking with his grappling better than Maia does. Not that Maia doesn't have a chance with his Judo background to take things to the ground, Gunnar is just that dangerous. Gunnar Nelson by TKO.
Phil Mackenzie: The main question here is: can Gunnar defend takedowns? Because no-one's even really tried to take him down in his career thus far. If we look at the combination of shots, chain wrestling and top game, Maia's probably the best wrestler in the division. He has struggled with extreme outside fighters, but overall I don't think Gunnar will be willing to fight a boring counterstriking battle from the outside. If it hits the mat, I think it will be on Maia's terms, and bottom position is a terrible position to be against someone like Maia, no matter how much of a prodigy you are. Demian Maia by unanimous decision.
Roy Billington: There are BJJ blackbelts and then there is Demian Maia. While Gunnar Nelson is a much more well rounded fighter, Maia's tools should be enough to get a decision victory. Demian Maia by UD
Zane Simon: I've been too doubting of Maia at the top for too long. He's gone turned around and convinced me. We haven't seen enough of "puncher" Nelson to convince me he can both hurt Maia and stay on him for the finish and I think if this is a 100% mat grappling affair, Maia will lock him down. Demian Maia via decision.
Staff picking Maia: Nick, Stephie, Phil, Mookie, Roy, Zane, Fraser
Staff picking Nelson: Anton, Victor, Lewis, Tim
Max Holloway vs. Jeremy Stephens - Featherweights
Anton Tabuena: This should be a really entertaining battle on the feet, but one that is probably going to be a blowout for the more technical and diverse striker. Max Holloway by Decision.
Mookie Alexander: Bad bad matchup for Stephens. If he wants to strike with him (which he absolutely has to) then Holloway will outstrike him on a consistent basis. It'll take a huge punch for Stephens to wobble Holloway and change the flow of the contest. Otherwise it's going to be Cerrone-Stephens but worse, and I can easily envision Holloway just going for the submission after systematically breaking Stephens down ... so let's go with that! Max Holloway by submission, round 2.
Victor Rodriguez: GOOD LAWD. All of this goodness on a single card. Praise Obama. Max Holloway will achieve his final form and sprout horns from his forehead while busting out Capoeira kicks and slick combinations. Stephens has ungodly power and slick striking as well, Holloway has better phase-shifting and better use of range, as well as crazy speed. Max nullified Cub Swanson's boxing in a lot of their exchanges, and while not the same opponent, he can work something similar out here. Max Holloway by TKO.
Phil Mackenzie: Stephens has a natural knack of just knowing where his opponents are going to be and placing hard strikes there, from the headkick of Rony Jason to the jump knee on Bermudez. This makes him fantastic against movement-heavy pot-shotters and aggressive inside fighters, but his slow footspeed makes him vulnerable to length and volume. Holloway has a lot of movement, but he also has great reach and puts out tons and tons of volume, and I think he abuses Lil' Heathen from the outside for three rounds before picking up the mercy tap. Max Holloway by submission, round 3.
Zane Simon: Jeremy Stephens has the kind of inconsistent ability to hang with the best and lose to... well, not the best. Still, outside of the puncher's chance, I think this is an abominable matchup for him. Stephens will get the fight he wants from Holloway and probably find himself beat at every angle. Holloway has better footwork, variety, timing, and economy of movement. Max Holloway via TKO, round 2.
Staff picking Holloway: Nick, Stephie, Phil, Anton, Mookie, Roy, Zane, Fraser, Lewis, Tim
Staff picking Stephens:
Preliminary Card (FS1, 8 PM ET)
Urijah Faber vs. Frankie Saenz - Bantamweights
Anton Tabuena: I think he chokes him out, and moves on to an entertaining grudge match against either Cruz or Dillashaw. I also think that's what most people should look forward to. I want more guys to care about the division and start making more money, but Saenz, Assuncao, or even monsters like Almeida and Aljamain wouldn't be a marketable challenger for the next title fight just yet. Urijah Faber by Submission.
Mookie Alexander: Really? We have two people picking Saenz? And two of the most analytical prognosticators are going with him? Well I should listen to them, but not this time. Aside from Faber's winless run against fighters named Frankie, I think Faber still has enough in the tank (although not much) to get one last win against a relevant top 15 bantamweight. The days of Faber clearly being better than the bulk of the division are over (and I've thought this since the Rivera fight), but one last knockdown-turned-submission is in store methinks. Urijah Faber by submission, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: After edging Sirwan Kakai, Frankie Saenz takes a dip in competition to fight Urijah Faber. Faber's athletic ability still seems largely intact, and he has the ability to conjure chokes from nowhere, but I just don't think he has a very good modern MMA game. Frankie Saenz probably doesn't match up as well as Kakai would have, but he does have a good modern MMA game. The clincher is that Faber has a 100% losing rate against Frankies in his career thus far. Frankie Saenz by unanimous decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Even in my sleep-deprived state, I couldn't co-sign Phil's prediction. Faber catches Saenz with some sneaky uppercut coming in, takes his back and sinks in an RNC to earn himself yet another title shot against former protege Tyler Jeffrey Dillashaw. Urijah Faber by Submission.
Zane Simon: I'm picking up what Phil's putting down, unlike these other haters. I've long been the first guy off the wagon when I feel like a fighter may be past his prime. That's cost me a few times to date, but I think it's still a trait worth embracing. Essentially, the things Faber still does best are wrestle and grapple. Those are the things Saenz does best as well. Yeah, he could catch him with a big single strike, hurt him, and sub him out. I wouldn't be even a little shocked. But, I'm going to go upset here and say that Faber gets outworked inside and can't pull the trigger from range. Frankie Saenz via decision.
Staff picking Faber: Nick, Stephie, Anton, Mookie, Roy, Fraser, Lewis, Tim
Staff picking Saenz: Phil, Zane
Jocelyn Lybarger vs. Tecia Torres - Women's Strawweights
Victor Rodriguez: Even with a short notice call-up to the UFC, I have to favor Lybarger here. She's longer, meaner, heavier and has a wrestling advantage. Tecia's one of my favorite fighters to watch (her dismantling of Herrig in their Invicta fight was tons of fun), but even with her speed and use of angles along with the ATT pedigree, John Crouch is one of the best minds out there. Lybarger by decision.
Zane Simon: On the flip side, Vic is taking crazy pills. I'm not sure what versions of Lybarger he's seen, but the one I saw doesn't wrestle all that well when she doesn't have a severe strength advantage (and wrestles very poorly defensively). Torres may be short for women's strawweight but she's a complete fireplug and getting outwrestled by two great technical offensive wrestlers in Esparza and Markos doesn't give me faith that a much less skilled opponent can get her down. She also has shown a pretty strong reactive shot, and given Lybarger's willingness to plant her feet and rattle off combinations I think Torres will get her down with relative ease. From there it's a question of lock down top game against scrambling guard game, and I'll take the ATT top game to win it. Tecia Torres by decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Tecia Torres works basically like a wrestling version of Lyoto Machida, backing up backing up backing up and then exploding forward into a takedown. Lybarger is humongous for strawweight, and if she can hit Torres a bit early in those rushes she can still potentially have time to defend. I can see what Vic is saying, and I can see Lybarger winning this (and winning it pretty dominantly), but I don't believe she can stop Torres getting in on her hips. Tecia Torres by unanimous decision.
Staff picking Lybarger: Victor
Staff picking Torres: Nick, Stephie, Phil, Anton, Mookie, Roy, Zane, Fraser, Tim
Warlley Alves vs. Colby Covington - Welterweights
Victor Rodriguez: Another TUF Brazil guy with no wrestling? Sorry, kids. Covington by submission.
Mookie Alexander: I'm higher on Alves as a prospect than I am on Covington, and Covington's win over Mike Pyle exceeds any of Alves' wins, but styles make fights and I don't think grinding out Alves is likely. Warlley is the better striker and he has some nasty submissions. Basically, Alves has more tools to win this one and Covington's best asset is something I feel that Alves can shut down, leaving Colby with no other options to get the win. Warlley Alves by submission, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: Covington's a throwback at this point in his career, combining wrestling with... uh... more wrestling... and this makes him a good, tough test, but Alves trains alongside Jacare and his problems are more with his own aggression getting him hurt and tired than with a specific defensive flaw. Like Souza before him, he had far more problems than expected against a big, photogenic and athletic southpaw with so-so defense who threw a lot of body kicks, but like Souza, I think he's looking improved after that experience. If Alves stops the takedowns I think Covington has no "B" game and just keeps trying them until he throws himself into a sub. Warlley Alves by submission, round 3.
Zane Simon: In a sort of same-but-different way, I'm picking Alves here for some of the same reasons I picked Romero above. Yes I realize that Alves doesn't have Romero's wrestling ability, but I do think he shares a similar extreme athleticism and he innate ability to see the fight because of it. And in front of him, Alves has an even more predictable opponent in Colby Covington. I get the feeling we see some ridiculous athlete things from Alves early that frustrate Covington and from there Alves will be able to find Covington's timing and pick him apart for a submission. Warlley Alves by Submission, Round 2.
Staff picking Alves: Nick, Stephie, Phil, Zane, Fraser, Mookie
Staff picking Covington: Anton, Victor , Roy, Tim
Kevin Lee vs. Leonardo Santos - Lightweights
Victor Rodriguez: Ayo, Santos fought Takanori Gomi in his pro debut ages ago. Still never fought a wrestler on Kevin Lee's level of physicality and wrestling technique. Whatever. Kevin Lee by decision.
Mookie Alexander: I just can't really get into Leo Santos' fights. Very good grappler but there's really nothing more of note to his game that makes him even top 25 at lightweight. Lee on the other hand is a better athlete, can stuff Santos' takedowns, and outstrike him en route to a points win. Kevin Lee by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Kevin Lee is already looking like a very finished product at this point in his career, and is probably ready for top 20 competition at least. Santos is a great grappler, but I can't shake the feeling that his current position has been an artefact of weird and fortunate circumstances- getting to Patolino early in his career, Tony Martin having no gas tank, weird foul call against Parke, etc. Lee is likely going to beat him up, the real question is whether he finishes or not. Kevin Lee by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: I see Lee going into lockdown wrestle-boxer mode for a safe win here. He'll keep Santos standing and out work him in the clinch for the decision. Santos' game just seems to slowly devolve when things don't go exactly his way, even in fights he wins. Kevin Lee via decision.
Fraser Coffeen: This is likely to be close to a clean sweep for Lee, but don't let that fool you into thinking it is a massive mismatch. This is a quality fight between two very good fighters, and an excellent way to open up the Fox Sports 1 card. It's just that Santos doesn't have the ability to deal with the offense Lee is going to bring. Kevin Lee, decision
Staff picking Lee: Nick, Stephie, Phil, Anton, Victor, Mookie, Zane, Fraser, Tim
Staff picking Santos: Roy
Fight Pass preliminary card (6:30 PM ET)
Magomed Mustafaev vs. Joe Proctor - Lightweights
Mookie Alexander: Mustafaev throws everything with violent intentions and almost to a fault. If his skills can be refined a bit more and he's less reckless than he was in the Hallmann fight, Proctor is going to get blasted. Magomed Mustafaev by TKO, round 2.
Zane Simon: Hopefully Mustafaev has taken some lessons from his Hallman fight along with a better camp at Jackson-Wink to become a more patient, careful fighter. He's a supreme athlete with an interesting skill set and a ton of potential. But, if he goes after Proctor like he did Hallmann, Proctor is a better opportunist and may have more luck finding a submission or turning a few well placed strikes into a TKO. Still, Magomed Mustafaev via KO, Round 1.
Staff picking Mustafaev: Nick, Stephie, Phil, Anton, Roy, Mookie, Zane, Fraser, Tim
Staff picking Proctor:
John Makdessi vs. Yancy Medeiros - Lightweights
Victor Rodriguez: As much love as I have for Makdessi, I still think he's having trouble finding his range with longer guys that have Muay Thai backgrounds (he looked hopeless in parts of that Njoukuani fight) He should fear the fighter he's up against, because these Hawaiians are playing for keeps. Yancy Medeiros by decision.
Mookie Alexander: I do not like picking John Makdessi fights because he's not remotely consistent enough for me to confidently pick him to win or lose at any given time. Medeiros is defensively ... not good, but he hits hard and has strong chokes. I'll give Yancy the edge in this one on making Makdessi uncomfortable and not able to strike the way he wants to. Yancy Medeiros by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: I have real pause about Makdessi in this fight, given how much he struggled with Alan Patrick, who reminds me of Medeiros in a few key ways (mostly size and strangely disjointed offense). Still, it showed that when given a consistent output of long punches and kicks from a taller opponent Makdessi really gets stuck at range. But, I don't have that much faith in Medeiros. He's very hittable, flashes great technique at times, but often looks clunky, and has trouble tracking down opponents that move well. It's that last one that has me picking Makdessi, as he has great footwork and I think he can just outmaneuver Medeiros and dart in and out from range as the larger fighter tries to track him down. John Makdessi by decision.
Fraser Coffeen: What Vic said. I love Makdessi - anyone with a traditional martial arts stand-up base is aces in my book - but this is a bad match-up for him. Yancy Medeiros, decision
Staff picking Makdessi: Phil, Anton, Roy, Zane, Lewis
Staff picking Medeiros: Nick, Stephie, Victor, Fraser, Mookie, Tim
Marcio Alexandre Jr. vs. Court McGee - Welterweights
Victor Rodriguez: Dollar Store Machida vs The Crusher? Look, I like Alexandre since he seems like a nice guy. Yet nothing he did on TUF Brazil or during his UFC run since then have impressed me or shown me the kind of growth he should probably have. McGee brings pressure, hits pretty hard and has a chip on his shoulder. Plus, I can't pick a guy whose Sherdog photo makes him look like a porno version of Michael Dudikoff. Court McGee by whatever the hell he wants.
Mookie Alexander: Unless all the durability, output, and toughness got sapped out of McGee during his injury-related hiatus, this is his fight to lose. Court McGee by submission, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: The Dagron has had the disadvantage of fighting against some fighters who are very athletic (Alves) and technically aggressive (Means). That might have made him look worse than he is, and McGee just isn't as talented as either of those guys. However, Alexandre tends to just hang out on the outside and get backed into the fence easily. If you don't have killer power or great takedowns to scare him off, then McGee keeps a great pace, and has greatly improved his footspeed and cage cutting from his earlier plodding style. Court McGee by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Only real question here is, how much has injury and time off affected McGee. Could be a lot, could be not at all. Every fighter seems to be different on that count. Alexandre Jr. is an inconsistent single shot puncher without many secondary tools who rose up the ranks fighting cans. McGee should walk through him. If all those x-factors really have taken a toll on McGee, Alexandre has enough baseline athletic ability to make this a tougher than expected fight for him. Court McGee by decision.
Staff picking Alexandre:
Staff picking McGee: Nick, Stephie, Phil, Anton, Victor, Mookie, Roy, Zane, Fraser, Tim