McGregor or Mendes? Lawler or MacDonald? Rolling Stones or The Beatles? So many questions, so much to analyze, and Bloody Elbow's staff has managed an astonishing 4,000 words worth of talk for every fight on tomorrow night's UFC 189 pay-per-view. We're split on McGregor/Mendes, leaning towards a MacDonald win over Lawler, almost unanimous on Bermudez beating Stephens, unanimous on Almeida beating Pickett, and split on Thatch/Nelson. This is a fantastic night of fights ahead of us, so check out who is siding with whom.
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.
Anton Tabuena: If this wasn't on 3 weeks notice, I'd pick Mendes. People say that doesn't matter because TAM trains year round, or that Mendes benefits on a shorter camp, but I have a hard time believing that light training would make you as conditioned and prepared for a 25-min title fight than a real full camp with an opponent in mind would. In reality, with fight week activities and cutting weight, that even drops his prep time to less than 2 weeks. Because of that, I think it could go either way. I believe if McGregor survives the opening rounds and avoids being wrestlef*cked badly (still a big IF), he will be the fresher fighter and he will be able to take advantage of a lot of things. I think standing up, Mendes will have trouble with Conor's distance and length. Like what happened in the Aldo fight, that could force him shoot from further away making his wrestling significantly less effective. And if Mendes slows down, it's over. That, or Mendes takes him down easily and breaks him early. Tough pick as there are a lot of unknowns, but I'm going with Conor McGregor by TKO.
Fraser Coffeen: Because McGregor is McGregor, this is a fight where many predictions are made with a high degree of certainty. "He's the greatest! He's going to smash Mendes!" "He's a clown, Mendes will destroy him!" Truth is, this is a very tough fight to call. Mendes has looked amazing in every fight since the first Aldo loss, last year's loss to Aldo included. When your worst performance still has you comfortably beating Nik Lentz, you're doing something right. But McGregor has looked incredible in his UFC run too. But Mendes has fought the better talent. See, it's a tough one? When all is said and done, you have to look at how these two match up. And when I do that, I see two very good strikers, but one (McGregor) is more varied, one (McGregor) is better at keeping the pace on his striking throughout a fight, and one (McGregor) has a huge reach advantage and knows how to use it. It will be tough for Mendes to get inside to land punches, and he's not really a wrestler anymore. Maybe I'm being too sold on the hype train, but I think this is indeed the Conor era. Toot toot. Conor McGregor, TKO, round 2
Mookie Alexander: I said on Twitter that Mendes would KO McGregor ("mark that down"). I'm backing out of that because I thought better of it. I still think Mendes will beat McGregor. For starters, McGregor may not necessarily be some terrible defensive wrestler, but Mendes is the best offensive wrestler in the division, and anyone he's ever wanted to take down has been taken down. I would imagine Mendes has been preparing to answer the whole "how is he going to get into shooting range?" question even before he was announced as Conor's new opponent. He's got great top control, very good cardio, and despite what McGregor thinks, Mendes' striking is elite. You don't go toe-to-toe with Jose Aldo and knock him down just on luck. His boxing was functional before he got that Duane Ludwig bump and he's added power and kicks to his game to make his striking deadly. Sure, McGregor has an 8 inch reach advantage, so that's something to take into consideration, but I actually believe Mendes can win enough striking exchanges and mix his takedowns in to get the decision. I won't count McGregor out because he is a special talent on the feet and has superb output, timing, and power, but I have to go with the better fighter here. And for you thoroughly enthusiastic but extremely insufferable McGregor supporters - the records show that this is the first time I've EVER picked against McGregor in the UFC. Chad Mendes by unanimous decision.
Stephie: Had picked Mendes. I really did. Then I recorded a mini show with Sean Sheehan. Now I've picked McGregor again. I'm sticking with this one, I swear! Conor Mendes via something in some round.
Lewis: A tougher stylistic matchup for McGregor than Aldo, but I still think he takes this. It seems like McGregor was expecting Aldo to pull out of the fights month ago and had Frankie Edgar -- a wrestler -- in mind, so he'll be prepared. I think Conor's ‘human movement' will translate to cat like take down defense. I see Mendes hitting some early takedowns but McGregor springing back up to his feet quickly. Mendes' striking has improved tremendously over the years but he only finds success in the pocket. Aldo was happy to trade with Mendes in the pocket for five rounds in their last fight but I see McGregor stifling Mendes from range with body kicks and finishing Chad off with a sniping left hand. Conor McGregor, TKO, round 2
Tim Burke: For one, Mendes has known that he might be a part of this bout for a lot longer than three weeks, and has been training accordingly. So the whole "three weeks to train" thing doesn't hold up well. Either way, I actually think the late change hurts McGregor more than Mendes - while Aldo has strong wrestling, it's not at Mendes' level (his takedown defense is, but that's a different story). Conor will have to change up his champ to focus on TD much more, and that's still a huge question mark for him going into this fight. While I could definitely see Conor catching Mendes early, I think it's much more likely that Conor underestimates Mendes' striking, throws too many kicks, and gets taken down and kept on the ground for the first three rounds. And then it will be coasting time. Chad Mendes by unanimous decision
Zane Simon: I'd love to be more certain of this fight, I really would. I think Mendes should win it. The style matchup suits him, he's in the prime of his career (as is McGregor) and he's proven himself to be at the very pinnacle of form in the sport. It's hard to pick against that. On the other hand, I do think McGregor's personality has overshadowed that he's a very good fighter and I seriously doubt we see Mendes LNP his way to victory. Still, if for no other reason than that I think McGregor's star can survive a loss, even a bad one. Chad Mendes by submission, Round 3.
Staff picking Mendes: Phil, Roy, Tim, Mookie, Zane
Staff picking McGregor: Rainer, Fraser, Stephie, Anton, Lewis
Anton Tabuena: Stylistically, Rory MacDonald has all the tools and advantages to win this contest. That was also the case on their first fight, but for some reason MacDonald was too tentative and a late knockdown cost him the fight on the scorecards. Since that bout, Tristar seems to have made massive changes. Gone was the gunshy MacDonald seen versus Ellenberger and Lawler, and out came beautiful combinations and seamless transitions as he completely picked apart Maia, Woodley and Saffiedine. Even tentative Rory showed closely contested stand up, along with massive advantages on the ground against Lawler. Against the Rory we've seen in the past year, I think he finally lives up to his potential. He will use all his tools, capitalize on the many advantages he has, and bring back the welterweight belt to Canada. Rory MacDonald by Decision
Lewis Mckeever: This really could go either way. My gut says Rory MacDonald, so MacDonald it is. Rory MacDonald by decision
Stephie: Okay Mookie, I'm picking with my heart, here. No rhyme or reason, just my heart. ROBBIE VIA DESTRUCTION!!!
Mookie Alexander: I have no heart and I won't pick against Zahabi-coached talents to lose twice to the same guy. But let's step back for a second and acknowledge that Robbie Lawler is DEFENDING a UFC welterweight belt in 2015. That's incredible. It'll also be his last, but I'll enjoy it. Rory "Red Aries King Canadian Waterboy" MacDonald by unanimous decision.
Tim Burke: Rory, Bring that welterweight title back to where it belongs - CANADA. Rory MacDonald by submission, round 4
Zane Simon: Part of me wonders if Robbie Lawler will give Rory the space and time to set up his outside striking game, and if Rory is a good enough wrestler to plant Robbie on his back and keep him there. A whole lot more of me is an unabashed Robbie Lawler fan and is rooting like a shameless geek. Robbie Lawler by TKO, Round 2.
Staff picking Lawler: Rainer, Stephie, Zane
Staff picking MacDonald: Phil, Roy, Fraser, Anton, Lewis, Tim, Mookie
Mookie Alexander: I had Bermudez getting KO'd by Stephens in an upset before Jeremy missed weight by a metric ton. So forget it. Dennis Bermudez by submission, round 1.
Phil Mackenzie: I guess the main question here is: how much can you hold against Dennis Bermudez for getting Lamased? I personally don't hold it against him too much because almost anyone can get Lamased. Jeremy Stephens is very much in this fight- he's probably the more technical striker, and he's still an extraordinarily powerful hitter. However, I feel that he is one of those strikers that really needs to push his opponents back to be effective, and Bermudez is a shade too fast and aggressive. He's toned down on his earlier windmill punching, but even then sharp counterpunches are not really Stephens' forte. Dennis Bermudez by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: My biggest concern in this bout is just how physically overwhelmed Stephens looked against Charles Oliveira. Oliveira is a great, dynamic talent, but he's hardly the picture of powerful athleticism. And yet, for much of his fight with Stephens, he bullied him, taking Stephens down, out grappling him and even roughing him up on the feet. Bermudez is an athletic powerhouse, and for all the talk of Stephens great striking power, he's not exactly a KO machine in the UFC. Stephens could land a huge shot and put Bermudez out, but if he doesn't I think he gets outworked to a decision loss. Dennis Bermudez by decision.
Staff picking Bermudez: Rainer, Phil, Fraser, Stephie, Anton, Tim, Zane, Mookie
Staff picking Stephens: Roy,
Anton Tabuena: Thatch is massive, and will be the more powerful striker by far. Nelson will have better BJJ, but if he doesn't get it to the floor and keep it there long enough to take advantage, it will not bode well for him. TKO from bigger stronger striker, or takedown and eventual sub from the smaller and more technical grappler? I think it's more likely to be the former. I also believe that the Hathaway fight would've been a better match-up for Gunnar's development. Brandon Thatch by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: If Gunnar Nelson improves his striking (offensively and defensively) and has worked on his MMA wrestling, this is his fight to lose. Otherwise, this is Thatch's fight to lose. His hyper-aggressive style can completely overwhelm many fighters and I don't see Nelson as being any different. Clinch, knees, more knees, elbows, punches, and Nelson can go eat all of the sheep's head he wants in the infirmary. Brandon Thatch by KO, round 1.
Rainer: I could never quite get into the idea of Nelson as a big-time prospect and (I'm going to be that guy) a loss to someone like Rick Story seemed pretty obviously in the cards to me. Thatch--highly aggressive, physically imposing, and with greater stopping power than maybe anyone Nelson has faced so far--is a hell of a follow-up fight. I'm torn, but I'll guess that Nelson gained some good self-knowledge from his first career loss and corrals Thatch en route to a submission. Gunnar Nelson by Submission, Round 3.
Phil Mackenzie: I really like both these guys and don't want either one to go on a losing streak. Both men have displayed pretty great chins thus far, and I'm not completely sold on Nelson's MMA wrestling. Thus I think this will be a fun 3-round fight where Nelson might get him down at some point and will even have some success on the feet, but where Thatch's strike variety, volume and velocity will be the difference. Very close, can see it going either way, but Brandon Thatch by unanimous decision
Zane Simon: Another brutally hard fight to pick. It's easy to see either man getting the stoppage. Not only is Nelson not a great defensive striker, but he just doesn't hit with enough power to put much fear in his opponents. That could spell disaster against Thatch. By a similar note, when thatch went to the ground with Benson Henderson, he looked like he was drowning trying to claw his way back to his feet. Both guys have holes where their opponent is at their best. But, I don't think takedown defense (at least while he's not tired) is a major hole for Thatch, thus I'm less sold on the idea that he gets subbed than I am on Nelson getting KO'd. Brandon Thatch by KO, Round 2.
Staff picking Nelson: Rainer, Roy, Fraser, Stephie
Staff picking Thatch: Phil, Anton, Lewis, Tim, Mookie, Zane
Mookie Alexander: Yeahhhhhh unless Pickett can force the issue by wrestling Almeida and making him grapple a lot, Almeida is going to scorch him standing. Pickett is as tough as nails so he may not get finished, but I'm boldly predicting Almeida finishes him with body shots galore. Thomas Almeida via TKO, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: One Punch has been one of the most consistently fun action fighters around ever since WEC. There's absolutely no quit in him, and he's the kind of aggressive strike / wrestle / scramble / submit (?) threat which you give to a blue-chipper like Almeida to see where he's at. That said, Pickett's also slowing, isn't a big puncher, and is up against a chainsaw of a striker. There is, after all, a reason why this fight was made. Thomas Almeida by TKO, round 2.
Zane Simon: Pickett should test Almeida's takedown defense early and prove a tough out, but I'd be shocked if the Brazilian didn't walk out with a win. Thomas Almeida by TKO, Round 3.
Staff picking Almeida: Rainer, Phil, Roy, Fraser, Stephie, Anton, Lewis, Tim, Mookie, Zane
Staff picking Pickett:
Anton Tabuena: Brown will Brown, and it will be fun regardless. Matt Brown by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: Tim Means is the lower-middle class version of Matt Brown, or is Matt Brown an upper-middle class version of Tim Means? Basically, everything Tim Means does well, Tim Means' upper-middle class version does better. So ultimately, this will be a fun fight, but lower-middle class Brown beating upper-middle class Means doesn't seem likely to me. Matt Brown via TKO, round 2.
Tim Burke: Brown still gets hurt too often for my liking, and Means is a guy that can take advantage of that. Tim Means by TKO, round 1
Phil Mackenzie: We had Coal Pit Muai Thai recently, now we go across the Atlantic for RUSTBELT MUAI THAI. This is, for me, the hardest pick on the card. It's going to be quite a Matt Brown fight. But... how much of a Matt Brown fight? The key is how much Means can keep it on the outside. Brown has a very traditional in-close MT toolset, while Means is one of the few who actively uses kicks like an MT fighter would- using teeps and front kicks to literally force the opponent back. He's also good at turning, striking and disengaging in the clinch. However, if the Matt Brown-ness of this fight rises above a certain percentage, then the Dirty Bird is in trouble. Tim Means by unanimous decision
Zane Simon: I like Means a lot, but he's really not proven that he can win against a solid step up in competition. His last three wins were over guys who just didn't have the skill, athleticism, or durability to hang with him. Matt Brown is not that guy. Add to it that Means finds a lot of his success in the clinch as well, and I'm betting that he's going to end up trying to work inside against Brown and finding out just how impossible a task that is. Matt Brown by TKO, Round 2.
Staff picking Brown: Rainer, Roy, Fraser, Stephie, Anton, Lewis, Mookie, Zane
Staff picking Means: Phil, Tim
Anton Tabuena: I'm surprised Swick can drop to welterweight after seeing how massive he got while he was out building his dream gym in Thailand. We have absolutely no way to predict this accurately because we don't really know how Swick would look after that insane layoff, but I'm going to the more proven guy. Mike Swick by Decision.
Rainer: It's been two and a half years since Swick last fought, and it feels like it's been even longer, which is probably a testament to how quickly the landscape is changing. Next to physical concerns, that question of evolution has to be one of the big issues surrounding Swick's return. He's always been well-rounded and offensively potent, but questions about his chin started to dog him in the fights leading up to his hiatus. Garcia, a burly welterweight with a KO or two to his name, is in this respect a risky opponent. I think time off will have done more good than ill for Swick, though, and that he'll make able use of his size advantage. Swick, TKO, Round 2
Mookie Alexander: ...Are y'all serious? This is split down the middle 4-4 at the time I wrote this on Friday morning. I like Swick, but he's 115 years old and has been battling injuries for years. Alex Garcia is going to clean his clock. Alex Garcia via KO, round 1.
Phil Mackenzie: Swick never quite lived up to his potential in the UFC, even in his heyday. Since then, he's had a huge layoff, a pretty sloppy win over DaMarques Johnson and a brutal loss to Matt Brown... and then another huge layoff. What comprises an upper-tier welterweight has changed dramatically in those 5-6 years. Garcia is stunningly aggressive and physical, and while Swick 10-8ed him handily on Twitter, I think that's the only success he's going to have. Alex Garcia by KO, round 1.
Tim Burke: I'm pretty shocked that this many people are picking Swick. He's 36, and hasn't beaten a decent opponent in six years. Garcia is the FUTURE, SON! Alex Garcia by KO, round 1
Zane Simon: Alex Garcia is a physical phenom in his prime. Mike Swick was an entertaining action fighter in 2008-2009. That's not a recipe for modern success. I expect this to be a great get-over performance from Garcia. Alex Garcia by KO, Round 1.
Staff picking Garcia: Phil, Roy, Tim, Mookie, Zane
Staff picking Swick: Rainer, Fraser, Stephie, Anton
Anton Tabuena: Pendred can legitimately go 5-0 in the UFC. That's a real thing and this is honestly a very tough fight to predict. It will be close, and possibly ugly, but I'm picking John Howard by Decision.
Rainer: Howard has frequently served as a spoiler, and for prospects far more dynamic than Pendred. Even weighed down by a three-fight losing streak, I think Howard puts an end to Pendred's lucky streak. Howard, TKO, Round 3.
Mookie Alexander: Absolutely zero interest in this fight, and believe it or not, it's mostly because of John Howard. I find him incredibly frustrating to watch and his game doesn't flow well at all. Sure he can clock Pendred, Cathal is hittable as ever, but I've got a feeling Pendred wins a slow-paced fight and grinds him out in the later rounds while Howard gasses. Cathal Pendred by split decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Blurgh. Howard's game is actually quite well put together. Nice left hook. Solid offensive wrestling. Conversely, though, not a great athlete, a little undersized, and has a spotty gas tank. All things being equal, should he beat Cathal Pendred? Yes, because I'm not sure what Pendred's game actually is, apart from being big, strong and determined. However, Howard has looked atrocious lately (Brian Ebersole?!), and his best wins have generally been from outwrestling strikers. I suppose I like the younger and bigger fighter to get to better ("less bad") positions in a clinchy, grindy, sweaty 15-minute fence war which should be crushingly awful to watch. Just dreadful. Cathal Pendred by 5-0 in the UFC, somehow.
Zane Simon: Imagine you're watching two scuba divers fight, now imagine it's in slo mo. We might actually go back in time when this fight hits the cage grind full force. Still Pendred is the younger, fresher grindy fighter. Howard has looked worse and worse lately. Cathal Pendred by decision.
Staff picking Howard: Rainer, Anton, Tim
Staff picking Pendred: Phil, Roy, Fraser, Stephie, Mookie, Zane
Mookie Alexander: TUF Latin America guy versus promising prospect? Yup. Cody Garbrandt by destruction.
Rainer: Much like with Nelson, I was skeptical of the hype surrounding Garbrandt's entrance into the UFC, but his five-minute assault of Marcus Brimage was everything believers told him to expect. Garbrandt, TKO, Round 1
Phil Mackenzie: Um. Enrique Briones wasn't winning his fight against a fellow TUF LatAm fighter until he uppercutted him out of nowhere. This is going to be a massacre. Cody Garbrandt by TKO, round 1.
Zane Simon: Cody Garbrandt is going to do horrible, awful, no good things to Henry Briones. Cody Garbrandt by KO, Round 1.
Staff picking Garbrandt: Rainer, Phil, Roy, Fraser, Stephie, Anton, Tim, Zane
Staff picking Briones:
Phil Mackenzie: Another fight between a vet with a better-put-together game and a more disconnected but physically ascendant fighter. Smolka does the classic young, athletic thing of trying to power out of takedowns and throwing wild kicks a lot (which worked out OK for him last time), and Seery has a much more focused and stable pressure boxing game. In a straight striking match, I'll take Seery. However, I think Smolka has been working takedowns which will allow him to keep Seery off-balance enough to dictate the range a bit more than he usually does. Also, I'd like to remind everyone how bad his nickname is. Da Last Samurai by unanimous decision
Zane Simon: I don't know what to think about Louis Smolka. He's not a bad pressuring fighter with the right matchup, but I think he got a bit overrated by beating Alptekin Ozkilic. Overall, I'm concerned that he's pretty slow for a flyweight. Seery isn't a barn burner, but he may be a good enough sprawl and brawler to stay upright and force a pocket boxing fight, after all Smolka tends to want the fight inside too. At boxing range, Seery is the slicker more technical fighter. So, Neil Seery by Decision.
Staff picking Seery: Roy, Stephie, Mookie, Zane
Staff picking Smolka: Rainer, Phil, Fraser, Anton, Tim
Mookie Alexander: Pfrankly speaking, I pfail to see anything in Pfister's game that suggests a long term pfuture inside the Octagon. Cedeno isn't a world beater or anything, but I agree with Pfil on this one. Yosdenis Cedeno, KO, round 1.
Phil Mackenzie: Pfister didn't just look "not UFC ready" last time out. He looked like he might never be UFC ready: simply without the necessary degree of durability or athleticism. Yosdenis Cedeno might evolve from being a flashy, flawed action fighter into something better, but he almost certainly doesn't even need to for this fight. Yosdenis Cedeno by KO, round 1.
Zane Simon: Cedneno is a much better athlete, but he's not a much better fighter. I would be just as unsurprised to see Cedeno get outworked as I would to see Pfister get demolished early. But I'll go for the fight I want. Yosdenis Cedeno by KO, Round 1.
Staff picking Cedeno: Rainer, Phil, Roy, Fraser, Stephie, Anton, Tim, Mookie, Zane
Staff picking Pfister: