UFC 205 is a loaded event, even with the loss of Rashad Evans vs. Tim Kennedy and Donald Cerrone vs. Kelvin Gastelum. The Bloody Elbow staff predictions have been divided into three parts, starting with the preliminary card. Part 2 will feature the PPV main card bouts, up to the co-main event between welterweight champion Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson. Part 3 will be exclusively for the main event between Eddie Alvarez and Conor McGregor.
Believe it or not, the only unanimous agreement in our preliminary card predictions for tomorrow’s Madison Square Garden mega-card is for Katlyn Chookagian to beat former women’s bantamweight title challenger Liz Carmouche. At the top of the prelims, only Eddie Mercado is backing Jeremy Stephens to upset Frankie Edgar, while Tim Bissell, Phil Mackenzie, Fraser Coffeen, and Lewis McKeever all like Michael Johnson to upset Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Note: Predictions are entered throughout the week 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 Phil Mackenzie entered all of his predictions on Wednesday 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.
Frankie Edgar vs. Jeremy Stephens
Anton Tabuena: I have a feeling there’s going to be a huge upset here. Edgar is still hittable and is already getting up in age, so any decline in skill, reaction time, or durability can be dangerous against an improving Stephens who has the power and athleticism to stop anyone. But until that happens, Edgar is just the safe and obvious pick at this point in time. Frankie Edgar by Decision.
Mookie Alexander: Stephens has no doubt a much better fighter now than he was in 2012, but the flaws that prevent him from beating the absolute elite of the division (sorry, Renan Barao isn’t an elite 145er) are still there. Sure, there will probably come a time when Edgar’s granite chin finally crumbles, and Stephens hits hard, but I just don’t see any other path to victory for Lil’ Heathen. Edgar chain-wrestles spectacularly and when he gets Stephens down it’ll be an absolute nightmare for Stephens not to wriggle free of his control. Frankie Edgar by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: For me this is something of a trap fight. Stephens is really, really good at one thing, and that's at predicting where his opponent's head is going to be travelling to, and putting his fist, foot or knee through that area of space as it gets there. This skill is particularly weak against longer fighters (Cerrone, Oliveira) for obvious reasons, but Edgar is smaller than him and will be zipping inside to hit takedowns and right hands. Edgar has more skill, and while Stephens is a good wrestler his TDD isn't impenetrable, so Edgar is the obvious pick... but I keep seeing Stephens landing some kind of silly intercepting knee or uppercut. Frankie Edgar by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Stephens certainly can deliver a KO shot to Frankie Edgar, but Edgar’s become a much safer striker than he used to be. And outside of that chance, this is a dreadful matchup for Stephens. Despite his high school wrestling background and the repeated statements that he “uses his wrestling in reverse” truth be told, Stephens just doesn’t seem to wrestle all that much at all. His base is solid enough to stop a lot of takedown attempts, but when an opponent really drives in on his hips, they often get him down. And Stephens doesn’t really tend to have the volume or footwork to keep shots from being set up on him. All that should mean that Edgar will be able to get in and chain wrestle him over and over to a decision win. Frankie Edgar by decision.
Eddie Mercado: Frankie Edgar is known for his active footwork and his impeccable MMA wrestling abilities. The style matchup alone warrants a pick for Frankie, as Jeremy Stephens has been known to plant his feet to load up with big power. Though Edgar is ultra tough, he has been known to eat some shots. Granted, Edgar fights the best, but I see Stephens connecting with some heat to score a huge upset win over a former champion. Jeremy Stephens by KO Rd.1.
Staff picking Edgar: Bissell, Phil, Dayne, Mookie, Fraser, Stephie, Lewis, Zane, Nick, Tim, Anton
Staff picking Stephens: Eddie
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Michael Johnson
Anton Tabuena: Wrestling. Khabib by Decision.
Mookie Alexander: Well … I kinda want to pick Michael Johnson here, but do I? Johnson may very well be one of those fighters who is not consistent enough to be in serious conversation as a future champion, but more than good enough to pull off several surprises and upset the apple cart. He’s got a slickness to his striking that Khabib has seldom dealt with in the UFC, and power to match. I think he’s got a definitive advantage in the stand-up over Khabib, but this is also the type of fight that Johnson can only win this with a finish, as once Khabib can get hold of him and put him on his back, there’s really no way back from Nurmagomedov just owning him on the mat. Won’t rule out a KO win for “The Menace” but for now I’m backing Khabib Nurmagomedov by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Well, I've been saying that Johnson was a tough match for Khabib since Khabib first ducked him back in the day, so it's time to bite the bullet. The essential fact of the matter is that running away (or "defensive footwork") beats takedowns in MMA and MJ has become increasingly good at running away over his UFC development. BUT. Like Brock or GSP, Khabib has also clearly recognized that the easiest way to hit takedowns is as a counter, and despite the persistent image of him as a flailing aggressive wildman from his early fights, he's largely fought as a counter fighter in his last few. So: this may be a shockingly slow-paced, tactical fight where MJ attempts to very carefully work his way in and initiate without getting blast doubled (and without the asset of Cheater Arms to help with the distance). He couldn't break the pure counter-TD style against Jury; can he break it against a much bigger, more athletic and more durable opponent? I'm going to say yes, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him get over-aggressive and chain wrestled. Michael Johnson by unanimous decision.
Dayne Fox: I’m picking Nurmy without much confidence. Johnson has a track record of pulling out the victory when he is the underdog and I fear Nurmy is focusing too much on the title picture and not enough on Johnson. I’m still picking the Russian though as he has always seemed to push through outside distractions pretty well. Still, don’t count me amongst those who will be surprised should Johnson pull off the upset.
Zane Simon: I’ve got to echo other sentiments here in that I feel a bit of coward for not picking Johnson outright. Nurmagomedov didn’t look anything close to great against Darrell Horcher, and Johnson has a similar but much more practiced and complete style to Horcher. A fighter who is willing to work from and hold range, while looking for counter opportunities with active footwork could be poison for Nurmagomedov if he doesn’t have the same dynamic distance closing ability and fluid connection between striking and wrestling that he used to. On the flip side, however, Johnson has lost a few fights if for no other reason than that he seems to get frustrated and abandon the things that are working for him. That’s something he can’t afford to do against Nurmagomedov at all. I’m banking on Nurmy looking more like classic Nurmy than layoff Nurmy here and on Johnson not getting the KO and eventually falling into Nurmy’s fight. But I won’t be at all surprised if Johnson gets the upset win. Khabib Nurmagomedov via decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Man, what an amazing story it would be if Johnson were to win this one. His striking is so much better than it was when he came off TUF, and his grappling is solid. The biggest question is what Nurmagomedov is going to look like. Sure, he won the Horcher fight. It just didn’t tell us much about where he’s at after that long layoff. It also doesn’t tell us how he stacks up against Johnson. I have total faith in Nurmagomedov being a title contender very soon, but I just can’t have faith in someone that’s been this inconsistent against someone that bounced back as strong as Johnson did against Poirier. Nurmy can win this, but that’s not happening on this card. Michael Johnson by decision.
Staff picking Nurmagomedov: Dayne, Mookie, Stephie, Zane, Nick, Tim, Eddie, Anton
Staff picking Johnson: Bissell, Phil, Fraser, Lewis
Tim Boetsch vs. Rafael Natal
Mookie Alexander: This is the real main event of the evening. It’s the perfect middleweight fight because you swear you’ve seen this fight before, but actually it hasn’t happened. So how do I pick this? Does Boetsch give us some of that good ol’ clinchwork plus blue-collar wrestling and sap Sapo’s cardio early (so 4 minutes instead of about 8)? Will Natal be able to take Boetsch down and outgrapple him and possibly get the submission? Could Natal make a mind-boggling decision that costs him the fight? What about all of the above? So many questions, so little time. I’m going with Boetsch here. Tim Boetsch by split decision.
Zane Simon: If Boetsch can’t get the finish then I’m not sure he gets the win. That said, I kinda feel like Rafael Natal will be way way too willing to step into the clinch against Boetsch and try to stifle him there. And that’s really the place that Boetsch thrives. Natal loves working from the clinch to shut down offense and look for trips and drags. And while he’s not a bad outside striker, he’s not a dominating one either. If this comes down to who has the better clinch game, I’ve got to go with Boetsch. But if Natal can hit takedowns then he could run over ‘the Barbarian.’ Tim Boetsch via TKO, Round 2.
Eddie Mercado: Tim Boetsch for president! Tim Boetsch by Boetsching
Victor Rodriguez: Sapo Jiu-Jitsu all day. Rafael Natal by submission.
Phil Mackenzie: Natal pulled his cloak around himself more tightly and shivered. These snowy Scrapper lands were colder by far than the warmer climes of the BJJ Guys. Still, he had reason to be here. Redemption.
Thales Leites had consolidated his grip on the hearts and minds of the BJJ Guys, by defeating Camozzi, the new King of the Powerless Volume Punchers. Natal spat into the snow. He'd beaten Camozzi before himself, and where was his praise? Grudgingly, he admitted that his rival had timed the move well. A victory over the ruler of another faction; a win which Natal couldn't match unless he chanced his luck against one of the Gods.
However, Natal had heard rumours. Rumours which led him upstream along the banks of this freezing river estuary, one lined with plane and oak trees which could withstand its saline spray, and which thickened into a dark, foreboding forest. Older rumours spoke of how this forest spread for untold miles, into the alien lands of Light Heavyweight.
One of the local peasants had directed Natal to this spot, and now he saw something moving from the trees. He strained his eyes. Just another labourer, or...? The shadow groaned, moved out into the light, and Natal's eyes widened.
Boetsch the Barbarian, King of the Blue-Collar Scrappers stood there, and his skin was white and his eyes were empty, and Natal knew, with a sinking, black certainty, that when his servant had reported that Boetsch had been killed by Ed Herman that he had not been lying; that he had not been misinformed. Boetsch was dead. And yet, he still walked.
Boetsch lumbered towards him, and Natal racked his brain. He'd heard of the ways by which middleweights could return from the beyond. Some were more dangerous than others. There was the dreaded Belfortius Resurrection, which turned the fighter into a senseless automaton of violence; or there were others more benign, although no less sad.
Boetsch's mouth hung open, and he groaned in a hoarse voice. "I've stillllllll... got it."
Natal relaxed fractionally. Not a Belfortius then. He could defeat this sad monstrosity. The Scrappers had no other king yet, and so any victory Natal gained would be at least as important as Leites' over Camozzi. Soon, Natal thought, he would be the ruler of the BJJ Guys once again.
The dead Boetsch lumbered forward and Natal settled into his stance, and prepared to kick The Barbarian in the leg as hard as he possibly could. Rafael Natal by unanimous decision.
Staff picking Boetsch: Bissell, Dayne, Mookie, Stephie, Eddie, Zane, Nick
Staff picking Natal: Fraser, Lewis, Tim, Victor, Phil, Anton
Vicente Luque vs. Belal Muhammad
Mookie Alexander: Luque’s improvement at Blackzilians has impressed me, even if it hasn’t been vs. high-level competition. Muhammad’s the better striker, tough as nails (as the Jouban fight showed), and is durable. Luque’s much more comfortable once he can get takedowns, and his submissions are slick; multiple wins by d’arce choke in his MMA career. This is a short-notice fight for Luque but I think he’s got the higher upside and will be able to hang long enough on the feet with Muhammad before taking him down and submitting him. Vicente Luque by submission, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: Very interesting one here. Belal Remember The Name Muhammad has a fairly unique aggressive style, where he walks into the pocket with his head bolt entirely upright and unmoving, and entirely relies on his feet to skip out of the way of return strikes before going back to the pressure. The big risk here is that sometimes he's going to get cracked... but it does make him very good at getting out of the way of takedowns. Said takedowns seem to be the key to victory for Luque. He's improving at a very solid clip- despite being relatively experienced, he's only found his groove of late it seems, and his striking is coming along. However, Belal Remember The Name Muhammad showed how absurdly tough he is against Jouban, and unless Luque has made another leap I don't think he can hang with Belal Remember The Name Muhammad's pace on the feet. Belal Remember The Name Muhammad by TKO, round 3.
Zane Simon: The key to Luque’s wrestling and grappling game has always been his ability to get the better of striking exchanges. That’s worked against underwhelming athletes and overly one-dimensional talents. But it’s hard to see what that opens up for him against someone that is just firmly more technical and diverse in his approach like Muhammad. The downside for Muhammad is that he’s shown an ability to get caught off guard and overwhelmed by aggressive fighters, but I don’t think Luque has enough of the right tools to make that work here. Belal Muhammad via TKO, round 3.
Staff picking Luque: Bissell, Mookie, Stephie, Eddie, Tim, Anton
Staff picking Muhammad: Phil, Dayne, Fraser, Zane, Nick
Thiago Alves vs. Jim Miller
Mookie Alexander: Do I even try here? Alves missed weight badly and will probably be dehydrated tomorrow, given that he can’t go up higher than 173 and he came in at 162. Going with Miller to wear Alves out, wrestle the Brazilian down, and then submit him late. Jim Miller by submission, round 3.
Phil Mackenzie: The real question about Alves is whether he's able to make the weight cut (EDIT: Nope!), and whether his insane smorgasbord of injuries has done him any permanent physical damage. If he's healthy and makes it to the scales, he's frankly a nightmare for Miller, who isn't the greatest wrestler and needs to be inside for his striking to function. Alves is genuinely excellent there and has a monstrous kicking game, as well as fairly iron-clad TDD. (EDIT: Fighters who blow weight haven't been tiring out too much lately, and Alves only ever looked awful after a bad weight cut when he fought Fitch the second time. I'll keep the pick with some trepidation) Thiago Alves by unanimous decision.
Fraser Coffeen: Man, I would have been so pumped for this fight in 2008. Jim Miller by submission, round 1
Zane Simon: Alves missing weight doesn’t bode well for his fitness if he can’t put Miller away quick. And Miller is still a damn tough fighter to put away. More to the point, modern Thiago Alves is less the power monster that he used to be and more the tactician. That’s a nice adjustment, but it’s come in part because he’s also less durable than he used to be. I can see Alves putting an early scare into Miller, but I think if he can’t put him out early, Miller may be able to overwhelm and potentially even hurt him on the way to a late submission. Jim Miller via submission round 3.
Staff picking Alves: Bissell, Phil, Dayne, Nick
Staff picking Miller: Mookie, Fraser, Stephie, Lewis, Eddie, Zane, Tim, Anton
Liz Carmouche vs. Katlyn Chookagian
Mookie Alexander: Carmouche hasn’t fought in well over a year and has looked less and less effective with her offense each time out. She didn’t win that Murphy fight, despite what the judges say, and should be on a three-fight losing skid. Chookagian outstrikes Carmouche, keeps it standing, and wins a decision. Katlyn Chookagian by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: The first warm-up is, unsurprisingly, one of the weaker offerings on this stellar card. Carmouche has never lived up to her obvious physical gifts, remaining broadly the same powerful but crude fighter at this point in her UFC career that she was at the beginning. Chookagian on the other hand is very promising and making fight-to-fight strides. She already beat Murphy (who Carmouche robbed somewhat handily) and as long as she can keep away from Carmouche her far superior striking should shine. Katlyn Chookagian by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: If Carmouche fights a power wrestling, grappling game, she can absolutely win this. But she’s never been dedicated to fighting to her strengths and seems, more than ever, to be favoring a pretty uninspired “slick” striking style. If she banks on that for large portions of this fight, I think she’ll just get tagged up. If she doesn’t then she could grind out a win. Katlyn Chookagian via decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Chookagian’s striking is so much better than Carmouche’s, but Liz is really tough to put away. Carmouche’s wrestling should be the main go-to here, but I worry that Chookagian’s size advantage could neutralize Carmouche’s wrestling and strength. Katlyn Chookagian by decision.
Staff picking Carmouche:
Staff picking Chookagian: Bissell, Phil, Dayne, Mookie, Fraser, Stephie, Zane, Nick, Tim, Victor