The Bloody Elbow staff predictions have been divided into three parts, starting with the preliminary card. This post is for the four PPV main card bouts that precede the main event between Eddie Alvarez and Conor McGregor, which will be its own post.
We are all in agreement that Joanna Champion will remain as such when she fights Karolina Kowalkiewicz. It’s a slightly different story for the co-main event, as Tim Bissell and Stephie Haynes like Tyron Woodley to defend his belt successfully, while everyone else is backing Stephen Thompson.
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.
Tyron Woodley vs. Stephen Thompson - For Woodley’s UFC welterweight title
Anton Tabuena: Woodley is a truly dangerous fighter, and he can end the fight at any time. He also has an edge in wrestling, and if he can use those takedowns to find ways to land strikes, he has a good chance of keeping his belt. I think training at Roufusport with a team known for churning out unpredictable dynamic strikers, along with sparring with a Karateka like Northcutt, will surely help him become more used to Wonderboy’s style. But will that be enough to win standing against a guy so superior technically at distance? I’m not so sure. He has an edge in power, but I think Thompson can pick him apart en route to star making performance. Stephen Thompson by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: I said after Wonderboy’s beatdown of Johny Hendricks that this was the next UFC welterweight champion. This happened under the assumption that Wonderboy would fight Lawler next, but then Wonderboy dispatched Rory MacDonald, and Woodley decked Lawler. Not going to back out of my statement now. No doubt that Woodley’s made enough improvements in his game to the point where him knocking Thompson out -- keeping in mind Ellenberger dropped Wonderboy just last year -- is not out of the question. I cannot see Thompson being taken down and held there, however, and Wonderboy’s striking is just on another level. His unpredictability, his angles, his power, it all looks so smooth, and I feel that we’ll see a star born tomorrow night. Woodley’s off-and-on tendency to do nothing offensively will cost him dearly. Stephen Thompson by TKO, round 3.
Dayne Fox: I was dismissive of Woodley going into the Lawler fight as I was pissed he got the title shot after sitting on the sidelines for 18 months. Even though I’m picking Thompson, I assure you I’m not doing that here. There isn’t a welterweight better at outfighting than Thompson. His methodical picking apart of Rory MacDonald proved that. And does anyone remember what Woodley did to MacDonald when those two met? Not a damn thing. He couldn’t get past Rory’s jab. Now he thinks he is going to have an answer for Thompson’s litany of kicks, jabs, and straights? I don’t think so. Thompson wears him down and picks up a late stoppage. Thompson via TKO of RD4
Fraser Coffeen: Woodley was once a decision machine, but interestingly, he has not won a clear, unanimous decision since coming to the UFC. With the exception of his split decision win over Gastelum, he’s been on a streak of either overwhelming opponents and stopping them early, or not being able to get his offense going and getting outworked. The former seems unlikely here. Stephen Thompson, KO, R3
Zane Simon: Tyron Woodley either wins big early or fights boring down the stretch. There’s rarely been a middle ground and one of the few fights there was, against Nate Marquardt, he lost. Thompson has to stay sharp out of the gate, where Woodley’s next level speed and power could catch him totally off guard. But assuming he does so - helped by the big cage and excellent footwork - then he can probably freeze up Woodley and pick him apart for a decision win. Stephen Thompson via decision.
Nick Baldwin: Tyron Woodley is known for his power, but if he doesn’t catch Thompson early, he might resort to his wrestling abilities, because “Wonderboy’s” biggest weakness is on the ground. That said, he’s working with guys like Chris Weidman, and I think Thompson will be able to defend the takedowns. This’ll be a standup fight, and Thompson has such a difficult style to crack -- I don’t think Woodley will be able to do so. I like Thompson to find from a variety of angles and severely outstrike the champ for the win. Stephen Thompson via unanimous decision.
Staff picking Woodley: Bissell, Stephie
Staff picking Thompson: Phil, Dayne, Mookie, Fraser, Lewis, Zane, Nick, Tim, Anton
Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz - For Jedrzejczyk’s UFC strawweight title
Anton Tabuena: This should be a very entertaining and technical striking affair, and I believe Joanna will have the edge in not only being a more complete MMA fighter, but with high level experience as well. Joanna Jedrzejczyk by Decision.
Mookie Alexander: I just can’t go against Joanna here. The real loser of this fight will be Mike Goldberg, who has to call this one for up to 25 minutes. His tongue will be in tatters on pronunciation alone. Kowalkiewicz is a very good fighter whom I think is most effective in close with her clinch striking (especially those knees and elbows) and her countering game, but everything she’s very good at, Joanna is GREAT at. There isn’t a woman at 115 right now who can keep up with the pace Joanna sets, and in the championship rounds, I think Jedrzejczyk pulls away and either gets a stoppage or even a 10-8 round on the scorecards. Joanna Jedrzejczyk by unanimous decision.
Dayne Fox: Ronda Rousey could take a lesson from Joanna. Even though she has yet to taste defeat, Joanna recognized that she had learned all she could from her camp in Poland and sought to better herself. After trying out various camps, she settled on ATT down in Florida. It’s that drive and determination to improve that makes me think Joanna could end up becoming the most dominant women’s champion by the time she calls it a career. It usually takes a while to see the results of a camp change, but Joanna is so far ahead of the rest of the division anyway that she should still be able to handle Karolina. Karolina is tough as nails which should make for some fun sequences, but expect it to be pretty one-sided. Jedrzejczyk via decision
Fraser Coffeen: I’m still picking Joanna, but I’m doing so against my better judgment and my general rule of never picking the fighter who is talking openly about retirement. That worries me here, and makes what was once an easy slam dunk pick a little bit more gray. Joanna Champion via decision
Zane Simon: There’s just nothing that Karolina does well that Joanna doesn’t do better. Whether it’s clinch striking, volume output, wrestling, or even just mental fortitude, Joanna’s got it all in spades. And without a power or athleticism edge to bank on either, it’s really hard to see where Kowalkiewicz finds an edge to win. Joanna Jedrzejczyk via decision.
Nick Baldwin: Jedrzejczyk is giving McGregor a run for his money in the mental warfare department of fighting. She’s crazy good at talking and getting inside her opponents’ heads. I don’t think Kowalkiewicz is any better anywhere on the feet than Jedrzejczyk, and that’ll be the story of the fight. Joanna Jedrzejczyk via unanimous decision.
Staff picking Jedrzejczyk: Bissell, Phil, Dayne, Mookie, Fraser, Stephie, Lewis, Zane, Nick, Tim, Anton
Staff picking Kowalkiewicz:
Yoel Romero vs. Chris Weidman
Anton Tabuena: Romero finishes early, or Weidman dominates. I think it’s the latter. Chris Weidman by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: It’s really really tempting to pick Romero to just spark Weidman out. Have you not seen the violence that Yoel Romero is capable of delivering? He can do that to just about anyone at 185. However, I do not think this is a favorable matchup for him. Romero isn’t chinny, but he’s hittable, and Weidman hits hard and he can be crafty on the feet. The longer this drags out with Romero unable to initiate any offense, the more you have to believe Weidman will either win on the scorecards or just take him down and rip him to shreds with ground-and-pound for a late stoppage. I’m going with Chris Weidman by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: As with Jeremy Stephens, Weidman has a knack for knowing where people are going to be, and also for forcing them to places where they don't want to be. This seems like it will play well with Romero, who tends to chill out, take his time, and wait for his opponents to give him an opportunity. He tends to put himself against the fence a lot, and this seems like something Weidman can accomplish with his excellent pressure footwork. Weidman is not particularly defensively sound, so there's a definite chance that Romero just blasts out of nowhere with a flying knee or a counter left straight, but all things equal I think Weidman's game is the far more likely to win two out of three rounds. Chris Weidman by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Romero is definitely, decidedly more athletic than Chris Weidman, but he doesn’t make functional use of that fact nearly as consistently and has rarely looked dominant over the course of a fight against top shelf competition (Machida aside). Weidman is good enough everywhere to keep himself from just getting pushed around by Romero or overwhelmed by his offensive bursts, and he’s tough enough and dogged enough to take the fight to Romero when Romero sits back and tries to coast. Obviously Romero can KO just about anyone at any time, but unless he makes that happen, Weidman should be able to beat him. Chris Weidman via decision.
Eddie Mercado: I see Weidman being wise enough to not get clipped early and trust the former champ to have more gasoline in the third round. Yoel Romero is an absolute monster, that could likely go beast mode, but I’m taking Chris Weidman by TKO Rd. 3.
Nick Baldwin: This is one of the best matchups on the entire card. Romero’s biggest knock is his cardio, but that won’t be an issue on Saturday, because he’ll end the fight before that. Romero will overwhelm and pound out Weidman early. Yoel Romero via TKO, round 1.
Victor Rodriguez: Romero is just sensational to watch at times, and should be a very tough fight for Weidman - especially if it turns into a grappling match. Problem is, Weidman’s a very hard hitter, and Romero takes a while to recover after he’s rocked. Romero has a funky Cuban boxing style, but it won’t be in his best interest to keep things standing if he can avoid it. If Weidman can find the off-switch on Anderson Silva, best believe he can make Romero go night-night. Weidman by KO.
Staff picking Romero: Bissell, Fraser, Lewis, Nick, Tim
Staff picking Weidman: Phil, Dayne, Mookie, Stephie, Eddie, Zane, Victor, Anton
Raquel Pennington vs. Miesha Tate
Anton Tabuena: Tate is just the superior fighter and athlete here. It’s not going to be close. Miesha Tate by Decision.
Mookie Alexander: I’m feeling an upset here. It’s not a particularly great reason, but Pennington’s got a rugged type of style and is one of the few fighters I believe Tate won’t be able to just easily outmuscle. What gives me pause is that Pennington isn’t really a threat to finish fights, and the fighters who beat Tate are the ones who can provide that. It leaves Pennington essentially no choice but to win ugly, which means giving Tate minimal space, winning clinch battles, dirty boxing, etc, and not losing scrambles if/when Miesha gets it to the ground. I’ve been way too boring picking chalk all the way here, so let’s have at it! Raquel Pennington by split decision.
Phil Mackenzie: I love Pennington. She's arguably a better boxer if given her preferred operating space... but she is just so damn footslow. Tate will be given repeated opportunities to retreat, regather and set up her lunging entries, whether for a right hand or a takedown, and Pennington will have to be an absolute wall for the takedowns, as well as not getting hit by the overhand. I don't quite trust her to do that. Tate has struggled with bigger and more powerful bantamweights in the past, and has debatably relied on out-conditioning them. I don't think she can do that to Pennington... but I don't think it sufficiently counterbalances just how plodding Rocky is. Miesha Tate by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Tate’s wrestling isn’t always physically imposing, but she’s gotten better and better about how and when she uses it. In fact, Tate has generally become a technically better fighter even over the last couple years. Her striking is tighter, her wrestling more explosive. Her biggest problem is her ability to eat hard punches without shutting down, but Pennington isn’t known for her ability to deliver with power or consistency. I think Tate just outworks her here. Miesha Tate via decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Pennington’s got the opportunity of a lifetime, and is another fighter that’s turned a major corner in her career to realize more of her potential. Tate’s wrestling for MMA will be too good, though. Tate may have had problems with Nunes’ range and power, but she could be smarter with her shots here and keep her timing and pressure on point to get it to the ground and outwork Raquel the way she did with Sara McMann. Miesha Tate by submission.
Staff picking Pennington: Mookie, Stephie, Lewis
Staff picking Tate: Bissell, Phil, Dayne, Fraser, Eddie, Zane, Nick, Tim, Victor, Anton