You may be wondering if anyone on the Bloody Elbow staff fancied picking Tim Elliott to defy the odds and unseat Demetrious Johnson as UFC flyweight champion. The answer is no, we all have Mighty Mouse defending his belt over Elliott, who earned the title shot by winning the sixteen-man TUF 24 Tournament of Champions field.
As for the co-main event, Tim Burke and Stephie Haynes are going with Henry Cejudo over Joseph Benavidez, in a battle of the TUF 24 coaches. Tim also like Jake Ellenberger over Jorge Masvidal, but he’s out on his own with that selection.
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.
Demetrious Johnson vs. Tim Elliott
Mookie Alexander: Make no mistake about it, the Elliott that’s in the UFC now is better than the one who arguably was unlucky to get cut after going through the Bagautinov/Benavidez/Makovsky gauntlet. His striking looked significantly improved both in Titan FC and on TUF, especially compared to how fairly one-dimensional he looked in his first UFC go-round. He’s also a pretty sizable flyweight, more so than the type of fighter DJ normally faces. I hope that Elliott sticks around as a contender in the UFC. He’s not going to beat Demetrious Johnson. An Elliott win would almost certainly have to be by stoppage, and I don’t see how he gets that on DJ. Mighty Mouse takes him down repeatedly, wears him out with his nasty clinch game, and then capitalizes with a fight ending submission, probably a kimura or an armbar. Demetrious Johnson by submission, round 4.
Nick Baldwin: Tim Elliott has a super funky style; he has legitimate grappling and is getting better on the feet. This is MMA, and anything can happen, but Demetrious Johnson should get the job done easily here inside the distance. Johnson is just so, so, so good; his muay Thai is fantastic, his clinch game is like no one else’s, his submissions are great -- every single part of his game is great. That’s why he’s the pound-for-pound king. Yes, the last time a TUF winner fought a UFC champ we saw the biggest upset in UFC history, but Matt Serra’s win over Georges St-Pierre will remain the biggest UFC upset after Saturday night. Demetrious Johnson via TKO, Round 1.
Zane Simon: Elliott has become a way way more functional fighter since leaving the UFC. In his first run he was sort of a Guida-esque high-movement low-substance fighter. Since then he’s added a lot more function to his striking game and a lot more activity to his GnP. He’s always been a strong wrestler. It’ll be interesting to see if his Dom Cruz inspired striking style gets him any purchase with DJ, but I’m not sure he has the same cardio as Cruz to maintain it without getting flat footed, and he doesn’t have nearly the same dedication to defense. If he marches in on DJ, I think he’ll get tied up in the clinch, where DJ’s knee & elbow game is unparallelled. And if he stays outside, he’ll be at the mercy of DJ’s pressure striking. Either way, Demetrious Johnson via TKO, Round 3.
Staff picking Johnson: Nick, Phil, Tim, Zane, Fraser, Mookie, Stephie
Staff picking Elliott:
Mookie Alexander: I’ve picked against Benavidez in his wins over Bagautinov and Makovsky, primarily because I think Benavidez has lost a little bit of a step dating back to Mighty Mouse KOing him. I still hold that to be somewhat true in the sense that he’s no longer winning in dominating fashion, but is still winning pretty clearly. The wrestling of Cejudo will obviously be the big talking point here, but that’s really just step 1 for Henry. Can he hold Benavidez down and not lose in the ensuing scrambles? I doubt it. On the feet, Cejudo is pretty bland, and I don’t mean to say he’s not a good striker, he’s pretty good, but very little about his striking has any sort of dynamic nature to it. At this stage in their respective careers, Benavidez is still the better fighter, even if he’s not as much of a finishing threat as he used to be. It’s a close call and Cejudo may end up making big strides after getting blasted by Mighty Mouse, but I think Benavidez does enough on the feet, loses the clinch battles, but outgrapples Cejudo to win on the scorecards. Joseph Benavidez by unanimous decision.
Nick Baldwin: Joseph Benavidez’s veteran savvy will come into play here. He has put everything together more so than Henry Cejudo in both of their tenures in the organization, and has the overall better game. His striking is solid, and his submissions are, of course, slick. Cejudo is an Olympic wrestler and pretty good on the feet (he’s a former Golden Gloves boxer), but I don’t feel like those accolades haven’t necessarily transitioned to the UFC cage. He hasn’t finished a fight in the UFC and didn’t look as good as he should have against guys like Chico Camus and Chris Cariaso. Give me Joe B here to earn another crack at the flyweight champ. Joseph Benavidez via Unanimous Decision.
Zane Simon: I’m just not sure that Cejudo is good enough at all the little parts of the game to compete at this level yet. He’s obviously an elite prospect, he’s even obviously a top 5 fighter. But is he a title challenger? DJ took his lunch money. And while that’s DJ, the problem is that Cejudo’s game just isn’t that complicated. He throws a few striking combinations, with the kind of volume and dedication to beat the majority of competition, but it’s also why he barely squeaked by Formiga and even Camus. He doesn’t change things up enough. And frankly, for an Olympic gold medalist, he doesn’t wrestle enough either. It feels like Cejudo treats wrestling like a changeup rather than a way to take over a fight. And if he’s willing to just see whether he can outstrike Benavidez here, I don’t think he can. Joseph Benavidez via decision.
Staff picking Benavidez: Nick, Phil, Mookie, Zane, Fraser
Staff picking Cejudo: Tim, Stephie
Mookie Alexander: Ellenberger either wins by quick KO (which would be incredible to do it to Brown and Masvidal back-to-back) or by controversial split decision, as is the usual way Masvidal loses. Everything else points to a Masvidal win through superior technical striking (including a jab, Ellenberger’s kryptonite), and an underrated ground game with a good top game. Jorge Masvidal by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Only two ways this seems likely to go: Ellenberger melts the historically slow-starting Masvidal, likely within the first three minutes, or Masvidal outworks him on the end of his jab. Jorge Masvidal by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Even in his startling win over Matt Brown, Ellenberger looked pretty bad and perilously close to getting finished. And as great a clinch striker as Brown is, the range game has never been an amazing strength for him. Masvidal is much more clinical and technical there. He’s also more durable than Matt Brown (as ridiculous as that seems) and a good enough grappler and wrestler to keep from just getting dominated. Ellenberger has an early shot, but if he doesn’t get the flash KO, I’d pick even an unmotivated Masvidal to drift to a win. Jorge Masvidal via TKO, round 2.
Staff picking Ellenberger: Tim
Staff picking Masvidal: Nick, Phil, Mookie, Zane, Fraser, Stephie
Mookie Alexander: I gotta think Ion will be charged up for this one. Ion Cutelaba by TKO, round 1.
Nick Baldwin: If Ion Cutelaba weighs in as The Hulk again (I suppose that by the time you’re reading this, we’ll know whether or not he did), I think he takes this. HULK SMASH! Ion Cutelaba via TKO, Round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: I don't like Cannonier at LHW. He's an OK technical striker for HW, and I think that this kind of fight is going to erase Cutelaba's primary problem. Cutelaba is slow. Cannonier is not going to be any quicker. Cutelaba is incredibly durable and has excellent cardio for a LHW. Ion Cutelaba by TKO, round 2.
Zane Simon: Cutelaba has shown the durability and workrate to hang at LHW as a fun action fighter (with lots of time to develop). Cannonier is powerful in very short bursts, but otherwise has to rely on getting out and staying away from opposition to survive. I don’t trust him to melt Cutelaba and I don’t trust him to stay safe for 3 rounds. Ion Cutelaba via KO, Round 1.
Staff picking Cannonier: Tim, Fraser
Staff picking Cutelaba: Nick, Phil, Mookie, Zane, Stephie
Mookie Alexander: This could be a brutally boring fight. Davis has more fluidity to her skill set (at least prior to her layoff due to pregnancy), but McMann should be able to outwrestle Davis fairly comfortably. McMann’s boxing is really based off her powerful fight hand but there’s really not much else that stands out with her hands. I’ll go with McMann to grind this one out and avoid Davis’ submission attempts off of her back, but it’s not a confident pick, as McMann has just never developed into an elite, championship-level fighter as initially hoped. Sara McMann by unanimous decision.
Nick Baldwin: I like Alexis Davis, but I’m not confident one bit, because she’s coming off a pregnancy and year-and-a-half-long layoff. I don’t know where she’s at physically -- we’ll find out soon enough -- and she admitted that training camp has been a challenge with the baby. Stylistically, however, I think this is a pretty good fight for the Canadian. Barring any major ring rust, I think Davis will catch Sara McMann in something on the ground, where she’s quite sneaky. McMann is known for her wrestling, of course, but going for takedowns could play into Davis’ favour. I haven’t been impressed with McMann for a long time, as well, so I’ll go with the slight underdog. Alexis Davis via Submission, Round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: W135 shares something with HW and LHW in that a lot of the fights seem to be determined less by "who developed more" than "who stagnated more." Davis is a far more natural fighter than McMann, and throws more pace and works harder on the ground, but she's vastly physically outgunned. McMann looked... OK in pressuring Jessica Eye? And Davis wasn't looking good before she tapped Kaufman. The layoff, as Nick mentioned, is also concerning. I don't think this fight will be very fun to watch. Sara McMann by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: The layoff worries me more than anything. I don’t like trusting fighters off a stretch away from the sport, just because I have no idea how they’ll look. Beyond that though, I think Davis is in real danger of the sport passing her by. She’s not a great athlete, but she’s been making it work for years by being durable, aggressive, and crafty on the ground. But the new breed at the top of 135 is made more and more of very good athletes who had to chase down Ronda Rousey. McMann hasn’t improved in the ways people expected, but she has improved, and she’s added more aggression to her top game and willingness to her boxing. If Davis has to be the one on her back, I don’t think she’ll win. Sara McMann by decision.
Staff picking Davis: Nick
Staff picking McMann: Phil, Mookie, Tim, Fraser, Zane, Stephie
Mookie Alexander: Benoit doesn’t really impress me that much, even with the win over Sergio Pettis. There’s not much of a quality process to his game that makes him a contender in this division. I may be overhyping Moreno based off of the Smolka upset, but Moreno is more active offensively and Benoit is a liability on the ground. Brandon Moreno by submission, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: Moreno's win over Smolka was all kinds of heartwarming. He's a more diverse fighter in every phase than Benoit, but he's also not exactly unhittable or a dynamite wrestler. However, while Benoit is a decent counterpuncher, he doesn't throw enough and he's a poor defensive grappler. Look for Mexican McLovin' to maybe survive a scare but to take over late. Brandon Moreno by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: I worry a lot about Moreno’s tendency to run straight into the pocket to throw big strikes with little set up. If he does that too many times, Benoit can absolutely crack him and spark him out. But, Moreno’s been durable to date and he’s scrappy to a fault. If he can keep getting Benoit to scramble I think he can keep winning those scrambles. Brandon Moreno via submission, round 3.
Staff picking Moreno: Nick, Phil, Mookie, Fraser, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Benoit: Tim
Mookie Alexander: Hedging my bets here. Picked Hall on Three Amigos Podcast basically on the premise that even in the Fernando Bruno win, Maynard didn’t look anywhere near his prime years. With that in mind, extremely one-dimensional grapplers like Hall are the type of fighters I’m not really that comfortable picking against credible opposition. Maynard’s issues have been with people who are capable of punching him in the face. He’s not been losing by getting thoroughly outgrappled, but Hall is very much the type of fighter who absolutely can make his life hell on the ground with the way he moves and the slickness of his back takes. It all boils down to whether or not Maynard can stop Hall’s crafty ways of getting his opponents down to the mat, especially his love of going for legs. I think Maynard keeps it standing (where he’s under no real threat from any strike Hall throws at him) and wins a decision. Gray Maynard by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Hmmm. Maynard beat Fernando Bruno, but it was a scrambly affair with a lot of grappling exchanges, and I don't really trust him to fight and win a pure sprawl'n'brawl gameplan. If Maynard was anything like his old self this would be an easy pick for him. As it is, I keep getting flashbacks to Munoz-Carneiro. Ryan Hall by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: I need to see Hall win this fight before I believe he can win a fight like this. Hall’s a funky wrestler and one hell of a grappler, but for all his problems, getting out grappled has rarely been one for Maynard. Grappling is also usually the last thing to go for a fighter as they age. Does a win over Artem Lobov where Hall couldn’t get the sub really mean he’s ready to jump to a former title challenger (even one past his prime). Hall just hasn’t shown enough elements of his game outside of grappling to make me think he’s ready for this step up. Gray Maynard via TKO, round 2.
Staff picking Maynard: Mookie, Tim, Zane
Staff picking Hall: Nick, Phil, Fraser, Stephie
Phil Mackenzie: Schnell is a solid pickup; a big, aggressive flyweight grappler. The key here is flyweight, though. He's not a bantamweight, and his traditional advantages just aren't going to exist against Font, who is as tall and additionally gifted with Cheater Arms. I don't take much away from Font's loss to Lineker- he had the right idea, but just hadn't built up enough discipline yet. Clean jab, chopping right hand, Rob Font by TKO, round 2.
Zane Simon: Font waits a little more than he should. But he’s got the kind of power to draw respect from opponents with his patience and a well rounded enough game to usually keep the fight wherever he wants it. Schnell’s striking continues to improve and he’s very aggressive, but he still gets caught a lot leaping in and often relies on his hyper-aggressive grappling to turn the tables on opponents. Moving up against an already pretty big bantamweight, I just don’t trust Schnell’s grappling to be effective. Rob Font via decision.
Staff picking Font: Nick, Phil, Mookie, Tim, Fraser, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Schnell:
Phil Mackenzie: Lil' Dong has the classic Korean all-offense-no-defense problem. O'Reilly is an aggressive, bullying grappler and if he can consistently get in the clinch he can likely take down and wear on Kim, whose full-power style isn't made to last for 15 minutes. However, O'Reilly is at a really sizable dynamism disadvantage and hasn't been difficult to hit. Dong Hyun Kim by TKO, round 1.
Zane Simon: O’Reilly is not a great athlete or an especially durable one. But he fights as a face-first brawler at a high pace. Which means he tends to get tired and he tends to get hurt. I’d be pretty surprised if he won this fight. Dong Hyun Kim by TKO, Round 1.
Staff picking Kim: Nick, Phil, Mookie, Tim, Fraser, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking O’Reilly:
Phil Mackenzie: This fight should be very fun, but other than that I'm not really sure what it'll look like. Both fighters are still pretty nascent. In general I think Curran's length should give her the advantage on the outside, and she's a better and more willing offensive wrestler, but she's quite a... formless fighter? Moyle, by comparison, knows what she wants to do, where she'll bull inside behind flurries of shots. If she can do that without getting clinched and taken down I think she can probably win quite handily. Kailin Curran by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Neither of these fighters has been able to really physically impose themselves on their opposition, excepting maybe Curran over Chambers, and that didn’t go well. Curran tends to be a terribly slow starter, but as the fight goes on she does get more aggressive and confident. I think that will serve her best here and while the first round may be a close, I can easily see it turning into a wall-n-maul win for Curran over rounds 2 & 3. Kailin Curran via decision.
Staff picking Curran: Nick, Phil, Mookie, Tim, Fraser, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Moyle:
Phil Mackenzie: Pretty close fight. Mutapcic has underwhelmed horribly in his UFC career, and Smith is at the least pretty aggressive and puts out a decent pace, albeit one he struggles to keep. Mutapcic both starts slow and hasn't been good at picking up the pace. He was unable to put away a half-dead Kevin Casey. Anthony Smith by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: I just don’t have any faith in Smith’s ability to deliver more than a round of offense or stay standing. Mutapcic has a lot of trouble actually creating offense when he’s not being attacked, but Smith almost always attacks, even when he’s faded badly. I expect Smith to do damage in round 1, maybe even take the round, but Mutapcic to grind out a win in rounds 2 & 3. Elvis Mutapcic via decision.
Staff picking Mutapcic: Nick, Mookie, Tim, Fraser, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Smith: Phil
Phil Mackenzie: Clark is a talented fighter, and apparently a process-driven and coachable one. That was not a good recipe for the chaos of a UFC debut against a wildman like Alex Nicholson, but I think it shows dividends here. Stansbury is well-rounded but glacially slow (in the Ed Herman mould) so Clark should be able to set up blitzes and wrestling attacks more comfortably. Devin Clark by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Stansbury isn’t really great anywhere, but he has a couple key qualities for LHW. He’s big, he’s tough, and he’s aggressive. I could easily see Clark landing the better shots for a minute or two, overwhelming Stansbury with his speed, only to get clubbed by a couple of winging hooks and end up on the ground getting worked over. Josh Stansbury via TKO, round 2.
Staff picking Stansbury: Tim, Stephie, Zane
Staff picking Clark: Nick, Phil, Mookie, Fraser