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UFC on FOX 20: Holm vs. Shevchenko staff picks and predictions

Check out the Bloody Elbow staff's picks and predictions for the Saturday, July 23rd UFC on FOX 20 fight card in Chicago, Illinois.

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

After a whopping 10 days without a UFC event, we're treated to one in Chicago tomorrow night on FOX. The Bloody Elbow staff has submitted its predictions, and only Victor Rodriguez (edit: And now Jed Meshew) have backed Valentina Shevchenko to pull the upset against Holly Holm. The co-main event is a much different story, as there's only a slight edge for Edson Barboza to best Gilbert Melendez.

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 Monday 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.

Holly Holm vs. Valentina Shevchenko

Mookie Alexander: This could be one of those highly intriguing tactical bouts that will have a good chunk of the Chicago crowd heading for the exits. Holm's career in the UFC is fascinating. It's defined by the Rousey destruction but is otherwise surrounded by fights with decidedly power-lacking distance striking, with an emphasis on kicks. There's going to be a lot of waiting involved here. Shevchenko is the best striker Holm has faced in her entire MMA career. This fight will be decided heavily on in-fight strategy, particularly if Shevchenko can get past Holm's range and be aggressive. This is a tight call but I give the edge to Holm to rack up enough points, with her corner able to adjust tactically to anything Shevchenko and her corner throw at them. Holly Holm by unanimous decision.

Eddie Mercado: Footwork wins fights. Since both competitors look oddly similar from their backs, this could come down to who lands on top first. Holly's movement seems to be the X factor in this fight. Holly Holm by Unanimous Decision.

Victor Rodriguez: This is so strange. Holm has far more mastery of the range and movement game, but Shevchenko is a tough out for anyone and her Muay Thai repertoire and counter game could lead to some really fun exchanges. Sure, it has the potential to be ugly, tentative and frustrating to watch, but I'm still banking on Shevchenko breaking with her conventional approach to put some pressure on Holm and attack the body consistently. Holm's not going to work for takedowns unless she absolutely has to, and even then Valentina isn't a slouch off her back. Valentina Shevchenko by decision.

Jed Meshew: This fight is gonna be a snoozer. Both are high quality fighters but their styles could definitely result in a staring contest with Holm just landing a lot that side kick that Jackson fighters have become known for. Now if Holm decides she needs to press the action more, that could make for a more fun fight but will play into Shevchenko's counter game. Over 5 rounds, I favor Holm's movement and ability to keep distance where she is the better defensive fighter and can win on points. Holm by decision. Edit: Jed has since changed his pick to Shevchenko

Staff picking Holm: Eddie, Nick, Phil, Stephie, Mookie, Fraser, Tim, Iain
Staff picking Shevchenko: Victor, Jed

Edson Barboza vs. Gilbert Melendez

Mookie Alexander: Melendez has been out for a year, is otherwise in a division where it's extremely difficult to rise back up the ranks, and is facing a vastly improved opponent in Edson Barboza. The Brazilian's hands are better than ever, his kicks remain deadly, his takedown defense has gotten steadily better. This all boils down to Melendez still having his timing, quick hands, and ability to effectively pressure Barboza to where Edson can't get his offense going. I'm tempted to say he can do it, but I just can't trust Gil off the PED-related layoff, and Barboza just looks to be hitting his stride right now. Edson Barboza by unanimous decision.

Eddie: Barboza has been looking really sharp as of late whereas Melendez has yet to compete under the new weigh in rules and IV ban. Barboza has struggled with opponents who can threaten the takedown but I will have to see how Gil handles the weight cut. As of 7/20/16 I'm going to pick Gilbert Melendez via Split Decision.

Victor: Melendez is still one of the very best lightweights on the planet, and he's definitely slowing down at this point. Barboza's got a more lethal standup game and is super tough to take down, but it seems Melendez is savvy enough to pull it off to control the fight and make it as ugly as necessary. Giblert Melendez by decision.

Jed: Barboza is on the come up and Giblert is on the way down. He's also coming off a year long vacation courtesy of the UFC's drug testing policy. Moreover, Gil is older, slower, smaller, less athletic, and facing a guy who is really coming into his own as a range fighter. Melendez will try and pressure Barboza like he did to Pettis and that may work for a time, but Barboza has good footwork and a sharp jab which will make Gil's night long and painful. Barboza via decision.

Staff picking Barboza: Nick, Phil, Stephie, Mookie, Jed, Iain
Staff picking Melendez: Eddie, Victor, Fraser, Tim

Francis Ngannou vs. Bojan Mihajlovic

Mookie Alexander: Ngannou is a stupidly high favorite (as high as -715). I know he's a great prospect but he's a HEAVYWEIGHT prospect, so weird shit is just begging to happen. Hopefully not tomorrow, but don't be surprised if it does. Francis Ngannou by KO, round 1.

Eddie: Big boys! I flipped a coin and it instructed me to pick Francis Ngannou by KO at 2:42 of Round 1.

Victor: Well, that's cute. Ngannou is a frighteningly powerful individual that just might have the cardio and takedown defense to paste Mighty Bojan. Sure, we also have the likelihood of it being another ugly slugfest punctuated by staring contests, but i'm gonna go with Francis Ngannou by violence.

Phil Mackenzie: With massive physical gifts, ever-improving technique and what appears to be a fine strategic mind for the sport, Ngannou is the rare breed of heavyweight where we should all be getting excited for just how disappointed he'll make Zane when he inevitably goes down in flames. How will it happen? When? I don't know. But that's what makes heavyweight so thrilling! The odds are out of control on this one, but the obvious pick is still Francis Ngannou by KO, round 1

Jed: Ngannou is the closest thing we've had to a legit heavyweight prospect since...I guess Cain? Heavyweight doesn't get a lot of real prospective talents and Ngannou would do very well in a combine. This is a showcase fight for him to build the highlight reel and really I just don't see a way he loses. If this weren't heavyweight MMA I'd say I'll get Bojan's name tatted on my leg if he pulls of the upset but making any bets on heavyweight MMa is a surefire way to lose your hat. Ngannou by ultraviolence, rd 1.

Staff picking Ngannou: Eddie, Nick, Phil, Stephie, Mookie, Fraser, Tim, Jed, Iain
Staff picking Mihajlovic:

Kailin Curran vs. Felice Herrig

Mookie Alexander: I have no idea how to pick this fight. Thought Curran initially because she's younger and has better all-around sills, but she also makes some questionable in-fight decisions, and that's how she gave away the Alex Chambers bout. She fought better against Emily Kagan but I still question her consistency. We've seen Herrig's issues with inconsistent performances, as well as flat out getting run over by Paige VanZant, so it's kind of a toss-up to me between two women who are not particularly close to title contention. Picked Curran on Three Amigos Podcast, but it's time for me to do a rare bit of hedging. Felice Herrig by unanimous decision.

Victor: Curran's the better athlete here, she's hungrier, faster, stronger and has a decent and well-rounded game. Problem is that she's also prone to jumping into situations before thinking, which led to some rough spots in her loss to Paige VanZant and Astro Girl Alex Chambers (in a fight she was handily winning). Herrig has the veteran fight experience and better standup, but it's gonna be tough for her to deal with the pace and wrestling that Curran brings. Curran by decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Two narratives here- one is that Herrig looked uniquely bad against VanZant; that she was struggling with mental health and training problems. The other is that she's simply not equipped to deal with aggressive fighters who force her to deal with their superior athleticism. I'm going to take the first- I think Herrig is the better technical striker and submission artist, unless Curran makes a big improvement I'm not sure that the kind of flailing blitz that VanZant and Curran both favour will work again. Felice Herrig by unanimous decision.

Jed: I'm not as versed in this as others but is this one of those Joe Silva fights? Does Herrig still train with Team Curran? Anyway, this is a pretty classic prospect vs. serviceable veteran fight and in those I normally side with the prospect unless they're really being rushed along. That goes double for WMMA where veterans are, by and large, not nearly as technical or athletic as the new breed coming up. Curran is super raw but I really like her to pick up the W. Curran by decision.

Staff picking Curran: Nick, Victor, Stephie, Tim, Jed, Iain
Staff picking Herrig: Eddie, Phil, Mookie, Fraser

Frankie Saenz vs. Eddie Wineland

Mookie Alexander: Wineland is 3 years younger than Saenz, but in fight years, he looks really really shopworn. Saenz was outscrambling Urijah Faber even after nearly getting knocked out. If Wineland can't mount serious offense anymore, I think Saenz will just grind out a win. Frankie Saenz by unanimous decision.

Eddie: Eddie Wineland hasn't exactly been consistent as of late. The constant pressure and grinding style of Frankie Saenz might be too much for the returning Wineland. Frankie Saenz by TKO in Round 3.

Phil Mackenzie: Much as I like Wineland, he's always been a bit of a front-runner, and this appears to have decayed into a deadly inability to pull the trigger of late. Saenz is aggressive and consistent and unless the Wineland who beat Pickett can make a magical return Frankie Saenz by TKO, round 3.

Jed: Phil is smart. Listen to Phil. Saenz by TKO, rd 3.

Staff picking Saenz: Eddie, Nick, Phil, Stephie, Mookie, Fraser, Jed, Iain
Staff picking Wineland: Tim

Darren Elkins vs. Godofredo Pepey

Mookie Alexander: Two clear outcomes to me out of this fight. Pepey either subs or KOs Elkins in round 1, which is really hard to do, or Elkins does his Elkins thing and shuts down Pepey's active guard and win a decision. Darren Elkins by unanimous decision.

Ahem. Now that we got that out of the way, both are unpredictable, but Pepey is downright reckless and good enough to stave off Elkins' bread and butter takedown game just enough to put on some punishment. Plus, Pepey can be feisty and active off his back. Elkins may have the wrestling and control advantage, but I'm pretty sure that's not gonna work the way it has with most other opponents. Godofredo Pepey by KO/TKO.

Phil Mackenzie: A lot of people looked at Elkins' last fight as being him Elkinsing a lesser Elkins, but he honestly looked drastically improved, landing more much more meaningful offense than he normally does. Alpha Male doing good things for him, specifically with respect to their S&C program which is where I suspect the real dividends are coming from. He's still not (and never will be) defensively sound, so there's a real chance that Pepey just whacks him instantaneously, Maia-Sonnen style. Still, over 3 rounds he's an incredibly consistent Elkinser and has historically been very hard to put away. Darren Elkins by unanimous decision.

Jed: All I can think of when I look at this fight is, why isn't Darren Elkins fighting Nik Lentz for the light/featherweight championships of our hearts? This fight seems so obvious and yet it hasn't happened. Is it because they're the same person? They might be. Have you ever seen them in a room together at the same time? These are the questions we should be asking ourselves. Someone get Jake Shields on the case. Elkins by if you think he does anything other than win a decision you've lost your damn mind.

Staff picking Elkins: Eddie, Nick, Phil, Stephie, Mookie, Fraser, Jed, Iain
Staff picking Pepey: Victor, Tim

Kamaru Usman vs. Alexander Yakovlev

Mookie Alexander: Usman is a great prospect who is incredibly strong. It may be surprisingly competitive on the feet, but Usman's got very good control of his opponent and I can see him wearing Yakovlev out on the mat. Kamaru Usman by unanimous decision.

Victor: Oh, no. I can't see a world in which Yakovlev keeps this standing or is able to land anything substantial on Usman. Yakovlev won't be able to do much off his back, either. Kamaru's too athletic, too big and smart enough to see what Yakovlev is setting up if he goes for a submission. Kamaru will steal his soul via 419. Kamaru Usman by TKO, round 2

Phil Mackenzie: Hmm. This is the first time we've seen Usman against someone with real wrestling acumen who is (unlike, say, Michael Graves) probably going to put that wrestling ability entirely into reverse and focus on just stopping the takedown. While Usman is better than most Hooft fighters at blending his takedowns and striking, it's not what I'd describe as a speciality of the gym. So this one might involve him fighting on the feet more than he likes. What tilts me towards Usman in a surprisingly close fight is how consistently Yakovlev lets himself be backed into the cage- should allow Usman to leverage his power and size advantages. Kamaru Usman by unanimous decision.

Jed: Usman gonna Elkins the shit out of Yakovlev. Usman by decision.

Staff picking Usman: Nick, Victor, Phil, Stephie, Mookie, Fraser, Jed, Iain
Staff picking Yakovlev: Eddie, Tim

Michel Prazeres vs. J.C. Cottrell

Phil Mackenzie: Trator the Tertiary Tibau hasn't been doing so great lately. Remember when he beat Mairbek Taisumov? Yeah, that was weird. He followed it up by getting thumped by Kevin Lee and straight-up burgling a win off Valmir Lazaro. Still, he's really strong and has a decent punch-into-takedowns game, and it should work here against Cottrell, who is reasonably well-rounded but without ironclad TDD or threatening offense. Michel Prazeres by unanimous decision.

Jed: What Phil said. Prazeres by decision.

Staff picking Prazeres: Eddie, Phil, Stephie, Mookie, Fraser, Tim, Jed
Staff picking Cottrell: Nick, Iain

Alex Oliveira vs. James Moontasri

Victor: As I've said before ad nauseam (and will continue to do so in the future), I have to pick the Muay Thai-based guy over the Karate/TKD based guy most of the time, and Brazilian Cowboy hits hard and takes a lot of damage to put away most of the time. Yet Moontasri might pull this off with use of angles and better cardio. He might make this a somewhat uneventful a decision win. Still, smart money stays on Oliveira. Alex Oliveira by decision.

Phil Mackenzie: I don't really like Moontasri's style, at all. He does... stuff. Flashy, weird, poorly set-up stuff, and it only really works consistently against people that he owns a big athletic advantage over. Not the case here. Oliveira is a brute, and I still remember the shock on Gilbert Burns' face as Alex effortlessly threw him out of the clinch. His punching is getting more accurate and he's developing an inefficient but scary power wrestling game. I expect Moontasri to perhaps have some success early, but then to gradually start showing that same expression of disbelief as Burns. Alex Oliveira by TKO, round 3.

Jed: Didn't Oliveira lose the battle of the Cowboys? I feel like he should have to give up the moniker despite the fact he actually used to ride bulls and stuff and as far as I can tell Cerrone just wears the hat and wakeboards, which ain't the most Cowboy of activities. I mean what was the point of making that fight if we still have 2 Cowboys afterwards? I thought Joe Silva might have finally figured out a way to make fighters get more creative with their nicknames by having them battle it out for the rights to them. Just imagine it! They could do one throwback event, an openweight tournament of Pitbulls. Don't tell me you wouldn't watch that. We all would. And then we wouldn't have to have 47 Pitbulls anymore and Patricky Freire could become Tricky Patricky Freire which is infinitely more fun to say and cheer for. Shit, where was I? Oh, The-Man-Who-Would-Be-Cowboy by late stoppage.

Staff picking Oliveira: Eddie, Nick, Phil, Victor, Stephie, Mookie, Fraser, Tim, Iain, Jed
Staff picking Moontasri:

Jim Alers vs. Jason Knight

Eddie: Two solid grapplers set to scrap. I gotta favor Alers' top game over Knight's bottom game. Jim Alers by Submission (D'arce) in Round 2.

Victor: Alers is another aggressive submission hunter with a hard-nosed approach and trains under Vagner Rocha. That means he's extra sneaky in scrambles, too. Knight's also tough and a good grappler in his own right, but the Mississippi native is gonna get caught. Jim Alers by submission.

Phil Mackenzie: Alers is not a safe bet by any means. While physically strong and a decent wrestler, he's a little wooden and fragile as a striker. However, given Knight's horrific takedown defense and willingness to fight from bottom, it looks like it's a fight where Alers can fight wherever he feels most comfortable. Jim Alers by unanimous decision

Staff picking Alers: Eddie, Nick, Phil, Victor, Stephie, Mookie, Fraser, Tim, Iain, Jed
Staff picking Knight:

Luis Henrique vs. Dimitry Smolyakov

Phil Mackenzie: Coin toss. For heavyweights these guys are both surprisingly OK at wrestling and striking. Henrique has the better top game, Smolyakov has the better hands. I think that what makes the difference is just how different UFC heavyweight is to its regional equivalent, and how valuable that experience is, even if the fighter loses. As bad as UFC HW is, it's a whole different ballgame to the regionals. Smolyakov has the traditional dominating regional record, but it's not filled with very good names, and Henrique got a look at what the UFC requires last time. Luis Henrique by TKO, round 2.

Jed: No one is picking the betting favorite? That is insanity. I feel what Phil is saying about the debuting Smolyakov and I do like Henrique as a prospect but this fight is a 50/50 proposition. He's got quick hands and can probably keep it on the feet, though if he goes to the ground then all bets are off. I also really like his finishing instincts. Smolyakov by TKO, round 1.

Staff picking Henrique: Nick, Phil, Stephie, Mookie, Fraser, Tim, Iain
Staff picking Smolyakov: Jed