The Bloody Elbow staff has submitted its predictions for UFC 211. We’re pretty split on Stipe Miocic vs. Junior dos Santos, with the slight edge going to JDS to regain the title he lost in 2012. Meanwhile, all but three of us are backing Joanna Jedrzejczyk to defend her strawweight title against Jessica Andrade in the co-main event. Ram Gilboa, Phil Mackenzie, and Stephie Haynes are picking the Brazilians.
To give you an idea of how balanced this card is, only two out of the twelve fights have unanimous choices. Chase Sherman and Gazhimurad Antigulov better not let us down on Saturday.
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.
Stipe Miocic vs. Junior dos Santos
Anton Tabuena: You know what’s interesting to me? Many people have said that JDS is ‘past his prime’ or ‘not the same’, and while they may not be entirely wrong, he’s actually younger than Miocic. MMA of course is more about career length and damage taken than actual age, but I thought that fact was still pretty surprising. (Do you want to feel old? JDS’s KO over Werdum was almost 9 years ago). Anywaaay, this is heavyweight, where age doesn’t matter as much, and anything can happen. Stipe has a slight edge in wrestling, JDS in boxing, but overall they’re pretty much two very evenly matched up fighters, making this even harder to predict. Chins will be tested, and since that is probably going to be the biggest factor, I’m leaning towards the guy more likely to land more at the target. Junior dos Santos by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: Did you know that Junior dos Santos has only fought one more time than Cain Velasquez since their 2013 trilogy matchup? Quietly, JDS has had a couple of surgeries that have rendered him fairly inactive. It should be noted that part of this 1+ year long layoff is that the Struve rematch got cancelled, but the point remains. He looked really good against Ben Rothwell but we only have that fight and the poor performance against Overeem to work with post-first Miocic bout. Junior’s rock-solid takedown defense means this fight should stay standing, which theoretically favors the former champ, but I believe the Miocic of 2017 is a better version than the one who was quite competitive with JDS in 2014. Arghhhhh this is a coinflip fight. They both are capable of knocking each other out, and Junior has taken accumulated more damage than Stipe. Screw it, Stipe Miocic by TKO, round 4.
Zane Simon: There was a point when I thought that JDS was just shot. Where he seemed fragile and gunshy, and trying to be this creative wunderkind that didn’t mesh with his style at all. And then it seems that he just kept on evolving past that. The chin that looked fragile was fine against Ben Rothwell (who has a habit of finding and cracking people’s chins), and the striking that seemed to be becoming wandering and obsessed with dynamism snapped together into a technical longrange boxing game. It was only 2014 when JDS out-worked Stipe for a decision win, and as long as his chin is decent and as long as he’s picking his shots like he was last fight, I think he can beat a Stipe who still seems more reliant on getting opponents to fall apart on him than really breaking them down. JDS by TKO round 3.
Staff picking Miocic: Nick, Stephie, Mookie, Tim, Fraser, Phil
Staff picking JDS: Bissell, Ram, Anton, Zane, Eddie
Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Jessica Andrade
Anton Tabuena: People have been talking about the war that the main event might be, but I think this is the one that could have the most damage done in the card. Joanna is far superior in terms of technical ability standing, but she will have trouble overwhelming and putting away Andrade with volume, like she does with most opponents. Andrade has a durable chin and possesses fight changing power at strawweight, and she always pushes the pace and throws big. These things provide the match up with all the ingredients needed for a long and grueling battle for each of them. I’m leaning towards the champ retaining her belt, but I believe this will be a really tough one that has her digging deep to pull it off. Joanna Jedrzejczyk by decision.
Mookie Alexander: This is going to be a classic. Jedrzejczyk is the more technical striker and while she doesn’t kill you with power, she breaks you down with precision and volume at a pace nobody can seem to match. On the other side, Andrade is just an absolute mini-monster. Powerful hands, a brutal pressuring style and a willingness to go to the body that mirrors that of John Lineker. I reckon this fight could be tougher than either of the Gadelha bouts for Joanna. I’m expecting a classic but I also think that Andrade is going to get tagged too many times and won’t be able to keep up with Joanna in the later rounds. Joanna Jedrzejczyk by unanimous decision, but it won’t be easy.
Ram Gilboa: Jessica Andrade’s style will have her running straight into Joanna Champion’s clinch and elbows. The champ’s Muay Thai is unparalleled at 115, and she also might possess enough power and footwork to keep some control of the distance here. Still, I think the challenger has the hunger and wrestling to pull this one through with her teeth. This will be violent. Jessica Andrade by TKO, round 3.
Zane Simon: How will Joanna’s cardio do against a heavy body punching game? How often can she stand in the pocket and throw 4-punch-kick combos without getting cracked hard on the counter? How will Andrade respond to a fighter that can and will hit her every time she opens up her offense? How will she respond to good footwork round after round after round? And a consistent kicking game? I think Joanna takes it, but only if she keeps her kicks consistent and creative and minds her angles on entries and exits from the pocket. Joanna Jedrzejczyk by decision.
Eddie Mercado: Andrade will have to take this one early because I’m not sure her style can hold up for 5 rounds. JJ has been tagged in the past, and by fighters that don’t hit as hard as Andrade, but JJ has always been able to recover and take control of the fight. JJ has the footwork and long punches that will complicate life for Andrade as she tries to make her way on the inside. I see a fast start for Andrade but expect her to fade late. Joanna Jedrzejczyk by Submission (RNC), round 4.5.
Staff picking Jedrzejczyk: Bissell, Nick, Anton, Mookie, Zane, Tim, Fraser, Eddie
Staff picking Andrade: Ram, Stephie, Phil
Demian Maia vs. Jorge Masvidal
Anton Tabuena: Masvidal has all the tools to win here, but I’m done doubting Maia and his singular approach. People know what he wants to do, but until someone actually stops it, I’m probably not picking against him again. Maybe. Demian Maia by Submission.
Mookie Alexander: Masvidal’s path to victory is essentially the Rory MacDonald gameplan. Rory got taken down in the first round but survived the normal death sentence that is Demian Maia’s mount. From there he bossed the fight, apart from one takedown in the final round where he butterly swept his way back to his feet. Jorge doesn’t have Rory’s frame but he definitely has the striking to punish Maia the longer it stays standing. Essentially I’m gambling on Masvidal not drowning in quicksand once Maia takes him down (because he will do that), and then pile up the strikes in the last two rounds to take the decision. Jorge Masvidal by unanimous decision.
Ram Gilboa: Masvidal is such a fearsome fighter and a dangerous match-up for Maia - and if this was the supreme court I’d recuse myself on grounds of being a fanboy, but since it isn’t, Demian Maia by sub, round 1.
Phil Mackenzie: Maia is going to get a takedown at some point... but can he keep Masvidal down? Unlike a fair few of the people who have fought Maia recently, Masvidal keeps his hips well back and works primarily off a jab and front kicks, making it that bit harder to cleanly navigate the space between the two, and allowing him more leeway to stop his back being put on the cage. Basically I'm just going to pick Masvidal because Maia losing would make me super sad; the UFC successfully using BS matchups to knock off another BJJ ace before they could fight for a title. Better for them to stick to booking strikers like Wonderboy, and the amazing action they always deliver, eh? Jorge Masvidal by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Jorge Masvidal’s active footwork, very good takedown defense, disinterest in grappling/closing range, and accurate sharp punches all have me picking him here. At his worst, he can be too complacent to coast, but I think even that tendency may serve him well here as he’s unlikely to ever just give Maia the fight Maia needs to win. Masvidal always fights the smartest fight even to his own detriment, but Maia is the opponent more likely to take advantage of foolish mistakes, like trying to grapple with him or close him down. Maia’s wrestling is still scary good everywhere always, but we saw Rory Mac defend it playing a game Masvidal is very capable of. Jorge Masvidal via decision.
Eddie Mercado: This is a world class generalist in Masvidal versus a world class specialist in Maia. It’s no secret what Maia will be looking to do, but is he going to be able to get Masvidal to the ground? Masvidal knows how to be a conservative fighter, almost to a fault at times, so a strong emphasis on footwork fundamentals and distance management is not out of character for the ATT fighter. I expect a solid performance from Masvidal, but I think Maia will find a way to close the distance, maybe even off of the strength of enduring some damage a la Nogueira, and either pick up the split decision, or pull off a late submission (Inverted Triangle). This is the toughest fight for me to call on the card, but Demian Maia by Split Decision.
Staff picking Maia: Bissell, Nick, Ram, Anton, Tim, Fraser, Eddie
Staff picking Masvidal: Stephie, Phil, Mookie, Zane
Frankie Edgar vs. Yair Rodriguez
Anton Tabuena: This is the perfect test for Yair. Can Edgar take him down and pound him out? Maybe, as that’s still generally been a question mark in Yair’s game. But if the much bigger, athletic, and more dynamic striker can keep this standing and make it mostly a stand up affair, Yair has all the tools to put on a star making performance. Tough pick, as both men have clear avenues to victory, but I’m going for the upset. I also wish this was 5 rounds. Yair Rodriguez by decision.
Mookie Alexander: Just because Yair hasn’t faced a real high caliber opponent doesn’t mean he can’t beat one. On paper this is an Edgar win because … he’s Frankie Edgar. But this is 35-year-old Frankie Edgar coming off groin surgery and having fought Jeremy Stephens with a torn MCL. He nearly got KO’d by a head kick in that fight but in typical Edgar fashion, he recovered and own. How sustainable is that? Especially in the lighter weight divisions. Rodriguez isn’t a fierce KO artist if you look at his track record, but his size, dynamic offense, superior athleticism, and creativity with his kicks seems like a recipe for disaster if Edgar can’t get close the distance and dump Yair on his ass over and over again. We know cardio won’t be an issue for either fighter, so it all comes down to who can impose their game more. I think Yair does the unthinkable and finishes Frankie Edgar. There’s my bold prediction. Yair Rodriguez by TKO, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: Given space, Rodriguez is an absolute chaingun of kicking offense. The question here is whether Edgar's in-out style gives Yair that opportunity. I'm... not sure that it does. Edgar learned how to stifle dynamic kicking in his fights with Benson Henderson, and Rodriguez still tends to back up in straight lines when pressured, and flail a bit with his hands. He also hasn't tended to nuke people with a single strike (Fili aside) so even if Edgar does hang out at range or does his Frankie Edgar Being Hittable thing, I'm not sure that Yair can put him away. The last thing is that for a freakishly quick, dynamic kicker to train with in preparation for Yair, you don't get much better than Edson Barboza. Yair is still a truly magical physical talent, and whatever happens it won't be easy for the former champ, but Frankie Edgar by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: People who have been willing to close Yair down without getting scared off by his freak speed have had some reasonable success against him. Alex Caceres did okay, even BJ Penn was looking alright for a minute or two. Edgar is the kind of crafty, well schooled vet, who should know how to solve that riddle. He’s got the wrestling to take Yair down and the grappling to stay safe working positions on the ground. He’s even developed better movement in the pocket to stay defensively sound there. The question is, does Yair’s indefatigable-ness and crazy unpredictability catch Edgar with something big enough to change the dynamic of the fight over three rounds. I’m not banking on it, but it could happen. Frankie Edgar by decision.
Fraser Coffeen: It’s entirely possible I am underrating Yair, but while I see him as very, very good, I also see Edgar at a different level. This is a fighter whose only losses are to Bendo, Maynard, and Aldo. That’s it. Can I put Yair in that level? I just can’t. That said, I freely admit I may be wrong about that, and I also admit that Edgar has come to the point where we’re going to see his wheels come off sometime. Yair’s the kind of guy who could make that happen. A Rodriguez win makes the division more interesting, that’s for sure. Screw it - my head says I’m getting this wrong, but I’m going with the guy with massive momentum looking to change the division. I did the same thing when McGregor was on the way up, and it served me well. Let’s try it again. Yair Rodriguez, KO, R2
Staff picking Edgar: Bissell, Nick, Phil, Zane, Tim, Eddie
Staff picking Rodriguez: Ram, Anton, Stephie, Mookie, Fraser
David Branch vs. Krzysztof Jotko
Mookie Alexander: This is probably not going to be a fun fight to watch, but Jotko has quietly become one of the better middleweights on the roster. The Leites win definitely showed how well-rounded he is without being spectacular. Branch looked very good in WSOF, winning the MW and LHW titles, but Jotko is a rough matchup for him. I don’t think he’ll be able to outwrestle Jotko, and the Polish fighter is the better striker. Krzysztof Jotko by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: For pure action this is one of the lesser fights on the card, but represents a dark horse fight in the middleweight division. Branch has made great strides since he went to WSOF- he hasn't just won more frequently, but has become a far more consistent and dynamic threat, capable of laying down serious damage from top position and working behind his hands, whereas before he was something of a monotonous wrestler. However, as the MW Frankie Edgar, Jotko's timing and speed may be just a bit too much for him, particularly as Branch has largely feasted on plodders over in WSOF. Krysztof Jotko by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Branch really thrives on fighters giving in to the idea that they just can’t really do much to beat him. Grapplers fear his long-armed boxing, strikers fear his wrestling, wrestlers fear his grappling. And so at his best a lot of opponents just kind of wait on him and let him set up what he wants when he wants. Jotko isn’t that type. His out-wrestling and out-grappling of Thales Leites rubber stamps him as a fighter that doesn’t have much fear of anyone. He’s shown that he’s good enough everywhere to compete with most fighters and creative enough to surprise solid veterans. That should set him up nicely to take the fight to Branch in all areas and get a little more done in each of them. Kryzysztof Jotko via decision.
Staff picking Branch: Anton, Stephie
Staff picking Jotko: Bissell, Nick, Ram, Phil, Mookie, Zane, Tim, Fraser
Eddie Alvarez vs Dustin Poirier
Anton Tabuena: This is yet another fantastic fight on a card that not only is stacked, but also full of competitive, evenly matched bouts. Poirier should be the better athlete, and there are still question marks about Alvarez, who has taken quite a bit of damage in his career already. That said, I’m leaning towards the former champ to land something big and turn the tide standing. Eddie Alvarez by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: Eddie Alvarez’s UFC career is a weird one. Lost a grueling fight with Donald Cerrone, rallied to beat Gilbert “Giblert” Melendez, squeaked by Anthony Pettis, blasted Rafael dos Anjos in by far his best showing, then got wrecked by Conor McGregor. He’s had five UFC fights and was briefly the lightweight champion but there’s only one bout where you could argue he looked outstanding from start to finish. Poirier almost got his leg kicked clean off by Jim Miller back in February, and Michael Johnson’s speed and power flummoxed him into an early bedtime. Poirier has power and volume on his side, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Alvarez pursued the takedown early and often to change things up. If he takes Poirier’s back then that’s a wrap. This is an awesome fight that has no business being three rounds, and I’m leaning towards Dustin Poirier by split decision.
Phil Mackenzie: I'm a massive fan, but I feel like I never quite have the right read on Poirier. It seems like his power matches up well with Alvarez, who's never been unhittable... but Alvarez is also extraordinarily difficult to finish. In terms of the style matchup, Poirier is the kind of aggressive, come-forward banger that Alvarez has fought against for much of his career, and one which he got increasingly efficient at dealing with (Chandler I a loss-> Chandler II and Melendez as close but relatively clear wins -> RDA as a finish). Physicality and career trend are against Eddie here, but Eddie Alvarez by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Some fighters afford you the ability to be indecisive about what you want to do from minute to minute, Eddie Alvarez isn’t one of them. Dustin Poirier is a very good, powerful striker, who hits with great accuracy, but he’s always at his best when he’s brawling and getting hit back, but as he’s said himself several times over the years, it’s not what he wants to do most. He wants to be a more technical fighter. And that more technical fighter just isn’t as good. I don’t trust him to stay on Alvarez well enough to beat him in a fight that could end up going all over the place, especially if both men start trading big shots. There’s a real chance Poirier plugs Alvarez and KO’s him, he has the power to do it, but if it doesn’t happen, I think Alvarez out-works him. Eddie Alvarez by decision.
Staff picking Alvarez: Bissell, Phil, Anton, Zane, Fraser, Eddie
Staff picking Poirier: Ram, Nick, Stephie, Mookie, Tim
Mookie Alexander: I love this fight so much. There’s going to be a lot of fun grappling exchanges in this one, but I think the bout boils down to the distinct wrestling advantage that Skelly has over Knight. The Kawajiri loss pretty much boiled down to that, and Skelly has the size advantage plus his cleaned up weight-cutting issues will do wonders for his cardio. Knight’s wild style is great for the fans but Skelly is the more disciplined fighter and I see him being too much for Knight to handle. Chas Skelly by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: This fight should put a big smile on your face just thinking about it. Skelly has been an absolutely dogged wrestler, clinch striker, and even an oddly effective (if heinously ragged) kickboxer. Meanwhile, Jason Knight has changed from a pool-noodle sub artist into the feared Hick Diaz. If he keeps Skelly on the end of his punches he wins this one easily. Skelly's utter inability to conserve energy is a concern as well. However, I can't quite believe that Knight can stop the takedown. Chas Skelly by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Jason Knight is a ton of fun, but his game has massive holes in it. He’s still not nearly the venomous guard grappler he styles himself as, nor the masterful boxer. And, by design, he’s not a very good wrestler offensively or defensively. He’s brimming with confidence and he has a great sense of natural timing and aggression when trading hands in the pocket. But he’s not KOing people there. Skelly is tough and big and awkward. He’s a good wrestler and a creative grappler and the way Knight squares up to throw should leave him wide open for Skelly to get takedowns where his more lockdown game and big frame should give him a real advantage. Chas Skelly by Decision.
Staff picking Knight: Nick
Staff picking Skelly: Bissell, Ram, Anton, Stephie, Phil, Mookie, Zane, Tim, Fraser, Eddie
Rashad Coulter vs Chase Sherman
Phil Mackenzie: That Sherman has done as poorly as he has in the UFC is a reflection that the baseline level of skill at heavyweight has undeniably gone up. Walt Harris and Justin Ledet are surprisingly technical fighters. Sherman is tough, reasonably athletic and training at a good gym in Jackson-Wink. He should be able to teach Coulter some of the lessons that Harris and Ledet taught him. Chase Sherman by TKO, round 2.
Zane Simon: Hard to trust a 35-year-old short notice heavyweight who has yet to face much serious competition. Even if Coulter does well early, Sherman is incredibly hard to put away and I expect him to win the volume battle as the fight goes on. Chase Sherman by TKO, Round 3.
Staff picking Coulter:
Staff picking Sherman: Bissell, Nick, Ram, Phil, Anton, Stephie, Mookie, Zane,Tim, Fraser
Marco Polo Reyes vs. James Vick
Phil Mackenzie: This should be a lot of fun. Vick is ridiculously huge for a lightweight, but is also a developing (if somewhat over-confident) range striker, who essentially plays off a rangy jab spiced up with periodic intercepting knees. Reyes is an aggressive brawler who has been proving himself to be increasingly coachable. This is much, much closer than it looks: Vick is more well-rounded, but not an active wrestler. However, even if it stays a kickboxing match, I think that Vick's pace and reach will wear on Reyes, who puts everything he can into every punch. James Vick by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: I’m still not convinced at all by James Vick’s striking game. At his best, Vick is fighter that scares opponents off of striking with him and forces them into bad grappling situations where his opportunistic ground game takes over. But, Reyes wants to strike at range or in the pocket, and he’s pretty fearless about it, as we’ve seen. So it’s going to be up to Vick to either KO him, take him down, or consistently strike with a guy throwing heat at him, and I’m not really sure he can do any of those things. Reyes may tire himself into a bad mistake or he may just get caught, but barring those situations, I don’t think he’ll get outclassed. Marco Polo Reyes by decision.
Staff picking Reyes: Zane
Staff picking Vick: Bissell, Nick, Ram, Phil, Anton, Stephie, Mookie, Tim, Fraser, Eddie
Jessica Aguilar vs Cortney Casey
Phil Mackenzie: Cortney Casey consistently gets brutal jumps in competition. She's physically tough, powerful and opportunistic, yet I'm not sure if we've seen quite the developments she needs. Feels like she's adjusted to the physical but not the technical environment in the UFC (sort of like a Paul Felder). I think JAG is less physically gifted, but is a more skilled standup fighter, and a better wrestler and grappler, although grappling with Casey may be surprisingly dangerous. Still, in the standup Aguilar's high guard, counter-heavy style seems like it should play well with Casey's jabs and head kicks. Jessica Aguilar by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: If Casey had any patience or control to her game I’d pick her for an upset here. She’s a bigger better athlete fighting one of yesteryear’s top fighters who even at her best has rarely been the best athlete in the cage. But Aguilar is all about taking over with patient control and shutting down fighters who give up too many positions. That’s Cortney Casey to a T. Jessica Aguilar by decision.
Staff picking Aguilar: Bissell, Nick, Phil, Anton, Stephie, Mookie, Zane, Fraser, Eddie
Staff picking Casey: Ram, Tim
Enrique Barzola vs Gabriel Benitez
Phil Mackenzie: Barzola is a hilariously janky fighter, who is probably closest to something like Dominic Cruz in the broad-brush: doing weird stuff on the outside, then using that to baffle people into walking into counter takedowns. It's perfectly feasible that he could irritate the much more simplistic Benitez in the same way that we've seen from janklords like Jardine and Newton. That being said, Benitez is a better athlete and a natural counter-striker. Barzola's outside game is predicated on his kicks, and I think Benitez can kick with him and avoid having to walk in on the takedowns, and basically pick up the "big" moments in a fun scrap. Gabriel Benitez by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Barzola’s game is made to flummox underprepared rookies who have really only dealt with the nuts and bolts of simple MMA. Benitez isn’t that guy. His game isn’t deep enough to be a real top fighter’s game, but he’s a great athlete who knows how to keep his head moment to moment in the cage and uses a nice basic kickboxing toolkit to win exchanges. Barzola’s striking, while funky, isn’t damaging enough to worry many top fighters and if Benitez can scramble on the mat and get back up from takedowns, he should be able to land all the better, harder strikes. Gabriel Benitez by decision.
Staff picking Barzola: Bissell
Staff picking Benitez: Nick, Ram, Phil, Anton, Stephie, Mookie, Zane, Tim, Fraser
Gadzhimurad Antigulov vs Joachim Christensen
Phil Mackenzie: I'm not sure if I'm on board with Antigulov. The super aggressive submission hunter style works... OK? His win over Pezao was one of those mutually embarrassing 205 affairs where he held onto a guillotine in side control (can't do that against OSP!!) and then Pezao let him get guard again to finish. Christensen is a decent range kickboxer and an overall well-rounded if somewhat unimpressive dude. Christensen stands straight up, so I think that when Antigulov just bumrushes him with a right hand into takedown, there's a good chance that it'll work. I don't like making this pick. I really want to pick Christensen to be honest, but I'm not convinced that even his gas tank is particularly strong. Gazhimurad Antigulov by submission, round 1.
Zane Simon: If this goes more than a round, it probably becomes a completely unpickable circus, but for that first round, Antigulov is just too much of a better athlete and wrestler. Christensen is tough as hell and has all the basic tools to compete but Antigulov is another class of athlete. Gadzhimurad Antigulov via submission, Round 1.
Staff picking Antigulov: Bissell, Nick, Ram, Anton, Stephie, Phil, Mookie, Zane, Tim, Fraser, Eddie
Staff picking Christensen: