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UFC 225: Whittaker vs. Romero 2 staff picks and predictions for the preliminary card

Check out the Bloody Elbow staff’s picks and predictions for Saturday’s UFC 225: Whittaker vs. Romero 2 preliminary card in Chicago, Illinois.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The Bloody Elbow staff has made its picks for UFC 225, and we’re dividing this between prelims and main card. For the feature FS1 prelim, there’s a slight lean towards Alistair Overeem to hand Curtis Blaydes a loss in front of his home fans, while the featured Fight Pass bout sees everyone pick Anthony Smith over Rashad Evans.

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.

Curtis Blaydes vs. Alistair Overeem

Anton Tabuena: These are heavyweights, where everything is thrown out the window after one big punch, but stylewise, I’m fairly confident that Overeem has the better shot at taking this. Alistair Overeem by TKO.

Mookie Alexander: I have an awful feeling that this will be a bad fight. Overeem, for all his faults, still has excellent takedown defense that can potentially make this a repeat of the Daniel Omielanczuk bout, except Overeem can actually strike. The other side of this, of course, is Overeem’s chin is not good and Blaydes is very athletic and probably has the power to turn Alistair’s lights off. I’m still not sold on Blaydes’ defense, and while his wrestling is great, I feel that Overeem is going to pick his shots, stop the takedowns, and try and win on points. Alistair Overeem by unanimous decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Blaydes still looks like an inherently reluctant striker, one who is well-trained but just does not enjoy standup at all; a bit like Phil Davis. He is hugely durable, but I suspect he can be scared off, and Overeem is quite good at doing that. I go back to that huge looping hook that Overeem threw at Ngannou- Ngannou was completely unphased and calmly countered, but I suspect in a similar situation Blaydes would be freaked out. I share Mookie’s suspicion that this fight will suck. Alistair Overeem by unanimous decision.

Ram Gilboa: Overeem the better fighter, but suspect chins and heavyweight don’t mix. Curtis Blaydes by TKO, round 2

Staff picking Blaydes: Dayne, Fraser, Ram, Stephie
Staff picking Overeem: Bissell, Nick, Harry, Mookie, Phil, Tim, Anton

Claudia Gadelha vs. Carla Esparza

Anton Tabuena: This is pretty straightforward for me. Esparza has good takedowns, but Gadelha isn’t easy to put on her back, so they will have to strike for stretches. Esparza has shown improved striking, but it’s not as good as Gadelha’s. Claudia Gadelha by Unanimous Decision.

Mookie Alexander: Pretty much everything Esparza is good at, Gadelha can either shut down or outperform her. Carla’s striking is better than it used to be, but I think she’d still get handily outstruck by Claudia, and Gadelha should stuff all of the takedowns and win any scrambles on the mat should they occur. Claudia Gadelha by unanimous decision.

Phil Mackenzie: There is one chance for Esparza in this fight, and it is Gadelha’s gas tank. Other than that the Cookie Monster is massively outgunned everywhere. Gadelha hits harder, is stronger, and just packs tons more offense everywhere, from her combination striking to her clinch elbows to her submissions. There’s a thin chance for Esparza to outwork Gadelha, but she’d have to go through hell to do it. Claudia Gadelha by submission, round 1.

Staff picking Gadelha: Bissell, Nick, Harry, Mookie, Phil, Dayne, Fraser, Ram, Tim, Stephie, Anton
Staff picking Esparza:

Ricardo Lamas vs. Mirsad Bektic

Mookie Alexander: Lamas is the ultimate opportunist, which is worrisome for Bektic, who basically lost to Darren Elkins that way. On paper, Bektic is younger, the better athlete, a great wrestler with a superb double leg, damaging ground-and-pound, and improving striking that can really wreck Lamas’ world. I’m still on the Bektic hype train, and Lamas may not necessarily be “done” just because of the KO loss to Josh Emmett, but he’s 36 in a division where you’re really not supposed to still be contending at that age. Mirsad Bektic by TKO, round 2.

Phil Mackenzie: Tristar seems to have been a good place for Bektic- he’s fighting more frequently, it’s a good place to rein in his tendency to go a bit nuts on offense, and most importantly, they made him grow a rad moustache. “Buttoned up basics with moments of explosion” seems like a good way of dealing with Lamas, so this is an interesting test to see how much the style has really embedded with Bektic. Although Lamas has been knocked out before, they were big, clean shots from major hitters, and he’s normally extraordinarily tough. Essentially look for Bektic to replicate a bit of what Hacran Dias did back in the day, just with more horsepower behind it. Mirsad Bektic by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Lamas: Bissell, Harry, Tim, Anton
Staff picking Bektic: Nick, Mookie, Phil, Dayne, Fraser, Ram, Stephie

Chris de la Rocha vs. Rashad Coulter

Mookie Alexander: The UFC is really desperate. CM Punk on the PPV, now the dude from Rage Against the Machine is on this card? Chris de la Rocha by TKO, round 2.

Phil Mackenzie: I didn’t think we’d see de la Rocha back here again, but he seems to have had a small career resurgence after that guest spot on Run The Jewels 2. “Fuck the slo mo” seems a strange statement of intent considering the pace this fight is likely to be fought at. Chris de la Rocha by unanimous decision.

Staff picking de la Rocha: Bissell, Harry, Mookie, Phil, Fraser, Ram, Tim, Stephie, Anton
Staff picking Coulter: Nick, Dayne

Rashad Evans vs. Anthony Smith

Anton Tabuena: Rashad is clearly far beyond his prime. So if he loses this, which I think he will, he will have a lot of reflecting to do on his career. Anthony Smith by decision.

Mookie Alexander: I’m sad. Smith’s takedown defense isn’t good but Rashad is physically shot and probably will get overwhelmed by Smith’s volume striking at range. Anthony Smith by TKO, round 2.

Phil Mackenzie: Even in his prime, Evans had serious issues pulling the trigger and initiating offense. That being said, he would have feasted on someone like Anthony Smith, whose all-in style would have gotten melted by a counter. Prime Rashad is long gone. Instead we get this visibly worried guy who survives his way through horrible fights by feinting... feinting... feinting, and panicking when shots come back at him. Please no more. Anthony Smith by TKO, round 2.

Ram Gilboa: Evans won fights by being quicker than his opponents, and that’s pretty much gone, so Anthony Smith by decision

Tim Burke: 15 minutes of Rashad patty cake. Dope. Anthony Smith by decision.

Staff picking Evans:
Staff picking Smith: Bissell, Nick, Harry, Mookie, Phil, Dayne, Fraser, Ram, Tim, Stephie, Anton

Joseph Benavidez vs. Sergio Pettis

Anton Tabuena: Tough tough pick. I’m leaning ever so slightly towards the long time contender. Joseph Benavidez by Decision.

Mookie Alexander: We were pretty close to seeing Benavidez suffer his first loss at flyweight against someone other than Demetrious Johnson. Henry Cejudo really could’ve gotten the nod against Joe B, and now with more than a year since that fight, Benavidez returns against Pettis, who was dominated by Cejudo just a few months ago. I was tempted to pick Pettis for the upset because of the long layoff and the fact that he’s got a technical kickboxing skill set that could really pose problems for Benavidez, but I still think there’s enough in the tank that Benavidez outwrestles Sergio and lands powerful shots to win this one. Joseph Benavidez by unanimous decision.

Tim Burke: The fact that this fight is so far down the card is a shame. Joseph Benavidez by decision.

Phil Mackenzie: I’m a huge Benavidez mark, so it’s both surprising and saddening that I find myself picking against him. I think we saw some clear physical deterioration against Cejudo, where he was able to land against the younger fighter without ever really hurting him. More than that, Benavidez has become a progressively less effective wrestler over time, and Cejudo struggled massively to get his strikes going against Pettis’ excellent positional footwork, resorting to just blowing through him with double legs. Pettis is a lesser baseline athlete than Benavidez, and just not as good as him, but I think this is the one where Joe B finally drops a bout to someone who isn’t a divisional GOAT. Sergio Pettis by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Benavidez: Bissell, Nick, Harry, Mookie, Fraser, Ram, Tim, Anton
Staff picking Pettis: Phil, Dayne, Stephie

Clay Guida vs. Charles Oliveira

Mookie Alexander: Terrible matchup for Guida. He’s not powerful enough to make Oliveira resign himself to defeat, and Oliveira can dominate him on the feet and in the clinch. He’s also more than capable of subbing Guida off of his back if it comes to that. Charles Oliveira by submission, round 1.

Phil Mackenzie: Oliveira is mentally and physically frail, but this does seem like one of the fights where neither of those flaws are likely to handicap him too badly. Is Guida going to knock him out? Dance around in a Maynard-esque point fight? Grind him out? None of these seem likely at all. Oliveira is pathologically aggressive and a fight ending threat in multiple areas, so whether he just runs Guida into the clinch or wraps him up from guard, he seems a tough style match for a man who is simply not as durable or quick as he used to be. Charles Oliveira by submission, round 1.

Staff picking Guida: Harry, Fraser
Staff picking Oliveira: Bissell, Nick, Mookie, Phil, Dayne, Ram, Tim, Stephie, Anton

Dan Ige vs. Mike Santiago

Mookie Alexander: Santiago has fought Zabit Magomedsharipov (on short notice!) and Mads Burnell (vastly improved fighter), which is a rough introduction to the UFC. He throws more than Ige does, but Santiago has problems with takedown defense and Ige can exploit that. Tough one to pick, but I go with Mike Santiago by unanimous decision.

Phil Mackenzie: I was incredibly tempted to pick Ige - Santiago has been vulnerable to takedowns early and consistent pressure late, but I think the baseline athleticism differential is too high. Santiago hits harder, can scramble and hit his own takedowns, and while Ige is consistent and incredibly tough, he just gets exhausted by his own pace in a way which Mads Burnell does not. Mike Santiago by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Ige: Nick
Staff picking Santiago: Bissell, Harry, Mookie, Dayne, Fraser, Ram, Tim, Stephie, Phil, Anton