The Bloody Elbow staff has made its predictions for UFC Tampa, and brace yourselves, because everyone picked Joanna Jedrzejczyk to beat Michelle Waterson in the main event. This curse appears to be strong and real, and I don’t know if Joanna realizes what we’ve just done. As for the co-main, there’s a lean towards Cub Swanson to end his losing skid by beating Kron Gracie.
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.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Michelle Waterson
Mookie Alexander: This is just a bad matchup for Waterson on multiple fronts. Other than the hope of Waterson working her submission game against a woman who’s ridiculously hard to takedown (let alone catch in a submission), she’s not the better striker and Joanna can win this at range and especially in the clinch. Jedrzejczyk is physically stronger and her kicks could trouble Waterson perhaps not too differently from Rose Namajunas. This looks like a fight where it’s close in the beginning and then Jedrzejczyk gets into a rhythm and she just racks up volume that Waterson can’t cope with. Of course, everyone is picking Joanna to win on the BE staff, so I think we just created Michelle’s path to victory. Joanna Jedrzejczyk by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Really you just kind of have to pick Joanna here. Waterson’s best path to victory is to engage her in a range kickboxing bout, where Joanna is longer, more technical, and throws more volume. And while Waterson has a been a very good finisher over her career, it’s almost exclusively by submission. Shevchenko aside, Joanna’s takedown defense is still fairly impenetrable, and picking Waterson to grab a standing back-take or flying armbar just seems like banking on hope. To Waterson’s benefit, Jedrzejczyk has slowly evolved into a less dangerous, more out-fighting driven version of herself over the years. So Waterson will very likely at least have 5 rounds to hang around and try to make something work. But, it’s pretty difficult to see her winning any of those rounds along the way. Joanna Jedrzejczyk by decision.
Staff picking Jedrzejczyk: Ed, Nick, Shak, Phil, Mookie, Dayne, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Waterson:
Cub Swanson vs. Kron Gracie
Mookie Alexander: Really clear two-way outcome. Either Swanson keeps this standing and reminds everyone the ultimate limitations of just about every Gracie over the past umpteen years, or Kron gets this to the ground at some point and it’s game over for Cub. Two years ago this would be a no-brainer to pick Cub, but I think he’s hit that point where he’s going to lose fights to lesser and lesser competition. Kron Gracie by submission, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: Hmm. Gracie has beaten two actually fairly decent fighters at quite opposite ends of the spectrum. You could argue that Alex Caceres is someone who tends to brainfart away fights and give his opponent exactly the terrain they want... and you’d be right! But Kawajiri is definitively not that kind of opponent- he’s about as functional and self-contained as you could want. That being said, Crusher and Caceres are both fighters who always actively grapple when asked to by the opponent, albeit for very different reasons. Swanson is not. Despite his own long-standing tendency to give up weird submissions, he’s still a far better striker, and the Burgos fight showed that he’s not shot yet. Cub Swanson by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Swanson has been taken down by all sorts of different fighters in all sorts of different fights. He’s lost numerous times by submission, and he’s had trouble pulling the trigger and being a volume front-runner lately. However, losing to Kron Gracie would, unquestionably, be the worst loss of his career to date. Gracie really does fight like a 90s throwback version of Royce. The stomps, the complete lack of upper body movement, the lack of any defined wrestling game. He’s a very dangerous grappler, and a better puncher than most of his family, but the clear path for him to get this fight to the ground just isn’t there. Cub has his faults, but Gracie has yet to prove he can expose any of them. Cub Swanson by decision.
Staff picking Swanson: Ed, Shak, Phil, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Gracie: Nick, Dayne, Mookie
Niko Price vs. James Vick
Mookie Alexander: I think it’s pretty clear that Vick is the better fighter, but Price is such a single-shot danger that Vick has to really watch himself. His durability is a legitimate question mark and his defense is still a mess regardless of weight class. We know that Price is a “kill or be killed” type of fighter, and I think I’m going to bank on him just wiping Vick out with a power shot at some point. Niko Price by KO, round 2.
Zane Simon: On the surface of it, this shouldn’t be the worst fight for Vick. Price is a less technical striker than anyone Vick has lost to, to date. And has shown the kind of willingness to shoot less-than-nuanced takedowns that Vick has classically been able to turn into submission opportunities. Add in Vick’s wins over guys like Trinaldo and Duffy and you can even say, pretty clearly, that Vick has beat better technical fighters before. But, at this point, it feels like the book on Vick’s flaws has been writ much more clearly than it ever was on his way up the lightweight division. Get inside, throw hammers, and his chin is there. And the problem with moving up a division is, Price doesn’t even have to get inside. He’s got the reach to compete with Vick at range. And, despite his somewhat sloppy style, he may have more natural power than just about anyone at 170 lbs. I expect Vick to win early, but if Price clips him a couple times, he’ll probably start trying to stay on the back foot, where his defense really breaks down. After that, it’s just about how long it takes Price to catch him. Niko Price via KO, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: Vick has one chance here, and it’s that his move up leaves him with a pronounced speed advantage which he can leverage by just getting on his bike and kicking and jabbing Price to a UD. But Price has gotten to pretty much everyone he’s fought. Geoff Neal is a more composed, technical and athletic fighter than Vick, and Price still hurt him pretty badly. Until I see it, I can’t pick Vick to survive that. Niko Price by TKO, round 2.
Staff picking Price: Ed, Nick, Shak, Phil, Mookie, Dayne, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Vick:
Mackenzie Dern vs. Amanda Ribas
Mookie Alexander: Ribas has a real chance to win here, as I suspect that outside of Ashley Yoder, she’s the toughest opponent Dern has faced. That said, Dern is the better athlete who can get the fight she wants more often than not. Mackenzie Dern by submission, round 1.
Zane Simon: Ribas has really nice punching mechanics, but everything about her game is built to drive her forward into clinch exchanges and grappling battles. Especially when she eats a hard shot or two, she quickly looks to clinch her opponent up and take her down. Those are exactly the kind of instincts that should take her from positions she can win to ones she will very likely lose. That said, Dern is beatable by just about any opponent who can stay rangy and fight smart. If Ribas keeps her head, the fight is there to be won. I just haven’t seen her do that yet. Mackenzie Dern via submission, round 1.
Phil Mackenzie: Dern is still at approximately the same spot as Gracie, where pure physicality and aggression are both carrying her into her wheelhouse and allowing her to survive outside it. Ribas is reasonably well rounded, but I haven’t seen anything from her that indicates she can fight a disciplined outside striking performance. Mackenzie Dern by submission, round 1.
Staff picking Dern: Ed, Nick, Shak, Phil, Mookie, Dayne, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Ribas:
Matt Frevola vs. Luis Pena
Mookie Alexander: Violent Bob Ross is a fun fighter but he’s still quite raw and I can’t really glean a whole lot from him bludgeoning a very rusty and past his prime Matt Wiman. The Jalin Turner fight told me that Frevola is at least a serviceable talent and quite physically strong. Frevola also has the striking advantage and better cardio. Matt Frevola by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Pena has great moments of excitement and some real dynamic athleticism in his 6’ 3” frame. But too often, he just seems to want to let his size and reputation do the work for him. Like Thomas Gifford, his a lanky striker whose at his most comfortable trading shots in the pocket, or working the clinch. And he’s very very happy to give up takedowns with the idea that he’ll always be able to scramble for the better position in the end. Frevola brawls more than he should, and often leaves some of his technical nuance behind, but he’s shown he can fight hard into late rounds. And he has a decent wrestling and control grappling game when he wants to use it. Right now he just seems like the more consistent guy who isn’t going to give away positions or volume. Matt Frevola by decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Frevola’s fight against Jalin Turner showed that he knows how to deal with huge range monsters. He can punch and kick his way into the clinch, he keeps a relentless pace, and he’s happy to work from top position. I think Pena is actually a step down from Turner. He’s perhaps more aggressive and willing to work his own grappling game, but he’s a worse striker and generally less dynamic. Matt Frevola by unanimous decision.
Staff picking Frevola: Ed, Shak, Phil, Mookie, Dayne, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Pena: Nick
Eryk Anders vs. Gerald Meerschaert
Mookie Alexander: Oh man. Let’s just hope this fight is better than when Gerald fought Trevin Giles. Eryk Anders by TKO, round 3.
Zane Simon: Anders is so low output and limited in his offense that it’s possible Meerschaert can out-kickbox him. He’s also a willing enough wrestler that he could put himself in a bad submission spot. But, he’s mostly been kind of a beast on top when he gets there, and (at least at middleweight) has been next to impossible to take down. End of the day, Anders may be predictable, but I just don’t think Meerschaert has the defensive instincts to keep from getting plugged by hard left hands at range. Or the wrestling to turn this into a grappling battle on his terms. Eryk Anders by TKO, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: Glacially slow middleweights hooray! Anders has looked like he’s actually deteriorating over his time into the UFC, turning from a moderately aggressive plodder to just being a Pendred-esque damage sponge. Meerschaert is an inexplicable mixture of crafty and silly, but his performances recently have been reasonably decent. He was kind of robbed against Holland, and finished Trevin Giles. Without his beloved open stance body kick, this might be a tough striking match for Meerschaert, and Anders’ wrestling defence has been pretty good, but I feel like I have to pick Meerschaert for... doing... stuff? Gerald Meerschaert by unanimous decision.
Staff picking Anders: Shak, Mookie, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Meerschaert: Ed, Nick, Phil, Dayne
Ryan Spann vs. Devin Clark
Mookie Alexander: Spann hits hard and I’m just banking on him to hit Clark really hard and make him fall down. Ryan Spann by KO, round 1.
Zane Simon: In terms of singular skills, there’s not a lot that really separates these two men. Both are willing offensive wrestlers who can be taken down themselves. Both have been KO’d by powerful strikers. Both tend to gas, but fight very hard even when tired. Clark is likely the more technical wrestler of the two, and that will probably pay off big for him in stretches. But, LHW is the kind of division that doesn’t tend to reward round-winning skills so much as it does the ability to finish at any time. And Spann is clearly the cleaner finisher and faster striker. He’s also much much taller and longer than Clark. Expect Clark to get his wrestle on early, but sooner or later I think Spann catches him with something big. Ryan Spann by KO, round 1.
Staff picking Spann: Ed, Nick, Shak, Phil, Mookie, Dayne, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Clark:
Mike Davis vs. Thomas Gifford
Zane Simon: Gifford is a tall, rangy lightweight, but he doesn’t especially fight like it. On the feet he really seems to prefer pressure and boxing in the pocket to staying out at range. And many of his wins have come from defensive grappling submissions (guillotines, triangles, etc). Essentially, he’s a fighter that likes to rush forward and force the kind of brawl that makes his opponents make mistakes. But, against better athletes in the UFC, his lack of meaningful defense is going to make that a very hard way to go. Even though he was considering a FW move, at 6’ Davis is no small lightweight. And he’s got some rock solid power and good fundamental striking mechanics. His game isn’t deep, but if Gifford is going to be running into his punches, it doesn’t have to be. Mike Davis via decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Davis looks like a good (albeit raw) talent. He’s a comically, absurdly vast featherweight, a very big lightweight, and he has decent composure and accuracy. He performed reasonably well against thankless style matchups like Yusuff and Burns, and Gifford just doesn’t compare to those guys in any metric. Mike Davis by TKO, round 2.
Staff picking Davis: Nick, Phil, Mookie, Dayne, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Gifford: Ed, Shak
Max Griffin vs. Alex Morono
Mookie Alexander: Morono can be extremely reckless and leave himself open for takedowns (see: Jordan Mein). Griffin has become a more technical fighter, although he’s not exactly immune to brawling. I just can’t trust Morono not to give up more opportunities than he should. Max Griffin by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Griffin is always going to struggle against opponents who can offer him a deep wrestling or striking skill set to compete against, since he doesn’t really have either. But, what he does have is a ton of toughness, and strength, and speed. Morono, so far, has largely gotten by on being aggressive as hell, mixed with a clear understanding of just what his opponents are going to be offering him, in terms of opportunities. Griffin will give Morono chances to land wild shots and get backed up. But, I think without a clear skill advantage on Morono’s side, Griffin’s athleticism will likely let him put the grind on and slow Morono way down. Max Griffin by decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Griffin showed that he can fight a consistent range fight against an aggressive pocket brawler in Mike Perry. Morono is much smarter than Perry, but is infinitely less athletic and just doesn’t seem to have a practical route to victory other than just soaking up damage until he freaks Griffin out, and then drowning him. Possible, but unlikely. Max Griffin by unanimous decision.
Staff picking Griffin: Ed, Nick, Shak, Phil, Mookie, Dayne, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Morono:
Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Tim Elliott
Mookie Alexander: What the hell is this fight doing on the prelims? And midway through the prelims too! Anyway, not a good fight for Elliott to return to after a long layoff. Figueiredo is likely to outscramble Tim and do some nasty things in the clinch. Deiveson Figueiredo by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: I won’t be surprised if Elliott gets a lot of work done in round 1 of this fight. He always starts hot, and he has the size and well honed wrestling game to land some good takedowns on Figueiredo. But, Elliott has never been a great control grappler. He likes to stay aggressive and keep the scramble going to look for sub opportunities. And that probably means he’ll let Figueiredo back up to his feet pretty quickly. That’s where Elliott’s fast start will likely really cost him. He’s had a bad habit of slowing down and getting flat footed with his strikes as rounds go on. Figueiredo carries his power well into late rounds, and picks his shots expertly. If Elliott can’t turn an early swarm into a submission, I don’t think he beats Figueiredo for the duration. Deiveson Figueiredo by decision.
Phil Mackenzie: This fight rules. Hobo Cruz has been a remarkably effective MMA wrestler, albeit without an incredibly dangerous ground game. He tends to take people down, and then happily scramble with them. He’s also perhaps more aggressive than he should be on the feet, swinging hard in the clinch and on the feet, which has led to him getting cracked by fighters like Nguyen. Figueiredo showed some weaknesses to the counter takedown against Formiga, but that was perhaps the finest performance of Formiga’s career. He’s still a hyper physical and extremely capable scrambler, and I can’t see Elliott not walking into something at some point. Deiveson Figueiredo by TKO, round 3.
Staff picking Figueiredo: Ed, Nick, Shak, Phil, Mookie, Dayne, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Elliott:
Marlon Vera vs. Andre Ewell
Zane Simon: While other fighters are likely to find great success with their styles early on this card, Marlon Vera is the polar opposite. It’s almost certain that he will have a terrible first round, no matter what Andre Ewell brings to the table. Vera has tried to counter his slow starts by pushing for the clinch and for takedowns, but even that often means he’s walking into shots, or getting swept on the mat. Still, once he gets in a bad enough position, a fire seems to light under him, bringing his dangerous and dynamic finishing game to life. Ewell has fast hands, long reach, and a very sharp one-two out at range. He’ll crack Vera with it early. But his defense inside that reach is pretty porous. And he doesn’t have the wrestling, grappling or clinch offense to back it up. Even with a slow start, if Vera can push his way inside, he’ll likely find a lot more safety there than he usually does. Marlon Vera via submission, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: Vera often tends to have terrible early rounds before making a comeback in an explosion of random MMA violence. It is notable, however, that those slow starts have started to disappear a bit of late: he dusted Saenz with the quickness, contrasted with his stinker of an opener against Wuliji Buren. There’s still a huge chance that he eats tons of clean left hands, and perhaps even gets stopped... but I do feel like it’s a chance now, and not a certainty. That being said, if Vera does survive, then Ewell’s game has just proven to be so incredibly shallow that I can’t pick it to survive against Chito’s treasure trove of clinchy punchy kicky subby viciousness. Marlon Vera by submission, round 2.
Staff picking Vera: Ed, Nick, Shak, Phil, Mookie, Dayne, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Ewell:
Miguel Baeza vs. Hector Aldana
Zane Simon: Baeza is a super low output rangy puncher, with just enough well roundedness to his game to not be easily forced out of his fight. Aldana is a much higher volume striker, but seems to constantly throw himself into exchanges that he doesn’t have the defense to win. Lots of opportunities for both men to win, but I guess I’ll trust Baeza’s hot hand and single power shots over Aldana’s wild blitzes. Miguel Baeza via KO, round 1.
Staff picking Baeza: Ed, Nick, Shak, Phil, Mookie, Dayne, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Aldana:
Marvin Vettori vs. Andrew Sanchez
Zane Simon: Sanchez still has a terrible tendency to start fast, push everything with power, and then gas horribly after a round or so. He just doesn’t seem to realize that his own offense is pushing him past his physical limits. Vettori, on the other hand, doesn’t have much variety to his game. But, he’s built like a tank, hard to take down, and super consistent, round after round after round. That seems like a recipe for Sanchez to struggle and for Vettori to only get more successful as the fight goes on. Marvin Vettori by decision.
Staff picking Vettori: Ed, Nick, Shak, Phil, Mookie, Dayne, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Sanchez:
JJ Aldrich vs. Lauren Mueller
Zane Simon: I’ll be honest, I don’t see a real clear path for success for Mueller here, unless Aldrich is really just too light fisted and fragile to be fighting at flyweight--and I don’t think that’s the case. Mueller started out as a somewhat artless pressure grinder; always pushing for the clinch, always looking to control and land shots inside. But, she’s clearly been working to add technique to her striking game during her UFC run. It’s just that, in doing so, she’s removed the successful elements to her game and replaced them with a very much ‘work in progress’ skill set. Aldrich is a cleaner boxer, better wrestler, and better grappler too. Mueller may be the better athlete, but right now she doesn’t seem to be letting that fact do much work for her. JJ Aldrich by decision.
Staff picking Aldrich: Nick, Mookie, Dayne, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Mueller: Ed, Shak, Phil
Who do you think wins?
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