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UFC on ESPN: Gaethje vs. Barboza staff picks and predictions

Check out the Bloody Elbow staff’s picks and predictions for Saturday’s UFC on ESPN: Gaethje vs. Barboza card in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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The Bloody Elbow staff has submitted its predictions for Saturday’s UFC Philadelphia card, and the consensus opinion is that Justin Gaethje will beat Edson Barboza in what should be an epic main event. Only myself and Stephie Haynes are picking Barboza for the victory. Opinion is full unanimous for the co-main, as everyone is backing David Branch over Jack Hermansson.

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.

Justin Gaethje vs. Edson Barboza

Mookie Alexander: Please don’t take my pick and run with it, because I am 1-3 in picking Gaethje fights in his UFC tenure. This is a fight Gaethje should win given Barboza has historically struggled with pressure fighters and this might be the type of pace that will see him wilt before Gaethje. Barboza also is much more in need of space to operate his wicked kicking game and for his overall striking to be effective, whereas Gaethje basically can rough you up anywhere. With that said, even when badly hurt, Barboza is a more dangerous one-strike fighter. He had Kevin Lee breakdancing with one head kick after getting blasted for two rounds. Barboza would also be wise to heavily attack Gaethje’s body, which is partially how he won the Dan Hooker fight and how Eddie Alvarez succeeded against Justin. Dammit I am so torn on this fight even though it favors Gaethje. Screw it, I’ll be different. Edson Barboza by TKO, round 3.

Tim Burke: Barboza’s chin will always be a concern to me. Gaethje is a zombie and he’s not going to be kept at range by Barboza’s flashy kicking game. He’s going to walk him down, touch him up, and knock him out. Justin Gaethje via KO, round 2

Staff picking Gaethje: Phil, Shak, Nick, Fraser, Tim, Dayne, Harry
Staff picking Barboza: Mookie, Stephie

David Branch vs. Jack Hermansson

Mookie Alexander: Kind of a puzzling co-main event. Neither guy is near title contention at the moment and Branch is hardly anyone’s idea of a very exciting fighter. He is up there in age and coming off the loss to Jared Cannonier, so his durability may be an issue against someone like Hermansson, but otherwise he’s the vastly more skilled fighter and it’s his fight to lose. David Branch by unanimous decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Branch is the more basically functional fighter, to a fault. Jab, one-two, hook and clinch grinding are typically the order of the day. He’s not hyper-durable and doesn’t have a wealth of additional tools, but he showed against Santos and Rockhold that he knows how to pressure fighters that want to retreat to range. The most interesting factor from Hermansson is that he’s actually fighting an orthodox fighter for once: how much does this open up his jab and leg kick? In general he has more offensive potency in his ground and pound, and seems mentally a bit tougher, but it still feels like his best chances are gated by Branch’s superior boxing and wrestling. David Branch by unanimous decision.

Tim Burke: This fight is gonna be boring. David Branch via sleepy decision.

Staff picking Branch: Phil, Shak, Nick, Fraser, Mookie, Tim, Dayne, Stephie, Harry
Staff picking Hermansson:

Josh Emmett vs. Michael Johnson

Mookie Alexander: Emmett’s striking is heavily reliant on one big shot, whereas Johnson’s striking is much smoother and better put together. He’s also the faster fighter and should have good enough takedown defense to keep this standing and out kickbox Emmett. The other thing to consider is Emmett’s KO loss to Jeremy Stephens was ultra scary, and Johnson is pretty damn hard to put away, so with that in mind… Michael Johnson by unanimous decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Given Michael Johnson’s pathological tendency to try and one-up his opponents when he’s in trouble, there is a serious chance that Emmett pulls him into banging away at “right hook, left hook” and physically overwhelms him. But, while both guys have occasionally been exposed for lack of depth, Emmett tends to get exposed much faster and more completely than Johnson. Johnson has been able to beat a much higher level of technician (Barboza, Dariush pretty much, Ferguson etc.) than Emmett ever has, and recently showed that he can even tone down the madness to win a cautious fencing match against Fili. Michael Johnson by unanimous decision.

Tim Burke: Emmett is hella overrated after knocking out Ricardo Lamas. Johnson is gonna style on him. Michael Johnson via TKO, round 2

Staff picking Emmett: Nick, Fraser, Shak, Harry
Staff picking Johnson: Phil, Mookie, Tim, Dayne, Stephie

Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Michelle Waterson

Mookie Alexander: This is a fight where I thought I would pick Waterson but am just going with the “safe” pick in Kowalkiewicz. Is Waterson physically strong enough to overpower Kowalkiewicz and own the matchup on the ground? I’m a tad skeptical. We have seen Kowakliewicz just completely bullied by Claudia Gadelha though, so that’s the closest comparison for Waterson and probably her best path to victory. It’s a very realistic chance for Waterson to win that way, too! On the feet, Kowalkiewicz has the edge in volume, footwork, and clinch striking that should get her across the finish line with her hand raised. Should be a compelling bout! Karolina Kowalkiewicz by unanimous decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Waterson is more athletic and dynamic, but also smaller. She’s a strong kicker at range, a sneaky grappler in the clinch, and... my general thought is that she still really resembles Rose Namajunas before Rose learned how to box. If this is the case, then the matchup seems instinctively problematic. Kowalkiewicz can wade in behind her punches, can pick up and sit on a volume advantage, and is rock-solid in the clinch. The chances for big dynamic moments (head kick or submission) belong to Waterson but Karolina Kowalkiewicz by unanimous decision.

Tim Burke: They’re both awesome, but I’m surprised everyone is picking the “Polish Princess” (a nickname she wants nothing to do with, btw). Waterson might be the Karate Hottie, but she’s a sub grappler at heart. I think she can get Karolina to the floor ala Claudia Gadelha and finishes her pretty quickly there. It makes me sad to have to say that, because Karolina is one of my favorite fighters, but it’s legit. Michelle Waterson via submission, round 1

Staff picking Kowalkiewicz: Phil, Shak, Nick, Fraser, Mookie, Shak, Dayne, Stephie, Harry
Staff picking Waterson: Tim

Paul Craig vs. Kennedy Nzechukwu

Mookie Alexander: Craig is fun but he’s got a style that seems completely unsustainable for staying long-term in the UFC LHW division. Kennedy Nzechukwu by TKO, round 2.

Phil Mackenzie: Nzechukwu looks poised and athletic, if often overly cautious, and that’s probably enough here. Craig hasn’t developed either a functional wrestling or striking game, leaving him as a moderately powerful funky submission threat in a division where that isn’t really a consistent way of winning fights. Kennedy Nzechukwu by unanimous decision.

Tim Burke: Well there’s a last name I’ll be copying and pasting for play-by-play. Paul Craig, sub, round 1

Staff picking Craig: Tim, Harry
Staff picking Nzechukwu: Nick, Phil, Fraser, Mookie, Shak, Dayne, Stephie

Sheymon Moraes vs. Sodiq Yusuff

Mookie Alexander: Very entertaining matchup. Yusuff ripped apart Suman Mokhtarian in his UFC debut and looks the part of a talented fighter who unfortunately is associated with Team Lloyd Irvin. Moraes does look to be too much, too soon though. I really loved how he performed against Julio Arce (in a fight that shouldn’t have been a split decision to me) and only top-10 guys in Marlon Moraes and Zabit Magomedsharipov have beaten him. Sheymon Moraes by unanimous decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Yusuff looks like a great pickup. He’s composed, accurate, and physically gifted. Moraes is probably just a step too far: just a bit too accurate, too diverse, good on the ground, and an underrated grappler. If Yusuff passes this test (and he might) get ready to be excited... and then bummed out again when you remember that Yusuff is Team Lloyd Irvin. Sheymon Moraes by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Moraes: Phil, Shak, Mookie, Tim, Stephie, Harry
Staff picking Yusuff: Nick, Fraser, Dayne

Jessica Aguilar vs. Marina Rodriguez

Phil Mackenzie: Given how badly Rodriguez struggled with Markos’ wrestling, this is not a gimme. However, Aguilar just looks sort of shot. Her never-great athleticism is on the wane, and she’s struggling to impose her will physically. Marina Rodriguez by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Aguilar: Fraser, Tim
Staff picking Rodriguez: Nick, Phil, Mookie, Shak, Dayne, Stephie

Ross Pearson vs. Desmond Green

Mookie Alexander: Man… this is not a good fight. Pearson can be very exciting to watch but Green is a horrible style matchup. Desmond Green by unanimous decision.

Phil Mackenzie: This would have been tough for Pearson even in his prime: Green is a cautious, low-pace sniper, who likes to sit on a physical advantage for the duration of a fight while sticking his opponent with straight punches. Pearson will probably be able to figure him out to some extent (slip and left hook and so on), but the Brit is just so much more footslow and Green has a longer functional range which he will refuse to abandon. Desmond Green by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Pearson:
Staff picking Green: Phil, Nick, Fraser, Mookie, Shak, Tim, Dayne, Stephie, Harry

Enrique Barzola vs. Kevin Aguilar

Phil Mackenzie: Great fight. Barzola is a relentless and teak-tough wrestler. However, Aguilar just won a similar style matchup against Rick Glenn, who may be a little slower than Barzola but who makes up for it with more offensive potency. If Barzola can’t get his takedowns rolling then Aguilar is just a more powerful, aggressive puncher. Kevin Aguilar by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Barzola: Nick, Tim, Harry
Staff picking Aguilar: Phil, Fraser, Mookie, Shak, Dayne, Stephie

Kevin Holland vs. Gerald Meerschaert

Phil Mackenzie: Yeahhhhhh it’s Kevin Holland time. Everyone’s favourite nutjob is here to throw body punches, pass running commentary on whatever the hell is going on in the fight, and try every ill-advised tactic that pops into his head. Gerald Meerschaert is a fine matchup: a big, slow, and surprisingly effective finisher who similarly has... let’s call them strategic lapses, like escaping mount on Hermansson and then pulling guard, and repeating the process until Hermansson finished him. Holland is much faster than Meerschaert, works at a higher pace, and has proven himself extremely hard to finish. His own tendency to give up top position and seek bizarre scrambling solutions could get him into bad trouble, but (and this seems like an incredibly weird thing to say about Kevin Holland) he has more of a functional round-winning style and also deals underrated amounts of attritional damage. Kevin Holland by TKO, round 3

Staff picking Holland: Phil, Shak, Nick, Fraser, Mookie, Shak, Dayne, Stephie, Harry
Staff picking Meerschaert: Tim

Ray Borg vs. Casey Kenney

Phil Mackenzie: Kenney is yet another patient, composed range kickboxer. Borg is one of the fighters that might struggle a little moving up to bantamweight: he’s short and relies on his grappling. However, he’s also incredibly quick with a blindingly fast step-in. You need to be a certain level of grappling technician to survive with Borg in the clinch (and that Formiga win, close as it was, has aged very well). Ray Borg by unanimous decision.

Tim Burke: Resistance is futile. Ray Borg via submission, round 1

Staff picking Borg: Phil, Shak, Nick, Fraser, Mookie, Shak, Dayne, Stephie, Harry
Staff picking Kenney:

Sabina Mazo vs. Maryna Moroz

Phil Mackenzie: Mazo has some physical gifts and has clearly improved at King’s MMA, but I’m not sure whether I see an amazing prospect here. She still seems a somewhat awkward kickboxer who relies on holding her opponents at range. Moroz is nothing special technically but she’s pathologically aggressive and very tough. Maryna Moroz by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Mazo: Nick, Mookie, Dayne. Stephie
Staff picking Moroz: Phil, Fraser, Shak, Tim, Harry

Alex Perez vs. Mark De La Rosa

Phil Mackenzie: De La Rosa has found his footing somewhat, but remains a fairly tiny, extremely active pocket boxer. Perez can match him for pace and activity, but is far bigger and more powerful, and can likely even go to his wrestling if need be. Alex Perez by TKO, round 2.

Staff picking Perez: Nick, Phil, Fraser, Mookie, Shak, Tim, Dayne, Stephie, Harry
Staff picking De La Rosa:


Who wins the UFC Philadelphia main event?

This poll is closed

  • 49%
    Gaethje by stoppage
    (284 votes)
  • 30%
    Barboza by stoppage
    (174 votes)
  • 3%
    Gaethje by decision
    (20 votes)
  • 2%
    Barboza by decision
    (14 votes)
  • 0%
    (5 votes)
  • 13%
    Seriously? You gave us options on this fight going the distance?
    (75 votes)
572 votes total Vote Now

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