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UFC Fight Night: Gustafsson vs. Smith staff picks and predictions

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Check out the Bloody Elbow staff’s picks and predictions for Saturday’s UFC Fight Night: Gustafsson vs. Smith card in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Bloody Elbow staff has made its predictions for UFC Fight Night: Gustafsson vs. Smith, and it is a clean sweep for three-time light heavyweight title challenger Alexander Gustafsson to beat Anthony Smith in the main event. On that note, congrats in advance to Anthony Smith on his upset win. Only Dayne Fox is picking Jimi Manuwa over Aleksandar Rakic in the co-main.

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.

Alexander Gustafsson vs. Anthony Smith

Mookie Alexander: This is really Gustafsson’s fight to lose. I do think there are legitimate concerns about Gustafsson’s durability, and if Smith can land something big, he is a tremendous finisher. We’ve seen how often Smith can stop someone even when he is absolutely dead tired. However, Gustafsson is the faster, more powerful striker. I doubt Smith can do what Jon Jones did and make Gustafsson look completely lost when the fight was contested at kicking range. Smith is worse defensively than Gustafsson, and if Gustafsson wants to take Smith down I think he can; Smith’s guard may be tricky but it’s unlikely to trouble someone of Gustafsson’s caliber. I give Smith a reasonable chance to pull off the upset, but the safe pick is Alexander Gustafsson by TKO, round 3.

Zane Simon: Smith made a really fun and improbable run up into title contention, but against elite competition, in the relative primes of their careers, it’s still very hard to pick him. That win over Oezdemir showed that he has the toughness and heart to make a lot of fights fun, especially since he’s a natural finisher when he gets the chance. But, the fight still largely consisted of him getting handled for two rounds, until Oezdemir gassed. His defensive reactions to strikes are still too poor to trust against consistent strikers. Gus is definitely that. If Gustafsson can keep his jab working, throw combinations when he’s in the pocket - and not get hurt too bad when Smith uncorks something powerful and creative at him - then he should be able to either win on points, or land the kind of strikes that get Smith shelling up and put him away. Alexander Gustafsson by decision.

Victor Rodriguez: As much as we love Smith around these parts, we’ve seen his ceiling. He may have a strength advantage and underappreciated durability and fight IQ, but lacking in speed and striking diversity will be the largest problems standing. Add to that the fact that Alex has ruthless top position striking and you have a recipe for a terrible beating. Smith can pull a rabbit out of a hat and work the body, cut off Alex’s angles and escape routes to prevent him from running to recircle back towards the center and work an ugly clinch game, but a lot of things have to go wrong for Alex in order for things to go right for Smith. Smart money says that doesn’t happen. Alexander Gustafsson by decision.

Staff picking Gustafsson: Shak, Mookie, Zane, Dayne, Stephie, Victor
Staff picking Smith:

Aleksandar Rakic vs. Jimi Manuwa

Mookie Alexander: The damage Manuwa was accrued in recent fights is a major concern. Also… he’s old. Dude is almost 40 and was never the world’s most active fighter. Rakic is a very good striker whose wrestling and grappling is steadily improving. I am pretty sure this will mostly be a kickboxing affair, which does present some danger for Rakic. He’s really never fought anyone as offensively potent as Manuwa, and Jimi’s best punch (left hook) is exactly what almost ended Rakic’s night against Devin Clark. But Rakic showed great recuperative powers, knocked Clark out, and in the grand scheme of things he’s got the athleticism and youth on his side to get past Jimi. Aleksandar Rakic by TKO, round 2.

Zane Simon: Technically, I’m not that convinced that Rakic has this in the bag. He may have a clear wrestling advantage over Manuwa, but does out-wrestling Justin Ledet really tell us that? If not, Rakic is a decent offensive kickboxer, who tends to hang his chin out and rely on quick movement to get him out of the way of strikes. It’s got him cracked a few times already, in fights where he was clearly head-and-shoulders above his competition. Manuwa is unquestionably the most dangerous striker he’s ever fought, and his left hook could be a game changer. But, Manuwa has also been knocked out several times in the UFC now. Rakic would be the worst loss yet of his career, but Rakic is more than a decade younger and he’s been hurt, but never stopped via strikes. Just based on those metrics, as well as Rakic’s size and decent wrestling game, I’ve gotta pick him here. Aleksandar Rakic via KO, round 1.

Victor Rodriguez: I like Jimi Manuwa, but I just can’t trust Jimi Manuwa. Like, people forget what a holy terror this cat can be sometimes, and this is just from his UFC wins. That’s to say nothing of the sort of finishes he was getting on the regional circuit. Maybe the time at AllStars finally gets things to click against an athlete of Rakic’s caliber, but no. I’ll resist picking Jimi and go with the guy with more varied striking and better use of range. Aleksandar Rakic by decision.

Staff picking Rakic: Shak, Mookie, Zane, Stephie, Victor
Staff picking Manuwa: Dayne

Makwan Amirkhani vs. Chris Fishgold

Mookie Alexander: I don’t feel like Amirkhani’s style is sustainable for long-term UFC success. He’s a flashy, fun fighter with a lot of athleticism and tricks up his sleeve, but he’s also reckless and is prone to setting fast paces that he can’t match. His willingness to be an aggressive sub hunter can work against him, and thus far we haven’t seen Fishgold get outgrappled or outworked on the mat. Amirkhani is more likely to get a finish, but Fishgold is more likely to remain composed minute-to-minute and win a decision. We could see some fun scrambles here and this can be a sneaky contender for FOTN. Chris Fishgold by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: Amirkhani is clearly a good athlete, and a very exciting go-for-broke kind of fighter. But moment-to-moment he’s kind of a technical mess, and I’m not sure that’s something SGB Ireland is going to improve on. He throws a good check hook, and a straight left, but he likes to watch his work and leaves himself open on defense because of it. He’s a good offensive wrestler, but often gives up control going for subs, and can but put on his back by a willing takedown artist. End of the day, Fishgold may not have his penchant for dynamic offense, but he’s a consistent grinder who knows his game and how to stick to it. The only people who have beat him were fighters that could mop him up standing, and I just don’t think that’s Amirkhani. Chris Fishgold via split decision.

Victor Rodriguez: I’m worried for Amirkhani on two fronts here -- he either gets complacent with his pace and output or underutilizes what he does best and ends up long a decision in a very winnable fight. Makwan’s wrestling credentials will be up against a savvy and super dangerous submission fighter in Fishgold and I love the matchup, but can’t help but think that this will end up with some odd stalemates on the ground and a lot of feinting while standing. My mind is saying Fishgold, but my gut says Makwan Amirkhani by decision.

Staff picking Amirkhani: Victor
Staff picking Fishgold: Mookie, Zane, Dayne, Shak, Stephie

Damir Hadzovic vs. Christos Giagos

Mookie Alexander: Hadzovic has gotten better in recent fights, although he can very much lose this given Giagos has the wrestling to grind him out. That said, Giagos’ striking is basically just boxing, and Hadzovic has the power advantage and a better technical game. Add in Giagos’ questionable gas tank and problems maintaining top control, and I think the Bosnian has this one covered. Damir Hadzovic by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: Giagos is a very willing wrestler, and that could be poison to Hadzovic’s suspect takedown D. However, Giagos also exhausted himself trying to hold down the smaller Mizuto Hirota, and started getting dialed up on the feet later in the fight. And, Hadzovic has steadily improved his striking fundamentals, working much more consistently behind the jab-cross and low kicks. I’ve also seen Hadzovic get smothered all fight, only to find a shocking comeback KO. He keeps his power well late into bouts. Eventually, I just don’t trust that Giagos is a good enough grappler to grind out rounds without getting really tired. And if he does? I think he gets hurt bad. Damir Hadzovic via KO, round 3.

Victor Rodriguez: Oh, hell no. Damir’s good, but Giagos’ wrestling could prove to be too much. He should be able to weather this storm. Christos Giagos by decision.

Staff picking Hadzovic: Mookie, Zane, Shak, Stephie
Staff picking Giagos: Dayne, Victor

Sung Bin Jo vs. Daniel Teymur

Mookie Alexander: The lesser of the Teymur brothers probably shouldn’t be in the UFC. Daniel throws far too many energy-sapping, single power shots without much set-up. His cardio isn’t very good and his footwork can often be a mess. Jo is a bit of a can-crusher but if you look at his actual skill-set, he has some promise. He’s got a clean, sharp right hand that carries much of his power, and he loves ground-and-pound elbows. Jo also has experience in a five-rounder on the regional scene, even getting a stoppage in round four. All of Teymur’s wins have been in round one, and we’ve seen how often he fades out of fights. I’m going with The Korean Falcon’s combination striking and more composed style to get the W. Sung Bin Jo by TKO, round 3.

Zane Simon: Teymur has power, but without cardio or awesome footspeed, it’s really hard to trust the incredibly undersized guy who wants to trade strikes at range. Jo doesn’t seem like has a ton of depth to his game, but he’s got a Dooho Choi-esque laser 1-2 and seems like he can put together some solid combos. If he stays composed and doesn’t get flatlined in the first few minutes, I suspect he’ll just be the fresher, bigger fighter down the stretch. ‘Korean Falcon’ by decision.

Staff picking Jo: Mookie, Zane, Dayne, Shak, Stephie, Victor
Staff picking Teymur:

Rostem Akman vs. Sergey Khandozhko

Zane Simon: There’s a chance that Akman is just a grappling wunderkind and can go hult Khandozhko to the ground and tap him out. But, I haven’t seen enough of that guy on tape to trust that he can make up for lack of experience with prodigious natural talent. Khandozhko has his flaws, but he’s got tons of experience and a fun-action oriented style. Sergey Khandozhko by TKO, round 2.

Staff picking Akman: Mookie, Dayne, Shak, Stephie
Staff picking Khandozhko: Zane, Victor

Tonya Evinger vs. Lina Lansberg

Mookie Alexander: Lansberg doesn’t wrestle well. Evinger does. Fight over. Tonya Evinger by TKO, round 2.

Zane Simon: Lansberg tends to lose fights when her opponent can wrestle her. That’s like 90% of Evinger’s game. Tonya Evinger by decision.

Victor Rodriguez: I want to clarify my comments on The Level Change episode this week (you should already be subscribed, you heathens. You absolute dogs. How dare you.): Lansberg is a good striker whose style works well in kickboxing or Muay Thai bouts, but her style isn’t suited for fighting in MMA at this level. Evinger might be getting older, but she can wrestle and has a mean streak. That’s all you need to know about this. Tonya Evinger by submission.

Staff picking Evinger: Mookie, Zane, Dayne, Shak, Stephie, Victor
Staff picking Lansberg:

Stevie Ray vs. Leonardo Santos

Zane Simon: I’m not upset the judges gave Ray the decision in his last fight, but I am a bit surprised. He essentially traded leg kicks for punches all fight. It was a crafty victory, but it didn’t turn the trend that he’s been having trouble pulling the trigger lately. In that mold, Santos seems like an especially difficult matchup, Kajan Johnson style. A big, rangy out-fighter who is happy to work exclusively off the counter, but is very dangerous doing so, and has his own powerful kicking game to use if you don’t walk in on him. He’s also a superb grappler for anyone looking to mix it up and take him down. That’s a tough fighter to score against, if you’re not a much more technically gifted kickboxer. The obvious x-factor is Santos’ time away, but just based on the dynamics of the matchup, I’ve got to pick him here. Leonardo Santos by decision.

Staff picking Ray: Dayne, Shak
Staff picking Santos: Mookie, Zane, Stephie, Victor

Frank Camacho vs. Nick Hein

Zane Simon: I’m a Camacho mark, so no surprise I’m picking him here. Hein has progressively improved his power punching game, but he’s never really found a home with any of his other skills, despite a strong judo background. He can hit some beautiful throws, but struggles to produce real offense after he does. And while his boxing has improved, he’s still a pretty low-paced power-dependent striker. Camacho loves to brawl and thrives in the pocket. He’s a decent enough wrestler when the fight calls for it, but mostly he wants to be right in front of someone, slipping shots and returning combinations. Hein may catch him with something, but Camacho has rarely been easy to put away. Beyond that, I have to trust Camacho’s volume to carry him to a win. Wasn’t enough against Dober, but that decision was terrible anyway. Frank Camacho by decision.

Victor Rodriguez: Why yes, I’m also a Camacho mark. Hein does a lot of things right and has a really good technical game that doesn’t get enough love. I just don’t see where he puts Camacho away or does damage without getting punished for it. Frank Camacho by decision.

Staff picking Camacho: Mookie, Zane, Dayne, Shak, Stephie, Victor
Staff picking Hein:

Bea Malecki vs. Eduarda Santana

Zane Simon: Malecki is tall and willing to throw, but she’s also statue stiff when she does. Santana’s form breaks down quickly when she’s challenged defensively or throws more than a 1-2, but she seems mean and reasonably controlled with her in-and-out punching style. The fight could easily look a lot like Cachoeira vs. Carolina. I’m taking Duda ‘Cowboyzinha’ by TKO, round 2.

Victor Rodriguez: I’m letting you guys know now, this fight is gonna be uglier than dude that fell in toxic waste from Robocop. At least they’re both really down to throw hands a lot, but Malecki’s not the one at an advantage here. Santana ends up in better positions to throw punches and has a more put-together overall game. Eduarda Santana by TKO.

Staff picking Malecki: Dayne
Staff picking Santana: Mookie, Zane, Shak, Stephie, Victor

Darko Stosic vs. Devin Clark

Zane Simon: There’s a decent chance Clark just wrestles Stosic through the mat, but even when he gets the wrestling advantage, Clark is rarely a careful grinder. Stosic on the other hand is composed to a fault, but when he lets his strikes go, it’s with precision and power. That’s too big an advantage for me to pick against him, for as often as Clark has been hurt and finished. Darko Stosic via KO, round 1.

Staff picking Stosic: Zane, Dayne, Stephie
Staff picking Clark: Mookie, Shak, Victor

Joel Alvarez vs. Danilo Belluardo

Zane Simon: Alvarez looked really bad getting dialed up by a wrestling specialist in Damir Ismagulov. Belluardo seems like he’s not terribly technical anywhere, but Alvarez just looks like he can’t physically compete at this level. Belluardo may not be able to either, but I’m much less confident that his problems run as deep. Danilo Belluardo by decision.

Staff picking Alvarez:
Staff picking Belluardo: Mookie, Zane, Dayne, Shak, Stephie, Victor


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