The Bloody Elbow staff has made its predictions for UFC 241, and the consensus opinion is that Daniel Cormier will go 2-for-2 against Stipe Miocic and defend the heavyweight title that he famously took from Stipe last year. As for the co-main event, and perhaps a tad surprisingly, most of us are backing Nate Diaz to return from a three-year layoff to defeat Anthony Pettis. Only Tim Burke is picking Paulo Costa to upset Yoel Romero, and I assume that’s just to stave off the dreaded Bloody Elbow curse.
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.
Daniel Cormier vs. Stipe Miocic
Anton Tabuena: Miocic is still bigger and hits harder, but Cormier is still the more skilled MMA fighter overall here. He’s also much faster and probably has the better chin too. This is heavyweight and Miocic can obviously give him problems, but I have a feeling this fight will go longer, but have the same ending. Daniel Cormier by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: Their first fight may have been a round one KO, but it was quite close. Cormier was winning the tale-end of that round before the KO, but Stipe had a really good start. If Miocic can keep Cormier at range then I think it’s his fight to lose, as he does have the sharp boxing to tune up DC with combinations and I think his wrestling is good enough that Cormier won’t have an easy time getting him down. A problem for Stipe is that he kicks so infrequently and that’s something Cormier has historically struggled with. Cormier has the edge in the clinch with his dirty boxing, and his power carries over better at heavyweight than at 205 lbs. Neither fighter is all that good defensively, but the chins of both men makes a difference - Stipe has been KO’d twice and rocked a few other times before. Cormier has survived Anthony Johnson (first fight), a big Alexander Gustafsson knee, and then the KO vs. Jon Jones was just a great head kick… something we don’t see Stipe really do. Cardio should be of no issue for either man, I have concerns about DC returning from back surgery at 40 years old, but I doubted him before against Stipe, I won’t do it again. Daniel Cormier by TKO, round 3.
Zane Simon: It’s heavyweight, so there’s always a good chance that Stipe comes out, storms Cormier with power, and puts him out within the first 5 minutes. Cormier still always leans back and to the right. He still lets himself get backed up too often. And he still can get caught hard jumping through space to close the distance. But, I also think he’s just a much more comfortable fighter off his back foot than Stipe. Much better at rolling with punches, taking bad rounds to put together good ones later. And, essentially, more able to succeed in the back-and-forth of a 5 round fight. Miocic has tended to only have two kinds of wins. He either blows someone out of the water in a couple of wild minutes of momentum swinging action. Or he totally dominates an either physically or techncially overmatched foe. Against someone he can’t physically dominate and isn’t way better than technically? Does Stipe have the depth and defensive comfort to battle back and forth for 5 rounds? I don’t really think so. Daniel Cormier via TKO, round 3.
Staff picking Cormier: Shak, Phil, Nick, Fraser, Mookie, Stephie, Anton, Phil, Dayne, Zane
Staff picking Miocic: Ed, Tim
Nate Diaz vs. Anthony Pettis
Anton Tabuena: You know what? I’m actually a lot more curious who would win the submission game here. We’re unlikely to see that though, and I expect them to stay on the feet where there’s pretty clear avenues to victory for both. Pettis’ kicking game is normally about setting up nasty body attacks, but it would be smart to direct most of those towards Diaz’s legs as well. If he can’t keep distance though, he’ll probably be pressured in boxing range and pushed back to the fence, where Diaz can dirty box and wear him down. This should be fun either way, and I just wish there were options to make co-main events five rounds. Tough pick, but I’m going with Nate Diaz by Decision.
Mookie Alexander: Had in my mind up until fight week that Anthony Pettis will win this. He’s actually been the one fighting, whereas Diaz… hasn’t. But I don’t think Nate is the type of person who will fall victim to cage rust, and what he excels at is exactly where Pettis struggles: Pressure-based, heavy-volume striking. Diaz can’t cut off the cage remotely as well as someone like Max Holloway, but he is capable overall of overwhelming Pettis the same way previous opponents have. Pettis’ kicking game should be heavily focused on attacking legs, although for some reason he’s never been a prolific leg kicker. I think Pettis will start off well but Diaz is going to pour on the pressure and get the win. Nate Diaz by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: I have no clue what Diaz will actually look like in this fight. He has probably been staying in shape, keeping his skills sharp... probably, maybe... hopefully? If he has (and I’m banking on that) I think Pettis’ problems with volume and pressure are too big to easily overcome an opponent he can’t quickly put away. Pettis was quite clearly losing to Stephen Thompson before that fantastic leaping KO. And I’ve now seen Anthony against a bunch of different kinds of volume punchers lately, all of which have beat him. On the flip side, I’ve also seen Nate KO’d after getting kicked apart by Josh Thomson. But, I’m willing to err on the side of this looking more like a classic Pettis loss than Diaz’s history of more physically overwhelming losses to grinders. Nate Diaz by decision.
Staff picking Diaz: Phil, Fraser, Mookie, Stephie, Anton, Dayne, Zane
Staff picking Pettis: Shak, Ed, Nick, Tim
Yoel Romero vs. Paulo Costa
Anton Tabuena: Both hit incredibly hard, but I’m guessing Romero can take shots better, and still be dangerous at any state of his chin/gas tank. Yoel Romero by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: Romero is not a fast starter but Costa’s aggressiveness may force him into action sooner than planned. Costa’s defense is demonstrably not that good and Uriah Hall absolutely rocked him with a jab (if I recall correctly) before Costa just poured on the punishment and knocked him out. Romero isn’t one to be broken down physically like previous Costa opponents. Add in that Romero is a much better counterstriker and of course an elite wrestler, and I just think that unless Costa starches him early, the Cuban is going to make Costa pay with some classic Third Round Romero violence. Yoel Romero by TKO, round 3.
Phil Mackenzie: There’s one thing to be concerned about here if you’re a fan of the Cuban Muscle Crisis, and that’s the (increasing?) amount of time he’s taking off in fights. He took the entire first two rounds off against Whittaker! That is insane! If Costa just bumrushes him and works Romero to the body there’s a distinct chance that Romero gets too badly hurt to pull back into the fight. That being said, he’s better defensively, he can wrestle, he probably hits harder shot for shot, and he’s a better counter puncher. Yoel Romero by TKO, round 2.
Zane Simon: At some point, Romero is just going to get beat by a less talented, but much younger and more aggressive fighter. This could be that day. If you built a fighter in a lab, as Goldberg loved to say, he would look like Paulo Costa. But, I actually have to see it to believe it. Costa is an offensive force, but his defense is mostly reliant on a great chin, and lots and lots of confidence that his opponent will break before he does. Romero is just not a breakable dude. At least, not to date. And if Costa just wades in on him. I have to believe he’ll pay a heavy price. Yoel Romero via KO, round 2.
Staff picking Romero: Shak, Ed, Phil, Nick, Fraser, Mookie, Stephie, Anton, Dayne, Zane
Staff picking Costa: Tim
Gabriel Benitez vs. Sodiq Yusuff
Mookie Alexander: Good fight. Benitez is a tough out but I feel like if Benitez couldn’t handle Enrique Barzola, Yusuff is certainly a better fighter whose game is more well-put together at this stage. Sodiq Yusuff by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: After fighting Sheymon Moraes, Benitez honestly seems like an approximately similar style matchup, if not perhaps a slight step down for Yusuff: a powerful, accurate kickboxer, with the main caveat being that Benitez is a southpaw. Yusuff has shown himself to be a surprisingly composed and deep striker, and Benitez has tended to need to leverage an athletic advantage which won’t be there in this fight. Sodiq Yusuff by TKO, round 2.
Zane Simon: Benitez is a very fun sniper. If you’re not minding all your Ps and Qs, he’ll throw some fantastic heat with long punches and super fast kicks. But, he’s not a devastating finisher. Most likely in part because of the simplicity of his game and the predictability of his targets. Yusuff may still have some points where he’s more confident than he is skilled. But he’s clearly building a very complex, high level striking game, around active defense and pocket boxing. It’s the kind of thing that should be able to counter Benitez’s offense and open up his defense inside. Sodiq Yusuff via decision.
Staff picking Benitez: Shak, Ed, Fraser
Staff picking Yusuff: Phil, Nick, Mookie, Stephie, Anton, Dayne, Tim, Zane
Derek Brunson vs. Ian Heinisch
Mookie Alexander: Yeah so I’m not any bit confident in my Brunson pick. He has power and is a different style matchup than Antonio Carlos Junior and Cezar Ferreira, neither of whom has good cardio or the striking capabilities to trouble much of the division. Heinisch is tough, has better cardio, and his grappling should be praised significantly given how he handled ACJ. With that in mind, I think Brunson’s power and own wrestling chops can propel him to victory here. My fear though is that he’ll get frustrated, increasingly predictable, and either get knocked out or fade into a bad decision loss. Kind of a two-note outcome here. Derek Brunson by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: This match might be dire. Heinisch has gotten by as a Budget Benavidez or Heavier Hernandez, zipping around with quick motions and big blitzes on the outside, then being inexhaustible in clinch and grappling situations. This makes him a weird fight for Brunson: does Brunson attempt to take him down? Does he have a terrible kickboxing match with him? How much did it actually favour Heinisch to have people shooting in on him and scrambling with him? I think that Brunson is going to have a low-paced range kickboxing match, and that Brunson still at least has the functional tools (leg kick, clinch work, straight left) to make that work, sort of. Derek Brunson by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Brunson has a clear path to victory. He doesn’t get tired the way ACJ and Ferreira do. But, he also seems to have his own variety of confidence issues. And doesn’t really seem to have any kind of clear game plan when he has to go out and win multiple rounds. Heinisch’s game is full of holes and fairly tracked into power right hands, to double legs, to scrambling grappling exchanges. But he’s tough, and tireless, and confident. And that just may be enough to win a ton of fights in a middleweight division that rewards relentless weirdness. Ian Heinisch by decision.
Staff picking Brunson: Shak, Ed, Fraser, Mookie, Phil, Tim
Staff picking Heinisch: Nick, Stephie, Anton, Dayne, Zane
Devonte Smith vs. Khama Worthy
Mookie Alexander: I’d certainly give Worthy a better chance to win than Clay Collard, whom Worthy is replacing. That said, Worthy’s defense is a mess and he’s at a clear speed disadvantage against a sharp, powerful striker in Smith. Devonte Smith by KO, round 1.
Zane Simon: Worthy is actually a lot of fun. A trigger counter-puncher who likes to throw in combination off his opponent’s offense. He has a great penchant for driving action-heavy fights. But, he’s also been lit up a few times early, because he likes to square up when he throws his combos, and his defense tends to go out the window as his offense opens up. Smith still hasn’t shown a varied game, and he’s not the biggest lightweight. But he throws 1-2s with fantastic power and accuracy and is very good at waiting on the counter and drawing out his opponents mistakes. That probably means he leads Worthy right into a crushing KO. Especially since Worthy himself isn’t the biggest puncher out there. Devonte Smith via KO, round 1.
Staff picking Smith: Ed, Phil, Nick, Fraser, Mookie, Stephie, Anton, Dayne, Tim, Zane
Staff picking Worthy:
Raphael Assuncao vs. Cory Sandhagen
Anton Tabuena: Sleeper fight here. I like Sandhagen’s style and his quick rise in the rankings has been very fun to watch. Assuncao is crafty, but I think Sandhagen continues that streak. Cory Sandhagen by Decision.
Mookie Alexander: Sandhagen’s willingness to play guard could see him easily get put into a 30-27 loss to Assuncao. But what I am encouraged by is Sandhagen’s aggressiveness and high-volume that surely will not see him suckered into the exact type of slow-paced fight Assuncao thrives in. This is a tough fight to call because Assuncao is the more proven and higher skilled fighter, but Sandhagen has done a terrific job of dealing with different types of fighting styles throughout his UFC career, such that I think he’ll be prepared to keep Assuncao at the end of his reach and pile up enough offense to win a competitive fight. Cory Sandhagen by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Sandhagen is the real deal. Bantamweight Condit is aggressive, confident and tireless. There is a significant chance that he can strike, angle, feint and simply outpace and flummox Assuncao’s meat’n’potatoes countering style. The way he forced John Lineker into a countering game was very impressive, but I do think that Assuncao is much more comfortable in that kind of fight than Lineker is: more of a leg kicker, a better grappler, a craftier counterpuncher. Sandhagen’s aggression may ending up feeding Assuncao more counter opportunities than he wants. Raphael Assuncao by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: This definitely feels like a fight Assuncao SHOULD win. A young, talented, confident kid with a high energy style, but not a ton of power; should be the time for a talented, crafty veteran to show him what a craftier, more defensively minded game can do to shut things down. But, Assuncao really hasn’t had to face that many hyper confident volume strikers. And when he has, he’s arguably almost always lost. Even Aljamain Sterling had a ton of success late, when he finally started letting his hands go. If Assuncao goes out and wrestles Sandhagen, he just might put a grappling clinic on him. Or maybe he’ll just counter him all fight and land the better shots. But I can’t help feeling that Sandhagen is just going to be too busy and too diverse and take a close decision. Cory Sandhagen by decision.
Staff picking Assuncao: Shak, Phil, Nick, Fraser
Staff picking Sandhagen: Ed, Mookie, Stephie, Anton, Dayne, Tim, Zane
Christos Giagos vs. Drakkar Klose
Phil Mackenzie: This seems like a fairly comfortable style matchup for Klose, and another fight which may be a bit less exciting than it seems on paper. Giagos is a big, aggressive wrestleboxer, and Klose is just incredibly tough and will take tons of irritating attritional opportunities. Drakkar Klose by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: An aggressive, diverse, but not technically deep opponent seems like the perfect matchup for Klose to show off his neutralizing clinch game. Giagos throws heat and hits a nice double, but Klose is fantastically tough and strong. And if you get in tight with him, he has a great knack for breaking you down and grinding you out. Drakkar Klose by decision.
Staff picking Giagos:
Staff picking Klose: Ed, Phil, Nick, Fraser, Mookie, Stephie, Anton, Dayne, Tim, Zane
Manny Bermudez vs. Casey Kenney
Phil Mackenzie: Bermudez wants to grapple and submit people, and Kenney also wants to grapple. That being said, I am not that convinced that Bermudez has a sustainable style: he’s an enthusiastic striker, but he doesn’t have the sheer pace of an Ortega or Diaz, which is what you really need to get people diving into guillotines and triangles without thinking about it. Other than that, Kenney managed to (just about) stay on top of the scrambles against Borg, and seems like a more functional striker. A sub is still on the cards, but I’m just not sure how much I trust Bermudez to be a round winner. Casey Kenney by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Bermudez is headed for some kind of reckoning. Most crafty sub grapplers with aggressive power striking games usually get crushed once opponents start actually scouting them and preparing for them. But, I’m not sure that Bermudez is there yet. He’s still a fresh face in a remarkably deep division. If Kenney can keep this at range I think he absolutely can work Bermudez over. But I think he likes to clinch and wrestle too much, and Bermudez’s grappling has just a little too much funk in it to make that a safe proposition. Manny Bermudez via submission, round 2.
Staff picking Bermudez: Ed, Nick, Fraser, Mookie, Anton, Dayne, Zane
Staff picking Kenney: Stephie, Tim, Phil
Hannah Cifers vs. Jodie Esquibel
Zane Simon: Probably the best matchup Esquibel could ask for. A woman almost as short as her that is happy to walk onto strikes and slug it out in the pocket. But, nothing makes me confident that Esquibel will even win a good matchup. Her game is just too limited and her aggression too inconsistent. Cifers has some big defensive gaps and limited offensive tools, but she knows exactly what she wants to do and how she wants to do it. Hannah Cifers by decision.
Staff picking Cifers: Ed, Phil, Nick, Fraser, Mookie, Stephie, Anton, Tim, Zane, Phil
Staff picking Esquibel: Dayne
Kyung Ho Kang vs. Brandon Davis
Zane Simon: Brandon Davis is a hell of a lot of fun, but he also only seems to have one area where he’s really comfortable fighting. And that’s in the pocket, in a high volume brawl. That’s where he can use slips and counters and his toughness to get opponents uncomfortable and feeling out of their depth. Out at range, he tends to chase after people and walk into big strikes. And in wrestling tie-ups, he has a bad habit of just trying to go limp and make his opponents wear themselves out (which usually just results in them changing angles or approaches and taking him down). Kang closes distance well behind massive strikes and is a very fun wrestler and grappler. Davis may be better in the pocket, but it’s hard not to feel like Kang is better everywhere else. Kyung Ho Kang by decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Brandon Davis is built for a stand’n’bang world which unfortunately doesn’t quite resemble the modern UFC. He’s big and durable and endlessly aggressive, but Kang should just be able to keep on the gameplan which has worked very well on Davis: draw him into exchanges, take him down. Kyung Ho Kang by unanimous decision.
Staff picking Kang: Ed, Phil, Nick, Fraser, Mookie, Anton, Stephie, Dayne, Tim, Zane
Staff picking Davis:
Shana Dobson vs. Sabina Mazo
Zane Simon: Mazo has the more complete technical standup game, but I get the feeling that she’s been a bit too spoon fed on her way up through the regionals. It really seemed like Moroz’s aggression was a huge shock to her. And it may only have been Moroz’s poor grasp of distance that allowed Mazo back in the fight late. Dobson is by no means a deeply technical fighter, but I think she’s just tough enough and aggressive enough to take the fight to someone who is too used to having opponents just wilt in front of her. Shana Dobson by decision.
Staff picking Dobson: Ed, Phil, Nick, Mookie, Stephie, Tim, Zane
Staff picking Mazo: Fraser, Anton, Dayne
Who wins the rematch?
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Who wins the UFC 241 co-main event?
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