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UFC on ESPN: Whittaker vs. Till staff picks and predictions

Check out the Bloody Elbow staff’s picks and predictions for Saturday’s UFC on ESPN: Whittaker vs. Till card in Abu Dhabi.

Bloody Elbow has made its picks for the UFC’s final Yas Island, Abu Dhabi show this month. Only Anton Tabuena is picking Darren Till to beat Robert Whittaker in the main event, while Phil Mackenzie is the lone voice backing Lil’ Nog to finally beat Shogun Rua in the co-main.

Robert Whittaker vs. Darren Till

Anton Tabuena: If Whittaker fights as wild as he did against Adesanya, he will be playing into Till’s pressure-counter game. I don’t think he’ll fight like that though, and if both are at their best, it should be an intriguing striking affair. Whittaker should have a more diverse set of attacks, but the bigger Till will have the power edge and will be looking to counter as the former champ tries to get inside. Till’s great at controlling distance, but his defense can also sometimes be suspect, and Whittaker can conceivably dart in and out well enough to land that right hand. It can go many ways, and personally, I’m looking forward to see how it unfolds, but at the same time I also don’t want to see either fighter lose here. I’ve flip flopped on this pick, but I guess I’ll go with the slight upset. Darren Till by TKO.

Mookie Alexander: Darren Till is thought of as a low output counterfighter. I’ve said it many times. Then I listened to Ruebusch and Mackenzie on Heavy Hands, remembered some of Till’s bouts, and realized he‘s not even that. He’s just low output full stop. Whittaker has lost to a low output guy before in Wonderboy, but that was at welterweight and against a guy with (at his best) a more varied offensive skill set than Till. Really this all comes down to whether or not Whittaker is severely damaged after the illnesses, injuries, the Adesanya beatdown, and the war in the rematch with Romero. Otherwise this stylistically favors him by being the faster fighter, more powerful puncher, and he can take Till down if he desires. Robert Whittaker by TKO, round 2.

Phil Mackenzie: Till is a bizarre fighter, one surprisingly limited to a few effective tools, but who has similarly tended to come up against similarly limited fighters (Gastelum, Woodley) or people who are just physically outclassed (Cerrone etc). It’s feint, one-two, left hand, or low kick and that’s... sort of it? His round-winning process is glacial and he falls apart on the back foot. Masvidal took him apart with blitzes, and he is smaller and less comfortable with that style than Whittaker, who also possesses significant edges in defense and variability. Till is a quick, confident starter so the risk of Whittaker getting hurt early is there, particularly if he’s wearing the damage from his title fights, but aside from that it seems like a rough matchup for the Liverpudlian. Robert Whittaker by TKO, round 3.

Zane Simon: I realize that Whittaker has been in this game for a while now, and I don’t know that he’ll still be competing with the elite into his mid-30s, but right now? At age 29? I just don’t see any reason to believe that he’s actually worn out. He can get a little reckless at times with his desire to keep exchanges going, and his unwillingness to ever be entirely defensive, but unless Till really can just charge out and spark him (something he’s literally only ever done once in his UFC career), then Whittaker’s willingness to throw when Till comes forward and willingness to push Till backward with extended combos are both exactly the kinds of things more likely to favor him than Till. Robert Whittaker via KO, round 2.

Staff picking Whittaker: Mookie, Stephie, Phil, Zane
Staff picking Till: Anton

Mauricio Rua vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira

Anton Tabuena: So glad they’re not facing fighters a decade younger than them. I guess we’ll find out who has more left in the tank, and while I’m not at all confident in this pick, I have a feeling that’s Shogun. Shogun Rua by TKO.

Mookie Alexander: First fight was great. Second fight was good. Third fight’s gonna be sad. Shogun Rua by TKO, round 2.

Phil Mackenzie: Whenever there’s a pointless final fight in an MMA series that everyone closed the book on, the lesser fighter always wins it. Ortiz over Liddell, Arlovski over Silvia (small asterisk but w/e), Rampage over Wanderlei. Nog is debatably harder to take down now that his joints have corroded into dried meat and he’s become a big immobile block of scar tissue, and Shogun was getting absolutely tuned up on the feet by Paul Craig. It’s Lil’ Nog’s time to shine, baby. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira by TKO, round 1.

Zane Simon: I get this horrible sinking feeling that Phil is right. A big part of Shogun’s ability to win these fights has been his ability to do any wrestling at all. If his athletic speed has faded even more since their second fight (it looks like it has) then there’s a solid chance he won’t even be able to get in on his shots all that well, at which point Nogueira’s tendency not to back up and cover, and his southpaw 1-2 could keep him a step ahead. But, I’m depending on the wrestling still being there, and on Shogun staying composed into late rounds—something he still does exceptionally well. Shogun Rua via decision.

Staff picking Shogun: Mookie, Anton, Stephie, Zane
Staff picking Nog: Phil

Alexander Gustafsson vs. Fabricio Werdum

Anton Tabuena: Even a few years back, I probably would’ve favored Gustafsson. In 2020, Werdum is a 42-year-old that looks to have slowed significantly, and that’s bad news when facing a much faster and better striker. As long as he remains disciplined and keeps this standing, it’s most likely going to be Alexander Gustafsson by KO.

Mookie Alexander: Gustafsson has turned in one good performance since 2016 and that’s against Glover Teixeira. I’m not sure he’ll magically reinvent himself even in a division as lousy as heavyweight. That said, Werdum looked mostly terrible against Aleksei Oleinik and he really only has one round to win this before he tires… and even then he might just get laced up in the opening round and after flopping to guard, he just gets knocked out instead. Alexander Gustafsson by TKO, round 1.

Phil Mackenzie: These guys look like they absolutely hate fighting now. Werdum is as checked out as any fighter I’ve seen, like there’s someone in his head idly pressing the levers to make him do stuff in between short naps, and Gustafsson simply radiates dread and anxiety. They are both far, far away from their respective peaks as iron-tough championship-tier fighters, and if they’d fought at that stage I would have expected a fantastic scrap. Now? I expect Gustafsson to build some confidence via tuning up a plodding, fat Werdum who dejectedly follows him around in circles. A podgy redux of the Glover bout. Alexander Gustafsson by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: I’m less convinced by Gus’ love for MMA having been thoroughly destroyed as I am Werdum, who really does just seem like he’s been feeling like he should just be able to run shop on all these young kids without having to go through all the trouble of things like being in really good shape or planning for a specific opponent. But, moving from LHW to HW is an insanely tricky proposition, and if Gus really has lost the competitive spirit, then packing on a bunch of weight and fighting huge dudes will probably not help at all. The big concern has to be cardio, however. For his whole career, Gus has had it, and lately Werdum just hasn’t. Unless Werdum gets a first round takedown to submission, I’ve got Alexander Gustfasson by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Gustafsson: Mookie, Anton, Stephie, Phil, Zane
Staff picking Werdum:

Carla Esparza vs. Marina Rodriguez

Mookie Alexander: Not sure I trust Rodriguez’s takedown defense against the best wrestler she’s fought. If this becomes range kickboxing then I think Marina wins this because… Esparza is just not powerful and she’s still not that good a striker. Rodriguez is the more offensively potent fighter on the feet but Esparza is likely going to try and grind this win out with timely takedowns and enough top control. Carla Esparza by unanimous decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Sort of feels like a “when does the luck run out” fight for both of these women. Both have been fighting at the absolute razors edge of their styles, with Rodriguez losing rounds to wrestlers then smashing them in the third round, and Esparza fighting the exact opposite of that fight, by building some control then getting tired and smoked. As such, it seems pretty easy to call the narrative of the fight, with early Esparza grappling and late Rodriguez violence. Gotta pick Rodriguez just for the size advantage, really. Marina Rodriguez by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: There’s a good chance Esparza just comes out looking to wrestle hard again and gets success whenever she tries, at least to the point of edging out the fight. But more and more often for Esparza, she’s been finding herself absolutely exhausted after two hard rounds of imposing that game. And when she’s tried it against bigger, better athletes, she’s usually failed. Eventually, I think this is just the tipping point of athleticism, size and busy-ness that Esparza can’t quite conquer. Marina Rodriguez by decision.

Staff picking Esparza: Mookie
Staff picking Rodriguez: Anton, Stephie, Phil, Zane

Alex Oliveira vs. Peter Sobotta

Mookie Alexander: Not feeling good about this pick because Oliveira has looked awful and his skills have seemingly regressed, along with his physicality. But Sobotta also hasn’t fought in a long time and while he may be the more technical fighter I think Oliveira will just try and bully him. Heavy body kicks and power shots and effective clinchwork may get the job done. If not? Sobotta may just weather the storm, take Oliveira down, exhaust him and then choke him out. Alex Oliveira by TKO, round 2.

Phil Mackenzie: I’m with the Mook. Sobotta is the more skilled fighter, but I do get the feeling that he’s just not imposing physically enough to hang with Oliveira, whose efficacy drops radically when he’s up against people who are either elite offensive threats or just insanely tough enough to weather the storm. There’s no shame in losing to Leon Edwards, particularly after giving him a surprisingly tough fight, but not that many people at the top of welterweight get stopped by the Brummie like Sobotta did. Alex Oliveira by TKO, round 2.

Zane Simon: This seems to me like one of those fights where Sobotta will be winning it right up until he absolutely isn’t. However, I’m not that sure that Oliveira is the one to put Sobotta away. He’s definitely dangerous and Sobotta can be hurt, but he’s also wild and his confidence can very much be rattled by opponents willing to stay in the fight against him. Eventually, I feel like Sobotta’s grappling game will offer him a real safety valve to keep Oliveira from really getting the job done and finishing the fight. And if he doesn’t do that, I’ve got Peter Sobotta by decision.

Staff picking Oliveira: Mookie, Anton, Stephie, Phil
Staff picking Sobotta: Zane

Paul Craig vs. Gadzhimurad Antigulov

Mookie Alexander: This fight is going to be hilarious and I’ve got no confidence in either man. They are submission specialists who are both quite hittable and knockout-able. They’ve both got good enough striking to knock each other out, while Craig has the ability to go full WTF on us with hail mary submissions. Eh…. Antigulov may be the better fighter but this is LHW and this is a weird fight between weird fighters so I think Paul Craig will outweird his opponent once more. Paul Craig by submission, round 3.

Phil Mackenzie: Much like Esparza / Rodriguez, seemingly a fight made to perfectly showcase how either man loses fights. Craig tends to get walloped before pulling miracle comebacks out of his arse, and Antigulov goes wild for the finish and gasses himself out. Could be a true LHW classic, this one. Paul Craig by submission, round 3.

Zane Simon: I’d actually be pretty surprised if this made it all the way to round 3. Antigulov seems to have a self-destructive impulse only to be compared to Marcos Rogerio de Lima. He pours everything into his first round of offense. After that? He’s right there to be picked off. Craig absolutely could be stopped early, he almost certainly will get taken down immediately. But I think he’ll ride it out. Paul Craig by submission, round 2.

Staff picking Craig: Mookie, Anton, Stephie, Phil, Zane
Staff picking Antigulov:

Khamzat Chimaev vs. Rhys McKee

Mookie Alexander: Tee hee. Khamzat SMASH. Khamzat Chimaev by TKO, round 1.

Phil Mackenzie: There’s still stuff to be concerned with Chimaev: he’s far too confident in his wild striking and doesn’t appear to have much defense to speak of, but he’s a colossal welterweight, his striking is committed and effective enough to be scary, and he has dat ground game to fall back on. Khamzat Chimaev by TKO, round 2.

Zane Simon: McKee is a fun, rangy scrapper. But, when pressed by even mildly physical athletes who won’t just instantly get overwhelmed by him, any perceived dominance in his game gets broken down pretty quickly. He’s too easy to hit and I worry he’ll be too easy to take down for a dedicated, physically imposing grinder like Khamzat Chimaev. Khamzat Chimaev via submission, round 2.

Staff picking Chimaev: Mookie, Anton, Stephie, Phil, Zane
Staff picking McKee:

Rest of the card

Francisco Trinaldo vs. Jai Herbert

Staff picking Trinaldo: Mookie, Anton, Stephie, Phil, Zane
Staff picking Herbert:

Nicolas Dalby vs. Jesse Ronson

Staff picking Dalby: Mookie, Anton, Stephie, Phil, Zane
Staff picking Ronson:

Tom Aspinall vs. Jake Collier

Staff picking Aspinall: Mookie, Anton, Stephie, Phil, Zane
Staff picking Collier:

Mike Grundy vs. Movsar Evloev

Staff picking Grundy: Mookie, Stephie, Phil
Staff picking Evloev: Anton, Zane

Tanner Boser vs. Raphael Pessoa

Staff picking Boser: Mookie, Anton, Stephie, Phil, Zane
Staff picking Pessoa:

Bethe Correia vs. Pannie Kianzad

Staff picking Correia: Mookie, Phil, Zane
Staff picking Kianzad: Anton, Stephie

Ramazan Emeev vs. Niklas Stolze

Staff picking Emeev: Mookie, Anton, Stephie, Phil, Zane
Staff picking Stolze:

Nathaniel Wood vs. John Castaneda

Staff picking Wood: Mookie, Anton, Stephie, Phil, Zane
Staff picking Castaneda:


Who will be victorious?

This poll is closed

  • 71%
    Robert Whittaker
    (412 votes)
  • 28%
    Darren Till
    (164 votes)
576 votes total Vote Now

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