Ben Henderson vs. Rafael dos Anjos
Mookie Alexander: Dos Anjos is a real live dog here, but I just can’t bring myself to pick him to win this fight. He does have the better boxing then Ben, who has just never really had a strong command of that aspect of striking. Both men possess good leg kicks, with Henderson’s historically proving to be more damaging. The deciding factor for me is the size and strength of Henderson, which is something dos Anjos tends to struggle with (see: Tibau, Khabib, Guida for strength). Henderson could make this a real rugged fight in close quarters and deliver knees to the body, knees to the thigh, his usual arsenal of strikes that the judges like to see. If this fight goes to the ground, which I think will only be done on Ben’s accord, I expect fun scrambles and exchanges. Ultimately, Henderson gets the nod, and if he starts out strong he’ll dominate the Brazilian. Ben Henderson by unanimous decision.
Anton Tabuena: I think Dos Anjos can make this interesting, but to be honest, I think Henderson is just the better MMA fighter overall. Ben Henderson by Decision.
Kyle McLachlan: I still think Henderson is a top five fighter, and Pettis-aside I think he can survive RDA’s submission game. Dos Anjos has made a lot of improvements in his striking, and he has more power in his hands, but Bendo’s leg kicks have proven to be eye catching to officials. Benson Henderson via unanimous decision
Phil Mackenzie: Some fights are made to be fireworks. I don’t think this is one of them, but it should be a fascinating battle of minds and techniques between two clever and well-rounded contenders who are both looking better than ever. Dos Anjos is certainly a live dog- he has an underrated, rugged kickboxing game, and should be able to contest Henderson well at distance, where I’d argue he has a technical advantage. The difference-maker may be in the phonebooth, where he struggled against Tibau and Nurmagomedov, and where Henderson is notably strong. I expect it to be fun and competitive, but I like Benson Henderson via unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: This fight feels tailor made for another Bendo, no sell, no activity showdown. I expect he’ll do just enough in each round to make himself look dominant, and brush off dos Anjos’ strikes just enough to make dos Anjos look ineffective, at least to 2/3 of the judging panel. Benson Henderson by Split Decision.
Staff picking Henderson: Patrick, Kyle, Phil, DSM, Fraser, Mookie, Karim, Zane, Dallas, Anton
Staff picking dos Anjos: Stephie
Jordan Mein vs. Mike Pyle
Mookie Alexander: If Mein is really a legitimate top 10 caliber welterweight, then he has to win this fight. Otherwise? He’s been competing professionally since he was 7 weeks old and is nearing 40 total fights, and he’s fought an assortment of veterans and past and present contenders in the UFC, Strikeforce, and in regional organizations. If he can’t get it together now it’s not crazy to write him off, because the fact that he’s 25 doesn’t erase how much experience and mileage he has in the sport. Pyle’s Muay Thai is a great addition to his game, which was previously heavy on wrestling and submissions, so he’s got a bit of a renaissance going on. I do worry about his chin against powerful strikers, and all things considered this is a close fight to call. Pyle’s run will end soon enough, but I think he’s got one more decent win in him. Mike Pyle, TKO, round 2.
Kyle McLachlan: Pyle is tough as old boots, and has honed his Muay Thai in recent years, but Mein has really good boxing and is a similarly well-rounded veteran. Pyle can snatch a sub of course, but I’m going with Mein to finally break into the fringes of the top ten. Jordan Mein, by TKO, round 2
Phil Mackenzie: Mein didn’t set the world on fire in his last fight, a takedown-heavy decision, but it’s generally actually a very good sign when a young fighter shows drastically different elements to his game. Pyle’s run to the upper levels of the welterweight division has been fun, but he gets dropped or rocked way too much, and Mein is just too big, too athletic, too technical, too young, and too loaded with finishing potential. Jordan Mein by TKO, round 2.
Zane Simon: I’ll be the first to admit, that I’m not quite as quick on the hype train as many are with Jordan Mein. He’s got obvious talents, but he also has all the hallmarks of an early career flame-out. The kind of fighter who starts too young and fights too much, so that by the time he should be hitting his prime, he’s already a shopworn vet. Joe Stevenson was 28 when he lost to George Sotiropoulos at UFC 110. But he’d been fighting since he was 17 and already had 41 fights under his belt. Jordan Mein is only 24, has been fighting for 8 years, and has 37 pro fights… It worries me, that he may never get over the hump as a real top flight welterweight. And a bout with Mike Pyle is exactly what he needs right now to prove me wrong. Pyle tends to struggle most with guys who can kickbox effectively, but Mein has shown trouble handling swarming pressure fighters, which Pyle very much is. I’ll take Mein here, because I want to see him win, but it should be a tough fight. Jordan Mein by decision.
Staff picking Mein: Patrick, Kyle, Phil, Fraser, Karim, Zane, Dallas, Anton
Staff picking Pyle: Stephie, DSM, Mookie
Francis Carmont vs. Thales Leites
Mookie Alexander: This fight is going to suck. Big time. Carmont will throw scary looking strikes while landing few, and probably get Leites to the ground. Multiple stalemates ensue over the course of 15 minutes. Leites scores some points with his improved boxing. The Oklahoma crowd boos relentlessly and demands highlights of Adrian Peterson be displayed on the big screen. Francis Carmont by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Carmont is at a real crossroads. His neutralizing game based around the body kick, jab and takedown has been badly exposed in his last two outings by fighters willing to throw hands to get inside his reach and seize the grappling advantage. Leites has improved his explosiveness to the extent where he can be kind of considered a Diet Souza (a Caiman, perhaps?), and he now also fits that general mould. Can Carmont find a solution? Is the new and improved Leites maybe still not quite as good as Dolloway? Tough call. Francis Carmont by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: This is Francis Carmont’s do or die fight. Right here, right now. When he came into the UFC, his status as a GSP protege and his impressive physique had many thinking he’d be a future title challenger. A string of boring controll filled (often contentious) decisions later, and Carmont was the top ten welterweight that nobody wanted to watch fight. Jacare put the breaks on his climb, and CB Dollaway really knocked him down a notch. Carmont came out more reckless, more exciting, more the fighter many long ago hoped he was against Dollaway, and it still didn’t work. Thales Leites is sitting right there in the same territory as “The Doberman” a long time grappler, with a new found boxing game and altogether more confident style. Leites has come back to the UFC, and he’s looked strong, looked like a fighter in his prime. Most importantly, he’s looked like a fighter who could beat Francis Carmont. Carmont should get this done. He’s the better athlete, with a more diverse striking arsenal. But if he gets cracked early by Leites, this could be another bad night for him. I’ll go out on a limb here and say Thales Leites by decision.
Staff picking Carmont: Patrick, Stephie, Phil, DSM, Fraser, Mookie, Anton
Staff picking Leites: Kyle, Karim, Zane, Dallas
Max Holloway vs. Clay Collard
Anton Tabuena: I’m just excited to see how Max is developing. Guy is still very very young and has a lot of upside. Max Holloway by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: A name like “Clay Collard” just screams out “going to get his ass kicked”. Side note: Clay Collard invented Collard Greens. Max Holloway by KO, round 1.
Phil: The lower half of the Featherweight division is like Battle Royale right now: just hungry, dangerous, largely unknown young fighters being thrown together and tearing each other to bits. Max Holloway seems to be being used as a test for fighters in their debuts or sophomore efforts, but he’s a mean, vicious, violent and ever-improving “test” to get, and on short notice to boot. I would normally say that Collard is good enough to hang around in the UFC, but given the current environment, he’ll probably get thrown to some beast like Alan Omer in a loser-leaves-town match if/when he loses this one. Max Holloway by TKO, round 2.
Zane Simon: “Cassius” Clay Collard is actually a decent prospect. A young kid with a lot of high level experience on the regional scene and an aggressive, come forward, clinch based striking game. Given time and polish (which he’ll get at The Pit Elevated) he could be a great action fighter in the future. Right now, however, that style will get him wrecked by a much more technically put together opponent. Max Holloway by KO, Round 2.
Staff picking Holloway: Patrick, Stephie, Kyle, Phil, DSM, Fraser, Mookie, Karim, Zane, Dallas, Anton
Staff picking Collard:
James Vick vs. Walmir Lazaro:
Mookie Alexander: I had no idea who Lazaro was until Zane showed me a video of him nuking a guy with horrifyingly accurate punches. Then one thing led to another and now I’m all in on this gigantic looking lightweight continuing to do violent things in the UFC. Walmir Lazaro via KO, round 1.
Phil Mackenzie: Tricky one. Vick looked excellent in disposing of Ramsey Nijem, but that was over a year ago, and Nijem has always been appallingly hittable. In addition, since then Alliance MMA has cut its ties with Vick’s camp(?) Team Lloyd Irvin, and their most prominent representative, Mike Easton, has subsequently looked dreadful. Lazaro is a solid Nova Uniao product. Vick’s straighter and crisper punches should be able to win out over Lazaro’s slightly slower hooks but Lazaro has a decent body and head kick to control the kicking range. I’m pretty unsure on this one, but Walmir Lazaro by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: I’m honestly pretty big on Lazaro right now. I don’t like that he tends to keep his chin high when throwing combinations, or that he tends to base his defense almost solely on upper body movement, but he’s shown himself to be generally hard to hit on the inside, and capable of a varied and violent finishing arsenal. He has power in his hands, and in his ground and pound, and the kind of aggression to really put fear in his opponent. Couple that with the general striking polish and heavy kicking game that Nova Uniao is known for, and I’d give him a definite advantage over a still very green and inexperienced James Vick. Walmir Lazaro by KO, round 2.
Staff picking Vick: Patrick, Stephie, Kyle, DSM, Fraser, Karim, Dallas, Anton
Staff picking Lazaro: Phil, Mookie, Zane
Chas Skelly vs. Tom Niinimaki
Mookie Alexander: …What the hell are they doing with Skelly? Book him against top prospect Mirsad Bektic and then give him an arguable top 25 featherweight in his very next fight? Niinimaki is an excellent grappler who is better all-around than Skelly and should win this comfortably. Tom Niinimaki by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: The Featherweight Hunger Games continue. Poor Chas Skelly. He got a brutal debut in Mirsad Bektic, and acquitted himself fairly well. Now he gets Tom Niinimaki, a savvy and disciplined grappler who unfortunately does too many of the things which Skelly does well, and probably does them a bit better. I just hope whoever loses keeps their job. Tom Niinimaki by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: I think Niinimaki was doing a pretty damn good job putting it on Niklas Backstrom before Backstrom turned it up to 11 and showed why he’s one of the sport’s best prospects. Skelly has yet to impress me to that same degree, and his actions in that Bektic fight make me wonder how capable he is of keeping a cool head under fire. I’ll take the seasoned, well rounded, and dangerous vet here, to take the win from a very scrappy underdog. Tom Niinimaki by decision.
Staff picking Skelly: Dallas
Staff picking Niinimaki: Patrick, Stephie, Kyle, Phil, DSM, Fraser, Karim, Zane, Anton
Neil Magny vs. Alex Garcia
Kyle McLachlan: Great fight. Magny is taller, but he’s leaner and carries his gas tank through three rounds well. Garcia is a banger and a physical specimen, but I can’t see him putting Magny away (even though Mike Ricci did) and Magny has improved a lot since TUF. Neil Magny via decision
Phil Mackenzie: People don’t talk much about Magny, but he’s one of the very few UFC fighters (perhaps the only one together with Cerrone?) who is already 3-0 in 2014. His rangy kickboxing is coming together nicely, and he’s getting some real mustard on his strikes now. The Dominican Nightmare on the other hand is just a brutal physical force. He slowed badly after the first round last time out, and Magny is an excellent test to see whether Garcia is going to be a real threat in the division, or a glass cannon who simply needs to be survived against early. I think Magny’s experience allows him to ride out the dangerous early going and then get to work from range. Neil Magny via decision.
Zane Simon: Damn, this is a tough fight to pick. My gut says pick Garcia, he’s the more legit athletic prospect, he has more fight ending tools, and he’s violent as hell… But Magny is really showing himself to be a consistent troublesome kickboxer with a high output, movement heavy style. That said, I think Tim Means and Rodrigo Goiana de Lima both put Magny in trouble at times where I expect Garcia to do a lot more damage. I’ll take Garcia here, but the longer the fight goes, the less likely he is to walk out with a win. Alex Garcia by TKO, Round 1.
Staff picking Magny: Stephie, Kyle, Phil, Fraser, Karim, Dallas
Staff picking Garcia: Patrick, DSM, Zane, Mookie, Anton
Beneil Dariush vs. Tony Martin
Zane Simon: I’ve now seen two versions of Beneil Dariush: The killer who ran through Charlie Brenneman in seconds, and the mite that got swatted by Ramsey Nijem. Unfortunately, I worry that the second one may be a lot more reflective of his future at lightweight. Tony Martin is huge… like really huge. The guy was a pretty legit MW early in his career and has the kind of balls out aggression to take advantage of his size in the cage. The only problem for Martin will be that he really loves strength based submissions, and Dariush is a pretty excellent grappler. At range, Dariush is probably more technical, but I worry that his size may render that moot. I’m picking Martin for the decision, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was an ugly fight. Tony Martin, by decision.
Staff picking Dariush: Patrick, Stephie, Kyle, Phil, DSM, Fraser, Karim
Staff picking Martin: Dallas, Zane, Anton, Mookie
Aaron Phillips vs. Matt Hobar
Zane Simon: The fact that Aaron Phillips recently said he’s only been a full time fighter for a couple of months tells me two things. First, he could have a very bright future ahead of him if he can really develop with more gym time. Second, he may have a lot of holes in his game right now. Against Sam Sicilia he showed himself to be a much better range striker, but totally outclassed in the clinch and on the ground. Hobar isn’t a great range striker, doesn’t have the most technical takedown game, and is smaller than Sicilia. But, he’s also much more consistent in his style as a pressure and control fighter, and that might be enough to get the win over a more naturally talented fighter here. Matt Hobar by decision.
Staff picking Phillips: Dallas
Staff picking Hobar: Patrick, Stephie, Kyle, Phil, DSM, Fraser, Karim, Zane, Anton
Ben Saunders vs. Chris Heatherly
Anton Tabuena: I would ban Phil just from that first line alone… LETS! Ben Saunders by knees.
Phil Mackenzie: Awful tempted to pick Heatherly here. Saunders is an imposingly big welterweight, but for an MT stylist he’s a notably clunky striker at distance, with the exception of the nice headkick he throws. He does his best work bullying smaller fighters in the clinch and using his height to land knees. On this point, Heatherly is small, but he’s also a compact wrestler who may just bowl Saunders over if and when they tie up, as Killa B is not the stoutest defender of takedowns. Worse, he tends to throw up submissions which just plain aren’t going to work when on his back. All that said, Saunders has big-show experience and more finishing tools. A surprisingly tentative pick for the favourite: Ben Saunders by TKO, round 2.
Zane Simon: Let’s…
Staff picking Saunders: Patrick, Stephie, Kyle, Phil, DSM, Fraser, Mookie, Karim, Dallas, Zane, Anton
Staff picking Heatherly:
Wilson Reis vs. Joby Sanchez
Zane Simon: Joby Sanchez is a solid athlete and decent technical kickboxer. But his style plays right into the kind of aggressive grappling game that Reis loves and pursues so well. That said, we haven’t seen Reis at flyweight, it’s hard to know how his athleticism will translate. Will he be strong and fast and dominant? Or will he look drained and slow and unable to keep pace with the athletes at that size. It’s Reis’ fight to lose, but that also means the pressure is on him to impress. Wilson Reis by submission, round 1.
Staff picking Reis: Patrick, Stephie, Kyle, Phil, DSM, Fraser, Mookie, Karim, Dallas, Zane, Anton
Staff picking Sanchez:
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