Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier
Mookie Alexander: Cormier can totally win this fight, but ask yourself how often you find yourself picking against Jones out of pure hatred and without actual analysis? If my memory is correct, all of Jones’ opponents have gotten “in his head” in some way, and that would force Jones into getting careless and losing. This, of course, has proven to be incorrect time and time again. Onward with the pick – Cormier basically has to grind out Jones to win and/or completely outstrike him. The former is more likely than the latter but it’s also going to be difficult. Cormier has to get past Jones’ range and that likely means shooting in from a long way out or moving in for a clinch and body lock throw. It’s probably going to take a lot of attempts or some really calculated perfect shots for Jones to be felled. Jones is going to outstrike Cormier and that’s a given. The reach disadvantage is too much for Daniel to overcome and he has a mediocre kicking game, which leaves him with boxing only. Jones can snipe him with his improved jab, sneaky left hook, and really affect Cormier with those painful oblique kicks to the knee. There’s too many things Cormier has to contend with that he is not going to be able to overcome. Jones is way better than every single fighter Cormier has beaten (including the heavies), and I’m not sold that Cormier is better than Gustafsson. Jon Jones by 49-46 unanimous decision.
Anton Tabuena: Despite not being a fan of Jon Jones, this will be the first time I’ll be rooting for him. Why? Because the betting odds were crazy and have them almost even, so I just couldn’t resist making a play on Jones. I love watching Cormier, but most of people’s predictions (and apparently also their bets) on him winning seem to be hitched on emotion. Lots of picks made from ‘feeling’ that he will be the one to topple Jon, rather than basing it on actual facts or style match ups in the cage. Cormier has a very good chance if he can get close, take Jones down, and hold him there, but that’s easier said than done. DC has more of a shot than anyone not named Gustafsson, and as much as the fan in me hates to type this, I think Jones just has more avenues to win this. Cormier may be a bit faster and have slightly better MMA wrestling, but I think Jones is just better in all the other facets of MMA. Despite what the odds and the promos say, this is his fight to lose. Jon Jones by Decision.
Zane SImon: Truths – 1) Daniel Cormier is a great wrestler. 2) We have no idea how effective his game is against a three dimensional elite athlete at the peak of his abilities. 3) Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier are, undoubtedly, elite fighters. 4) We do know how effective Jon Jones is against three dimensional elite athletes at the peak of their abilities (very). All of this puts me in one of those places where I feel like I’m honor bound to go with the known. Jon Jones is the known here. We know he is very effective against the level of competition that Daniel Cormier represents, we do not know this about Daniel Cormier. From a technical standpoint, I’d say this battle hinges on the clinch. Daniel Cormier is, undoubtedly the better clinch wrestler, his variety of takedowns that he’s displayed there are amazing for their technical depth, but Jon Jones has the more varied and aggressive Clinch offense and has shown much less propensity to get stalled out working inside. The insane leverage his arms offer him in defending takedowns and his ability to scramble on the ground lead me to believe that he will have just enough of an edge to win this fight, but it could be ugly early. Jon Jones by decision.
Staff picking Jones: Phil, Anton, Paul, DSM, Karim, Mookie, Tim, Zane, Rainer
Staff picking Cormier: Fraser, Stephie
Donald Cerrone vs. Myles Jury
Mookie Alexander: I shouldn’t be so dismissive of Myles Jury’s resume … but this is just a gigantic leap from fighting faded Gomi and Diego. Cerrone has been superb since the loss to dos Anjos, and has done it against progressively more difficult competition. Jury is a great three-dimensional fighter who’s very good everywhere but I’m not sure he stands out at any singular thing where you can argue he has a huge advantage over Cerrone. Donald is so crafty with his kicks to the point where he’s finally piling up the KO wins he never had in the WEC. He’s as good as it gets when it comes to finishing opponents when they’re hurt, and the only concern I have is Jury having the power in his hands to bounce Cerrone in the 1st round. Great fight, but Cerrone is just better than current Jury. Donald Cerrone by decision.
Anton Tabuena: Cowboy has been on a really fun streak as of late, but I think this is a really tough fight to predict as Jury will be by far the most technically sound striker he has faced during that stretch. I think Cerrone will have better kicks, but Jury will have better hands, but I believe this will boil down to if Jury can counter properly or not. Tough pick, but I think we will be in for a treat regardless. I’ll go for the slight underdog. Myles Jury by Decision.
Zane Simon: As Mookie alludes to above, Jury’s resume is… underwhelming. Not bad, just underwhelming. But, Cerrone’s resume is a finicky, tricky thing, because it belies the fact that he thrives on style matchups. If you can’t work at distance, you can’t beat Donald Cerrone. A more distinct remembering of Cerrone vs. Barboza was a fight Cerrone was losing badly, before catching the Brazilian with a fight changing jab. Jury is not Edson Barboza at range, but neither is he Jim Miller, Evan Dunham, or KJ Noons. Jury has a diverse range game and the size and power to make himself a problem on the inside. The biggest factor here is whether or not he has the output. Jury has tended to stall out on offense at times. If he does that against Cerrone he’s in for trouble. But, I have a feeling he is really and truly on the rise, and will be prepared for a fighter like Cerrone with known strengths and known deficiencies. Myles Jury by decision.
Staff picking Cerrone: Fraser, Phil, DSM, Mookie, Tim, Stephie
Staff picking Jury: Anton, Paul, Karim, Zane, Rainer
Nate Marquardt vs. Brad Tavares
Anton Tabuena: Another close one, but I think Tavares has more in the tank. Brad Tavares by Decision.
Mookie Alexander: This is literally the only fight on the main card I couldn’t care less about. Marquardt is well past his best and Tavares’ stunning loss to Tim Boetsch killed off my interest in seeing him develop into anything substantial at middleweight. Tavares has good leg kicks but a frustrating lack of consistent output coupled with very little power. If I’m to believe Marquardt hasn’t fixed his weaknesses, he’s really bad fighting backwards, and if Tavares applies the pressure then Nate won’t be able to win with counterfighting. Brad Tavares by decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Marquardt is a prototypical Ricardo Lamas: a decent wrestler, striker and grappler who doesn’t really seem to put them all together particularly well, and can often look downright pedestrian. However, if he gets a sniff of blood, everything in his game comes crashing together into a murderous finishing frenzy. Tavares is a solid nuts-and-bolts pressure striker, with particularly nasty leg kicks and better fundamentals than Marquardt. Brad isn’t a southpaw (Nate’s absolute kryptonite) so this should be competitive, but he is younger and stronger, has great takedown defense, and is more likely to pick up rounds. Brad Tavares by unanimous decision
Zane Simon: There’s no good reason for Brad Tavares to lose this fight, just like there was no good reason for him to lose to Tim Boetsch. Which isn’t a great sign. Still, Marquardt has less redneck judo to fear and Tavares has looked good when he’s not getting hulked by Yoel Romero. Brad Tavares by decision.
Staff picking Marquardt: Fraser, Tim, Rainer
Staff picking Tavares: Phil, Anton, Paul, DSM, Karim, Mookie, Stephie, Zane
Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Louis Gaudinot
Anton Tabuena: Gaudinot will take punches. He will eventually drop. Kyoji Horiguchi by Dynamite.
Mookie Alexander: More like Louis “Gaudi-NO”, am I right? Kyoji Horiguchi via many punches, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: With the exception of Boxcar Homering a fat John Lineker and submitting Phil Harris, Gaudinot has not looked good in the UFC at all. Horiguchi is infinitely faster, harder hitting and more athletically gifted. If he doesn’t get over-eager and run into a guillotine, the only question is really if Horiguchi can finish the incredibly durable Oompa Loompa. Kyoji Horiguchi by TKO, round 2.
Zane Simon: Louis Gaudinot’s biggest assets here are pace and endurance. When he can find the space he fights at a ridiculous level of output and fights well late in bouts. Otherwise, technically, he’s at a deficiency practically everywhere, and Horiguchi seems to be the rare Japanese fighter that doesn’t have problems meshing his style for the US game. This could be a close bout, but I think Horiguchi’s physicality and technical mastery will carry the day. Kyoji Horiguchi by Decision.
Staff picking Horiguchi: Fraser, Phil, Anton, Paul, DSM, Karim, Mookie, Tim, Stephie, Zane, Rainer
Staff picking Gaudinot:
Hector Lombard vs. Josh Burkman
Anton Tabuena: It would be such a great story to see Burkman pull off another mammoth upset, but I just don’t see that happening here. Hector Lombard by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: The conversation that took place between Josh Burkman and Joe Silva pertaining to a 2nd shot at the UFC must have gone south real quickly, because Burkman is going to get flatlined. Hector Lombard by KO, round 1.
Phil Mackenzie: Josh Burkman is a good, well-rounded fighter. This fight is mean. However, he’s also a clever, tough veteran who can probably make it an ugly fight by staying on the outside a la Tim Boetsch. Still probably going to lose though.The best thing he can realistically accomplish is wrecking Lombard’s momentum. Hector Lombard by unanimous decision
Zane Simon: This is such a bad matchup for Josh Burkman, even if I feel like he’s at the level to get these kinds of fights (after all, are we really “building up a fighter 12 years into his pro career). Lombard is stronger, and more athletic and can match Burkman skill for skill everywhere. That usually spells disaster for the fighter on the wrong end of that equation. Unfortunately it just needs to be remembered that Lombard is very willing to fight an ugly grinding fight, and Burkman has never been KO’d. So we may not get fireworks. Hector Lombard by decision.
Staff picking Lombard: Fraser, Phil, Mookie, Anton, Paul, DSM, Karim, Tim, Stephie, Zane, Rainer
Staff picking Burkman:
Danny Castillo vs. Paul Felder
Phil Mackenzie: Felder is a solid athlete and a surprisingly three-dimensional fighter, but I am quietly impressed by Castillo. He’s a very underrated boxer who clearly panics himself into underperforming a lot of the time, and forces himself to fall back on the tried and trusted wrestleboxer archetypes of Big Overhand and Dreadfully Uneventful Top Control. He’s still a solid fighter who is too much for someone at Felder’s level, in my opinion. Danny Castillo by unanimous decision
Zane Simon: Paul Felder shocked me with his UFC debut as a clearly better athlete than I’d pegged him as. He fought a more polished, technical opponent in Jason Saggo, and beat him because he was faster, stronger, and more dynamic. That surprising athleticism could lead to a very quick start and some early trouble for Castillo, but it’s trouble I think Castillo can handle, as Felder hasn’t shown the overall polish to be a consistent striking threat, and Castillo is enough of an athlete in his own rite to implement the game that Saggo couldn’t quite. Danny Castillo by decision.
Staff picking Castillo: Fraser, Phil, Mookie, Anton, DSM, Mookie, Tim, Stephie, Zane, Rainer
Staff picking Felder: Karim
Marcus Brimage vs. Cody Garbrandt
Anton Tabuena: Could be close based on recent fights, but I think Garbrandt has more upside. Cody Garbrandt by Decision
Phil Mackenzie: Close fight that should be a ton of fun. Both throw punches and leg kicks. Brimage is something of a pot-shotter: his kicking game in particular is starting to show some real scary power but he lets himself get out of position, and is a little inconsistent. Garbrandt is more of a volume-power striker: the way he uses leg kicks to throw people off into power punching combinations and the way he leans on offense as defense is reminiscent of a mini-Gaethje. This is a real coin-flip between two genuinely talented fighters, but Cody Garbrandt by unanimous decision
Zane Simon: These two are about even in my mind, which is insane considering that Brimage has more than half a decade behind him in MMA, and Garbrandt is just around 2 years in. Garbrandt has the look and feel of a blue chip prospect and I think he’ll take a very tough win here, but that’s banking more on perceived potential than real difference, as Marcus Brimage looks to be finally putting all his technical and athletic tools together and making himself a real striking threat. Cody Garbrandt by decision.
Staff picking Brimage: Fraser, DSM, Mookie, Rainer
Staff picking Garbrandt: Phil, Anton, Karim, Tim, Stephie, Zane
Shawn Jordan vs. Jared Cannonier
Mookie Alexander: The SEC West is having a rough go of it lately. So former LSU fullback Shawn Jordan is going to lose. Jared Cannonier by KO, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: Watching tape on Cannonier, he actually looks like a decent enough heavyweight striker. However, I can’t find a recording of his last fight, which was a split against Tony Lopez, a light heavyweight with a dismal recent record. Jordan getting whacked in the first is a more-than-distinct possibility, but I suspect Cannonier is hiding classical deficiencies in wrestling defense and gas tank. Jordan is hittable as hell (an inexpressibly dreadful trait for a heavyweight) but he’s got a really surprisingly solid tank and can wrestle when he wants to. Shawn Jordan by TKO, round 2.
Zane Simon: Should Jordan win this? Yes. Will he probably turn it into an ugly brawl that he has a 50% chance of getting KO’d in? Also, yes. Still, Cannonier hasn’t shown anything beyond some combination striking and athletic potential to get me too excited yet, so I can’t pick him here against the more veteran, experienced, and equally as athletic and powerful fighter. Shawn Jordan by TKO, Round 2.
Staff picking Jordan: Fraser, Phil, Anton, DSM, Tim, Zane, Rainer
Staff picking Cannonier: Karim, Mookie, Stephie
Evan Dunham vs. Rodrigo Damm
Anton Tabuena: He wasn’t who we thought he was before, but he’s still better than someone like Damm. Evan Dunham by Submission.
Mookie Alexander: Evan Dunham beat Sean Sherk, dammit. Ah well, he’s maxed out his potential and won’t ever be a contender, but that doesn’t mean he can’t rid us of Rodrigo Damm. Evan Dunham by decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Some people with silly names are a little too down on Evan Dunham: he’s become a kind of meme for ruined expectations. However, the guy beat Gleison Tibau and got ripped off by RDA. He’s still a good fighter, but his overall lack of power and range game, and the fact that he is probably the single slowest starter in MMA will always work against him. That said, he’s going to absolutely mow down Rodrigo Damm. After he drops the first round, anyway. I mean… it’s Evan Dunham. Evan Dunham by submission, round 3.
Zane Simon: I don’t know, I may be one of those “silly name” people that Phil is talking about. I feel absolutely dismal on Evan Dunham right now. And that’s really strange for me for a fighter that should be in the best years of his career, against someone whose best years were four or five years ago. It’s making me want to waffle on this fight pick a lot. I took Damm on video, because even when he’s got beat lately he’s been at least reasonably competitive (he rocked Iaquinta late), but Dunham has just been getting shelled. It’s a tossup, but I’ll go with the guy that nobody is picking against someone on a three fight losing streak. Rodrigo Damm by decision.
Staff picking Dunham: Fraser, Phil, Anton, Paul, DSM, Karim, Mookie, Tim, Stephie, Rainer
Staff picking Damm: Zane
Omari Akhmedov vs. Mats Nilsson
Mookie Alexander: Akhmedov is so unpolished and has rough technique with his punches. He definitely hits hard but he’s just too wild for me. Nilsson got torn to shreds by Luke Barnatt, but Barnatt is a really big middleweight and Nilsson is making his WW debut. I’ll go with the upset here, as the Swede finds a way to ground Akhmedov and use his grappling to get a finish. Mats Nilsson by submission, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: A fight which is relatively difficult to pick on paper, but will probably be one-sided as hell once it actually starts. Akhmedov is way too wild for his own good, but Nilsson probably doesn’t have the athleticism to capitalize. Either Nilsson exploits Akhmedov’s grappling deficiencies with a tap, or Omari shucks him off and bombs away for a stoppage. Second one more likely I think. Omari Akhmedov by TKO, round 2.
Zane Simon: Akhmedov is Dagestani, but he’s not “Dagestani” in prospect terms. The raw physical tools are there, but eventually he’s a scrappy power puncher with holes everywhere. He doesn’t wrestle well or grapple well or defend punches all that well. Nilsson may not be the most polished striker, but he’s good enough to survive and get Akhmedov to the ground. Once he’s there I think Akhmedov’s deficiencies will really show up. Mats Nilsson by Submission, Round 2.
Staff picking Akhmedov: Fraser, Phil, Anton, DSM, Karim, Tim, Stephie, Rainer
Staff picking Nilsson: Mookie, Zane
Alexis Dufresne vs. Marion Reneau
Phil Mackenzie: Two big, solid bantamweights. Dufresne might be too big, in all honesty. She missed weight catastrophically for the TUF finale fight against Moras, and faded down the stretch. Other than that, they’re very similar. Similar records, strong top games, strong clinch, can’t really strike effectively worth a lick. TKO wins over Kim Couture and some poor fat lady in Xplode Fight Series (boo! hiss!) also leave me dubious regarding Dufresne, so Marion Reneau by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: This fight is all about potential for Dufresne. At 37 (although a world class BJJ purple belt, now brown belt) the sky is decidedly not the limit on Reneau. She can and will still improve, but expectations should be limited. For the here and now, however, she’s got an even matchup against an opponent, who by the look of it, has trouble preparing for fights. Dufresne is young and athletic, and a decent grappler but she needs to do more to win at this level. I’m hoping and expecting that to change here, because if it doesn’t she probably loses. Alexis Dufresne by decision.
Staff picking Dufresne: Fraser, Anton, DSM, Karim, Tim, Mookie, Stephie, Rainer, Zane
Staff picking Reneau: Phil
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