The UFC is back at the APEX this weekend with a card tailored for an ESPN+ only audience. The headliner is an intriguing battle in the strawweight division. Outside of that are a host of fighters who are looking to show they can still be a relevant force in the promotion.
For the main event, Anton is alone in picking Nan Xiaonan to upset Mackenzie Dern (thus preventing Dern of receiving the ‘BE curse’). The co-main event is Randy Brown vs. Francisco Trinaldo. This time its Victor playing spoiler, being the long Bloody Elbowian to pick the 44-year-old ‘Massaranduba’, who could be fighting his final UFC contest.
If you believe us, this event is filled with squash matches. The only bout with any real split of opinions is Joaquim Silva vs. Jesse Ronson down on the prelims. You can check out all our picks below and, please, share your own picks in the comment section!
*Reminder: I’m making my picks based solely on fighter’s past winning percentages as an experiment to see how effective that nugget of data is at predicting fight outcomes. More on that here. You can see the data here. This method of picking fights is currently 22-16. Once 1,000 fights have been logged like this, we’ll take a look at what it all might mean.
Mackenzie Dern vs. Yan Xiaonan
Anton Tabuena: It’s a bit frustrating how Dern focuses on standing and improving her boxing, when she’d probably wreck everyone with a Demian Maia-type approach and a wrestling-centric game plan. She’ll run into a lot of shots trying to stand with Yan, and if she struggles to take her down — or just decides to strike for long stretches again — it’ll be a long night for her. Smart pick is still Dern, since she’ll have a massive advantage on the mat, but Yan has underrated wrestling and I’m not sure if Dern will even focus enough on trying to get her down. Yan Xiaonan by decision.
Tim Bissell: Dern is coming off a split decision win over the always tough Tecia Torres. It was a welcome victory for her after her four fight winning streak was smashed by Marina Rodriguez. She’ll be facing a fighter desperate for a rebound of her own. Yan has lost her last two, to Rodriguez and Carla Esparza. Those are her only UFC defeats in eight bouts. The picking algorithm is choosing Dern here, due to her w% of .778 versus Yan’s .750. The variance between their scores is based on Dern having a single win more than Yan in the promotion. It’s close when you look at their career-wide w%’s, too. Dern’s 12-2 record is good for .857, whereas Yan’s 15-3 has her just behind with .833. It’s wise to think this bout will be close, regardless of what any stats say, but I agree that Dern poses the greater risk in this bout, thanks to her vaunted grappling game — the likes of which Yan is yet to be tested by. Mackenzie Dern via decision.
Zane Simon: As is often the case for Dern if she can’t get this fight to the mat, she’ll have problems. Given Yan’s ability to skate away on angles out of the pocket, I might even say that Dern could run into more trouble than she did against Tecia Torres standing. Still, if Dern’s time in the UFC has been marked by anything beyond her submission prowess, it’s been her unbreakable confidence in her ability to take strikes and push forward. And when fighters really go after Yan and try to push her, she usually turns to her wrestling game in response. It was notable against Carla Esparza that, without the ability to win the wrestle/grappling battle Yan was quickly overwhelmed. That seems like too big an Achilles heel for Yan in this kind of fight. She has a path to victory available, but she’ll have to walk a tightrope all the way there to get it. Mackenzie Dern via submission round 2.
Staff picking Dern: Bissell, Kristen, Zane, Stephie, Victor, Dayne
Staff picking Yan: Anton
Randy Brown vs. Francisco Trinaldo
Tim Bissell: Brown and Trinaldo are also nearly neck-and-neck when it comes to w%. Brown’s 12-4 UFC record equals a w% of .750. Trinaldo’s 18-7 equals .720. It’s pretty remarkable that these two have over 40 UFC fights between them. At 44-years-old Trinaldo is yet to show us he can’t hang in the promotion. He’s beaten Danny Roberts and Dwight Grant in the last twelve months. The Brazilian is 5-2 since the beginning of 2019. Brown, who is no spring chicken at 32, is on a good run right now with three victories since a brutal loss to Vicente Luque in 2020. His wins have come over stiff competition in the form of Alex Oliveira, Jared Gooden and Khaos Williams. Those wins have me thinking Brown has what it takes to get past Trinaldo, thus putting me in agreement with the algorithm. Randy Brown via decision.
Zane Simon: I’d love to pick Trinaldo here. His crafty, simple, but effective style has been great to watch as he slides into his mid-40s and remains one of the UFC’s most difficult to beat welterweight talents. By contrast, Brown’s game is full of gaps and points where, even in the midst of success, he seems precariously close to collapse. But, given that Trinaldo’s not a great finisher, not very high output, aging in a division that really isn’t kind to that sort of longevity, and has a massive size and reach and speed disadvantage here, it just feels like the deck is far to stacked against him. Brown may often get in bad spots, but unlike Jai Herbert or Danny Roberts, he’s often proven himself very capable of battling back and staying dangerous throughout his bouts. Randy Brown via TKO, round 3.
Staff picking Brown: Bissell, Kristen, Zane, Stephie, Dayne, Anton
Staff picking Trinaldo: Victor
Raoni Barcelos vs. Trevin Jones
Tim Bissell: Barcelos has an above average .714 w%, thanks to his impressive start to his UFC career and that will mean he gets the pick here. The bloom has come off the rose a bit for him, with back to back losses to Timur Valiev and Victory Henry. This is a real make or break fight for him that will tell us whether his early form or current form is best to judge his abilities. Jones has yet to make an impact in the UFC. His debut fight, which was initially a phenomenal TKO win over Valiev, got wiped out for a positive test for marijuana (which was taken off the banned substance list pretty soon afterwards). He’s lost his last two bouts, one of which was to the undefeated, and highly interesting, Javid Basharat. I think this fight has Fight of the Night potential and both men have shown they have enough power and mean intentions to wreck someone’s night. Personally, I think Jones will win, but we’re testing a theory here so let’s see if Barcelos’ past wins mean he will be able to slip Jones’ power punches and land with his own. Raoni Barcelos via TKO.
Zane Simon: This is a real rough matchup for Trevin Jones, who usually finds his way into fights by being the tough, seasoned, and well-rounded veteran against greener, more active competition. Against Barcelos, he’ll meet an opponent who can not only match him for raw physicality, but can match him, and out-work him technically just about everywhere. The best shot Jones has will be in the fact that Barcelos loves to push forward and create exchanges so he can open up the opportunities to ransition between wrestling and striking. As he does so, he tends to get hit a lot, clean on the counter. That’s a great chance for Jones, who has the power to get KOs, but Barcelos has, so far, been unbreakably tough to put away. Raoni Barcelos via decision.
Staff picking Barcelos: Bissell, Kristen, Zane, Stephie, Victor, Dayne, Anton
Staff picking Jones:
Sodiq Yusuff vs. Don Shainis
Tim Bissell: This should have been Yusuff vs. Giga Chikadze and I’m a little baffled why that fight wasn’t postponed when Chikadze withdrew. Instead we have newcomer entering the Octagon with an extremely dangerous task on his hands. Shainis’ past wins aren’t much to shout about. In 2022 he beat Cody Pfister and Jay Ellis (who has a record of 16-104). Everyone has a puncher’s chance, but this match-making feels, at best, strange and, at worst, irresponsible. The only blemish for Yusuff in the UFC was a decision loss to Arnold Allen last year. He holds notable wins over Alex Caceres, Andre Fili and Gabriel Benitez. Sodiq Yusuff via TKO.
Zane Simon: I love Shainis’ motor and I love his wrestling game, and willingness to throw in the pocket with power. But even as a former lightweight, I can’t help feeling that he’s giving up too much size in the UFC to be much of a force at 145. Especially on short notice against someone like Yusuff, who is both incredibly difficult to hold down on the mat, and has great power trading in the pocket as well. Could easily see Shainis putting a scare into Yusuff early in round 1, but if Yusuff survives that and starts firing back, I think ‘Shameless’ is gonna run out of options in a hurry. Sodiq Yusuff via KO, round 2.
Staff picking Yusuff: Bissell, Kristen, Zane, Stephie, Dayne, Anton
Staff picking Shainis:
John Castaneda vs. Daniel Santos
Tim Bissell: The algorithm doesn’t have much data to go on here. It’s selecting the 2-1 Casaneda over the 0-1 Santos. Casaneda’s wins over Miles Johns (sub) and Eddie Wineland (TKO)were both super impressive and you can forgive him for losing a decision to Nathaniel Wood. Santos, who had a so-so career on in promotions like Brave and Akhmat, was given the tricky Julio Arce in his debut. He failed to make any impression in that bout and was totally outclassed by a pretty middling UFC bantamweight. John Castaneda via submission.
Zane Simon: Castaneda feels like the obvious pick here, to some degree. He’s the more flexible, more technical fighter between the two. Both men are capable of putting together a high paced battle of attrition when their opponent doesn’t have a major skill advantage over them standing, but as we’ve seen in the UFC, both can also fall way behind if their opponent can really outclass them as well. The question for me, however, is can Castaneda actually outclass Santos? Or will he just go to war with him? My guess is the latter. Castaneda is slicker, but not by a huge margain. And if opponents bring a tough fight to him, he’ll usually stand in and try to keep the battle going. Given that Santos is the more willing and natural pressure fighter, I think that just might favor him here. It’s a bit of a risk, but I’ll take Daniel Santos via decision.
Staff picking Castaneda: Bissell, Kristen, Stephie, Dayne, Anton
Staff picking Santos: Zane
Mike Davis vs. Viacheslav Borshchev
Tim Bissell: There’s not a tonne of UFC experience in this match-up. Borschev’s 2-1 record beats Davis’ 2-2 so he gets picked by the algorithm here. Last time out Davis handed a loss to the previously undefeated Mason Jones. Borshchev came up short against Marc Diakiese last time out, losing a decision. In his previous UFC appearances he looked impressive, scoring a liver punch KO over Dakota Bush and a picture-perfect counter left hook KO over Chris Duncan. Those clinical hands could spell an early shower for Davis. Viacheslav Borshchev via KO.
Zane Simon: Should be an absolute banger. Both men like to box, first and foremost. Davis is more willing to throw kicks, which could come up huge against the front-leg-heavy Borshchev. And he’s more willing to wrestle, which we’ve also seen his opponent struggle with. However, he’s also the fighter more prone to getting uncomfortable and to gassing. Davis carries his power well late into bouts, but the relentlessness with which he tries to land huge shots seems to leave him feeling taxed and forced to carefully pick his spots pretty early in the fight. And while he’s willing to wrestle, he’s not a very good top control threat. I’m not sure that takedowns won’t leave him more tired than Borshchev here. Eventually, Borshchev is the much more fluid, confident boxer in the pocket, and if these two are going to trade a lot on the feet, I have more faith in how that will serve him as the fight goes on. Viacheslav Borshchev via TKO, round 3.
Staff picking Davis: Kristen, Zane, Stephie, Dayne, Anton
Staff picking Borschchev: Bissell
Aleksei Oleinik vs. Ilir Latifi
Tim Bissell: This is a bizarre, although somehow inevitable feeling, match-up. These two have the thinnest margin of w% differential of any match-up I’ve ran the numbers on thus far, with just 0.089 separating them. Latifi gets the nod because of that slight difference. Latifi has gone 1-1 since moving up to heavyweight; he got a split decision win over Tanner Boser last time out. He’s never been submitted, despite fighting a few folks known to be good in that area. None of them have the specialization that Oleinik has, though. This will be Oleinik’s 78th pro bout. He’s won 60 of those and 48 of those wins have come by submission. In his last fight he pulled off a scarf hold on Jared Vanderaa. That snapped a three fight losing skid for the Russian. If Latifi does win this one, I think it will be thanks to his energy advantage and knowing enough wrestling to stay out of harm’s way for 15 minutes. Ilir Latifi via decision.
Zane Simon: Latifi’s heavyweight move doesn’t really seem like it’s been any kind of great decision for him. Most of what he’s looked like at 265 is a man that doesn’t want to have to deal with the potential power that his opponents can bring back at him in the cage. That said, he’s never been submitted and I don’t even think he’s got enough of a neck to choke if Oleinik gets himself the opportunity to try. Latifi isn’t actually way younger here, but he seems to have way more cardio and conditioning left in the tank to grind out a win. Ilir Latifi by decision.
Staff picking Oleinik: Kristen
Staff picking Latifi: Bissell, Zane, Stephie (I am also putting this as Mookie’s default pick forever), Victor, Dayne, Anton
Joaquim Silva vs. Jesse Ronson
Tim Bissell: Silva is the only fighter here with a winning record in the UFC, though it’s marginal. Ronson has yet to get his hand raised after 5 Octagon appearances. Joaquim Silva via decision
Zane Simon: Realistically, someone here is probably getting knocked out. I have a soft spot for Ronson, so I’ll pick him, despite the fact that he’s the much stiffer striker. He’s got some surprisingly tricky hand trap/parry counters and has a way of surprising people. Joaquim Silva is more the fighter that’s doing great right up until he eats that one shot that puts him away. Jesse Ronson via KO, round 2.
Staff picking Silva: Bissell, Anton
Staff picking Ronson: Kristen, Zane, Stephie, Dayne
Brendan Allen vs. Krzysztof Jotko
Tim Bissell: Brendan Allen has been extremely active in the UFC since debuting on the Contender Series in 2019. He’s appeared for the company on 10 occasions now and only lost to the accomplished Chris Curtis and Sean Strickland. After a torrid spell where he lost three in a row (including two TKO losses) former contender Krzysztof Jotko has been able to get back in the win column. He’s 5-1 since that losing streak with wins over Gerald Meerschaert and Misha Cirkunov. Allen is pretty far ahead in w% in this match-up, with a very good .800 compared to Jotko’s .688. Jotko does have a better w% when you factor in their whole careers, though. Brendan Allen via submission
Zane Simon: There’s a very very real chance that Krzysztof Jotko just rides Brendan Allen to a win. Hell, Jacob Malkoun almost did it and he’s only 5’ 9”. But, if Jotko’s late career fights have been typified by anything, it’s an increasingly cautious approach to MMA. He has the potential to hit slick takedowns and rack up control time, but there seems less likelihood than ever that he’ll get a lot else done with that. It’s also notable that when Sean Strickland put Jotko on the back foot with consistent pressure boxing, that wrestling game vanished. Allen isn’t as good a defensive wrestler as Strickland, but he is aggressive. If he can get Jotko in a position where he can’t take good shots, the wrestling may not matter. It’s also worth noting that wrestling Allen has rarely been the way to beat him. He’s dangerous and active at all times. Jotko isn’t. Brendan Allen by decision.
Staff picking Allen: Bissell, Kristen, Zane, Stephie, Dayne
Staff picking Jotko: Anton
Maxim Grishin vs. Philipe Lins
Tim Bissell: The journeyman Grishin is 2-2 in the UFC. Lins, a millionaire thanks to the PFL, is 1-2 in the UFC. Maxim Grishin via decision
Zane Simon: I’ll take a flyer on Lins here just to have more output that Grishin, who plays one of the slowest paced, least exciting games in the heavyweight division right now. Philipe Lins via decision.
Staff picking Grishin: Bissell, Kristen, Stephie, Dayne, Anton
Staff picking Lins: Zane
Julija Stoliarenko vs. Chelsea Chandler
Tim Bissell: Brutal submission artist Stoliarenko 1-4 UFC record gets the nod over Chandler’s 0-0 (even though Chandler’s an exciting prospect in the division, who looked well above her competition in Invicta). Julija Stoliarenko via submission.
Zane Simon: There’s no fight out there that Stoliarenko can’t lose. If she doesn’t get the sub, she’ll very likely pull guard all the way to a loss here. But Chandler is exceptionally green and seems very likely to just fall right into an armbar. Julija Stoliarenko via armbar, round 1.
Staff picking Stoliarenko: Bissell, Zane, Stephie, Dayne, Anton
Staff picking Chandler: Kristen
Randy Costa vs. Guido Cannetti
Tim Bissell: Neither Costa or Cannetti have a winning record in their UFC careers. Costa is coming off back-to-back TKO losses (to Adrian Yanez and Tony Kelley). Cannetti beat Kris Moutinho by TKO last time out to stop a three fight losing skid. Costa has the marginally better w% in both UFC fights and total MMA fights. Randy Costa by TKO.
Zane Simon: Both men throw with lots of power and lots of variety, and both are entirely capable of self destructing even in the midst of their own success. Randy Costa is a whole lot younger though, so I’ll pick him to ride out the absolute war that this first round will be and have something left in the tank to finish the fight in round 2. Randy Costa via TKO.
Staff picking Costa: Bissell, Zane, Stephie, Dayne, Anton
Staff picking Cannetti: Kristen
Leader board (as of Sept 3):
Kristen won the week with an impressive 11-2 record, helped by the fact she was the only staff member to pick Damon Jackson over Pat Sabatini. That is enough to push her to the top of the leader-board and replacing Zane who went 7-6.
1. Kristen 30-6 .833
2. Zane 28-10 .737
3. Dayne 24-14 .632
4. Bissell 22-16 .579
5. Stephie 20-18 .526
6. Anton 13-12 .520
7. Victor 4-5 .444
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