UFC 292 goes live from Boston tonight. The card, which is very good, is headlined by the UFC’s least favourite champion Aljamain Sterling. He will be seeking to defend his belt against company man Sean O’Malley. The co-main event is going under the radar, but Zhang Weili and Amanda Lemos could put on a heck of a show.
As always, we’ve done our damnedest to pick winners on this card and not embarrass ourselves. And this week that looks like most of us siding with Aljo and believing we’ll hear ‘And still!’ after the main event at UFC 292 and then see Dana White grimacing as he puts the belt around Sterling (fun!).
In the UFC 292 co-main, we mostly think Zhang will defend her built against Lemos after a fun fight. Scroll down to see the rest of our picks. And don’t forget to share yours in the comments!
UFC 292 picks and predictions
Aljamain Sterling vs. Sean O’Malley
Anton Tabuena: Technically, O’Malley should have a sizable striking advantage at UFC 292, but Sterling is awkward and unconventional enough that it’ll probably take a few rounds to read at the very least. Even if Sterling fails on his first couple of takedown attempts, I think that’s more than enough time for him to take advantage of a massive grappling edge and backpack his way to victory. Aljamain Sterling by submission.
Dayne: I don’t think there is anyone who will disagree that O’Malley is the UFC’s golden boy. I understand the golden boy doesn’t always fulfill the wishes of the organization. Darren Till is a fantastic example of that. But the UFC is stacking the deck against Sterling in every way they can at UFC 292.
Sterling is correct in that the UFC did O’Malley a favor in granting him plenty of time to prep for Sterling. They did O’Malley an even bigger favor in requiring Sterling to turnaround from fighting Henry Cejudo in less than four months. Knowing how much Sterling has been talking about how difficult the cut down to 135 is, a quick turnaround can’t be easy for the longtime champion.
Plus, Sterling is 34. That makes him the oldest reigning bantamweight champion in UFC history. Sterling also has one foot out the bantamweight door. I get that it isn’t retirement, but he has no intention of attempting to regain his belt should he lose it. Maybe that lights a fire under him to leave on his own terms, but being ready to move on does create questions.
While Sterling is no doubt the superior ground fighter, there also shouldn’t be any debate that O’Malley is the superior striker… and fights begin standing. Sterling is effective at scoring points on the feet using his length, but he’s shorter in both height and reach to O’Malley. He’s going to have a difficult time navigating O’Malley.
And while O’Malley’s persona has him coming across as a bit of a dumb ass, he’s very intelligent. He prepares for his opponents and doesn’t have to worry about Sterling’s power given it’s nonexistent. He does have to worry about what happens when the fight hits the mat, but his speed and reflexes should make all the difference in the world. O’Malley via TKO of RD3
Chris: UFC 292 sees Aljamain Sterling at the peak of his powers, having finally gone head to head with an uncompromised opponent for five rounds. Well I guess he did that in the Yan rematch, but MMA fan memories are something even goldfish scoff at. O’Malley is just a total wild card, I scanned his wiki page and there is nothing about his record that indicates he should win this fight until we consider his fight with Petr Yan.
The kid showed a level of grit that I found truly admirable. However it was a three round fight, and I don’t know if his body and gas tank can make it through five rounds of hell. Also the coin flip says Aljo.
Zane: UFC 292 will be the first time in Aljamain Sterling’s UFC career that he’s ever been at a reach disadvantage inside the Octagon. That honestly has me just a little worried, since Sterling’s striking depends a lot on his command of distance and has a lot more ‘funk’ than form to it. However, O’Malley has also been terribly insulated against grappling in his UFC career so far.
Were it not for his victory over Yan, Raulin Paiva would be the best fighter the MMA Lab fighter has ever beat. Yan did not have a particularly large amount of trouble taking O’Malley down. Assuming Sterling doesn’t get terribly discombobulated by O’Malley’s range tools, I gotta take Aljamain Sterling by submission, round 2.
Tim: I think Sterling has been playing possum a little bit with concerns over his health, the quick turnaround, fighting against his will, etc. I think he’s trying to take some pressure off himself and try and make O’Malley over confident at UFC 292. I have no doubts Sterling will show up ready to go with a gameplan that will stifle what O’Malley does best, strike from range.
O’Malley is leagues ahead of Sterling when it comes to striking, but so have some of Sterling’s previous challengers. You simply can’t hit what isn’t there and Sterling is going to be very hard for O’Malley to tag with his lanky strikes, which the champ will see coming. After Sterling has figured out the timing of the strikes, each of them is going to be an opportunity to duck under, get inside and make things uncomfortable for O’Malley (and I don’t think he likes it when things get uncomfortable).
I don’t think this is going to be a fun fight. I think Sterling is going to stink it up and dominate O’Malley without either man taking much damage. Aljamain Sterling by decision.
Victor: Look, I don’t have much to add of any substance here, but I do fully expect Sean O’Malley to look pretty great at UFC 292. In fact, better than most people are expecting him to. And I also expect Longo and company to deconstruct what O’Malley does best and exploiting his weaknesses.
It may very well come down more to control on the ground, with Aljo backpacking him like he did Yan and giving him tons of lumps to soak up clock time. Aljo carries a good amount of mass on his frame, and making Sean carry that weight by leaning heavy and making him work extra to escape bottom position can tax O’Malley’s cardio, too. Aljamain Sterling by submission, round 3.
Eddie: Go check out my interview with Sean O’Malley!
Staff picking Sterling: Chris, Kristen, Zane, Stephie, Lucas, Jack, Anton, Tim, Victor
Staff picking O’Malley: Dayne, Eddie
Zhang Weili vs. Amanda Lemos
Anton Tabuena: I think Zhang is more skilled technically everywhere, and is the better athlete too. Lemos punches hard and is always dangerous, but Weili is just flat out better, more diverse and has far more avenues to victory at UFC 292. Weili Zhang by submission.
Dayne: I get it. Zhang is the superior fighter in most avenues of this fight. She’s a better wrestler. She’s got a better gas tank. She’s a more technical striker. I’d guess she’s a superior grappler too given Lemos fell victim to a standing arm triangle choke. If Lemos doesn’t get an early finish, Zhang is almost assuredly going to walk out of UFC 292 still the champion.
Despite all that, I’m going with Lemos to upset the apple cart. Zhang has some of the worst defense of any reigning champion. Sure, the only one who has blasted her was Rose Namajunas in their first contest, but she tends to eat more than her share of strikes at the hands of her opponents.
The only opponent she has faced who rivalled the power of Lemos is Jessica Andrade and Zhang was fortunate enough to dispose of her in less than a minute. Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s strikes stung more than thudded. Lemos’ punches thud. I’d give her two rounds to find a clean punch on Zhang. I say she can do it, continuing the revolving door that is the strawweight title. Lemos via TKO of RD1
Chris: This damn coin is say Lemos? Jeez, I don’t know how to sell you on this. Zhang is at her peak, she mauled Carla Esparza to recapture the title, demolished Joanna Champion to end their rivalry, and she’s even younger than Lemos. I guess the UFC 292 co-main is going to be a chess match until Lemos lands a bomb.
Zane: Lemos certainly has the power to ruin Zhang’s day, but it feels an awful lot like a fight where she’ll need to get the KO or have little chance of winning. Lemos just doesn’t fight at an elite MMA pace. If Zhang can take her down and/or just get her scrambling I think she can wear Lemos out enough that this fight might end up getting really one-sided late. Zhang Weili via TKO, round 4.
Tim: I think this is a really close fight and it could be a really fun one to watch. Zhang can’t have a boring fight and Lemos looked sensational last time out. I think both women are going to get hit, a lot, at UFC 292. And if that happens, I think Lemos has more ways to win than Zhang. She has more power in her hands and better submissions, so if Zhang gets wobbled, I like her chances of finishing her off. Amanda Lemos via TKO
Victor: Zhang has that crisp striking an underappreciated wrestling game, and she’s got farm strength to shuck opponents off of her. Lemos has a sneaky submission game and some great body kicks and setups with feints for her other strikes. I see Zhang having more versatility in her game and better counterstriking and volume combinations, that should get her the win at UFC 292. Zhang Weili by TKO.
Staff picking Zhang: Kristen, Zane, Stephie, Lucas, Jack, Anton, Victor
Staff picking Lemos: Dayne, Chris, Tim, Eddie
Neil Magny vs. Ian Machado Garry
Dayne: Magny’s last three wins have been underwhelming. He arguably lost to Max Griffin and Phil Rowe and was likely on his way to losing a decision to Daniel Rodriguez before pulling it out late. That isn’t even mentioning how one-sided his losses are. Garry looked like a world beater in his latest contest against the same Rodriguez who gave Magny troubles.
I get MMA math doesn’t work like that, but this is a crossroads fight in every sense of the word. Magny doesn’t have the power to make Garry pay a heavy price whereas Garry’s confidence continues to grow. Garry via TKO of RD3
Chris: Magny is the Mendoza Line for contenders to the crown, and Ian Garry looks like the real deal. I’m sure the veteran has a more than healthy chance to turn this prospect into a pretzel, but if history is a bellwether then we’re going to be listening to an extremely cringy post-fight interview at UFC 292.
Zane: This fight looks like all bad news for Neil Magny at UFC 292. Garry may have his defensive flaws against strikers that can crowd him, but he’s been putting a lot of work to iron that out lately. More than anything, when he gets to move forward, he’s been excellent at maintaining his preferred range. He never crowds his work, never falls forward on strikes.
As such, he’s probably going to give very few clinch opportunities away to Magny easily. If that’s the case, given Magny’s lack of power standing, it’s hard not to see a pretty dominant performance in Garry’s future. Ian Machado Garry via KO, round 1.
Tim: Garry’s great and he’s talked himself up into one of the main characters of UFC 292. But he’s never faced someone like Magny and Magny is yet to show a steep decline in his ability to do what wins him fights. I think there’s a chance Garry has put too much pressure on himself here and he might struggle against a carefree Magny who will be light on his feet and heavy in the clinch.
I think Garry still has a very bright future, but I just see a loss to Magny being one of those moments we look back on as being an important lesson for him. Neil Magny via decision
Victor: Magny is unreliable and I hate picking fights he’s in. He’s also been great at spoiling younger prospects and making the fight uglier than Sam Cassell. I rock with my Haitian brethren and I got nothing to lose here at UFC 292. Neil Magny by decision.
Staff picking Magny: Tim, Victor
Staff picking Machado Garry: Dayne, Chris, Kristen, Stephie, Zane, Lucas, Jack, Anton, Eddie
Mario Bautista vs. Da’Mon Blackshear
Dayne: All the credit in the world to Blackshear for stepping in on short notice. Granted, I don’t see where he has anything to lose as I’m sure he has made himself a favorite of Uncle Dana by stepping up just days after securing a twister victory. But he’s not going to bully Bautista on the ground the way he did Jose Johnson.
That isn’t just because Blackshear is cutting weight again in a hurry; I’d say that if he had a full camp behind him without cutting weight again. Blackshear’s frame might give Bautista some problems, but I struggle to see him fighting at full strength. Bautista via submission of RD2
Zane: Like this fight, like both these men’s games. Bautista has been absolutely on fire lately with a highly aggressive 3 pronged attack. He’s punching in the pocket with venom. He’s hitting takedowns with authority, and he’s transitioning into tight submission attempts.
Blackshear has looked great lately too, adding a touch of striking to his high energy scramble style. Blackshear is probably a bit faster than Bautista, so he might have an edge if he can get in on shots first. But Bautista has been so calculated with his aggression and I’ve seen Blackshear give up the first move too often in bouts. If Bautista can get his momentum flowing I think he’ll be too hard to beat. Mario Bautista via decision.
Eddie: Da’Mon Blackshear by submission
Staff picking Bautista: Dayne, Chris, Kristen, Stephie, Zane, Lucas, Jack, Anton, Tim, Victor
Staff picking Blackshear: Eddie
Marlon Vera vs. Pedro Munhoz
Dayne: Provided the version of Vera we saw in the cage with Cory Sandhagen doesn’t show up, I feel confident he’ll emerge ahead of Munhoz. Munhoz is probably the more technical boxer and is certainly the superior grappler, but he’s also the lesser athlete with inferior range. Most damning, Munhoz’s defense is lacking and he has a tendency to get hurt throughout his fights. His iron chin tends to ensure he doesn’t get finished, but he’s also on the verge of his 37th birthday and chins don’t last forever.
Even if the version of Vera that shows up is the one we saw against Sandhagen, I’m not sure Munhoz has the dynamism to keep Vera on his heels. Plus, Vera is probably more difficult to put away than Munhoz. All that said, it should still be one of the more entertaining contests on the card. Vera via decision
Chris: Six months ago it would have been a lock for me to pick Chito Vera to brutalize Pedro Munhoz. I’ve been all in on Vera’s fights ever since his barn burner with Song Yadong, and Munhoz looked to have crossed some kind of point-of-no-return after knocking out Cody Garbrandt in 2019 mustering a solitary win against a quartet of losses. After watching Vera stall out versus Cory Sandhagen and Munhoz get his groove back versus Chris Gutierrez… the coin says it’s time for a sea change.
Zane: There was a time when this fight might have felt like a very tough, competitive booking. When Munhoz was making his name as a relentless pressure fighter with a devastating submission attack. But that’s been less and less the kind of fight the Brazilian has delivered lately. More often now, he looks to instil fear with his power and then hang back for a more patient approach. If that’s the fight he has with Vera, ‘Chito’ will almost certainly carve him up for it. Marlon Vera via TKO, round 3.
Tim: Munhoz is one of these fighters who could beat all of his division in straight grappling, but–for whatever reason–wants to just bang with guys. I think that would be a horrible mistake here. If he goes toe to toe with Chito, he’s going out in round two here at UFC 292. Marlon Vera via KO
Victor: Chito just has that reach, volume and clever ways to draw guys out to punish them while they’re out of position. Munhoz is a veteran with a lot of savvy that can very well see what Marlon does well but also seems to run out of options on the feet. Marlon Vera by decision.
Staff picking Vera: Dayne, Kristen, Stephie, Zane, Lucas, Jack, Anton, Tim, Victor, Eddie
Staff picking Munhoz: Chris
Chris Weidman vs. Brad Tavares
Anton: Weidman is 39, and has been badly T/KO’d in six of his last eight fights dating back to 2015. Even if he wasn’t coming back from such a devastating leg break, it’d still be very hard to pick him in 2023, here at UFC 292. I guess I’m just glad he isn’t being fed to some random young killer. Brad Tavares by TKO.
Dayne: I hate this fight. …
To read the rest of our UFC 292 staff picks head on over to Substack. Now that Bloody Elbow is a fully independent site the best way to support us, so that we can continue fearless coverage of combat sports, is to pick up a paid subscription. Paid subscribers help fund other exclusive content like editorials from Karim Zidan and Jonathan Snowden and investigations by John S. Nash.
Dayne, Eddie, Anton and Zane all scored 9-4 records last time out, so there is no change at the top (or anywhere else) in our standings. Steph had the high score last week with 10-3 (sharing honours with our community). Maybe she’ll have an off week for UFC 292 and I can start gaining on her in sixth place!
|Position||Staffer||Correct||Incorrect||Total Picks||%||Picks Back||Week 26 Record|
|1 (-)||Dayne 🇺🇸||202||136||338||0.598||9-4|
|2 (-)||Eddie 🏴☠️||201||137||338||0.595||1||9-4|
|3 (-)||Anton 🇵🇭||200||138||338||0.592||2||9-4|
|4 (-)||Zane 🇺🇸||197||141||338||0.583||5||9-4|
|5 (-)||Kristen 🇺🇸||193||145||338||0.571||9||8-5|
|6 (-)||Stephie 🇺🇸||191||134||325||0.588||11||10-3|
|7 (-)||Tim 🇨🇦||183||155||338||0.541||19||9-4|
|8 (-)||Lucas 🇧🇷||181||145||326||0.555||21||8-5|
|9 (-)||Chris 🇺🇸||157||169||326||0.482||45||8-5|
|10 (-)||BE Community 🌎||138||135||273||0.505||64||10-3|
|11 (-)||Victor 🇺🇸||126||112||238||0.529||76||6-7|
|12 (-)||Jack 🇨🇦||121||96||217||0.558||81||7-6|
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