Author: E. Spencer Kyte

UFC Chile: Drunk Predictions

UFC Chile: Drunk Predictions

Last weekend was a nice (and needed) return to form – a 9-4 mark over 13 fights in Rio de Janeiro to help bring my yearly percentage closer to where I want it to be overall.

There is still a long way to go, but I feel like I’m building a little momentum and doing the background work to keep this thing moving along in the right direction.

So let’s keep things moving.

Here are my picks.

These are the UFC Chile: Punch Drunk Predictions.

Demian Maia vs. Kamaru Usman

Maia is one of my all-time favourite fighters, but just like his last two bouts, this is a nightmare matchup for the grappling wizard. Usman is a better version of Colby Covington – he’s more powerful, more athletic and more focused – and I think this turns into a lopsided fight pretty quickly.

The Brazilian is dangerous whenever he gets his hands on you, but Usman should be able to dictate the terms of engagement and put Maia in spots where his offensive options are limited. Look for a steady diet of takedowns and rugged ground-and-pound that brings this one to a close inside the distance.

Prediction: Kamaru Usman

Alexa Grasso vs. Tatiana Suarez

I’ve gone on the record with my beliefs that Suarez has championship potential myriad times, so I’m obviously rolling with her here.

Grasso has been good, but not great since coming over from Invicta and while I like her boxing skills and general toughness, I think she can be too passive at times and that should create opportunities for Suarez to get inside, get a takedown and maul her on the canvas.

The only real uncertainty to me here is whether she’ll get the finish or not and I’m leaning towards no, just because I think Grasso will do a good job to shell up and play defense whenever Suarez starts unloading and looking for submissions.

Prediction: Tatiana Suarez

Jared Cannonier vs. Dominick Reyes

This is the most intriguing fight in the main card to me because while Cannonier is headed to middleweight after this one, he can still crack and for as good as Reyes has looked, he hasn’t really been tested yet in his career.

The only time Cannonier has been finished in his career was against Shawn Jordan back in his UFC debut, so I’m not sure Reyes is going to be able to get him with one shot here like he has pretty well everyone else. I know he subbed Jeremy Kimball last time out, but it started with some thunder, which is his way in to everything else he wants to do in the cage.

My head says Cannonier because he’s more seasoned and still carries some pop, but my heart says Reyes because he’s look so damn good and the division needs a relatively young newcomer to start making moves and he could very much be that dude.

I’m going to go with Cannonier, but I’m fully aware that this could end up looking like a really bad pick.

Prediction: Jared Cannonier

Diego Rivas vs. Guido Cannetti

This is a hometown showcase for Rivas, the lone Chilean competing on the main card, and while it’s not a complete squash match, he should be able to get the job done.

I honestly think you can throw out his last performance as he was returning after a lengthy layoff and a battle with testicular cancer, so the fact that he was even in the cage was a victory in and of itself.

While he’s far from a complete fighters or a finished product, Rivas does have enough power and striking acumen to get the job done here against his fellow TUF Latin America alum.

Prediction: Diego Rivas

Veronica Macedo vs. Andrea Lee

There are lots of people who envision Lee as an instant contender and some kind of breakthrough signing for the UFC, but I’ve never been in that camp. She’s had some success, sure, and collected a few nice finishes, however she lost to the two veteran talents she’s faced and still needs to answer some questions for me before I’m ready to christen her a contender.

Macedo was fighting way over her head at bantamweight and has never beaten anyone of great substance, so I don’t think she’s going to come in and expose all kinds of holes in Lee’s game, but this should be a more suitable matchup for her and a chance for “KGB” to start convincing me that she’s for real.

Ultimately, I think Lee gets the win – she’s bigger, more experienced and more technical – but I’m not as high on her prospects as everyone else.

Prediction: Andrea Lee

Vicente Luque vs. Chad Laprise

This is a terrific fight between welterweights on the fringes of contention and the winner should move into the Top 15. Laprise has looked great since returning to the division and is unbeaten in his career when competing at 170 pounds, while Luque is 5-1 in his last six and has tremendous finishing instincts.

For me, it’s that one loss in Luque’s recent run that is instructive here. Leon Edwards was able to initiate the grappling and use his wrestling to neutralize Luque’s weapons and I think Laprise should be able to do the same here.

He’ll need to be careful coming in to avoid a stinging left hand or leaving his neck exposed, but if he can put Luque on his back, the Canadian should be able to keep his winning streak intact.

Prediction: Chad Laprise

Preliminary Card Picks

Zak Cummings def. Michel Prazeres
Alexandre Pantoja def. Brandon Moreno
Poliana Botelho def. Syuri Kondo
Gabriel Benitez def. Humberto Bandenay
Enrique Barzola def. Brandon Davis
Frankie Saenz def. Henry Briones
Felipe Silva def. Claudio Puelles

2018 Prediction Record: 87-63-0 (.580)

UFC 224: Punch Drunk Predictions

UFC 224: Punch Drunk Predictions

Let’s be honest: I’ve been slacking with my prediction columns lately and I think it has contributed to me doing relatively poorly in terms of my actual selections.

I know that sounds unlikely to some, but slacking on the column means I’m not focusing as much on the matchups and not focusing as much on the matchups means I’m not putting as much energy and attention into making picks as I usually would and that explains (in part, at least) why my success rate has been in a steady decline all year.

But it’s time to change all that and while I know it can’t happen in a single event, there are three events over the next three weeks and I want to try to get as close to the 60% success rate by the time this stretch is over as possible.

Welcome to the comeback.

These are the UFC 224 Punch Drunk Predictions.

Amanda Nunes vs. Raquel Pennington

Nunes gets the opportunity to compete in her home country for the first time in three years and looks to become the first Brazilian to earn a championship victory at home since Jose Aldo successfully defended his title against Chad Mendes at UFC 179, while Pennington aims to continue the trend of titles changing hands in Brazil.

Unfortunately, Pennington is entering this contest off an 18-month hiatus after undergoing shoulder surgery following her breakout victory over Miesha Tate at UFC 205 and a career-threatening ATV accident after that and it’s hard to overlook the potential impact that time on the shelf could have in this fight.

While I don’t question her preparedness, there is just such a profound difference between getting in rounds at the gym and going live against someone like Nunes and although I think Pennington could be able to shake off the rust as the fight goes on, the champion also has a penchant for finishing early, so she might not get that opportunity.

Although Nunes showed greater patience and a more measured approach in her last bout against Valentina Shevchenko, a return to her attacking ways seems obvious here. Pennington has always been hittable (but tough to finish) and blitzing her while she’s still getting loose makes a lot more sense than allowing her to find a rhythm and start looking for counters.

My feeling is that Nunes presses forward with low kicks and sharp punches early and gets the finish before the end of the fight hits the championship rounds.

Prediction: Amanda Nunes

Jacare Souza vs. Kelvin Gastelum

As someone who believed Gastelum had championship potential following his time on The Ultimate Fighter, his career to this point has been mildly disappointing. He’s had some good wins, but his weight struggles at welterweight sucked and I’m not sure he’s got enough advantages at middleweight to be a real contender, which relegates him – for now – to being a guy who lives in the 6-10 range in the Top 10.

That’s really good in the grand scheme of things, but not good enough, in my opinion, to beat someone as skilled and proven as Souza.

It often feels like we forget how good Jacare is. I did it heading into his fight with Derek Brunson and I think lots of people are doing it here, but the guy has only lost five times in his career and outside of his debut loss to Jorge Patino – who was already 25-fights deep into his career – the 38-year-old has only been beaten by absolute studs.

This might be the point where Gastelum takes that next step forward, but for me, the more likely scenario has Souza taking this fight to the floor and finishing there, much like Chris Weidman did againt him two fights back.

Prediction: Jacare Souza

Mackenzie Dern vs. Amanda Cooper

I just don’t buy the whole “all of Cooper’s losses have come by submission and Dern is a submission specialist so Dern is obviously going to maul her” logic many are espousing heading into this fight.

The facts are correct – Cooper’s three losses have all been by submission and Dern is one of the most decorated jiu jitsu players to transition to the Octagon – but Aspen Ladd, Tatiana Suarez and Cynthia Calvillo are all better athletes and more polished than Dern is at this point and Cooper has continued to improve as well.

I could end up looking ridiculous by picking Cooper here, but I wasn’t particularly impressed with Dern’s performance against Ashley Yoder and think Cooper will have opportunities to piece her up on the feet and unless Dern’s wrestling has improved by leaps and bounds in the last two months, she should be able to maintain distance and avoid her takedown attempts as well.

I didn’t like this meeting for Dern when it was first announced and nothing has made me change my mind on it since. If anything, the fact that Dern missed weight by a ridiculous seven pounds only further reinforces my conviction in picking Cooper, who was happy to take the fight regardless and seems pretty damn fired up about making a statement here.

Prediction: Amanda Cooper

John Lineker vs. Brian Kelleher

I love Kelleher’s moxie and he’s been largely impressive since arriving in the UFC, but this just feels like a bridge too far for the Oceanside, New York native.

Lineker is a powerhouse with an iron chin and better defensive skills than he gets credit for, mostly because he tends always be on the offensive, and while I think Kelleher will be able to connect with some good shots and this will be a fun fight, I see “Hands of Stone” hurting him on the feet before clamping onto a guillotine or rear-naked choke to get the finish.

Prediction: John Lineker

Vitor Belfort vs. Lyoto Machida

I was always going to pick Machida, even though he didn’t look great against Eryk Anders because this is Belfort’s last fight and he looked washed several fights ago. Then Vitor went and turned up to Media Day wearing his bathrobe from the hotel and made this a slam dunk selection for me.

I get wanting to be comfortable and good for you for giving zero fucks on your last few days at work, but Belfort has checked out and Machida will finish him early.

Prediction: Lyoto Machida

Preliminary Card Picks

Karl Roberson def. Cezar Ferreira
Oleksiy Oliynyk def. Junior Albini
Davi Ramos def. Nick Hein
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos def. Sean Strickland
Warlley Alves def. Sultan Aliev
Jack Hermansson ded. Thales Leites
Alberto Mina def. Ramazan Emeev
Markus Perez def. James Bochnovic

2018 Prediction Record: 78-59-0 (.569)

UFC on FOX: Poirier vs. Gaethje Punch Drunk Predictions

UFC on FOX: Poirier vs. Gaethje Punch Drunk Predictions

I’ve got family in town and have been running around for the entire 36 hours they’ve been here. The next 8 days of my life are planned down to the minute. There is little time for idle chatter, so here we go.

These are the UFC on FOX: Poirier vs. Gaethje Punch Drunk Predictions.

Dustin Poirier vs. Justin Gaethje

The big question for me in this one is “can Poirier win a big fight” and I’m still leaning towards no. He’s been a fringe contender for the last couple years across two divisions, but whenever that key fight that could carry him into the championship mix comes up, Poirier falters or something happens that causes the fight to get ruled a No Contest.

Additionally, Gaethje is the kind of guy that is going to draw Poirier away from his game plan and lure him into a brawl and that favours Gaethje, who has shown a greater ability to take punishment and return heavy fire.

I have a feeling this one doesn’t make it out of the first round, but it should be an absolute smoke show for as long as it lasts.

Prediction: Justin Gaethje

Carlos Condit vs. Alex Oliveira

Oliveira is gritty and dangerous and capable of hanging in a knock-down, drag-out scrap, but I think Condit will get back into the win column here.

As long as the former interim welterweight champion is firing on all cylinders – or at least 85% of his cylinders – he should be able to push the pace and put hands on the Brazilian “Cowboy,” who tends to trust his chin and his hands more than he tries to avoid punches and escape bad situations. Condit still has a diverse arsenal and a ton of experience, so after flubbing his comeback late last year against Neil Magny, I expect “The Natural Born Killer” to earn a victory in this one.

Prediction: Carlos Condit

Israel Adesanya vs. Marvin Vettori

I’m very tempted to pick the upset because Rob Wilkinson got Adesanya down three times and I think Vettori has a much better top game than the Australian veteran. That being said, Adesanya defended 12 more takedown attempts and was able to piece up “Razor Rob” en route to stopping him in the second and Vettori has a bad habit of stopping punches with his face.

I do think this will be a much closer fight than most seem to be envisioning – not because I’m don’t think Adesanya is a quality prospect, but because I think Vettori is much better than everyone is giving him credit for heading into this one. I truly believe we’ll learn a lot more about both athletes here and whoever ends up coming away with the win should established himself as the top prospect in the middleweight division.

Prediction: Israel Adesanya

Michelle Waterson vs. Cortney Casey

Unless Casey comes out looking to engage in a staring match like she did against Felice Herrig, I think she’s got the more active, more potent game and will end up handing Waterson her third straight loss.

Tecia Torres was able to find success in the grappling department opposite Waterson last time out and I believe Casey is a bigger, stronger athlete than Torres and boasts superior chops on the ground. Remember, she quickly tapped Randa Markos and has spent this camp working exclusively with the crew at The MMA Lab, so don’t be surprised if she looks her best in this one.

Prediction: Cortney Casey

Preliminary Card Predictions

Antonio Carlos Junior def. Tim Boetsch
Muslim Salikhov def. Ricky Rainey
Wilson Reis def. John Moraga
Krzysztof Jotko def. Brad Tavares

Gilbert Burns def. Dan Moret
Lauren Mueller def. Shana Dobson
Yushin Okami def. Dhiego Lima
Arjan Bhullar def. Adam Wieczorek
Matthew Lopez def. Alejandro Perez
Luke Sanders def. Patrick Williams

2018 Predictions Record: 64-48-0 (.571)

UFC 223: Punch Drunk Predictions

UFC 223: Punch Drunk Predictions

Here’s how you know it has been a really exhausting couple days in the MMA world:

I’m an absolute lunatic for this sport and I’m completely wiped out. I’m sure I’ll be excited to tune in on Saturday evening, but right now, at 2:30pm PT on Friday afternoon, everything that has transpired in Brooklyn and the general chaos surrounding this event over the past several days has me shaking my head and looking forward to taking my dog for a long walk somewhere where my phone can’t connect to the Internet and far, far away from my computer so that if anything else ridiculous happens, I won’t have to hear about it.

But I do want to keep this series intact, so here are my quick picks for tomorrow night.

These are the UFC 223 Punch Drunk Predictions.

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Al Iaquinta

Honestly, if Khabib doesn’t straight up maul Iaquinta, I’ll be surprised. And I’m not talking beat him in the manner that he beat Edson Barboza either – I’m thinking more like what he did to Michael Johnson where he’s telling him to quit before forcing him to tap.

Iaquinta’s tough, but he’s fought once in three years and that was against the ghost of Diego Sanchez. Do you really think he’s rolling into the Octagon on Saturday night and handing Khabib his first professional loss? Naw son; not happening.

Prediction: Khabib Nurmagomedov

Rose Namajunas vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk

I feel really bad that this fight has been lost amidst the chaos that overtook this card because it’s a terrific matchup and I think it has the potential to be a wildly entertaining fight.

Given that she had zero issues with her weight cut this time, I’m siding with Jedrzejczyk. I picked her in the first fight and while Namajunas looked outstanding in that one, I don’t know that she can replicate it here and with the former champion appearing to have taken her focus to another level, I think the belt goes back to Jedrzejczyk and we end up with a trilogy fight later this year.

Prediction: Joanna Jedrzejczyk

Renato Moicano vs. Calvin Kattar

Kattar has impressed me in his wins over Andre Fili and Shane Burgos, but I have Moicano winning this one by the slimmest of margins in a bout that earns Fight of the Night honours.

The Brazilian’s only loss to date came against Brian Ortega in a fight he was winning until Ortega did what Ortega does and finished things in the third. As much as Kattar has the ability to flurry and finish like he did against Burgos in Boston earlier this year, I just see Moicano having success from range, avoiding too many extended exchanges in the pocket and pulling this one out on the cards.

Prediction: Renato Moicano

Zabit Magomedsharipov vs. Kyle Bochniak

Zabit shines and wins this one inside the distance; simple as that.

Prediction: Zabit Magomedsharipov

Joe Lauzon vs. Chris Gruetzemacher

There are many reasons to pick against Lauzon – he’s lost two in a row, three of four, four of six and didn’t look particularly good in many of those contests – but I think this is one of those fights where the veteran guy just finds a way to get the job done.

These are the kinds of fights where veteran savvy can go a long way and while Lauzon likes to be active and put himself at risk in order to deliver an entertaining fight, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a real grappling-heavy approach from the long-time lightweight standout in this one.

Prediction: Joe Lauzon

Preliminary Card Picks

Karolina Kowalkiewicz def. Felice Herrig
Ashlee Evans-Smith def. Bec Rawlings
Evan Dunham def. Olivier Aubin-Mercier
Mike Rodriguez def. Devin Clark

2018 Prediction Record: 59-44-0 (.573)

UFC London: Punch Drunk Predictions

UFC London: Punch Drunk Predictions

Since I’m starting to include main card predictions in my What’s at Stake? column with Sporting News prior to every event, this series is basically just going to become a republishing of those picks for record-keeping purposes and the sake of continuity.

I know that might sound lazy to some – and it probably is – but if my thoughts on these matchups are already out there, why not just replicate them here rather than running through everything a second time?

So here they are.

These are the UFC London: Punch Drunk Predictions.

Fabricio Werdum vs. Alexander Volkov

As much as I want to see Volkov emerge as a new name to potentially challenge for the heavyweight title – or at least feature in pairings with other established, tenured veterans – I need to see him beat someone of this caliber before I’m comfortable picking him to beat someone of this caliber. Werdum is slowing down, but he’s still a tremendous talent.
Pick: Werdum
 
Jimi Manuwa vs. Jan Blachowicz
Manuwa won the first time around, but I feel like Blachowicz has made some solid adjustments of late and will fight a more tactical, effective fight this time. Plus, he lost to Manuwa in Poland, so it’s only fitting that he beat “Poster Boy” in London to return the favor.
Pick: Blachowicz
 
Tom Duquesnoy vs. Terrion Ware
Duquesnoy didn’t look great last time out and is returning to European soil. This is a showcase opportunity and a classic “get right” fight for “Fire Kid” and he should roll.
Pick: Duquesnoy
 
Leon Edwards vs. Peter Sobotta
The German is savvy and has enjoyed a nice little run of success during his second run in the UFC, but Edwards is the more athletic, more dynamic fighter of the two. He’s faced and beaten better competition and while he’ll have to be careful if and when they hit the canvas, he should be able to outwork Sobotta on the feet and pick up his fifth straight win.
Pick: Edwards
 
Preliminary Card Picks
John Phillips def. Charles Byrd
Oliver Enkamp def. Danny Roberts
Hakeem Dawodu def. Danny Henry
Magomed Ankalaev def. Paul Craig
Kajan Johnson def. Stevie Ray
Dmitriy Sosnovskiy def. Mark Godbeer
Nad Narimani def. Nasrat Haqparast
2018 Prediction Record: 59-38-0 (.591)
UFC 222: Cyborg vs. Kunitskaya Punch Drunk Predictions

UFC 222: Cyborg vs. Kunitskaya Punch Drunk Predictions

How’s this for a take: this card is better now than it was before Max Holloway fell out.

Listen – I love “Blessed” and that isn’t a commentary on his skills, but his original opponent, Frankie Edgar, remained on the card in a terrific fight with Brian Ortega that serves as the co-main event and adding Cris Cyborg defending her title against Yana Kunitskaya is an intriguing main event.
As for how things shake out, let’s get to it.

Cris Cyborg vs. Yana Kunitskaya

I don’t think this is as “Yana’s gonna get murdered!” as most people.

She’s a well-rounded fighter with good size and had a full training camp for this date, even if the change to Cyborg only came a couple weeks ago. Plus, she trains at Jackson-Wink and was part of Holly Holm’s camp for her UFC 219 tilt with the featherweight titleholder, so she’s got coaches and teammates with some experience against Cyborg to lean on.

I still think she’s going to lose, but I don’t think she’s going to just get completely mauled.

I’m really interested in seeing how Cyborg looks jumping back into the cage this quickly because it’s going one of two ways: she’s either going to look great and start fighting more frequently – which her coach Jason Parillo has always wanted – or she’s going to look a little off and go back to fighting every four-to-six months. How she’s feeling will likely have an impact on how she approaches this fight as well.

My feeling is that she’s probably perfectly fine hustling back into the cage like this, so I envision a patient, measured performance similar to what Cyborg showed against Tonya Evinger – walk her down, touch her up and then swarm in the third when the damage starts adding up.

Prediction: Cris Cyborg

Frankie Edgar vs. Brian Ortega

Brian Ortega is an outstanding talent that has matriculated his way up the rankings, finishing literally everyone that has stood opposite him in the Octagon. He just turned 27, continues to improve and will remain a championship contender for the next several years.

But he’s losing here.

Look – Ortega is ultra-talented, but he’s facing a goddamn legend in Frankie Edgar and while I think he’ll do better than Yair Rodriguez did opposite “The Answer” at UFC 211, this one really feels like one of those “how does he beat him?” fights for Ortega.

He might be able to catch Edgar with something unexpected, but Frankie has never been finished and I just don’t see the path for him beyond that. He’s not out-striking the former lightweight champion and he’s not out-wrestling him either.

Ortega needs a finish, while Edgar can just out-hustle him for 15 minutes and win on the cards, which is how I see this playing out.

Prediction: Frankie Edgar

Sean O’Malley vs. Andre Soukhamthath

O’Malley is getting a little push here, with a main card assignment in his second UFC appearance, and I’m just not sure he’s going to be able to make good on it.

He has talent, but it’s not “jump off the page, this kid is insane” talent. He rallied to beat Terrion Ware in his debut – winning the first, dropping the second and digging deep to get the third – but if you’re rallying to beat Terrion Ware in your debut, I’m not sure you’re an elite prospect and a guy that should be getting an early push.

So yeah, I’m picking Soukhamthath here. He’s more experienced, he’s got the ability to finish in multiple ways and he has zero pressure on his shoulders heading into this one.

O’Malley likes to fight with his hands down and I think the 29-year-old Rhode Island resident makes him pay.

Prediction: Andre Soukhamthath

Stefan Struve vs. Andrei Arlovski

I’m not going to put a lot of time into this one because honestly, I think whoever lands the first clean shot is going to get their hand raised and neither guy is really in the mix at heavyweight.

As much as Arlovski is only one fight removed from a prolonged losing streak, I still think he’s going to win here because Struve still gets hit way too much for a guy that should be able to keep pretty well everyone on the end of his jab and I just don’t think the gigantic Dutchman has been that locked in on his fighting career since coming back from his heart issues.

It’s understandable, but it’s also a recipe for disaster in the cage.

Arlovski lights him up early to get a second straight win.

Prediction: Andrei Arlovski

Cat Zingano vs. Ketlen Vieira

This is the most intriguing fight on the main card to me because Zingano hasn’t fought in 18 months, but has the talent to be a force in this division, while Vieira just keeps getting better and better each time out.

I kind of want to side with the more active fighter and not roll the dice on an athlete looking to bounce back from a host of serious personal issues over the last several years, but I also remember watching Zingano roar back against Miesha Tate and Amanda Nunes.

If she’s right – and she said she’s right and fired up when we spoke earlier this week – Zingano will get the job done and put herself right back in the mix for the bantamweight title.

Prediction: Cat Zingano

Preliminary Card Predictions

Mackenzie Dern def. Ashley Yoder
Beneil Dariush def. Alexander Hernandez
John Dodson def. Pedro Munhoz
C.B. Dollaway def. Hector Lombard
Zak Ottow def. Mike Pyle
Cody Stamann def. Bryan Caraway
Jordan Johnson def. Adam Milstead

2018 Prediction Record: 47-34-0 (.580)

UFC on FOX: Emmett vs. Stephens Punch Drunk Predictions

UFC on FOX: Emmett vs. Stephens Punch Drunk Predictions

So the good news – for me and anyone who chooses to follow my picks for wagering purposes (Hi Patty B!) – is that I went 8-4 with my selections for last weekend’s UFC Fight Night event in Austin, Texas, including posting a 5-1 mark on the main card.

The bad news (for only me) is that hitting at 66.6 percent (repeating) on that show still didn’t pull my yearly win percentage up above the 60 percent threshold, which shows you both (a) how detrimental a couple bad weeks can be and (b) how difficult it’s going to be for me to reach the goal I’ve set for myself of getting 70 percent of my picks right over the course of the year.

But I’m not hedging and I’m not changing my target. The goal remains the same.

Here are my picks for Saturday’s UFC on FOX fight card in Orlando.

These are the Punch Drunk Predictions.

Josh Emmett vs. Jeremy Stephens

I don’t want to discredit what Emmett did last time out when he flattened Ricardo Lamas in Winnipeg. Beating “The Bully” is no easy task and he landed a beautiful counter shot that laid him out stiff; it was a great connection and a very big win for the Team Alpha Male member.

Looking at his past results, that finish feels like a little bit of an anomaly, as Emmett has never been one to just straight up settle fools with walk-off shots like that. He’s more of a grinder who buries you with volume or chokes you out on the ground and his four fights before that – including a loss at lightweight to Desmond Green – all went the distance.

That’s the long way of me saying I need to see it again before I believe Emmett is a guy that is going to roll into the Octagon and sleep guys on a consistent basis.

Additionally, he’s fighting someone who has only been knocked out once (I was there, it was a beautiful shot) and has only been finished four times in his entire career, so the odds aren’t in his favour.

But the biggest factor in me taking Stephens here is that the 31-year-old veteran has found his rhythm and finally harnessed all the raw potential and power that has made him fun to watch throughout his career and turned it into an aggressive, but technical approach inside the cage that has produced his best two-fight stretch to date.

Stephens now uses all of his weapons effectively and dictates the terms of engagement, halting aggressive fighters with leg kicks and crashing home crisp, forceful combinations on guys that want to sit back looking to counter. He’s refined his technique and found an approach that works for him and I think he’ll continue this nice little run he’s on here.

Prediction: Jeremy Stephens

Jessica Andrade vs. Tecia Torres

Torres has been on a nice little run of late, but this is a terrible matchup for her. She is most successful when she can get into point-fighting bouts against fellow volume strikers with minimal power or use her good, but not great grappling to control things along the fence and on the ground.

It’s why I loved her fight with Michelle Waterson – it was tailor-made for Torres to do exactly what she did and felt like an easy pick.

And that’s why Andrade is such an easy pick here.

The compact Brazilian does not care about being hit and is the superior grappler of the two, so Torres is going to have to deal with a powerhouse walking her down and firing blistering combinations at her for 15 minutes.

Now, is it possible that she tries to pick and move and avoids any prolonged exchanges, eking out a victory? Maybe, but I just don’t think she’s going to be able to do enough damage to swing the fight in her favour if that’s the approach she takes.

I expect Andrade to march forward and connect with enough heavy combinations and high amplitude takedowns to win this handily on the scorecards.

Prediction: Jessica Andrade

Ovince Saint Preux vs. Ilir Latifi

I think this fight hinges on which version of Saint Preux shows up on Saturday evening in Orlando. There are times where he is too relaxed, too lackadaisical inside the Octagon and more aggressive opponents are able to put it on him, but when he’s looking to pull the trigger and moving well, OSP can be a handful.

Knowing how hyped he is to be fighting in his home state for the first time in his career, my guess is that he shows up ready to work and if that’s the case, I think he should win this one fairly easily by working on the outside, picking his spots and potentially catching Latifi with something unexpected, like the kick he blasted Corey Anderson with last time out.

Prediction: OSP

Mike Perry vs. Max Griffin

Listen – Griffin is tough and has a little pop in his hands, but this one is all about getting Perry a showcase win at home and setting him up for a bigger, more high profile pairing later this year.

Whether you like him or not, you have to admit that “Platinum” is tough and can crack and I just don’t see Griffin being able to go in there and out-work Perry over 15 minutes. Maybe I’m mistaken and he turns this into a grind, but the more likely scenario to me is these two trading shots and Perry landing something filthy that brings the fight to a sudden halt.

Then he’ll probably say something stupid on live network television.

Prediction: Mike Perry

Preliminary Card Predictions

Brian Kelleher def. Renan Barao
Sara McMann def. Marion Reneau
Angela Hill def. Maryna Moroz
Ben Saunders def. Alan Jouban
Marcin Prachnio def. Sam Alvey
Rani Yahya def. Russell Doane
Eric Shelton def. Alex Perez
Manny Bermudez def. Albert Morales

2018 Prediction Record: 41-28-0 (.594)

UFC Austin Aftermath: It’s All About How You Frame It

UFC Austin Aftermath: It’s All About How You Frame It

Sunday night’s return to the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas produced an entertaining night of action, with twice as many fights ending inside the distance as went to the scorecards and Derrick Lewis and Donald Cerrone closing out the show in memorable fashion.

A couple new arrivals looked outstanding. Two of the four bouts that lasted all three rounds were wildly entertaining. Sage Northcutt and James Vick gave us things to talk about as they both try to scale the lightweight ladder. Lewis did what Lewis does, inside the cage and on the microphone afterwards, while Cerrone halted his three-fight losing streak with a first-round buzzer-beater against Yancy Medeiros, who promptly scaled the fence and shared a wonderful moment with Cowboy’s Grandma at cageside.

This was a solid little card on paper and it managed to exceed expectations, which prompted MMAFighting.com and Yahoo! Sports contributor (and all-around great dude) Dave Doyle to tweet the following:

This was my response:

 

Dave is all the way correct – the pitchforks only come out when we sit through a six-hour slog and even those events that are littered with decisions can get a pass at times because there are one or two outstanding finishes or a couple of intriguing matchups that captured everyone’s interest going in, like at UFC 219.

What’s interesting (probably only to me) is how much the way we frame these events and the athletes competing impacts the way we experience the shows themselves and interpret the results.

This month’s pay-per-view event in Perth, Australia was lambasted going in, but once the smoke cleared, everyone came away talking about Curtis Blaydes’ breakthrough effort against Mark Hunt, the upside of Jake Matthews, Tai Tuivasa and Tyson Pedro and christening Israel Adesanya as the next big thing in the UFC.

Because most had written off the show from the outset, there wasn’t much of time and energy invested into discussing what a win for Blaydes could mean, how Jussier Formiga’s fight with Ben Nguyen was a Top 10 flyweight battle with legit divisional implications or how there was a ton of emerging talent on the card.

All the talk about this event happened retroactively, leaving most people playing catch-up on the key performances that transpired at a show the most prominent voices in the sport didn’t spend much time discussing.

Since Sunday’s card featured popular fighters atop the marquee and a few more familiar names scattered throughout the show, it received more attention in the days leading up to the event, even though there were fewer Top 10 matchups (one) and ranked fighters (six) competing in Austin as there were the week before (three and seven, respectively) in Australia.

But the names were bigger this weekend and watching the fights didn’t cost anything more than you’re already paying for cable and so the anticipation for the show was far greater.

And as Dave said, no one was moaning about there being too many events and too many fights before, during or after this weekend’s event because UFC Fight Night: Cowboy vs. Medeiros delivered.

I believe that we need to get to a place where we’re having more proactive conversations about the impact of various fights, the upside of different competitors and identifying the intriguing elements on every card.

People used to get snarky when I would write my weekly “5 Reasons to Watch” column, especially before some of the televised events that didn’t feature many big names. While there were a couple times where penning the piece was genuinely challenging – I once cited Brian Ebersole’s chest hair as a reason to tune in – for the most part, I can look at any fight card and give you five or more elements that genuinely interest me.

They may not interest casual fans that only parachute in for the biggest events and more recognizable names, but they should be of interest to the most prominent voices in our sport and anyone who identifies him or herself as a fight fan.

The fact that they probably won’t is a problem.

Everyone wants to talk about how the UFC needs to get back to the sporting architecture that rewards winning and makes tracking a fighter’s progression up the divisional ladder easier to follow, but not enough time is committed to charting those journeys and giving attention to those crucial fights happening just beyond the walls of the Top 15. The fight between Alexander Volkanovski and Jeremy Kennedy a couple weeks ago was a great example of this, as was the Formiga-Nguyen scrap I mentioned earlier.

The former was a meeting between two featherweights with a combined 6-0 record in the UFC hoping to break through in division that is really interesting right now, while the latter was a bout between Top 10 competitors in a division that is in dire need of fresh contenders.

Neither got much attention because nothing outside of the main event and how much the card sucked got much attention.

The problem is that now Formiga is a win away from challenging for the title and Volkanovski is probably going to face someone established next time out and everyone will be wondering who this guy is that came out of nowhere and is fighting Myles Jury or Darren Elkins.

Nobody comes out of nowhere; it’s just a matter of putting in the time to familiarize yourself with the athletes stepping into the cage and paying attention to more than just the most popular names in the sport.

We in the media don’t do that enough, we don’t encourage fans to do it enough and that’s how we end up where we are right now.

Instagram posts and Twitter beefs get you more attention than winning fights and athletes are often judged more on their ability to generate pay-per-view buys or their personalities than they’re performance inside the cage.

Mike Perry gets tons of attention, but Neil Magny can’t get any love, even though he’s got nine more UFC victories than “Platinum,” has fought significantly better competition and has been a fixture in the rankings for three years.

Adesanya shines in his debut against a dude who is likely going to be released now and becomes everyone’s favourite new fighter, but Thiago Santos earns his fourth straight stoppage win – against a game-as-hell Anthony Smith – and it’s crickets.

Demetrious Johnson has won 13 straight fights and successfully defended the flyweight title 11 consecutive times and yet we’re still talking about what more he needs to do to “get over” with fans and become a bigger star.

Dude hit the most ridiculous submission I’ve ever seen last time out and is one of the complete fighters in the history of this sport and everyone still wants more. Winning isn’t enough, neither is being one of the most skilled fighters to ever grace the Octagon, not to mention a great role model and legitimately entertaining interview.

Same goes for heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic, who didn’t say much of anything in the run-up to his fight with Francis Ngannou, but went out there and handled business like a professional, which should be the most important piece, but isn’t.

If that doesn’t change, we’re never going to get to the point where this sport operates more like an actual sport.

Maybe it never will because the pay-per-view model requires folks to be excited to part with their money 13 times a year and simply being the best light heavyweight or bantamweight in the world facing the No. 1 contender doesn’t seem to be enough to make a lot of people open their wallets, but if we start focusing more on the wins and losses and less on the things people say or post on social media, maybe that will change.

Maybe if we took more of a long-range view of things and cared about the progression of divisions and not just individual fighters, we wouldn’t be caught off guard by the likes of Curtis Blaydes and wouldn’t dismiss legitimate talents because they don’t have big personalities or massive fan followings.

Maybe if we stopped complaining about how Josh Emmett is in the main event of a FOX card on Saturday and instead looked at it his bout with Jeremy Stephens as the exciting Top 10 featherweight pairing it is more people would actually be excited about what is a fun main card and quality lineup from top to bottom.

Seriously – we’re getting two Top 10 pairings and a Top 5 fight in the strawweight division, plus a Mike Perry appearance, on a two-hour main card that will wrap up early compared to most events and the thing I’ve heard the most about this card is how Emmett headlining is some kind of catastrophe.

Dude just absolutely starched a Top 5 fixture and former title challenger on FOX two months ago. I know he missed weight, but what are you going to do – stick him in the middle of next weekend’s pay-per-view that everyone is going to moan about because it doesn’t feature enough big names so that his momentum is effectively wasted and his chance to build on that win over Ricardo Lamas happens while fewer people are watching?

Besides, people would whine even more if the women were given the headlining assignment, even though the fight between Jessica Andrade and Tecia Torres should be fire and could very well produce the next title challenger in the strawweight division.

If that doesn’t illustrate that there is a problem with the way we frame things right now, I don’t know what to say.

UFC Austin: Punch Drunk Predictions

UFC Austin: Punch Drunk Predictions

Heading into last weekend’s event in Australia, I said I wanted to bounce back from going 4-7 on the previous fight card in Belem and get back on track towards reaching my goal of getting 70% of my picks correct over the course of the year.

That kind of happened, but also kind of didn’t because while I went 6-6 – which is far better than 4-7 – my winning percentage for the year dropped for the second straight event and now sits below 60% for the 2018 campaign.

Hopefully that changes this weekend.

Here are my picks for Sunday’s fight card in Austin, Texas.

These are the Punch Drunk Predictions.

Donald Cerrone vs. Yancy Medeiros

This one feels slippery because Cerrone and Medeiros enter on veery different streaks, but also have very different reputations and track records, none of which line up right.

Do you go with the perennial contender who has lost three straight to a trio of Top 10 welterweight talents or the guy who has been an entertaining action fighter who has yet to crack the Top 10 in his career, but has rattled off three straight victories? I’m siding with Cerrone, even though his recent results make me a little nervous about how this one shakes out.

I think he hustled into the Darren Till fight too quickly and didn’t give the kid enough respect; it was a terrible matchup for him and came overseas, which puts Cerrone out of his element and he paid for it dearly in the Octagon. Medeiros, however, is the kind of guy “Cowboy” has made a career of beating – tough customers who aren’t quite elite, but are willing to trade with him in the center of the Octagon.

Cerrone seems to be rejuvenated for this one and unless that is all talk (which it could be), I think he gets the job done here.

Prediction: Donald Cerrone

Derrick Lewis vs. Marcin Tybura

Tybura could very well grind this out over three rounds, but when you’re dealing with a guy like Lewis who can end a fight in an instant, it’s hard not to pick him in a matchup like this.

If this were someone with a little more seasoning, a little more pedigree, I’d be taking them because Lewis has obvious holes in his game and flaws that you can exploit, but I just don’t think Tybura has the ability to do that for 15 minutes while simultaneously avoiding the sledgehammers that are going to be coming his way. Though I expect him to have success pinning Lewis to the fence and perhaps even getting him to the canvas, eventually he’s going to eat one of those cinder blocks Lewis calls fists and the fight will end soon after.

Prediction: Derrick Lewis

James Vick vs. Francisco Trinaldo

There is a risk that Vick rolls into this one too fired up for his own good after lobbying for a Top 10 opponent and a main event assignment for this card and settling for a date with Trinaldo in the middle of the main card, but he’s been on-point as of late and should be able to use his substantial height and reach advantage to get the job done here.

Trinaldo has been great over the last couple years, going 8-1 and turning in a bunch of stellar performances, but Vick brings a little more weaponry to the table in this one. He’s shown how potent his hands can be in striking exchanges and does a great job locking up chokes using his long arms, so while the Brazilian might be able to muscle him around at points if he gets inside, the more likely outcome is Vick picking away from the outside and catching Trinaldo with something stiff as he looks to close the distance.

Prediction: James Vick

Thiago Alves vs. Curtis Millender

Given how good Alves looked against Patrick Cote last April, it’s hard to pick against the tenured welterweight in this matchup with a UFC newcomer.

While that fight was now 10 months ago and Alves is 34, it’s not like Millender is some young kid on a tremendous run who is going to roll into the cage and out-everything him on his way to greatness. The 30-year-old LFA graduate has put together a nice little run of success, but he’s lost to the best competition he’s faced thus far in his career and I don’t think that is something that you can correct this far into things.

Alves is as polished and technical a fighter as their is in the division and he should be able to out-work Millender in every facet to get a second straight win.

Prediction: Thiago Alves

Steve Peterson vs. Brandon Davis

Honestly, I’m not sure why this fight is on the main card other than not wanting to shuffle the prelim lineup.

Davis faltered in his Octagon debut last month in Boston, coming up short against Kyle Bochniak, but if he can get back to being a more active fighter now that he’s gotten rid of the Octagon jitters, he should be able to have his way with Peterson, a regional vet who has yet to win the kind of pivotal bout that really helps him stand out in the crowd.

Prediction: Brandon Davis

Sage Northcutt vs. Thibault Gouti

This is a showcase opportunity for Northcutt and it should be fairly one-sided.

Gouti avoided going 0-4 in the UFC last time out with a first-round knockout win over Andrew Holbrook and Northcutt will need to avoid getting caught with something similar, but the 21-year-old Texan should be able to get this fight on the ground and finish it there, either with strikes or a rear naked choke.

Prediction: Sage Northcutt

Preliminary Card Predictions

Jared Gordon def. Carlos Diego Ferreira
Geoff Neal def. Brian Camozzi
Joby Sanchez def. Roberto Sanchez
Sarah Moras def. Lucie Pudilova
Alex Morono def. Josh Burkman
Oskar Piechota def. Tim Williams

2018 Prediction Record: 33-24-0 (.579)

UFC 221: Romero vs. Rockhold Punch Drunk Predictions

UFC 221: Romero vs. Rockhold Punch Drunk Predictions

So I started off the year strong and have stumbled since, culminating in a 4-7 mark last weekend in Belem.

Gross.

It’s time to reverse that trend and start putting up some quality numbers in this series.

Let’s get it.

Yoel Romero vs. Luke Rockhold – for the UFC interim middleweight title, at least for Rockhold

I thought Rockhold was going to win this fight from the day it was announced. I became more convinced of it as I started prepping for this event and checking out some of the things both guys had to say, especially how focused and confident Rockhold seems to be this time around. My opinions were cemented when Romero missed weight yesterday, turning this into one of those weird fights where only one half of the tandem can earn the title.

Romero is a tremendous athlete and it’s insane that he’s still an elite talent at his advanced age, but I think Rockhold thrashes him here. In fact, I think Rockhold rolls through this one and cements his standing as the best middleweight in the world later this year when he fights to unify the middleweight titles against Robert Whittaker later this year.

Prediction: Luke Rockhold

Mark Hunt vs. Curtis Blaydes

There is very real possibility that Hunt connects with one of those Samoan sledgehammers he calls fists and ends this one in traditional Mark Hunt fashion. That being said, I think we see Blaydes pull off the upset and collect the biggest win of his career.

Hunt’s takedown defense is very good, but is it good enough to deny Blaydes over and over and over again? I’m going to say no. I think we see Blaydes get in on takedowns and deploy the same approach Stipe Miocic did when he fought Hunt a couple years back (and Francis Ngannou a couple weeks ago). His transitions and entries have gotten better as he’s continued working with the crew at Elevation in Denver and I believe he has the potential to be a player in the heavyweight ranks down the line.

Tai Tuivasa vs. Cyril Asker

“Bam Bam” is going to bulldoze Asker here; that’s what is supposed to happen and what is most likely going to happen.

The former Rugby League player turned Mark Hunt protege has blistering power and is more athletic and nimble than he looks and that should lead to a one-sided mauling. Asker is a solid grappler and far more experienced, but this is set up for Tuivasa to shine and he should do it with style and ease.

Prediction: Tai Tuivasa

Jake Matthews vs. Li Jingliang

A couple years back, I thought Matthews was an elite prospect who would blossom into a contender by this point.

I was wrong.

“The Celtic Kid” has kind of stalled out and while the more to welterweight produced a victory last time out, Matthews hasn’t taken the next step forward in his development as of yet and that makes for a rough pairing with Jingliang here. While Matthews has faltered (or at the very least flattened out), Jingliang has continued to improve, adding powerful striking to the smothering grappling style he came into the organization with nearly four years ago.

“The Leech” has won four straight, three by stoppage, and I think he extends that run here, probably by an early stoppage.

Prediction: Li Jingliang

Tyson Pedro vs. Saparbek Safarov

Pedro is another one of those guys that I’m high on, which could be the kiss of death given my recent results.

He’s a 26-year-old light heavyweight with a bunch of raw potential who is coming off his first career loss to Ilir Latifi, a sturdy, seasoned veteran. It wasn’t anything too grizzly and should serve as a massive learning experience for the Australian upstart, who earned first-round stoppage victories in each of his first two UFC appearances. Unless he gets clipped and finished, I think this will be an excellent bounce-back performance and another positive step forward in a division that is always in need of fresh, young names to track.

Prediction: Tyson Pedro

Preliminary Card Predictions

Dong Hyun Kim def. Damien Brown
Israel Adesanya def. Rob Wilkinson
Jeremey Kennedy def. Alexander Volkanovski
Ben Nguyen def. Jussier Formiga
Mizuto Hirota def. Ross Pearson
Jose Alberto Quinonez def. Teruto Ishihara
Daichi Abe def. Luke Jumeau
2018 Predictions Record: 27-18-0 (.600)