Fantasy Fights

Intelligent, unique MMA analysis

Some quick thoughts…

I didn’t watch UFC 177 tonight. This doesn’t mean I’m not a fan of the UFC, it just means that there’s only so much I’m willing to pay 45 dollars to watch. A lot of people have said the fights were great. I don’t doubt it – just like I don’t doubt that sometimes Cage Warriors or Legacy FC puts on a great show. Ultimately, I don’t think there’s a correlation between the ranking of the fighters on a UFC event and how good that card will be from an entertainment standpoint. I would never tell somebody to not watch a UFC event – I just felt that this card fell short of the standard I’m looking for. This is coming from somebody who bought UFC 147 (Rich Franklin vs. Wanderlei Silva, Fabricio Werdum vs. Mike Russow, and a bunch of TUF Brazil fighters).

From watching some highlights and looking at Fight Metric stats, here are some quick thoughts:

-The highlights made it look like T.J. Dillashaw and Joe Soto had a back and forth fight. I didn’t expect Soto to make it to the fifth round or land 62 significant strikes, so props to him for that. I have nothing but respect for Soto. However… Dillashaw landed 151 significant strikes and two takedowns, and finished by knockout at 2:20 of the fifth round. What’s kind of spooky is that in Dillashaw’s last fight, against Renan Barao: 140-64 significant strikes and a knockout at 2:26 of the fifth round. Almost identical numbers, except Joe Soto isn’t anywhere near as good as Barao. I think.

-Tony Ferguson and Danny Castillo each landed 23 significant strikes, but Ferguson landed 71 total strikes to Castillo’s 30. I think Fight Metric could come up with a better distinction than to call some strikes “significant” and others “not significant.” Cain Velasquez landed 29 significant strikes in three rounds against Cheick Kongo at UFC 99… but don’t tell me the other 232 “not significant” strikes Velasquez landed simply didn’t matter. I’m starting to wonder if including these “not significant” strikes could help my statistical methods and FPR.

-If the statistics are any indication, then one call I got right: Shayna Baszler is just not a good striker, period. Bethe Correia was 68-8 in significant strikes, including 42-4 at distance. I also credit Correia, whose fundamentals looked on point to me when I watched her fights on tape. She’s a good fighter in the UFC women’s bantamweight division. Not anywhere near ready to be competitive against Ronda Rousey, but I don’t think there’s a woman alive who is (except for MAYBE Cyborg).

-Ramsey Nijem gets knocked out again. Nobody should be surprised by this. Nijem would have the worst chin in the UFC if it wasn’t for the existence of Charlie Brenneman and Jared Hamman. The real story here: Carlos Diego Ferreira might be the real deal as a top prospect at lightweight.

-Derek Brunson may not have put on the most exciting fight, but if he can fight third rounds without being gassed out, then I’m going to start hyping him again. I was on his bandwagon until his cardio completely failed him against Yoel Romero, but he looked fine in the third round against Lorenz Larkin. I’m not back on the bandwagon yet, but I’m walking alongside it…

-So much for Cain Carrizosa beating Chris Wade. I’m starting to think that if two fighters are making their debut, one of them is a wrestler, and the other isn’t: just pick the wrestler. Wade looked really bad on tape, getting hit hard repeatedly in a WSOF match against Ozzy Dugulubgov. However, we’ve all seen wrestlers develop their skills very quickly. Wrestling itself can take a fighter a long way as well. Never in a million years would I have thought Colton Smith would win TUF 16… but then he did, with little more than wrestling prowess.

If you did watch UFC 177 tonight, I’m glad you saw an entertaining show. Here’s hoping I never skip a UFC event again.

UFC 177 EMERGENCY PREDICTION: T.J. DILLASHAW VS. JOE SOTO

Here it is, a prediction piece I never thought I would have to write. Renan Barao is out of UFC 177 due to – from what I’ve heard – passing out while attempting to make weight. Not wanting to cancel the card on such short notice, the UFC has now promoted none other than Joe Soto to take on T.J. Dillashaw for the UFC bantamweight championship.

I would have personally preferred to see Anthony Birchak get this impromptu title shot, but it doesn’t matter much either way. UFC 177 is now a completely ruined fight card, so far short of the standard to be worth $45 or more that it’s comical. I feel bad for Dillashaw, a truly great fighter who is now in a no-win situation. He’s going to fight the relatively unknown Joe Soto in the main event of a show that almost nobody is going to watch (at least, not legally) in a situation where everybody will expect him to win, and win emphatically. I wanted Dillashaw to cement his place as the clear best bantamweight in the world. That’s not happening against Soto, a fighter I picked to lose to Birchak.

So how does Soto win this fight? Know going in that Dillashaw is an outstanding wrestler with excellent offensive striking. He’s good at creating angles and mixing up his strikes, he can keep his opponent off-balance with his dual threat of strikes and takedowns, and his submission game is very good too. Dillashaw can do it all.

Let’s focus instead on Soto’s strengths and weaknesses. Soto’s biggest strength is his submission game. His record includes a win by gogoplata to go along with wins by various forms of choke. Soto also has decent takedowns, but his striking is very ordinary. He throws strikes at a slow pace.

I’ll be very surprised if Soto can land a takedown on Dillashaw, and beyond shocked if Soto finds a way to submit Dillashaw. The reality is that Dillashaw is the far better wrestler and should easily be able to avoid being caught in guillotine chokes or things of that nature. Soto’s best chance of winning is to just go crazy… “swing for the fences” and try to win by knockout. He’s not really competitive against Dillashaw.

As for Barao, I think the Nova Uniao team should strongly consider taking every one of their current fighters and having them move up a weight class. All of them. Nova Uniao has had far too many problems with fighters cutting weight in the past. It’s better for the long-term health of Barao, Jose Aldo, and everybody else competing there to not have to cut so much weight.

If this doesn’t force the UFC to re-evaluate their current business model of putting on so many fight cards, then nothing will. There have been times in the past where a main event was ruined, only for the pay per view to still be viable because the co-main event was still a draw. This is not one of those times – the talent in the UFC is spread too thin. I’m not watching UFC 177 tomorrow. There are better things to do on a Saturday night. And it’s a shame, because Dillashaw deserves better.

Pick: T.J. Dillashaw by KO

UFC 177 Predictions Summary

The news just broke that Henry Cejudo vs. Scott Jorgensen is off due to Cejudo having weight cutting problems. Not good for a guy who already had questions about his work ethic coming in. It’s a shame because that was one of the fights I was most looking forward to.

Here are my picks for the remaining nine fights:

  • T.J. Dillashaw over Renan Barao
  • Tony Ferguson over Danny Castillo
  • Bethe Correia over Shayna Baszler
  • Carlos Diego Ferreira over Ramsey Nijem
  • Yancy Medeiros over Damon Jackson
  • Lorenz Larkin over Derek Brunson
  • Anthony Hamilton over Ruan Potts
  • Anthony Birchak over Joe Soto
  • Cain Carrizosa over Chris Wade

PICKS TO DATE

Last Events: 13-8 (61.9%)

Year To Date: 212-114 (65.0%)

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so clueless leading into a UFC event about who will win. Most of the fights are near coin flips and some feature fighters with not very much footage to break down online. Especially for fights like Medeiros-Jackson and Carrizosa-Wade… I’m really not doing much more than making an educated guess.

Obviously this is a very poor offering for a pay per view. The UFC Fight Night card a week from today is a stronger lineup. I don’t know what the UFC is thinking here but I can’t imagine this show doing even as well as UFC 174 earlier this year. I’m all for T.J. Dillashaw vs. Renan Barao (even if I don’t see the need for a rematch so soon) but Ferguson-Castillo is really stretching the boundaries of what a co-main event on pay per view can be, and the other fights on the main card would normally be on the prelims.

 

DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER

Last Events: $0.00

Current Bankroll: $81.40

Total Investment: $250.22

Total Return: $31.40

Return on Investment: 12.5%

Last time, things were looking bleak as losses on Dong Hyun Kim, Cung Le, and Mike Pyle left me with just one bet remaining. That bet was Rafael Dos Anjos, a 4-1 underdog against Benson Henderson. Fortunately, Dos Anjos came through with a first round knockout, wiping out my losses and leaving me with a profit of… zero dollars and zero cents.

For this event I have…

Ramsey Nijem +175: $3.00 to win $5.25 – I think Nijem wins if his fight against Carlos Diego Ferreira goes the distance. What scares me is that Nijem is one of the guys whose overall statistics are very strong but underachieves too often. Nijem should have never lost by guillotine choke to James Vick, but he did. Even so, Ferreira has a grand total of one win in the UFC (against Colton Smith, who clearly doesn’t belong in the promotion). His pre-UFC fight record was very strong, but has he really proven he deserves to be solidly favored against Nijem? I don’t think so.

That’s the only bet I have this time around. I was hoping Dillashaw would be the underdog again in the rematch against Barao but it didn’t happen. Lorenz Larkin at slight plus money is interesting but I have too much respect for Derek Brunson to put a bet down.

Mandatory disclaimer: I am NOT a betting professional and I do NOT recommend you follow my plays in any serious way. I’m doing this for fun and as an experiment, not a livelihood. If you make any bets, you do so at your own risk.

Best of luck and enjoy the fights!

UFC 177 Predicton: Renan Barao vs. T.J. Dillashaw

When T.J. Dillashaw was set to challenge Renan Barao for the UFC bantamweight championship in May, I was more enthusiastic about Dillashaw’s chances of winning than most. I put a bet on Dillashaw as a huge underdog and I wrote a post about how Dillashaw was more deserving of his title opportunity than he was getting credit for. I was buying Dillashaw as a betting value… but not buying him as having a great chance of actually defeating Barao. It’s crazy to think – I was far more enthusiastic about Dillashaw than most people and even I thought he had maybe a 25 to 30 percent chance of winning the fight. Then Dillashaw not only pulled off the upset… he made Barao look bad in the process.

If the betting lines for the Dillashaw-Barao rematch were set based solely on their last fight, Dillashaw would be at least a -400 favorite. Unlike Chris Weidman’s win over Anderson Silva at UFC 162, there was no way anybody could call Dillashaw’s win a fluke. Dillashaw knocked down and nearly finished Barao in the first round before proceeding to easily out-strike Barao for the next three and a half rounds, finally finishing Barao off in the fifth round. It was a beating so merciless that it left some clowns on Twitter (and I’m not going to name any names, but they know who they are) speculating that Barao may have thrown the fight.

Despite the one-sided beating Dillashaw gave Barao, the betting public seems to still have doubt that Dillashaw is really THAT good. Dillashaw opened as a -140 favorite with Barao as the +100 underdog, and the lines have stayed pretty close to those prices since then. It’s reasonable to think that perhaps Barao had a bad night, or Dillashaw’s first-round knockdown left Barao a dazed and lesser fighter, not the same Barao we’re used to seeing.

There’s something to be said for that idea, but I don’t personally buy it. In his previous fight against Mike Easton, Dillashaw landed 117 significant strikes in three rounds. In four and a half rounds against Barao, Dillashaw landed 140 significant strikes. Dillashaw also had no trouble landing strikes in quick victories over Hugo Viana and Issei Tamura. Only against Raphael Assuncao did Dillashaw not land strikes at a high pace. For his UFC career, Dillashaw has now landed 5.23 significant strikes per minute and absorbed 2.33 for a +2.90 significant strike margin. The point is – it’s not like Dillashaw hasn’t done this before.

I’ve stated on numerous occasions that if Barao has a weakness (and it’s really not a weakness, more of a “non-strength”), it’s his boxing, particularly his defense. Urijah Faber landed 60 significant strikes on Barao in their first fight and Scott Jorgensen landed 73 in three rounds. Sure, it’s quite a leap to go from 60 or 73 to 140, but I also see Dillashaw as a much more talented striker than either Faber or Jorgensen.

If FPR is any indication, the first Dillashaw-Barao fight was not a case of Dillashaw running hot or Barao running cold, but instead a changing of the guard in the bantamweight division. Dillashaw now leads the division with an FPR of +7.22, with Barao in second place at +4.34. That gap is roughly the same as the difference between Barao and 13th-place Francisco Rivera. Dillashaw got there with dominance in all six statistical categories tracked by FPR: significant strikes, knockdowns, takedowns, guard passes, submission attempts, and fight finishes.

So the numbers are pretty overwhelming in suggesting that Dillashaw’s May victory was not a fluke and that he’s on track to beat Barao again. At the same time, let’s not count out Barao here. He still has outstanding takedown defense, very good offensive kickboxing and a slick submission game. I do expect Barao to be more competitive this time around. However, I also think we’ve reached a new era in the bantamweight division – an era where Dillashaw will remain the UFC champion for quite a while.

Pick: T.J. Dillashaw by decision

UFC 177 Prediction: Danny Castillo vs. Tony Ferguson

After winning season 13 of The Ultimate Fighter and following it up with wins over Aaron Riley and Yves Edwards, I found myself pretty excited about Tony Ferguson’s potential. Ferguson looked like a fighter who had clean boxing, solid wrestling, and good finishing ability. I thought Ferguson should have been able to defeat Michael Johnson – but what I saw instead was Johnson out-box Ferguson for three rounds. I left that fight muttering to myself “why did I get hyped up about this guy again?”

Since then, Ferguson had a long layoff before returning to submit Mike Rio and knock out Katsunori Kikuno. My reactions to those fights were – well, Rio just isn’t a good fighter and Kikuno thinks fighting like a zombie is a good thing for some reason. Instead of being hyped about Ferguson like I was before, my inclination was to find reasons why I shouldn’t get hyped up about him. However, FPR is throwing a number at me that I can’t ignore: Tony Ferguson is rated the #11 lightweight in the UFC, right behind T.J. Grant, Nate Diaz, and Jim Miller.

Ferguson’s FPR is now +3.41 on the strength of a good offensive striking game and zero “grappling advances” (takedowns, guard passes, submission attempts) allowed to his six UFC opponents. Meanwhile, he’s finished four of his six fights. His one loss was to a very good striker in Johnson, and Ferguson really only had one bad round in that fight.

Still, I find myself skeptical of FPR’s enthusiasm. Besides Johnson, Ferguson hasn’t fought the strongest opponents the UFC has to offer. Wins against Kikuno, Rio, old Yves Edwards, old Aaron Riley, and Ramsey Nijem don’t exactly prove that Ferguson is better than the Josh Thomsons of the world. I also think Ferguson’s 4-0 finish record was aided by getting opponents like Riley who were particularly ripe to be finished.

So I’m not buying Ferguson as a title contending lightweight – yet. His opponent here is Danny Castillo, a fellow wrestler who has made a career out of beating below-average UFC lightweights and losing to above-average UFC lightweights. Castillo is a well-rounded fighter who thrives when his opponent has a glaring weakness. Castillo couldn’t out-wrestle Charlie Brenneman, but he was able to find Brenneman’s chin and win by knockout. He couldn’t out-strike Tim Means, but he was able to take Means down and grind out a decision. He couldn’t trade submissions with Paul Sass, but he was able to stay out of too much trouble while grinding out another decision.

The problem for Castillo is that Ferguson lacks any obvious weakness. If there is a weakness to Ferguson’s game, it’s that his defensive striking is lackluster, but Ferguson often makes up for that with striking volume of his own. I wouldn’t love Ferguson’s chances against a good volume striker or sprawl and brawl type, but Castillo isn’t really either of those things. He’s more of a wrestler/grinder who can win a striking match if his opponent isn’t great at it.

What’s particularly troubling about Castillo leading into this fight is that, just like some of Ferguson’s past opponents, he has a history of being finished. Castillo has been knocked down four times and caught in a whopping 31 submission attempts in the UFC/WEC. That has led to two losses by knockout and two losses by submission. Castillo simply doesn’t match up well against finishers like Ferguson.

I expect Castillo to be competitive in this fight, landing strikes and perhaps one or two takedowns. However, I also think Ferguson will be able to out-pace Castillo standing, with a pretty decent chance of winning by knockout. Unless Castillo can break through Ferguson’s takedown defense consistently, I see him losing by KO or decision.

Pick: Tony Ferguson by TKO

UFC 177 Prediction: Shayna Baszler vs. Bethe Correia

Bethe Correia is on a mission to defeat the “Four Horsewomen.” In case you’re unaware, the “Four Horsewomen” are Jessamyn Duke, Shayna Baszler, Marina Shafir, and… Ronda Rousey. This would be like taking Chris Weidman, Nick Catone, Andrew Craig, and some wrestler new to MMA, and calling them “The Four Horsemen.” One of these is not like the others…

Regardless, the idea of Correia taking them out one by one is a decent promotional angle, and it helps that Correia has already defeated Duke. Correia won’t be fighting Shafir any time soon; Shafir just got knocked out in 37 seconds by Amanda Bell and now has a professional record of 1-1. She also won’t be fighting Rousey quite yet as she simply hasn’t defeated the top-tier fighter necessary to earn that opportunity. That leaves Baszler, the most experienced of the group and a fighter whose losses in recent years have come to opponents at the very top of women’s MMA – Alexis Davis, Sara McMann, Sarah Kaufman, and Cristiane “Cyborg.”

Baszler will represent a different kind of challenge for Correia than Duke or Julie Kedzie. While Duke and Kedzie both like to keep their fights standing, Baszler gets the job done with submissions – 14 of her 15 career wins have come by submission, including two by twister of all things. Baszler is the type of fighter who will risk losing position to chase submissions. This is a double-edged sword as Baszler has a lot of finishes on her record, but has also been submitted a few times herself, including by Julianna Pena on The Ultimate Fighter.

Despite the risks, Baszler needs to take fights to the ground because her striking is just not very good. Her head is a completely stationary target and her strikes simply are not technically sound. Correia is going to have a decisive advantage as long as this fight is at standing distance.

The question is: how long will that be? After watching tape of Correia’s Jungle Fight match against Erica Paes, I’m inclined to believe that it will at least be a challenge for Baszler to take the fight to the ground. Correia has a good sprawl and doesn’t give up takedowns very easily. However, Paes succeeded in pulling guard on Correia multiple times; Baszler is the type of fighter I could definitely see trying this tactic.

However, in a fight where Baszler almost certainly needs to finish Correia by submission to win, it’s a lot to ask to expect her to pull guard and turn that into a submission hold. Correia did have to fight her way out of a guillotine choke and an armbar against Paes, so the potential is definitely there for Baszler to find a way to force a tap out. I just have a hard time thinking that outcome is likely with a guard pull.

The most likely scenario in this fight is that Correia will mostly shut down Baszler’s attempts to drag the fight to the ground, and will eventually win by decision due to superior striking. At the same time, Correia has shown some vulnerability on the ground and there will probably be windows of opportunity for Baszler to win by stoppage. There is upset potential but Correia is rightfully the favorite to win this fight.

Pick: Bethe Correia by decision

UFC 177 Prediction: Shayna Baszler vs. Bethe Correia

Bethe Correia is on a mission to defeat the “Four Horsewomen.” In case you’re unaware, the “Four Horsewomen” are Jessamyn Duke, Shayna Baszler, Marina Shafir, and… Ronda Rousey. This would be like taking Chris Weidman, Nick Catone, Andrew Craig, and some wrestler new to MMA, and calling them “The Four Horsemen.” One of these is not like the others…

Regardless, the idea of Correia taking them out one by one is a decent promotional angle, and it helps that Correia has already defeated Duke. Correia won’t be fighting Shafir any time soon; Shafir just got knocked out in 37 seconds by Amanda Bell and now has a professional record of 1-1. She also won’t be fighting Rousey quite yet as she simply hasn’t defeated the top-tier fighter necessary to earn that opportunity. That leaves Baszler, the most experienced of the group and a fighter whose losses in recent years have come to opponents at the very top of women’s MMA – Alexis Davis, Sara McMann, Sarah Kaufman, and Cristiane “Cyborg.”

Baszler will represent a different kind of challenge for Correia than Duke or Julie Kedzie. While Duke and Kedzie both like to keep their fights standing, Baszler gets the job done with submissions – 14 of her 15 career wins have come by submission, including two by twister of all things. Baszler is the type of fighter who will risk losing position to chase submissions. This is a double-edged sword as Baszler has a lot of finishes on her record, but has also been submitted a few times herself, including by Julianna Pena on The Ultimate Fighter.

Despite the risks, Baszler needs to take fights to the ground because her striking is just not very good. Her head is a completely stationary target and her strikes simply are not technically sound. Correia is going to have a decisive advantage as long as this fight is at standing distance.

The question is: how long will that be? After watching tape of Correia’s Jungle Fight match against Erica Paes, I’m inclined to believe that it will at least be a challenge for Baszler to take the fight to the ground. Correia has a good sprawl and doesn’t give up takedowns very easily. However, Paes succeeded in pulling guard on Correia multiple times; Baszler is the type of fighter I could definitely see trying this tactic.

However, in a fight where Baszler almost certainly needs to finish Correia by submission to win, it’s a lot to ask to expect her to pull guard and turn that into a submission hold. Correia did have to fight her way out of a guillotine choke and an armbar against Paes, so the potential is definitely there for Baszler to find a way to force a tap out. I just have a hard time thinking that outcome is likely with a guard pull.

The most likely scenario in this fight is that Correia will mostly shut down Baszler’s attempts to drag the fight to the ground, and will eventually win by decision due to superior striking. At the same time, Correia has shown some vulnerability on the ground and there will probably be windows of opportunity for Baszler to win by stoppage. There is upset potential but Correia is rightfully the favorite to win this fight.

Pick: Bethe Correia by decision

UFC 177 Prediction: Carlos Diego Ferreira vs. Ramsey Nijem

Ramsey Nijem is a great example of a fighter I just have a hard time wrapping my head around. He’s a very talented athlete and fighter who has landed more than double the significant strikes of his opponents in the UFC. He is one of the best at landing takedowns in the UFC, with 5.26 takedowns landed per 15 minutes at 57 percent accuracy. When Nijem is on his game, he is borderline dominant.

But there are a couple problems. One is that Nijem has been knocked out cold twice – once by Tony Ferguson and once by Myles Jury. The other is that Nijem has been submitted twice, both times in the first minute of the fight. Nijem is nearly impossible to beat when the fight goes the distance, but he gets finished quickly at a very high rate. I want to say that Nijem is a “sleeper” ready to take the UFC lightweight division by storm, but with his history of just suddenly losing, he’s very hard to trust.

Nijem is now set to face Carlos Diego Ferreira, and it should alarm Nijem that Ferreira was a very quick winner in his UFC debut. He needed just 38 seconds to submit Colton Smith. That win brought Ferreira’s record to an undefeated 10-0, and his pre-UFC record is a very good one as well. That includes winning the Legacy FC lightweight championship with wins over Carlo Prater, Chris Feist, and Jorge Patino.

The best aspect of Ferreira’s game is definitely his submissions – six of his ten wins are by submission. He’s very good at flowing into strong positions quickly and threatening his opponent. Ferreira is a great example of a fighter whose Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills translate well to mixed martial arts. Ferreira also has a strong kicking game and is known to throw a variety of kicks to a variety of targets. That includes techniques like push kicks to the face.

Ferreira’s weaknesses are his boxing and his offensive takedowns. Those weaknesses in particular lead me to believe an upset may be brewing here against Nijem, who should have what it takes to stuff Ferreira’s takedowns and cleanly out-box him. However, for each point I can think of in Nijem’s favor, I can think of a counter-point for Ferreira:

-Nijem is the superior wrestler but has lost by fast submission twice and most of Ferreira’s wins are by submission. Ferreira doesn’t necessarily have to land a takedown to win by submission.

-Ferreira has yet to win a fight by knockout… but Nijem’s chin is among the worst in the UFC lightweight division.

-Ferreira struggles to land takedowns… but Nijem has only defended two out of six takedowns in the UFC.

If the fight goes the distance, I think Nijem wins. He’s the superior striker and the superior wrestler. The question is: how often does the fight go the distance? In other words, how often does Ferreira take Nijem’s back in a scramble and choke him out, or take Nijem down and advance position from there, or just knock him out?

It’s a very tricky fight to call, but with Ferreira’s status as the betting favorite and Nijem’s history of being finished, I think picking Ferreira is the way to go. As for degenerate gambling, I’m still contemplating whether taking a risk on Nijem at +180 is worth it.

Pick: Carlos Diego Ferreira by submission

UFC 177 Prediction: Damon Jackson vs. Yancy Medeiros

I’ve been very intrigued by the potential of Yancy Medeiros since he entered the UFC. My interest stems from being very impressed watching Medeiros live at Strikeforce a few years ago, along with Medeiros having a strong pre-UFC fight record. I went so far as to pick Medeiros to beat Jim Miller in his last fight – not the sharpest pick I’ve ever made on this blog. Now FPR is telling me in no uncertain terms that I need to shift my thinking on Medeiros – that he’s just not as good as I want to believe.

So far in the UFC, Medeiros has knocked out Yves Edwards (an accomplishment that would have been far more impressive ten years ago), got his thumb jammed by Rustam Khabilov, and got submitted by Miller. In Medeiros’s defense, Khabilov and Miller are both very tough opponents, but he doesn’t have much to show for his UFC run so far. His FPR entering this fight is -1.85, which puts Medeiros on par with Mitch Clarke and Jesse Ronson in the lightweight division.

His opponent this time is Damon Jackson, a fighter who took this fight on very short notice after an injury forced Justin Edwards out. Jackson’s nickname is “The Leech,” which is a pretty good description of his fighting style. He likes to clinch with his opponent, drag them to the ground, and hunt for submission holds while giving his opponent no room to breathe, strike, or do much of anything. Jackson enters the UFC with seven wins by submission in nine fights.

It’s a fighting style that probably wouldn’t work if Jackson didn’t have a background as an All-American collegiate wrestler. Despite being a relatively tall featherweight, Jackson has had a lot of success dragging his opponents to the ground quickly. It will be a challenge for Medeiros to keep Jackson off of him – in all likelihood, Medeiros will have to grapple with Jackson somehow, even if that means spending a lot of time defending takedown attempts from the clinch.

Medeiros is a good striker so I have to assume he’ll have the advantage as long as the fight is at distance. I didn’t see much of Jackson’s striking, but the little I saw didn’t look too great. The question is: can Medeiros shut down Jackson’s takedown attempts, or will Jackson succeed in getting Medeiros to the ground?

The answer is… I have no idea. I simply have no idea. My guess – and it’s really just an educated guess – is that Medeiros will make takedowns difficult. Jackson is a featherweight fighting up a weight class on short notice, while Medeiros is a former middleweight who showed good balance in his brief fight against Khabilov. I hope for Medeiros’s sake that is the case, because if it’s not, he’s probably going to have a miserable time on Saturday night.

Pick: Yancy Medeiros by TKO… but there’s no way I would ever bet on it

UFC 177 Quick Picks: Preliminary Fights

Derek Brunson vs. Lorenz Larkin

Brunson is a talented wrestler who has developed a nice striking game to go along with his ability to land takedowns. I’ve been giving Brunson some hype as a potential middleweight title contender. Unfortunately, Brunson’s talent has been undone by serious issues with gassing out later in fights. Gassing out nearly got him in trouble against Chris Leben in his UFC debut, and it turned what would have been a win against Yoel Romero into a loss. Like I said when Tony Martin lost to Beneil Dariush on Saturday, Brunson is a talented fighter whose conditioning is ruining him.

I fully expect that Lorenz Larkin will be the more polished and effective striker against Brunson, but I don’t think it will be a dominant performance standing – just enough to win rounds. Larkin also has good takedown defense at 79% and will make Brunson work for his takedowns. Brunson is a good enough wrestler that I think he’ll land at least a takedown or two at some point, but I don’t see him being able to consistently put Larkin on his back.

Under normal circumstances, I would describe this fight as a battle between striking and takedowns likely to go to a close/tough to score decision. However, with Brunson’s history of gassing out, I have to almost give the third round to Larkin by default. That gives Larkin an edge in fights going the distance, and that’s enough for me to favor him overall.

Pick: Lorenz Larkin by decision

Henry Cejudo vs. Scott Jorgensen

Cejudo enters the UFC with a tremendous amount of hype as a gold medalist in freestyle wrestling at the 2008 Olympics. If his early career is any indication, Cejudo’s wrestling has adapted extremely well to mixed martial arts and he will have little trouble landing takedowns against most UFC opponents. It’s not difficult to envision Cejudo as the fighter who will eventually dethrone Demetrious Johnson – a fighter who can beat Johnson in the takedown game and potentially grind out a decision against him.

However, there are some serious concerns that could derail Cejudo in the UFC. Those are:

-Cejudo has fought six times and has just 17 months of professional MMA experience. It’s very early for him to be fighting at the sport’s highest level, especially against a veteran like Scott Jorgensen.

-Cejudo’s work ethic has been called into question in both MMA and wrestling, as he took multiple years off of wrestling and was left off the 2012 Olympic team because of it. Cejudo has missed weight for his last two MMA fights.

-Cejudo’s striking is a work in progress and his ground game is far from polished – Cejudo still needs to work on infusing his wrestling skills with some Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu prowess. Losses by knockout or submission are very much in play at this point.

I would be pretty confident in Cejudo beating a lower-level UFC flyweight, but Jorgensen could be a tough opponent for him. Jorgensen has a wrestling background himself and should be the better volume striker. At the same time, Jorgensen has been taken down 23 times in the UFC/WEC and isn’t particularly hard to hit. I think Cejudo can put together enough strikes and takedowns to win on the judges’ scorecards, but until he shows a more polished/developed game, I can’t favor him too strongly.

Pick: Henry Cejudo by decision

Anthony Hamilton vs. Ruan Potts

Hamilton is a big heavyweight fighting out of the Jackson-Winklejohn team. He has fight-ending knockout power and likes to go for takedowns, establish dominant top position, and land strikes on the ground, with potential to knock out his opponent with these strikes. A few problems: a horrible gas tank (Hamilton has gassed out in the first round), an unpolished ground game, and a lack of precision at standing distance.

While Ruan Potts has to be considered a threat to knock out or submit Hamilton, what stood out to me about Potts before he made his UFC debut was just how easy it was to take him down. Potts sometimes would just fall down during his fights. While Potts has some submission skills off his back, he gets put on his back very easily. It was no surprise that Soa Palelei was able to take Potts down quickly and knock him out with ground and pound.

I think the most likely outcome in this fight is something similar. Hamilton likes to shoot for takedowns and shouldn’t have trouble getting Potts on his back. Once that happens, Hamilton hits hard enough that Potts could easily find himself unconscious again. At the same time, it’s possible that Potts could reverse position on Hamilton and then do the same thing himself. In a battle of very flawed heavyweights, neither should be favored too heavily.

Pick: Anthony Hamilton by KO

Anthony Birchak vs. Joe Soto

This is a battle between the MFC bantamweight champion (Birchak) and the Tachi Palace bantamweight champion (Soto). Birchak is a very aggressive fighter who makes up for a lack of sound striking technique with pressure, volume, and a diversity of strikes. He’s also a solid wrestler who has developed a functional submission game. While I feel that Birchak’s tendency to be wild standing will hurt him eventually, I see him as a fighter who can be a quality UFC bantamweight, if not a title contender.

Soto is a veteran of the MMA game, an early Bellator champion and a fighter who enters at 15-2, with losses to Joe Warren and Eddie Yagin. Like Birchak, Soto is a fighter who is at his best when he’s landing takedowns and threatening submissions on his opponent. Soto has good transitions on the ground. However, Soto does not have Birchak’s aggression standing, and often struggles to land standing strikes, instead maintaining a defensive shell while looking for openings to take the fight to the ground.

Soto probably has the more polished submission game, so it’s certainly possible that he could catch Birchak in a scramble and win by tapout. However, I think Birchak is the more talented and well-rounded fighter, and should be favored to win due to superior pressure and striking ability.

Pick: Anthony Birchak by decision

Cain Carrizosa vs. Chris Wade

Wade is a wrestler/grinder type who enters the UFC at 7-1, with seven wins in Ring of Combat and one loss in World Series of Fighting. It’s a little tricky for me to develop an accurate opinion of Wade’s skills, because one of the two fights of his I watched was his WSOF loss to Ozzy Dugulubgov… and it was ugly. Dugulubgov hit Wade with a series of hard counter strikes standing, took him down multiple times and basically dominated the fight. It seems like Wade has decent takedowns and a good ground and pound game, but struggles with takedown defense and striking in general.

Carrizosa is a tall and lanky lightweight who knows how to use that length to threaten submissions from a variety of positions. He’s the kind of fighter whose grappling is somewhat undisciplined and would probably have a poor showing in a submission wrestling tournament, but whose aggression adapts well to the rule set of mixed martial arts. Carrizosa also has decent movement standing and enters the UFC with two wins by knockout.

I think Carrizosa should prove to be the more effective striker, and his attacking guard and submission game could give Wade trouble on the ground as well. It’s very possible that Wade could repeatedly take Carrizosa down and grind out a decision with top control and strikes while defending Carrizosa’s submissions. However, I think Carrizosa is the much better threat to finish and will make things tough for Wade regardless of whether or not he goes for the takedown.

Pick: Cain Carrizosa by decision

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