185 lbs: Vitor Belfort (21-10, 10-6 UFC) vs. Michael Bisping (23-4, 13-4 UFC)
This is a very interesting fight, because it represents fighters who are at opposite ends of the striking spectrum. Vitor Belfort has arguably the best punching power in MMA. He is famous for his remarkable hand speed and ability to put opponents away quickly. At the same time, Belfort is not a volume striker at all, and is known to have long periods of inactivity in his fights. By contrast, Michael Bisping doesn’t have a lot of punching power, but makes up for it with very high volume. Bisping is able to establish a high pace early, and with the help of very good conditioning, can maintain that pace throughout a fight, while his opponents often struggle to keep up.
Now, everybody remembers the knockout Bisping suffered from Dan Henderson at UFC 100, but that doesn’t mean Bisping has a bad chin. In fact, that’s Bisping’s only KO loss in 27 career fights. Bisping has been knocked down a few times in his career, but for a fighter who has competed at a high level as long as Bisping, that’s not a red flag.
With that said, Bisping is going to be in serious danger in the first round of this fight. That’s because just about anybody is in danger early in a fight against Vitor Belfort. When Belfort is fresh, his tremendous power makes him a threat to win by KO at any moment. There’s a distinct possibility that Belfort swarms on Bisping and puts him to sleep early. I don’t think that outcome would be a surprise to anybody.
The problem for Belfort is – what happens if he doesn’t score the early KO?
In Belfort’s career, when the fight lasts under 5 minutes, Belfort is 15-1, with his only loss being against Anderson Silva. When the fight lasts longer than 5 minutes, Belfort is just 5-9. One of those wins was a decision against Heath Herring in PRIDE that was just plain shady, so I would consider Belfort 4-10 in such fights. By contrast, Bisping is 12-4 when his fights go longer than 5 minutes.
Given Belfort’s record in longer fights, it’s not surprising that there are similar results when Belfort is taken down. In the 29 Belfort fights recorded by Fight Metric, Belfort is 15-2 when his opponent never takes him down, and just 4-8 if his opponent lands even a single takedown. And again, one of those wins was against Heath Herring. Another was at UFC 142 against Anthony Johnson, where Johnson landed two takedowns in the first round, only to be stood up very quickly by the referee.
As much as people think of Bisping as a stand-and-bang point fighter, he does usually go for takedowns in his fights, and he’s normally good to land at least one or two. If Bisping is smart, he’ll look for the takedown early in the first round, frustrate Belfort with ground and pound, and stifle him until the end of the first round. Of course, as was the case in Belfort’s fight against Johnson, this is in Brazil, so the third man in the cage might not be too patient with any ground work Bisping might do.
Again, a first-round KO win is a distinct possibility for Belfort. But is it better than a 50-50 possibility? As dangerous as Belfort is, Bisping has some unique advantages that I think match up well with Belfort. I’ll take Bisping to win by decision, and I won’t be shocked if Bisping is able to stop Belfort with strikes either.
185 lbs: C.B. Dollaway (12-4, 6-4 UFC) vs. Daniel Sarafian (7-2, 0-0 UFC)
Here’s what we know about C.B. Dollaway:
- He’s a good wrestler who lands a lot of takedowns
- He likes to go for chokes and is good at it
- He gets hurt by strikes in almost every fight
Seriously, watch a C.B. Dollaway fight, and odds are good that you’ll see him get wobbled by strikes at some point. Even Jason “Mayhem” Miller, a fighter not known for his striking, was able to stagger Dollaway with strikes in their fight at UFC 146. Where Dollaway succeeds is that he is a good wrestler, and unlike many wrestlers who have entered the UFC, he usually sticks with his wrestling.
His opponent is Daniel Sarafian, who made it to the finals of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil, but was injured and forced to withdraw. While most of the TUF Brazil cast debuted at UFC 147, Sarafian has not been able to fight in the UFC until now.
Sarafian is 7-2, with six wins by submission. But don’t let the lack of KO/TKO wins fool you; Sarafian does have power, and is more than a threat to stop Dollaway by strikes in this fight. Sarafian can be wild with his striking, and lacks head movement, so he figures to be in trouble against an opponent with good takedown defense and striking technique. That likely won’t be the case against Dollaway, who doesn’t have a lot to offer at striking distance.
While Sarafian is a good athlete and has good balance, I don’t see him being able to reliably stop Dollaway’s takedowns. If this fight goes the distance, it will likely be with Dollaway as the winner. But Dollaway’s chin is so bad, and Sarafian does have the skill to land some hard strikes on that chin, so I have to side with the Brazilian here. Sarafian by TKO.
265 lbs: Gabriel Gonzaga (13-6, 8-5 UFC) vs. Ben Rothwell (32-8, 2-2 UFC)
This is a battle of heavyweights who are similar in a number of ways. They’re both big fighters, they both tend to stand and strike, and neither is particularly great at it. Gonzaga has a much better ground game, but rarely uses it, as he usually chooses to strike with his opponent, which typically ends by knockout one way or the other. Meanwhile, Rothwell tends to stand and strike as well, but in some of his recent fights, has been reduced to little more than a punching bag.
At the same time, he’s been a punching bag against Andrei Arlovski (when Arlovski was still good), Cain Velasquez, and Mark Hunt. Those are all very good strikers, although Hunt did his striking with ground and pound more than anything, as Rothwell was in horrible shape in that fight. Meanwhile, Gonzaga was out-struck badly by Randy Couture, Fabricio Werdum, and Brendan Schaub.
I think this one stays standing, and I think it will make for a competitive striking match. That also means I think it will end by KO one way or the other, and I will slightly side with Rothwell, just because the data on his striking is a little bit better than the data on Gonzaga. The sportsbooks have this as mostly a toss-up fight, and I mostly agree, but I’ll take Rothwell to score the KO.
155 lbs: Khabib Nurmagomedov (18-0, 2-0 UFC) vs. Thiago Tavares (17-4-1, 7-4-1 UFC)
Khabib Nurmagomedov is a wrestler whose striking looks sloppy, but has been fairly effective so far in the UFC. In his debut against Kamal Shalorus, Nurmagomedov was able to shut down Shalorus’s offense, land some big strikes, and win by submission. In his second UFC fight, against Gleison Tibau, Nurmagomedov was mostly shut down, but ended up winning a decision in what was a very dull fight. Shalorus and Tibau both have very tough takedown defense, so Nurmagomedov’s low takedown percentage shouldn’t be held against him too much.
But I can’t help but think Nurmagomedov is being given a little too much credit entering this fight with Thiago Tavares. Tavares has good Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and is generally relentless with his own takedown attempts – he’s not the best wrestler in the UFC, but he does land takedowns in all of his fights. Doing that against Nurmagomedov figures to be a tough challenge, but I also think Tavares will do pretty well at striking distance. It should be competitive there, and it doesn’t figure to be a barn-burner, but there is a chance that Tavares can win on points.
I do think Nurmagomedov is the better wrestler, so I’ll pick him to win by decision, but I think it will be a close one.
145 lbs: Godofredo “Pepey” Castro (8-1, 0-1 UFC) vs. Milton Vieira (13-7-2, 0-0-1 UFC)
Castro is a good grappler whose wins are primarily by submission, but unfortunately for him, he’s been matched up against the man who invented the anaconda choke in Milton Vieira. And if Castro’s fight against Rony “Jason” is any indication, he won’t have much to offer in the striking game either. Vieira is the better ground fighter, probably the better striker, and should win this fight by decision.
185 lbs: Andrew Craig (8-0, 2-0 UFC) vs. Ronny Markes (13-1, 2-0 UFC)
SILVA favorite Andrew Craig is off to a 2-0 start in the UFC, but his wins have been far from dominant. He managed to upset Kyle Noke, and rallied to knock out Rafael Natal, but he had to come back to win both fights. Craig’s biggest weakness is his wrestling game, and that will be a serious problem against Ronny Markes, who has shown very good wrestling in his UFC fights so far. Markes will control this fight, and unless Craig has another head kick up his sleeve, I don’t think he’ll be able to pull off another comeback. Markes by decision.
145 lbs: Nik Lentz (22-5-2, 6-2-1 UFC) vs. Diego Nunes (18-3, 3-2 UFC)
This figures to be a competitive fight, but I think Nunes is just a little bit better than Lentz in all areas. Lentz can steal rounds if he lands takedowns on Nunes, but I think Nunes will be able to keep the fight standing for the most part. At distance, Nunes isn’t too much of a threat to win by knockout, but I think his striking is a little better and more technical than Lentz. Nunes by decision.
155 lbs: Edson Barboza (10-1, 4-1 UFC) vs. Lucas Martins (12-0, 0-0 UFC)
Everybody knows how much I like Edson Barboza, but I liked him a lot more a few fights ago than I do now. The reason is that he just hasn’t improved at all. The Barboza who we saw lose to Jamie Varner is the same Barboza who broke down Mike Lullo in his UFC debut. His opponent, Lucas Martins, is 12-0, and you know I pay attention when a fighter enters the UFC at 12-0. Unfortunately, as is usually the case with an undefeated record, most of Martins’s wins have been against unknown/low-level opponents.
With that said, Martins does have some serious striking skills, and does have the potential to hurt or even knock out Barboza. I just think Barboza will prove to be a little too much, too soon for Martins. Barboza by TKO, but I like Martins’s potential.
135 lbs: Iuri Alcantara (27-4, 2-1 UFC) vs. Pedro Nobre (14-1-2, 0-0 UFC)
The last time we saw Alcantara, he was out-wrestled by Hacran Dias, but that one loss doesn’t erase what has otherwise been a very good MMA career. This is the same fighter who knocked out Ricardo Lamas, and was very good in the UFC featherweight division. Now, Alcantara has dropped to bantamweight, where he will take on a much smaller opponent in Pedro Nobre. I respect Nobre for taking this fight on short notice, but I think Alcantara is just going to overpower him. Alcantara by TKO.
205 lbs: Ildemar Alcantara (17-5, 0-0 UFC) vs. Wagner Prado (8-1, 0-1 UFC)
I still can’t get over Joe Silva’s bizarre matchmaking, having Wagner Prado fight Phil Davis in his UFC debut. Needless to say, that fight should not be taken as the norm for how Prado fights. Ildemar Alcantara was willing to take the fight on short notice, and he is a skilled fighter, but he’s a middleweight taking on a light-heavyweight. I think Prado should be able to bully Alcantara and win by TKO in this one.
155 lbs: C.J. Keith (8-1, 0-1 UFC) vs. Francisco Trinaldo (11-2, 1-1 UFC)
I’m a fan of Francisco Trinaldo, who is a big lightweight who is talented in all areas of MMA. Trinaldo did fade against Gleison Tibau, but Tibau is also a huge lightweight with very good takedown defense. C.J. Keith is talented and could succeed in the UFC against the right opponent… but let’s be honest, Trinaldo isn’t that opponent. Trinaldo should prove to be the better fighter everywhere, and I’ll take Trinaldo to win by TKO, especially with Keith having difficulty making weight again.