I’ll try to go a little further in depth for these picks:
Renan Barao vs. Urijah Faber
I understand that Barao beat Faber at UFC 149. All I’m saying is – that fight wasn’t as lopsided as people remember it. The significant strike count was 85-60 in favor of Barao: a solid victory for sure but not the landslide I would think, given the way a lot of people describe it. The third round was Faber 19-16 and the fifth round was tied at 7-7. Without actually watching the fight, I can’t say exactly how effective each significant strike was, but it shows that Faber is at least capable of putting on a competitive striking match against Barao.
Even so, Barao is pretty clearly the better overall striker. He lands more significant strikes per minute (3.66 to 2.71) while absorbing strikes at roughly the same rate (2.33 to 2.24). To Faber’s credit, his striking has looked much better in recent fights, particularly in his last win against Michael McDonald. Still, it’s hard to imagine that Faber has improved to the point that he’s ready to out-strike Barao over the course of five rounds.
In particular, Faber struggles when he’s unable to land takedowns on his opponent. In fights where Faber fails to land any takedowns, he’s been out-struck by a 132-206 margin. Remove his loss to Jose Aldo and the ratio becomes much closer at 112-129. It’s true that Faber has been competing at a very high level for a long time now, but this fight against Barao only represents another very high level opponent.
If Faber can somehow break through Barao’s very tough takedown defense (95%) and put Barao on his back, then Faber will have a much better chance of winning. Judges may be willing to look past being the less effective striker if Faber establishes an advantage in the takedown game and puts Barao on his back.
Ultimately, it’s hard to see this fight playing out differently than the first. The most likely scenario is that Barao will stuff Faber’s takedowns and once again force Faber into a striking match. The reality is that Barao deserves his status as a heavy favorite in that kind of fight.
Pick: Renan Barao by decision
Jose Aldo vs. Ricardo Lamas
To an extent, I believe Ricardo Lamas hasn’t gotten enough credit for what he’s done in the UFC featherweight division. Wins against Cub Swanson, Hatsu Hioki, and Erik Koch are nothing to sneeze at. At the same time, if a fighter is going to challenge Jose Aldo, he needs to show some level of dominance against above-average featherweight opposition. Lamas simply has not shown dominance in his fights. More often, he’s had to make comebacks to win.
The simple question here is: how does Lamas defeat Aldo? Much like his Nova Uniao teammate Barao, Aldo has a combination of excellent striking and nearly impenetrable takedown defense. He also has very good knockout power for a featherweight and leg kicks powerful enough to leave an opponent unable to stand. It’s not good that Lamas has been knocked out twice in his career already. Against Aldo, there’s a very high chance Lamas gets knocked out again.
Lamas is a great example of a “jack of all trades” in MMA: a fighter who is good at everything but exceptional at nothing. That’s not good enough against an opponent like Aldo, who should be able to stuff Lamas’s takedowns and easily win the ensuing striking match.
The best hope Lamas has is to make it a grueling fight early, survive the early rounds, and hope to get Aldo gassed for the championship rounds. It’s possible that Lamas could win by TKO against an exhausted Aldo late. But I doubt it. There are reasons why Aldo is the overwhelming favorite.
Pick: Jose Aldo by KO
Frank Mir vs. Alistair Overeem
Overeem’s specialty is striking, clinch striking in particular. Overeem loves to bully his opponent into the fence, engage in the clinch, and pummel his opponent with knees. Meanwhile, Frank Mir is a fighter who has a history of being bullied into the clinch and punished with strikes. This seems like a fight tailor made for Overeem to win by knockout quickly.
The problem is that Overeem looked pretty good early on in his last couple fights… before he gassed out. Since he tested positive for elevated testosterone almost a couple years ago, Overeem is 0-2 with two losses by knockout. In both fights, Overeem got off to a great start before gassing out and then being knocked out. I doubt Mir can take Overeem down, but his knockout power isn’t anything to scoff at. If Mir can weather the early storm, there’s a real chance that he will be the one to win by KO.
But let’s be honest: is Frank Mir a fighter who can endure the kind of punishment Overeem will dish out early? Especially after what we saw at UFC 164 against Josh Barnett? I most certainly doubt it.
Pick: Alistair Overeem by KO
Ali Bagautinov vs. John Lineker
These fighters are similar in a lot of ways – flyweights with terrific KO power for the division. On paper, it appears to be a very even fight. Two flyweights with great power figure to engage in a striking battle… who should be favored in this type of match?
In Lineker’s 40 minutes of UFC action, he’s out-pointed his opponents by a 262-167 margin. For Bagautinov, the margin is just 81-75 but Bagautinov’s 81 strikes probably did a lot more damage than his opponent’s 75. In addition, there are a lot of reasons to believe Lineker’s numbers are inflated by facing opponents such as Louis Gaudinot and Azamat Gashimov. Bagautinov last defeated a much tougher opponent in Tim Elliott.
I really believe this is about a 50-50 match, but I’m going to take Lineker in a slight upset simply because the numbers favor him. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it turns out Bagautinov is the better man, especially if Lineker is too drained by the weight cut.
Pick: John Lineker by decision
Abel Trujillo vs. Jamie Varner
I’ve been too harsh on Abel Trujillo in the past. I wasn’t impressed by Trujillo’s performances on the regional circuit, and I found Trujillo’s complaining during his loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov to be very annoying. However, Trujillo delivered an excellent performance in his last fight against Roger Bowling. Trujillo punished Bowling from the opening bell, winning by TKO after taking Bowling down five times and out-striking him 43-9.
For me, Trujillo’s takedown defense is still a question mark. His ability to get back to his feet after being taken down is outstanding, but he’s shown little ability to actually counter takedown attempts. He’s also taking a very significant step up in competition to face former WEC lightweight champion Jamie Varner.
Varner is a very good offensive wrestler, and I think that will ultimately be the difference in this fight… but I have to acknowledge that this is a difficult test for him. Varner is not known for having great conditioning – if he loses control of the takedown game later in the fight then I could see Trujillo punishing him badly for it. I also wouldn’t be shocked if Trujillo just blitzes Varner early and takes him out. But I just can’t get past Trujillo’s history of poor takedown defense.
Pick: Jamie Varner by decision