The UFC is shipping up to Boston… to hold an event at the same time as the Patriots host the AFC championship game. I’m not an expert in event promotion but that seems like a pretty egregious error to me. I can tell you right now that I’ll have the fights on DVR while I’m watching football live. With that said… on to the predictions:
Conor McGregor vs. Dennis Siver
A lot of people have pointed out that Dennis Siver is a quality fighter, an experienced and proven UFC competitor who is not a pushover. Most of those people have gone on to say that, yeah, Conor McGregor should probably beat him anyway, and that’s pretty much how I feel about this match as well. There’s still a lot we don’t know about McGregor – namely, how would McGregor fare against an opponent who wants to wrestle him? While I believe McGregor’s ability to grapple and defend takedowns is probably better than a lot of people believe, it would be nice to at least see that aspect of his game tested.
Siver wasn’t chosen as McGregor’s opponent for that purpose. He was chosen because he matches up horribly with McGregor. While Siver is a good volume striker and kicks hard, just about every advantage in this fight goes to McGregor. McGregor is taller, younger, has a longer reach and has better knockout power. Siver has been knocked down six times in the UFC and enters with two knockout losses on his record. In particular, McGregor has a much better boxing game and is likely to capitalize on Siver’s attempts to kick.
The one thing I’ll say in Siver’s defense is that McGregor has not been particularly hard to hit; his wins over Marcus Brimage and Dustin Poirier were more firefights than anything. Even so, McGregor has clearly shown that he excels in that type of match. Yes, McGregor is overpriced at -1200, and yes, people are probably right to believe there is some betting value on Siver as a massive underdog. But this fight was put together to make McGregor look good, to give him one more highlight reel knockout victory to set up a featherweight title match against Jose Aldo.
Pick: Conor McGregor by KO
Donald Cerrone vs. Benson Henderson
I’m already 0 for 1 in predicting Donald Cerrone fights this year, so why not take a shot at 0-2? Cerrone did a really good job of using leg kicks to counter Myles Jury’s movement, but Benson Henderson is a different type of fighter. While Jury is a fighter who maintains distance and tries to counter his opponent’s aggression, Henderson is a fighter who will move forward, engage in the clinch, and either grind away with short strikes from close range or look to take the fight to the ground and win a grappling contest.
It’s worth mentioning that Henderson defeated Cerrone twice in the WEC, once by five-round decision and once by guillotine choke. I doubt Henderson will be able to submit Cerrone again, but his decision victory was fueled by eight takedowns and a ground and pound assault while fending off Cerrone’s active and attacking guard. If Henderson wants to win this time, it will probably have to be with a similar style as Cerrone will not be idle, no matter what happens. I have to favor Henderson to beat Cerrone for a third time due to superiority in the takedown game, but he has zero margin for error as I believe Cerrone has better striking and a more effective submission arsenal.
Pick: Benson Henderson by decision
Uriah Hall vs. Ron Stallings
Ron Stallings is 12-6, has fought professionally since 2003, lost his last fight, and took this fight on very short notice after injuries removed both Costas Phillipou and then Louis Taylor. Stallings is not any kind of real prospect. With that having been said, Uriah Hall is probably more susceptible to getting upset in a situation like this than the average UFC fighter would be. For all of the kicking ability and knockout power Hall possesses, his takedown defense is shaky, he’s not a great boxer, and he tends to leave his chin high and undefended. Hall should win this fight but he shouldn’t be a 10-1 favorite.
Pick: Uriah Hall by TKO
Norman Parke vs. Gleison Tibau
Parke is a classic sprawl and brawl type of fighter in the mold of guys like Ross Pearson and Al Iaquinta. He’s a more technical striker than Tibau, who tends to throw looping strikes that take a lot of energy and aren’t very accurate. The only problem here for Parke is that defending Tibau’s takedowns is a lot more difficult than defending the takedowns of guys like Leonardo Santos. If Tibau can overpower Parke then he should be able to grapple his way to a decision win. If Parke can keep the fight standing then he should be able to out-pace Tibau with strikes.
Pick: Gleison Tibau by decision
Cathal Pendred vs. Sean Spencer
Pendred’s identity as a fighter in the UFC has been the opposite of what you would want: a guy who has to weather storms and dig deep to skate by with wins, as opposed to showing clear superiority in his fights. Pendred won’t get away with that forever but I think he has what it takes to beat Sean Spencer. Spencer is the faster and more technical striker for sure but has had difficulty defending takedowns in the UFC. Pendred was just 1 of 14 in takedowns against Gasan Umalatov, but I believe he’ll have more success against Spencer, as Pendred figures to be the much bigger fighter inside the cage.
Pick: Cathal Pendred by decision
John Howard vs. Lorenz Larkin
This is a strange matchup. Larkin fought in the light-heavyweight division in Strikeforce, dropped to middleweight before entering the UFC, and now is dropping another weight class, fighting at 170 pounds after losing three fights in a row. His opponent is John Howard, who is much shorter and is an inferior striker, but is an underrated grappler and should have the advantage on the ground. The question is whether Howard can take Larkin down with consistency, the factor that should determine who wins what appears to be a coin flip match.
Pick: John Howard by decision
Zhang Lipeng vs. Chris Wade
My newfangled statistical model says that Lipeng is actually a 51-49 favorite to beat Chris Wade. I don’t quite buy it – Lipeng’s statistical success in the takedown game has come against two very low level opponents (by UFC standards) in Wang Sai and Brendan O’Reilly. Lipeng is also 9-7-1 in professional MMA competition while Wade’s 8-1 record is more typical of a real UFC lightweight prospect. I expect that Wade will be the more polished grappler and do what it takes to win this fight, although it will probably be more competitive than the lopsided betting odds suggest.
Pick: Chris Wade by decision
Patrick Holohan vs. Shane Howell
Holohan is coming off a surprising loss to Chris Kelades at UFC Fight Night: Halifax. In that fight, Holohan started very strongly, stinging Kelades with a variety of kicks and landing multiple takedowns, but fought a little too aggressively and gassed himself out. He really should have what it takes to beat Shane Howell, who is probably in over his head against UFC competition. Howell was choked out in his debut against Ray Borg and enters this fight with a 13-8 professional record, although he does have a win over Tim Elliott on that record. Even so, Holohan is just the faster and more talented of the two.
Pick: Patrick Holohan by submission
Johnny Case vs. Frankie Perez
Case was a winner in his UFC debut, defeating Kazuki Tokudome by submission due to standing guillotine choke. Case is a tall, lanky striker at 6’1″ and a great finisher as 17 of his career 19 wins are by TKO or submission. He’ll likely want to keep the fight standing against the debuting Frankie Perez, who is stepping up to replace an injured Frank Trevino. Perez is 9-1 with his only loss by split decision to Chris Wade and won five fights by submission in the Ring of Combat promotion. My belief is that Case will succeed in out-pointing Perez, but I do have concerns about Case’s takedown defense coming in.
Pick: Johnny Case by decision
Charles Rosa vs. Sean Soriano
Soriano entered the UFC with a surprising amount of fanfare, ending up as a slight favorite in his debut match against Tatsuya Kawajiri. However, Soriano has shown a severe weakness in overall grappling, getting taken down and submitted by Kawajiri, and then getting taken down and having to fight off submissions against Chas Skelly. Rosa lost his UFC debut to Dennis Siver but did land two takedowns in the process. It will be up to Soriano to prove that his takedown defense and scrambling ability has improved enough to avoid going 0-3 in the UFC.
Pick: Charles Rosa by submission
Sean O’Connell vs. Matt Van Buren
Van Buren made it to the finals of TUF 19 only to get blitzed and lose by first-round TKO to Corey Anderson. In that short fight, the 6’5″ Van Buren showcased a startling lack of head strike defense. That’s something Sean O’Connell should be poised to exploit. There is little upside in O’Connell’s game by UFC standards; he fits the Joey Beltran model of landing a lot of strikes, taking a lot of strikes, and hoping his opponent doesn’t want to grapple. Against Van Buren, however, O’Connell may have found a match that works for him stylistically.
Pick: Sean O’Connell by TKO
Tateki Matsuda vs. Joby Sanchez
Both fighters lost their respective UFC debuts on short notice. Matsuda displayed impressive leg kicks and overall kickboxing against Chris Beal but was ultimately out-wrestled and out-grappled. Sanchez nearly finished Wilson Reis with a head kick, but he ended up being out-wrestled and out-grappled as well. With both action fighters 0-1 in the UFC and now matched up against each other, I anticipate a fun and energetic scrap as both should enter with a sense of urgency.
Pick: Joby Sanchez by decision