Let’s get right to it:
Alexander Gustafsson vs. Anthony Johnson
I’ll spoil this right away. My model actually pegs Johnson as the favorite to win Saturday’s main event, giving him a 62.1% chance of beating Gustafsson. Johnson has slight statistical edges in every category included in the model except age. This was a surprising result since I have been a big Gustafsson fan for a while.
The biggest factor leading to Johnson’s status as the favorite is his ability to dominate striking exchanges and finish fights by knockout, combined with Gustafsson’s roughly average rate of significant strikes absorbed (3.13 per minute). With that said, the model only knows what I put into it. It doesn’t know that much of Johnson’s data is from fights against welterweights, and it also doesn’t know that this fight is the main event of a stadium show in Sweden, where the attendance figures to be close to 40,000 fans.
Besides that, I’m just too much of a Gustafsson fan. There are plenty of reasons to suspect that my model doesn’t have this one right.
Pick: Alexander Gustafsson by decision
Dan Henderson vs. Gegard Mousasi
Mousasi is currently a -485 favorite to beat Henderson, presumably because he’s a terrific striker and Henderson can now fairly be called “old man Dan.” Henderson has become slow and too reliant on his punching power in recent years, and there’s no knowing how much he’s been affected by the ban on TRT. He’s also lost four of his last five fights although he’s faced stellar competition during that time.
If Henderson chooses to sling right hands at Mousasi for three rounds, I suspect he will at least lose by decision and quite possibly lose by knockout. If Henderson brings back his clinch takedown game then the door is open for him to grind out a victory. I don’t have a lot of faith that Henderson will do that, but I have more faith in him than the betting public.
Pick: Gegard Mousasi by decision
Ryan Bader vs. Phil Davis
Davis didn’t look very good in his decision loss to Rumble, but he bounced back by shutting down Glover Teixeira in a surprising performance. Davis is offensively limited but his game has always been defined by his defense. He’s one of the best fighters in the sport at controlling range and using his wrestling game to prevent his opponent from landing almost any strikes at all.
Ryan Bader is similar in that respect, but the difference is that Davis has proven he can beat top-level competition, as he’s defeated Teixeira, Gustafsson, and Lyoto Machida (even if he probably didn’t deserve the Machida decision). Bader just hasn’t proven himself at the same level. I suspect Davis will be able to out-point Bader in what could be a really slow-paced, grinding style of fight.
Pick: Phil Davis by decision
Akira Corassani vs. Sam Sicilia
Perhaps the UFC wanted to put a second Swedish fighter on this main card, but man, Corassani and Sicilia don’t deserve this billing. Sicilia is a slugger who gasses himself out by throwing sloppy haymakers in an attempt to win by knockout. Corassani is a better technical striker but has one of the worst chins in the sport. Corassani also has abysmal striking defense, which only compounds the problem of a poor chin. He’s lucky to have won as many as three UFC fights.
Pick: Sam Sicilia by KO
Nico Musoke vs. Albert Tumenov
Musoke is a well-rounded fighter with good offensive striking and a decent takedown game. Most impressively, he gave Kelvin Gastelum problems when they fought last year. Tumenov isn’t quite as good a striker as Musoke but he’s showcased some serious knockout power, landing four knockdowns in three UFC fights so far and displaying a multidimensional striking attack. I like Musoke if this fight goes the distance but Tumenov is very dangerous.
Pick: Nico Musoke by decision
Sultan Aliev vs. Kenny Robertson
Aliev is a 13-1 fighter making his debut in the UFC, with the only loss being a split decision against Doug Marshall in Bellator two years ago. He seems to be tougher than the average UFC first-timer, which might be why he’s taking on Kenny Robertson, who’s been on a tear since dropping his first two UFC fights. Robertson has shown a well-rounded attack and very effective ground and pound in particular. Aliev is favored but I think Robertson deserves more credit for his strong recent performances.
Pick: Kenny Robertson by decision
Makwan Amirkhani vs. Andy Ogle
I maintain that Ogle is underrated. He’s actually up 163-156 in significant strikes and 7-5 in takedowns in his five-fight UFC career. Training at Team Alpha Male can only help him. However, that doesn’t mean I think Ogle is an above-average UFC featherweight. He’s taking on the debuting Amirkhani in what figures to be a must-win fight for Ogle. Amirkhani is a submission specialist who has won fights by heel hook, D’Arce choke, triangle choke, rear naked choke, and guillotine choke. I slightly favor Ogle but it will not surprise me if Amirkhani catches him.
Pick: Andy Ogle by decision
Nikita Krylov vs. Stanislav Nedkov
For all the grief I’ve given Krylov since he came into the UFC, he was a very raw and inexperienced fighter when he made his debut, and seems to have polished his game quite a bit. Nedkov will surely try to take him down, and will probably succeed, but hasn’t fought in two years and hasn’t shown UFC-level striking ability. I think Krylov has improved enough to deserve his status as a favorite to win here despite his troubles with takedown defense.
Pick: Nikita Krylov by TKO
Anthony Christodoulou vs. Mairbek Taisumov
Taisumov wrestled his way to a victory against Tae Hyun Bang in his UFC debut, and knocked out Marcin Bandel in his last fight, but lost to Michel Prazeres in between in what was a dismal performance. Christodoulou is making his UFC debut at 12-4, but is probably better than his record indicates, as he started 0-3 and is 12-1 since. Taisumov is the more skilled and proven fighter, but I find myself wondering how in the world he’s a -800 favorite to win this one.
Pick: Mairbek Taisumov by TKO
Mirsad Bektic vs. Paul Redmond
Patrick Wyman prospect extraordinaire Mirsad Bektic makes his return to the UFC after beating Chas Skelly by majority decision in his promotional debut. While Bektic didn’t blow anybody away in that fight (landing just 23 significant strikes and two takedowns) he did display a well-rounded game and the potential to improve. His opponent is Paul Redmond, a 10-4 Irish fighter who has stepped in on short notice to take this fight. While Bektic is too unproven to deserve his status as a -650 favorite, he really should win this one.
Pick: Mirsad Bektic by TKO
Konstantin Erokhin vs. Viktor Pesta
Erokhin is a short, stocky heavyweight with big power and a few recognizable names as wins on his record (Sokoudjou, Brett Rogers, Dave Huckaba… not the best of the best, but at heavyweight, it’s something). Pesta was badly out-struck by Ruslan Magomedov in his UFC debut and lacks the same kind of wins on his record that Erokhin has. Erokhin is another fighter with an inflated betting price (-360) but there’s a serious chance that he’ll channel old-school Igor Vovchanchyn here.
Pick: Konstantin Erokhin by KO
Chris Beal vs. Neil Seery
Seery has proven to be more effective in the UFC than his lackluster record (14-10) would have suggested. Seery has shown off decent striking ability and some knockout power, but his takedown defense has been subpar. Beal is the much better wrestler and overall prospect, but if he struggles to land takedowns, there’s a real chance that Seery will out-point him with strikes.
Pick: Chris Beal by decision