Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Demetrious Johnson
In yet another display of how thin the UFC flyweight division is, Demetrious Johnson will next be defending his title against karate stylist Kyoji Horiguchi. To be clear, I’m supportive of Horiguchi getting this title opportunity; he’s one of the better fighters in a division that has nearly been cleaned out by the champion. At the same time, wins against Dustin Pague, Louis Gaudinot, and Jon Delos Reyes can hardly be seen as proper preparation to be fighting one of the world’s top pound-for-pound fighters.
With that said, Horiguchi has produced excellent statistics against that competition, with a +1.24 significant strike margin after regressing to the mean. He’s excellent at using distance control to manipulate his opponent, staying out of range of lead strikes while leaping in with hard punches, kicks, and knees. His timing is outstanding and his karate style is something Johnson has likely not faced before.
As much as I’m pro-Horiguchi, that’s where the enthusiasm has to end as far as this fight is concerned. Johnson has a better regression-adjusted significant strike margin of +1.46, and that’s after facing a series of top-tier flyweights in the UFC. Johnson’s speed, footwork, and ability to cut angles leave his opponents a step behind, and his ability to mix in lightning-quick takedowns makes it nearly impossible to defend all of his attacks.
It’s very unlikely that Horiguchi will be able to consistently maintain distance or attack without being countered or taken down. It’s also quite possible that his style will hold up poorly against Johnson, who will be a far tougher opponent than any Horiguchi has faced to this point.
I do think Horiguchi’s chances are better than the long-shot odds he’s getting from betting markets, but I’m not ready to go to bat for him like I have with T.J. Dillashaw in the past. He’s a skilled and successful fighter, but one who has been rushed into a title shot due to a lack of alternatives. I would love nothing more than for Horiguchi to shake things up by scoring a huge upset, but Johnson is just too good and too consistent.
Pick: Demetrious Johnson by decision
Michael Bisping vs. C.B. Dollaway
When Bisping was matched up against a tough wrestler in Tim Kennedy, my metrics indicated that Kennedy was the favorite… but I picked Bisping, who I thought could out-strike Kennedy standing and neutralize Kennedy’s takedowns. That is exactly what didn’t happen. Kennedy scored takedowns, kept Bisping on his back, wore him out, and made Bisping’s volume striking a moot point.
Dollaway is neither the top position grappler nor the overall fighter that Kennedy is, but he is a wrestler and that’s a style that has clearly given Bisping some problems. Dollaway has also made improvements as an overall fighter, becoming a capable striker with knockout power. Dollaway’s history of suspect cardio and a suspect chin are unlikely to be a problem in a three-round fight against Bisping, who generally doesn’t have what it takes to put opponents to sleep.
The fact that Bisping is now likely in the twilight of his career only further leaves me to believe that an upset is brewing here. I think this is a tough fight for sure, but Dollaway is the younger fighter and the better wrestler. That’s enough for me to think he’ll grind out a decision in this one.
Pick: C.B. Dollaway by decision
Quinton Jackson vs. Fabio Maldonado
Yes, it’s Quinton “Rampage” Jackson back in the UFC. No, it’s not the Jackson of old, not even the Jackson who became a low-volume striker searching for one-punch knockouts against opponents like Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida, and Jon Jones. Jackson has faded badly, a fact that hasn’t gone away with a knockout of Joey Beltran and controversial decision win over King Mo in Bellator.
My point is this – Jackson is ripe to be beaten. Fabio Maldonado will never reach the heights that Jackson once reached, but he’s a high-volume boxer with a tremendous amount of toughness. Since Jackson is unlikely to go for takedowns (even though he really should in this fight), this should be a battle between Jackson’s power and Maldonado’s volume and pace.
As much as I want to pick Maldonado here, I can’t bring myself to do it. I have too much respect for Jackson’s power and his extensive accomplishments in his career. In all likelihood, Jackson will find a way to finish the fight, since Maldonado isn’t exactly a defensive specialist. As for a bet on Maldonado as a +250 underdog? Sign me up.
Pick: Quinton Jackson by TKO
Shane Campbell vs. John Makdessi
John Makdessi is a fun striker to watch, and his opponent is the debuting Shane Campbell, who has very good skill as a striker himself. Campbell is likely to be the much bigger fighter in the cage, but he has also taken this fight on short notice and lacks the high-level experience that Makdessi brings with him. This is the kind of fight that doesn’t have the name value to justify being on a pay per view main card, but should be a really fun fight when it happens.
Pick: John Makdessi by decision
Thomas Almeida vs. Yves Jabouin
Patrick Wyman prospect extraordinaire Thomas Almeida is set to lead off the pay per view main card against bantamweight striker Yves Jabouin. Almeida is an aggressive striker on the rise, while Jabouin is on the decline – and was never anything more than a mid-level bantamweight at the best of times. It’s the kind of fight that appears to be purely a showcase for Almeida, although the -450 price on the betting markets is a little grotesque.
Pick: Thomas Almeida by TKO
- Joe Riggs over Patrick Cote
- Sarah Kaufman over Alexis Davis
- Chad Laprise over Bryan Barberena, although my statistical model disagrees. Being at home and a 4-1 betting favorite is enough for me to overrule the model on this one.
- Olivier Aubin-Mercier over David Michaud
- Nordine Taleb over Chris Clements
- Valerie Letourneau over Jessica Rakoczy
- Aisling Daly over Randa Markos