Mark Hunt vs. Alexei Oleinik
Mookie Alexander: Well this pretty much all depends on two things: 1.) Can Mark Hunt stop takedowns? And 2.) Is he basically impossible to do weird chokes on due to his neck fat, as Oleinik says? On the feet it should still be Hunt’s pretty clearly, as Oleinik is quite hittable (but ridiculously tough), and Hunt still has enough power and sense of timing that he badly hurt Curtis Blaydes prior to getting dominated. Mark Hunt by TKO, round 2.
Victor Rodriguez: Alex O’s got submission chops and trains with some great heavyweights down at American Top Team, but let’s be real - he’s not gonna shoot a double leg on Hunt. His best chance is trip takedowns and attacks from the clinch, and he’s likely to succeed at that. Hunt has proven he can survive on the ground and make things ugly for grapplers like him, but this also ignores the fact that Oleinik has to close the distance first. That’s where Hunt shines, and he can hit him with a vicious uppercut in the clinch or just blast him with a slick shot over the shoulder to put his lights out. He might be up there in age, but this is a fight that he should be able to ace. Mark Hunt by violence, round 2.
Zane Simon: Oliynyk is essentially an IQ test at this point. He’s still got freakishly long arms and hits hard, but now over 40 and with bad knees it seems like his cardio and defense largely aren’t there. If you clinch up with him and take him down, he’ll submit you. If you do literally anything else... Mark Hunt via KO, round 1.
Staff picking Hunt: Mookie, Phil, Fraser, Dayne, Tim, Victor, Zane
Staff picking Oleinik: Bissell, Nick, Harry, Stephie
Nikita Krylov vs. Jan Blachowicz
Mookie Alexander: Niki Thrillz is back. Hell yeah! Blachowicz might actually be the more technical striker here, and he’s certainly gotten better compared to the Jan from a few years ago. Krylov is still the more well-rounded fighter, and I think he’ll weather an early storm from Blachowicz and then choke him out in the next round. Nikita Krylov by submission, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: People expect me to pick against the Most Technical Striker In Light Heavyweight History? I refuse. Krylov is a potent finisher and definitely the superior athlete, but relies heavily on opponents being intimidated by his whirlwind offense on the feet, and specifically his weird kicks. If his aggression translated into clinch exchanges I’d be more likely to favour him, but he’s not really much of a wrestler. He can be pushed back by more functional strikers (Tybura) and when he is going backwards his defense is nonexistent. Jab, body kick, Jan Blachowicz by unanimous decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Jan’s recent performances have been better than when he first arrived in the UFC, but Krylov’s got youth, athleticism and some very strong striking on his side. That and the fact that his technique has improved by leaps and bounds since his time away from the UFC. Nikita Krylov by headkick KO, round 2.
Zane Simon: There’s a real chance that Krylov pressures Blachowicz to the cage and picks him apart with a variety of flashy kicks. But, the new Jan tends to fight consistently behind a powerful jab and backs it up with a nice counter game. Krylov is better controlled than he used to be, but is still largely a wild kicker standing without much defense and a mediocre wrestler and poor grappler. I think Jan can pump the jab, hit a couple counters, force a bad shot, and tap Nikki Thrillz out, as much as I hate to say it. Jan Blachowicz via submission round 1.
Staff picking Krylov: Bissell, Nick, Harry, Mookie, Stephie, Fraser, Dayne, Tim, Victor
Staff picking Blachowicz: Phil, Zane
Andrei Arlovski vs. Shamil Abdurakhimov
Mookie Alexander: Arlovski still has pretty good takedown defense and Abdurakhimov isn’t exactly a world-beater on the feet. Yes, he KO’d Chase Sherman… but Chase Sherman knows close to nothing about defense. Arlovski was reasonably competitive with Tai Tuivasa, and has enough craftiness to prevent Abdurakhimov from taking an unbearably ugly fight. Andrei Arlovski by unanimous decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Abdurakhimov fights ugly, and he can start to plod around in spots. Arlovski still has good movement and handspeed, which should serve him well here. If anything, I worry that they’ll be tentative like in Arlovski’s fight against Schaub. I’m getting the impression Andrei batters Shamil for a good bit and pulls away, but is unable to finish him. Andrei Arlovski by decision.
Zane Simon: I guess I expect Shamil’s takedown game to work alright. If it doesn’t, this is a 50/50 fight that Arlovski can easily win on pace and his own wrestling. Shamil Abdurakhimov by decision.
Staff picking Arlovski: Bissell, Nick, Harry, Mookie, Stephie, Phil, Fraser, Dayne, Victor
Staff picking Abdurakhimov: Tim, Zane
Thiago Alves vs. Alexey Kunchenko
Mookie Alexander: Thiago Alves is about to get that M-1 smoke. Alexey Kunchenko by KO, round 1.
Victor Rodriguez: Alves is gonna have a rough night. Kunchenko’s fought international talent, and has seen a bit of everything in his career so far. Alves should be able to get some work in early with leg kicks and a few combinations, but his cardio and fight IQ from moment to moment are such wild cards... I can’t bring myself to picking Alves here. Alexey Kunchenko by decision.
Zane Simon: Realistically, there’s no reason that Alves can’t beat Kunchenko. They’re both 34, so there’s no youth advantage. And Kunchenko’s style is marked by long bouts of inactivity. Still he seems lightning quick, and hasn’t been dulled by a long career of brutal wars and injuries. It may be slow right until the end, but my guess is Kunchenko will find a powerful right hand counter and put Alves out. Alexey Kunchenko via KO, round 2.
Staff picking Alves: Tim
Staff picking Kunchenko: Bissell, Nick, Harry, Mookie, Stephie, Phil, Fraser, Dayne, Victor, Zane
C.B. Dollaway vs. Khalid Murtazaliev
Zane Simon: Much like the Alves bout above, there’s no reason Dollaway can’t win this. Murtazaliev looks like he struggles hard with fighters he can’t take down. His striking consists largely of leg and body kicks combined with a winging overhand right. It works fine if he can follow it up with wrestling, but when he gets stuffed he quickly ends up looking lost standing and a bit winded. Dollaway’s a good wrestler, and likely the more diverse striker. But, Dollaway’s also a decade older and get’s hurt bad if the wind blows the wrong way. Khalid Murtazaliev via TKO round 2.
Staff picking Dollaway: Harry, Fraser, Tim
Staff picking Murtazaliev: Bissell, Nick, Mookie, Stephie, Phil, Dayne, Zane
Petr Yan vs. Jin Soo Son
Mookie Alexander: It’s a bad day coming for you, my good Son. Petr Yan by something violent, round 1.
Victor Rodriguez: I’m still giddy from the Ishihara fight. Yan is the kind of UFC signing that makes me act straight up ignant. PETEY YAMS COMING FOR THE CROWN, FAM. Petr Yan by whatever the hell this is.
Zane Simon: Jin Soo Son’s game seems like it could be good someday, but right now it’s pretty basic. He’s a low volume pressure striker that likes to back people up and line them up for big right hands. But he tends to off balance himself when he throws and can’t do much combination punching because of it. He’s really at his best in the clinch, with a large variety of knees and elbows that he can open up slick angles for. But I can’t see Yan giving him that kind of time. More likely Yan will use Jin Soo’s slow pace to pick him off with big shots, then open up his own counters and combination punching to put him out when he tries to throw that right hand. Petr Yan via KO, round 1.
Staff picking Yan: Bissell, Nick, Harry, Mookie, Stephie, Phil, Fraser, Dayne, Tim, Victor, Zane
Staff picking Son:
Kajan Johnson vs. Rustam Khabilov
Victor Rodriguez: I don’t know. I know that on paper Khabilov should have the physical and wrestling advantages here, but I smell an upset. Kajan might be able to fluster him standing and start to do damage. Reckless underdog pick incoming. Kajan Johnson by decision.
Zane Simon: Much like the fight with Makhachev, Johnson’s backfoot counter-striking seems tailor made to give Khabilov all the time and space he needs to set up takedown entries. Rustam Khabilov by decision.
Staff picking Johnson: Bissell, Victor
Staff picking Khabilov: Nick, Harry, Mookie, Stephie, Fraser, Dayne, Tim, Zane
Desmond Green vs. Mairbek Taisumov
Victor Rodriguez: Rough. Des has a slew of personal problems coming into this fight, and Taisumov has been damn near indestructible as of late. If it weren’t for his visa troubles, Taisumov would probably be fighting top ten opposition already. Mairbek Taisumov by TKO, round 2.
Zane Simon: Kind of a mirror to the Johnson/Khabilov fight. Green likes to fight off his back foot, throwing quick counter combos when his opponent steps in. That likely lines up to let Taisumov get creative in open space. Otherwise, Green is occasionally willing to lead, but isn’t exactly a defensive master when he does, which could get him countered hard. Mairbek Taisumov by KO, round 2.
Staff picking Green: Tim
Staff picking Taisumov: Bissell, Nick, Harry, Mookie, Stephie, Phil, Fraser, Dayne, Victor, Zane
Magomed Ankalaev vs. Marcin Prachnio
Victor Rodriguez: Meh. These guys are good, but this might just make for another ass-ugly LHW fight. Uncle Vic ain’t too jazzed about this. Flip a coin. Whatever. I’ll go with the hometown dude. Ankalaev by decision.
Zane Simon: Prachnio is a lot less likely to catch Ankalaev out than even Craig was and every bit as likely to end up on his back getting clubbered from guard. Most likely Prachnio gets countered coming in, taken down, and KO’d, maybe after gassing from scrambling for a bit. Magomed Ankalaev via TKO, Round 1.
Staff picking Ankalaev: Bissell, Nick, Mookie, Stephie, Phil, Fraser, Dayne, Zane
Staff picking Prachnio: Tim
Jordan Johnson vs. Adam Yandiev
Victor Rodriguez: Yo, I get that the UFC likes the hometown guys in favorable matchups for their maiden voyages into international markets and all. Even with a three year break, Yandiev is on a 9 win streak. You know exactly what they’re doing here, and you know what he’s about. This is disgusting. Adam Yandiev by TKO.
Zane Simon: There’s a chance that Yandiev blitzes Johnson out of the gate and puts him away. But the Russian’s reliance on wrestling doesn’t have me convinced. Plus, his long layoff and bricked up physique have me thinking he’ll blitz hard early and then gas out to have a top control clinic put on him. Jordan Johnson via Decision.
Staff picking Johnson: Bissell, Nick, Mookie, Stephie, Phil, Dayne, Tim, Zane
Staff picking Yandiev: Victor
Ramazan Emeev vs. Stefan Sekulic
Victor Rodriguez: The experience gap should win the day here. Emeev by TKO, round 3.
Zane Simon: Sekulic seems like the kind of guy who’s thrived on being UFC sized in a regional scene where nobody else is cutting weight to fight him. Emeev is a lanky former middleweight and a controlling grinder, and likely a huge step up for Sekulic’s well rounded, but not exceptional, game. Ramazan Emeev by decision.
Staff picking Emeev: Bissell, Nick, Mookie, Stephie, Phil, Fraser, Dayne, Tim, Victor, Zane
Staff picking Sekulic: Harry
Merab Dvalishvili vs. Terrion Ware
Victor Rodriguez: An unofficial loser leaves town match? Count me in. Ware should be able to pour on damage early, but Merab will try to mug him the longer the fight goes on with cage clinches and late takedown attempts. It’s not like Ware can’t submit him, I just don’t think he’ll put much stock into that and will try to strike more than anything. Terrion Ware by decision.
Zane Simon: Ware just doesn’t have the physicality to compete with most UFC bantamweights. He’s skilled everywhere, with the ability to wrestle and grapple as well as his combination boxing game. But, he doesn’t have the speed to get his hips back against takedowns at the UFC level, nor the power to scare off less technical strikers standing. Dvalishvili could get himself in trouble if he can’t get Ware down, but likely his continually blitzing power wrestle-boxing game will see Ware physically overwhelmed yet again in the Octagon. Merab Dvalishvili via decision.
Staff picking Dvalishvili: Bissell, Nick, Harry, Mookie, Stephie, Phil, Fraser, Dayne, Tim, Zane
Staff picking Ware: Victor