UFC 196 Predictions
Author: Cain Miller
Main Card (PPV)
Conor McGregor vs Nate Diaz:
In our main event of the evening we have featherweight champion Conor McGregor moving up two weight classes to take on the infamous Nate Diaz. With lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos being forced out of the originally scheduled fight with McGregor due to a broken foot, Diaz will now be taking this fight on relatively two weeks notice, so it will be interesting to see how that really affects him. After struggling with consistency from 2012-2014, Diaz recently picked up an impressive unanimous decision win over Michael Johnson back in late December. In that fight, Diaz appeared to be in much better shape than we had seen in his previous couple of performances, and went on to use his signature style of mid-fight taunting to throw off his opponent and put forth a higher volume of strikes in order to wear Johnson down. Style-wise, Diaz’s strengths have always been pretty straightforward. While his boxing is not the most technical, Diaz is very good at using a high output of combinations to smother his opponent and simply not give them much of a chance to breathe. Add in the fact that Nate will also be constantly trash talking to his opponents during the actual fights, it’s easy to see why he’s able to get in fighters’ heads so often. While Diaz has some fluid hands, his biggest strength is most likely his Jiu Jitsu. Diaz is very crafty on the ground, both on top and on bottom, and is quite skilled at catching his opponents off guard, particularly with his guillotine and triangle choke.
After only being in the UFC since 2013, Conor MCGregor has made quite a stir in the organization. Currently riding a 15-fight winning streak, we last saw McGregor a at UFC 194 where he captured the 145lbs gold strap by knocking out Jose Aldo in just 13 seconds. It’s widely known that McGregor is a striker first and foremost, utilizing a wide array of stand up attacks to dismantle his opponents. While McGregor has had so much success in the UFC, there are still several question marks surrounding his overall set of skills. The biggest weakness in Conor’s arsenal would still have to be his grappling, particularly his wrestling. As seen in the Chad Mendes fight, McGregor’s takedown defense is still questionable and when he’s put on his back, he doesn’t seem to offer much in terms of offense. That being said, it’s a bit of a mystery as to how much Conor has been improving in between his fights, especially given how quickly his last outing lasted.
Stylistically, Diaz and McGregor are very different fighters, though they are actually similar in certain aspects. For one, neither man’s striking defense is particularly good. While both men are known for having some good chins, McGregor definitely has more power in his hands and his durability is probably more reliable at this stage in both fighters’ careers. Both men are more than willing to eat punches, but given Conor’s heavier hands and arguably superior chin, he will probably have more success if these two decide to trade shots in the pocket. On top of that, McGregor definitely has the more diverse striking style, especially with his wide array of kicks which he mixes up well both to the head as well as the body. This is especially important in this matchup considering that Nate Diaz often struggles with more elusive strikers who mix up their attacks. For example, in Diaz’s fight with Josh Thomson, Nate was clearly outstruck because his opponent used superior movement and footwork to avoid playing directly into Diaz’s game, which eventually resulted in Nate being finished with strikes for the first time in his career. Diaz works best when he gets in his opponent’s head and forces them to fight at a less technical level and fall directly into his boxing rhythm, as showcased in his last fight against Michael Johnson. Whenever fighters are able to avoid that, such as Benson Henderson and Rafael dos Anjos, Diaz tends to lose pretty decisively.
The smartest gameplan for Diaz would be to look to get this fight to the ground and work his far superior submission game. If Diaz manages to get this fight to the mat, then he can absolutely end the fight. The problem is that Diaz’s wrestling has never been very good, so he might struggle to get the fight to the ground in the first place. Diaz is good at scoring with trips and throws from the clinch, so he’ll really need to close the distance if he wants to capitalize with any takedowns. We’ve seen in the past that McGregor’s overall ground game is still relatively suspect and that could be very costly against a submission specialist such as Diaz. The problem here is that in order to get the fight in the clinch in hopes of dragging the action to the ground, Diaz will need to pressure McGregor and that could leave him wide open for counter punches, as seen in Conor’s fight with Jose Aldo, and with Diaz’s aforementioned weak striking defense, that could be a dangerous tactic to attempt.
While Diaz has almost always been a game opponent no matter the circumstances of his fights, this seems like a pretty tough matchup for him especially on such short notice. While Diaz will have the size advantage and will still most likely have better cardio in the matchup, McGregor’s fluid striking skills will probably be too much for Nate to handle, as seen in some of his previous performances. While it’s definitely not out of the question for Diaz to find a way to get this fight to the ground early, possibly by even pulling guard and locking on a submission, it’s going to be difficult for him to get on the inside with the constant threat of McGregor’s rangy striking attacks. Expect both men to start off fairly aggressive, probably with quite a bit of verbal confrontation, but McGregor’s elusive, more diverse stand up skills will eventually take their toll on Diaz and allow Conor to get the TKO probably around the midway part of the fight.
Conor McGregor via TKO (Round 3)
Holly Holm vs Miesha Tate:
In our co-main event of the evening, women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm will look to defend her belt for the first time against perennial top contender Miesha Tate. Back at UFC 193, Holly Holm captured the bantamweight title by putting on a true striking clinic with her second round head kick knockout over former champion Ronda Rousey. Holm has a decorated boxing background, something she’s shown throughout her mixed martial arts career, though her fight against Rousey really showed that she’s actually evolving into a somewhat well rounded fighter. While her grappling has shown to be slowly but surely improving, her striking is still her clear strong point, especially that devastating left high kick that she possesses. Holm’s technical, accurate striking skills have greatly helped her throughout her career, which she uses to control the pace of her fights while mixing in a pretty varied arsenal of stand up attacks.
The challenger, Miesha Tate, is currently riding a four-fight winning streak including a unanimous decision victory over Jessica Eye back in July. While Tate is a fairly well rounded fighter, her biggest strength is without a doubt her wrestling. Miesha is very good at pressuring her opponents, scoring with takedowns and then hunting for submission once she establishes her top game. While Holm was able to avoid Rousey’s Judo, it will be interesting to see how she handles an opponent who will more than likely be looking to force her into the clinch and look to drag the fight to the ground. With that in mind, Tate has a very bad habit of fighting with questionable gameplans in many of her fights. The perfect example of this was her rematch with Ronda Rousey back at UFC 168 where Tate, despite arguably beating her opponent on the feet, continued to pressure forward and attempt to fight in the clinch, which obviously played right into Rousey’s bread and butter. While this is clearly a very different matchup than that, it’s still a worrisome factor knowing that Tate doesn’t always compete with the highest level of calculated strategy.
While Tate has more experience than her opponent and actually has some tools to possibly make this a close fight, this is stylistically a pretty good matchup for Holm on paper. For one, Holm will have a huge advantage on the feet. Holm is extremely good at using her movement and footwork to outclass her opponents on the feet, which she should be able to do against Tate. While Tate’s striking has been improving over the years, it’s nowhere near on the level of Holm’s, who is a very seasoned striker. On top of that, Tate’s striking defense has never been particularly great, which is definitely a factor that will come into play for this matchup. Now if Tate can actually effectively use her far superior wrestling to drag Holm to the ground, then she should be able to control her on the mat and maybe eventually find the submission at some point. However, Holm’s takedown defense has shown to be pretty good thus far in her UFC career. Add in the fact that Holm’s constant movement will make it tricky for Tate to catch her with a takedown, and it’s possible that this fight never even makes it to the ground in the first place.
For Tate, she needs to make this a gritty fight right from the start. She cannot allow Holm to find her striking rhythm early on and simply do to her what the champ did to Rousey. Tate needs to close the distance right off the bat and look to smother Holm in the clinch and constantly look to force the action to the ground. The problem there is that in order to do that, Tate will be putting herself in danger of being countered and since her striking defense isn’t the best, as said above, that makes this a very tough matchup for her. And this is all assuming that Tate even makes the attempt to use her superior ground game in the first place, but since her fight I.Q. has made her a pretty unreliable fighter at times, it’s honestly possible that she’ll actually try to stand and trade with Holm on the feet, which is obviously not the smartest idea.
Overall, this fight seems to favor Holm in many different aspects. Expect Tate to start off pretty aggressively, most likely charging at Holm with swarms of punches, but Holm’s far more technical footwork will help her stay on the outside and simply outstrike her opponent from a comfortable distance. All throughout her career, Tate has shown to be very tough to put away so a finish from Holm might be somewhat challenging. Nonetheless, Holm should still be able to use her superior striking to get the better of her opponent and either earn a justified decision or possibly score the stoppage around the midway/later portions of the fight.
Holly Holm via Unanimous Decision
Gian Villante vs Ilir Latifi:
Taking the action over to the light heavyweight division we have Serra-Longo Fight Team member Gian Villante squaring off against Swedish powerhouse Ilir Latifi. Since coming to the UFC back in 2013, Gian Villante has had some consistency issues over his past several appearances. At times, Villante is able to successfully put together his defensive wrestling and heavy hands to earn hard fought wins, such as his finishes over Anthony Perosh and Corey Anderson, though his cardio and slightly questionable chin have always held him back. For example, in Villante’s fight with Tom Lawlor, he was doing well early on, but his tendency to get hit eventually led to him getting caught early in the second round. Another example would be Villante’s fight with Fabio Maldonado where, again, he was doing well early on but this time it was his gas tank that failed him and resulted in him losing a decision. Needless to say, while Villante does possess the tools to have some respectable success in the UFC thus far, he still has some noticeable holes in his game that have held him back.
His opponent, Ilir “The Sledgehammer” Latifi, has won four of his last five fights, including back to back first round knockout wins over Hans Stringer and Sean O’Connell. A long time training partner of Alexander Gustafsson, Latifi is widely known for his ultra-aggressive style and serious punching power. Latifi likes to pressure his opponents early on, looking to land big haymakers, and from what we’ve seen in the past, it really doesn’t take much for him to end the fight. On top of that, Latifi also has proven submission skills, as seen in his first round guillotine over Cyrille Diabate in his second UFC appearance. If there is one big concern about Latifi, it would have to be the questions surrounding his cardio if this fight makes it past the first round. Not that we’ve seen bad cardio from Latifi in the past, it’s just that since all five of his last fights have not made it past the first round, we haven’t really seen his gas tank tested yet and it’s a bit of a question mark at this point. Latifi is obviously a very athletic individual, but he carries quite a bit of muscle and that might take its toll on him and force him to slow down if this fight is taken into deep waters.
This fight will probably take place on the feet and Latifi will most likely have the advantage there. Villante’s striking defense isn’t the best and that could really cost him against such a serious slugger like his opponent. Villante might be a bit more technical on the feet, though his shaky chin is really a concerning factor. The biggest advantage that Villante has is definitely his superior size. Latfi is not a massive fighter for 205lbs, seeing as how he has a very short, stocky build compared to his much taller opponent. The reason that this could be a factor is that in order for Latifi to land his power punches, he’ll need to get on the inside and fight at a close distance with Villante who is the much bigger light heavyweight between the two. In doing so, Latifi might get too reckless with his striking and actually get caught with one of Villante’s heavy shots which results in a finish. With that in mind, this fight should still favor Latifi. While his cardio is still a bit of a question mark, he should have the skills to get the job done early in the fight. Seeing as how Villante has been pretty prone to getting hit in the past, the likelihood of Latifi connecting with something big within the first round are at least somewhat favorable. Expect both men to exchange strikes early on, but Latifi’s constant pressure will quickly help him connect with one of his devastating haymakers and score the knockout relatively quickly.
Ilir Latifi via Knockout (Round 1)
Corey Anderson vs Tom Lawlor:
Continuing the action in the light heavyweight division we have Ultimate Fighter season 19 winner Corey Anderson taking on Tom Lawlor, who will be looking to build off of the momentum from his knockout win over Gian Villante in his most recent fight. With a 4-1 record in the UFC including back to back decision wins over Jan Blachowicz and Fabio Maldonado, Corey Anderson has proven himself to be a pretty impressive prospect in the 205lbs division. Anderson’s biggest strength is his seasoned wrestling background, though he has been making noticeable improvements to his overall mixed martial arts skills. Anderson is a very athletically gifted fighter who is good at mixing up his developing striking with his powerful takedowns and wearing down his opponents with his smothering ground control. The biggest area of concern for Anderson would be his defense both on the feet as well as on the mat. Anderson has been caught on the feet before, the only real reason why he lost to Gian Villante back in April of 2015, and his submission defense is still a bit questionable as well. When Anderson fought Jan Blachowicz back at UFC 191, Anderson almost found himself getting snagged in an armbar within the first round, which is concerning given that Anderson’s biggest strength is when the fight goes to the ground. This could be concerning seeing as how Tom Lawlor has shown finishing abilities both on the feet and on the ground.
After being sidelined with injuries for nearly two years, Tom Lawlor made his return to the UFC back in July and picked up a second round knockout over Gian Villante. Lawlor has always been a respectable athlete with a good wrestling base and some impressive submission skills as well. While Lawlor has had his fair share of success in the UFC, his long layoff definitely seemed to take it’s toll on him in his last fight. Before finding the knockout early in the second round, Lawlor seemed very rusty throughout the first round and was greatly struggling both offensively and defensively. While you could give Lawlor the benefit of the doubt and assume that this was due to him being sidelined for a prolonged period of time, it’s still concerning since he’s facing an opponent with a pretty high level of offensive output.
While Lawlor could look much better in this fight since he won’t have to be dealing with ring rust, it’s still somewhat of a difficult matchup for him. Lawlor tends to get a bit sloppy on the feet and that could either leave him open to be taken down or even countered by some of Anderson’s strikes, who has shown some glimpses of a pretty aggressive stand up arsenal. On top of that, it might be difficult for Lawlor to consistently look to land his power punches with the constant threat of Anderson’s takedowns. While Lawlor has some good wrestling himself, Anderson’s ground game is still probably superior. With that in mind, Anderson will need to be very careful while pressuring his opponent because Lawlor is very good at catching his opponents off guard with his guillotine choke. If Anderson hangs around with Lawlor too much in the clinch, he’ll need to be very careful to protect his neck. On top of that, as said before, Anderson’s striking defense isn’t the best so it wouldn’t be shocking if Lawlor managed to connect with something big on the feet, similar to what he did against Villante. Overall, provided that Anderson can stay clear of Lawlor’s heavy punches and be cautious of his tricky submission game, then Anderson should be able to use his dominant wrestling and improving striking to earn a relatively close decision win.
Corey Anderson via Unanimous Decision
Amanda Nunes vs Valentina Shevchenko
Kicking off the main card we have a clash in the women’s bantamweight division between former Strikeforce and Invicta competitor Amanda Nunes taking on seasoned kickboxer Valentina Shevchenko. After suffering a third round TKO to Cat Zingano back in September of 2014, Nunes now currently finds herself coming off of back to back first round finishes, including a dominant TKO over Shayna Baszler and a rear naked choke over Sara McMann. Nunes has a very aggressive fighting style, particularly with her fairly strong striking and solid wrestling skills. Nunes always starts off her fights by immediately getting in her opponent’s face and pouring on a high output of offense, especially by scoring early takedowns and using her vicious ground and pound to overwhelm them. The problem with this fighting style is that it greatly takes a toll on Nunes’ cardio. If Nunes is unable to force the early stoppage, then her ultra-aggressive style backfires on her and results in her depleting her gas tank. The perfect example of this was Nunes’ fight with Zingano, where Nunes started off very strong and dominated the fight early on, but eventually tired herself out and got finished late in the fight. Needless to say, if Nunes doesn’t get the first round stoppage, then she could be in serious trouble.
Her opponent, Valentina Shevchenko, is coming off of a successful UFC debut back in December, defeating Sarah Kaufman by way of split decision. Shevchenko’s biggest strength is without a doubt her impressive striking skills, obviously the result of her lengthy kickboxing background. Shevchenko is pretty technical on the feet and really thrives in the clinch where she looks to land with powerful knees and elbows. On top of that, Shevchenko has shown to have some good cardio as well, which should definitely help her in this specific matchup.
This fight will most likely go one of two ways. Either Nunes’ aggressive pressure in the first round will help her score the early finish, or she’ll gas herself out and give Shevchenko the opportunity to take over. Shevchenko’s grappling is easily the weakest aspect of her game, so if Nunes can effectively use her superior wrestling and Jiu Jitsu to take her opponent out of her comfort zone quickly, then she could probably get the finish either via submission or ground strikes. However, if Shevchenko can survive the early onslaught then she should have a big advantage in the second and third round simply based on her better cardio. It’s a close fight and it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Nunes get the finish within the first five minutes, though it’s just as likely that Shevchenko makes it past the first round and goes on to sway the judges in her favor and win a 29-28 decision. In the end, Nunes can probably get the win simply based on her pressure and volume early on in the fight. As said before, Shevchenko’s biggest weakness is her ground game and that’s a very bad factor against someone like Nunes. Provided that Nunes can get this fight to the ground early, then she should be able to secure a dominant position and force the stoppage before the first round is over.
Amanda Nunes via TKO (Round 1)
Televised Prelims (Fox Sports 1)
Brandon Thatch vs Siyar Bahadurzada:
In our featured prelim of the night we have a pair of dangerous welterweight strikers facing off with Brandon Thatch and Siyar Bahadurzada. Even though Thatch started off his UFC career very strong with back to back first round TKO wins, he now finds himself on a two-fight losing streak with his last outing being a first round submission defeat to Gunnar Nelson at UFC 189. Thatch is a very technical striker who really thrives when he’s in the clinch unleashing his vicious Muay Thai. Thatch always starts off extremely aggressive which has resulted in many first round finishes on his professional record, though one has to wonder where he’s at mentally for this matchup. With his back up against the wall, it’s questionable as to what kind of strategy Thatch will look to implement in this matchup. Will he start off aggressive like he normally does or will he be a bit more tentative after being caught in his last performance?
His opponent, Siyar Bahadurzada, is also coming off of back to back losses, both being decisions to Dong Hyun Kim and John Howard respectively. Bahadurzada’s last fight was all the way back in December of 2013, so it’s quite difficult to measure how much that long layoff is going of affect him in the cage. Bahadurzada is predominantly a striker who carries a good amount of power in his hands, as seen in his 42 second knockout over Paulo Thiago. While Bahadurzada has proven finishing abilities, he often times tends to struggle if his fights make it past the first round, something that might happen even worse in this fight given his ring rust.
This fight will almost certainly stay on the feet and it’s hard not to give Thatch the advantage there. That’s size and aggression will probably be too much for Bahadurzada to handle, especially if it goes to the clinch. With that said, Thatch absolutely needs to be cautious of Bahadurzada’s power. It’s quite possible that Thatch could rush in with a flurry of strikes and then simply be countered and finished given Bahadurzada’s knockout ability. Though provided that Thatch can effectively avoid Bahadurzada’s power punches and use his clinch striking to overwhelm his opponent, then he should be able to get the stoppage due to strikes somewhere within the first or second round.
Brandon Thatch via TKO (Round 1)
Erick Silva vs Nordine Taleb:
Continuing the action in the 170lbs division we have Brazilian finisher Erick Silva facing off against Team Tristar member Nordine Taleb. While Silva has built himself up to be a fan favorite inside the UFC based on his exciting fighting style, he’s definitely had his struggles with consistency within the promotion as well. Silva has scary finishing ability both on the feet and on the ground, though it seems that whenever he takes a big step up in competition, he falls short. Silva will have no problem running through opponents like Luis Ramos, Jason High and Takenori Sato, but in his fights against much higher ranked competitors such as Dong Hyun Kim, Matt Brown and Neil Magny, he can never seem to mirror his prior success. Silva’s last fight, the matchup with Neil Magny, is especially important when breaking down this upcoming scrap. Silva has always had a very athletic physique though leading up to the fight, he seemed to be in much worse shape than usual. Some were quick to bring up allegations towards to new drug testing policy that the UFC has implemented, something that has noticeably affected certain fighters on the roster, but there’s honestly no way of fully proving that. Many things could lead to this outcome such as various injuries, so we’re definitely not making any accusations one way or another. However, Silva’s performance against Magny was very concerning seeing as how he looked much less impressive than he has in the past. Silva is known for being aggressive very early in his fights, though against Magny he was quite tentative and didn’t seem confident in pulling the trigger and actually make an effort to search for the stoppage.
His opponent, Nordine Taleb, holds a 3-1 record inside the UFC with his last performance being a second round guillotine loss to Warlley Alves back at UFC 190. Taleb has some decent striking though he’s probably most effective when he’s scoring with takedowns and using his wrestling to control his opponents on the ground, as showcased in his unanimous decision victory over Chris Clements. Taleb has very good cardio and is quite dominant when he’s pressuring his opponents with his grappling and ultimately wearing them out en route to winning on the judges’ score cards. The problem with this style is that when Taleb faces other fighters who can negate his smothering style by simply being either more skilled on the feet or on the ground, he tends to struggle, as witnessed in his last loss to Alves.
This is actually a very tricky fight to predicts simply based on all of the question marks surrounding Silva surrounding his last fight. If Silva looks like his old self and actually performs in his usual aggressive style, then he should be able to get the stoppage. However, if Silva shows up looking like he did in his last fight then it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Taleb grind out a decision especially seeing as how Silva has never had very good cardio. It’s a close fight in terms of several unpredictable elements, but if Silva performs at least somewhat better than he did in his last outing, then he will probably get the stoppage. Silva is the much more powerful striker between the two and also possesses the more explosive submission game as well. Taleb will probably try to initiate his wrestling early on but in doing so, he’ll probably leave himself exposed to a submission. Provided that Taleb isn’t able to survive the early onslaught and then use his far superior cardio to sway the judges in his favor, then Silva will more than likely get the finish relatively early in the fight.
Erick Silva via Submission (Round 1)
Vitor Miranda vs Marcelo Guimaraes:
Taking the action over to the middleweight division we have Muay Thai specialist Vitor Miranda looking to make it three wins in a row when he squares off against former Jungle Fight champion Marcelo Guimaraes. As a competitor on the third season of the Ultimate Fighter Brazil, Miranda showcased his crisp kickboxing while on the show to pick up three consecutive knockout wins. Miranda has very quick, accurate striking that carries quite a bit of power, especially in his swift kicks. While Miranda is very skilled on the feet, his grappling has definitely been a weakness for him throughout his UFC career. In his fight against Antonio Carlos Junior, Miranda was taken down numerous times and thoroughly controlled on the ground. Another example was Miranda’s fight with Jake Collier, where he was out-grappled throughout the majority of the first round before eventually getting back to his feet and finding the knockout.
Standing across from Miranda in the cage will be Marcelo Guimaraes who will be making his return to the cage after being sidelined for nearly two years. Guimaraes is primarily a grappler who likes to press his opponents against the cage and look to score with takedowns. The problem with his style is that Guimaraes tends to be pretty inactive in many of his fights, which results in them being very close. While Guimaraes’ striking isn’t terrible, he has never seemed all that comfortable on the feet and that could really hurt him in this matchup.
This fight will really come down to who can successfully execute their gameplan. Miranda will be looking to stay on the outside and use his wide array of strikes to pick his opponent apart and eventually find the knockout, while Guimaraes would be smart to get this fight to the clinch as soon as possible and look to wear down his opponent. Since Miranda’s grappling is a concern, it’s not out of the question for Guimaraes to grind out a win with his opponent pressed up against the cage, but Miranda has shown to be good at capitalizing on small openings. If Miranda gets even a little bit of space to work, chances are he’ll connect with one of the many strikes in his arsenal and most likely finish Guimaraes.
Vitor Miranda via TKO (Round 2)
Darren Elkins vs Chas Skelly:
Kicking off the televised prelims we have featherweights Darren Elkins and Chas Skelly facing off with both men hoping to continue to move up the 145lbs rankings. Elkins has been with the UFC since 2010 and has had some decent success over the years, though he’s always come up short against the more elite fighters in his division, as seen in his fights with Chad Mendes and Jeremy Stephens. Elkins has always been a gritty wrestler who prefers to use a grinding style to wear down his opponents with smothering clinch-work and heavy ground control. While this tactic has favored Elkins well in the past, he always struggles when fighters are able to either avoid the grappling altogether and force him to strike, or when his opponents are also skilled grapplers and are able to neutralize Elkins’ suffocating strategy.
His opponent, Chas Skelly, is currently riding a four-fight winning streak including a second round rear naked choke win over Kevin Souza back in November. Style-wise, Skelly is actually very similar to Elkins, seeing as how he has a strong wrestling base that he uses to control his opponents in the clinch and on the ground. On the feet, Skelly has shown to have some good power behind his strikes, as seen in his TKO victory over Jim Alers, though he still needs some improvement in his technique and movement. While Skelly has obviously had some good success in the UFC so far, this will be his first relatively big step up in competition so it should be interesting to see how he handles it.
This is a close matchup simply based on the fact that both fighters are so similar. Both have decent striking though they are definitely more comfortable either in the clinch or on top of their opponents. This fight will most likely go to the clinch early on where it’s tough to grasp where either man will have the advantage. Given that Elkins tends to struggle against fellow grapplers who aren’t content to just be pressured against the cage, he might have some issue against Skelly who probably has what it takes to out-muscle Elkins at a close range and possibly even score with some takedowns as well. It’s going to be difficult for Skelly to lock on a submission against Elkins who has some good defense on the ground, but he should still be able to be at least somewhat effective on the ground and be successful in swaying the judges in his favor. This will be a very close fight that could go either way, but ultimately Skelly should slightly get the better of his opponent in the clinch as well as on the mat, and earn a hard fought, possibly split decision win.
Chas Skelly via Unanimous Decision
Online Prelims (UFC Fight Pass)
Diego Sanchez vs Jim Miller:
In the final online prelims we have the first ever Ultimate Fighter winner Diego Sanchez squaring off against fellow seasoned UFC vet Jim Miller. Over the past few years, Diego Sanchez seems to have hit quite a rough patch at this point in his career. If it were not for questionable decisions against Martin Kampmann, Takanori Gomi and Ross Pearson, Sanchez would very well be on a seven-fight losing streak. While Sanchez is a very exciting fighter to watch, he often times relies far too heavily on his aggression and pressure, which results in him losing to fighters who possess a more technical set of skills, as seen in his recent fights with Ricardo Lamas, Myles Jury and Gilbert Melendez. To Sanchez’s credit, he’s faced nothing but top competition all throughout his career, but he’ll need more than just his typical style of pressure fighting if he wants to get his hand raised in the near future.
Jim Miller has also had his share of adversity as of late, having gone 1-3 in his last four appearances. After back to back first round submission wins of Yancy Medeiros and Fabricio Camoes, Miller went on to suffer a head kick knockout loss to Donald Cerrone, and was most recently submitted with a rear naked choke by Michael Chiesa back in December. While Miller hasn’t had much success lately, he still remains a pretty talented fighter. Miller’s strongest skill has always been his dangerous Jiu Jitsu, though his boxing is fairly solid as well. Like his opponent, Miller has faced some high levels of competition over the past several years, so it will be interesting to see how these two match up against each other.
Stylistically, this fight seems to favor Miller, at least on paper. Miller is the far more technical fighter who definitely has the ability to out-point Sanchez and earn the decision. That being said, if Miller gets careless and chooses to brawl with his opponent, then Sanchez could very well sway the judges in his favor simply based on his ultra-aggressive fighting style. However, provided that Miller fights smart and chooses to capitalize on his far more technical striking, then he can most likely be the more successful fighter in terms of offense, and ultimately win the decision.
Jim Miller via Unanimous Decision
Justin Salas vs Jason Saggo
Up next we have a scrap in the lightweight division with Justin Salas taking on Jason Saggo. After a first round knockout over Ben Wall back in May of 2014, Justin Salas went on to suffer a second round TKO at the hands of Joe Proctor later that year and has been on the sidelines since then. Salas is primarily a wrestler though he’s shown to be at least respectively well rounded throughout the course of his six-fight UFC career thus far. While Salas had has some decent success over the past couple of years, he has really struggle whenever he takes a noticeable step up in competition, as seen in his losses to Tim Means and Thiago Tavares.
His opponent, Jason Saggo, had an impressive UFC debut all the way back at UFC 174, though he most recently lost a split decision to Paul Felder back in October of 2014. Saggo is mainly a grappler who is known for being pretty aggressive once his fights hit the mat. Saggo is very active on the ground and is constantly looking to pass his opponent’s guard in order to find openings for ground and pound or submission attempts. While Saggo has shown to be an effective fighter on the ground, his striking and overall mixed martial arts skills still need a bit of fine tuning. While he’s had a fair amount of success only with his grappling, he’ll need to really work on his overall set of skills of he wants to continue moving up the rankings of the super competitive lightweight roster.
This will probably be a pretty close fight that should take place mainly on the ground, where Saggo will probably have the advantage based on his superior takedowns and grappling effectiveness. With that in mind, if Salas manages to keep the fight standing and use his striking advantages, the he could possibly do enough to earn a decision as well. Although, with Sago’s constant threat of takedowns, it might be difficult for Salas to put anything together while standing. Expect Saggo to pressure forward, initiate the clinch early, and look to drag this fight to the ground as quickly as possible and either eventually lock on a submission or do enough to sway the judges in his favor.
Jason Saggo via Submission (Round 2)
Julian Erosa vs Teruto Ishihara:
In our first fight of the night we have Ultimate Fighter season 22 semi-finalist Julian Erosa squaring off against Japanese striker Teruto Ishihara. Erosa is coming off of a successful UFC debut at the TUF 22 finale, where he defeated Marcin Wrzosek via split decision. Erosa is a fairly well rounded fighter, though his biggest strength is probably his unorthodox stand up. He’s a very big fighter for 145lbs and he’s shown to be skilled at properly using his size to out-strike his opponents from a comfortable distance. On top of that, Erosa’s unconventional movement and footwork seem to greatly throw of many of his opponents, as seen in his fights against Mehdi Baghdad and Abner Lloveras while on the Ultimate Fighter house.
His opponent, Teruto Ishihara, is also predominantly a striker who likes to use allusive movement to mix up his attacks on the feet. As seen in his fights on Road to UFC: Japan, Ishihara likes to remain aloof on the feet and throw single shots that carry a respectable amount of power behind them. The biggest problem that Ishihara has right now is that he’s still very young in the sport and hasn’t faced a truly elite level of competition thus far in his career. With Ishihara still being so green in many areas, it will be interesting to see how he handles the higher caliber of fighters on such a big stage.
This fight should favor Erosa in several areas. For one, Ishihara hasn’t shown much of a ground game and Erosa’s grappling has shown to be pretty good based on his fights before he made his way to the UFC. In terms of striking, Erosa should be better there as well. As said before, Erosa is a big featherweight and that will most likely help him here against a fellow stand up fighter. In order for Ishihara to have success on the feet, he’ll need to get on the inside and land his power shots, though that probably won’t be easy given that both fighters seem to prefer to fight a bit more rangy. It’s not out of the question for Erosa to get caught on the feet though. He tends to really leave his chin exposed in his fights, and seen in his fight with Artem Lobov, and that could cost him here against an opponent like Ishihara who has shown some pretty good finishing ability. Nonetheless, Erosa should still have the tools to get the job done here. Provided that Erosa stays on the outside, effectively uses his reach, and maybe mixes in his grappling here and there, then he should be able to earn the victory either by way of decision or possibly submission as well.
Julian Erosa via Unanimous Decision
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