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UFC 246: McGregor vs. Cerrone staff picks and predictions for undercard

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The Bloody Elbow team has made its predictions for UFC 246, which we’re splitting into two posts. This one covers the ten-fight undercard, including four PPV fights and six prelims. The majority of us are going with Holly Holm to get the victory over Raquel Pennington in their co-main event rematch. Easily the hardest fight to pick is the featherweight prelim between Andre Fili and Sodiq Yusuff.

Note: Predictions are entered throughout the week and collected the day before the event. Explanations behind each pick are not required and some writers opt not to do so for their own reasons. For example, if Phil Mackenzie entered all of his predictions on Wednesday without adding in any explanations, he has no idea if he’s going to be the only one siding with one fighter for any given fight.

Holly Holm vs. Raquel Pennington

Anton Tabuena: I don’t even know why they rebooked this after seeing how bad the first one was, and now they even made this a co-main to a big PPV? Weird. I expect a lot of air punching, a lot of wall n’ stall, and a pretty terrible decision win that could go either way. I guess I’ll go with Holly Holm by decision.

Mookie Alexander: This fight does nothing for me. I suppose Holm is a better fighter now than she was when she struggled vs. Pennington back in 2015. Raquel can make this an ugly fight against the fence and she should have the edge in clinch offense. Beyond that, Holm is still faster and more likely to win a kickboxing match, even if it’s low-volume and forgettable. Holly Holm by unanimous decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Their first fight was razor thin, and at this point Raquel Pennington was about 3 years into her pro career, and already recognizably the superior boxer of the two. Holm scraped the win mostly due to her size and kicking game. Holm is 38 and has looked… OK of late? She can still pick up the odd singular left hand counter, but much of what has been making her game work has been wrestling and wall’n’stall. I expect the fight to be very close again, but Holm’s tendencies to lock up will leave her in the pocket a bit too much with the fighter with better hands and defense. Raquel Pennington by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: On the one hand, as many will say, Raquel Pennington may have deserved to win her first fight with Holly Holm, and their dynamic hasn’t shifted that much since. On the other, I kind of feel like the few shifts that have happened favor Holm more than Pennington. Holm has become more passive in her offensive output, to some degree, but in part I think that’s a lot to do with facing much more varied strikers than Pennington. She’s also become a better wrestler, while Pennington seems like less of the crash forward clinch attacker that she used to be. And when it comes to ‘Rocky’’s striking game, she’s still largely a headhunting boxer—albeit a more technical one. But I just don’t think depending on a range boxing game is going to be enough to beat Holm, and I think Holm’s improved clinch and wrestling will nullify what other advantages Pennington may have had in the past. Holly Holm by decision.

Staff picking Holm: Badar, Zane, Mookie, Anton, Shak, Lewis
Staff picking Pennington: Phil, Ed, Dayne

Oleksiy Oliynyk vs. Maurice Greene

Phil Mackenzie: Being big’n’tall probably doesn’t work that well against Oliynyk, as it opens up both his big winging overhand and allows him to come in on his favoured chest to chest bodylock. Greene isn’t without talent, and Oliynyk is extremely old, but Oleksiy Oliynyk by submission, round 1.

Mookie Alexander: Oliynyk should win this because Greene is willing to grapple and that seems like a recipe for disaster against Captain Weird Chokes. On the other hand, Oliynyk is 160 years old and has been brutalized in his last two fights, so Greene can make this truly “heavyweight nonsense” by knocking him out early. Maurice Greene by KO, round 1.

Zane Simon: There’s an excellent chance Oliynyk gets slept in the first exchange. Or gasses in 3 minutes and gets TKO’d quickly after. But Greene’s tendency to back straight up to the cage, cover and clinch seems like it plays perfectly into Oliynyk’s swarming power game to force clinch exchanges. Add to it that Greene is a willing grappler, and it easy to see him getting backed up, clinched, and falling straight into an Ezekiel choke. Oleksiy Oliynyk via submission, round 1.

Badar Raja: I get it, pure grappling does not equate to MMA grappling. However, Oleksiy Oliynyk is a grappling wizard. Not only is he a black belt under Ricardo Liborio but he also holds the record for 12 Ezekiel choke finishes (among 45 submission victories on his record), which is more than Maurice Greene has professional fights. Oleksiy Oliynyk by submission (Ezekiel Choke).

Staff picking Oliynyk: Phil, Ed, Badar, Zane, Anton, Dayne, Shak
Staff picking Greene: Mookie

Brian Kelleher vs. Ode Osbourne

Zane Simon: I’m really worried about how much Kelleher just seemed lost against Montel Jackson’s insane reach advantage. Kelleher has always been a fighter that throws himself into the fire early, come what may, and against Jackson it just meant getting absolutely tuned up. I’m not at all sure Osbourne is as continuously composed and sharp as Jackson is, but he also has 8” of reach on Kelleher, and the same penchant for those moments of dynamic violence. If Kelleher can calm himself down and work his way through early exchanges (or just catch a super fast sub, as he’s been known to do) Osbourne is beatable. But, I just get the feeling this will look a lot like that Jackson fight. Ode Osbourne via sub, round 1.

Staff picking Kelleher: Phil, Ed, Badar, Mookie, Anton, Shak
Staff picking Osbourne: Zane, Dayne

Anthony Pettis vs. Carlos Diego Ferreira

Anton Tabuena: If Pettis just fights him the entire time, he has a very good chance of taking this. I think he should just come in aggressively and start unloading on the feet — like we’ve seen nice flashes of in his recent bouts — and then just attack with submissions and make it a BJJ match when the takedown comes. I think Pettis will do well early, but if he lessens his striking output constantly worrying about defending the takedown, he’ll probably get stuck and worn down on the fence again, and Ferreira will eventually take over. Could go either way, but I’m taking Anthony Pettis by submission.

Mookie Alexander: Pettis is not in his prime anymore and this version of Ferreira is well-equipped to trouble Anthony with his pressure and volume striking. Anthony just doesn’t have the requisite footwork to make his game work when backed up. Carlos Diego Ferreira by unanimous decision.

Phil Mackenzie: The CDF we saw in the Taisumov fight is a straight up nightmare for Pettis. Jabbing into range, working in combination, basic head movement, forcing the fence with endless unrelenting pressure, and a good enough grappler to not get insta-tapped in a scramble. The risk that Pettis boots him upside the head or nails him with a big one two is always present, but Carlos Diego Ferreira by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: I’ll be absolutely fascinated if Pettis decides that he wants to just go ahead and grapple with Ferreira. And it might even be his smartest move, just because getting relentlessly pressured and worrying about takedowns all fight tends to be exactly how Pettis loses. Pettis is the sharper striker, and has mean counters, and I think he’ll hurt Ferreira badly in the first round, if only for a moment. But all the momentum of the fight is on Ferreira’s side. His style of endless, relentless volume boxing is exactly what Pettis has wilted to time and again. Carlos Diego Ferreira by decision.

Staff picking Pettis: Badar, Anton, Shak, Lewis
Staff picking Ferreira: Phil, Ed, Zane, Mookie, Dayne

Maycee Barber vs. Roxanne Modafferi

Anton Tabuena: Modafferi has the experience and technique to stifle Barber and take this to the later rounds, but she will also again have physical disadvantages against the bigger, younger, and stronger foe. This could be an Edgar vs Yair teaching moment for the young Barber, or it could be the one that shows that she’s ready for the top of the division. I hope it’s the former, but I have a feeling it could be the latter. Maycee Barber by Decision.

Mookie Alexander: I’m still not totally sold on Barber and I think the odds for this are whack, but what Barber may lack in technical skills and experience she makes up for with power and physical strength. Roxy is not going to be a walkover for Barber, but this is a tough matchup for her I’m afraid. Maycee Barber by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: Modafferi has avenues to make this a real, hard fight. She’s been working a lot on her clinch offense, and she’s got the veteran composure and toughness to grind through wild bursts of Barber’s offense and drag her into deep water. I hope she can make it happen. I’d love to see her get the win. But top tier physical athletes have always been a struggle, regardless of their experience level. And this seems like a prime example of that matchup. Maycee Barber by decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Modafferi has become a more willing and effective striker, yet what allowed her to edge out Antonina Shevchenko was at least partially that Shevchenko, like her sister, is a fighter who is willing to coast to a decision (whether a win or a loss). When Maycee, The Future Barber gets put at a deficit she tends to increase the pressure and force her physicality on her opponent (eg Aldrich). So, I suspect Modafferi stings and irritates Barber until she goes berserk. Maycee Barber by TKO, round 3.

Staff picking Barber: Phil, Zane, Dayne, Anton, Shak, Mookie
Staff picking Modafferi: Ed, Badar

Drew Dober vs. Nasrat Haqparast

Mookie Alexander: This is gonna be a fun slugfest and I am here for it. Haqparast is probably not a dude you want to brawl with if you’re Dober, though. Nasrat Haqparast by TKO, round 2.

Zane Simon: Dober has improved a ton, especially with his ability to sit down on strikes and deliver power. But his brawling boxing style is still pretty predictable in terms of what kind of strikes he’s going to deliver and at what speed. Haqparast may be working with a slightly more limited toolkit, but that seems largely by design. And he’s excellent at building his offense off of his opponents timing and the openings they give. Dober seems primed to give Haqparast a lot to work with. Nasrat Haqparast via club-n-sub, round 2.

Phil Mackenzie: Great fight. Dober is someone who has improved by just getting steadily better at almost every facet of MMA, in a way which leaves him able to beat limited opponents via grappling strikers and striking grapplers, but unable to effectively counter high-level specialists. Haqparast is bigger, hits harder, and has a more defined (and MMA-appropriate) sense of how to keep the opponent backing up. Nasrat Haqparast by unanimous decision.

Badar Raja: Haqparast is one of the new breed of fighters that has not focused on one specific facet of MMA. He excels in everything and he is a natural. The pairing with Tristar gym seems to work well for him and he is currently on a three-fight win streak. Dober is a solid fighter with some good wins on his record but Haqparast is the young hungry lion looking for a future title shot. Haqparast by decision.

Staff picking Dober: Ed
Staff picking Haqparast: Phil, Badar, Zane, Mookie, Dayne, Anton, Shak

Andre Fili vs. Sodiq Yusuff

Mookie Alexander: This is a fascinating matchup. Fili looks like he’s found his stride and is both a more confident striker and implementing a gameplan while making any necessary mid-fight adjustments. Yusuff is a hard hitter and he’s the faster, more athletic of the two. Fili is more well-rounded and may be willing to test Sodiq’s wrestling, which could be a real gamechanger given Yusuff has seldom had any grappling on the ground to do in his UFC career. I’m a Yusuff believer so I’ll pick him to land the harder, more round-winning shots and avoid getting taken down. Needless to say, I would not be shocked if Fili won this because he’s a tough out for a prospect like Yusuff. Sodiq Yusuff by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: A fantastic fight, and one I’m having a lot of trouble picking easily. Yusuff hits harder and counters with much more consistency. But he also has a less diverse offensive output and doesn’t necessarily maintain the kind of aggression he needs to best suit his style. He gets stuck counterpunching off his back foot a lot. And while he can land hard there, he’s also put himself in numerous bad spots where he’s had to overcome adversity by landing these perfect bombs. Fili is a much better at this point at taking whatever fight his opponent gives him and developing a plan to meet it. He’ll wrestle off the back foot against aggression, and swarm forward with combos and a broken rhythm against fighters that look to counter. Notably, against Sheymon Moraes, he even showed the ability to drop into the pocket with a lead combo, step back from the return, and land the counter. He’ll have to stay on point all fight to keep from getting slept, but he’s only ever been KO’d once. And if he can get his wrestling working, he could totally throw Yusuff’s game out the window. Andre Fili by decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Another great, compelling matchup. There is an understandable narrative of this fight being “the coming man” against the steady journeyman, but it is worth considering that Fili has actually performed better and more consistently against their common opponents in Moraes and Benitez. In general, he’s happy against low-pace, cautious fighters, as it tends to allow him to set up angling entries, playing off his jab and cross from either stance, before potentially herding an opponent into a headkick. He has worked less effectively against opponents who just immediately get in his face and start enforcing pressure. So I think this fight is a bit of a coachability test for Yusuff: if he can pressure, work behind a jab and leg kick Fili’s telegraphed exits, he can broadly replicate Dennis Bermudez’ success, albeit with more nuance and defensive savvy. However, in being aggressive he has also tended to open himself up to eating shots, and both Benitez and Moraes had him in trouble. Fili has historically been very tough, and has recently shown an ability to snowball offense and be a consistent round-winner after building on an early lead. Yusuff has shown remarkable composure and power, but I don’t like picking people to work their way out of a deficit. As Zane said, I’m also unsure how the wrestling dynamic plays out. Andre Fili by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Fili: Phil, Ed, Zane, Shak
Staff picking Yusuff: Badar, Mookie, Dayne, Anton

Sabina Mazo vs. JJ Aldrich

Zane Simon: Aldrich is the more technical boxer, but I’m not sure how focused she is on delivering a consistent offensive game. She fights great moving forward, but when she’s clinched up, or on top, or out in open space, can seem really passive and drifting. Mazo’s hands are mostly a distraction for her kicks, but she keeps a great pace of high output offense in every position she’s in. If Aldrich can’t bully her all fight, I think Mazo takes this on points. Sabina Mazo via decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Sort of a similar dynamic to the Holm-Pennington fight, there’s a short and crafty boxer against a bigger, sloppier kicker. As such it should be pretty close, but I thought Aldrich looked like a much more consistent round-winner against both Mueller and Barber. JJ Aldrich by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Mazo: Ed, Dayne
Staff picking Aldrich: Phil, Badar, Zane, Anton, Shak, Mookie

Tim Elliott vs. Askar Askarov

Zane Simon: Elliott is a bit better striker (at least for a round, anyway) and can likely match much of Askarov’s scrambling grappling. But, he also has a constant tendency to give up good positions for aggressive ones, while grappling. And a long history of tiring himself out with the impossible pace he keeps. Askarov may just not be physical enough to play his scrambling style in the UFC long term. But, he tends to keep the good positions he gets when he gets them. And I feel like Elliott will give those away. Askar Askarov via submission, round 3.

Phil Mackenzie: I apologize to Heavy Hands listeners, because I could not think of a good robbery in 2019. However, this was because I forgot the thievery of that Askarov-Moreno bout. My profuse apologies, Mr Assassin Baby sir. Anyhoo, Askarov’s striking looked fairly woeful in that bout, and while Elliott does not have a rock-solid record against people who tend to just aggressively grapple with him rather than stopping his takedowns, I do like him to initiate more safe range offense and dictate the initial takedown more in what should be a close fight. Tim Elliott by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Elliott: Phil, Ed, Dayne, Anton, Shak
Staff picking Askarov: Badar, Zane, Mookie

Justin Ledet vs. Aleksa Camur

Zane Simon: As a low power boxer who lives behind his jab, I think Ledet is just too footslow to compete with reasonably decent athletes at 205 lbs. Camur looks like that, and has a solid enough kickboxing game to lean on. Aleksa Camur by decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Why am I picking Justin Ledet. He has looked absolutely awful lately. Screw it I’m going to change my mind. Aleksa Camur by TKO, round 2

Staff picking Ledet: Badar, Mookie, Anton
Staff picking Camur: Ed, Zane, Dayne, Phil, Shak

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