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UFC 250: Amanda Nunes vs. Felicia Spencer staff picks and predictions

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The BE team has made its picks for UFC 250, and obviously we all think that Amanda Nunes will successfully defend her women’s featherweight title against Felicia Spencer on Saturday. Opinion is split on the co-main event between Raphael Assuncao and Cody Garbrandt, while most of us are backing Aljamain Sterling to potentially get a title shot by beating Cory Sandhagen.

Amanda Nunes vs. Felicia Spencer

Anton Tabuena: Spencer’s limited striking (especially defense) is going to spell big trouble against someone like Nunes. Unless Spencer finds a way to keep this mostly in the clinch early on, it’s really going to be pretty straight forward I think. Nunes will throw bombs from striking range, and Spencer will again get tagged repeatedly. Amanda Nunes by TKO.

Mookie Alexander: Spencer is skilled, she’s tough, and she has virtually no chance against Nunes. This will look a lot like the Raquel Pennington fight methinks. I don’t think I’d be over the top in suggesting that a Spencer win over Nunes, betting odds be damned, would be a bigger upset than Rousey vs. Holm. Amanda Nunes by TKO, round 4.

Phil Mackenzie: There is a thin chance that Spencer can replicate Cat Zingano’s win from back in the day. I still think Nunes is a bit of a front-runner, particularly if put in bad grappling situations. But she’s also adept at stiff-arming and defusing clinch situations early in a fight, and an accurate, straight puncher. Spencer isn’t much of a phase-shifter which means that she’s just going to be eating hard, clean strikes from an enormous hitter for at least a round. Amanda Nunes by TKO, round 2.

Zane Simon: Spencer is incredibly tough, so I’m not that certain that Nunes will put her out early. But, even using her performance against Cyborg as an example of her great chin, it seems unlikely that she’ll go 5 rounds. By the time that fight was over Cyborg was out-landing Spencer at a nearly 4-to-1 clip. As we’ve seen in a few performances (including Nunes’ own win over Raquel Pennington) taking that kind of ass kicking for 5 rounds usually just isn’t possible. If Spencer can’t do anything to slow Nunes down, she’ll likely hang tough, but sooner or later the ref will probably have to step in and save her from herself. Amanda Nunes via TKO, round 4.

Staff picking Nunes: Ed, Phil, Anton, Zane, Mookie
Staff picking Spencer:

Raphael Assuncao vs. Cody Garbrandt

Anton Tabuena: I don’t have much faith in either guy at this stage of their careers, to be honest. I have zero confidence in this pick, but I guess I’ll go with the one who hits harder. Cody Garbrandt by TKO.

Mookie Alexander: This fight boils down to “What has Cody Garbrandt learned over these three losses?” Because if the answer is “nothing” then unless he gets to Assuncao quickly — he very well could given his power and speed — then Raphael has a powerful right hand of his own that could melt him. Screw it, Raphael Assuncao by TKO, round 2.

Phil Mackenzie: Is Raphael Assuncao much more skilled, in a way which is specifically designed to counter some of Garbrandt’s worst tendencies, like squaring up in the pocket with his feet planted and his head bolt upright and swangin’ for the fences? Yes he is. Is he also starting to look slightly faded as he travels down the 16th year of his MMA career? A bit yeah. More than that, it just feels like Garbrandt winning by early KO is the sad outcome, and that seems like the right thing to pick in the Year of Our Lord 2020. Cody Garbrandt by TKO, round 1.

Zane Simon: I’m really questioning my Assuncao pick here, and have been since the moment I made it, to be honest. Garbrandt has exactly the kind of speed that has troubled Assuncao more and more lately, with the kind of power behind it that Moraes used to put him away early. But, Garbrandt also doesn’t have the kind of variety that either Moraes or Sandhagen or Dillashaw used to keep Assuncao guessing. And, when faced with a pretty straight forward, uncomplicated kickboxing attack from Pedro Munhoz, Garbrandt kinda got picked apart. Basically, I get the feeling there’s a very good chance that Garbrandt lands something big early and just sleeps Assuncao. But, if he doesn’t, I don’t think he’s got the depth to win the rounds. Raphael Assuncao by decision.

Staff picking Assuncao: Ed, Zane, Mookie
Staff picking Garbrandt: Phil, Anton

Aljamain Sterling vs. Cory Sandhagen

Anton Tabuena: This really should’ve been the co-main event. With this pretty weak PPV and Cejudo dropping his title, I’m really surprised the UFC didn’t make this for the official bantamweight championship. Creating a belt seems like a very UFC thing to do when trying to beef up a pay-per-view event, but in this case, they actually would deserve it. As for the actual fight, I think Sterling should have a wrestling advantage, especially by the fence, while Sandhagen will have a striking advantage. Both are well rounded, but I think a good chunk of the fight will be contested on the feet, where Sandhagen’s movement and far more intricate and diverse striking game will play a bigger role. Sandhagen has looked like Cruz 2.0 in his UFC bouts, and I’m very curious to see if he can actually get a statement win over such a good contender here. Man, I wish this was 5 rounds. Cory Sandhagen by Decision.

Mookie Alexander: I pretty much side with Zane and Phil in saying that the edge that Sterling has in the grappling department will get him the nod, but like Anton I really wish this was five rounds. This is my favorite fight on the card and it has no business not even being co-main status. Sterling is a much more comfortable striker than he used to be, Sandhagen is a threat anywhere the fight takes place, and both have shown themselves to have impressive cardio. Aljamain Sterling by unanimous decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Fascinating fight, easily the best on the card. I think the questions are in “who is more reliant on their length” and in the directionality of the fight, and in both cases I think Sterling has a small advantage. He’s understood better and better how to attack his space, and Sandhagen can be forced backwards to where Sterling’s cage wrestling can come into play. Should this stay on the feet for any length of time Sandhagen is tougher, harder hitting and just a more natural striker who can push Sterling’s overcommitted defense into big shots, but I do favour Sterling to be able to pick up enough grappling control to win an absolute banger. Aljamain Sterling by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: The key to this fight will really come down to how well Sandhagen can maintain the pocket while pushing Sterling backwards and not either falling into the clinch or getting clipped coming in. He’s certainly got the length and variety to trouble Sterling in a way many others haven’t been able to at all. And, he’s pretty notably inexhaustible. However, he also did almost give away that fight with Raphael Assuncao, just because he was so willing to close distance and let Assuncao take him down and initiate scrambles. If Sterling is going to get time to grapple with Sandhagen, and can stay as tight standing as he did against Munhoz, I gotta think he’ll be edging these rounds. But if this all stays in the pocket, with Sandhagen on the front foot and Sterling against the cage, then Sandhagen can probably take the win. I think the grappling is just a little more likely. Aljamain Sterling by decision.

Staff picking Sterling: Ed, Phil, Mookie, Zane
Staff picking Sandhagen: Anton

Neil Magny vs. Anthony Rocco Martin

Mookie Alexander: I think Martin has improved considerably over the years but the Magny who fought Li Jingliang will likely be too physical for him. Neil Magny by unanimous decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Thought about picking Martin because he is more skilled, but do I really trust him that much? I suppose he could just circle and jab and kick out Magny’s lead leg, but he’s also been historically vulnerable to getting swamped by clinch fighters, and I don’t really trust him to keep his pace high enough against someone where he doesn’t have any kind of reach advantage. Neil Magny by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: The Neil Magny of years past would probably lose this fight, pumping his jab, walking into counters, holding the clinch, but not necessarily dominating the fight there. But, the Magny who came out of his long layoff to fight Li Jingliang looked so much sharper, more dangerous, and more determined than his past self. Notably, he was sitting down hard on his jab and snapping it out, rather than lazily rolling it over. Given his absurd length, just that change is enough to force fighters out of kickboxing with him and into the clinch, where Magny’s game looked more aggressive than ever. Martin has rebuilt his style around range counter-punching and has always been a risk taker in wrestling and grappling exchanges. Neither of those seem likely to pay off here. Neil Magny by decision.

Staff picking Magny: Phil, Anton, Mookie, Zane
Staff picking Martin: Ed

Sean O’Malley vs. Eddie Wineland

Anton Tabuena: This is a decent step up for O’Malley. A seasoned vet like Wineland can be a pretty good test for him, but I think he’ll be able to pass with flying colors. Sean O’Malley by decision.

Mookie Alexander: Wineland has very good power for a bantamweight and he digs into the body. The problem for him is that he’s footslow and at a significant physical disadvantage against someone who has a more diverse striking background and impressive speed and timing. Eddie also just refuses to wrestle so this looks like a fight where Wineland could be competitive, but still be outgunned. Sean O’Malley by unanimous decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Wineland does not beat strikers with reach or significant footspeed advantages over him. He just doesn’t. He’s a crafty, powerful boxer but for a bantamweight he’s too plodding when it comes to sitting down to throw strikes. O’Malley is both tall and moves a great deal, so Wineland should have major issues in chasing him down, and will probably get frustrated by the weirdness coming back his way. Sean O’Malley by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: There’s a real question to be asked here, about how well O’Malley’s defense holds up against a persistent power puncher. But, outside the chance for a momentum changing knockdown, O’Malley’s great volume, solid footwork, and top-shelf speed should keep him away from a fairly plodding puncher. Wineland is more dangerous than anyone O’Malley has fought to date, but he’s likely not varied enough to pick up this win. Sean O’Malley by decision.

Staff picking O’Malley: Phil, Anton, Mookie, Zane
Staff picking Wineland: Ed

Alex Caceres vs. Chase Hooper

Anton Tabuena: Seems like if Caceres actually sticks to a game plan, fights smart, and keeps distance, he has a very good chance to beat the talented — but still pretty limited — youngster. But this is Bruce Leeroy, and who knows what he’s going to do? I guess I’ll pick the upset and predict that Caceres actually doesn’t constantly engage with him on the ground. Alex Caceres by decision.

Mookie Alexander: I’ve seen Caceres just throw fights away too many times by finding any ridiculous way to get himself to fight his opponent’s fight, or just get submitted because he’s been submitted a lot. Chase Hooper by submission, round 2.

Phil Mackenzie: I guess this is the Kron Gracie fight, where Hooper is going to try to grapple and Caceres is going to… let him? Should Caceres have one of those moments where he remembers what he’s supposed to be doing, this fight could be remarkably tough for Hooper, who is a genuinely dire striker and not much of an athlete. However, those moments for Cacares have come less rather than more frequently as he’s aged. Chase Hooper by submission, round 1.

Zane Simon: Caceres does tend to fall into whatever fight his opponent wants to have. So if Hooper really is a fantastic grappler, he’ll get the opportunity to make that shine. But, that’s still to be proven from Hooper. A win over Daniel Teymur just isn’t proof that Hooper gets whatever sub he wants. And otherwise, Caceres is solid enough everywhere that he can usually scrape out close fights. End of the day, Hooper’s striking and wrestling just aren’t solid enough to make me sure he gets all the scrambles he wants, and I’m not yet sold that he’s even Bryce Mitchell on the mat. Alex Caceres by decision.

Staff picking Caceres: Anton, Zane
Staff picking Hooper: Ed, Phil, Mookie

Ian Heinisch vs. Gerald Meerschaert

Phil Mackenzie: I described this on Heavy Hands as “a guy who wins when he shouldn’t” against “a guy who loses when he shouldn’t”, and as such you probably should not follow me in picking Meerschaert. I just don’t really believe in Heinisch’s game, which presents as a vaguely Alexander Hernandez-esque zipping around being tough and athletic until the opponent becomes sad. Meerschaert might be glacially slow and mournful looking (traits which perhaps lend themselves to him getting robbed in fights) but he showed anl ability to leverage his frame into a reasonably paced jabbing game against another zippy athlete last time out. I’ll pick him to win one of his only career decisions. Gerald Meerschaert by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: I think this is a bout that will expose a pretty hard line between what brought Heinisch so much instant success in the UFC and what’s kept Meerschaert from really leaping up to the elite. Both men tend to let their opponents dictate how the fight will go and where it will take place. Both are great defensive grapplers, and effective enough strikers in bursts. And while Meerschaert is likely more technical everywhere, he just doesn’t have the dynamic athleticism that Heinisch can use to surprise people. And without a clear wrestling advantage, it seems unlikely that Meerschaert will dictate starting position on the ground. This could end up looking a lot like the Kevin Holland fight, with Meerschaert taking a very close, tough loss. Ian Heinisch by decision.

Staff picking Heinisch: Anton, Zane
Staff picking Meerschaert: Ed, Phil, Mookie

Cody Stamann vs. Brian Kelleher

Phil Mackenzie: Poor Cody Stamann. My heart goes out to him for the loss of his brother. Should he be able to fight, he’s at a level which Kelleher has never really beaten. While Kelleher is grittier and probably hits harder, and could pose some threats if Stamann tires down the stretch, there’s little reason to assume he won’t get picked off by kicks from the outside and outwrestled. Cody Stamann by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: I really want to pick Kelleher here. Between the two, he is undeniably the finisher. He starts with jittery aggression out of the gate and tends to become more technical and collected as the fight goes on. He hunts for submissions and has the ability to even land the occasional KO. And While Stamann is much less dangerous in any given moment, he’s also much tougher and more consistently collected. He’s less mistake prone and I’m just not convinced that what Kelleher brings to the table is actually dangerous enough to finish this fight. If it’s not, Stamann’s the cleaner puncher and the better wrestler. Cody Stamann by decision.

Staff picking Stamann: Ed, Phil, Anton, Mookie, Zane
Staff picking Kelleher:

Charles Byrd vs. Maki Pitolo

Phil Mackenzie: Pitolo got outworked by Callan Potter, which means that he’s most likely just below the UFC’s athletic threshold. Charles Byrd by TKO, round 2.

Zane SImon: Pitolo loves to square up and just throw long combos in the pocket, with little mind for any kind of defense. If Byrd just stands in front of him and lets himself get plugged, that could be a real problem. But, if he does just about anything else, I’m not at all convinced Pitolo has an answer. Charles Byrd by TKO, round 2.

Staff picking Byrd: Ed, Phil, Anton, Mookie, Zane
Staff picking Pitolo:

Jussier Formiga vs. Alex Perez

Phil Mackenzie: Can Formiga beat people without outwrestling them? I think that is the main question here, after a tough loss against Brandon Moreno. He’s undoubtedly a more skilled striker than Perez, but he’s also a fairly small flyweight at a major power disadvantage. Alex Perez by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: Much like the Assuncao pick above, I’m taking a chance here on the old dog against an opponent whose game just hasn’t impressed me as much as I wanted it to. Most notably, I don’t think Perez is as confident in his punching as he looked when he first came to the UFC. It could be that Benavidez pushed him off that game, or just that the Torres fight was an especially good matchup for him. Either way, he’s seemed to struggle more at range, and have a little more trouble setting up his shots. He could still get Formiga down and ride him out. It could be that Formiga is just too far on the wrong end of the aging curve for a division like flyweight. But, I think Formiga can be busy enough standing and dangerous enough on the mat to make Perez’s offense that much less impactful. Jussier Formiga by decision.

Staff picking Formiga: Anton, Mookie, Zane
Staff picking Perez: Ed, Phil

Alonzo Menifield vs. Devin Clark

Zane Simon: Clark is the better wrestler, and may not be a dramatically less skilled striker, but he also is absolutely wild and unconcerned about defense. And he’s not really a very good finisher. Menifield throws straight punches and has shown some great takedown defense when he’s needed it. Clark may get him down once or twice, but I’m more willing to bet on Menifield picking up the KO over the first couple rounds than Clark staying safe enough to see the final bell. Alonzo Menifield by KO, round 1.

Staff picking Menifield: Anton, Zane
Staff picking Clark: Ed, Phil, Mookie

Evan Dunham vs. Herbert Burns

Mookie Alexander: Dunham looks physically shot and he moved down in weight (kinda) for this. Herbert Burns by KO, round 1.

Zane Simon: Burns doesn’t win in the ways that Dunham tends to lose, but age has likely just caught up with Dunham here. Herbert Burns by submission, round 1.

Staff picking Dunham:
Staff picking Burns: Ed, Phil, Anton, Mookie, Zane

Poll

Who wins the main event?

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    Amanda Nunes

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    Felicia Spencer

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