Check out the Bloody Elbow staff’s picks and predictions for Saturday’s UFC Fight Night: Barboza vs. Lee fight card in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
The Bloody Elbow staff has made its predictions for Saturday’s compelling UFC Fight Night: Barboza vs. Lee fight card. Opinion is split on the main event between Kevin Lee and Edson Barboza, while most of us are picking Frankie Edgar to once again take care of Cub Swanson. Tim Bissell and Victor Rodriguez are taking Swanson for the upset in Edgar’s home state of New Jersey.
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.
Edson Barboza vs. Kevin Lee
Mookie Alexander: Welp, Lee missed weight. Thankfully we still have a fight. I’m really tempted to pick Barboza if only because I’m not sold on Lee being comfortable defensively, and I can’t ignore the knockout loss to Leo Santos of all people. Barboza doesn’t have as many knockouts as you might suspect, but the ones that do happen are sudden and violent. Then there’s the other part of me thinking Lee can somewhat copy what Khabib did to Barboza, except he’s a better finisher than Khabib, and he’ll get the rear-naked choke. I’ll go with that, but I don’t feel good about it. Kevin Lee by submission, round 3.
Victor Rodriguez: I’ve doubted Lee for waaaaay too long. As good as Barboza is, Lee should be able to use all of his tools here to control and batter Edson on the ground, creating opportunities for submissions. Not that I think Lee will want to go for it, since I get the feeling he’ll want to bludgeon Barboza to make an example out of him and leapfrog Tony for a title shot. Kevin Lee by TKO.
Staff picking Barboza: Bissell, Nick, Tim, Dayne, Fraser
Staff picking Lee: Mookie, Phil, Victor, Stephie
Frankie Edgar vs. Cub Swanson
Mookie Alexander: Edgar could win this in the most one-sided mauling in history and I still wouldn’t support such a quick turnaround after a KO loss. There’s practically nothing I see to suggest Swanson wins a rematch other than the aforementioned quick turnaround, along with Edgar’s chin finally failing on him in a major way. Other than that, Edgar gets his takedowns, dominates on the ground, and easily wins again. Frankie Edgar by unanimous decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Nah, son. I’m picking Cub here. Swanson has a tendency to get wild and ignore defense, but Frankie coming in off short noticed after getting sparked like that really makes him seem more vulnerable in my eyes, unless he just gets outstruck over three rounds. Cub Swanson by decision.
Staff picking Edgar: Nick, Tim, Mookie, Dayne, Phil, Fraser, Stephie
Staff picking Swanson: Bissell, Victor
Chase Sherman vs. Justin Willis
Mookie Alexander: Chase Sherman is what would happen if you made Justin Gaethje much worse and put him at heavyweight. He’s fun as hell to watch and also so bad defensively that I can only see Willis just piecing him up and then knocking him out at some point. And last I checked, Justin Willis is too damn pretty for most of this division to deal with. Justin Willis by KO, round 2.
Victor Rodriguez: Sherman having a strength and speed disadvantage against another guy that’s reliant on athleticism? No. Justin Willis by TKO.
Phil Mackenzie: I dunno. What if Willis tries to knock Sherman out and it doesn’t work? Sometimes it doesn’t work. Then Sherman might kick him in the legs. Willis is reasonably composed and surprisingly defensively sound, really a more natural boxer than Sherman ever has been, so I guess I favour him to get the better of Sherman in a silly fight. Justin Willis by unanimous decision.
Staff picking Sherman: Bissell, Tim, Fraser
Staff picking Willis: Nick, Mookie, Dayne, Phil, Victor, Stephie
David Branch vs. Thiago Santos
Mookie Alexander: Branch can totally grind this out and maybe even submit him. My gut feeling is Santos just belts him with a ton of body-breaking kicks and folds Branch up. I’ll go with that. Thiago Santos by TKO, round 2.
Victor Rodriguez: While my initial idea is that Branch will mix things up to get the takedown and make this a brutal slog, I worry he’ll be too thrilled with the idea of going toe-to-toe in the standup department and ruin his chances here. Besides, taking Thiago down and keeping him there? Good look with that. Dude is super strong and a very explosive athlete with a decent gas tank. Branch is gonna take a LOT of damage here, but should be able to outwrestle and outwork Santos late. David Branch by decision.
Phil Mackenzie: I’m always pleased to pick Santos to lose and be proven wrong. He just seems like a really nice guy, and he hasn’t been perturbed by some tough setbacks. However, a common story in the UFC has him putting together impressive runs before reminding us of how much of a glass cannon he is. Is he really that much better than he was when he lost to Mousasi? He throws in combination a bit more, and gets less scared off a bit less easily, but Branch should be able to replicate the anti-Rockhold gameplan of crowding him into the fence, and Santos does not have the safety net of Rockhold’s clinch game. However, Branch himself just has never been a massively durable fighter, and often comes in behind his right hand with his chin up high. Someone’s probably getting stopped, basically. Thiago Santos by TKO, round 2.
Staff picking Branch: Dayne, Phil, Fraser, Victor
Staff picking Santos: Bissell, Nick, Tim, Mookie, Stephie, Phil
Brett Johns vs. Aljamain Sterling
Mookie Alexander: Tough call. I mostly agree with what Phil has said, but I rate Johns’ striking — more specifically his combination punching — highly enough to think that if this becomes a kickboxing match, then Sterling will have some problems. If Sterling can force the issue as far as getting Johns to engaged in grappling exchanges, I have to favor the Human Jansport. This is a 50-50 fight that says a lot more to me about how Johns has come along than Sterling’s current run. I lean towards Brett Johns by split decision.
Phil Mackenzie: I can see how Aljamain Sterling might lose this one, but I don’t really see it happening. Johns has made his way in the UFC largely with Volkanovskesque wrestling and striking pressure, and while Sterling has had struggles with fencing matches on the feet, I think his straight punches and redirectional grappling funk play extremely well when an opponent is rushing right onto him. The level of Johns’ wrestling is a little untested- Joe Soto was the best wrestler he’s beaten, and while the calf slicer was rad, it’s not as though Soto is historically invulnerable to getting blown out of the water early. Aljamain Sterling by unanimous decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Aljo should be the best-prepared wrestler and best natural athlete Johns has faced, but he still has crazy submission savvy that anyone will have a hard time keeping up with. Sterling’s kicks can help him keep the range where he wants it until he’s ready to set up takedowns or clinches, but Johns has better boxing and movement to stay ahead on scorecards. I’m banking on Johns coming out a little more aggressive in this one and win by volume. Brett Johns by decision.
Staff picking Johns: Nick, Mookie, Dayne, Victor
Staff picking Sterling: Bissell, Tim, Phil, Fraser, Stephie
Daniel Hooker vs. Jim Miller
Mookie Alexander: I love Jim Miller and absolutely want him to win this one in front of his home fans… I’m just not sure he can do it. Miller will likely come out strong but he also has so much mileage on him that I can just see him getting worn down as the fight progresses and Hooker will be able to capitalize. Should be a great scrap. Dan Hooker by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Despite being on a three-fight skid, it’s difficult to look at many of Jim Miller’s recent fights and think that he’s actually looked that bad. The primary issue in his career has been that he’s a effective phonebooth fighter and good-not-great MMA wrestler who has struggled with outside striking specialists, or people who can just outgun him in close. Daniel Hooker fits with the people that Miller has struggled with, but also doesn’t. He is nominally a tall, rangy outside striker, but… he’s not a very good one? I dunno, maybe he’s just carving out that space for himself as the lightweight Lamas, where you just scratch your head throughout going “eh?” and then he finishes someone and you scratch your head and go “eh?” I guess he was able to stuff Pearson from the outside, and that’s good enough for me? Maybe? Dan Hooker by unanimous decision.
Staff picking Hooker: Bissell, Nick, Mookie, Dayne, Fraser, Stephie, Victor, Phil
Staff picking Miller: Tim
Alex Garcia vs. Ryan LaFlare
Mookie Alexander: I have no idea how to read this fight. LaFlare is really not exciting to watch but he’s effective against most opposition. I don’t know how he’ll fare after Alex Oliveira snatched his soul and tossed it into the rafters, especially against a physical freak like Garcia who can hit hard. It’s also possible that LaFlare just has problems against guys named Alex, and your fancy analytics don’t ever factor that in. As Phil notes though, fighters who are well-rounded have given Garcia problems repeatedly, and LaFlare fits that type, albeit less dangerous as a finisher. Ryan LaFlare by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: The question here is LaFlare’s potential decline vs Garcia’s potential improvements. LaFlare isn’t a particularly young welterweight, and has a high-volume, active style which seems likely to wear poorly as he ages. The fight with Alex Oliveira was (as Cowboy’s wins tend to be) determined by Oliveira revving up the athleticism and running LaFlare over. With Garcia, it still seems difficult to tell if and how he’s improving. Wins over Muslim Salikhov and the ghost of Mike Pyle aren’t exactly indicative of his level of physical talent. Strickland and Means are reasonably three-dimensional fighters with a strong command of range and a high pace. Both of them beat Garcia fairly handily, and LaFlare drops neatly into the mould. Ryan LaFlare by unanimous decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Again – you people think I’m gonna pick against the Dominican Nightmare? Man, y’all a bunch of hoes for this. Alex Garcia by whatever the hell this is.
Staff picking Garcia: Dayne, Stephie, Victor,
Victor’s cousins, Victor’s dad that doesn’t watch MMA
Staff picking LaFlare: Bissell, Nick, Tim, Mookie, Phil, Fraser
Siyar Bahadurzada vs. Luan Chagas
Mookie Alexander: It’s just going to be a shitload of swinging until someone falls. Siyar Bahadurazada by TKO, round 1.
Phil Mackenzie: Luan Chagas is probably in several important ways (like strike diversity) the better fighter. However, he also stands absolutely bolt upright and wings strikes as hard as he can, which seems likely to allow Bahadurzada to land both counter hooks, and to shoot takedowns, something which he’s been increasingly comfortable doing. Neither man is defensively there at all, in any phase, so it’s not exactly a lock, but Siyar Bahadurzada by TKO, round 2.
Victor Rodriguez: I’ve said for some time that Siyar doesn’t get enough credit for being a patient striker that creates openings through pressure and feint work. Chagas should be a better all-around athlete, but Siyar’s able to take a harder shot and dish out an even harder shot than that. Besides, Siyar’s not great at getting back up while on his back, but he’s shown in some fights that he’s hard to complete takedowns against. Siyar Bahadurzada by KO, round 2.
Staff picking Bahadurzada: Bissell, Nick, Tim, Mookie, Dayne, Phil, Fraser, Stephie, Victor
Staff picking Chagas:
Corey Anderson vs. Patrick Cummins
Mookie Alexander: It’s the easily damageable Anderson against the damage sponge known as Patrick Cummins. Well I don’t trust either one of these fighters at all! On paper this should be an easy Anderson win… but he also makes everything so difficult for himself and his chin is worse than Cummins’, so you know what? I’ll go for the upset. Patrick Cummins by KO, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: What if Frankie Edgar (a) wasn’t as good as he is and (b) was in a division where he got knocked out when he got hit hard? Corey Anderson seems made to answer that weirdly specific combination of questions. For a 205er he has a shockingly coherent game, with neatly melded combination striking and wrestling. He also has a tendency to take his eyes off the road and cycle through techniques on autopilot, which has led to him being timed and flatlined on several occasions. His mobility and wrestling should insulate him from Cummins’ takedowns, and while Cummins striking has improved drastically (making the quantum leap from “a Lions Den fighter in the ‘90s” to just “bad”) he shouldn’t have either the timing or the power to really hurt Anderson. SHOULDN’T. But, you know. Beastin’ 25/8 by unanimous decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Shame this fight isn’t on 4/20, because that’s the only way i see this fight being remotely enjoyable. I’m gonna go with (flips coin)…. Goddammit. Corey Anderson by decision.
Staff picking Anderson: Nick, Dayne, Phil, Fraser, Stephie, Victor
Staff picking Cummins: Bissell, Tim, Mookie
Merab Dvalishvili vs. Ricky Simon
Mookie Alexander: Dvalishvili basically lost his fight because he had a billion takedowns and did nothing with them. Simon is a really talented prospect out of LFA and Contender Series with a clear advantage on the feet, along with good enough wrestling to make this an intriguing matchup. I give the edge to Dvalishvili on the hope that he does a hell of a lot more on the ground than he did against Frankie Saenz. Merab Dvalishvili by unanimous decision.
Victor Rodriguez: You know what? Recency bias be damned, I’m gonna go with Ricky Simon. The kid’s just too sharp right now, and isn’t even in his development prime. Ricky Simon by decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Ricky Simon is another dynamic, quick, powerful prospect likely to be derailed by never ever moving his head and generally lacking defense aside from a counter double leg. Essentially this seems like a question of cardio vs speed- even in his late career, Chico Camus is a blazing fast bantamweight, and Simon was more than able to keep up with him. He also got quite tired, though, and Dvalishvili is utterly relentless and just shoots and re-shoots until he makes something happen. I also feel like he’s a little more offensively capable than he showed in the Saenz fight- some octagon jitters I think. Merab Dvalishvili by unanimous decision.
Staff picking Dvalishvili: Tim, Mookie, Fraser, Stephie, Phil
Staff picking Simon: Nick, Bissell, Dayne, Victor
Tony Martin vs. Keita Nakamura
Mookie Alexander: There are clear strides being made in Martin’s game that have me reasonably confident that he’ll beat a tough veteran in Nakamura. I unfortunately have no recollection of the Olivier Aubin-Mercier fight as that was the same evening as Canelo vs. GGG, but his win over Johnny Case really opened my eyes to the effectiveness of his striking, along with the seeming end to his gas tank being dreadful. Perhaps it’ll be even better moving up to welterweight. Nakamura could very well snatch a submission out of nowhere given Martin’s history, but I think Martin 2.0 will be too much for the Japanese fighter to handle. Tony Martin by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Tony Martin struggled with an absolute massive weight cut and confidence issues for several years, before finally seeming to largely solve them and developing into a more confident meat’n’potatoes striker with an effective jab and cross, and becoming a better control grappler rather than blowing his tank going for power submissions. Against OAM we saw a sizable flaw: he really needs that jab, and against southpaws he doesn’t look like he has much of an idea of how to land it. He should be faster, more accurate, less likely to tire and just happier at this weight, so I still think I’m going to pick him, but don’t be surprised to see him just hanging at range throwing right kicks then getting bodylocked. Tony Martin by unanimous decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Not gonna give up on Nakamura today, fam. Keita Nakamura by decision.
Staff picking Martin: Nick, Tim, Mookie, Dayne, Fraser, Stephie, Phil
Staff picking Nakamura: Bissell, Victor