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UFC Fight Night: Yai Rodriguez vs. Jeremy Stephens staff picks and predictions

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The Bloody Elbow staff has made its predictions for UFC Mexico, and the opinion is split on who is to win the main event between Yair Rodriguez and Jeremy Stephens. As for the co-main event, we’re leaning towards Alexa Grasso knocking off former UFC strawwieght champion Carla Esparza.

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.

Yair Rodriguez vs. Jeremy Stephens

Mookie Alexander: I love watching Yair Rodriguez fight but I am simultaneously not sold on him as a future title challenger. His “cool shit to technical brilliance” ratio makes him as single-shot dangerous against anyone, but the flip side is getting outclassed by The Korean Zombie for prolonged stretches before that hail mary KO. Stephens has power and Rodriguez’s defense is not good, but Yair can really make life hell for him with his kicks and body work. It’s also been a longtime habit of Stephens to get frustrated into sloppy footwork and questionable strike selection when the fight isn’t going his way. Stephens may put a few scares into Yair but Yair has more firepower and is likely to keep that pace up for five rounds. Yair Rodriguez by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: This is a battle that will likely be entirely dictated by footwork. Both Stephens and Yair are incredibly tough. Both, however, have been stopped by strikes before. Stephens carries great one-shot power, but often fails to set it up in ways that surprise opponents and lead to easy KOs. And Yair has a great ability to surprise opponents with tricky strikes, but little of the connective striking game to set those shots up. What’s most likely to come into play is, given a fighter willing to stay on his back foot and angle out all fight, Stephens often ends up following and chasing his opponents ineffectively. By the same token, Rodriguez has never been particularly good at staying away from opposition and not getting hit. If Yair can keep distance and stay fast, he absolutely has the tools to pot-shot Stephens, or even get a shocking KO. But I think it’s more likely that, every time he wants to strike, he’ll step into the pocket with his hands low and his feet planted, and get cracked. Jeremy Stephens by decision.

Victor Rodriguez: As much fun as Yair is, he was getting boxed up by Korean Zombie for the majority of that fight and ran out of answers quick against Frankie Edgar. He’s good. Very good, in fact. It’s just that it’s hard to trust him against a guy that can continue to move forward and pressure him enough to keep him on his back foot without falling for the okey-doke spinny assault. Stephens is just that kind of guy, and he’s got farm strength and good cardio to back it up. I think a lot of people are getting drawn into the razzle dazzle of a more exciting fighter with an unorthodox approach, and it’ll be a disappointment for many. Jeremy Stephens by decision.

Staff picking Rodriguez: Ed, Mookie, Phil, Tim, Nick
Staff picking Stephens: Zane, Dayne, Stephie, Victor

Carla Esparza vs. Alexa Grasso

Mookie Alexander: Not sure what to make of this fight. I genuinely think Esparza has gotten better with her striking — not saying it’s super formidable but it’s more serviceable than it used to be — but she’s still at a clear disadvantage on the feet against the improved Grasso. Where Esparza thrives is her wrestling and top control, and the last time we saw Grasso against that style matchup she was bullied into a fast loss by Tatiana Suarez. If Grasso can make the most of her physical advantages and keep the fight on the feet, she’ll win. Anything else favors Esparza, although her cardio may be a question mark given she’s never fought in Mexico City, whereas Grasso has. I just have a feeling that Grasso will build on her breakthrough outing against Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Alexa Grasso by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: There’s a strong argument that Carla Esparza is one the UFC’s most underrated talent. A technical wrestler and grappler with a busy boxing game, but very little power. There is, nonetheless, an argument to be made that her only true losses of her career are to Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Tatiana Suarez. Still, the general book on her is, when she is at a definitive strength disadvantage, she has an extremely difficult time controlling the action of the fight. But, is Alexa Grasso the kind of fighter to cause Esparza those troubles. Grasso showed off a great improvement in her composure and preparedness against Karolina Kowalkiewicz, besting her opponent at range and in the clinch last time out. But Kowalkiewicz more or less acquiesced to exactly the fight that would suit Grasso best. If Esparza can force scrambles out of Grasso, can Grasso make enough of the right moves to keep the fight where she wants and get the win? I’m honestly not sure. Only Tatiana Suarez has really effectively out-wrestled her to a win. But Esparza is the only other really good wrestler she’ll have faced. I’ll take Esparza here. Just because, without an opponent that can overpower her, I think she’s too persistent with her grappling game. But this could be another breakout win for Grasso if she’s as prepared as she was last time out. Carla Esparza by decision.

Phil Mackenzie: A really, really tough fight to call. Both had close bouts against Markos, who is well-rounded enough to challenge both of them in areas which they struggle in, but also strategically formless enough to not really press that advantage in either case. Grasso isn’t the kind of huge, physically dominant threat who has traditionally barged Esparza out of the fight, but she has a low, dipping jab, she’s violent in the clinch and she just puts out more offence. Conversely Esparza is incredibly dogged and focused on the win, but her game falls apart a bit more readily. I think I like Grasso, if not just because her game focuses more on damage than control, but this is a very well-matched fight. Alexa Grasso by unanimous decision.

Victor Rodriguez: Esparza’s got cardio and some of the best wrestling in the division, and it’s only the stronger fighters that can keep her off and flustered. Markos, Suarez, Joanna and Claudia did well, but Grasso’s still shown her defensive wrestling to be a liability. That’s what worries me here, her striking has continued to be some of the best in the division, but Carla might be able to cut right through what works best in her game. Carla Esparza by submission.

Staff picking Esparza: Zane, Victor
Staff picking Grasso: Ed, Mookie, Dayne, Stephie, Tim, Nick

Brandon Moreno vs. Askar Askarov

Mookie Alexander: Askar? I don’t even know her! Brandon Moreno by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: Both Moreno and Askarov love to scramble. But where Askarov seems composed and indefatigable at all times, Moreno always appears to be on the verge of a wholesale collapse, from which is wild, unchecked aggression may or may not save him. In Moreno’s fight with Dustin Ortiz, just a few moments were enough to turn the fight totally on its heels. But generally, more focused and better conditioned fighters have just been able to beat Moreno all fight. That seems like Askarov to me. Should be a fun, wild scrambling flyweight bout. Askar Askarov by decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Man, remember when Moreno was a modestly touted prospect who might challenge for a belt one day? His more recent performances exposed the lack of a functional depth to his game, and his big-ticket wins of Smolka and Ortiz have looked increasingly just like capitalizing on brief moments of success in non-replicable ways. It is notable that grappling hasn’t really been the way to beat Moreno, as Pettis / Pantoja etc just outworked him at range, but unless Moreno punts Askarov upside the head or Askarov dives into a guillotine, it looks like Askar can just finish what Ortiz started. Askar Askarov by unanimous decision.

Victor Rodriguez: God, I really want to pick Brandon, because I usually root for chaos. But no, Askar’s got a heavier grappling approach and will most likely have a greater amount of control during the fight. Could Brandon throw something and have a wild upset? Sure! Just not buying it today, though. Askar Askarov by decision.

Staff picking Moreno: Mookie, Tim, Nick
Staff picking Askarov: Ed, Zane, Dayne, Phil, Stephie, Victor

Irene Aldana vs. Vanessa Melo

Zane Simon: There’s a great chance for Melo to get the upset win here. Aldana has been somewhat incapable of creating dominant performances in the UFC, even against thoroughly overmatched competition. And while she’s big and fast, neither size nor speed have been as important in winning rounds against Aldana as sheer willful aggression. And I’m just not sure Melo has that. She’s got a very nice, persistent counterpunching game (which I expect will give Aldana trouble all night). But without speed or a dedication to pressure, I just don’t think she’ll take close rounds. Add in that Aldana is a much better wrestler and grappler and there are just too many ways for her to take a decision. Irene Aldana by decision.

Victor Rodriguez: That Mexican Jaguar woman gonna do ugly things to that other lady. Melo’s fine but not ready for this level. Aldana’s got the quicker and sharper boxing and should be able to stave off any grappling encounters that don’t begin on her terms. Irene Aldana by TKO.

Staff picking Aldana: Ed, Mookie, Zane, Dayne, Stephie, Tim, Nick, Victor
Staff picking Melo:

Martin Bravo vs. Steven Peterson

Zane Simon: Kind of a mirror match. Both fighters love to stay aggressive and push as fast a pace as possible. Part of me thinks that Peterson is more capable of maintaining that pace. But, his striking and wrestling are both so lacking in nuance that a lot of his aggression seems to be totally wasted. Bravo wrestles more than he should, and isn’t necessarily physical enough to win tie-ups the way he wants to. But, he’s also not a terrible combination kickboxer. That alone is probably enough to see him get the win here. Martin Bravo by decision.

Phil Mackenzie: This fight embodies the theme of much of this card, which is messy, fun, and not particularly skilled aggression. Bravo starts hot and seems to have a touch more craft as a boxer but mostly this looks to be rock’em’ sock’em robots. Martin Bravo by unanimous decision.

Victor Rodriguez: This should be a mess, but in the fun way. Both are super tough, but I’m operating off a hunch that Peterson takes it. Steven Peterson by decision.

Staff picking Bravo: Ed, Mookie, Zane, Stephie, Phil
Staff picking Peterson: Dayne, Tim, Nick

Jose Alberto Quinonez vs. Carlos Huachin

Zane Simon: Maybe I just want Huachin to win this more, but Quinonez’s recent performances (win or lose) have been pretty dreadful. At least against skilled strikers he’s seemed to abandon any pretense of a kickboxing game for an aggressive clinch and repetitive wrestling attack. That may totally stall Huachin out, but the Peruvian seems to have pretty good footwork in the pocket and a much better arsenal of power strikes. If he can fight Quinonez’s grappling off just enough to stand with him for a couple minutes a round, I think he can land shots good enough to win. Ishihara almost did it, and his takedown defense was miserable. Carlos Huachin by decision.

Victor Rodriguez: I’m with Zane here. I can’t trust Quiñonez to stay composed and deal with the counter game with any consistency when he’ll inevitably start to fall behind during exchanges. No señor, no me gusta. Carlos Huachin by decision.

Staff picking Quinonez: Ed, Mookie, Dayne, Stephie, Tim, Nick, Phil
Staff picking Huachin: Zane, Victor

Polo Reyes vs. Kyle Nelson

Zane Simon: Reyes has had really poor takedown defense, and he’s also been KO’d right out of the gate on a couple occasions. Nelson tends to start hot with a power boxing and wrestling game and fade quickly. But that should be enough. If it isn’t, this fight could get wild after round 1. Kyle Nelson via KO, round 1.

Phil Mackenzie: Worth remembering Reyes is 34 and has been fighting for a while, and I think he’s actually been looking a little worn down in his latest fights. I don’t think a cut to featherweight is going to help that at all, particularly if his chin is starting to fade. Nelson is slow but Reyes dropping down will help to ameliorate that, while simultaneously eroding Reyes’ chin. Kyle Nelson by TKO, round 1.

Staff picking Reyes: Dayne, Tim, Nick
Staff picking Nelson: Ed, Mookie, Zane, Phil, Stephie, Victor

Angela Hill vs. Ariane Carnelossi

Zane Simon: Is Maryna Moroz the best striker that Angela Hill has ever beat? Carnelossi isn’t exactly nuanced, but she’ll throw power shots in volume, and seems to carry that pretty consistently for multiple rounds. Hill always starts out looking slick and throwing volume, and then immediately slows into a flat-footed brawling style. Hill should have the experience and nuance in her game to take this fight anyway, but I just don’t have the faith that that shows up. There have been too many times before where she’s fought down to poor competition or failed to change the tone of a fight she could win. Ariane Carnelossi by decision.

Victor Rodriguez: I can’t go against Hill here. Carnelossi hits hard and all that, but lacks the movement and counterstriking that Hill brings. Hill’s also got that lethal clinch game and can cut corners better. Angela Hill by TKO.

Staff picking Hill: Ed, Mookie, Dayne, Phil, Stephie, Tim, Nick, Victor
Staff picking Carnelossi: Zane

Sergio Pettis vs. Tyson Nam

Zane Simon: If Nam were more of a range striker, or a more persistent wrestler, I might take him here for the power differential at play. But Pettis has slowly molded himself into a very defensively tight, combination range kickboxer, and most of his recent losses have come to people that could out-grapple him instead of having to hang with him on the feet. Rob Font is the exception there, but he’s also a bigger, more fundamentally sound range striker than Nam. Without a jab to work behind, I think Nam chases Pettis for three rounds while getting picked off the whole time. Sergio Pettis by decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Tysonberg’s Uncertainty Principle indicates that the less people are watching a Nam, the more likely he is to swing an insane upset. What does that mean on the prelims of a UFC Mexico card in the year of our lord 2019? Is that a power boost or a reduction? Anyways, Lil’ Pettis should be too careful and controlled, but Nam is nothing if not unpredictably violent. Sergio Pettis by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Pettis: Ed, Mookie, Zane, Dayne, Stephie, Tim, Nick, Victor, Phil
Staff picking Nam:

Vinicius Moreira vs. Paul Craig

Mookie Alexander: Oh hell yes. Two grapplers with a penchant for getting knocked out spectacularly when their stuff doesn’t work, but Craig at least has shown himself to pull out truly magical, miraculous wins at the death that we’ve not seen from Moreira. Thinking it over, Craig’s game is just so preposterously low percentage that I can’t trust him to win damn near any UFC fight despite having three victories inside the Octagon. Vinicius Moreira by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: Craig is the more fluid striker, but I’m not sure how much that really matters, given his willingness to clinch, pull guard, or just get taken down. Moreira hasn’t had the chance to show it in the UFC, but I get the feeling he’s just the much more controlled, polished grappler on the floor. As long as this doesn’t stay a kickboxing match, Vinicius Moreira by submission, round 2.

Phil Mackenzie: Yeahhhhhh, flawed LHW sub grapplers who can’t really wrestle or strike, that’s the good stuff. This should be great weird fun. Given that Craig got outscrambled by Crute on the ground I suppose that I slightly favour Moreira, but really there’s nothing to pick here Vinicius Moreira by unanimous decision.

Victor Rodriguez: Nope. Craig’s biggest asset is pulling rabbits out of hats, and it’s not gonna happen here. Even with Moreira’s UFC run not going as he’s wanted it to, I can’t do it. Vinicius Moreira by submission.

Staff picking Moreira: Zane, Mookie, Phil, Stephie, Tim, Victor
Staff picking Craig: Ed, Dayne, Nick

Sijara Eubanks vs. Bethe Correia

Mookie Alexander: I think it’s well established that Bethe… isn’t very good. Eubanks looked significantly improved in her loss to Aspen Ladd than even in her win against Roxanne Modafferi. This should have a fairly clear outcome, which is Eubanks taking Correia down many times and dominating her on the ground. Sijara Eubanks by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: Correia is likely a better game planner, and may have a more functionally round-winning style than Eubanks. But as with every Correia fight, mentality and aggression aren’t the issue. Coordination and physicality are. Eubanks is just a better athlete. She’s stronger, faster, tougher, and a much more fluid boxer and grappler. Won’t be shocked if Correia wins minutes, but often her success is easily erased by the much bigger offense that comes back at her. Sijara Eubanks by TKO, round 2.

Phil Mackenzie: Gather round and hark to the tragedy of Bethe Correia. She was owning up on Holly Holm before Holm accidentally head kicked her. She was destroying Marion Reneau before Reneau also accidentally head kicked her. Robbed against Pennington. Bum rushed by Rousey. Armbarred at the last minute by Irene Aldana in a fight she was winning. In all seriousness, I do think that over her time in the UFC she’s become a reasonably functional pocket boxer, and she’s become at least able to compete on a pure strength perspective with decently strong fighters like Pennington. That being said, like Zane mentioned, her inability to put serious offense on her opponents, combined with being mediocre in almost any other physical aspect, means that she can drop rounds or entire fights in a single offensive burst. Sijara Eubanks by unanimous decision.

Victor Rodriguez: Sijara almost put Ladd away in that rematch, how can she not win here? Bethe mostly has volume striking and iffish cardio to carry her, and that’s not going to fare well against a top-notch world class grappler that has better overall functional striking and a greater fundamental understanding of space and how to do almost everything better in a fight. I don’t mean to bury Bethe here, but most of Sijara’s losses look better than most of Bethe’s wins. Easy choice. Sijara Eubanks by TKO.

Staff picking Eubanks: Ed, Mookie, Zane, Dayne, Phil, Stephie, Tim, Nick, Victor
Staff picking Correia:

Claudio Puelles vs. Marcos Rosa Mariano

Zane Simon: Mariano can’t wrestle or grapple. Puelles is a bit of a Frankenstein of mma techniques; a double leg here, a heel hook there, a jab cross every now and then. But, it includes some wrestling and grappling. Mariano is just looking to strike, and with a pretty low-output style to boot. Claudio Puelles via submission, round 1.

Staff picking Puelles: Ed, Mookie, Zane, Dayne, Stephie, Tim, Nick, Victor, Phil
Staff picking Mariano:


Who wins the UFC Mexico main event?

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    Rodriguez by stoppage

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    Stephens by stoppage

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    Rodriguez by decision

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    Stephens by decision

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