Benson Henderson ($9800) vs Brandon Thatch ($10100)
I can already hear a lot of people saying, “who is this Thatch guy, and how is he a favorite over a former champion like Henderson?” But for those who haven’t seen him fight, Thatch is a killer. 11 wins, 11 first-round finishes. His average fight time in those wins is 80 seconds. It doesn’t get much better than that. And by no means is he in there fighting scrubs. That being said, Henderson is a gigantic step up in competition for him. “Bendo” should have gotten his hand raised last month against Donald Cerrone, and his wrestling will be a big test for Thatch. As a 155-pounder moving up to 170, Henderson will give up size – particularly reach – to his young opponent. But Henderson controls range like a veteran. Nevertheless, I think Thatch has a big opportunity here and I’ll go out on a limb and say he puts away the durable former champion.
Prediction: Thatch by KO/TKO
Max Holloway ($11600) vs Cole Miller ($8500)
Let’s get it out of the way early – Holloway has a tremendous advantage on the feet here, and that is why he is so expensive. He’s a power hitter with four straight stoppage victories. Meanwhile, Miller has been looking more and more hittable as of late. Miller’s ground game is a big ace in the hole if he can get it there, but he doesn’t have the powerhouse wrestling of a guy like Dennis Bermudez, who gave Hollaway fits when they fought. Miller can submit almost everyone at 145 pounds if he gets his long limbs around them, but I don’t see him catching the Hawaiian.
Prediction: Holloway by KO/TKO
Neil Magny ($11800) vs Kiichi Kunimoto ($8000)
Both Magny and Kunimoto were perfect in their 2014 UFC campaigns, with Magny going 5-0 and Kunimoto 3-0 (albeit one of them being a DQ win). But Magny faced significantly tougher opposition. Neither man is a tremendously offensive fighter, which means it’s hard to excited about picking them from a fantasy perspective. Magny has more power and carries it into the later rounds, while Kunimoto shows some defensive lapses on the feet, so it’s not out of the question that Magny gets the stoppage. For the money, Magny is a safer pick than Holloway above, but there’s also less upside.
Prediction: Magny by decision
Patrick Walsh ($10600) vs Dan Kelly ($9300)
I’m going to be honest: I have no idea why this fight is on the main card, other than that it has the potential to be a short fight. That said, I actually expect this fight to be a bit of a grind, with both men wrestling for top position and neither being a great finisher. Walsh is coming down to 185 after his UFC debut at 205 lbs, and actually fought prior to that at heavyweight. Walsh has the size and youth advantage, but Kelly is slightly more dynamic with a better gas tank.
Prediction: Kelly by decision
Kevin Lee ($10800) vs Michel Prazeres ($9200)
This is a very interesting fight at 155 lbs as both men have looked great lately. Prazeres last won in an upset against the highly touted prospect Mairbek Taisumov where he showed off equally powerful punching and wrestling. Both men have a mutual opponent in Jesse Ronson, with both men winning split decisions over Ronson. Prazeres holds the grappling and submission advantage, but Lee has absolutely beautiful MMA-style wrestling. This might end up being a mostly standup affair, and while Prazeres has the power edge, I think Lee’s technique is just a little sharper on the feet.
Prediction: Lee by decision
Ray Borg ($12000) vs Chris Kelades ($7900)
Chris Kelades just cannot get an easy fight. The plucky Canadian won over hearts when he managed a come from behind decision against heavily favoured Patrick Holohan in Nova Scotia. But in Borg, he faces a tremendous flyweight prospect who has next-level chain grappling and wrestling. Kelades won’t be able to survive Borg on toughness alone, and he doesn’t have any real weapons with which to finish the American.
Prediction: Borg by submission
Levan Makashvili ($8200) vs Nik Lentz ($11700)
Not much is known about the newcomer Makashvili, but he recently picked up a title in the Cage Fury Fight Championships promotion on the east coast. His last two fights of 2015 both went five rounds, and his conditioning looked solid. Makashvili has good fundamentals everywhere and seems to prefer to work off the counter. From a fantasy perspective, it would be nice if he were a bit more aggressive. With Lentz there is no such issue. “The Carny” pushes the pace tremendously, a pressure fighter who averages over 12 takedown attempts per 15 minutes. Lentz will probably grind out a win against the newcomer here, but Makashvili has a chance at an upset and might be good for a few points if you’re running low on salary.
Prediction: Lentz by decision
Efrain Escudero ($10000) vs Rodrigo de Lima ($9800)
de Lima actually fantastic for one round against Neil Magny in his UFC debut, thoroughly dominating him on the mat. Unfortunately, as beautiful as his jiujitsu was in that match, his boxing was equally ugly. Magny was able to pick him apart with 1-2 combinations and eventually knock him out. Escudero, who once suffered the ignominy of being the first Ultimate Fighter champion to get cut by the UFC, is fighting for his job again after a loss to Leo Santos. Escudero has a massive edge on the feet with his much tighter boxing but de Lima has just as big an advantage on the ground. If he’s disciplined, Escudero should be able to keep it on the feet and might be able to knock out the Brazilian, but de Lima has fight ending jiujitsu. This one could swing either way.
Prediction: de Lima by submission
Jim Alers ($9100) vs Chas Skelly ($10900)
A pair of 13-1 prospects face off here. Alers has the higher historical finish rate (11 finishes), but Skelly has faced the more accomplished opposition. Additionally, I think the style matchup is difficult for Alers, as the submission fighter doesn’t have nearly the wrestling pedigree of Skelly, the NAIA All-American. Skelly is also well versed in the submission grappling game. You can expect it to be a grappling heavy contest where Skelly controls most of the better positions. But Alers is tremendously tough and Skelly likely doesn’t quite have the finish to put him away before the final bell.
Prediction: Skelly by decision
Tim Elliott ($9300) vs Zach Makovsky ($10700)
This is a very interesting matchup at 125 pounds. Elliott is very physically strong with an awkward style and sets a ferocious pace to boot. He put #1-ranked Joseph Benevidez in a lot of trouble earlier in their bout. Makovsky is one of the best chain grapplers around and a tremendously skilled technician, but I’ll take the upset here due to Elliott’s physical advantages.
Prediction: Elliott by decision
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