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It’s prediction time: UFC 200

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With the biggest weekend in the history of the UFC right around the corner, Rotoworld’s Josh Norris – NFL Draft expert by day, gigantic MMA fan by night — and myself have decided to share our picks for the biggest matches of the weekend.

Literally in the middle of typing the opening paragraph the Jon Jones news dropped, which means BROCK LESNAR is going to fight in the main event of UFC 200. What a time to be alive. And now…

Itstime

 

UFC 200 Main Card

Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones

Dargis: “Bones” is the easy pick here. I know he looked mediocre in his return fight against Ovince St. Preux back in April, but we’re going to see a vintage Jon performance. He looks so relaxed and confident heading into this fight that I just don’t see how Jones doesn’t walk out of Vegas the undisputed light heavyweight champion.

Norris: When squared off at Wednesday’s press conference, Cormier told Jones to “keep playing games.” Cormier is the one who could not oust the final boss at UFC 182, and he won’t be able to find victory against Jones in his second attempt at UFC 200. Was Bones impressive in his victory against Ovince St. Preux? Not especially. But was it a poor performance? Not at all. Jones has not finished an opponent in his last four fights, the last being Chael Sonnen at UFC 159 in April of 2013. That changes on Saturday. And to take it one step further, this loss will push Cormier back to heavyweight or into retirement, as he will not get a third shot at Jones’ title.

Prediction: Jon Jones

Mark Hunt vs. Brock Lesnar

Dargis: While Hunt is the safe pick due to the combination of his punching power and Lesnar’s notoriously soft chin, I can’t pick against Brock. Despite being away from the cage for almost five years, Lesnar is going to be in excellent shape. I expect Lesnar to takedown Hunt early on, but I must say that Brock needs to be careful of diving in recklessly at Hunt, because the “Super Samoan” carries knockout power in his short punches.

Due to his superior wrestling ability I think Brock wins by TKO due to punches.

Norris: Mark Hunt is headlining UFC 200. I am thrilled. When the UFC purchased PRIDE, Hunt’s contract carried over. The UFC attempted to buy him out for $450,000 rather than schedule a fight for Hunt. The Super Samoan declined, and entered the Octagon with a record of 5-6… and lost. That capped a six fight losing streak. Since that 2010 bout, Hunt as only lost to the division’s top names: Junior Dos Santos, Fabricio Werdum and current champ Stipe Miocic.

Mark Hunt is headlining the biggest card in UFC history. Unbelievable.

I am simplifying, but this entire fight comes down to the first takedown attempt. There are more questions than answers with Brock. Do I buy he has only been training four weeks for this fight? I bet it is closer to four months. But even when younger and healthy, Lesnar’s standup is far from smooth or comfortable. If Hunt stops that first takedown attempt, like Alistair Overeem did (Ubereem at the time), Lesnar has no shot. Zero. In fact, I would not be surprised if a short uppercut on that initial attempt ends Lesnar’s night. Never play “six inches” with Mark Hunt.

But if Brock wins, you can guarantee he continues to fight and gets the next title shot against the winner of Stipe Miocic and Alistair Overeem. It is best for business.

Prediction: Mark Hunt

Miesha Tate (C) vs. Amanda Nunes (Women’s Bantamweight Title)

Dargis: Before I make my pick, just know if you Google: “Who is the UFC women’s champion?” Ronda Rousey appears…

It’s incredibly tempting to pick Nunes due to her aggressiveness and striking ability, but Tate’s chin is incredible. Tate does needs to finish Nunes off, because if the fight were to go the distance, the title could very well change hands because I expect Nunes to control the first two rounds of this fight, which means she would only have to win one more round to take the fight.

I just don’t think Nunes will be able to finish Tate off, which will allow Miesha to claw back and retain her title by submission.

Norris: One female champion loses this weekend, and I see how both can. In Miesha’s case, she is a slow starter and even in wins she absorbs huge shots. Julie Kedzie’s shin to her face back in Strikeforce and the first round against Jessica Eye are two examples. If an opening is there, Nunes has stopping power in her fists. Keep in mind four of Nunes’ last five wins ended in round one.

With all of that said, Tate is the logical pick. There’s a strong argument for Tate being the toughest fighter on the roster, absorbing large amounts of damage and grinding out wins. If this makes it out of round one, Tate retains.

Prediction: Miesha Tate

Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar (Interim Featherweight Title)

Norris: Edgar’s five fight winning streak is impressive, ending three of those before the final horn. Aldo’s response from his first UFC loss will be one of the biggest questions of the night. Will he attack Edgar’s legs, limiting “The Answer’s” mobility and frenetic pace? Or will Aldo be tentative, not wanting to overextend and eat another left hand. This is a prediction I am not confident in.

Prediction: Frankie Edgar

Dargis: Even though there are plenty of questions surrounding Aldo because we haven’t seen him since the social media knockout of 2015, it’s impossible to ignore the streak he put together before his unfortunate encounter with Conor. Kudos to Edgar for using Aldo’s loss as fuel for his trash talk, but if McGregor ever sets foot in the cage with Frankie, he’ll wax the octagon with “The Answer.”

I do think this fight will go the distance and Aldo will get his hand raised after a unanimous decision victory and set up a return fight against McGregor, who will need to drop back to featherweight if he loses again to Nate Diaz.

Travis Browne vs. Cain Velasquez

Norris: The Cain Velasquez we saw take the title from Brock Lesnar might be the best heavyweight in the promotion from UFC 100 to 199. However, it is difficult to know what Cain enters the octagon on Saturday due to the number of surgeries accumulated in his last few years. The Cain who stands out is a workhorse. A grinder who wears down his opponent against the cage and in the clinch. Limiting Browne’s distance is a key here.

Prediction: Cain Velasquez

Dargis: Picking Browne here because Velasquez is just broken goods at this point. We have no idea which version of Cain is going to show up on Saturday night, but we know exactly what to expect from Browne. He’s going to throw bombs and force Velasquez to respond.  This almost feels like the first semifinal of a tournament to determine the number one contender for the heavyweight title, with the second one coming later in the night between Hunt and Lesnar.

Browne vs. Lesnar with an opportunity to fight for the title is getting me hyped up, I need a drink.

Twitters: @ScottDargis @JoshNorris

Preliminary Card

Julianna Pena vs. Cat Zingano

Dargis: Speaking of contender fights, I would have to imagine the winner of this one is getting a shot at either Holly Holm or the winner of Tate vs. Nunes.

Unless Ronda returns and just blows up the division.

This was the toughest fight of the weekend for me to pick because Pena is ascending rapidly in the division, but Zingano looked dominant until her 14 second loss to Rousey 18 months ago. Zingano swears she’ll enter the cage in top condition on Saturday, but the layoff has me worried. I’m taking Pena by submission in the third round.

Norris: Due to injuries and monumental personal events, this will only be Zingano’s sixth fight from 2011-2016. She has wins over both Miesha Tate and Amanda Nunes. After working with Dominick Cruz and Alliance MMA, the veteran will be too much for the 26-year-old Pena.

Prediction: Cat Zingano

Kelvin Gastelum vs. Johny Hendricks

Norris: The only exposure we have of Johny Hendricks following his move from Team Takedown is the dismantling Stephen Thompson displayed in February. It was easily the worst Hendricks has looked in the UFC. While Gastelum is 1-2 in his last three fights, split decision losses to Tyron Woodley and Neil Magny are understandable. In comparison, Hendricks’ skill set appeals to Gastelum’s strengths.

Prediction: Kelvin Gastelum

Dargis: I’m not sure if anyone needs a convincing win more than Johny Hendricks does this weekend. It seems like a decade has passed since his two encounters with Robbie Lawler. Between the weight cutting mishap last October and the embarrassing performance against Stephen Thompson in February, it’s shocking that he’s still ranked sixth in the division.

I seriously thought something was wrong with my computer when I looked at the rankings.

Despite dropping two out of his last three fights (which were both by split decision), I’m taking Gastelum by unanimous decision.

Raphael Assuncao vs. T.J. Dillashaw

Dargis: So this one is also super tough to pick, but I’m going with Dillashaw to avenge his split decision loss to Assuncao from back in October of 2013. Dillashaw claims he’s continuing to grow as a fighter, but I’m expecting to see a typical Dillashaw performance, which won’t be enough for him to gain a title shot against Cruz. The UFC just has it out for this guy.

Norris: I’m amazed at the lack of attention around Dillashaw. The former champ lost to Assuncao in October of 2013, but his game has greatly improved since attaching himself to Duane Ludwig. From a fighting standpoint (not tickets or hype), Dillashaw should have received a shot at the title shortly after losing the belt.

Prediction: T.J. Dillashaw

Enrique Marin vs. Sage Northcutt

Norris: I know nothing about Marin. Google even asked if I meant to type “Enrique Martin.” I do know about Sage Northcutt and that his strep throat was devastating prior to his loss to Bryan Barberena. Building Northcutt slowly is the right move, and this is one step in the process.

Prediction: Sage Northcutt

Dargis: The Golden Boy is back! Sage swears he’s healthy heading into this fight, which feels like a layup against Marin, who is only making his second appearance in the octagon. Sage’s speed will be too much for Marin, so I’m picking Northcutt by TKO.

Plus I just want to see this again:

Joe Lauzon vs. Diego Sanchez

Dargis: Lauzon enters this fight with 18 submission victories and Sanchez has never lost by submission, you’d think something has to give, but then when I looked deeper into Lauzon’s record I noticed that he hasn’t recorded a submission victory since 2012. I initially picked Lauzon, but the more I look into this fight, the more I’m leaning towards Sanchez. So I’ll go with Diego by unanimous decision because this fight is definitely going the distance.

Norris: Neither fighter has looked great in their last handful of bouts. If this one goes to the ground, Lauzon has the clear advantage, and Lauzon will instantly jump on chokes from all angles if he drops Sanchez.

Prediction: Joe Lauzon

Gegard Mousasi vs. Thiago “Marreta” Santos

Dargis: I’m expecting these two to throw some absolute bombs as both have legit knockout power. Mousasi seems like the safe pick here, but there’s just something about Santos’ recent performances that are pushing me to pick him, so that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Lock of the night: this fight ends in either KO or TKO.

Norris: While I initially guessed Santos would have the length advantage, both figthers’ arm and leg measurements are equal. Mousasi produced a great first round against Uriah Hall before getting tagged and finished. Santos’ takedown defense stands at an impressive 85 percent, but Mousasi grinds him out in this one.

Prediction: Gegard Mousasi

Takanori Gomi vs. Jim Miller

Norris: Miller has lost four of his last five. Gomi has lost three of four. Gomi was a star during his time in Japan, and his losses in the UFC are to well respected names. Add Jim Miller to the list.

Prediction: Jim Miller

Dargis: You smell that desperation Norris? It’s coming from both Gomi and Miller. The combined record between these two in their last five fights?

3-7

That is atrocious! Miller got whooped by Diego Sanchez back in March and Gomi is coming off of a pair of first round losses by TKO. I flipped a coin and it landed tails, so I’m going with Gomi.

 

Mayweather and McGregor end press tour with a bang in London

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Sometime before Floyd Mayweather Jr. stole Conor McGregor’s microphone and before McGregor walked behind Mayweather and pretended to spank him, it might have been hard to understand why all this was happening.

The four press conferences in four days. The insults and posturing. The clothes. Nobody seems to be talking about the 40-year boxing legend with increasingly public financial problems getting paid to fight an MMA star in his first-ever boxing match.

And that’s the whole point.

No matter what goes down on August 26, when Mayweather and McGregor finally put on boxing gloves and start punching each other, Friday’s press conference in London will live on in sports history.

Here are some of the best moments:

McGregor calls Mayweather’s body guards “Juice Head Turkeys”

McGregor has called out pretty much every member of Mayweather’s entourage this week, including his body guards. Earlier on the press tour, Mayweather ordered his security team to surround McGregor and some minor shoving ensued.

Apparently, the incident left a mark. McGregor had some choice words for those body guards on Friday and called them “juice head turkeys” from inside the ring.

Feel free to Google that expression, unless you’re offended by Thanksgiving arts and crafts or holiday recipes.

McGregor rubs Mayweather’s head

If McGregor were fighting, say, Adrian Beltre, this wouldn’t have gone down so smoothly.

But in one of the more revealing moments of the press conference, Mayweather  tried visibly not to laugh as McGregor rubbed his head and cracked some bald jokes. His best line might have been pointing out Mayweather’s fondness for wearing hats in public and asking him “What the [expletive] were you hiding under that thing?”

Mayweather does a chokehold in front of McGregor

McGregor’s most recent loss came against Nate Diaz in 2016, as the Irish fighter tapped out when Diaz put him in a rear naked choke-hold. Mayweather didn’t plan on letting McGregor forget that on Friday. Imitating the MMA move in front of his opponent, Mayweather even had his DJ cue up a few bars of Rich Gang’s 2013 single “Tapout.”

He then asked the decidedly pro-McGregor crowd why they decided to put their faith in “this quitter,” before asking them to get Nate Diaz on the phone.

“If you quit once, you quite twice,” Mayweather said. “If you quit twice, you quit three times. But on the fourth time, I’m going to knock you the [expletive] out.”

 

Valentina Shevchenko Favored Against Amanda Nunes in Five-Round UFC 2013 Matchup

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With a scheduled five-round bout this time around, Valentina Shevchenko is favored against woman’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes in the main event at UFC 213.

Shevchenko is a slight -125 betting favorite against -105 underdog Nunes at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com in their title matchup at UFC 213, which takes place at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday. The match comes 16 months after their first matchup which Nunes won by unanimous decision in her only victory in the UFC that didn’t end early. That was a three-round fight.

The rematch is scheduled for five rounds, which would seem to work in favor of Shevchenko, who has the endurance to be methodical and play a long game while waiting for an opponent to over-commit to an attack. That might negate Nunes’ trademark aggressiveness.

By the same token, though, Nunes is rarely going to be priced at -105. Her backers can take heart in knowing she has made great strides with her technical game since that March 2016 showdown against Shevchenko.

Robert Whittaker (-135) is favored slightly against Yoel Romero (+105) on the UFC 213 betting lines as they vie for the interim strap in the middleweight division. Whittaker has by far the greater cardio of the two and his grappling is good enough to counter Romero, a former Olympic freestyle wrestler.

If Whittaker can survive the first two rounds – and he’s characterized the fight as a 25-minute war – he should be able to wear down Romero. If Romero is to win, it will likely be by using his ground-and-pound game to get an early submission.

By virtue of his win when they went head-to-head in 2011, Alistair Overeem (-130) is the favorite against No. 1 heavyweight contender Fabricio Werdum (even).

Overeem, at age 37, is a deadly striker who has become craftier about picking his spots over his long career. His losses over the years have usually come by knockout, which is something that the jiu-jitsu specialist Werdum hasn’t been able to achieve in recent years. Overeem’s powerful kicking might help him with keeping Werdum at bay.

Anthony Pettis (-240) is favored against Jim Miller (+190) in the former champion’s return to the lightweight class. Pettis should have more energy than he typically did when he was cutting mass as a featherweight, which could aid him with using his kicks to create an opening for a submission.

Miller is a grinder, though, and is certainly capable of trading strikes and getting the match to the mat. On the whole, one should not overlook that this is a fight Pettis wanted to re-establish himself.

And the only true mismatch on the UFC 213 odds on the main card is the heavyweight bout between emerging force Curtis Blaydes (-750) and Daniel Omielanczuk (+475). The price on the latter fighter is tempting if taken in a vacuum, but when it comes to the Octagon, Blaydes has a reach advantage in the striking phase and is also a one-time U.S. national junior college champion, whereas grappling is Omielanczuk’s weakness.