LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 07:  A UFC sign is displayed outside T-Mobile Arena ahead of UFC 200 on July 7, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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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.

 

Ronda Rousey slight favorite against Amanda Nunes at UFC 207

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Betting lines can be influenced by popularity, which is important to keep in mind when looking at the women’s bantamweight title bout between Ronda Rousey and Amanda Nunes that will be the culmination of UFC 207 on Friday in Las Vegas.

Rousey is the -140 betting favorite with Nunes nominally the underdog at +110, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Rousey is fighting for the first time since losing her title to Holly Holm in November 2015, while Nunes is making her first defense since her victory by submission against Miesha Tate in July.

Since she has been away for so long, Rousey is a bit of a blank slate, but during her title reign she had the knack for using her judo background to get a fight to the mat. That might give her a shot at nullifying some of Nunes’ punching power and forcing the champion, whose cardio is below-average, to burn energy getting out of clinches and back on her feet. Of the two, Nunes is the more powerful puncher.

Dominick Cruz is a -225 favorite on the UFC 207 odds in his bantamweight title defense bout against underdog Cody Garbrandt (+175). One case for the challenger is that Garbrandt, who is undefeated in the UFC, averages more significant strikes per minute than Cruz, and hits at a higher percentage. His quick-strike power gives him a chance to get the win, but the unknown variable is his stamina. Cruz has shown throughout his career than he can elude heavy punchers and allow his stamina to carry the day.

T.J. Dillashaw is listed at -240 in his bantamweight bout against John Lineker (+190). Dillashaw’s propensity to strike early and frequently, along with being sounder technically than Lineker, makes him the clear favorite. Lineker’s brawling style makes him entertaining to watch, but he’s not efficient in his striking and that can land a fighter in trouble if he is unable to land a knockout.

Dong Hyun Kim is a -145 favorite against Tarec Saffiedine (+115) in a welterweight match that was moved to the main card after Cain Velasquez was scratched from his showdown with Fabricio Werdum. Kim, who has won six of his seven fights with the lone defeat coming against Tyron Woodley, has been able to handle any opponent who is isn’t elite. Saffiedine has dropped two of his last three fights and, from a betting perspective, doesn’t offer great value as an underdog.

And in a late add to the main card, Ray Borg is a slight -135 betting favorite against Louis Smolka (+110) in a flyweight bout. Borg is the savvier grappler of the two whereas Smolka has greater reach and striking ability. Smolka’s defense might not be strong enough to prevent Borg from turning this into a fight that is contested mostly on the mat.

Holloway favored over Pettis on UFC 206 odds for Saturday night event

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Whether one buys the premise of an interim featherweight title bout, it’s easy to see why Max Holloway is a big favorite against Anthony Pettis in the headline matchup for UFC 206 in Toronto on Saturday.

Having won nine fights in a row, Holloway is listed as the -190 betting favorite with Pettis at +165 for the co-main event at Air Canada Centre, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The interim belt was created after Conor McGregor moved up to win the lightweight strap at UFC 205.

Holloway is a much busier striker who prefers to attack, while Pettis picks his spots for counter-attacks. There is definitely potential for Pettis to win if he can slow the pace and get the match to the ground, although no one has done that against Holloway recently. It will also be interesting to see what form Pettis shows now that he has cut body mass to compete at featherweight (145-pound limit).

The match is scheduled for five rounds. The winner will likely advance directly to a title fight against champion Jose Aldo.

In the co-main event, welterweight Donald Cerrone is the main card’s heaviest favorite at -280 as he takes on veteran Matt Brown, who is listed at +220. Cerrone is looking for a fourth consecutive win since moving up to welterweight and it’s fair to take a pass on Brown, who has lost four of his last five bouts. If Brown prevails it would be the biggest upset, in terms of odds on the underdog, at a UFC event since UFC 200.

Featherweight Doo Ho Choi is a -210 favorite against Cub Swanson, who is listed +180. Swanson’s defense is top-notch but he is spotting some reach to Choi, who is also the more efficient of the two in the striking game. Choi defends well and, if anything, might be underpriced. The line could narrow closer to fight time, since Swanson has more name recognition among casual North American and European fight fans.

Coming out of nearly two-year hiatus, Jordan Mein is favored at -155 against +135 underdog Emil Meek. Meek, a Norwegian newcomer to UFC, is a powerful striker who has seven of his eight career wins by knockout. A loss here won’t hurt his prospects in the UFC, so essentially he has been handed a nothing-to-lose scenario which might foment trying to attack Mein and get him off-balance early. There is upset potential here.

Middleweights Tim Kennedy (-145) and Kelvin Gastelum (+125) have been matched after each was pulled out of UFC 205. The prices have been shifting toward equilibrium – Kennedy opened -222 with Gastelum at +175 – as oddsmakers try to balance out the enthusiasm for Gastelum. Gastelum is now likely a middleweight for good after failing to make the weight limit for UFC 205 and should be motivated, whereas it’s unclear what to expect out of the 37-year-old Kennedy, who last fought more than two years ago.

Underdogs have won 163 of 440 fights this year in the UFC, or 37 percent. That trend has been consistent from UFC 201 through UFC 205 with underdogs prevailing in 14 of 41 fights, or 34.1%.