UFC 201 Preliminary Predictions
205lbs- #11 Nikita Krylov (20-4-0) vs Ed Herman (24-11-0 1NC)
170lbs- Ross Pearson (21-11-0 1NC) vs Jorge Masvidal (29-11-0)
In the Welterweight division, Ross ‘The Real Deal’ Pearson steps in on short notice to face fellow injury replacement Jorge ‘Gamebred’ Masvidal. This bout was originally scheduled to feature Claudio Silva taking on Siyar Bahadurzada. Pearson is coming off of a decision loss to Will Brooks and has alternated wins and losses over his last 9 fights. Masvidal is in need of a win having lost a trio of split decisions to Benson Henderson, Al Iaquinta, and most recently Lorenz Larkin over his last 4 outings.
Masvidal has been prepping for this bout for just over a month, while Ross took the fight with roughly 2 weeks to prepare- just 3 weeks removed from his last fight. Pearson normally competes at Lightweight and Masvidal has only recently moved up from 155-pound division. Masvidal is 3 inches taller and will have a 5″ reach advantage.
‘Gamebred’ has a wealth of MMA experience with 40-career bouts including a fight with Gilbert Melendez for the Strikeforce title. He has finished 11 opponents by knockout, 2 by submission, and is 16-8 on the scorecards. Masvidal has struggled of late in close fights and has taken some criticism for being too tentative and not showing the needed aggression to distance himself from his opponent. Additionally, Masvidal has been hurt in multiple fights- including getting dropped by Michael Chiesa, Daron Cruickshank, and Rustam Khabilov. At his best, Jorge is seamless in his integration of his different skills. He has a sound boxing game, averaging 3.86 strikes landed per minute. He builds the majority of his offense off of a left jab and throws slick combinations when in the pocket. Look for him to target the body as well both with his punches and kicks. Defensively, he puts up a strong front and will routinely slide out of range- but sometimes he is too lax when avoiding and can take damage as a result. Despite having just 2 submission wins, he has a very sound ground game. He completed 6-takedowns in his win over Tim Means and has collected 14 completions over his UFC run. With equally as strong TDD, he has stopped 81% of his opponent’s attempts.
Over his last 3 defeats, he out-landed his opponents by a combined 208 to 185 significant strikes and nearly finished Iaquinta in the opening round.
The Brit is a Black belt in Taekwondo, Brown belt in Judo, and BJJ Blue belt- but is primarily a striker. Similar to his opponent, Pearson has been involved in some dicey outcomes on the scorecards. After dropping a controversial split decision to Diego Sanchez, Pearson has picked up a pair of victories on split cards and is now 7-6 when going the distance. Ross has solid boxing skills with decent power resulting in 7 wins by knockout. He has good footwork and head movement, deploying a leaping left hook and hard right hand which he will throw in succession. Look for him to work over his foe’s body, and follow his body shots with a rising left hook that he used to knockout Sam Stout. Pearson will also sit back and counter strike, which can be an effective weapon against an aggressive opponent. It can also allow his foe to dictate the pace of the fight and earn points in the eyes of the judges. At 3.61 SLpM, Pearson narrowly lands more than his opponents per fight with 3.34 SApM. Ross has been knocked out 3-times and hurt in a couple other bouts which makes his chin a potential point of vulnerability.
Ross has had issues giving up takedowns. He has defended 76% of his opponents attempts, but Evan Dunham found a lot of success putting him on his back and ‘The Real Deal’ has lost his last 3 fights where he has given up at least 1 completion.
Pearson has struggled to create separation in the striking totals in recent bouts. He has been on the wrong end of the significant strikes totals in 5 of his last 7 fights. In the other 2 contests, he landed just 2 more significant strikes than his opponent. Those are hard numbers to overlook against a fighter like Masvidal, who does a better job of limiting his foe’s offense and can augment his striking with takedowns. Masvidal is the longer fighter and should have a slight speed advantage as well when exchanging. His wrestling will both score points when he shoots and keep Pearson from continuously moving forward when attacking. ‘Gamebred’ will most likely look for well-timed takedowns to help him secure rounds. Pearson is looking for a quick turn around and is coming off a grueling fight against Brooks. The move up to 170 will make the cut much easier to make, but the lack of preparation time for a skilled fighter like Masvidal is a tough tradeoff. Pearson simply does not have enough weapons to match Masvidal’s arsenal- my prediction is Jorge Masvidal to defeat Ross Pearson by decision.
265lbs- Anthony Hamilton (14-5-0) vs Damian Grabowski (20-3-0)
In the Heavyweight division, Anthony ‘Freight Train’ Hamilton squares off with promotional sophomore Damian ‘The Polish Pitbull’ Grabowski. Hamilton is coming off a loss to Shamil Abdurakhimov to drop his UFC record to 2-3. Grabowski debuted in the UFC with a TKO defeat at the hands of Derrick Lewis, he is 7-2 over his last 9 fights.
At 6’5″, Hamilton is 4 inches taller and will weigh roughly 20 to 25 pounds more than his Polish counterpart , but he will have just a 1″ reach advantage.
Grabowski, the former M-1 Heavyweight champion, is a BJJ Brown belt with 11 wins by submission. Damian does the majority of his work in close quarters with his opponent either in the clinch or on the mat. He has finished 10 foes in the opening round. The ‘Polish Pitbull’ possesses a decent shot, but will also work takedowns after tying up. In his win in M-1 over Kenny Garner, he struggled to hold top control after completing an early takedown and was relegated to the clinch game. He is a good dirty boxer, but at times he appears too passive and will concede position allowing his opponent to control him. Garner routinely pushed him into the wall and landed hard body strikes, with Grabowski relying on the ref to break them up. Against Lewis, the Polish fighter attempted to put him on his back, but was countered and got smashed on the bottom. Similarly, he was subbed by Marcin Tybura where he showed very little resistance on the mat prior to the finish. His distance striking isn’t all that strong, looking mainly to close the gap behind his punches and then clinch. When he does push forward, he tends to attack in straight lines, making him predictable at times.
He entered the UFC off of sizeable layoff, having last competed 15-months prior to his Octagon debut. He fought 3-times for Bellator with a 2-1 record, losing to Cole Konrad in the Season 3 Heavyweight tournament semi-finals.
‘Freight Train’ returns to the Octagon after suffering the first loss of his career outside of the opening round, he is now 10-1 in fights lasting more than 5 minutes. A former NJCAA All-American wrestler and BJJ Brown belt, Hamilton’s 2 UFC wins have come on the strength of his takedowns. He landed a combined 8-takedowns on 10 attempts over the 2 fights. On the mat, he will land hard strikes, targeting the body effectively and earning a stoppage of Ruan Potts with body shots. Against Omeilanczuk, he bowled him over early behind a flurry of punches and effectively used his forearm to crush down on his foe’s face between hard elbows. If he is able to maintain posture, Hamilton can do a lot of damage with his GNP. Anthony will also rely heavily on his clinch attack. Look for Hamilton to control the head, push his opponent into the cage, and either change levels or strike. In the clinch, he will attack with short uppercuts, body punches, and knees to the body. At 83% his TDD is strong, using his size and weight to break down the posture of his adversary. His last opponent did a nice job of shutting down his clinch entries with circular movement and short punches in tight.
Hamilton isn’t overly comfortable striking at range, ducking forward when punching while trying to close the gap. He has been rocked in multiple fights and stopped twice by knockout.
This contest will most likely come down to a battle for position. Both guys like to work on the mat and along the cage, which should grind this fight to a halt with the aggressor securing position and looking to hold on to it. Hamilton is the much larger man which will pay dividends when they tie up. His ability to wear on his opponent is crucial and Grabowski’s willingness to let his foe dictate position will allow the American to land his clinch strikes with regularity. Damian doesn’t appear to have the striking capabilities to consistently attack Hamilton without getting jammed up on the inside. Both men will have their moments, but the larger more active Hamilton holds the superior position longer and lands more strikes once there- my prediction is Anthony Hamilton to defeat Damian Grabowski by decision.
125lbs- #7 Wilson Reis (20-6-0) vs Hector Sandoval (12-2-0)
Originally scheduled to face Divisional Champion Demetrious Johnson in the co-main event, Wilson Reis remains on the card to take on UFC debutant Hector ‘Kid Alex’ Sandoval. Reis is coming off a dominant win over Dustin Ortiz and is 8-2 over his last 10 fights. Sandoval has won 4 in a row since his loss to Willie Gates in late 2014.
Reis is 2 inches taller and 1 year older than Sandoval. Hector has had roughly 2 weeks to prepare after stepping in to replace Sean Santella, who was originally been pegged to replace Johnson.
A Team Alpha Male product, Sandoval has been on the cusp of making the jump to the UFC for a while now. His only 2 career losses have come against former UFC competitors Ulysses Gomez and the aforementioned Gates. He has finished 5 opponents; 3 by knockout and 2 by submission- 3 in the opening round. Hector is a perfect 7-0 on the scorecards. The former Tachi Palace Fights champion comes from a high school wrestling background. He relies on power over technique, utilizing big slams to put his opponent on the mat. Against larger opponents, Sandoval has struggled to find his takedowns which can be tied to his reliance on power. Despite his camp’s notoriety for submission wins, ‘Kid Alex’ doesn’t have the totals to suggest he is a threat in that area. On the feet, he has som pop in his hands and delivers it with big hooks. With good hand speed, he will blitz his adversary and unload with high volume flurries to the head and body. He stopped his last opponent with a hard right hand and a few minor follow-up strikes. To make up for his short stature he is forced to push forward aggressively which can open him up to reactive takedowns.
Despite being considered a fighter to watch on the regional circuit, he doesn’t have a victory over a recognizable name with his last 4 opponents are a combined for a record of 25-17.
A BJJ Black belt, Reis has put up some impressive wrestling numbers landing 4.97 takedowns at a 42% completion rate. He landed 9 TDs in his win over Ortiz, pushing his Flyweight takedown total to 19 over just 4 fights. A physically strong fighter, he is difficult to deal with in the clinch. Against Ortiz, he was constantly sliding his leg into the feet of his foe to create trip opportunities. He will also shoot double and single legs from the outside and can quickly transition to back mount after taking his foe down. Even when Ortiz initiated a grappling exchange, Wilson’s strength and technical skill resulted in the superior position. He has also improved his striking, showing much more fluidity in his craft. The improvement in his stand-up skills has resulted in better cardio and pace as he no longer forces his strikes. His chin is still an area of vulnerability. Reis has been knocked out twice, both at higher weight classes, but he has been hurt in multiple fights in the UFC.
Reis has won 9-times by submission, with 6 of those victories coming by rear-naked choke.
Reis is taking a sizeable step back in competition and is dealing with a much different opponent, but he was determined to remain on the card. Reis is also fighting a high risk/ low reward type fight with almost 100% certainty that he loses this fight that his title shot will be gone. Reis is pretty big for the division and as already mentioned, Sandoval is a little on the small size. Hector will need to find a way to overcome those issues both when grappling and when trying to get in range to land his strikes. If he can keep the fight standing, his speed and power could give Reis issues and potentially lead to a knockout. Reis has taken down his opponent in all but 1 of his UFC fights. The Brazilian offers a nice variety of takedown techniques and Sandoval’s need to close distance to engage will give Wilson ample opportunity to shoot or set up a trip takedown from the clinch. Once on the mat, the wrestler will struggle fending off the superior grappler of his foe- my prediction is Wilson Reis to defeat Hector Sandoval by submission.
170lbs- Michael Graves (6-0-0) vs Bojan Velickovic (14-3-0)
In the Fight Pass headliner, Michael Graves puts his undefeated record on the line against Bojan ‘Serbian Steele’ Velickovic. Graves came off the Ultimate Fighter and picked up 2 consecutive victories over Vincente Luque and Randy Brown. Velickovic bested Alessio Di Chirico by decision in his promotional debut and has won 5 fights in a row dating back to his loss to former TUF competitor Gilbert Smith.
Bojan is 2 inches taller and will have a sizeable 5″ reach advantage. He made his UFC debut at 185 pounds, but is moving down to Welterweight where he is more accustomed to competing. Graves is 3 years younger and has 11 fewer pro bouts, but his time on the Ultimate Fighter and 2 UFC bouts gives him the edge in quality of experience.
The owner a finish heavy record, 11 of 14 victories inside the distance, Velickovic put together a complete performance in his debut. The former RFA Welterweight champ has 8 wins by sub, despite coming from a Muay Thai background. At distance, he offers a decent straight left and will pop out a right jab, but often deploys them separately. His best range weapons are his kicks. Bojan chewed up Di Chirico’s lead leg with hard inside low kicks along with targeting the body with straight and round kicks. In victory, he was outlanded on the feet 65-45 and isn’t known for his volume striking. As the numbers indicate, he is hittable, despite showcasing decent footwork and lateral movement. Velickovic can also do decent work from the clinch. Closing the distance behind his strikes, once inside he will pepper away at his foe with short punches and hard knees. On the floor, his top game is solid and he is a decent scrambler. He has a good power double and scored a nice takedown in his debut, but was unable to hold top position. He has had issues with more technically skilled wrestlers and was put on his back once by Di Chirico. After the completion, ‘Serbian Steele’ quickly attacked with a kimura, swept to top position, and came close to the finish before the round ended.
Velickovic trains out of an excellent camp at Team Elevation alongside the likes of TJ Dillashaw, Matt Brown, and Clay Guida.
Representing American Top Team, Graves went 1-1 during his time on the Ultimate Fighter. As a pro, he has finished 5 of his 6 opponents, including 2 by RNC. He subbed Brown from back mount with a well-paced attack of hammer fists that eventually opened his foe’s neck up for the choke. His lone TUF win also came by RNC. Over his first 2 UFC outings, he has completed 9 takedowns at a 52% completion rate. Michael offers a wide variety of takedown techniques. At distance, he will shoot on a single or double leg and can cover distance quickly before finishing with a big slam. If his opponent settles in the pocket to strikes, Graves will make a quick level change. From the clinch, he will look for trips and body lock options or even execute a lateral drop- all set up with his dirty boxing. Graves will quickly float over into half guard or side control after hitting his takedowns. If shot on, look for a sprawl and front headlock to shutdown his adversaries momentum and force them to carry his weight. When striking he employs a decent right hook and will target his opponent’s leg with hard kicks. The majority of his offense is built around setting up his wrestling.
Graves is a persistent and durable fighter. Brown defended multiple takedown attempts, but Graves continued to push and eventually wore him down. He also found himself in a tough spot against Luque, but defended the Brazilian’s signature submission and worked to top position.
The cut to 170 pounds should help Velickovic when looking to out-muscle his opponents, but against Graves that might not be the best approach. Bojan will have a sizeable length advantage and will need to utilize his reach and movement to maintain distance and avoid the takedown attempts. Conversely, when Graves can get in under his opponent’s base and elevate them it is very difficult to defend his TDAs. The variety of takedown techniques that Graves offers will make it difficult for Bojan to settle in. The Serbia’s lack of volume at distance will also make it hard for him to win rounds if he spends too much time on his back. Additionally, his reliance on kicks as his primary weapon will open up opportunities for the wrestler to shoot. Look for Velickovic to be cautious early as Graves looks to close the distance, limiting his offensive output. Once Graves gets on the inside, he should find success in the clinch with short strikes and eventually put his foe on the mat with consistency- my prediction is Michael Graves to defeat Bojan Velickovic by decision.
125lbs- Ryan Benoit (8-4-0) vs Fredy Serrano (3-0-0)
Fight #2 of the night, Ryan ‘Baby Face’ Benoit meets Colombia’s Fredy ‘El Profe’ Serrano in the Flyweight division. Serrano is 2-0 in the UFC after picking up an injury related win over Yao Zhikui and knockout of Bentley Syler in his debut. Benoit was unable to capitalize on his upset win over Sergio Pettis, falling via submission to Ben Nguyen- he has alternated wins and losses over his last 6 fights.
This bout was originally scheduled to feature Ray Borg, but he was forced to withdraw and Benoit stepped in on just over 1 week’s notice. Benoit is 2 inches taller and will have a 3″ reach advantage over Serrano. The American is also 10 years younger but has a sizeable advantage in MMA experience with 9 more pro bouts.
Serrano comes from a Freestyle wrestling background which includes both Olympic experience and a Pan Am Bronze medal. His takedown game has been a bit hit and miss in his Octagon run. He struggled to find much success in his only TUF fight and went 2 for 8 in his debut win. When he was able to take Syler down, he demoed a pretty solid level change into a double leg and exploded through his opponent’s hips. Against Yao, he hit a reactive slam after getting backed up with punches that lead to the fight ending arm injury. As a relative newcomer to MMA, Serrano is still working on integrating his different skills, often telegraphing his transitions between striking and wrestling. He does pack some power in his hands and scored a violent uppercut KO against Syler. His right hand is his primary weapon of choice, mixed in with a left hook and low kicks. Fredy throws the majority of his offense in single shots. ‘El Profe’ tends to be a little flat-footed at times, but has shown the ability to attempt higher risk kicking attacks. In both of his fights, he has shown signs of struggling with opponents that can string combinations together and maintain forward pressure.
Serrano lost to eventual Bantamweight tournament winner Alejandro Perez in the quarter-finals of the inaugural season of the Ultimate fighter.
Benoit really hasn’t had a complete performance in the UFC. His only win came on the heels of a one-sided opening round before he shocked everyone by knocking out the highly touted Pettis. Benoit has finished all 8 of his wins, 7 by knockout compared to a pair of submission losses in the UFC and an 0-2 record on the scorecards. Ryan has split his stoppages evenly between first and second round wins. An aggressive fighter, Benoit is both equally capable and vulnerable on the feet and on the mat. He will switch his stances, flashing out a variety of techniques including a stiff straight left, hard right hook, right jab, and uppercut along with some decent body kicks. He dropped Pettis with a straight right, left hook combination. When he has struggled, it has been with the combination striking of his opponents. Pettis was landing at will with multi-strike offerings and Nguyen landed a hard sequence of strikes that sent Benoit to the mat prior to getting the submission. Similar to his stand-up, his ground game has been a mix of good and bad. He scored a nice takedown in the Pettis fight, ducking under a kick and against Sampo he was able to orchestrate a couple of sweeps off his back to move into a dominant position. Once on top, he is incredibly active and will open up with his ground and pound. He has also shown decent TDD when his opponent doesn’t disguise his shot attempt with strikes. Benoit has given up a trio of takedowns and his aggressive striking can open him up to counter level changes. His aggression off his back can be beneficial, but it can also result in the absorbtion of sizeable damage.
Benoit’s cardio is a bit of an issue. If pushed he can begin to slow down as early as the end of the opening round.
The incredibly short notice for Benoit is certainly concerning, especially when coupled with his previous issues with endurance. For Serrano, he is till very new to the MMA game and his 3rd career fight did very little to add to his depth of experience. At 36, Fredy is also getting up there in age and fighters age quicker the lighter the division. While he doesn’t have the road miles, it is still a young man’s game. Both fighters have power, but Benoit’s combinations and willingness to engage should create issues for his foe. When Serrano has been faced with forward pressure he has struggled, but his opponents simply haven’t been able to push him with enough consistency to make it count. Benoit will need to avoid walking into takedowns, but his power and pressure will carry the fight. Despite his flaws, the American represents a sizeable step up in competition for Serrano, my prediction is Ryan Benoit to defeat Freddy Serrano by TKO.
Starting the night off in the Lightweight division, Cezar ‘Goku’ Arzamendia takes on Aussie Damien ‘Beatdown’ Brown. Arzamendia dropped his debut to Marco Polo Reyes following a semi-final appearance on the 2nd season of TUF: Latin America. Brown stepped in on short notice to face Allan Patrick and lost a one-sided decision to end his 5-fight winning streak.
Arzamendia is the younger fighter by 7 years and will have a 1″ height and 3″ reach advantage.
Coming from a Muay Thai background, Arzamendia competed at various levels with success. He has just a single win by knockout on his record along with 4 submission victories and a 2-0 mark on the scorecards. He has lost once each by submission and knockout- both in the first round. He also has 4 first round victories. Arzamendia is very aggressive and has a number of different tools at hid disposal. At distance, he will lead with a long spearing left jab and sometimes combine it with a straight right. Leading with a left hook is also an option and Cesar tagged Reyes with a hard overhand right as well. His kicking game is decent; with sharp low kicks, a push kick to the body, and right high kick. On the inside, he will look to land knees and won’t hesitate to go to the Thai plumb to further the impact of his knees to his opponent’s head and body. The Paraguian landed a well executed inside leg trip on Reyes and showed improvement in his wrestling with a pair of strong double leg completions. Remaining aggressive on the floor, he will quickly work to advance position and open up with GNP or look for a sub. Defensively, he had mixed results. When he is able to time his opponent’s shot he has a nice sprawl and good balance, but his constant forward push can get him put on his back before he has time to defend.
His durability and cardio are both concerns. He appeared to be slowing a bit against Reyes before getting knocked out with a short right hand and on the show he tapped after getting hit with a hard body shot while lying on his back.
Brown got into the UFC as a short notice replacement and struggled to find much success in his debut. ‘Beatdown’ has secured 8 wins by submission, with multiple victories by RNC or guillotine choke. He has found a lot of success on the Aussie circuit using a wrestling heavy offense, utilizing a traditional double leg or bodylock/trip combos. If he is unable to score on his initial shot, he does a decent job of driving through his opponnet. Against Patrick, he spent the majority of the fight on the defensive. While he was willing to attack off his back with armbars and kimuras, Patrick defended and held the dominant position for the majority of the fight. Submissions have accounted for 4 of his 9 losses. He is a low output striker, with the majority of his offense set around closing the distance. Additionally, he is overly fleet of foot, further diminishing the effectivness of his striking attack.
Damien hasn’t had a lot of success when taking a step up in competition, going 0-3 under the Cage Warriors banner and winning just 1 of 6 fights over a stretch in 2013 through 2014. His last 3 pre-UFC opponents have a combined 6-6 record.
This fight has all the potential to be an ugly brawl if it is not over quickly. Arzamendia should have the striking edge when vertical, banking on a speed advantage and far greater variety of weapons. Brown won’t be looking to deviate from his normal approach and should come out looking to put Cesar on his back early and often. Cesar has shown decent TDD in the past, but Brown’s dogged persuance of the mat game will push his defense to the limit. Brown appears to have the edge in both cardio and durability. With just 1 knockout loss coming early in his career, Brown should be able to wade through his foe’s offense to establish his wrestling attack. The presistant push of the Aussie will wear down his foe, who hasn’t gone outside of the opening round since 2012. When Arzamendia was put on his back on TUF he struggled to deal with his opponent’s top pressure and Brown should be able to replicate that. The recent stoppage defeats suffered by ‘Goku’ aren’t encouraging either- my prediction is Damien Brown to defeat Cesar Arzamendia by TKO