The Conor McGregor hype train is on its way to its next stop. Jose Aldo is out with an injury, so the new destination is a tilt with #1 contender Chad Mendes. The rising superstar will battle Mendes for the interim UFC featherweight champion, while Robbie Lawler will defend his welterweight title against Rory MacDonald. Let’s break down Draft Kings UFC 189.
Conor McGregor ($10100) vs Chad Mendes ($9600)
If your cynicism about Conor McGregor’s greatness is based on the caliber of his opponents, that argument will be deemed invalid come Saturday night. Chad Mendes steps in for the injured Jose Aldo, and he’s the #1 contender who has also has already fought for the title. Aldo had a four-inch reach advantage on Mendes; McGregor’s will be eight. That’s some bad news for Mendes, who is primarily a wrestler, though he certainly has knockout power. Mendes will seemingly have to get the fight to the ground to win, but he couldn’t do that against Jose Also, when he completed just one of his eight takedowns. McGregor has never been taken down in any of his UFC fights. We haven’t seen much of McGregor’s wrestling and Jiu Jitsu game, only because he hasn’t really needed it. The glimpses have been good though, with an impressive lateral drop against Denis Siver and repeated takedowns of Max Holloway. McGregor will be able to strike from a distance and pick Mendes apart, eventually knocking him out and setting up the mega-hype for a title unification bout against Aldo.
Pick: McGregor by KO/TKO
Robbie Lawler ($9100) vs Rory MacDonald ($10300)
It’s somewhat insane that the champion, Lawler, costs much less than his opponent, but much like McGregor, the Rory MacDonald hype train still has slowed down, despite already being beaten by Lawler. And while Lawler won that fight via split decision, he laid a beating on Rory MacDonald, who showed very little that night. Even when he got takedowns he couldn’t do anything with them. Had that fight been scheduled for five rounds instead of three, Lawler would have finished him in the fourth. Look for that to happen at UFC 189.
Pick: Lawler by KO/TKO
Dennis Bermudez ($10400) vs Jeremy Stephens ($9000)
I have massive respect for Jeremy Stephens and his career in MMA. But Dennis Bermudez is a beast of the new generation, possessing unbridled speed and power that Stephens just can’t hang with at this point in his career. Bermudez averages almost five takedowns per fight and almost five strikes per minute. His pace will wear down Stephens, and he’ll be able to have his way with him on the ground. I look for a latter round submission from Bermudez.
Pick: Bermudez by submission
Gunnar Nelson ($9200) vs Brandon Thatch ($10200)
Thatch ran through the bottom part of the UFC welterweight division until his last fight against Benson Henderson, who showed him what the top level of the division looks like. Nelson, while spectacular on the ground, is not part of that upper tier. Nelson absorbs an inordinate amount of strikes, and that is a recipe for disaster against Thatch, who will use his reach advantage and long legs to pepper Nelson with an array of strikes. This one ends early, with Thatch getting back on track via KO.
Pick: Thatch by KO/TKO
Thomas Almeida ($11200) vs Brad Pickett ($8200)
Pickett has hit a rough slide over the last few years, dropping four of his last six fights. “One Punch” is no longer as feared as he used to be, and he hasn’t scored a win with a finish since 2012. Conventional wisdom had him knocking Chico Camus out at UFC Fight Night 57, but Pickett walked away with a split decision loss. Thomas Almeida is the wrong guy to get yourself sorted out against. He is 2-0 in the UFC and 18-0 overall, with 17 wins by knockout or submission. Almeida has averaged almost eight significant strikes per minute in his two UFC fights, which is simply off the charts. I think Pickett can make it to the final bell, but he’ll throw caution to the win when he is down a few rounds and that’s when Almeida will end his night.
Pick Almeida by KO/TKO
Matt Brown ($10500) vs Tim Means ($8900)
Here’s the upset special of the night. Brown will be looking for a statement win after back-to-back losses to Robbie Lawler and Johny Hendricks. His aggression and pace are almost legendary now but that could play against in him during this fight with Tim Means. Means is an excellent counterpuncher and he will be able to return fire when Brown rushes him. Means has 16 KOs in his 24 wins, and Brown, while tough as nails, gets rocked once or twice per fight. This time he’ll go out, courtesy of a Tim Means elbow or hook.
Pick: Means by KO/TKO
Alex Garcia ($10500) vs Mike Swick ($8500)
Even before his injury problems, Mike Swick was in a bit of a freefall, having lost three of his last four fights. It’s been almost three years since his last fight, and he gets the tough and experienced Alex Garcia in his comeback fight. Garcia fights out of Firas Zahabi’s Tri Star Gym, and he’s 2-1 in the UFC. Garcia has had his own injury problems, but he holds several advantages over Swick, including height and reach. I don’t envision how Swick wins this one, but I can definitely see Garcia knocking out Swick and spoiling his comeback.
Pick: Garcia by KO/TKO
Cathal Pendred ($10000) vs John Howard ($9400)
This fight has “going to decision” all over it. It’s win or find a new place to fight for John Howard, who will take on the lumbering Cathal Pendred. I’m completely staying away from this fight, as I am doubtful either one will hit value for their salaries. For what it’s worth I think Howard will take it by decision, saving his UFC gig for at least one more fight.
Pick: Howard by decision
Cody Garbrandt ($11000) vs. Henry Briones ($8400)
This looks to be the most lopsided fight of the night. Garbrandt is a wunderkind of sorts, 6-0 with six knockouts, which includes finishing Marcus Brimage in his UFC debut. We won’t dive into the particulars or stats, just a prediction that Garbrandt will finish Briones quickly, and is sure to be worth the $11k in salary.
Pick: Garbrandt by KO/TKO
Neil Seery ($9500) vs Louis Smolka ($9900)
Seery is a story of perseverance. He lost four of his first five pro fights, but stayed with it and now has been in the game for over a decade. That doesn’t happen unless you are a solid, intelligent fighter. But he’s taking on an up-and-comer in Louis Smolka, who finished Richie Vaculik with a highlight-reel side kick in his last bout. Before that he went the distance and lost via split decision to Chris Cariaso. I think the salaries for both fighters are spot on, and I think Smolka takes this one by decision in what should be an entertaining scrap.
Pick: Smolka by decision
Yosdenis Cedeno ($10400) vs Cody Pfister ($9000)
Pfister looked over-matched in his UFC debut against James Moontasri, unable to land punches and then choked out in the second round. Cedeno trains with the Blackzilians, and he’s just 1-2 in the UFC. He had no answers at all for Chad Laprise at UFC Fight Night 54. The point here is neither inspires confidence, and with Cedeno being a striker and Pfister being a wrestler, this could be more sludgefest than slugfest. I think Cedeno wins by decision, but that likely isn’t worth 20% of your salary cap.
Pick: Cedeno by decision