The man who has taken over as the most-recognizable MMA fighter on the planet steps up in weight class to thrill the masses yet again. Conor McGregor is back, and he’s taking on Nate Diaz, who can trash talk with the best of them. Plus, Holly Holm makes her first title defense after beating Ronda Rousey. Let’s break down UFC 196!
Conor McGregor ($11000) vs Nate Diaz ($8400)
Physically, this isn’t as much a mismatch as some might think. Diaz is much taller, but will have just a two-inch reach advantage. McGregor’s stellar movement likely nullifies that. People always say that a wrestler will be the one to beat McGregor, and Chad Mendes took him down. But then Conor got right back up…and knocked him out. Nate Diaz has a fantastic BJJ game, but he’s not a good wrestler and hits on his takedown attempts just 30% of the time. Plus, Nate wants to stand and bang. McGregor averages more significant strikes per minute than Diaz, and he absorbs less, too. If Diaz was a power puncher, I might think differently, but the pick here is McGregor using speed, movement and striking accuracy to put Diaz away in the third.
Pick: McGregor by KO/TKO
Holly Holm ($10800) vs Miesha Tate ($8600)
Miesha Tate is one of the toughest fighters in the game. But, as much as Miesha is billed as a wrestler, she’s really inefficient at securing takedowns, landing just 35% of her attempts. On top of that, Holm has yet to be taken down in her three UFC fights. Plus, Miesha has to compensate for Holm’s reach advantage, which means working her way inside to clinch, or striking to set up the takedown. I find both of those to be tall orders. Most likely we will see a repeat of what Holm did to Rousey. Holm will work from the outside and score repeatedly, the cumulative effect being worn on Tate’s face. I don’t see how Miesha Tate can survive five rounds against Holly Holm without getting laid out. And when Tate is down rounds and needs a finish, she will throw caution to the wind to try and finish Holm, and that is when Holm will end it, likely in round four.
Pick: Holm by KO/TKO
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Gian Villante ($9200) vs Ilir Latifi ($10200)
There’s lots to like about Villante, one of the main training partners of former UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman. He has tremendous power, lands in volume and also absorbs a lot of punches. His fights are never boring, and he will stand and bang with anyone. He’ll have a willing opponent in Ilir “The Sledgehammer” Latifi, who is coming off two first-round knockout wins. Looking at Latifi’s stats is basically meaningless because he has so little cage time in the UFC. This is a must-play fight because someone is getting knocked out. Villante has the reach advantage, but I find Latifi to have the better chin. Look for the big Swede to finish this quickly.
Pick: Latifi via KO/TKO
Corey Anderson ($10600) vs Tom Lawlor ($8800)
Anderson actually replaced Lawlor to face Fabio Maldonado at UFC Fight Night in November, and now the two will square off in The Octagon. If you like to look at common opponents, Lawlor is coming off a KO win over Gian Villante, whereas Anderson was knocked out by Villante last April. Anderson is a dominant wrestler, but Lawlor has historically found ways to win off his back. If he gets taken down, it isn’t the end of the world. But the difference here may be volume. Anderson averages a whopping 5.37 significant strikes per minute; Lawlor just under half of that total at 2.58. Anderson will also hold a five-inch reach advantage. I think Anderson will do enough to win the rounds and secure the victory, but it’s unlikely he finishes Lawlor. Will a decision win by Anderson be worth $10600? He’s averaging 77 FPPG with just one knockout, so you can expect about 60 or so in a win.
Pick: Anderson by decision
Valentina Shevchenko ($9500) vs Amanda Nunes ($9900)
Shevchenko has an amazing striking pedigree, and she proved she is UFC-caliber with a big win over Sarah Kaufman in December. But Shevchenko won’t be able to pick apart Nunes like she did against Kaufman, as “The Lioness” is one of the most-dangerous finishers in the women’s bantamweight division. Nunes will attack early, and like most of her opponents, it will be too much to handle for Shevchenko. Excellent value at just $9900.
Pick: Nunes by KO/TKO
Brandon Thatch ($10900) vs Siyar Bahadurzada ($8500)
Perhaps the hype surrounding Thatch was a little too much, too soon. But being submitted by Gunnar Nelson and Benson Henderson is something that could happen to anyone on the UFC roster. He won’t have to worry about the ground game of Siyar Bahadurzada, as he has attempted just two takedowns in his three UFC fights. He also hasn’t fought since 2013. Thatch will use his speed and length to batter Bahadurzada, but I expect that he will make it to the final horn. It will be a good start to 2016 for Thatch, but paying $10900 for a decision win won’t help you win many tourneys.
Pick: Thatch by decision
Erick Silva ($10300) vs Nordine Taleb ($9100)
Erick Silva has six UFC wins. None of those opponents are currently in the UFC. Does that mean anything? Not necessarily. But Silva has long been criticized for not living up to his potential, and he has faltered in fights with the upper half of the division. Taleb represents an easier fight for him than Matt Brown or Neil Magny, but unlike Silva, Taleb consistently outstrikes his opponents. I smell an upset. I don’t think Taleb will knock Silva out, but he’ll win the striking battle and the rounds. Decent option at $9100 for some value.
Pick: Taleb via decision
Vitor Miranda ($10700) vs Marcelo Guimaraes ($8700)
After losing in the TUF 3 Brazil finale, Miranda has posted back-to-back knockouts of Clint Hester and Jake Collier. Guimares has been a part-time fighter in the UFC, fighting only once per year from 2012-2014. In those three fights, Guimares has absorbed close to five significant strikes per minute, and that’s not going to fly against the heavy hands of Miranda. Don’t blink here — Miranda will finish quickly.
Pick: Miranda by KO/TKO
Darren Elkins ($9300) vs Chas Skelly ($10100)
Skelly has put together a nice four-fight win streak, and he seems to be improving each time he enters The Octagon. His output on the feet won’t wow you, but he prefers to take fights to the ground where he is very effective, averaging three submission attempts per 15 minutes. Neither fighter is great at converting takedowns, but Elkins has turned away just 18% of takedown attempts. This will get to the ground, and when it does, I think Skelly finishes Elkins on the ground, and likely takes his spot in the top-15 when the new rankings come out.
Pick: Skelly by submission
Jim Miller ($10000) vs Diego Sanchez ($9400)
Sanchez has lost three of his last four, including his featherweight debut to Ricardo Lamas. Miller has also lost three of his last four, but both fighters lost to top-of-the-division talent. Diego has never been submitted in his long career, and that’s Miller’s specialty. Diego hasn’t finished anyone since 2009. Both fighters average a bit over 50 FPPG, so all things considered the best bet is to stay away. I think Miller takes it, but it won’t be worth the 10K.
Pick: Miller by decision
Jason Saggo ($10400) vs Justin Salas ($9000)
Neither fighter has fought since 2014. Saggo has fought twice in the UFC, and has registered eight takedowns in those bouts. He also passed the guard of his opponents 16 times in those fights, so clearly Saggo is a talented ground fighter. I’m confident that he will submit Salas sooner rather than later in their bout, and he should earn 100-120 FPs.
Pick: Saggo by submission
Julian Erosa ($10500) vs Teruto Ishihara ($8900)
Erosa is an extremely tall featherweight at 6’1″, and he’ll hold a half-foot reach advantage over Ishihara. But Ishihara has big power, and both fighters showed they love to stand and bang in their UFC debuts. If Mizuto Hiruto, a power-punching veteran from Japan, couldn’t finish Ishihara, I doubt Erosa will. In fact, the best play here is Ishihara for the upset. I think Erosa has decent potential, but I need to see more of him first, specifically against a well-traveled vet like Ishihara.
Pick: Ishihara by KO/TKO