Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes (Featherweight Championship)
UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo is dangerous everywhere. He's a Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt who has been so fantastic with his Muay Thai striking game that his ground game hasn't been put to use often in his career. He works leg kicks with vicious accuracy, he is capable of showing brilliant displays of violence with his hands and feet, and he can overwhelm his opposition with a relentless attack if the gameplan calls for it.
Chad Mendes is a worker. An immensely talented wrestler, Mendes has taken a nearly unstoppable ground game and has added an increasingly more impressive striking game to his arsenal as well. He showed off his hands in his UFC debut against Michihiro Omigawa, knocking him down several times and landing some very good strikes on the ground as well en route to a unanimous decision win.
Though he's definitely a grinder with his wrestling game, it's not of the stifling, control-only style of, say, Tyron Woodley, and he's able to do damage while holding position. After seeing what Mark Hominick was able to do late against Aldo, Mendes believes he'll be able to take Aldo down early and often, and believes he's got the gameplan to frustrate Aldo through 25 minutes.
Mendes absolutely has the type of style that can give Aldo trouble if the Champ is unable to implement his striking attack early. If Aldo allows Mendes to take over the pace of the fight early, and if he can't keep himself standing, Mendes can take at least three rounds of the fight.
However, Aldo isn't going to take Mendes' wrestling game lightly, and he and his camp have shown a very good propensity for coming up with smart gameplans to take advantage of different things in his opponent's game. Aldo is absolutely the superior striker, and though Mendes is no slouch on the feet, he's not going to be connecting on Aldo the way he did against Omigawa. The edge goes to Aldo in this fight, because he's been in these types of fights before, he's a better striker, and his takedown defense has improved as well. Mendes is a game challenge, but I see Aldo taking the win in front of his home country.
PREDICTION: Aldo via TKO in the third round
Vitor Belfort vs. Anthony "Rumble" Johnson (Middleweight)
Vitor Belfort is a violent man inside of the cage. Of his 20 career wins, 14 have come by TKO or knockout, and he leaves no questions about what he aims to do when he is in a fight. Anthony "Rumble" Johnson, despite a terrific wrestling base, has picked up all but one of his UFC wins by TKO or knockout himself.
Belfort has only been stopped by two fighters in his career. Randy Couture finished him in his fifth career fight in 1997, then doctors called a halt to their third meeting seven years later after the third round. He went over six more years without being stopped until Anderson Silva's front-face-kick sent him packing in February.
That makes for a lofty goal for Johnson, who makes his middleweight debut in this fight. However, on that same note, Johnson has not been legitimately stopped by strikes in his career. His only TKO loss should have been a disqualification or a no contest, as his loss to Kevin Burns in 2008 ended due to a vicious eye poke. He's been submitted twice by a couple of solid grapplers, but he's a very well-rounded fighter overall.
This is an interesting fight to make a pick on. Belfort is a historically durable fighter with a vicious streak, but Johnson comes into his new division on a mission to make an immediate impact. Belfort can give Johnson the worst beating of his career if he can connect early, but Johnson's wrestling game and his instinctual grappling are likely to be his saving grace if he gets in trouble. Johnson may end this fight on the feet or with some ground and pound, but he'll have to get through some adversity in the fight, and it may not be an easy one.
UPDATE: With Johnson coming in grossly overweight, and needing to stay under 205 for the fight to take place on Saturday, there is a major possibility that the fight doesn't take place. And even if it does, he might be drained. However, with what will likely be a 20 lb. advantage, Johnson has the size to do what he pleases in this fight. I'm going to keep my pick as it is, but the dynamic of the fight has changed significantly.
PREDICTION: Johnson via decision
Rousimar Palhares vs. Mike Massenzio (Middleweight)
Palhares hates your legs. He hates your ankles, your knees, and any other joint he can grab onto. He's got a mean streak, and he will injure a fighter if they don't tap out quick enough (and sometimes if they do). Massenzio is 2-3 in his UFC career, 1-1 since returning last summer, but while he's a submission-based fighter himself, he's not on Palhares' level. Massenzio might give a good showing for a time, but this is a fight poised to showcase the Brazilian fighter in front of his hometown country fans.
PREDICTION: Palhares via submission in the first
Erick Silva vs. Carlo Prater (Welterweight)
Despite an immensely exciting 40-second knockout in his UFC debut last August, and a lengthy history of stoppage wins, it's hard to know just what Erick Silva brings to the table on the national scene. It's the same case with any of the fighters who have spent most - if not all - of their careers in Brazil. Silva could very well be a top-flight welterweight, but until he gets tested against some more proven competition than he faced in his native Brazil it's hard to say what his upside is.
Prater, on the other hand, is a fairly well-known commodity. He's a solid veteran of 40 fights who has 29 wins to his credit, and he enters the UFC for the first time on the strength of four straight wins. However, those wins have come against a lesser level of competition than he faced from 2008-2010, where he went 4-6 and suffered losses in the WEC to both Carlos Condit and Brock Larson.
This is a fight that should be Silva's for the taking if he's going to prove to be a force in the welterweight division. This is the type of fight he needs to win, and he needs to do so in impressive fashion to take his next step up the ladder. I think we'll see that on Saturday night.
PREDICTION: Silva via submission in the second round
Edson Barboza vs. Terry Etim (Lightweight)
This is a fantastically exciting matchup on paper. Etim returned in November after 18 months out of action and choked out Edward Faaloloto in just 17 seconds. That win bounced him back from a submission loss to Rafael dos Anjos, and he's now got five stoppage wins in the UFC.
Barboza is undefeated at 9-0, and brings a very fun-to-watch striking game with him into his fourth UFC appearance. Barboza's also got a reach advantage in the fight despite being two inches shorter than Etim.
This fight should be an absolute blast to watch for as long as it lasts, but while Etim is a fun, at times flashy, and exciting lightweight, Barboza is rightfully the favorite. Etim won't go away easily, but Barboza should take this fight in front of a rabid home-country crowd.
PREDICTION: Barboza via TKO in the second round
=====Preliminary Card Quick Picks=====
* Sam Stout over Thiago Tavares via TKO in the first round
* Gabriel Gonzaga over Ednaldo Oliveira via TKO in the second round
* Yuri Alcantara over Michihiro Omigawa via decision
* Mike Pyle over Ricardo Funch via decision
* Antonio Carvalho over Felipe Arantes via decision
=====Confidence and Betting Contest Picks=====
10 - Palhares - SUB RD 1
9 - Barboza - TKO RD 2
8 - E. Silva - SUB RD 2
7 - Aldo - TKO RD 3
6 - Pyle - UD
5 - Stout - TKO RD 1
4 - Johnson - UD
3 - Alcantara - UD
2 - Gonzaga - TKO RD 2
1 - Carvalho - UD
$350 on Johnson
$400 on Stout
$50 on Funch
$200 parlay on Johnson, Stout, Aldo