The Bloody Elbow staff has made its predictions for Saturdayâ€™s UFC 227 pay-per-view, and weâ€™re almost entirely in agreement that TJ Dillashaw and Demetrious Johnson will successfully defend their respective titles. While no one is bold enough to go with Henry Cejudo over the reigning flyweight champion, we have Stephie Haynes, Tim Burke, and Victor Rodriguez picking Cody Garbrandt to get the bantamweight belt back from Dillashaw.
Note: Predictions are entered throughout the week and collected the day before the event. Explanations behind each pick are not required and some writers opt not to do so for their own reasons. For example, if Phil Mackenzie entered all of his predictions on Wednesday without adding in any explanations, he has no idea if heâ€™s going to be the only one siding with one fighter for any given fight.
TJ Dillashaw vs. Cody Garbrandt
Anton Tabuena: This is such an intriguing match up. The first fight showed that theyâ€™re indeed very familiar with each otherâ€™s set ups, and that either man can pick up a victory. Seems like Dillashaw improves each time out, and with him very aware of Garbrandtâ€™s tendencies, Iâ€™m wondering how much Cody can evolve and adjust in the past year. At the end of the day, I think itâ€™s a very close bout. The smarter pick would be Dillashaw, since he has the more diverse skill set and seems to have more layers to his game, but with a bout this close, I think I would lean towards the faster guy with legitimate stopping power. Cody Garbrandt by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: The end of round 1 has to give you pause that Dillashaw confidently wins the rematch. Garbrandt landed that right hand to KO TJ in sparring, and he almost KOâ€™d him in their fight last year. He has great timing and power behind his punches, but as the Heavy Hands team mentionedâ€¦ how much more is there to Garbrandtâ€™s striking? Dillashaw is the more complete offensive striker, therefore having more ways to win, even if it means taking a methodical decision, but Iâ€™m picking him to stop Cody again. TJ Dillashaw by TKO, round 3.
Zane Simon: Thereâ€™s zero doubt in my mind that Garbrandt can KO TJ Dillashaw. Heâ€™s amazingly fast, accurate, well schooled, and has a ton of power. However, what we saw in the last bout feels a lot more like the law of averages. Where Dillashaw is the better thinking fighter, who can adjust after getting hurt, open up new avenues for success, and take them. By contrast, when Garbrandt got hurt in their fight, he just looked stunned and confused. The finish didnâ€™t seem like so much a product of him being dazed before the punches that dropped him, as it did him no longer seeming to have a read on Dillashaw and how to fight him. I fully expect TJ will put himself in danger again early, but I have more faith in him solving Garbrandt, especially having already fought him, than I do Garbrandt solving TJ, once his initial wave of success has passed. TJ Dillashaw, by decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Garbrandt is many things, but heâ€™s not dumb when it comes to fighting. His instincts are good and his physical talent is exceptional. The problem comes with some of the moment to moment decisions that saw him get tagged last time and eventually got him wrecked. I think the adjustments he needs will be there this time, and heâ€™ll be able to see certain things coming, like strikes off pivots and level changes, as well as any bait TJ throws out. I predicted last time that if Cody could out-Cruz Cruz and prosper, there wasnâ€™t much in TJâ€™s arsenal that Cody couldnâ€™t deal with. This fight should look more like what I thought the last one would, only closer. Cody Garbrandt by decision.
Staff picking Dillashaw: Bissell, Nick, Mookie, Harry, Phil, Zane, Dayne
Staff picking Garbrandt: Stephie, Tim, Victor, Anton
Demetrious Johnson vs. Henry Cejudo
Anton Tabuena: I love this match up. Cejudo has improved leaps and bounds since their first fight, especially with his striking. I think itâ€™s interesting that if it was only wrestling or only striking, Cejudo has a good chance of winning. Johnson though, has the far better overall MMA game, and he just blends it all better than anyone in the sport. I think Cejudoâ€™s best chance is if he doesnâ€™t feel the need to prove heâ€™s the better wrestler. I think he should avoid the clinch and only use his wrestling defensively to keep it at distance where he can just strike. The thing is, even if he manages to do that and find some success, Iâ€™m not even sure if it will be enough. DJ not only has incredible skills, he has also shown an insane ability to make in-fight adjustments. I think Cejudo can make it interesting, but Iâ€™m not picking against the best in the world based on just that. Demetrious Johnson by submission.
Mookie Alexander: Cejudoâ€™s clearly gotten better since the first DJ fight. He might even be right that he was ill-prepared to take on Mighty Mouse the first time. I expect Cejudo to have more success than he did back at UFC 197, especially with his wicked combination boxing. The problem? There are levels to this game. If Cejudo has gotten better over two years, so has Demetrious Johnson. I just donâ€™t see what answers Cejudo has for the clinch game, the transitions on the ground, the pace, the speed, and everything else DJ has to offer. Itâ€™ll be a longer, more competitive matchup, but still no doubt about the winner. Demetrious Johnson by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Man do I want to pick Cejudo here. And thatâ€™s not for any lack of love for DJ. But, thereâ€™s just something about the timing, how much Cejudo has obviously improved, and DJâ€™s long long run of success that sits in my gut. But, I canâ€™t do it. Gotta beat DJ to prove you can beat DJ. If Cejudoâ€™s clinch game is still a problem, itâ€™ll get exposed. His striking has improved, but Sergio Pettis still shut it down with a consistent, well timed range attack. And Iâ€™ll believe Cejudo straight up out-wrestling DJ for 5 rounds when I see it. Demetrious Johnson by decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Cejudo is better than last time. Will it be enough to ruin a once-ever talent like DJ? No. Heâ€™s gonna give him a scare and hit him with some shots while DJ recovers from a takedown attempt, but thatâ€™s it. Demetrious Johnson by TKO, round 3.
Staff picking Johnson: Bissell, Nick, Mookie, Harry, Phil, Zane, Stephie, Dayne, Tim, Victor, Anton
Staff picking Cejudo:
Cub Swanson vs. Renato Moicano
Mookie Alexander: Swanson is still a tough customer, but that complete hesitance to commit to throwing strikes against Frankie Edgar was one of the more puzzling performances Iâ€™ve ever seen out of him. Moicano has blossomed into a damn good striker with chopping leg kicks and improved boxing. Thereâ€™s a meanness to his game that doesnâ€™t necessarily translate into a finish, but I love the hell out of it. Swanson just looks a step slow these days and Moicano is coming into his prime. Renato Moicano by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: This seems like the fight where Moicano takes Swansonâ€™s role as the tough, well-rounded gatekeeper who never quite makes it to a title shot. The question here is how deep Swansonâ€™s game will be. His striking looked excellent against Ortega, but barely existed against Edgar as he seemed entirely dialled in on stopping the takedown. Perhaps we get one last great performance from Cub, where he works his jab and judiciously throws the weird stuff (bolo punches, cartwheel kicks etc) to throw Moicano off without just spamming them into counters. But the best analogue seems to be the Stephens fight, who is more powerful but slower than Moicano, and put Cub in the hole early with jabs, leg kicks and counter punches before breaking his hand. Given that Cub has slowed in the interim, Renato Moicano by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: My bet is that Cub comes out chaining combos, moving forward, maybe even puts hands on Moicano early and wobbles him. Maybe even wins round 1, looking good in the process. And then Moicano gets a feel for his timing, slows him down with leg kicks, and starts to take over with a high volume striking game working off his back foot, while pivoting away and denying Cub the success he had early. Renato Moicano via decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Moicano fights smart and has very technical striking, but Cubâ€™s renewed sense of purpose, settled contract status and new stable training environment with a legit crew will make the difference here. Cub Swanson by TKO, round 3.
Staff picking Swanson: Tim, Victor
Staff picking Moicano: Bissell, Nick, Mookie, Harry, Phil, Zane, Stephie, Dayne, Anton
JJ Aldrich vs. Polyana Viana
Mookie Alexander: Vianaâ€™s level of competition has been mostly unimpressive, and if Aldrich can keep this standing then I feel like Viana might be in danger of getting stuck in a fight sheâ€™s not comfortable with, and possibly gassing out as a result. However, itâ€™s not as if Aldrich has airtight takedown defense, and on the ground Viana is going to be better. Polyana Viana by submission, round 1.
Phil Mackenzie: As Mook intimated, this feels very likely to go one of two ways. Either Viana just canâ€™t close distance on Aldrich and gets carved up, or she manages to get in and taps her out. Aldrich trains out of Colorado, but in 303 Training Center as opposed to Grudge or Elevation, alongside Pat Barry, so Iâ€™m not sure how much we can reasonably expect her TDD to have improved. Polyana Viana by submission, round 1.
Zane Simon: I really donâ€™t see much credit to give Viana here. Sheâ€™s not a great wrestler, and beating Maia Stevenson doesnâ€™t show otherwise. Sheâ€™s got some decent grappling chops, but the only woman to take Aldrich down in the UFC is Juliana Lima (who actually has a really technical wrestling game). Maybe Aldrich chases her into guard, or maybe she gets surprised by a throw and insta-subbed. More likely, she walks Viana down, forces her to swing wild a lot, and just picks her apart from long and mid-range. JJ Aldrich by decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Watch Aldrichâ€™s performance against Sijara Eubanks in Invicta. She fought smart, she outworked a better all-around athlete and outstruck her opponent while drowning them in pressure using the threat of the takedown. Vianaâ€™s a good talent, but sheâ€™s not ready for this. JJ Aldrich by decision.
Staff picking Aldrich: Bissell, Harry, Zane, Victor
Staff picking Viana: Nick, Mookie, Phil, Stephie, Dayne, Tim, Anton
Thiago Santos vs. Kevin Holland
Mookie Alexander: Santos is very much prone to bizarre and disappointing performances, but this feels like too much, too soon for Holland. I like his upside but wasnâ€™t overly impressed with him on Contender Series. Santos is probably going to plant his shin across his body and bad things will transpire from there. And itâ€™s not like Holland is poised to out kickbox Santos from range. Thiago Santos by TKO, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: Itâ€™s now increasingly clear that Santos should never be relied on. Heâ€™s just too much of a glass cannon. That being said, Holland looks like the kind of matchup he should do well against: a relatively long, not incredibly powerful striker who should try to fence with Santos at range and give him time to land something huge. Thiago Santos by KO, round 1
Zane Simon: Holland looks fast and big, but he doesnâ€™t appear to have any tools to compete with Santos really. He has a nice range kicking game, but that seems like his worst possible avenue of attack against a more powerful, more technical range kicker. Otherwise Santos is likely the cleaner puncher too (which says nothing good). So Holland will have to bank on an okay, but not great wrestling game to win. Could happen, but… Thiago Santos via KO, Round 1.
Victor Rodriguez: I really like Kevin Hollandâ€™s work off the regional scene, but weâ€™ve seen that Santos can hang with some very high-caliber fighters. Barring some galactic-level brain fart, Hollandâ€™s gonna be ice skating uphill for a round and a half before getting wrecked. Much like Viana/Aldrich, heâ€™s not ready. Thiago Santos by TKO, round 2.
Staff picking Santos: Bissell, Nick, Mookie, Harry, Phil, Stephie, Dayne, Tim, Victor, Anton
Staff picking Holland:
Brett Johns vs. Pedro Munhoz
Mookie Alexander: Munhozâ€™s porous striking defense leads me to believe that Johnsâ€™ pocket boxing might give the Brazilian some trouble, but Munhoz also can crack hard and has serious submission skills that can end a fight abruptly. Pedro Munhoz by submission, round 3.
Phil Mackenzie: This is another rough style matchup for Johns I think. Against Sterling he was fighting someone who was longer and a better striker who was insulated from Johnsâ€™ wrestling by his own. Munhoz is nothing like Sterling, but heâ€™s tougher, and harder hitting, and is protected from Johnsâ€™ wrestling by being a better submission grappler. Pedro Munhoz by submission, round 2.
Zane SImon: This is a â€śrubber-meets-roadâ€ť moment for Brett Johns, more so than his fight against Sterling, which he was never likely to win. Munhoz will be there to be hit, he will be there to be wrestled. Heâ€™ll be looking to get in Johnsâ€™ face all fight. So can Johns put his punches together with his takedowns to beat a hyper-dangerous grappler, with a more varied striking game. My guess is no. Most likely Johns lands a lot of shots that Munhoz walks through while landing his own, and eventually Johns falls back on his wrestling and right into a guillotine. Pedro Munhoz via Guillotine, round 2.
Victor Rodriguez: I dunno, itâ€™s like Johns still hasnâ€™t pieced it all together yet. Maybe Munhoz finally pays for his defensive lapses and ends up on the wrong end of a submission, but it doesnâ€™t seem likely. Still going with the underdog, because Iâ€™m feeling very reckless. Brett Johns by decision.
Staff picking Johns: Bissell, Harry, Stephie, Tim, Victor
Staff picking Munhoz: Nick, Mookie, Phil, Zane, Dayne, Anton
Montel Jackson vs. Ricky Simon
Anton Tabuena: Of course Zane is picking Simon too. Ricky Simon by Decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Montel Jackson looks like he might be something special down the line. Heâ€™s aggressive yet calm, opportunistic and athletic. Heâ€™s also three years into his career, and someone like Simon likely has too much wrestling and grappling ability and pure toughness to be deterred for long. Simonâ€™s poor striking defense is a major question mark against a hitter as dangerous as Jackson, but Ricky Simon by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Jackson has a serious shot here. Heâ€™s a very composed outside-to-inside striker who snipes out at range, before leaping into the pocket to land hard knees from the clinch. Itâ€™s a nicely put together game that keeps him fairly defensively safe, while landing powerful strikes. But, itâ€™s never really been tested by a good athlete who can fight through adversity for an extended period of time. Most of Jacksonâ€™s competition is… not good. So itâ€™s impossible to know how composed he really is, beyond the fact that when he couldnâ€™t put his DWTNCS opponent away quick, he ended up fouling him multiple times. Simon is messy everywhere, technically, but heâ€™s a strong, dynamic athlete, with amazing cardio, and a great chin. If he brings the fight to Jackson for 3 rounds, I have to bet on him winning. Ricky Simon by decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Donâ€™t bet against Ricky Simon. Not today, and not for a long while. This kid is the truth, and his body of work only tells half the story. Heâ€™s still figuring it out, and should be able to handle a fighter as dangerous as Jackson. Ricky Simon by submission.
Staff picking Jackson: Harry
Staff picking Simon: Bissell, Nick, Mookie, Phil, Zane, Stephie, Dayne, Tim, Victor, Anton
Sheymon Moraes vs. Matt Sayles
Anton Tabuena: If I picked wrong here, Sheymon me. Sheymon Moraes by decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Matt Sayles is an accurate and powerful puncher, and Sheymon Moraes is a defensively sound kickboxer who sometimes waits a little too much for his opportunities. Sayles has improved a good deal over a relatively short amount of time, but I think that a reliance on the power hand is probably a uniquely bad approach to fight Moraes, as it allows him to counter with leg kicks and read Saylesâ€™ timing over the fight. Despite the fact that Sayles has a marquee win over Christian Aguilera, no doubt a dirrty fight where he stripped down back to basics, I have to favour Sheymon Moraes by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Sayles has a nice pot-shotting mid-range boxing game, predicated on mixing up power right hands. He compliments that with a bit of offensive wrestling, but thatâ€™s about it. That shouldnâ€™t be enough to beat Moraes. Moraes is a wilder puncher, but can attack Sayles on multiple levels, behind hard leg kicks, body kicks and punches, and winging hooks upstairs. Heâ€™s also a decent dynamic grappler, which Sayles has struggled to contain in the past from top control. So, Sheymon Moraes by decision. (also Phil needs to be stopped)
Victor Rodriguez: Yeah, no. The technical striker with good takedown defense should be good here. Sheymon Moraes by decision.
Staff picking Moraes: Bissell, Mookie, Phil, Zane, Stephie, Tim, Victor, Anton
Staff picking Sayles: Nick, Harry, Dayne
Jose Torres vs. Alex Perez
Phil Mackenzie: Alex Perez impressed me against Eric Shelton, showing a well-rounded game which was nicely tuned to take out a wrestle-boxer, by opening up Shelton with leg kicks then sprawling and scrambling on the shots. Torres is more purely aggressive than Shelton, but not a notably better grappler and the Brooks fight showed that he still has some maturing to do. Alex Perez by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: I like Torresâ€™ stalking pressure combination boxing game, but I wonder if he has the size or athletic ability to pull it off in the UFC in the same way Lineker does, especially while being a less varied puncher. Perez is a bit less of a natural striker, but hits with power, and also likes to come forward. And he compliments that with a strong wrestling and grappling attack on the mat. Given his size advantage, he can likely mix things up just enough to take the win here. But I wonâ€™t be surprised if Torres comes on strong late, if Perez gets over-aggressive early trying to out-wrestle him. Alex Perez by decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Much like Ricky Simon, Torres is another bright beacon for the sport. Perez is closer to a finished product, but iâ€™m sticking with Shorty with his ability to close the distance and outwork opponents on the ground. Jose Torres by decision.
Staff picking Torres: Bissell, Harry, Nick, Victor
Staff picking Perez: Mookie, Phil, Zane, Stephie, Dayne, Tim, Anton
Kyung Ho Kang vs. Ricardo Ramos
Anton Tabuena: I expect Kang to look much better now after being able to shake off about four years of rust last January. Kyung Ho Kang by decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Being huge and tough and opportunistic will take Ricardo Ramos pretty far. Kang did not look great against Guido Cannetti, taking some clean shots as he tried to close in on the Argentina brawler. It wasnâ€™t his wrestling which ended up winning him the fight, but his sub grappling, and in general his ability to take people down has been slightly less impressive than his mat work. While Ramosâ€™ tendency to go for wild finishing submissions himself could conceivably get him into trouble, I think I actually like his decent-if-not-great first layer TDD, and ability to capitalize on mistakes while staying in the fight round after round. Gut pick really. Ricardo Ramos by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: The big danger for Ramos in this fight is his poor reaction to pressure, coupled with Kangâ€™s all-in wrestling and grappling, and Ramosâ€™ willingness to put submission over position on the mat. That could mean a chain of events where Kang bulls into him, gets in on his hips, takes him down, and advances quickly to a sub position when Ramos tries to jump on a sub of his own. However, against decent grapplers (which Ramos still very much is) Kang has tended to end up in a lot of 50/50 scrambles and not with a lot of submission wins. And standing, on offense, Ramos is much more composed with his strike selection and technique. All that together has me picking Ramos, but I do think Kang is a live dog here. Ricardo Ramos by decision.
Staff picking Kang: Bissell, Dayne, Anton
Staff picking Ramos: Nick, Mookie, Harry, Phil, Zane, Stephie, Tim, Victor
Danielle Taylor vs. Zhang Weili
Anton Tabuena: This is a good test for Zhang, and I think she can pass it. Weili Zhang by Decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Iâ€™m no longer picking against Chinese prospects by default, but this seems like a tricky style matchup for Zhang. She has a lot of aggression and strong finishing instincts, and looks like a solid pickup in general, but itâ€™s difficult to tell how her wrestling will translate to the UFC (not well, I suspect) which leaves her stranded in a kickboxing match. Marching forward with her chin up may allow her to put a pace on Taylor, or it may just get her clocked, as it briefly did on the regionals against Marilia Santos. Taylorâ€™s last match was concerning, but as of yet Zhang just hasnâ€™t shown the defensive acumen of JJ Aldrich. Which is not saying a whole lot? Danielle Taylor by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Weili Zhang is a fun buzzsaw of a fighter, but sheâ€™s also been someone who thrived a lot on being the best wrestler in her fights when the going got tough. She tends to throw a lot of kicks without setup, keeps her chin bolt upright, and isnâ€™t a clean puncher. This puts her in line to get drilled by hard punches, and she has a few times now. I donâ€™t think she can wrestle Taylor, who is built like a tank, so sheâ€™s going to have to strike with her. She could out-point Taylor due to Taylorâ€™s absurdly low volume, but Iâ€™ll pick Taylor to land the big, hard, fight changing shots and get a close win. Danielle Taylor by decision.
Staff picking Taylor: Bissell, Nick, Mookie, Harry, Phil, Zane, Tim
Staff picking Weili: Stephie, Dayne, Victor, Anton
Marlon Vera vs. Wuliji Buren
Anton Tabuena: Itâ€™s interesting that the first three bouts in LA look like it belongs on an Asian event… except for the fact that the Chinese fighter wonâ€™t be in a favorable match up. I think Buren will be in over his head here. Marlon Vera by TKO.
Phil Mackenzie: Wuliji Buren is a perfectly acceptable fighter who would have styled on Bharat Khandare, but Chito Vera is a different story. While his tendency to get in his own head and frustrate himself is a major concern, itâ€™s difficult to see how Buren wins this one. Perhaps he takes Vera down and then Vera gets mad at himself for flubbing a submission and fades out of the fight? It seems unlikely. Marlon Vera by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Like Weili, Wuliji has often thrived off being the better wrestler in Chinese MMA. Vera has a bad habit of letting himself get backed up while looking for big strikes, but heâ€™s gotten a lot less easy to take down, and he stays incredibly dangerous all bout. His crafty, explosive offense is likely going to be waaaaaaay too much for Wuliji, who struggled to contain Rolando Dy. Marlon Vera via KO, round 2.
Victor Rodriguez: Still not sold on 90% of the Chinese prospects, unfortunately. Not for nothing, itâ€™s just that the infrastructure isnâ€™t conducive to reliable and consistent talent. Waluigi Van Buren is better than the average guy weâ€™ve seen come over, but Chitoâ€™s got great submission skills and sweeps, plus his striking keeps getting better. The longer fighter thatâ€™s finally fighting smarter should get this. Marlon Vera by decision.
Staff picking Vera: Bissell, Nick, Mookie, Harry, Zane, Stephie, Dayne, Tim, Victor, Anton
Staff picking Buren:
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