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UFC 170 predictions

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The UFC brings back it's quickest rising star as UFC women's bantamweight Ronda Rousey defends her title against fellow Olympian Sara McMann. Also on the card is another Olympian in Daniel Cormier who takes on late replacement for Rashad Evans in Pat Cummins. Three Olympians on the card is a record for the UFC as is two undefeated Olympians facing off in a main event.

Will Rousey secure another armbar win to retain her title? Does McMann have the requisite skills to thwart Rousey's judo and take the title? I answer these questions and more with my predictions for Saturday's fights.

What: UFC 170: Rousey vs. McMann

Where: Mandalay Bay Events Center, Las Vegas, Nevada

When: Saturday, the two-fight Fight Pass card starts at 7 p.m. ET, the four-fight Fox Sports 1 card starts at 8 p.m. and the five-fight main card starts on pay-per-view at 10 p.m.

Ronda Rousey vs. Sara McMann

Credit to the UFC hype machine. They've turned Sara McMann into a real threat in the eyes on many fans, at least from what I can tell from fans online. That's noteworthy and a testament to their effectiveness because I don't see this as a particularly competitive affair. I suspect Rousey will win this and do so with ease.

I know writing that is going to set some reader's hair on fire, which is fine. Every time you make any prediction with any sort of certainty about a polarizing or beloved figure in a main event contest, a cadre of their supporters loses all ability to have rational discussion.

Here's the truth, though. McMann is still very much in her skill development stage. Rousey has acclimated to MMA far more quickly with more finishing tools to be used from the outset. McMann isn't necessarily in over her head, a lamb to slaughter. But what skills she possesses require much more polish and pressure. She can match Rousey's physicality, but that's about it. She (very likely) doesn't have the balance or timing or really, what's required to keep up with Rousey's relentless takedown pressure (BJJ Scout calculated six attempts in four seconds in one Rousey's bouts). And on the ground as mat submission wrestlers, McMann isn't even in the same universe as Rousey.

Being an Olympic silver medalist means many things, but it doesn't mean for MMA purposes they have impenetrable balance or submission defense or foot work awareness to thwart Olympic-level judo takedowns in a MMA context. That's really the key consideration here. Plenty of top Olympic wrestlers not ready to make the full leap into the deep end of MMA have been run over (some Olympic judokas, too, in fairness). McMann is a sensational athlete with all the potential in the world, but as a MMA fighter ready to bring all of her potentiality to the cage against someone whose skill set and acclimation blend almost effortlessly, she hasn't demonstrated she what's required to stand up to that.

Unless something unusual or unexpected happens (which, in MMA, is never out of the question), Rousey wins. This fight may go to the second round. I'd be shocked if it went any further than that.

Pick: Rousey

Daniel Cormier vs. Pat Cummins

Anything is possible in MMA, right? We've seen utterly remarkable and highly improbable events happen. Something akin to that could take place here, of course, but all things being equal, Cormier is going to cruise. He's far too experienced, far better in every department and had a real training camp. Cummins is better than he's been given credit and might end up having a nice UFC career at light heavyweight, but it is highly, highly unlikely it starts with a win over Daniel Cormier. There's nothing he does Cormier doesn't do significantly better. Either Cummins has to land a lucky punch or Cormier has to have an extraordinarily off night. Other than that, it's all DC.

Pick: Cormier

Rory MacDonald vs. Demian Maia

I worry Maia is going to stick to MacDonald like glue and never let the top welterweight from Canada really get going. That seems like a distinct possibility. It's certainly only Maia's real path to victory. MacDonald has a few more options. He can jab Maia to death and strike from the outside. He can also work on top on the ground, believe it or not. It's not crazy to suggest he can avoid the submission and ground exchanges long enough to do damage. Given those realities with MacDonald having more than one path to the win, I'll side with him.

Pick: MacDonald

Mike Pyle vs. T.J. Waldburger

This is a fun little scrap, actually. Both fighters are more submission-oriented where they can strike (particularly Pyle), but their real strength lies in the grappling department. Pyle is the sort of fighter to take advantage of mistakes with veteran savvy while Waldburger does the jiu-jitsu equivalent of speed chess. In the end, though, it's not just a contrast of styles, but physicality. Waldburger could over commit, but he's more likely to spend time controlling what the offense looks like as well as the transitions. If he can work in strikes between his triangle to oma plata attempts, this is his fight to lose.

Pick: Waldburger

Robert Whittaker vs. Stephen Thompson

Whittaker is a surprisingly tough, well-rounded guy. He takes a good shot, has noticeable skills in all departments and competes with a real degree of fire in his belly. The question is whether he has the fight IQ to make decisions in this bout that are optimal for a positive outcome. I say he does. On the floor, I don't think Thompson has much for him. If he can keep the bout there or at least in clinch range, Thompson won't have any real competitive advantages.

Pick: Whittaker

From the preliminary card:

Alexis Davis > Jessica Eye
Raphael Assuncao > Pedro Munhoz
Cody Gibson < Aljamain Sterling
Zach Makovsky > Josh Sampo
Rafaello Oliveira < Erik Koch
Ernest Chavez < Yosdenis Cedeno

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