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UFC Fight Night 96 predictions

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Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The UFC keeps their event train rolling, this time with a return to Portland and an important flyweight contest at the top of it. The card also features other surging prospects and contenders in both men's and women's divisions.

What: UFC Fight Night: Lineker vs. Dodson

Where: Moda Center, Portland, Oregon

When: Saturday, the four-fight Fight Pass preliminary card starts at 7:15 p.m. ET, the four-fight Fox Sports 2 preliminary card starts at 9 p.m. and the four-fight Fox Sports 1 card kicks off at 11 p.m. ET.

John Lineker vs. John Dodson

This is a really tough one to call. Lineker isn't merely a powerful puncher, but has a rock chin and massively-improved takedown defense. Dodson has heavy hands, but is also very fast. Some have suggested Dodson could strike from the outside, stick and move and generally work his way to a decision. I certainly see that as plausible, but even as he routinely misses weight, Lineker's improvements are hard to overlook. There's a question about both fighters' abilities to go the distance over five rounds, although it's hard to tell how badly. All the way back to the Pat Runez fight, Dodson faded in the championship rounds, but Lineker hasn't fought in a fourth or fifth round ever. In the end, I'm going to lean towards the fighter who has been active and on a tear.

Pick: Lineker

Will Brooks vs. Alex Oliveira

Oliveira's coming in overweight, which isn't new, but he won't be allowed to be above 175 pounds tomorrow. That hurts him as he might not be fully rehydrated and rested. In addition, Brooks will have the ability to physically push the pace. That won't happen at a break-neck speed, but as just enough of a clip to wear him down slowly over time against the fence or in top position. A game Oliveira can usually do a lot from his back as a submission threat, but Brooks is pretty disciplined there as well. This should be the American's fight to lose.

Pick: Brooks

Josh Burkman vs. Zak Ottow

Ottow looks like a promising prospect. I don't think winning here is beyond the realm of possibilities by any stretch. He's significantly improved his striking technique over the years, but is still fundamentally an offensive MMA grappler at heart. Burkman lacks for any number of critical elements to successful fighting, but typically, takedown defense isn't one of them. Combine with that an unusual willingness to wildly exchange with very heavy punchers and that just seems like a bridge too far for Ottow. Then again, Burkman is known to routinely enter fights with illnesses or various distractions. If he's off his game, Ottow has an opportunity here.

Pick: Burkman

Louis Smolka vs. Brandon Moreno

Moreno is tough, and has a fair amount of skill in virtually every department of the game, but he's a few steps behind Smolka, particularly on the mat. The Hawaiian gets into positions backwards, has an endless ability to keep scrambling and uses submission attempts as either fight finishers or ways to dominate position. Moreno is athletic and quick, but technically far behind. Add in the fact that Smolka is physically durable as well and one quickly realizes Moreno is overmatched.

Pick: Smolka

From the preliminary card:

Luis Henrique da Silva def. Joachim Christensen
Hacran Dias def. Andre Fili
Walt Harris def. Shamil Abdurakhimov
Keita Nakamura def. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos
Tamdan McCrory def. Nate Marquardt
Jonathan Wilson def. Ion Cutelaba
Curtis Blaydes def. Cody East
Kelly Faszholz def. Ketlen Vieira