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UFC Fight Night 82 predictions

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

A pay-per-view without its headliner turns into a Fight Night as the UFC is forced to change the numbering and kind of card they hold before the Super Bowl to account for the card's decline due to injuries. A welterweight bout headlines the show in the original main event's absence.

What: UFC Fight Night: Hendricks vs. Thompson

Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, NV.

When: Saturday, the two-fight Fight Pass card starts at 7 p.m. ET, the four-fight Fox Sports 1 preliminary card starts at 8 p.m. and the six-fight main card kicks off at 10 p.m.

Johny Hendricks vs. Stephen Thompson

Thompson appears as dynamic on his feet as ever, but one wonders if it's really enough. Hendricks has little issue stepping into the pocket to create narrow escape angles and the need of steady defense. Thompson's the better striker overall, but I'm not yet convinced he can deal with the forward (even angular) pressure of Hendricks. Should it come to this, I'm also not sure Thompson has the answers for Hendricks' takedowns or top controls. We'll see what Hendricks' weight cut does to him in terms of helping him keep his firepower, but all things being otherwise equal, this is the former champion's fight to lose.

Pick: Hendricks

Roy Nelson vs. Jared Rosholt

If you're like me, you're worried Nelson will be pressed into the fence and outwrestled en route to a decision loss in the worst fight ever. It's certainly possible. Nelson's single and double leg defense isn't great. For that matter, not much of a his takedown defense is. That said, Rosholt is relatively slow and doesn't offer a ton of defensive movement. For all of his other problems, Nelson retains respectable hand speed and his trademark power. This should be enough. We shall see.

Pick: Nelson

Ovince Saint Preux vs. Rafael Cavalcante

This one is hard to fight out because both of these competitors are going to throw reckless strikes that are eaten and then countered. The winner will be the one who is slightly better at either landing first, absorbing a shot or some combination of the two. It's possible either fighter could try to establish a takedown first before unleashing equally wild ground and pound on top, but the point is neither of these fighters compete well with longevity in a bout. It's a tight race, but I'll side with the bigger framed, taller fighter in the American.

Pick: Saint Preux

Joseph Benavidez vs. Zach Makovsky

If Benavidez competes uninspired, he can easily lose this. Makovsky is good everywhere and continues to improve in ways many didn't think possible. The difference is the slight athletic advantages Benavidez enjoys. He's a little more naturally sized for the weight class and so, when combined with his naturally good scrambling ability, makes for a fighter in Benavidez who is quicker and more athletic. Makovsky is better at striking at long range, but inside or even in clinch battles, Benavidez should prevail.

Pick: Benavidez

Misha Cirkunov vs. Alex Nicholson

There's hype behind Nicholson, but I'm leaning Cirkunov. He's powerful in the clinch with excellent judo for MMA to boot. He's also a powerful puncher and naturally good at finding offensive openings. Cirkunov is powerful, technical and likelier the more skilled of the two. If he doesn't get sparked out early, he should roll here.

Pick: Cirkunov

Mike Pyle vs. Sean Spencer

Spencer was a prospect who was supposed to have delivered by now in ways that he hasn't. Nothing about his game looks bad, but there's nothing that stands out either. He's a little harder to hit on the feet than Pyle and is certainly younger, but the one with the finishing skills here is Pyle. His age is a concern as is his fight miles, but he should be able to demonstrate he's the more skilled of the two.

Pick: Pyle

From the preliminary card:

K.J. Noons def. Josh Burkman
Derrick Lewis def. Damian Grabowski
Justin Scoggins def. Ray Borg
Noad Lahat def. Diego Rivas
Mickey Gall def. Mike Jackson
Artem Lobov vs. Alex White