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UFC Fight Night 94 predictions

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The bigger Octagon travels to Hidalgo, Texas for the first time, and what is lacking in star power can be made up for in frills. At the top is an intriguing lightweight bout from cusp contenders who find themselves in a big spot to shine. There’s also an intriguing middleweight bout between a company bogeyman and — very quietly — one of the hottest fighters in the division.

What: UFC Fight Night 94

Where: State Farm Arena, Hidalgo, Texas

When: Saturday, Sept. 17. The two-fight UFC Fight Pass prelims begin at 7 p.m. ET, the four-fight FOX Sports 1 preliminary card begins at 8 p.m. ET, and the six-fight main card begins airing on FOX Sports 1 at 10 p.m. ET.

Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Johnson
It’s been said that there’s nothing more dangerous than a wounded animal, and in some ways, that’s what Michael Johnson is. Since he beat Edson Barboza in early 2015, each fighter’s career has gone in a completely different direction. Barboza has won three of four to zoom into contention, while Johnson has lost back-to-back fights for the third time in his career to Beneil Dariush (robbery) and Nate Diaz. He’s never lost three in a row.

Poirier is loving his second coming as a lightweight, having made showcases out of everybody he’s faced since losing to Conor McGregor at UFC 178. He bookended his four-fight win streak by knocking out Carlos Diego Ferreira and Bobby Green, with a TKO of Yancy Medeiros in between. He also beat the hype out of Joe Duffy, a vicarious measure of revenge on Ireland for what happened against McGregor.

This is a rare collision between different sailing athletes, with a losing streak and a winning streak, and it’s hard to assign an edge. Yet given how versatile the 27-year-old Poirier looks at lightweight after his still very successful run as a featherweight, and how hungry he’s been, you’ve got to assume that he will be ready for Johnson, who at this point seems destined to fall short of ever meeting his potential. Poirier has been a beast at 155 pounds, and the chance to shine in a spotlight main event is just what he needs to truly announce his arrival.

Pick: Poirier

Uriah Hall vs. Derek Brunson
Hall has been absolutely maddening as far as this kind of projection-work is concerned since he came into the UFC fresh off his terrorizing stint on The Ultimate Fighter. He didn’t have the killer instinct to do away with Kelvin Gastelum in the Finale, and he was too busy high-fiving John Howard to turn heads in his follow-up. Yet just when you think he doesn’t have it in him, he reels off five wins in his next six fights, including a huge upset of Gegard Mousasi. He is who we thought he is, right? Thud. He loses to Robert Whittaker in his last fight, and it’s right back to "say what now?"

The one thing he’ll get against the 32-year-old Brunson is a man who has solid evidence that his power and creativity are on par with the deadliest range strikers going. Brunson has been on a roll since coming over from Strikeforce, winning six of seven fights. He has won three in a row, all by TKO. This will be his biggest test since he fought Yoel Romero back in 2014 (his lone loss in the UFC), but you’ve got to believe that Brunson is feeling good about his chances here. Will Hall accommodate him is the question. For all of Hall’s flashiness, there’s been a propensity to sit back and pick shots, to counter and react, and to general keep his hands holstered.

Here thinks Brunson makes him fight, and makes the most of the co-main event.

Pick: Brunson

Evan Dunham vs. Rick Glenn

I remember well Dunham’s last fight in the great state of Texas, when he was looking to rebound from that controversial loss to Sean Sherk at UFC 119. He was going up against Melvin Guillard at Fight For the Troops 2 in Fort Hood. Dunham got smoked in that one, thus taking the shine off of one of the fast-rising prospects at the time. Fast forward five years, and this time Dunham is more in the revivalist role, having won three fights in a row after losing three fights in a row. His decimation of Joe Lauzon back in December was a thing of beauty, but it’s been nine months since that.

The 27-year-old Glenn, who works at Costco, is drawing a tough assignment in his first UFC fight. He’s a sturdy, scrappy veteran with experience in WSOF — he was the featherweight champion over there — and he’s not afraid to test himself. It could be a closer fight than the books are saying (Dunham is a 3-to-1 favorite), but Dunham is such a wily fighter who can win ugly if he needs to.

Pick: Dunham

Roan Carneiro vs. Kenny Robertson
The 38-year-old "Jacao" hasn’t fought a ton since coming back to the UFC, and both his fights — against Mark Munoz, whom he tapped out in 1:40, and against Brunson, who TKO’d him in 2:38 — have been small sample size portions. Still, we know how lethal he is on the ground, and we know the former collegiate wrestler Robertson isn’t afraid to put people on their backs. Robertson will likely seek out his chin, though, much like he did with Sultan Aliev last year. And Robertson, a dogged fighter with good defense, has never been submitted.

Pick: Robertson

Chris Wade vs. Islam Makhachev
It’s back-to-back Dagestan draws for New York’s Wade, who dropped a decision against Rustam Khabilov back in May. Wade likes to dictate a fight, and if he can snatch a neck, we know he can end things quick. Saw it against Cain Carrizosa in his UFC debut, and then again when he fought Mehdi Baghdad to kick off 2016. Makhachev is just 24 years old, though, and is coming off his first ever loss against Adriano Martins. He got caught in that one. How does the sambo player respond to that?

(Given his mental toughness, here suspects very well).

Pick: Makhachev

Chas Skelly vs. Maximo Blanco
‘Maxi" Blanco didn’t look so great his last time out, getting submitted by Luke Sanders in January. Before then, though, he was definitely on the best run of his career with three straight Octagon victories. Here’s the thing, though. Kelly is from Texas, and he isn’t going to take a second straight loss in his native state. His fight with Darren Elkins didn’t go his way, but he has those wrestling roots from his days at Oklahoma State, and he can make the fight his own through three full rounds.

Pick: Skelly

From the preliminary card:

Sam Sicilia def. Gabriel Benitez
Belal Muhammad def. Augusto Montano
Antonio Carlos Junior def. Leonardo Augusto Guimaraes
Jose Quinonez def. Joey Gomez
Randy Brown def. Erick Montano
Albert Morales def. Alejandro Perez

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