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UFC 210 predictions

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After a series of injuries and canceled bouts, Daniel Cormier will finally step into the Octagon to defend his UFC light heavyweight title for the first time since October 2015 on Saturday night. Cormier will be facing Anthony Johnson in an intriguing rematch that headlines UFC 210. On paper, this might not be the most attractive UFC pay-per-view event, but it’s an extremely competitive fight card filled with close contests, as it features bouts like Chris Weidman vs. Gegard Mousasi, Thiago Alves vs. Patrick Côté, Will Brooks vs. Charles Oliveira, and more.

What: UFC 210

Where: KeyBank Center, Buffalo, N.Y.

When: Saturday, April 8. The four-fight UFC Fight Pass preliminary card begins at 6:15 p.m. ET, the four-fight FOX Sports 1 preliminary card begins at 8 p.m. ET, and the five-fight main card begins at 10 p.m. ET on pay-per-view.

Daniel Cormier vs. Anthony Johnson

This is an interesting rematch between the best wrestler and the hardest-hitting fighter in the UFC’s light heavyweight division. The first time Cormier and Johnson fought was for the vacant light heavyweight belt at UFC 187 back in 2015.

Since their first meeting, Cormier went on to defend his belt once, against Alexander Gustafsson, and then fought Anderson Silva in a non-title bout at UFC 200 after Jon Jones was pulled from the card. Meanwhile, Johnson has kept a bit more active than Cormier, fighting three times and scoring impressive knockouts over Jimi Manuwa, Ryan Bader, and Glover Teixeira.

I think this rematch comes down mainly to what adjustments Johnson has made to deal with the pace and wrestling of Cormier. See, when these two first fought, I picked Johnson to defeat Cormier, as I thought that Johnson’s power and wrestling defense shown in the fight against Phil Davis were enough to stop Cormier from taking him down. But I was wrong. We now know that Cormier is able to take down and control the taller Johnson, and even absorb Johnson’s powerful strikes. However, Johnson’s problems against Cormier are more complex than just getting taken down by the Olympian. Below we explore two factors I find key for the outcome in championship bout:

It’s all about frames: A big part of Johnson’s downfall against Cormier was the exhaustion ‘Rumble’ entered with in the third round. Some questioned his cardio after the bout, and although I wouldn’t call Johnson a cardio machine, we’ve seen him go the distance before in fairly high-paced fights against Phil Davis and Andrei Arlovski.

The reality is that Johnson didn’t tire out because of bad conditioning, but more because of his inefficient technique on the ground. ‘Rumble’ was taken down early in the second round and fought off his back for more than four minutes. Throughout that second round, Johnson mainly laid flat on his back trying to push Cormier off him and tried to get up by doing a sit-up like motion with Cormier on top. Those tasks, especially with an Olympic wrestler on top, are extremely exhausting. If Johnson would’ve established frames with his arms and legs to avoid supporting and fighting a heavy Cormier with muscle, Johnson would've reserved enough energy to fight Cormier in the third round. Johnson also needed to try to avoid laying flat on his back, and instead look to get on his hip/shoulder, which would allow him to establish a base for his frames.

The kind of movements ‘Rumble’ relied on when fighting Cormier on the ground were the main detriment to his cardio.

Patience, distance, set ups, and straight punches: Calm, relaxed, and composed. Those were the words used by Joe Rogan to describe Anthony Johnson’s performance against Phil Davis. In the fight with Mr. Wonderful, Johnson showed that he can do well against talented wrestlers by fighting composed, and with a conservative output of strikes composed of mainly uppercuts, jabs, straight right hands. These type of attacks kept the four-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler at range and hesitant to shoot for a takedown. Johnson also limited the attacks that could set him up to get taken down, throwing very few looping punches and kicks.

But against Cormier, who might be a better MMA wrestler than Davis, Johnson fought completely the opposite. ‘Rumble’ fought with heavy pressure, threw many kicks without setups, and numerous looping power hooks. Many of these attacks allowed Cormier to take down Johnson, as they set ‘Rumble’ off balance or exposed his hips.

Prediction: So will Johnson keep composed, limit his kicking, and use more uppercuts and straight punches against Cormier? Has Johnson improved his ground work enough to be efficient with his energy in case he gets taken down? Those are the questions that determine the outcome of this bout, as we already know what Cormier is capable of doing.

Part of me believes this bout will be a replay of the first, but I also have a hard time seeing Johnson committing the same mistakes again. I see this bout being a much closer contest with Johnson fighting a smarter fight. But despite thinking Johnson will have a better performance, I believe Cormier will eventually find a way to create opportunities for his takedowns and do enough on top to go home with his light heavyweight title.

Pick: Cormier

Chris Weidman vs. Gegard Mousasi

This fight reminds me a lot of the Holly Holm vs. Germaine de Randamie match up. I know Chris Weidman and Gegard Mousasi are not really fighting for a title, but this is a fight essentially pitting a former champ with a big name in the division and is on a two-fight skid against a tough opponent.

I think most people wanted to see Weidman get some type of tune-up fight, but here we are.

I see this one being a decision. So I think it’ll come down to how dominant Weidman can be with his wrestling versus how dominant Mousasi can be with his striking. It’s clear to me that Mousasi has a more fluid, crisp and more diverse striking arsenal here. And is also evident that Weidman has the better suited grappling for MMA.

I think Weidman will get his way with the takedowns and score a few throughout the fight, but I don't think he’ll be able to do enough with his ground and pound and submission game to stop Mousasi. I also don't think Weidman will have enough top control and cause enough damage on the ground to score a decision win. Much like many of the fights on this card, I see this being a competitive bout, but I see Mousasi doing enough damage and keeping the fight long enough on the feet to get the win.

Pick: Mousasi

Cynthia Calvillo vs. Pearl Gonzalez

Here’s a fun women’s strawweight bout that’s been getting a lot of attention.

Calvillo had an impressive UFC debut against the well-rounded Amanda Cooper. The 29-year-old fighter proved to be a solid Team Alpha Male product, displaying toughness, athleticism, a dominant grappling game that’s wrestling based, and great scrambling ability. The scrappy Calvillo also showed she won't shell up under the bright lights of the UFC.

Meanwhile, Gonzalez, has a solid record of 6-1, including a win over UFC fighter Cortney Casey. Gonzalez fights very similarly to Calvillo, as she has a dominant top game and looks to get the fight down to the ground early. Although Gonzalez is more experienced than Calvillo, with seven professional fights, she will be making her promotional debut on a UFC pay-per-view. This could back fire, as we’ve seen the Octagon jitters give talented fighters a tough time.

I find Calvillo to be a bit stronger and more polished than Gonzalez in the grappling department, but I think Gonzalez has an edge on the feet. Tough fight to call, but I think Gonzalez will welcome the grappling and that’s where Calvillo should have a slight edge.

Pick: Calvillo

Thiago Alves vs. Patrick Côté

This is an interesting fight between two veterans who have fought long enough to have competed in UFC pay-per-views with only two digits next to the name.

Thiago Alves, 33, hasn't looked like himself in a while, as series of injuries have plagued the latter part of his career. Despite all the setbacks the Brazilian has experienced, Alves still remains a tough, experienced fighter with threatening striking skills.

On the other hand, Patrick Cote, who is older and has about the same amount of fights and years of experience competing in MMA, seems to be in a significantly better condition than Alves. The Canadian has kept a more competitive fighting record than the Brazilian, and seems to have kept his body in healthier shape.

I think Alves has a huge advantage on the feet, but Cote has made a career of shutting down superior strikers with his clinching against the cage and grappling. Unless we see a revival in Alves, I see Cote grinding out Alves to win a decision.

Pick: Cote

Will Brooks vs. Charles Oliveira

Former Bellator lightweight champion Will Brooks hasn't quite had the UFC career many expected since his move to the UFC. And his opponent, Charles Oliveira, also hasn't fully lived up to the expectations he set early in his UFC career.

Brooks is currently 1-1 since his move to the UFC. The American Top Team fighter picked up a decent win over UFC vet Ross Pearson, and then suffered a knockout loss to Alex Oliveira. Brooks is one of the better athletes in the UFC lightweight division, and possesses a well-rounded game.

Oliveira, also well-rounded, should have a size and strength disadvantage. But in a technical aspect, the Brazilian is the more dynamic striker and the more dangerous grappler. Oliveira, a once very promising fighter, now finds himself at 1-3 record in his past four bouts.

I think if Oliveira doesn't finish Brooks, he’s likely to lose a decision. I know that Brooks tends to be a slow starter, but he also has the ability to control the action in this fight, specifically in the clinch and against the cage. I see Brooks using his size and wrestling to cut the distance on the range-y striker and control him in the clinch or on the ground. I think there is a significant window of opportunity for Oliveira to sink in a sneaky guillotine or triangle choke in these grappling exchanges. However, I think the most likely outcome is a decision victory for Brooks.

Pick: Brooks


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