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UFC on FOX 31 predictions

Kevin Lee (pictured) takes on Al Iaquinta in the lightweight main event of UFC on FOX 31 on Saturday in Milwaukee
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The UFC’s last show on FOX is all about revenge.

Two lightweight rematches highlight Saturday’s UFC on FOX 31 show at the Fiserv Center in Milwaukee, headlined by title contenders Al Iaquinta and Kevin Lee. The two first fought at UFC 169 back in February 2014 when Lee was just starting out in his UFC journey. That one went Iaquinta’s way and chapter two promises to reveal who has developed more in the past four years.

The main card opener will also be a blast from the past as UFC submission king Charles Oliveira seeks revenge against Jim Miller. Heading into an unprecedented 31st UFC appearance, Miller is hoping history repeats itself considering he submitted Oliveira when they fought back in December 2010.

In other main card action, bonus chasers Edson Barboza and Dan Hooker meet in the lightweight co-headliner, and Rob Font welcomes flyweight contender Sergio Pettis back to the bantamweight division.

What: UFC on FOX 31

Where: Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee

When: Saturday, Dec. 15. The two-fight UFC Fight Pass preliminary card begins at 4 p.m. ET, the six-fight FOX Sports 1 preliminary card begins at 5 p.m. ET, and the four-fight FOX main card begins at 8 p.m. ET.


Kevin Lee vs. Al Iaquinta

The first fight between Al Iaquinta and Kevin Lee — which just so happened to be the then-21-year-old Lee’s UFC debut — was marked by its mistakes as much as its back-and-forth action. That was almost five years ago, but much of that encounter will inform the result in the rematch.

Iaquinta is still the coiled spring, tight with his striking and strong on defense until it’s time to unload. Then he becomes a hammer-fisted nightmare, throwing with reckless abandon in pursuit of a finish. It’s a style that’s served him well and almost got him the finish against Lee at UFC 169 (Iaquinta would end up settling for a unanimous decision win). He has shown some vulnerability to submissions and that’s where Lee should look to attack.

There was a moment in the first fight when Lee almost submitted Iaquinta with a rear-naked choke and were it not for Iaquinta’s savvy and Lee’s inexperience, we could be looking at their rematch in a completely different light. Lee is a powerful wrestler and if he can do a serviceable Khabib Nurmagomedov impression, it’s entirely possible he grounds Iaquinta just like “The Eagle” did.

The submission finish eluded Lee when he first fought Iaquinta. This time he seals the deal.

Pick: Lee

Edson Barboza vs. Dan Hooker

The hard-charging Dan Hooker will be looking for his fifth straight finish when he fights Edson Barboza, but if he plans to go head-hunting he might find it’s his own skull that ends up getting dented.

Don’t let Barboza’s recent skid fool you. He’s always struggled against elite wrestlers and being neutralized by the likes of Lee and Nurmagomedov is nothing to be ashamed of; however, the fact that he’s made an effort to improve his takedown defense over the course of his time in the UFC is encouraging. And it’s what will help him to keep this fight standing.

Hooker is similar to Donald Cerrone in his approach to combat and like Cerrone, he could find success by being patient on the feet and hunting for a submission off of a knockdown. Over-pursuit of a takedown could only lead to him tiring out and give Barboza openings to punish him with Muay Thai techniques in close.

As exceptional as Hooker is in the kickboxing department, pure standup battles almost always seem to favor Barboza. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Pick: Barboza

Rob Font vs. Sergio Pettis

Size matters.

That might not be what Sergio Pettis wants to hear heading into his first bantamweight bout since December 2014, but that’s the reality of the situation. The good news for him is that his speed will be an asset dealing with strikers back at 135 pounds. So long as they don’t hit as hard as Rob Font.

Pettis will have to be at his elusive best when dealing with Font, one of the bantamweight division’s most potent finishers. It doesn’t take much to get Font going and he’s going to close the distance early in this bout so as to limit Pettis’s options. The action will resemble a game of cat and mouse as Font attempts to chase Pettis and navigate the Milwaukeean’s counter-striking.

It’s only a matter of time until Font lands a bomb, which will be too much for Pettis to recover from especially since it will be delivered by a much larger opponent.

Font by second-round knockout.

Pick: Font

Charles Oliveira vs. Jim Miller

The second of two lightweight matches on this card, I’m once again picking youth to prevail and earn a measure of revenge as Charles Oliveira looks to even the score with Jim Miller.

“Do Bronx” was an unbeaten 21-year-old when he ran into Miller back in December 2010 and he carried himself like he felt invincible at the time. The gutsy Miller was just the veteran to bring him down to Earth, forcing a tap-out from the man who recently broke the record for most submissions in UFC history. In their first meeting, Miller slapped on a kneebar that Oliveira just tried to punch his way out of and it’s doubtful that the Brazilian will attempt such brute force tactics on Saturday.

That doesn’t mean Miller will be a walk in the park. He never is. He’s already proven once that he can out-grapple Oliveira and if it becomes a standup battle, his constant pressure will be a serious problem for his younger opponent.

Oliveira should be relentless in taking this one to the mat and once there, it’s on him to prove how far he’s come by getting that submission win back.

Pick: Oliveira

Undercard

Dwight Grant def. Zak Ottow

Bobby Green def. Drakkar Klose

Jared Gordon def. Joaquim Silva

Zak Cummings def. Trevor Smith

Gerald Meerschaert def. Jack Hermansson

Dan Ige def. Jordan Griffin

Mike Rodriguez def. Adam Milstead

Juan Adams def. Chris de la Rocha

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