Chad Mendes is undefeated in 10 pro MMA fights. | Photo: Jeff Sherwood
Sherdog.com staff and contributors put their reputations on the line with bold predictions for the UFC 133 “Evans vs. Ortiz 2” preliminary card, which streams live on Facebook at 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT and airs live on Spike TV at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on Saturday from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Chad Mendes vs. Rani Yahya
Freddie DeFreitas: While I believe Mendes’ submission defense is still a tad suspect, I’m not about to pick Yahya to be the guy to give him his first professional loss. Yahya has not submitted an opponent in almost two years, a trend that is partially due to a monumental step up in competition for the talented grappler. I believe Mendes is on the same level of competition that has troubled Yahya in the past, and I like the Team Alpha Male member to pound out a technical knockout midway through the contest.
Tony Loiseleur: As Mendes showed in his last outing against Michihiro Omigawa, he can not only strike, but he can also do it really, really well. Even if he were to engage Yahya in his strengths in the grappling department, I see Mendes fending off submission attempts to work his typically stifling, grinding top game for the decision anyway. The difference now is that he can finish this fight if he wants to, especially if he antagonizes Yahya with strikes. Whether on the ground or on the feet, I have Mendes.
Rob King: This should be a showcase fight for the Team Alpha Male wrestler. Yahya is coming off the upset win over Mike Thomas Brown and is “rewarded” with an opponent who most think is the biggest threat to divisional champion Jose Aldo. Mendes could play it safe and use his wrestling to take a one-sided decision, but I think he ups the pace a little in this fight and stops Yahya in the second round.
Lutfi Sariahmed: I like Mendes to win a relatively uneventful decision. He has a better overall game than Yahya, and, as long as he’s not sloppy with his submission defense, you shouldn’t think twice about this bout.
Alexander Gustafsson vs. Matt Hamill
Todd Martin: This is a good test for Gustafsson. He looks like a very strong prospect but still hasn’t been tested all that much. His only loss is to a wrestler, although Phil Davis relies much more heavily on his wrestling than does Hamill. Gustafsson also showed some of the best takedown defense we’ve seen against Davis in his early MMA career. I think Gustafsson comes through here, blocking a few takedown attempts and dominating the standup to pick up the victory.
DeFreitas: If Gustafsson can hang around in the fight long enough, he may just have a chance to put away Hamill, but the sad reality for the Swede is that he’ll have spent so much time on the bottom taking damage that he may not have anything left to land that one telling blow. Give me Hamill as the winner via positional dominance in the decision over the hard-nosed Gustafsson.
Loiseleur: While I don’t expect Gustafsson to handle Hamill like he did Cyrille Diabate, I also don’t expect him to get steamrolled by Hamill the way he was against Phil Davis. Gustafsson’s takedown defense may not be enough to keep him off his back, but I like his striking better than Hamill’s -- it’s also a viable takedown deterrent, come to think of it -- and his grappling skills off his back. It’ll probably be hard-fought, but I have Gustafsson by decision.
Ivan Menjivar vs. Nick Pace
Loiseleur: I have Menjivar here, and I’m hoping we’ll see more inline elbows, like in his last fight with Charlie Valencia. Even if they don’t make an appearance, however, Menjivar’s skill in all areas and vast experience across the MMA weight spectrum serve him well in this one.
King: This has “Fight of the Night” written all over it. Pace’s only hiccup is a loss to Demetrious Johnson, and there’s no shame there. I can’t help but wonder where Menjivar would be in his career now if he hadn’t taken those years off from the sport. Both guys are fireballs and crowd pleasers. Whichever guy makes the first mistake will lose the fight. I’ll be a homer here and take my fellow Canadian, Menjivar, to take home a razor-thin decision.
Sariahmed: This fight favors Pace. Menjivar’s biggest win in the last five years was probably his most recent victory over Valencia. Menjivar’s experience will certainly help against the younger Pace, but it’s on Menjivar to slow down the Team Tiger Schulmann bantamweight. Pace will avoid getting into a firefight, and I think he’s more skilled than Menjivar at this point in his career. If Menjivar does win, it’s because Pace will prove unready to step up to this level. Give me Pace in this one.
Johny Hendricks vs. Mike Pierce
Sariahmed: I know they’re no longer training partners, but I still associate Mike Pierce with Rick Story and the Brave Legion camp -- in part because I feel Story and Pierce have similar games. They’re two of the toughest welterweights you’ll find in the division. Neither has a really big weakness that other opponents can exploit. Following that same logic, one has to feel confident in both fighters holding their own no matter where the fight goes. With that said, Pierce has made it a point to say that this fight will not be like the fight Hendricks had with Story at “The Ultimate Fighter 12” Finale. In that bout, Story used his grappling to help win him a decision over Hendricks. As much as he wants to disassociate himself from the comparisons, Pierce might have to go the same route. He’s not a better wrestler than the Oklahoma State University alum, although he’ll be able to hold his own. He’s not a better striker than Hendricks, either. Where does Pierce have the advantage? In the grappling department. He’s stronger than Hendricks, and I think he’ll win a decision.
Jordan Breen: Hendricks-Pierce, for my money, is the toughest fight to call on the card. Both fighters are similar. Though Hendricks is the more accomplished collegiate wrestler with two national titles, Pierce’s MMA wrestling has proven superb. Both fighters have developed as boxers, with Hendricks the harder hitter and Pierce the more skillful technician. Any significant happening -- a good three-punch combo, a well-chosen double-leg shot, a meaningful counter -- could swing this fight in what could be a tricky one to score. Hendricks deserves to be a betting favorite, but I've got a gut feeling about the criminally underrated Pierce, who can counter Hendricks effectively and possibly even surprise him with his wrestling.
Tomasz Marciniak: This is about as close to a Mortal Kombat-style mirror matchup as you’ll get in the UFC. Both are gritty wrestlers that have success when they stick their opponent to the fence or mat. Both are powerful hitters, even if their striking technique leaves something to be desired. I’ll give a slight edge to Hendricks, as he looks to be more adept at stuffing takedowns than Pierce's recent opponents. That should enable him to win by the slimmest of margins.
Mike Thomas Brown vs. Nam Phan
Brian Knapp: Brown turns 36 in a little more than a month. With 32 professional fights and 10 productive years of MMA behind him, one has to wonder if Father Time has begun to catch up with him. Consecutive losses to Diego Nunes and Rani Yahya have knocked Brown way down the 145-pound ladder. While he has those strikes against him, Brown is too skilled, too experienced and too proud to stay down for long. Something tells me Phan is in over his head here. I like Brown by unanimous decision, though a late finish would not surprise me.
Tristen Critchfield: Brown’s recent efforts haven’t resembled those of a former champion, but there should be some good fights left in the onetime WEC featherweight king. Judges may not agree, but Phan looked solid in his loss to Leonard Garcia at “The Ultimate Fighter 12” Finale, and he can land some combinations against Brown. However, Brown is the more powerful of the two, and if he fights with the sense of urgency that a guy with two straight losses often does, he can win via TKO or decision.
Guilherme Pinheiro: I find it a bit odd that some people are ready to dump Brown into some kind of bottom-feeder role in the featherweight division after his last two fights. Sure, he is coming of two losses, but he lost to a Top 10 featherweight in Nunes -- in a fight some people feel he won -- and to Yahya, when he replaced Chan Sung Jung just three weeks later. What strikes me the most is the fact that not so long ago he was considered the unquestionable second-best fighter in the division. I don’t think it’s fair that some now view him as a non-factor. Phan, on the other hand, is coming off of an injury that forced him to stay away from the cage for nearly eight months, and I think ring rust may be a factor here. Also, he hasn’t faced this level of competition since his loss to Michihiro Omigawa back in 2009. I believe Brown is the better fighter and will get back on the win column, as he gets the technical knockout late in the third period.
Rafael Natal vs. Paul Bradley
Breen: Bradley is limited as a fighter and is hardly an athlete that will set your world on fire. However, “The Gentleman” is a powerful wrestler with a good top game. Even though Natal hits hard, he’s a free-swinger whose capoeira techniques don’t exactly bode well for takedown defense. Bradley will get liberal takedowns and finally get to realize his UFC dream, albeit in a ho-hum fashion.
Marciniak: Natal has until about the midway point of the second round to put away Bradley with strikes or a submission. As the Brazilian gasses, the wrestling-minded Bradley will find it easier and easier to get takedowns, and Natal’s submission attempts from the bottom will become less frequent and threatening. Though his competition has been abysmal of late, Bradley did string together a couple of good performances in years prior, so I think he can get the job done and get an ugly decision win.
Knapp: Bradley wields the dominant skills in this matchup, with powerful takedowns and a stifling top game. A two-time NCAA All-American at the University of Iowa, he has no reservations about leaning heavily on his base. Bradley will also be the sharper of the two, having fought just two weeks ago under the Extreme Challenge banner. Natal has done little to impress during his brief UFC stint, and he will not find much opportunity to do so while buried on the bottom. Bradley wins by decision.
2011 Picking & Grinning Standings:
Jordan Breen: 104-43
Tomasz Marciniak: 103-44
Brian Knapp: 103-45
Tristen Critchfield: 101-46
Guilherme Pinheiro: 99-48
Todd Martin: 98-49
Freddie DeFreitas: 93-54
Rob King: 93-54
Tony Loiseleur: 92-55
Lutfi Sariahmed: 92-55