The next excursion on pay-per-view for the UFC comes in the form of UFC 169 on Saturday. Headlined by two title fights, it promises to be one of the best cards in the early going of 2014.
The bantamweight championship will be on the line, as newly minted undisputed champion Renan Barao defends his title in a rematch against Urijah Faber. Barao was originally supposed to fight Dominick Cruz, but an injury took the former champion out of the bout, effectively stripping him of his bantamweight gold.
Also, the featherweight championship will be contested, as longtime champ Jose Aldo meets a stiff test in the form of Ricardo Lamas at 145 pounds. Lamas is the first in a long line of contenders who are swimming the shark-infested waters of the featherweight division.
My picks for UFC on Fox 10 in Chicago were decent at best. Sometimes we go through slumps, so I hope New Jersey's prelim card is kinder to me.
However, before that, we have the preliminary card with many new faces and a few familiar ones. Here are the predictions for those fights.
Riley's Record in 2014: 11-8
Last Event: UFC on Fox 10 (4-3)
A bout in the welterweight division will kick off the prelims, as The Ultimate Fighter 16 vet Neil Magny welcomes Gasan Umalatov to the Octagon.
Magny comes into this fight in a must-win situation, as he is on a two-fight skid against Sergio Moraes and Seth Baczynski. Those losses have overshadowed his debut win over Jon Manley.
Magny is a grinder that likes to press people against the cage and wear them out. He has solid cardio and dirty boxing, which he should employ against the Russian.
Umalatov has been competing since 2008 and has gone 14-2-1. Both of his losses were close split decisions, which means he could easily be undefeated.
He is a submission specialist with good takedowns, which could spell disaster for Magny. Expect the Russian to ground Magny, pound him and finish him with a choke.
Prediction: Umalatov def. Magny via submission
A pair of UFC newcomers are set to make their debuts in the lightweight division, as top Russian prospect Rashid Magomedov takes on undefeated American Tony Martin.
Magomedov comes highly touted to the UFC and drops from the welterweight division. The 29-year-old Russian comes into the organization with a 15-1 record, not losing since early 2010 to top Bellator contender Magomedrasul Khasbulaev.
Riding an eight-fight win streak that includes victories over recently signed Alexander Yakovlev, UFC vet Igor Araujo and Yasubey Enomoto, he is dangerous wherever the fight goes. That said, almost half of his wins are by knockout, showing the power he has in his hands.
As for Martin, the Minnesota native touts a size advantage and a slick ground game. The 8-0 fighter owns six submission wins, including two kimuras, a keylock and an inverted triangle choke.
On the feet, one expects Magomedov to have the advantage. On the ground, it's anybody's game; however, if the Russian gets on top, Martin could have a bruise-filled night.
Prediction: Magomedov def. Martin via TKO
A pair of TUF 17 alumni are set to meet in the middleweight division, as Clint Hester welcomes Andy Enz to the Octagon for his first official pro bout with the company.
Hester was the first overall pick on the show, as the athletic and explosive fighter scared people with his fury in the cage. However, the boxer who was developing his ground game was tapped out in the opening round in the house, which ended his tournament.
However, he stuck around and got a shot in the UFC. He hasn't disappointed, going 2-0 with a drubbing of Bristol Marunde and a doctor stoppage of Dylan Andrews.
He will be taking on Enz, who was eliminated by eventual finalist Uriah Hall in the elimination round. Despite having his arm broken by a kick, he was able to make it to the scorecards with the fearsome Hall.
He is a grappler, which could spell big trouble for the striking-based Hester. However, Hester showed improved takedown defense in his last fight, which could lead him to a victory in this one.
Prediction: Hester def. Enz via decision
The lightweights are next, as TUF 15 runner-up Al Iaquinta welcomes newcomer Kevin Lee to the UFC cage.
Iaquinta has grown leaps and bounds since his days on TUF and hasn't lost a UFC bout since falling to Michael Chiesa in the finals. Since that loss, he has decimated Ryan Couture and outworked Piotr Hallmann, both of whom have proved to be tough outs at 155.
Though he has a good wrestling pedigree, he has vastly improved his boxing while working with the Serra-Longo Fight Team. Those improvements guided him past both Couture and Hallmann.
Lee has only been a pro since 2012, but he has already strung together a 6-0 record and finished half of his fights by submission.
He hasn't been fighting chumps either. He owns decisions victories over Strikeforce vet J.P. Reese and BAMMA champ Mansour Barnaoui, both of whom are respected MMA fighters.
Lee will want to grapple with Iaquinta, but that means getting him to the mat. That will be easier said than done, as Iaquinta will sit behind his jab and consistently tap Lee's chin to a decision.
Prediction: Iaquinta def. Lee via decision
A pair of a middleweights with opposite styles will meet next, as England's Tom Watson takes on New Jersey native Nick Catone on his home court.
Catone is in a dangerous spot here, as the American has failed to win in his last two outings. He was carved up to a doctor stoppage against Chris Camozzi and tapped out against TJ Waldburger.
Before that, the wrestler beat Costa Philippou and John Howard. While his style isn't meant to be aesthetically pleasing, it works when he can grind his opponent until exhaustion and then outwork him from there.
Watson is a striker with great clinch work and awesome variations of knees and kicks. He is also in need of a win, as he is just 1-2 with the UFC in his three-fight stint thus far.
His ground game is definitely to be concerned about, but his showing against Stanislav Nedkov could provide the blueprint to this matchup with Catone. Watson was able to wear Nedkov out with body shots and eventually finish him with strikes.
This fight will go a similar way. Watson may find himself in precarious situations early, but he'll stave off Catone and outstrike him on the feet.
Prediction: Watson def. Catone via decision
We move onto the flyweight division next, as Chris Cariaso looks to grab another win against TUF 18 castoff and late replacement Danny Martinez. Martinez steps in for Kyoji Horiguchi, who was injured in training.
Cariaso is a well-rounded guy with great athleticism and a high fight IQ. However, since dropping to 125, he has gone just 2-2, beating Josh Ferguson and Iliarde Santos while falling to Jussier da Silva and John Moraga.
In this bout, he is going to want to stick and move, because engaging in a clinch battle or wrestling match could be bad.
Martinez got his start in the UFC with TUF but was defeated before getting into the house by eventual finalist Davey Grant. He now moves back to his natural weight class of 125, where he could be a mainstay with the company.
He trains with Alliance MMA, where he has picked up some excellent ground-and-pound to go with his solid wrestling base. His only career losses are against top guys like da Silva, Joseph Benavidez and Mark Hominick.
Cariaso has faced wrestlers before with mixed results, but he will have the advantage of a full training camp. He'll survive some sketchy spots to capture a decision by outproducing his foe on the feet.
Prediction: Cariaso def. Martinez via decision
Topping off the prelims will be a fight in the lightweight division, as Canadian striker John Makdessi takes on Brazilian grinder Alan Patrick on neutral territory.
Makdessi has been a dark horse at lightweight since entering the Octagon in impressive fashion. After two straight losses to Dennis Hallman and Anthony Njokuani, he went back to the drawing board at Tristar Gym and picked up a more efficient method to his madness.
That has put "The Bull" on a three-fight winning streak, as he decisioned Daron Cruickshank and Sam Stout while knocking out Renee Forte in brutal fashion. He will definitely want to keep this fight on the feet.
As for Patrick, he is going to be making his sophomore effort in the Octagon. He is undefeated in his 11-fight career and represents X-Gym in Brazil.
In his UFC debut, he used superior strand-up to knock out Garett Whiteley, although many saw striking as his disadvantage. Usually, he uses his physical strength to muscle guys to the ground and grind them out.
He has the style that is needed to beat Makdessi. However, the Canadian will stay behind his jab, use his quickness to stay out of the shooting distance and eventually clip Patrick to hand him his first loss.
Prediction: Makdessi def. Patrick via TKO