UFC 219 Predictions: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Picks

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterDecember 29, 2017

UFC 219 Predictions: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Picks

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    Cris Cyborg
    Cris CyborgEraldo Peres/Associated Press

    Cris Cyborg faces the toughest test of her UFC career when she faces Holly Holm at UFC 219 on Saturday.

    The women's featherweight champ doesn't have many challengers, what with the dearth of female featherweights and the overall fear she instills in people. Holm might be the best opponent she could face, now or ever, and the result will say a lot about her place in MMA history.

    In the co-main event, lightweight super-phenom Khabib Nurmagomedov will try to put injuries and bad weight cuts behind him against Edson Barboza, who is one of the best strikers on the entire UFC roster.

    And we haven't even gotten to Carlos Condit yet.

    The five-fight pay-per-view card is rife with intrigue. It may not be a blockbuster, but it's more than enough to jump-start the MMA fan dazed by holiday ennui.

    Get up to speed with our staff predictions from Nathan McCarter, Craig "Cookie" Amos, Steven Rondina and myself.

    Are you ready? Let's get it on. And happy new year.

Dan Hooker vs. Marc Diakiese

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    Marc Diakiese (right)
    Marc Diakiese (right)Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

    Nathan McCarter

    I'm not exactly sure how this fight will play out, but I tend to view Marc Diakiese's talent a bit more than Dan Hooker's. Thus, that's who I'll pick in what will be a competitive bout.

    Diakiese, unanimous decision

                  

    Craig "Cookie" Amos

    It's hard to get a read on Hooker, who own a handful of both forgivable losses and expected wins. Diakiese should provide a proper barometer for the New Zealander, but he's a tall order who makes opponents pay when given room to operate. A win is not beyond Hooker, but there is little room to make a mistake. 

    Diakiese, TKO, Rd. 2

                  

    Steven Rondina

    There's a chance Hooker has some MMA renaissance after moving up in weight, a la Robert Whittaker or Dustin Poirier. But if that isn't the case (which it likely isn't) Diakiese takes this.

    Diakiese, unanimous decision

                  

    Scott Harris

    Hooker's striking game is formidable and efficient. But he doesn't have an amazing ground game and that's what you need to beat Diakiese (see Drakkar Klose). The Congolese-Englishman wins a fun one.

    Diakiese, unanimous decision

Cynthia Calvillo vs. Carla Esparza

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    Cynthia Calvillo
    Cynthia CalvilloJohn Locher/Associated Press

    McCarter

    This is a "changing-of-the-guard" fight. Carla Esparza is still a credible fighter, but Cynthia Calvillo is the new wave of athlete at strawweight. The athletic advantage will be obvious early, and Calvillo will make the fight look easy. She'll stop Esparza with strikes on the ground.

    Calvillo, TKO, Rd. 2

                       

    Amos

    Both fighters would prefer the ground, which often leads to a striking match. Esparza's hands have improved considerably since entering the UFC, but she's still at a bit of a disadvantage opposite Calvillo, who at least proved against Joanne Calderwood she could avoid taking damage on the feet.

    Neither woman will have a great margin for error, but the pick here is Calvillo, who has shown a much higher ceiling than the division's inaugural champion.

    Calvillo, unanimous decision 

                      

    Rondina

    I'm expecting this to be a case of too much, too soon for Calvillo. She certainly has more long-term upside, but Esparza has what it takes to get this fight to the ground and grind out a solid unanimous decision victory.

    Esparza, unanimous decision

                    

    Harris

    The strawweight division is wide open right now. Calvillo can step into the breach with a win. Esparza needs to hit takedowns and leverage opponents into the clinch, and she won't be able to do either against Calvillo. There's a striking disadvantage to boot. This won't be close.

    Calvillo, unanimous decision

Carlos Condit vs. Neil Magny

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    Carlos Condit
    Carlos ConditJeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    McCarter

    What does Condit have left in the tank? Neil Magny is the kind of forward-moving fighter who will wilt anyone not fully committed to the fight game. I'm not quite sold Condit is committed, or as committed, in the twilight of his career. He has business ventures outside the Octagon that may take some of his focus away. Magny's grit allows him to squeak by and end 2017 on a high.

    Magny, unanimous decision

                 

    Amos

    Condit is coming off a pair of losses and a bit of a layoff, but neither defeat was unforgivable, and the time away wasn't that extensive.

    Magny presents a reasonable challenge, but he's never proved himself to be in the same class as Condit. Assuming Condit's recent rough patch is more a hiccup than the beginning of a precipitous drop, the long-time welterweight challenger will take this one decisively.

    Condit, TKO, Rd. 2

                 

    Rondina

    It takes exceptional wrestling skills to beat Condit when he's not physically and emotionally drained. Magny is probably a better fighter than Condit in 2017, but this is an incredibly bad matchup for him. Unless Condit struggles to shake off the rust, I'm thinking the Natural Born Killer outpoints Magny to take the decision, or scores the finish late.

    Condit, unanimous decision

                  

    Harris

    I agree with McCarter and semi-disagree with Rondina. Condit just seems disinterested, while Magny has the wrestling to take advantage of his historically bad takedown defense (and power through his tricky jiu-jitsu).

    If Condit proves me wrong, that's a cause for celebration across the star-starved UFC; if he doesn't, well, he's at a crossroads, and Magny is the great fighter many people already figured him to be.

    Magny, unanimous decision

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Edson Barboza

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    Khabib Nurmagomedov
    Khabib NurmagomedovJohn Locher/Associated Press

    McCarter

    I would prefer an Edson Barboza win simply because I want a contender who is more reliable than Khabib Nurmagomedov. However, this is a terrible stylistic matchup and Nurmagomedov is the best lightweight in the world (when healthy). Barboza's back will be glued to the canvas for 15 minutes.

    Nurmagomedov, unanimous decision

                  

    Amos

    Barboza's edge on the feet is about the size of Nurmagomedov's edge on the mat. That means whoever wins the takedown game is probably going to win the fight, and it also explains why Nurmagomedov is a sizeable favourite. He just needs to avoid getting caught by the handful of attacks Barboza will manage to muster at the beginning of each round.

    Nurmagomedov, submission, Rd. 2

                  

    Rondina

    There's plenty of room for guesswork here, given Nurmagomedov's latest stretch of inactivity and Barboza's moderate-but-noticeable improvements during that time. Ultimately, though, this is a very good grappler against a very good striker, and I'm almost always going to break in favor of the grappler when making picks.

    Nurmagomedov, submission, Rd. 3

                  

    Harris

    Oh, man. Barboza's outstanding range kicks and takedown defense give him a real path to win. But I can't make the pick. Maybe I'm chicken, but I don't see how the Brazilian keeps himself clear of a Nurmagomedov grind fest.

    Nurmagomedov, unanimous decision

Cris Cyborg vs. Holly Holm

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    Cris Cyborg
    Cris CyborgBuda Mendes/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    McCarter

    I hope Holly Holm is getting paid well for this fight. As the top contender at both 135 and 145, she had reasons to not take the more dangerous of the two title bids. And I know the UFC wants us to buy into her as a legitimate threat to Cris Cyborg, but I can't make myself believe in that possibility. Cyborg is too big, too strong and too good.

    Cyborg has become a more patient fighter over the years, which must be terrifying for her opponents. She won't rush into a counter-shot from Holm. She'll walk her down methodically and then unload. Holm will survive for a little more than 10 minutes before she gets saved by the referee.

    Cyborg, TKO, Rd. 3

                 

    Amos

    Holm is absolutely a legitimate threat in this fight. She doesn't inspire the same type of fear as Cyborg, but she's cerebral and methodical, and both of those tools will serve her well. And let's not pretend Cyborg has been beating a ton of opponents at the top of their game. Sure, she's won easy, but Holm wouldn't be pushed to the brink by Lina Lansberg or Leslie Smith either.

    On the other hand, Cyborg is Cyborg. She possesses immense power and has become more strategic later in her career. Holm could take her down with a flawless performance, but the smart money is on the Brazilian.

    Cyborg, unanimous decision

                 

    Rondina

    In theory, Jose Aldo could have beaten Max Holloway. In theory, Ray Borg could have beaten Demetrious Johnson. In theory, anything is possible. But then the cage door closes and, in the UFC, the better fighter almost always delivers a helping of reality. And Cyborg is the better fighter in this case.

    Cyborg, submission, Rd. 2

                

    Harris

    Holm has to get on her bicycle and stay there if she wants to win: jab, feint, circle. But she has to do that for 25 minutes, without Cyborg figuring out what she's doing. I believe that's what MMA analysts call "unlikely." Cyborg's the best there is and she'll prove it again on Saturday.

    Cyborg, TKO, Rd. 3