UFC Fight Night 116 Predictions: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Picks

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterSeptember 15, 2017

UFC Fight Night 116 Predictions: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Picks

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    Luke Rockhold
    Luke RockholdGary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    A bittersweet brew of contract negotiations, modeling and Demi Lovato worked its insidious magic on Luke Rockhold's career, keeping him sidelined for well over a year.

    Now the ex-middleweight champ returns, although it may not be under the bright-lit circumstances he might have preferred. But he got what he got and a gig is a gig, so here he is taking on David Branch—an accomplished and talented, if fairly unknown opponent—in the main event of UFC Fight Night 116, going down Saturday from Pittsburgh.

    There are six fights on the main card, all of it airing on Fox Sports 1. As always, every fight has its own unique story, and this card is no different.

    So now the team is going to make its picks. Steven Rondina. Craig "Cookie" Amos. Nathan McCarter. And myself, Scott Harris. Let's get it on.

Justin Ledet vs. Zu Anyanwu

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    Justin Ledet
    Justin LedetJoe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    Steven Rondina

    Zu Anwanyu has a cool name, sure, but this is actually a relatively important fight for the UFC. In the same way the UFC groomed Sage Northcutt to hype up the dreadful Dana White: Lookin' for a Fight, this one is likely tailor-made for Anwanyu to be a vessel for Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series hype. And as per usual, if the UFC wants somebody to win, I'm inclined to believe they'll make it happen.

    Anwanyu, TKO, Rd. 1


    Nathan McCarter

    I'll take the dog. Heavyweight MMA is wild, and as such, I don't take the odds too much into account. Plus, Anyanwu has a fantastic sounding name. That's good enough for me. He earned his spot by winning on Dana White's Contender Series, and Anyanwu nabs a victory to add a little credibility to the show's prospect-finding prowess.

    Anyanwu, TKO, Rd. 1


    Craig Amos

    I'm a little excited for Anyanwu, but like Nathan, it's mostly because of the name. Specifically that his given name, Azunna, is reminiscent of Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender, and let me tell you, that woman was...electric. She was...oh right, the actual fight. I like Ledet to notch another submission win and keep his perfect record in tow.

    Ledet, submission, Rd. 3


    Scott Harris

    Yes, Anyanwu comes with built-in hype because of Dana White. But everyone this side of Phillipe Nover recalls that White is driven mainly by gut reactions when evaluating talent. Someone who looks good does something flashy in front of him so he can sagely look to the person next to him and proclaim "this kid can fight!" is really all it takes. But alas, Octagon jitters are real, and so is Ledet's talent. No upset today.

    Ledet, submission, Rd. 2

Kamaru Usman vs. Sergio Moraes

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    Kamaru Usman
    Kamaru UsmanJason Silva-USA TODAY Sports


    Kamaru Usman, generally speaking, has had greater success against stiffer competition. I'm not going to label this one a squash, given how many wins Sergio Moraes has racked up of late...but I won't disagree with anyone who says it is. 

    Usman, unanimous decision



    Usman is a super prospect. Moraes' win streak has been a little surprising, but the surprises end in the Steel City. Usman has no trouble picking up the victory. 

    Usman, TKO, Rd. 2



    Usman has won nine straight fights. Moraes hasn't lost in his past seven. This one is going to be a streak-breaker. Usman will keep his run intact by controlling the action and shutting down Moraes' submission attempts. The win should earn him a top-10 opponent next time out.

    Usman, unanimous decision



    It's kind of hard to believe Moraes has been in the UFC for five years now. He's a solid veteran journeyman and a smart matchmaking bump for the elite prospect Usman. Usman will pass the test. His wrestling is always the primary attack, and that will stifle Moraes' jiu-jitsu. Usman, ever aware of his public Q-score, will also try to let his hands go and will work.

    Usman, KO, Rd. 2

Gregor Gillespie vs. Jason Gonzalez

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    Gregor Gillespie
    Gregor GillespieJason Silva-USA TODAY Sports


    Some of Pittsburgh's card really screams of the UFC setting up prospects for big performances. Whether it's merely challenging them (Anyanwu) or setting them up for a big performance (Usman), this fight rings much to the same tune. Gregor Gillespie gets a relatively easy victory, but he'll have to put in some work.

    Gillespie, unanimous decision



    Nathan summed it up perfectly. This fight was made for Gillespie to win, and he probably will.

    Gillespie, unanimous decision



    Gillespie should handle Jason Gonzalez without too much grief. He's an all-around better fighter, and there isn't a lot to this matchup that yells danger. The script reads as a knockout for Gillespie, and I don't expect a surprise ending.

    Gillespie, TKO, Rd. 2



    Gillespie's wrestling is just too tough for Gonzalez. He'll use that to control his opponent and work to a ground-and-pound victory.

    Gillespie, TKO, Rd. 2

Hector Lombard vs. Anthony Smith

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    Anthony Smith (right)
    Anthony Smith (right)Jamie Squire/Getty Images


    Hector Lombard's best days are long behind him, but he still manages to touch almost everyone on the chin. And while it may have been a while since Anthony Smith has been knocked out, his chin is a liability on paper. 

    Lombard, TKO, Rd. 1



    Will Lombard catch Smith with the early knockout? It's certainly possible. Smith has been knocked out six times before, but not since 2011. The call here is for Smith to weather the early assault, tucker Lombard out and come at him until he lacks the energy to defend.

    Smith, TKO, Rd. 3



    As with many Lombard fights, this fight comes down to if his opponent can weather the early storm. I don't have that kind of faith in Smith. Lombard patiently waits for his opportunity to pounce, and once he does, Smith will catch the heaters full force.

    Lombard, KO, Rd. 1



    At age 39, Lombard is 10 years Smith's senior. Smith also tends to be in the woodwork a lot, looking and seeming sort of like a generic video game character. But as with the rest of this card, which sees older guys putting over the younger, this is a canny bit of matchmaking. Use Lombard's name while it still has value.

    Smith has a powerful and dynamic Muay Thai game that he can use to keep Lombard honest. He'll keep him at bay and then cruise down the stretch as Lombard tires.

    Smith, unanimous decision 

Mike Perry vs. Alex Reyes

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    Mike Perry
    Mike PerryChristopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports


    Mike Perry vs. Thiago Alves would have been competitive. This one? Not so much.

    Perry, TKO, Rd. 2



    Perry has limitations, but they aren't likely to be strained here. The up-and-comer would be a sizeable favorite in the fairest of times, but with Alex Reyes stepping in with a moment's notice, it looks like a complete blowout.

    Perry, KO, Rd. 2



    I was really looking forward to see how Thiago Alves' technical Muay Thai matched up with Perry. Unfortunately, he dropped out during fight week. Instead, we get to see a lightweight step in on short notice against one of the UFC's newest favorite sons. Perry ices Reyes early. This won't be competitive.

    Perry, KO, Rd. 1



    MMA fans and promoters swoon over any fighter who's outspoken. That's Perry. His racially charged behavior raised eyebrows. So has his electric performance in the cage. It's the latter that wins the day, at least for now. It will win again Saturday.

    Perry, KO, Rd. 1

Luke Rockhold vs. David Branch

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    Luke Rockhold
    Luke RockholdJohn Locher/Associated Press


    I'm tempted to pick David Branch as a demonstration of how legit I believe him to be...but that's Luke Rockhold over there. Possibly the best middleweight in the world. I believe in Branch, but I don't believe in him that much. 

    Rockhold, submission, Rd. 2



    There's no doubt that Branch is a credible opponent, but I'm sold on Rockhold returning in violent form. He has a chip on his shoulder after losing the title to Bisping, and Rockhold has all the tools in his kit. This fight will end up looking like Rockhold's run to the title from 2014-2015. A vicious beating awaits Branch.

    Rockhold, TKO, Rd. 3



    You don't get mulligans in this sport, but I'd give one to Rockhold for his lost to Michael Bisping if I could. The former champion is the best middleweight fighter on the planet, and this is step one on the road back to the title. As Nathan says, it'll be brutal.

    Rockhold, TKO, Rd. 1



    This is just a bad matchup for Branch. He's great in the clinch and with top control, and his hands are pretty heavy. But Rockhold can keep him on the outside with kicks, he has better length and size and his world class jiu-jitsu makes him dangerous off his back. Rockhold will get a nice win under his belt as a springboard to, presumably, challenging Michael Bisping to a rematch.

    Rockhold, unanimous decision