UFC Fight Night 128 Predictions: Main Card Staff Picks

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterApril 19, 2018

UFC Fight Night 128 Predictions: Main Card Staff Picks

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    Edson Barboza
    Edson BarbozaJeff Haynes/Associated Press

    UFC Fight Night 128 is upon us. Going down almost entirely on FS1, the event will take place Saturday at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

    After a stellar UFC on Fox 29 event the previous week, fans could be forgiven if they are still a bit hungover. This card may not promise as much excitement on paper, but the six-fight main card contains a few gems.

    The main event pits Brazilian super-striker Edson Barboza against American wrestle-boxer Kevin Lee. At No. 5 and No. 6, respectively, in the official UFC lightweight rankings, the winner is poised to enter the crowded title picture at 155 pounds.

    The co-main event could be a cracker as well, with former lightweight champ Frankie Edgar taking on the aggression-based skill set of Cub Swanson at featherweight.

    Here to break it all down is our crack team: Matthew Ryder, Nathan McCarter, Steven Rondina and myself, Scott Harris. Let's get it on. 

Jim Miller vs. Dan Hooker

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    Dan Hooker
    Dan HookerBrandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Matthew Ryder

    Jim Miller and I once spoke in an elevator about Lyoto Machida being a legitimate ninja. Super nice guy. Real good at fighting. I'm also a big Dan Hooker mark—he's got potential based solely on his poise for someone at his level, which you almost never see. I'll be happy with the outcome either way, but I'll take Miller based on experience against better competition.

    Miller, submission, Rd. 3.

                        

    Nathan McCarter

    Give me the younger cat in the jungle. Miller still has some quality skills to bring into the cage, but there is no doubt he's on the downside of his career. Hooker would have likely represented a relatively easy win for Miller four years ago, but it's 2018. Hooker will outpoint the old dog.

    Hooker, unanimous decision.

                   

    Steven Rondina

    MMA is a sport wherein the young are meant to eat the old. That isn't always the case, but that is the way things will shake out here, as Hooker will have little trouble outpacing and outworking Miller en route to a lopsided unanimous decision. 

    Hooker, unanimous decision.

                       

    Scott Harris

    According to OddsShark, Miller is a sizable underdog here at +300 (wager $100 to win $300). Hooker has an unassuming look about him, but don't let that fool you. He's well-rounded and can finish you anywhere (see: his knockout of Ross Pearson, which he followed by submitting Marc Diakiese). Miller is as tough as nails, but the 34-year-old is aging in fighter years, with 40 fights (the past three of them losses) under his belt.

    I would love to pull the trigger on the underdog, but the young buck is on too much of a roll.

    Hooker, TKO, Rd. 2.

Aljamain Sterling vs. Brett Johns

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    Aljamain Sterling
    Aljamain SterlingJeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Ryder

    A good matchup of prospects who could each use a win to get into talks of title contention. Brett Johns is a bit more unsung, while Aljamain Sterling is a guy we've all been waiting on to break through. Few will say he did it by beating Johns, but he will get a win and get that upward momentum.

    Sterling, unanimous decision.

                        

    McCarter

    Remember when Sterling was the hot prospect and projected to be a title contender? We have not seen that come to light. Still, this is a fight he should win. The question is, can he win in style? I say yes.

    Sterling, submission, Rd. 2.

                           

    Rondina

    Despite everything, I still look at Sterling as a potential top talent. Johns is good and is near and dear to my heart after executing a calf-slicer in his most recent fight, but he just doesn't have the ceiling Sterling does. 

    Sterling, unanimous decision.

                       

    Harris

    This is a fun matchup of styles. Neither man is a primary striker; they both want it on the ground. The question will be whether Johns can get close enough to the rangier Sterling to land a takedown and wrest control of the action. Johns never seems to get tired, and his game has evolved since his days of being strictly a grinder. The unsung Welshman surprises people once again.

    Johns, unanimous decision.

David Branch vs. Thiago Santos

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    Thiago Santos
    Thiago SantosBuda Mendes/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Ryder

    This is a great piece of FS1 matchmaking. Two guys who are pretty decent and need a fight, so you throw 'em on FS1 in the middle of the night and see who comes out on top. Let's say it's Thiago Santos.

    Santos, KO, Rd. 1.

                  

    McCarter

    Well, this will be a fight that is quickly forgotten unless Santos can catch his opponent. David Branch's style is not fan-friendly, and this will be the fight that allows you to grab a few snacks. Branch controls Santos against the fence, allowing him to get to a decision, but all meaningful offense will come from the Brazilian. It will be just enough to get by.

    Santos, split decision.

                     

    Rondina

    It's still tough to get a read on how Branch stacks up against the wider UFC middleweight division following his long, successful run in WSOF. Santos will be the test that gives us a definite read, and while he's certainly not an easy test, I'm expecting Branch to pass.

    Branch, unanimous decision.

                     

    Harris

    For years, Branch has been screaming at anyone who will listen that he needs and deserves respect. Here's another chance to grab some. It's a striker-grappler matchup in general, but Branch's stand-up has come a long way as a complement to his jiu-jitsu black belt. Santos' wrestling and grappling are nonexistent beyond his persistent struggle to keep himself vertical so he can play his supremely dangerous kickboxing.

    Branch should smother Santos for a solid, if boring, victory.

    Branch, unanimous decision.

Justin Willis vs. Chase Sherman

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    Justin Willis
    Justin WillisRey Del Rio/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Ryder

    Chase Sherman is a bit more experienced in the UFC. Justin Willis has enjoyed a little bit of success in his recent bouts. This feels like one the promotion put together to see who can land some bungalows first to get a splash of violence on the card before the big names come out. I've got Willis. 

    Willis, KO, Rd. 1.

                             

    McCarter

    Heavyweight MMA can be ugly, and this will probably fall in that category. Give me...Willis? Sure. Throwing darts at a board may be the most effective way to pick this contest.

    Willis, TKO, Rd. 2.

                      

    Rondina

    A coin-flip here, with two flawed heavyweights who can punch hard. Tails. Willis.

    Willis, TKO, Rd. 2.

                  

    Harris

    We have some beefy guys in the cage for this one, and neither has what you would call a deep skill set. Sherman and Willis have 17 pro wins between them—14 came by knockout. This is a step up in competition for Willis, and he doesn't have the deepest gas tank. Sherman bides his time and pulls the upset.

    Sherman, TKO, Rd. 3.

Frankie Edgar vs. Cub Swanson

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    Frankie Edgar
    Frankie EdgarJeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Ryder

    There is plenty of concern over Frankie Edgar getting back in there after Brian Ortega stretched him in March, but for the sport's collective fretting, it doesn't appear anyone was super keen to talk him out of taking this fight. That's probably because, even if he is diminished after a long and brutal career and/or after Ortega rattled his cage, he's just a bad matchup for Cub Swanson. Frankie's back in the win column come Saturday.

    Edgar, unanimous decision.

                 

    McCarter

    Now we hit the real meat and potatoes of the fight card. This is such a fantastic matchup. Both men are on the back end of their careers and looking for a way to get one last title shot. Edgar has more tools to complete that mission, but returning rather quickly from his last bout makes me nervous. Still, I like his ability to get Swanson to the mat repeatedly in a 15-minute battle.

    Edgar, unanimous decision.

                   

    Rondina

    This one won't be as lopsided as their first bout, but it won't be too far off, either. Look for Edgar to take this one to the ground and enjoy heavy top control for the majority of the fight en route to a clean decision.

    Edgar, unanimous decision.

                    

    Harris

    Few fighters have a more complicated relationship with the MMA public than Edgar. Many fans believe he walks on water, pointing to his dominance despite being undersized, his finishes of guys like Yair Rodriguez, his recent willingness to essentially relinquish his claim to a title fight when he accepted that bout with Ortega. Many others view his style as conservative and unexciting to watch, viewing his toughness as an overblown myth.

    In this match, Swanson will tag Edgar a few times, then display improved grappling and wrestling when Edgar shoots for takedowns. Swanson avenges his loss in the first contest.

    Swanson, unanimous decision.

Edson Barboza vs. Kevin Lee

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    Kevin Lee
    Kevin LeeBrandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Ryder

    Kevin Lee straight up needs this win. Edson Barboza is underappreciated as a contender, and beating him has almost been a rite of passage for the lightweight elite over the years. He only loses against the best, and Lee fancies himself that, so he can't lose here. Unfortunately for him, because of Barboza's striking advantage and highly capable takedown defense, he will.

    Barboza, unanimous decision.

                    

    McCarter

    Barboza produces more excitement, but this bout is stylistically made for Lee. The Motown Phenom's grappling should carry him through the early rounds, when Barboza will be most dangerous. That will allow him to establish some dominance in the back half of the fight. There's when Lee can grind out a decision.

    Lee, unanimous decision.

                   

    Rondina

    Barboza's takedown defense is much better than people give him credit for. But it won't be enough against Lee, who will be hungrier, more physical and will get the takedowns necessary to take the W.

    Lee, unanimous decision.

                   

    Harris

    I'm going to echo some of my dudes. Barboza's takedown defense is stellar, and it is the key here. If Lee can't get those, he's not exactly a sitting duck on the feet. However, Barboza is as skilled a striker as there is on the UFC roster.

    Barboza, TKO, Rd. 2.