UFC 226 Predictions: Main Card Staff Picks

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterJuly 4, 2018

UFC 226 Predictions: Main Card Staff Picks

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    Stipe Miocic (left) and Daniel Cormier
    Stipe Miocic (left) and Daniel CormierJeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    A super fight for a super night. Or a super weekend, as the case may be.

    If you're a fight fan, what you want to do, when the sun commences its descent this Friday, is load up on all beverage and Buffalo-style supplies, barricade the entrance to your entertainment area and hunker down around you viewing devices of choice. Because the UFC is about to put on a show.

    If you're reading this, you're probably familiar with the tip of the metaphorical sphere. In the main event of Saturday's UFC 226, heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic and light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier square off in a bona fide cross-divisional super fight.

    Miocic's belt is the one on the line, but there's plenty at stake for both future Hall of Famers. Miocic is still chasing that elusive crossover moment. On the other side, a few birdies are suggesting Cormier might retire if he loses.

    This is merely the culmination, however, the peanut butter cheesecake after the seven-course binge. In the UFC 226 co-main event, Francis Ngannou takes on Derrick Lewis after the great Max Holloway had to withdraw from defending his featherweight belt against a dangerous rising star in Brian Ortega. There are three other fights on the pay-per-view portion, with Paul Felder vs. Mike Perry moving up from the prelims.

    Also, don't forget that the 27th season of The Ultimate Fighter finishes off Friday with a full card of its own. Think of it as the appetizer to the feast. Did someone say Israel Adesanya? Oh yes indeed, and Brad Tavares is the toughest test of the striking phenom's MMA career.

    All told, the two main cards contain a combined 11 bouts. Our picks team is here to shuttle you through it. We have quick picks for Friday's event and our regular main card breakdowns and picks for the big show Saturday. Nathan McCarter, Matthew Ryder, Steven Rondina and myself, Scott Harris, are here to help. Don your sweatpants and let's get it on.

The Ultimate Fighter 27 Finale Quick Picks

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    Israel Adesanya
    Israel AdesanyaJeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Nathan McCarter

    Israel Adesanya

    Mike Trizano

    Brad Katona

    Alex Caceres

    Barb Honchak

    Alessio Di Chirico


    Matthew Ryder

    Brad Tavares

    Joe Giannetti

    Jay Cucciniello


    Roxanne Modafferi

    Julian Marquez


    Steven Rondina






    Di Chirico


    Scott Harris




    Martin Bravo



Gokhan Saki vs. Khalil Rountree

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    Gokhan Saki (left)
    Gokhan Saki (left)Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images


    Stylistically, this favors Khalil Rountree. He should be able to grapple Gokhan Saki for however long he needs, but I'm not going to take him in this one. He has shown too much inconsistency while being incredibly hittable. It's a bad combination versus Saki.

    Saki, KO, Rd. 1



    Some thunder to kick off the main card. Saki's UFC debut was epic, and it leveled his MMA record at 1-1. Rountree is the same sort of reckless slugger, so someone's going to sleep in this one. It's not going to be the Turkish Tyson, either.

    Saki, TKO, Rd. 1



    Did Nathan just suggest that Rountree has a grappling advantage over somebody? Really?! No, Rountree's just going to try to throw hands with Saki, and that's going to go very, very poorly for him.

    Saki, TKO, Rd. 1



    I think there's one thing we can agree on: Someone's getting melted. OddsShark has Saki as a -135 favorite (bet $135 to win $100), and frankly, to me, that's a little generous on the Rountree side. Rountree may have more Octagon experience, but that hasn't made him consistent or well-rounded. Striking-wise, Saki has been at this level for a long time, and he'll stay there Saturday, with extreme prejudice.

    Saki, TKO, Rd. 2

Michael Chiesa vs. Anthony Pettis

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    Michael Chiesa
    Michael ChiesaBrandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images


    This fight truly comes down to which version of Anthony Pettis shows up. Michael Chiesa is a very good fighter but comes up just short against championship-caliber opposition. Pettis has ability, but we are starting to enter "motivated BJ Penn" territory with Pettis as well, trying to justify reasons to believe we'll see the "old" Showtime perform.

    I bit too often on Penn, and I'll bite on Pettis one more time too. Maybe I'm just counting out Chiesa wrongly. Pettis, in a 15-minute fight, gets off first more often to take the bout on the cards.

    Pettis, unanimous decision



    This should be a wild little tilt, as the scrappy Chiesa and the skillful Pettis lock horns. Pettis has looked close to done in his more recent fights, and Chiesa is underrated as a top-end lightweight. He'll get the nod here.

    Chiesa, unanimous decision



    I'm incredibly reluctant to pick Pettis against any top-10-caliber guy these days, but Chiesa is too favorable a stylistic matchup for him. Pettis has a fairly clear striking advantage and should be able to match him move-for-move on the ground. The only avenue to victory for Chiesa is to turn this one into a grinding wrestling match and, honestly, I'm not sure he'll be able to pull it off against somebody as wily as the former champ.

    Pettis, unanimous decision



    This will be the biggest win of Chiesa's UFC career. Rondina said this was a favorable matchup for Pettis; I believe the opposite. I don't see anything preventing Chiesa from closing the distance and putting Pettis on the mat. Pettis has a decent guard but nothing to write home about, and his takedown defense sits at a mediocre 58 percent, according to FightMetric. Pettis doesn't have enough tricks in his grappling/wrestling bag to keep himself upright or keep Chiesa off his back.

    Chiesa, submission, Rd. 2

Paul Felder vs. Mike Perry

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    Paul Felder
    Paul FelderEraldo Peres/Associated Press


    Obviously, I'm rooting for a Paul Felder victory. He's just a good guy against a bad guy. But he is a natural lightweight fighting one of the hardest hitters at 170. I don't really like that setup on short notice. Mike Perry lands and gets him within two.

    Perry, TKO, Rd. 2



    Nathan's spot-on in my book. Felder is the better, smarter fighter, but size matters in MMA. He'll be walking a tightrope against Perry, and while he could pull it off, I envision some small tactical error being met with a stiff elbow in the clinch or a big right hook.

    Perry, TKO, Rd. 3



    Perry is very entertaining but also very limited. Felder is smart and slick and will have an advantage in speed and versatility of attack. I believe he'll put on a surprising performance, get a win and consider staying at 170 for a little bit.

    Felder, unanimous decision



    People forget that Perry is a darn good fighter, but experience wins the day in this one. Felder is as smart as they come, and even on late notice, he'll have a game plan for Perry's striking craft and power.

    Felder, unanimous decision

Francis Ngannou vs. Derrick Lewis

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    Francis Ngannou
    Francis NgannouBrandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images


    Heavy hands will be thrown, and someone will fall. I'll take Francis Ngannou. He understands distance with his strikes, and that'll keep Derrick Lewis too far out to land the big bomb. Also, we've seen Lewis struggle with cardio, whereas Ngannou has survived a 25-minute battle with the champion. Whether it's to the body or head, Ngannou gets the knockout.

    Ngannou, TKO, Rd. 2



    Thumbs-up for booking two banner members of the UFC's All-Violence Team against one another. Look for Lewis to try to wear out Ngannou in the clinch and score a stoppage once the Cameroonian is tired, while Ngannou tries to behead Lewis as soon as the opportunity presents itself. I think Lewis can stay out of trouble and score the upset.

    Lewis, unanimous decision



    I'm taking Ngannou here because he's the better all-around fighter, but this is probably going to be two dudes slugging it out, and under those circumstances, it's pretty much a coin flip.

    Ngannou, TKO, Rd. 2



    How unbelievably fun is this card? This is easily a main event in a less-loaded affair. Both of these men have tremendous power and significant cardio issues. In classic heavyweight fashion, this one includes a lot of slangin', a lot of bangin' and someone hitting the ground sooner rather than later. I'll go with Ngannou because of Lewis' recent injuries and inconsistencies.

    Ngannou, TKO, Rd. 2

Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier

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    Stipe Miocic
    Stipe MiocicGregory Payan/Associated Press


    I love Stipe Miocic, and he is one of the best heavyweights in MMA history, but he is not going to be able to handle Daniel Cormier through five rounds. Their matchup suits Cormier's grinding style. He is a much higher-level grappler than Miocic, and this could be a replay of the Josh Barnett fight from years ago in Strikeforce. The only difference, Cormier will finish in the late rounds.

    If Cormier can survive the first two frames without catching a heater from Miocic, he should be able to wear him down on the fence and with elite-level takedowns. A gassed Miocic takes too many ground-and-pound shots and relinquishes his belt to Cormier. Cormier cements his legacy at UFC 226.

    Cormier, TKO, Rd. 5



    Miocic is a tried-and-true heavyweight—perhaps the best the UFC has ever had—while Cormier's best years have come at 205. Miocic has far more power on the feet, but Cormier's wrestling is on another level, regardless of weight class.

    The (heavyweight) champ is a good wrestler in his own right, though, and I think he'll be able to fend off Cormier long enough or frequently enough to land a big shot and stop DC.

    Miocic, TKO, Rd. 3



    Come on, gentlemen. I appreciate the enthusiasm to chalk this one up as a tough call, but we all know the outcome here. UFC 226 is being contested in Las Vegas. The city that has been home to almost every single "robbery" where champion retains their title via dubious judges' decision.

    Unless Cormier can absolutely dominate Miocic from start to finish, the Clevelander is going to keep his belt. DC is good, don't get me wrong, but the margin for error here is just too slim to pick him.

    Miocic, unanimous decision



    Everyone loves Cormier but this is Miocic's fight. The 5'11" Cormier, with a reach of 72.5 inches, gives up five and seven-and-a-half inches to Miocic in each respective category. Now add in the fact that Miocic is better in pretty much the entire stand-up phase and isn't at a relatively massive disadvantage in the clinch and ground phases. Cormier won't have a big edge in the areas he's known for. He's here to put Miocic over, both in the cage and out, in front of a massive Las Vegas and viewing audience. This is the moment when Miocic's star is truly and finally born.

    Miocic, unanimous decision