UFC 234 Predictions: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Picks

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterFebruary 7, 2019

UFC 234 Predictions: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Picks

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    Robert Whittaker after a recent title defense
    Robert Whittaker after a recent title defenseJohn Locher/Associated Press

    "Can you hear, can't you hear the thunder?" UFC 234 is coming to you from Down Under.

    That song lyric is very fitting, courtesy of Men at Work, for the event, which goes down from Australia and features two of Oceania's finest at the top of its pay-per-view card.

    In the main event, Australian Robert Whittaker puts his middleweight title on the line against Kelvin Gastelum, an outstanding and proven youngster vying for his first UFC championship.

    The co-main event features arguably the UFC's fastest-rising star, Israel Adesanya, as the New Zealander faces his idol and GOAT contender Anderson Silva in another middleweight match. A challenge against the Whittaker-Gastelum rival will be quick to follow on the heels of an Adesanya victory, which is widely expected in part because Silva is 43 years old.

    Those are only two of the five fights on the main card, which should start approximately 10 p.m. ET Saturday. Here to break it down is a newly reconstituted Bleacher Report picks team: Nathan McCarter, Jonathan Snowden and myself, Scott Harris. Let's get it on.

Jim Crute vs. Sam Alvey

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    Jim Crute
    Jim CruteChris Unger/DWTNCS LLC/Getty Images

    Nathan McCarter

    Jim Crute is an undefeated hometown fighter the UFC wants to promote as a success from Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series. While Sam Alvey isn't a walk in the park, he was clearly chosen as a favorable matchup for the Aussie. Crute impressed with his submission win over Paul Craig, and I see no reason why he couldn't have a similar result here. Crute kicks off the PPV with an exciting finish.

    Crute, submission, Rd. 2


    Jonathan Snowden

    This is supposed to be a showcase fight for Crute, an exciting prospect with the home edge. But UFC has a tendency to screw things like this up, so I suspect Alvey will smile through the boos when he's announced as the winner.

    Alvey, unanimous decision   


    Scott Harris

    Unless or until Alvey stops walking out to Train, I can't pick him to win a fight. Alvey vs. a rocking chair? He's gonna get rocked. Crute is a green but fun fighter who showed on Dana White's reality show that he knows how to make the crowd cheer. He'll spark a brawl against Alvey and test a suddenly questionable chin.

    Crute, TKO, Rd. 1

Montana De La Rosa vs. Nadia Kassem

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    Montana De La Rosa (left) and Nadia Kassem
    Montana De La Rosa (left) and Nadia KassemVince Caligiuri/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images


    I haven't seen enough film on Kassem to really know what her ceiling is, but I have seen enough from De La Rosa to feel confident in her abilities. Look for De La Rosa to utilize her grappling to dominate and submit Kassem within the first round.

    De La Rosa, submission, Rd. 1



    I considered pretending to have a strong opinion about this one. The truth is, neither has shown enough for me to really have a solid grasp on what they are capable of.

    Kassem, unanimous decision



    I'd feel a touch irresponsible if I assessed this matchup without noting the UFC's tendency, as wrong-headed or objectionable as it may be, to create women's matchups that contain a fairly clear, shall we say, visual component. Now, obviously the UFC doesn't come right out and acknowledge this, and beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, but you can't really ignore the conventional-attractiveness boxes that this fight checks off.

    Without them, it's hard to explain this bout's presence on a UFC pay-per-view. De La Rosa (9-4) is a grappler perhaps best known for tapping to Mackenzie Dern in the latter's second pro bout on a regional circuit. Still, she should have an edge over Kassem, a 5-0 fighter who won her UFC debut over Alex Chambers, who has a UFC record of 1-4. Kassem is a good athlete, but De La Rosa will cruise.

    De La Rosa, unanimous decision

Rani Yahya vs. Ricky Simon

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    Rani Yahya
    Rani YahyaJosh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images


    Rani Yahya has quietly been on a roll lately, and I don't see that stopping against Ricky Simon. This is a jump up in competition for Simon, and he is simply catching the Brazilian at the wrong time. Yahya keeps the submission train rolling at UFC 234.

    Yahya, submission, Rd. 2



    Yahya is one of the best grapplers in all of mixed martial arts. He's won three in a row by submission. This should be No. 4.

    Yahya, submission, Rd. 2



    Striker vs. grappler matchup incoming. Simon is a bit of berserker. His love for the brawl is like a ticking clock. Can he catch Yahya? He most definitely can. But he hasn't shown any inkling of self-preservation to this point, and that spells trouble against a jiu-jitsu wizard like Yahya.

    Yahya, submission, Rd. 2

Israel Adesanya vs. Anderson Silva

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    Israel Adesanya
    Israel AdesanyaJulio Cortez/Associated Press


    Would you pick any upper-echelon middleweight to lose to Anderson Silva in 2019? Not me. This seems tailor-made for Israel Adesanya. The hardcore MMA base is set to be very sad when Adesanya puts Silva into the shadow realm and becomes the next title challenger at 185 pounds.

    Adesanya, KO, Rd. 1



    This fight is very interesting. Simply put, Silva is the single greatest fighter in the history of the middleweight division. Adesanya is still searching for his first signature win. This may not be the walk in the park he expects. Still, when in doubt, always go with the young guy over a man with flecks of white in his beard.

    Adesanya, KO, Rd. 1



    This is a mismatch. That's all there is to it and that's the end of the discussion. Silva is 43 years old now, and this is a showcase fight for the electric young star who will challenge for the middleweight title as soon as this one's over. It won't take long.

    Adesanya, TKO, Rd. 1

Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum

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    Robert Whittaker
    Robert WhittakerJohn Locher/Associated Press


    I am all aboard the Bobby Knuckles train. Kelvin Gastelum poses some issues with his grappling, but Whittaker defended and brutalized Jacare Souza. That alleviated those concerns. Whittaker's ability to keep a high pace on his feet while landing at a clip will drain Gastelum. Whittaker outworks Gastelum and puts him away in the fourth. And still.

    Whittaker, TKO, Rd. 4



    Whittaker is clearly one of the best fighters in the world. But there's a voice whispering in my head, a nagging little font of doubt spreading nothing but rumors and innuendo, telling me he's been injured too early and too often in his career to truly become a legend of the sport. The wheels start falling off here.

    Gastelum, TKO, Rd. 2



    For all his injury troubles and the fits and starts they've created, the champ is 8-0 since moving to middleweight. Use any filter you want and he's still one of the toughest fighters on the roster. Gastelum's game is built on pressure, wrestling and stamina, but it won't be enough against a veteran as seasoned as Whittaker. He's seen worse.

    Whittaker, unanimous decision