UFC 238 Predictions: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Picks

Bleacher Report Combat Sports StaffFeatured ColumnistJune 6, 2019

UFC 238 Predictions: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Picks

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    Fight fans are rightfully excited about UFC 238 in Chicago on Saturday night. 

    The card is stacked from top to bottom with elite fighters and fascinating matchups. Henry Cejudo's showdown with Marlon Moraes headlines the card, with the former looking to add the vacant bantamweight belt to his flyweight title and become the latest UFC "champ-champ."

    Another championship is on the line in the co-main event when Valentina Shevchenko defends her flyweight hardware, as well as her reputation as one of the most dominant fighters in the world, against Jessica Eye. 

    The card just keeps getting better from there with a much-anticipated bout between Tony Ferguson and Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone, which promises to deliver edge-of-your-seat action and has major implications in a loaded lightweight division.

    Rising star Petr Yan and knockout artist Tai Tuivasa round out the main card with fights against Jimmie Rivera and Blagoy Ivanov, respectively, if you're not intrigued enough already. 

    Read on to see whom Bleacher Report's MMA expert panel of Jeremy Botter, Scott Harris, Nathan McCarter and Jonathan Snowden are picking to win each fight on the main card. 

Henry Cejudo vs. Marlon Moraes

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    Jeremy Botter

    Former champion TJ Dillashaw has been discarded into the trash pile reserved for high-level cheaters, which means we have to determine a new bantamweight champion.

    And what a fight it is.

    It has been a thrill to watch Henry Cejudo's star rise from the regional scene. His personality still leans heavy on cringeworthy moments, but as a fighter, there's no one better or more fun to watch.

    And what more can be said about Moraes? He shone so brightly outside the UFC and continued shining once he signed with the UFC (never a foregone conclusion).

    This is a pairing of maybe the two best lighter-weight fighters in the UFC, and the result should be fireworks, even if few will tune in specifically to see this fight.

    If Cejudo beats Moraes, which is what I'm predicting, the long-expected death knell of the flyweight division will finally and mercifully ring out.

    Cejudo, KO, Rd. 3


    Scott Harris

    It's funny that this is called the "vacant" bantamweight title. I have a question: Which UFC title is not vacant at this point? Do they have any worth anymore outside the salvage market?

    Moraes just keeps getting better and better, kind of defying the odds in the realm of possibility. He's the sexy pick here, but all of Cejudo's opponents seem to have an edge in that area. Give me the Olympic power wrestler coming off an easier weight cut.

    Cejudo, unanimous decision


    Nathan McCarter

    I really don't know what to expect here.

    Moraes has had amazing success as the smaller fighter, and he rarely gets to be the bigger man. Here, against Cejudo, he has that rare advantage.

    His technique on his feet will be aided by the size advantage enough to keep Cejudo at bay. He'll find the mark at some point in the first 10 minutes to stun and finish the flyweight king.

    Moraes, TKO, Rd. 2


    Jonathan Snowden

    Cejudo seems likely to fall into a predictable trap here, putting too much faith in his newfound striking prowess and forgetting the tool set that brought him to the top of the sport.

    This happens a lot with high-level wrestlers when the threat of the takedown distracts opponents enough for the wrestler to land a few heavy punches. They start to believe they're Andy Ruiz Jr. when they're really Butterbean.

    If Cejudo believes he can strike with Moraes, this could be a bad night.

    Moraes, KO, Rd. 2

Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jessica Eye

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    The women's flyweight division now resembles the men's flyweight division during the reign of Demetrious Johnson: There is Shevchenko, and then there is everyone else.

    Jessica Eye is a good fighter who has put together a respectable career, but to say she is many levels below Shevchenko might be an understatement. This is also the UFC's thinnest division (outside of women's featherweight, which barely qualifies as a division at all).

    This division will belong to Bullet for as long as she wants it to, and every fight is merely a showcase for her talents against an opponent lucky enough to string a couple of wins together. 

    Shevchenko, submission, Rd. 2



    Eye has no chance here. Shevchenko is an electric muay thai striker. Her approach is, shall we say, disciplined, hence her penchant for close decisions, but she's still one of the best and most popular female MMA fighters today for good reason. Only Amanda Nunes is demonstrably better at this point.

    Eye has turned her career around since returning to flyweight, but her key strength, wrestling, isn't good enough to threaten Shevchenko. Ready the dance music.

    Shevchenko, unanimous decision



    I won't completely write off Eye in this fight. She still has a well-rounded game, decent power and can make it gritty. We've seen stranger things happen. But picking the upset would be silly.

    Shevchenko just has way too big of an edge in this matchup. The accumulation of damage will be too much for Eye after the first three rounds.

    Shevchenko, TKO, Rd. 4



    It doesn't matter how good or bad a Shevchenko opponent is; they have a good chance of dragging her the distance. More than 70 percent of her UFC fights, in fact, have ended in the hands of the judges.

    At some point, that's going to lead to an adverse result. This won't be that night.

    Shevchenko, unanimous decision

Tony Ferguson vs. Donald Cerrone

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    Ferguson has not lost in seven years. Cerrone has not fought in at least seven days. Both men are the best the lightweight division has to offer not named Khabib. Both men are incredibly tough fighters in very different ways. And both of them will try things in the cage just because it seems fun in the moment.

    You can see why this is the most anticipated fight on the UFC 238 card, right? There's nobody else like Ferguson in mixed martial arts. And clearly, there is nobody like Cerrone, who has seemingly intended to take some time off for the past 10 years or so and then says yes to any fight he's offered.

    That willingness has hurt him in the past, but it has also paid dividends, and we're going to see that happen again. Cerrone is rightfully the underdog, but it's fair to wonder how Ferguson will respond to being in the Octagon after his wife Cristina filed a domestic violence restraining order and the release of recent police reports detailing unstable behavior in March.

    Cerrone will execute a measured, cautious and diligent game plan for the biggest win of his career and a shot at either the lightweight title or Conor McGregor later this year.

    Cerrone, KO, Rd. 3



    You're going to want to batten down the hatches for this one. Go ahead, I'll wait. Batten them down.

    Cerrone is fighting for roughly the 17th time this year, whereas this is Ferguson's first foray of 2019.

    After the layoff and frustration over matchmaking and the like, Ferguson will be a man possessed. Make ready for blood.

    Ferguson, TKO, Rd. 2



    I had to stop and fan myself before writing my prediction down. The thought of this fight raises my heart rate and body temp.

    I am going against my better judgment and taking Cerrone. The personal troubles have to have an effect on a fighter preparing for an elite-level contest.

    Meanwhile, Cerrone has been more calm and relaxed during his return to lightweight. Cerrone will hurt Ferguson in a wild exchange and shut off the lights to get his second UFC title shot.

    Cerrone, KO, Rd. 2



    The Cerrone comeback tour has featured some clever matchmaking, with smoke and mirrors obfuscating the fact that his three consecutive victories have come against second-tier competition. The last time he was in with elite fighters, back in 2017, he lost three consecutive bouts instead.

    Ferguson's string of injuries makes him an unknown quantity at this point. But if the past can serve as a predictor, Cerrone will falter when the competition heats up.

    Ferguson, submission, Rd. 2

Jimmie Rivera vs. Petr Yan

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    This is a classic Joe Silva/Sean Shelby Special: Use a fighter with some name recognition (Rivera) to put over a clearly superior young talent who needs a win over someone with name recognition.

    Rivera is a good fighter, but he's already reached his ceiling; Yan has not. Yan should blow right past Rivera and continue on the path to title contention.

    Yan, unanimous decision



    This has the makings of a coming-out party for the Russian with the pyrotechnic striking. Yan will look to shed his prospect status against the New Jersey native, who has cooled off after a white-hot winning streak, dropping two of three over the past year.

    The veteran has rock-solid boxing and wrestling and will try to use his counterfighting to neutralize Yan's forward pressure. He will not be successful.

    Yan, TKO, Rd. 1



    Scott hit the nail on the head. It has the look and feel of a showcase fight to move Yan into the contender's pool. Rivera will provide a good, stiff test but won't offer something Yan cannot handle. He won't quite finish Rivera, but it'll be a clean sweep for Yan.

    Yan, unanimous decision



    The matchmakers are clearly testing Yan before truly tossing him into the deep end. I hope he can swim, because he'll be out with the sharks in his next fight.

    Yan, unanimous decision

Tai Tuivasa vs. Blagoy Ivanov

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    The first thing that pops into my brain when I hear/see the name Tai Tuivasa is the mental imagery of him drinking beer from a sweaty, disgusting shoe.

    Though it is not likely, Tuivasa might go on to become the greatest heavyweight fighter this sport has ever seen, and the first thing I'll associate with him even then is the "shoey."

    The pathway from prospect to hopeful attraction is much shorter for UFC heavyweights than any other division. The combination of heavyweight being a "prestige" division and a lack of depth means anyone with a modicum of personality or gimmickry will, upon winning a couple of fights in a row, find himself quickly matched up against the upper tier of the division.

    This was the case with Tuivasa, but also with Ivanov, and both men were quickly found wanting against Junior Dos Santos.

    Ivanov is in the driver's seat here, at least in terms of overall skill, but Tuivasa's caution-to-the-wind style (and the fact that he's a man who eagerly drinks liquids from a stranger's disgusting shoe) makes him dangerous against anyone on any night. I like him to win here.

    Tuivasa, KO, Rd. 2



    A plug-and-play UFC pay-per-view curtain-jerker. These heavyweights have 16 knockouts between them. If you take the pound-for-pound qualifier out of it, Tuivasa is neck-and-neck with Derrick Lewis for the UFC's hardest puncher. His only UFC loss to date was to Junior Dos Santos. He'll get back in the win column over a game but limited Ivanov.

    Tuivasa, KO, Rd. 3



    I'm not sure what to make of Tuivasa at the moment. It feels like he's just going to settle into a role of being a fun heavyweight good for a scrap. It's not a terrible role, but it doesn't lend itself to rising very far up the ranks against more competent, strategy-minded opponents, which is why Ivanov is the pick; a better execution of a game plan leads to a decision win.

    Ivanov, unanimous decision



    Ivanov is most famous for beating the great Fedor Emelianenko in a sambo match. Tuivasa, on the other hand, is best known for drinking beer out of a shoe. Pick a side.

    Ivanov, unanimous decision