UFC 241 Predictions: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Picks

Nathan McCarter@McCarterNFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2019

UFC 241 Predictions: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Picks

0 of 5

    Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Honda Center in Anaheim, California, is the stage. UFC 241 heads just outside of The Happiest Place on Earth on Saturday to become The Most Violent Place on Earth for one night.

    Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic are going to run back their UFC 226 clash in the main event. Cormier took the UFC heavyweight championship from Miocic, the most successful UFC champion to date, and became a double champion on that night. A year later, Miocic seeks redemption and reclamation of his title belt.

    Nate Diaz returns after three years to challenge Anthony Pettis in the co-main event. The former lightweight contenders are now welterweight contenders, and each man is seeking a big performance to inch closer to a golden opportunity.

    Those are just the main events. Three more powerful bouts fill out the docket for UFC 241, and the Bleacher Report crew is back to look in the crystal ball.

    Scott Harris, Nathan McCarter and Jonathan Snowden gather 'round the circular table and take out the tarot cards to give you the winners of the five main card bouts. Want to join the fun? These are your UFC 241 staff picks.

Derek Brunson vs. Ian Heinisch

1 of 5

    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Scott Harris

    Both of these men are wrestle-boxers at their core, but Derek Brunson has a few more items in the tool box. Ian Heinisch is a fun fighter who will stay in the UFC mix but Brunson is too much too soon for Heinisch, who has a relatively paltry two fights in the UFC proper.

    Brunson, TKO, Rd. 2.


    Jonathan Snowden

    These two are mirror images of each other. Brunson, a well-worn UFC veteran, has the experience edge, while Heinisch brings relative youth and impressive pace and cardio to the table. While it's early in his career for this fight, Heinisch has the tools to compete with Brunson in the wrestling game and the pop to demand respect when they are swinging those meat hooks. I sense a changing of the guard here on the outskirts of the middleweight top 10.

    Heinisch, TKO, Rd. 2.


    Nathan McCarter

    My colleagues have broken down this fight well and told the story of the fight. Is it too much too soon for Heinisch, or is Brunson shopworn at this point? Given Brunson's two recent losses are to elite middleweights and he returned from those earlier this year with a victory, I'll go with the former. Brunson should be able to dictate this fight and control where it goes. An ugly 15-minute grind is in order for the opening contest.

    Brunson, unanimous decision.

Gabriel Benitez vs. Sodiq Yusuff

2 of 5

    Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images


    Following a relatively unremarkable in-cage run on the first installment of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America (the same one that uncovered Yair Rodriguez, by the way), Gabriel Benitez has quietly assembled a pretty impressive 5-2 UFC record. And he's getting better. Sodiq Yusuff is a flashy prospect with strength and remarkable knockout power, but Benitez and his wrestling base should stop him from getting off. Sound the upset alarms.

    Benitez, unanimous decision.



    This under-the-radar fight has the potential to be the best of the night. Both fighters are on winning streaks and present an interesting contrast in styles. Benitez has wicked kicks from distance, but once in boxing range it's clobbering time for Yussuf. Whoever dictates where the fight goes down will likely fight a top-15 opponent next, so the stakes are relatively high for an undercard match.

    Yussuf, unanimous decision.



    This will be a fun one, but I am not comfortable enough to pick Benitez. He has been out of action for more than a year. While it is possible he can return to form quickly given the stylistic matchup against Yussuf—it's too risky. Yussuf has been more active and impressive in each of his recent outings. Benitez will get baited into a slugfest and eat the canvas early.

    Yussuf, KO, Rd. 1.

Yoel Romero vs. Paulo Costa

3 of 5

    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images


    These might be the two most imposing physical specimens on the UFC roster outside of, and maybe even including, Francis Ngannou. Paulo Costa's not going to be able to use his favorite tactic—basically TKO by bum rush—against the Olympic wrestler. Yoel Romero will grind him down with wrestling.

    Romero, unanimous decision.



    This is going to be a barnburner. I expect Costa to charge in for the knockout over and over again, only to run into a bunch of takedowns from the former Olympian. At least that would be what I'd expect against a normal elite wrestler.

    But Romero is a bit of a wild card—he might just make this a kickboxing match and attempt to prove his supremacy on the feet. If that happens, sound the upset klaxon.

    Costa, KO, Rd. 3.



    For all of the hype we give to Paulo Costa, it makes it seem as if he is an active fighter who has been on a tear. He has been on a tear, but he only fought once in 2018, and this is his first fight of 2019. There may be a bit of an oversell on Costa, as there are still a lot of questions that need answering regarding his potential status as a contender. Romero will help to answer those.

    Romero hasn't been seen since UFC 225, but we know who he is. Will Father Time finally catch up to him? Not just yet. Romero has gone 25 strong minutes before, but Costa has never fought past 2:38 of the second round. Romero's wrestling will ruin Costa's cardio and set him up to be knocked out in the final frame.

    Romero, KO, Rd. 3.

Anthony Pettis vs. Nate Diaz

4 of 5

    Kevork Djansezian/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images


    Boy, do I ever want to take Nate Diaz here. Who doesn't want to see a vintage Diaz-style fight followed by a tantalizing return to the top end of the wild and woolly welterweight division. Do you think anyone would shell out to watch Diaz take on Jorge Masvidal? Holy cannoli. But I can't do it. Can you believe it's been three years since his most recent fight? Can you believe he's 34? Anthony Pettis, meanwhile, is coming off a return to welterweight and an impressive knockout of Stephen Thompson.

    Pettis is a close favorite, but a favorite nonetheless with Caesars, for his relatively powerful striking and multi-point creativity. And it's a virtual lock that he will earn his fourth consecutive post-fight bonus, this time for Fight of the Night.

    Pettis, unanimous decision.



    For three years fans, have been fantasy booking Nate Diaz against the best fighters in the world. His name has been dropped as a potential opponent for everyone from Jorge Masvidal to Khabib Nurmagomedov. And for three years, Diaz has sat on the sidelines, seemingly content with just living life as Nate Diaz.

    In the blink of an eye, Diaz is 34 and almost an afterthought. The last time he stepped into the cage, Miesha Tate, Demetrious Johnson and Eddie Alvarez were all UFC champions. Heck, it was so long ago that Conor McGregor was still an active UFC fighter!

    That's a lot of ring rust to work off. And Pettis is no tuneup fight. I don't like Diaz's chances here.

    Pettis, TKO, Rd. 2.



    Pettis is the smart play here. He has performed well, even in losses, over the past three years while Diaz has been inactive. And he looks great at 170. But I will still side with Stockton.

    While Diaz, Tony Ferguson and Max Holloway are not mirror images of one another, they share certain traits. Traits that have been the downfall of Pettis. A ruthless output of strikes while attacking the body. Holloway did it and wilted Pettis in the third. Ferguson did it and forced a corner stoppage after the second. Diaz hasn't fought in three years, but he has cardio for days. He will press Pettis and chip away at him.

    Diaz won't put a beating on him like Ferguson did, but he will still wear him down and finish him. It will just come a little later.

    Diaz, TKO, Rd. 3.

UFC Heavyweight Championship: Daniel Cormier vs. Stipe Miocic

5 of 5

    Sam Wasson/Getty Images


    I'm not going to try to have my cake and eat it too by saying I love the underdog before picking the favorite. I think Daniel Cormier's got this one. Stipe Miocic's primary skill is his hands, but he was bested there last time, and not just because of the knockout punch. On the ground or the clinch, it isn't close. Cormier has never had meaningful trouble with anyone not named Jon Jones. That said, Miocic is a great fighter, and there's a chance he could stick and move his way to a win—and his seven-inch reach advantage could be a huge factor. Still, I'm taking Cormier with a clear conscience.

    Cormier, unanimous decision.



    Cormier, after a lifetime of losing the big one, capped his Hall of Fame-worthy career with a legitimate UFC title win over Stipe Miocic. If life wer a movie, he would have walked away from athletic competition, champion at last.

    Real life, however, is often more complicated than fiction—and Cormier was loath to walk away with an enormous Brock Lesnar-size payday lurking just beyond his reach. When Lesnar decided to go back to WWE instead, Cormier was left with no partner for his final dance.

    Enter Miocic.

    While no Lesnar, the former champion at least represents a recognizable name. But this is lose-lose scenario for Cormier. Another win will elicit a yawn; a loss will lead to whispers his first victory was a fluke. There is no real winning for Cormier here, except in the technical sense of having his hand raised in the end. That much, at least, he should be able to work out for himself.

    Cormier, unanimous decision.



    I am not going to sell Miocic's chances short in the rematch, but I am also not picking him to win. I picked Cormier the first time around, and not too much has changed since.

    Miocic's pathway to victory is rather narrow. He is not the better boxer and certainly not the better wrestler. He has heavyweight power, though, and that is his chance. Cormier does leave a few holes in his stand-up to be caught. I just wouldn't bet on Miocic being the guy to catch him. Cormier is going to bully him against the fence early in this meeting and end up on top after a takedown.

    Punishing ground-and-pound opens up a choke, and Cormier closes the show with a tap out.

    Cormier, submission, Rd. 2.