UFC 246 Predictions: Bleacher Report Staff Main Card Picks

Kelsey McCarsonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 16, 2020

UFC 246 Predictions: Bleacher Report Staff Main Card Picks

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    Conor McGregor is back.
    Conor McGregor is back.Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    Is Conor McGregor reformed? And can a reformed McGregor perform? That's what we will find out at UFC 246.

    It's been 15 months since we last saw the 31-year-old in the UFC, but McGregor finally returns to action Saturday against the popular Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone.

    Judging by the Irishman's cool new disposition, McGregor seems focused on returning to his former glory as a different sort of person.

    But will New Conor off the mat mean McGregor is different inside the Octagon? And does that leave the door open for Cerrone to score the life-altering upset?

    Several other fighters will be vying for your attention at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

    Can Anthony Pettis get back to his winning ways at lightweight? Does Holly Holm have enough left in the tank to notch another win over Raquel Pennington?

    For these answers and more, the Bleacher Report MMA crew turns its attention toward the main card fights on tap for UFC 246.

Anthony Pettis vs. Carlos Diego Ferreira

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    Is the return to lightweight a good move for Pettis?
    Is the return to lightweight a good move for Pettis?Josh Hedges/Getty Images

    Kelsey McCarson

    I thought Pettis performed well against in the unanimous-decision loss to Nate Diaz at UFC 241, so I'm intrigued about his move back down to the lightweight division. The 32-year-old's stirring knockout of Stephen Thompson in the prior fight was also a big moment, so while I typically don't like it when fighters move up into new weight classes only to go back down again after the fact, I'm not totally convinced Pettis is doing anything wrong here.

    If it is the wrong move, Carlos Diego Ferreira is more than capable of showing us. He's won five straight since getting knocked out by Dustin Poirier in 2015 and appears to have become a much better fighter thereafter. Regardless, I think Pettis scores an important win here in a spot that he's probably not all that expected to do so. 

    Pettis via unanimous decision.

                

    Scott Harris

    Ferreira only has one gear, and it's the highest one. That means defense is lacking, which is dangerous against a creative striker like Pettis. But Ferreira's pressure game can stop Pettis before he starts. 

    Ferreira, TKO, Rd. 1.

                 

    Jonathan Snowden

    Pettis has a lot going on, including a lawsuit in the works against his promoter and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, a weight cut back to 155 pounds and a bout against the kind of unheralded opponent who could easily slide right under his radar. This is a sport that requires a singular focus. At this point in his career, it only feels like we have half of the former champion's attention.

    Ferreira, TKO, Rd. 2.

Claudia Gadelha vs. Alexa Grasso

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    Can Grasso grab the huge win?
    Can Grasso grab the huge win?Hector Vivas/Getty Images

    Kelsey McCarson

    People thought Grasso had a decently high ceiling when he entered the UFC undefeated back in 2016—or at least that's what the UFC probably wanted to believe since she seemed like a promotable commodity to trot out in Mexico. But Grasso has alternated wins and losses during her six fights with the company, so she needs a win to start making good on her promise.

    Claudia Gadelha is older, more experienced and has probably achieved more. She's split wins and losses over her past four fights but should present Grasso with a tough problem to solve.

    Color me the optimist, but I still think Grasso can become a big part of the UFC's plans to continue expanding its presence in Mexico. It's an even fight, but Grasso gets the nod from me based on her youth and solid work rate.

    Grasso via split decision.

             

    Scott Harris

    Once a prominent face in the strawweight division, Gadelha has seen harder times of late, going 2-2 in her -past four. Nina Ansaroff overwhelmed Gadelha with volume striking back in 2018, and in her most recent fight, Gadelha won a tedious affair over Randa Markos.

    Grasso stumbled out of the gate in the UFC and sports a 3-2 record. She's coming off a loss but looked good in a Fight of the Night performance against Carla Esparza in September. Grasso gets the slim nod in a fight I'm a little afraid to watch.

    Grasso via split decision.

                   

    Jonathan Snowden

    As Scott pointed out, Gadhela's past couple of fights have been pure drudgery, particularly her bout with Markos, which ranks among the worst of 2019. But styles, as I just made up right here on the spot, make fights. In this case, Grasso has trouble stopping the takedown. Expect Gadhela to push her into the cage, drop her to the mat and finish the contest with a submission, shocking all those expecting an endless starefest. 

    Gadhela, Submission, Rd. 1.

Aleksei Oleinik vs. Maurice Greene

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    Oleinik's last stand?
    Oleinik's last stand?Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images

    Kelsey McCarson

    Aleksei Oleinik has been around MMA for what seems like forever. The 42-year-old has done it all across various MMA promotions, but the next thing he needs to do keep his career going is to defeat Maurice Greene.

    Each fighter is badly in need of a win, but Oleinik has the added pressure of being way older and having lots more wear and tear on his body. Still, sometimes that kind of thing can drive a fighter to perform at a high level. Plus, the Boa Constrictor should have the edge in the fight if he can work Greene on to the mat. Greene's best chance is to land something hard to get the stoppage. He's capable, but I'm not sure the American gets the job done against as savvy a competitor as Oleinik

    Oleinik, Submission, Rd. 2.

              

    Scott Harris

    Greene is about to break out in a big way. If you haven't heard of him, The Ultimate Fighter 28 semifinalist is 3-1 in the UFC with a striking and a submission finish. Everyone loves Oleynik, but he's 42 and was knocked out in his past two contests. He appears to be set up on a tee here.

    Greene, KO, Rd. 2.

                  

    Jonathan Snowden

    Oleinik has had 71 professional prizefights. Frankly, that's kind of amazing. But the only ones that matter are those in the recent past—the fights that demonstrate where he is as an athlete in 2020. And those bouts tell two stories as different as night and day.

    In one, he's caught early by an opponent's stiff blow. In the heavyweight class, that's pretty much all of them. He doesn't recover and loses early and definitively.

    In the other, he takes his hapless foe to the mat and submits him easily.

    There are no other Oleinik stories to be told anymore. So which book will he open Saturday?

    Oleinik, Submission, Rd. 2. 

Holly Holm vs. Raquel Pennington

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    Holm and Pennington are set for a rematch.
    Holm and Pennington are set for a rematch.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Kelsey McCarson

    Holly Holm is 38 and has lost five of her past seven fights. That's a far cry from the undefeated terror who shockingly dethroned Ronda Rousey at UFC 193 in 2015. In fact, it's fair to wonder whether Holm is closer to retirement than she is of accomplishing her stated goal of recapturing UFC gold.  

    Meanwhile, Raquel Pennington has done the exact opposite. She's won five of her past seven fights and is seven years Holm's junior. In the first fight, which was Holm's first UFC appearance, Holm sneaked by Pennington via split decision. I like the same result to happen his time around but the opposite way. Holm is the better technician, but Pennington will outwork her over the course of the fight. 

    Pennington via split decision.

                    

    Scott Harris

    Has there been a more deflating UFC career to watch than Holm's? The likable, exciting and marketable Holm had the world at her feet after that 2015 knockout for the ages against Ronda Rousey. Since then, the kickboxing ace has gone a dismal 2-5, most recently suffering a slaughter at the hands of Amanda Nunes in July. Holm took a split decision over Pennington in their first bout, also in 2015, but this will be different. Holm has to prove she can still beat top UFC competition; this may be her last chance to do so.

    Pennington via unanimous decision.

                   

    Jonathan Snowden

    By the third round of their first fight, Pennington was consistently beating Holm to the punch, clearly taking the stanza (and, some believed, the fight). That wasn't quite five years ago, but it feels like it was in another lifetime. Neither fighter is the same woman she was the first time they stepped into the cage, with the promise of the future replaced mostly by a string of disappointments. 

    Holm, if this is possible to believe, will be even more careful and disciplined. It won't be pretty, but she figures out fighters like Pennington and will simply execute a game plan that minimizes all risk. 

    Holm via unanimous decision.

Conor McGregor vs. Donald Cerrone

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    Conor vs. Cowboy
    Conor vs. CowboyAssociated Press

    Kelsey McCarson

    McGregor hasn't won a fight in the UFC since he beat Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 in 2016 to become the promotion's original "champ champ." That's was a long time ago, but it's not as if McGregor has been doing nothing since then. 

    I mean, seriously. Has anyone fought tougher competition over their past two fights than McGregor in his efforts to outbox Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2017 and attempt to usurp undefeated dynamo Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229 in 2018? 

    Cerrone is no joke. He's a dangerous and well-rounded fighter who's proved to be a solid contender all these years. But McGregor's higher level of athleticism and top-class striking skills will notch him the big win in short order. He's just the way better fighter.

    McGregor, KO, Rd. 1.

               

    Scott Harris

    After Cerrone gets knocked out, you shouldn't feel too bad for him. There's a massive payday coming his way. Cerrone is going to put up a fight. He's going to bring his muay thai. The two men are going to high-five a couple times. This one's going nowhere near the ground. McGregor puts on the pressure, gets Cerrone on his heels and delivers a redemptive knockout.

    McGregor, KO, Rd. 2.

                 

    Jonathan Snowden

    McGregor is 25 pounds removed from his best weight class, and it's been almost four years since he's been more man than meme. Who will show up in the cage to fight Cowboy, a thoroughly washed fighter who barely rose to the level of contender on his best day?

    Who can say?

    But if McGregor can't win this fight, it's hard to imagine him against a truly elite fighter in the year of our Lord 2020.

    McGregor, KO, Rd. 2.