UFC 252 Predictions: Bleacher Report Staff Main Card Picks

Kelsey McCarsonFeatured ColumnistAugust 13, 2020

UFC 252 Predictions: Bleacher Report Staff Main Card Picks

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    UFC 252 features one of the most important fights in heavyweight history.

    UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic takes on former two-division champ Daniel Cormier in a trilogy capper that will help future historians define which fighter deserves to be listed as the best heavyweight champion ever.

    In the co-main event, rising bantamweight phenom Sean O'Malley steps under his brightest lights yet to take on tough contender Marlon Vera.

    Among the rest of the important contests on the card, the one that stands out most is a riveting heavyweight collision between former champ Junior dos Santos and hopeful title challenger Jairzinho Rozenstruik.

    UFC 252: Miocic vs. Cormier 3 takes place on Saturday at UFC APEX in Las Vegas.

    Click through to read our staff's main card predictions and be sure to leave your own in the comments.

John Dodson vs. Merab Dvalishvili

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    Can Merab Dvalishvili keep his win streak going?
    Can Merab Dvalishvili keep his win streak going?Mel Evans/Associated Press

    Kelsey McCarson

    Dodson, 35, is an athletic marvel with speed and power. Dvalishvili, 29, has won four straight fights entering UFC 252, but I'm not sure he'll be able to impress the judges enough in three rounds to score the win over "The Magician." I like Dodson to pull the mild upset in this spot.

    Dodson via unanimous decision.

                 

    Scott Harris

    Dodson has never quite lived up to his hype, has he? Remember during his flyweight days when he was seen as the biggest threat to Demetrious Johnson? It didn't materialize that way, and his inability to mature his game beyond his obvious athleticism has caught up to him. His long periods of inaction during fights don't endear him to fans, either.

    Meanwhile, Dvalishvili is the latest standout from the Serra-Longo fight team. He's a grappler through and through. Can he catch Dodson and impose his will? That's not as tall of an order as it once was. The up-and-comer takes a snoozer and notches the biggest win of his pro career.

    Dvalishvili via unanimous decision.

                  

    Tom Taylor

    This looks like a fight between a guy on the way up and a guy on the way out. Dvalishvili has rattled off four straight wins and seems to be finding his groove; Dodson is 2-3 in his last five and looks like a shell of the fighter he once was.

    While Dodson's big-stage experience is an interesting X-factor in this matchup, I think youth prevails this time around. Dvalishvili will do what he always does and drag his foe into a grappling hell from beginning to end.

    Dvalishvili by unanimous decision.

                   

    Lyle Fitzsimmons

    If you took the best version of both men, it might look different. But so long as this is a match between a 35-year-old guy who's batted .500 since losing the second of two title tries five years ago and a 29-year-old who has won four fights in a row since a shaky start to his UFC run, it will follow the predictable script.

    The jiu-jitsu ace is taller and longer in addition to being younger, and it feels like his momentum will be enough to counter whatever scent of glory still lingers in Dodson's nostrils.

    Dvalishvili via unanimous decision.

Junior Dos Santos vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik

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    Will experience or youth take the day in this heavyweight match?
    Will experience or youth take the day in this heavyweight match?Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Kelsey McCarson

    Dos Santos, 36, has last two straight fights entering his UFC 252 bout against Rozenstruik, 32, who was wiped out by Francis Ngannou in his last fight. So both contenders badly need a win if they hope to stay within a reasonable distance of challenging for a heavyweight title.

    While Rozenstruik is younger and a feared puncher, I think Dos Santos has a better overall MMA skill set, and he'll use that plus some veteran guile to score the win.

    Dos Santos via unanimous decision.

                

    Scott Harris

    No one should read much into the 20-second knockout loss Rozenstruik suffered against Francis Ngannou in his last fight. Unless you want to read into it that Ngannou is a terrifying monster, in which case read away.

    I spoke to Rozenstruik earlier this week, and he said he learned a surprising amount from that 20 seconds. It appears those lessons will translate into a more measured approach, rather than a willy-nilly effort to make a new highlight. That spells trouble for Dos Santos.

    His resume speaks for itself, but the fact remains that he's lost his last two by knockout. Rozenstruik may be more conservative Saturday than he was before, but he's still the kind of headhunter Dos Santos would rather not face at this shop-worn stage of his career.

    Rozenstruik, KO, Rd. 2.

                      

    Tom Taylor

    I feel like we've been here before. Junior Dos Santos, one of the greatest heavyweights of an era, has experienced a few tough losses, and people are ready to read his eulogy.

    Not so fast! Just like Dos Santos bounced back from past losses to Cain Velasquez, Alistair Overeem and Stipe Miocic, I expect him to emerge from his current slump with a nice win over Rozenstruik.

    Even at 36, he's still fast, still powerful and still reasonably durable. I see the former champ outdueling Rozenstruik just as Overeem did in 2019, only he won't get knocked silly in the final second of the fight.

    Dos Santos via unanimous decision.

                     

    Lyle Fitzsimmons

    Need a second-tier heavyweight fight on a big show? Simple. Put in a couple guys who couldn't last a minute-and-a-half with Francis Ngannou and let them play gatekeeper for the division's upper-class residents.

    Dos Santos used to run with that crowd and has collected Ws over the likes of Miocic and Derrick Lewis, while Rozenstruik most recently beat fighters aged 40 and 39 before Ngannou showed him the door in a mere 20 seconds. Dos Santos is just 36, so he gets my pick.

    Dos Santos, KO, Rd. 2.

Sean O’Malley vs. Marlon Vera

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    Can Sean O'Malley get past the very tough Marlon Vera?
    Can Sean O'Malley get past the very tough Marlon Vera?Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    Kelsey McCarson

    Undefeated phenom O'Malley, 25, is the hottest prospect in the company. While Vera, 27, is a tough competitor and a fighter who helps make the UFC's bantamweight division one of the deepest in the sport, he's nowhere near the elite talent that O'Malley is.

    It's a fun fight for as long as it lasts, but that's not very long.

    O'Malley, TKO, Rd. 1.

                  

    Scott Harris

    Another showcase fight for Suga Sean? Think again. That sort of matchup would certainly continue the trend that has seen the charismatic striker out of Arizona's MMA Lab win all five of his UFC contests, including performance bonuses in each of his last three. But hang on.

    Chito Vera doesn't get the credit he deserves. He's been in the UFC for six years now and has racked up a 9-5 record and several post-fight bonuses of his own. This is more of a reckoning than a squash match. Even so, it's hard to bet against a fighter as creative, athletic and tough as O'Malley. His momentum will carry him forward through another bonus winner. Fight of the Night, right here.

    O'Malley via unanimous decision.

                 

    Tom Taylor

    O'Malley looked fantastic when he knocked out Eddie Wineland at UFC 250, but his UFC 252 scrap with "Chito" Vera represents a whole new level of competition.

    Vera is a BJJ blackbelt with eight submission wins on his record. He has plenty of power, as proved by his five strike-induced wins. He's also never been stopped, despite time in the Octagon with the likes of John Lineker (14 knockout wins) and Douglas Andrade (19 knockout wins). He has all the tools to give O'Malley a very tough fight, and I expect him to.

    All of that being said, though, I think O'Malley will do just enough to win—it just won't be the kind of blowout we've come to expect from him.

    O'Malley by unanimous decision.

                    

    Lyle Fitzsimmons

    It’s referendum time for the "Suga Show." Though O'Malley is certainly the leading young contender for UFC "it guy" status, his rise to co-main event positioning on a pay-per-view will not be a gimme.

    Vera is experienced, tough and always comes to perform, as evidenced by the fistful of post-fight bonuses he's grabbed across a six-year run with the promotion. I do think O'Malley is special and I do think he'll win, but I think he gets just as many rugged points as style points this time.

    O’Malley, KO, Rd. 3.

Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier

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    Who will take home gold in this history-making trilogy?
    Who will take home gold in this history-making trilogy?John Locher/Associated Press

    Kelsey McCarson

    Both of the previous fights were brilliant in their own way. The first one made Cormier the second simultaneous UFC double champion in history; the second saw Miocic overcome an early onslaught to score his own stoppage win in the fourth.

    Now two of the best heavyweights in MMA history meet in a fight that could determine which of the impressive specimens will be hailed by future generations as the best UFC heavyweight ever.

    Miocic is younger and would seem to have all the relevant physical advantages in the fight. On top of that, the 37-year-old champion still carries hope that more superfights are on the way, while the 41-year-old Cormier has already started to think about his life outside the Octagon.

    Another great fight ensues in the third battle, but Miocic retains his heavyweight crown via late stoppage.

    Miocic, TKO, Rd. 5.

               

    Scott Harris

    Plenty of people are pushing the GOAT angle here. These are two great champions and fighters, but to hang that lofty label on this fight's outcome feels like a bit of a reach.

    That said, I think Cormier wins this. He's come up short in big spots before against Miocic and others, but it felt like more a function of the fates at work than any actual shortcoming on Cormier's part. In other words, he's due. What better place to cash it in than in his (purported) final bout before retirement?

    Cormier will play it safe to get the belt. Look for methodical work from DC in the clinch and a strategy to stay clear of extended exchanges on the feet. In particular, he'll need to watch out for the body shots that helped seal his fate in the second bout with Miocic. Dull but effective, in other words, and perhaps a little anticlimactic given that he'll essentially hand back the belt after winning it, if his plan to retire holds.

    Still, Cormier will ride into the sunset a champion, which should be a happy ending for us all given his status as a historic great and all-around deserving dude.

    Cormier via unanimous decision.

                

    Tom Taylor

    I've got Cormier in this trilogy fight, and I feel pretty good about that prediction. Allow me to explain.

    In the pair's two previous fights, we've seen Cormier win by first-round knockout and Miocic rebound from a two- or three-round deficit to win the rematch by fourth-round TKO. As far as I'm concerned, that means Cormier is up at least 3-2 across the five rounds they've spent in the Octagon together. Maybe even 4-1.

    This is probably a controversial opinion, but I feel he's already proved himself as the better fighter. Unless something has dramatically changed in the year since they last fought, I see Cormier reaffirming that he's a few steps ahead of his rival in the trilogy.

    Cormier, TKO, Rd. 3.

                  

    Lyle Fitzsimmons

    Score the rounds they've fought, and Cormier is ahead. Base your pick on which man scored his stoppage first and DC wins again. But I like Miocic anyway. He was carrying the first fight before running into a decisive dirty boxing combination. Then, in the second, it was his discovery of the left to the body that fast-forwarded the champ-champ's downfall.

    Says here he comes out with that in mind and begins chopping the older man down from the start and ultimately gets him around the midway point.

    Miocic, KO, Rd. 3.