UFC 255 Predictions: Bleacher Report Staff Main Card Picks
UFC 255 on Saturday features both of the company's flyweight champions competing in big fights against top contenders.
The men's champ at 125 pounds, Deiveson Figueiredo, takes on Alex Perez in the main event. The women's 125-pound champ, Valentina Shevchenko, squares off against Jennifer Maia in the co-main at UFC APEX in Las Vegas.
Early prelims are set to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, followed by the prelims at 8:00 p.m. ET and the main card pay-per-view at 10 p.m. ET.
Read through our predictions about the main card pay-per-view below, and be sure to leave your own takes on the fights in the comments section.
Mauricio Rua vs. Paul Craig
Mauricio "Shogun" Rua is an ageless wonder. Some 15 years after he won the Pride Middleweight Grand Prix, you would think he would be losing almost all of his fights. Yet somehow, he's on a two-fight streak, with wins over Tyson Pedro and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in the rearview mirror.
At this stage, Shogun's UFC 255 opponent, Paul Craig, whom he battled to a draw in 2019, is a tougher test than Pedro or Nogueira, but as UFC commentator Jon Anik recently pointed out on Twitter, the Brazilian legend is 5-1 in his six career rematches. I think he will learn from the mistakes he made in his first fight with Craig and take his record to 6-1 in do-overs Saturday.
Shogun via unanimous decision.
These days, Shogun gasses easier than a Toyota Prius. Craig is a physical beast of a light heavyweight who is all sorts of dangerous on the ground, with chokes being his weapons of choice. I'm not suggesting Rua is a babe in the woods on the ground, but I am suggesting that he's a shell of his former self. We all know that. This fight will prove why you keep these guys on the legends circuit, assuming you're callously insisting on squeezing every last possible drop out of their name value before you send them off to pasture.
Craig, submission, Rd. 2.
Unless there's just a wildly compelling reason not to do so, I'll almost always lean toward the younger fighter to do better in the rematch when there are this many years between them. Rua is still formidable at age 38, but Craig is six years younger than him and will have stood more to gain over the past year as far as growing and learning goes. While this one will still be competitive, I think Craig's fresher legs earn him the decision.
Craig via unanimous decision.
It's a runback of a fight that Craig would have won had he simply continued doing what was clearly working for him in the first five minutes: landing significant strikes from a vertical base. Instead, he went to the ground and worked into the older man's hands—literally and figuratively—and instead had to settle for a rare UFC draw. That, though, was on two weeks' notice. He's had more time to prepare this time, and he will get the W he deserved in 2019.
Craig via unanimous decision.
Katlyn Chookagian vs. Cynthia Calvillo
This is a great matchup in the women's flyweight division, and one that could go either way. Pressed to make a decision, though, I've got to go with Cynthia Calvillo. She's got great grappling, her hands are always improving and after her blowout win over Jessica Eye—a woman Katlyn Chookagian has lost to previously—she's got tons of momentum on her side.
A Calvillo finish is possible, as Chookagian is still only a month removed from a violent stoppage loss to Jessica Andrade and less than a year out from a TKO loss to Valentina Shevchenko, but I think it's more likely this one goes the full 15.
Calvillo via unanimous decision.
Not a good fight. Nope. Wait, let me double-check. Nope. It's not good. This is gonna be the sort of fight wherein both fighters get bloody but you can't remember seeing a punch land. Calvillo is a steady grappler and should win. But seriously: Avert your eyes.
Calvillo via split decision.
I like this fight, though I'm not exactly sure why Lauren Murphy got skipped over for the chance to fight Calvillo, especially since the winner of this fight could be next in line to face Shevchenko. Still, Chookagian is a tough and resilient fighter who will be hoping to get her name back in the title picture. Beating Calvillo would help her do that, though it won't be easy. I see this as an evenly matched fight that could go either way. If Calvillo can get Chookagian down to the ground, she will have her way. But if Chookagian stays upright, it's a long night for Calvillo.
Chookagian via split decision.
If you feel like you've been watching Katlyn Chookagian fights forever, you're not wrong. She's had 11 UFC fights, including six on pay-per-view shows and one for a title that ended in a third-round stoppage. And though she's won in seven of those trips into Octagon, it feels here like her opponent simply has more going for her and more ways to win. Calvillo is six-for-eight with a draw in the UFC, has won at a main event that went the distance and looks like the right choice here.
Calvillo, submission, Rd. 3.
Mike Perry vs. Tim Means
Mike Perry is a fighter with a pretty clear ceiling. Throw him in there with someone like Donald Cerrone, Geoff Neal or Vicente Luque, and he's likely to come up short. Pair him against an Alex Oliveira or a Mickey Gall, however, and he's likely to get the job done–potentially in an extremely violent fashion.
His UFC 255 opponent, Tim Means, who replaces the injured Robbie Lawler, falls into the latter category. He's a crafty veteran, but he's likely in over his head in this short-notice matchup. Perry will need to steer clear of his foe's knees and elbows, and if he's able to do that, I expect him to get the job done emphatically.
Perry, KO, Rd. 1.
Means has a four-inch advantage in both height and reach, but I'm not sure that's going to work in his favor here. Both these guys love to brawl, and Means' big torso gives Perry a big target for his fists or the takedown. If Means can stay on the outside and keep it out of the phone booth, he should win. Means is a good strategist—and, quietly, a very good all-around fighter—but his defensive wrestling only stops 63 percent of opponent takedowns, per UFC Stats. If Perry is up for a duel of wits, that could be the difference in a competitive contest.
Perry via unanimous decision.
I like Means to score the mild upset here. He's a wily veteran who enjoys some physical advantages in the fight that should help him pull off the win so long as he doesn't let Perry grab hold of him. Perry is one of the most intriguing fighters in the sport. He's wildly violent and reckless inside the Octagon, but that kind of style, paired with him doing the same outside the cage in his personal life, is what leaves him open to catching the loss to Means.
Means via unanimous decision.
Dare we say this is the best fight on the PPV show? Yep. We dare. This one should be fun. Perry loses almost as often as he wins in the UFC, but he rarely fails to entertain while doing so. As for Means, he's taller and longer, lands more strikes and scores more takedowns. But he's just as iffy a proposition when it comes to winning, and it feels like his resume—or at least the most recent lines on it—doesn't measure up.
Perry, unanimous decision.
Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jennifer Maia
Every now and then, this sport produces fighters that you simply can't pick against. UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko is one of them. Betting against her would be like betting against the Sun rising tomorrow. Sure, any number of cosmic accidents could wipe the Sun from existence, but it's not the kind of thing any sane person would stake their paycheck on. Neither is a Shevchenko loss.
That's particularly true against Maia, who is a solid fighter but seems to be woefully outmatched in every phase of the game against Shevchenko. Just like most of the champion's recent fights, this one is going to get ugly for the challenger—and fast.
Shevchenko, TKO, Rd. 2.
Shevchenko is the best in the world minus Amanda Nunes. Maia is perhaps most famous for not being related to Demian Maia. The Valentina star continues to ascend. Thank you. Next.
Shevchenko, TKO, Rd. 1.
Shevchenko is one of the best fighters in MMA today. Her strikes are fast, accurate and powerful. More importantly, she's able to adjust to whatever her opponents bring on fight night, and she does so in a way that shows she is as perfect as it gets in this sport, especially when she's on her feet. Maia's best chance is to get close enough to Shevchenko to end the chess match that is the champ's muay thai game. Therein lies the problem, because Shevchenko runs her opponents into counters in a way few fighters can.
Shevchenko, TKO, Rd. 2.
It's no mistake that Shevchenko is the biggest favorite on this card and among the biggest favorites on any UFC show this year. She's that good. Her only two losses in the UFC have both been to a woman by the name of Nunes. You know, the dual-champion one. And they were both by decisions, at least one of which was seen in her direction by one cage-side judge. Suffice it to say that the only thing harder than fighting Shevchenko Saturday is writing a column suggesting ways Maia can win. Pssst...she won't.
Shevchenko, TKO, Rd. 1.
Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Alex Perez
Alex Perez impressed me in his most recent fight, when he chopped down Jussier Formiga with a procession of first-round leg kicks. He looked like a fighter who had found his groove. Unfortunately for him, all the grooviness in the world won't be enough against the champ, Deiveson Figueiredo.
It feels a bit premature considering Figueiredo only just claimed the vacant UFC flyweight title, but I'm forecasting a long-term title reign for him. He's finished all but three of his 19 pro wins—nine by knockout and seven by submission. Against Perez, who was knocked senseless by Joseph Benavidez relatively recently and has been submitted three times in the past, I expect the champ to enhance his finishing rate. I envision him dropping his challenger with one of his nuclear punches and finishing the job with a choke.
Figueiredo, submission, Rd. 2.
Man, is this a bad card or what? This pig needs more than lipstick; it needs things only general anesthesia can facilitate. That said, this should be a good action fight. I'm not on the Figueiredo hype train just yet, though he should have his way with a fun scrapper in Perez. This is the kind of fight in which they high-five each other every two minutes en route to a Fight of the Night that's instantly forgotten. The real question is whether the men's flyweight division gets forgotten too given its extended stay on president Dana White's chopping block.
Figueiredo via unanimous decision.
Figueiredo is as fierce as they come in the sport. He's an incredibly gifted athlete with stupid power and strong submissions. Perez is a tough contender and live underdog. Perez's biggest problem will be that the aggressive style he usually employs against opponents on fight night is a double-edged sword. Sure, it gives him the chance for the finish, but it also does the same for Figueiredo. That's not how to beat the Brazilian. I think Figueiredo wins the fight big and in short order.
Figueiredo, KO, Rd. 1.
A guy who stands 5'5" and weighs 125 pounds shouldn't be a badass on Figueiredo's level, but the Brazilian is nothing if not that. He's a powerful striker and seems to enjoy everything about the profession he's chosen—particularly that he gets to punish people. Perez is no stiff, and he will be willing to match the champion shot for shot. But he will be unable to do that.
Figueiredo, KO, Rd. 3.