The Ultimate Fight Night 20 card provides a few headaches in terms of predicting a clear winner.  For instance Efrain Escudero Vs Evan Dunham, and Amir Sadollah Vs Brad Blackburn could potentially go either way, while it’s never wise to underestimate one of the Diaz brothers.

Read on to see what course I’m plotting through this potential minefield.

Main Card

Gray Maynard vs. Nate Diaz

Gray Maynard headlines a card for the first time as he takes on Nate Diaz, who already holds a victory (albeit an unoffical ‘exhibition’ one) over him during their time in The Ultimate Fighter season 5, which Diaz would go on to win.

Maynard hasn’t tasted defeat since however, and after a six fight win streak he is within touching distance of a title-shot against BJ Penn.  Unfortunately for him Frankie Edgar is being hotly tipped to be the next No.1 contender, and so Maynard has to win impressively inside the distance in this bout in the hope of swinging the momentum back  in his favor.

That’ll be easier said than done against Diaz however who will fight tooth and nail until the final bell.  Maynard’s boxing has improved since they last fought, but in his 11-4 career Diaz has only ever been stopped once, and that was by submission.

It’s unlikely that Maynard will be able to do something similar.  Instead it’s more likely that ‘The Bully’ will resort back to his tried and tested wrestling which has enabled him to reach this point in his career.  Diaz meanwhile will not be unhappy to work his BJJ game from his back and attempt to submit Maynard as he did on TUF.

Prediction:

Maynard is far more experienced than when he last faced Diaz, with a major benefit being his improved submission defense will allow him to utilize his wrestling advantage without leaving himself exposed.  Diaz will remain a threat, but I see Gray Maynard grinding out a decision win that keeps his winning run intact, but does little for his title ambitions.

Efrain Escudero vs. Evan Dunham

After showing off his improved stand-up skills against Cole Miller, TUF 8 winner Efrain Escudero returns to face Evan Dunham who, like his opponent, is unbeaten in his professional career so far.

Both fighters match up fairly evenly, with solid striking, good wrestling and the majority of their wins coming on the mat via submission, and that may point to this one going to a decision.  I’d perhaps give a slight edge in the striking to Dunham who is more accurate and direct, while Escudero has a little more power, but is less refined.

On the other hand I think Escudero will hold the wrestling advantage, and if he can gain top position that may just help him to swing this fight in his favor.

Prediction:

It’s a close one.  Both fighters have given a good account of themselves so far, but I think Efrain Escudero’s wrestling prowess will give him the opportunity to outpoint Dunham on this occasion.

Aaron Simpson vs. Tom Lawlor

Aaron Simpson has been a stand-out performer in his three visits to the octagon so far, and will be looking to extend his unbeaten run to 7-0 when he faces former TUF Season 8 competitor Tom Lawlor (6-1 1NC).

It’s perhaps unfortunate that Simpson, now 35, didn’t enter mixed martial arts competition earlier, but there’s still time for him to make a mark in the sport, and he appears to have  more energy than fighters 10 years his junior.  His mix of high level wrestling and powerful striking, blended with excellent cardio means that Tom Lawlor will have his work cut out for him in this fight.

Lawlor did well to defeat CB Dollaway by guillotine choke in his debut in the middleweight division at UFC 100, and walked away with a $100,000 ‘Submission Of The Night’ bonus for his troubles.  Another submission may be his best bet to take something from this fight as he’s likely to spend the majority of it fighting from his back.

Prediction:

I can’t see past Aaron Simpson here, and I expect him to put together another convincing win by TKO in the 2nd.

Amir Sadollah vs. Brad Blackburn

After getting back on track with a decisive victory over Phil Baroni at UFC 106 in November, TUF season 7 winner Amir Sadollah now faces a solid challenge in the shape of  former IFL fighter Brad Blackburn who is three fights undefeated in the UFC.

Blackburn has a distinct experience advantage over Sadollah, with 28 professional bouts under his belt, but his record is very patchy.  From January 2005 to April 2007 he went on a woeful run in which he lost six of his eight fights.  He has regained his form since then though, starting with a victory over Jay Heiron, and recently in the UFC over other respected fighters like Ryo Chonan and Edgar Garcia.

Sadollah showed good muay thai skills in his last fight – a nice addition to the largely submission orientated game he displayed on TUF.  His cardio could also be an important factor in the later rounds.

Despite surviving Baroni’s heavy hands there is still a questions over his chin however, and Blackburn has the punching power to potentially provide the answer.

Prediction:

I’ve been going back and forth on this pick.  Though I can  see Blackburn laying some heavy leather on Sadollah, I’m going to give Amir Sadollah the benefit of the doubt and predict him to mix in more ground work than his last fight, enabling him to pick up a submission victory in the final round.

Undercard (Predicted winners in bold)

Chris Leben vs. Jay Silva
Rick Story vs. Jesse Lennox
Thiago Tavares vs. Nik Lentz
Rory MacDonald vs. Michael Guymon
Kyle Bradley vs. Rafael dos Anjos
Gerald Harris vs. John Salter
Nick Catone vs. Jesse Forbes

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