UFC 194 takes place on Saturday night in Las Vegas and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights for you below.

Main Card:

Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor

UFC 194’s main card is filled with closely matched fights and the main event beetween Aldo and McGregor is no exception.

In Aldo we have a battle hardened warrior who’s gone almost 10 years without defeat and already defended his belt many times against a who’s who of 145lb talent. He’s an excellent striker encompassing a blend of both power and technique, with combos often being finished with one of his most powerful weapons, leg kicks which McGregor will need to be wary of, particularly since he’s lower limbs may be vulnerable after repeated knee injuries in recent years and he relies a lot on having freedom of movement to do his best work.

Defensively Aldo is also world class with very good head movement and movement allowing him to hit and not be hit. So far, whether he’s been facing a swift, elusive striker like Frankie Edgar or a straight ahead power puncher like Chad Mendes he’s been able to find a route to victory, so he’ll rightly head into this fight with plenty of confidence.

McGregor is also a high level stand-up fighter though and offensively he could pose problems for Aldo, not least because he’s big for the division and will enjoy a 2″ height and 4″ reach over the champion. That size is matched by power which has been demonstrated by five TKO’s in his six fights to date in the Octagon.

In addition the Irishman offers of a varied offensive output to the body and head spiced up with the occasional spinning attack, very good footwork and constant pressure, but if there’s one area he falls short compared to Aldo it’s that his striking defense isn’t as robust and he can be hit. If Mendes was able to connect then rest assured Aldo will too. In all fairness McGregor’s shown a good chin so far, but while he may hold a slight power advantage on Saturday night, if Aldo is able to find the target more often that will quickly become a problem.

Aldo also has the better takedown defense and is a live submission threat, but this one is most likely to be won and lost in the striking exchanges.

Cardio is the final factor to consider and with both men having their cuts down to 145lbs challenging in the past and now doing so without IV help to rehydrate after Friday’s weigh-ins it could make a difference on the night. Aldo’s gone the distance numerous times in the past, but does tend to slow down in the later rounds and is coming off well over a year out of action, while McGregor’s never gone past round three in his career, so there’s no clear advantage to be found here.

Overall this is shaping up to be a close run thing and in all honesty I’m flipping back and forth on my pick. Aldo’s lack of fights recently, rumors swirling that he may even retire after Saturday night and the possibility that McGregor’s mind games have got to him give me cause for concern. However, when push comes to shove I’m leaning every so slightly towards his championship pedigree together with superior defensive skills, powerful leg kicks and accurate punches being key factors as he edge’s out the challenger on the scorecards.

Jose Aldo to win by decision.

Chris Weidman vs. Luke Rockhold

Another cracking contest here with Weidman coming off a series of victories over Brazilian legends in the later stages of their careers, but now facing a fighter with less miles on the clock in Rockhold who, like the champion, is very much in his prime.

Both men are very well rounded competitors with Weidman possessing the better wrestling of the two, with strong takedowns leading to not just solid ground and pound, but also potential submission attempts as you might expect from a Matt Serra student. Weidman also has good boxing ability, pushes a strong pace and has never been defeated, so really there’s very few weaknesses in his game that have been exposed so far in his career.

Like Weidman, Rockhold is another natural athlete who just seems to naturally take to whatever aspect of MMA he puts his mind too. In terms of pure wrestling he may fall short of Weidman, but in MMA he mixes things up well and I’d give him a slight edge in the striking thanks to a more versatile approach with dangerous kicks being mixed into his combinations. BJJ wise Rockhold is also very capable and is the more likely to go for a submission, but really there isn’t much to choose between the two in that aspect of the fight.

This is about as evenly matched a title fight as you could hope to have. I’m reluctant to pick against the champion as he has an iron will and a knack of proving people wrong, but I do feel that Rockhold will be able to give Weidman some problems on the feet, will have slightly better cardio in the closing stages of the fight and won’t be easy to take down and control on the mat. I’ll take Luke Rockhold to win by razor-thin decision.

Luke Rockhold to win by decision.

Yoel Romero vs. Ronaldo Souza

Speaking of close fights, Romero Vs Souza will be dishing out more of the same as these two elite middleweights battle it out in the hopes of being the next title challenger.

Romero is of course an Olympic silver medal wrestler, but he uses that base far less frequently than you’d imagine. Instead, with his Hulk-like physique and uncommon speed for such a big man he likes to go for the finish on the feet instead, and if he connects he certainly can do just that from punches, elbows and knees either at range or in the clinch. He can be a little reckless in pursuit of the stoppage though and doesn’t have the most efficient technique, relying more on sheer athleticism, so there’s defensive holes in his game that potentially could be exploited.

‘Jacare’ stands at the top of the heap when it comes to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but he’s also developed a robust striking game over time too and is effective from the clinch. His takedowns are good, but not a sure-thing though and that could be a problem against someone of Romero’s caliber. If he does get to the mat, especially on top, he’s going to put ‘The Soldier Of God’ in serious danger of being submitted.

Romero’s cardio is a concern as he tends to tire by the third round and in such a closely contested fight that could make a big difference. Together with concerns regarding the defensive holes in Romero’s stand-up I’m going with the more fundamentally sound striker, ‘Jacare’ to survive some heavy artillery in the first half of the fight and then punish his opponent as he tires later on.

Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza to win by TKO in Rd3.

Demian Maia vs. Gunnar Nelson

Another intriguing match-up here with Maia being up there with ‘Jacare’ Souza as the best of the best when it comes to BJJ, while Nelson is also a hugely talented grappler in his own right.

With that in mind it’s quite possible this one plays out on the feet. Maia’s stand-up has improved a bit over the years, but for my money he’s never really evolved into a particularly effective or dangerous striker.

Nelson’s stand-up isn’t perfect either. He’s very much karate-based in his approach, somewhat similar to Lyoto Machida, utilizing movement and distance, darting in and out with quick strikes, but he can be hesitant to pull the trigger at times.

If they spend extended periods on the mat I believe Maia’s technique will win out, but Nelson’s movement will make him tough to take down and he’s very quick in the scramble, so there is a chance he’ll be able to keep this fight standing more often than not.

Overall I’m not convinced that Maia’s striking is good enough to figure out Nelson’s elusive style. He’s a little too plodding and predictable, so I think Nelson can steer clear of the takedowns and outpoint Maia on the feet here to win by decision.

Gunnar Nelson to win by decision.

Max Holloway vs. Jeremy Stephens

This featherweight encounter should play out on the feet with both men favoring a fight where they can let there strikes go and see who comes out on top.

Holloway is a much more refined striker than Stephens with crisp, lazer-accurate combinations of punches being the hallmark of his game together with good sense of movement and distance.

Stephens may lack his opponent’s smooth technique, but he does make up for that somewhat with the fact that he has heavy hands and good durability. He also has the better wrestling of the two, though I think he’ll struggle to keep Holloway down if he does opt for that strategy.

Overall Holloway is just a better striker and I see him avoiding Stephens big telegraphed strikes and lighting him up with his superior offense on his way to a convincing decision victory.

Max Holloway to win by decision.

Prelims: (Predicted winners in bold)

Urijah Faber vs. Frankie Saenz
Jocelyn Lybarger vs. Tecia Torres
Warlley Alves vs. Colby Covington
Kevin Lee vs. Leonardo Santos
Magomed Mustafaev vs. Joe Proctor
John Makdessi vs. Yancy Medeiros
Marcio Alexandre Jr. vs. Court McGee

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