UFC 171: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Predictions

James MacDonald@@JimMacDonaldMMAFeatured ColumnistMarch 14, 2014

UFC 171: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Predictions

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    Associated Press

    For the first time in almost six years, the UFC will crown a new welterweight champion at UFC 171, with Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler facing off to determine who will succeed Georges St-Pierre.

    In addition to the main event, we can look forward to witnessing Carlos Condit take on Tyron Woodley in a bout that is likely to determine the next No. 1 contender at 170 pounds. Also on the card are Diego Sanchez vs. Myles Jury and Jake Shields vs. Hector Lombard.

    All in all, there’s plenty to look forward to.

    As usual, the Bleacher Report main-card prediction team is on hand to guide you through Saturday night’s event. Read on for thoughts from Scott Harris, Riley Kontek, Sean Smith, Craig Amos and me, James MacDonald.

2014 Staff Records

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    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sp

    The top of the staff leaderboard remains right, with James MacDonald narrowly retaining his lead after UFC Fight Night 37.

    Craig Amos, Riley Kontek and Sean Smith continue to apply pressure, with very little to separate the chasing pack.

    Scott Harris is bringing up the rear, struggling since being forced to stop taking TRT. Don't expect his performance to pick up for at least 90 days.

    Here are the overall records for 2014:

    James MacDonald: 31-6

    Craig Amos: 30-7

    Riley Kontek: 29-8

    Sean Smith: 27-10

    Scott Harris: 25-12

Ovince St. Preux vs. Nikita Krylov

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    Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    Scott Harris

    Maybe it's his berserker style or his wild n' wacky nickname, but the buzz seems to be with Nikita "Al Capone" Krylov coming into this one. Personally, I'm not eating from that particular tree. This will be a fun fight (assuming it doesn't go on too long and both men fall over from exhaustion), with St. Preux getting the better of things.

    St. Preux, TKO, Rd. 1

     

    Sean Smith

    I’m not too sure what to think about Krylov’s potential at 205 pounds. His conditioning looked terrible against Soa Palelei, but that can happen when you’re carrying the weight of a 265-pound Australian for more than two rounds. Then, his striking looked outstanding against Walt Harris. I feel like I have a better idea of who St. Preux is as a fighter, though, and I have more confidence in him, should this fight carry on into the later rounds.

    St. Preux, TKO, Rd. 3

     

    Riley Kontek

    It seems like a lot of people jumped on the Nikita Krylov bandwagon following his KO of Walt Harris. They like him even more now that he's dropping to 205. However, I really just can't see past that performance against Soa Palelei yet, where he gassed quickly and had trouble putting anything together. Ovince St. Preux is powerful and athletic and has better cardio than Krylov. He will finish him late.

    St. Preux, TKO, Rd. 3

     

    Craig Amos

    Krylov has looked both utterly terrible and remarkably dangerous over the course of just two UFC fights. He'll have to be on point this Saturday if he hopes to deal with the dangerous striker that is Ovince St-Preux. Unfortunately for "Al Capone," I can't foresee many scenarios in which he comes out on the better end of this pairing.

    St. Preux, TKO, Rd. 2

     

    James MacDonald

    It’s tough to know what to make of Krylov, given the uneven start to his UFC career. Additionally, who knows how his body will react to the drop to light heavyweight? Too much uncertainty surrounds the Ukrainian, so I’m putting my money on the more reliable St-Preux.

    St. Preux, Unanimous decision

Jake Shields vs. Hector Lombard

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    Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Spor

    Scott Harris

    Shields is always the sexy pick for "people in the know." You pick against him, you pick against true MMA. You pick against art, bro. So call me a Philistine, I guess, because I'm going with Lombard. He'll stave off Shields' takedowns, punish him in the clinch and feed him some of the heaviest leather in the company.

    Lombard, TKO, Rd. 1

     

    Sean Smith

    Lombard’s takedown defense looked impenetrable when he was sprawling and brawling those Bellator MMA dudes. Then he fought Yushin Okami, and his takedown defense didn’t look so special. Guess what? It isn’t going to look great against Shields either.

    Shields, Unanimous decision

     

    Riley Kontek

    I can see this fight going either way. Shields is just so good at making fights ugly. He could drag Lombard down and suffocate him like a fire blanket. However, Lombard is an absolute brute at 170 and has good takedown defense due to his strength and judo background. He also has more firepower on the feet. I may regret this pick, but I think Lombard will test Shields' chin and put him down violently.

    Lombard, KO, Rd. 1

     

    Craig Amos

    Lombard looked outstanding in dropping to 170 pounds, but lest we forget, Jake Shields has made a career out of making excellent fighters look average. While I expect Lombard to come out and take it to Shields early, I also expect the former Strikeforce champion to weather the storm and eke out another decision that leaves people more frustrated than anything else.

    Shields, Unanimous decision

     

    James MacDonald

    I’m excited for this fight, yet at the same time I’m not. The worry with any Jake Shields fight is that he will be content to simply subdue his opponent—and the audience, for that matter. Lombard’s grappling credentials would have eased my worries, except for the fact that Yushin Okami has already demonstrated that the former Bellator standout can be comprehensively out-grappled. That being said, the Cuban's size advantage at welterweight should help him avoid being out-muscled by Shields. I can see the former Olympic judoka ending the fight late.

    Lombard, TKO, Rd. 3

Diego Sanchez vs. Myles Jury

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    Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Spor

    Scott Harris

    Maybe I'm sleeping on Myles Jury here, but to me, Sanchez is the better fighter. Yeah, he's an unrepentant freaking wild man, but sometimes that works. I think he suckers Jury into dancing his dance and then makes the youngster pay.

    Sanchez, TKO, Rd. 1

     

    Sean Smith

    This is Jury’s first chance to prove he can be a contender in the lightweight division, but there can’t be many 155-pounders begging UFC matchmakers for a fight with Sanchez. He might not be the most technically sound competitor in the lightweight class, but he does everything he can in 15 minutes to make his opponents wish they hadn’t signed that fight contract. The former title challenger will get the job done with ground-and-pound against an opponent who has been grounded by the only two takedown attempts he has seen inside the Octagon.

    Sanchez, Unanimous decision

     

    Riley Kontek 

    I believe it was John C. Reilly in Step Brothers who once said, "I've had the old bull; now I want the young calf." These are my exact feelings when it comes to picking the fight between Diego Sanchez and Myles Jury. Sanchez has quite a few miles on him, and Jury has been nothing short of impressive during his time with the UFC. It won't be easy. It will be bloody and contentious, but I will say Jury takes the nod.

    Jury, Unanimous decision

     

    Craig Amos

    This fight will tell us a lot about where Jury stands within the scope of the UFC lightweight division. In Sanchez, he'll face an opponent who will try to force him into the type of bout he doesn't want to engage in. Whether he stays level-headed and fights strategically or gives in and decides to meet aggression with aggression may very well be the decisive factor in this matchup.

    Jury, Unanimous decision

     

    James MacDonald

    Will Sanchez fight a smarter fight, as he has claimed? I have a feeling that strategy will last about as long as it takes Jury to land his first strike. It’s hard not to root for Sanchez, particularly at this stage in his career. Unfortunately, he looks a little limited compared to some of the talent that is currently coming up. While I won’t be shocked if “The Dream” wins, I fully expect this to be Jury’s coming-out party.

    Jury, Unanimous decision

Carlos Condit vs. Tyron Woodley

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    Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

    Scott Harris

    There's always some question about which Tyron Woodley will show up. There's no such question about Carlos Condit. Woodley is an impressive specimen and is game enough, but Condit should be able to fire off those dangerous perimeter combinations with impunity. He will be a handful and then some for Woodley, should the former Strikeforce contender put him on his back.

    Condit, Unanimous decision

     

    Sean Smith

    Look, Condit has some huge problems going on with his defensive wrestling. He’s been taken down in five straight fights and was grounded 25 times in his past three outings. That’s obviously not good news heading into a bout with an NCAA All-American wrestler like Woodley. Still, I think Condit makes Woodley work for everything he can get before taking advantage of an exhausted opponent in the closing round.  

    Condit, TKO, Rd. 3

     

    Riley Kontek

    One has to believe a powerful, aggressive wrestler is the key to defeating Carlos Condit, right? However, let's remember Condit is a guy who took Johny Hendricks to the brink of defeat and moves well on the feet. Add to the fact that I remember Woodley had trouble keeping Paul Daley on his back a few years ago, and I think Condit will earn a title shot come Saturday night.

    Condit, Submission, Rd. 3

     

    Craig Amos

    Woodley would be well-served to pin Condit to the mat for as long and as often as he can. While Woodley is a talented, well-rounded fighter, Condit is just so dangerous in so many facets of mixed martial arts. 

    Condit, Submission, Rd. 3

     

    James MacDonald

    You can make a case for either man winning this fight. Given the wrestling-shaped hole in Condit’s game, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Woodley grind out a decision. Then again, “The Natural Born Killer” is so active in every position that I can see him ending the fight standing or on the ground. However, what I expect to see is a close fight through two rounds, with Condit’s superior conditioning being the difference in the third.

    Condit, TKO, Rd. 3

Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler

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    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sp

    Scott Harris

    Like everyone else, I expect some electric exchanges in this one. But I think eventually, this one will find the ground. Hendricks has such a decisive advantage there that the openings will be impossible to ignore. He will do what he has to do to get the belt, and that will involve some clinches and takedowns. Forget what the crowd thinks.

    Hendricks, Unanimous decision

     

    Sean Smith

    Hendricks isn’t going to shy away from exchanging with Lawler, but he also isn’t going to ignore his opponent’s biggest shortcoming. Lawler has been taken down in six of his past seven fights. Hendricks won two NCAA wrestling titles and recently became the first fighter to take Georges St-Pierre down multiple times in one meeting since Matt Hughes did so in October 2004.

    Hendricks, Unanimous decision

     

    Riley Kontek

    Robbie Lawler is headlining a UFC event? This feels like something that would have been said in 2004. His comeback story has been amazing thus far, and he does have a puncher's chance to knock Johny Hendricks silly. However, I can't get past the fact that he can be taken down, and has been in the past against guys like Tim Kennedy and Jake Shields. Hendricks will use his wrestling here to earn the title.

    Hendricks, Unanimous decision

     

    Craig Amos

    Both of these guys fancy themselves as strikers, but Hendricks has an exceptional secondary tool to fall back on, namely his wrestling, whereas Lawler doesn't. I expect both men will do some damage on the feet in the early going, and Lawler will even take the upper hand. But once that happens, expect Hendricks to employ some takedowns to win a decision.

    Hendricks, Unanimous decision

     

    James MacDonald

    This is a tough matchup for Lawler. While he always has a puncher’s chance, he is facing someone who does everything just a little bit better. Hendricks hits harder, takes a better punch and is the superior grappler. It should be an exciting fight, but I expect Hendricks to win fairly comfortably.

    Hendricks, TKO, Rd. 2