UFC Fight Night 39: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Picks

Craig AmosFeatured ColumnistApril 9, 2014

UFC Fight Night 39: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Picks

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    Gregory Payan

    UFC Fight Night 39: Minotauro vs. Nelson is set for Friday, April 11. The scheduling marks a departure from the promotion's usual Wednesday night shows—and their Sunday shows as well. And let's not forget the traditional Saturday night shows.

    OK, so the UFC has been all over the map lately. Speaking of which, the card will play out in Abu Dhabi, marking the second time the Octagon has made the trip to the UAE.

    Unfortunately for nine-to-fivers living in the Americas, that means missing out (or watching very secretively).

    Fight Night 39 features a pair of heavyweights in Roy Nelson and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, both of whom are looking to boost dwindling title hopes. The headliner fronts a 10-fight show heavy on mid-tier competitors hoping to break through to the next level.

    The term "mid-tier" makes for an appropriate lead in to the introduction of Bleacher Report's official main card staff picks for the event. Our team struggled mightily through the last event and will be looking for redemption in our latest round of forecasts.

    Until we regain our self-respect we are unworthy of the usual nicknames. So this time, I give you the picks of Scott Harris, James MacDonald, Sean Smith, Riley Kontek and yours truly, Craig Amos.

2014 Staff Records

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    Gregory Payan

    When I say our staff struggled through the UFC's upset-laden Fight Night down in Brazil last month, I mean it. Scott Harris was the only one among the lot to do better than two-of-six, and when Harris is topping the charts you know something is amiss.

    Luckily, up until last time most of us had built up some laurels on which to rest, so we all remain in—or at least close to—respectability.

    Here is our yearly tallies to date:

    James MacDonald: 36-11-1

    Riley Kontek: 35-12-1

    Craig Amos: 34-13-1

    Sean Smith: 32-15-1

    Scott Harris: 30-17-1

     

    We'll look to improve on these marks with the selections provided over the next four slides. Read on to get our thoughts on Friday's main card matchups.

Ramsey Nijem vs. Beneil Dariush

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    Gregory Payan

    Scott Harris

    Nijem staved off the axe when he knocked off Justin Edwards. Still, while Nijem is a fine fighter and a great personality, he doesn't have the kind of skill set that will inspire ballads 100 years from now, and he has still lost two of his last three. Dariush, meanwhile, is undefeated and handled Charlie Brenneman in his UFC debut. His jiu-jitsu is really top-shelf, and he'll show that with his second consecutive sub.

    Dariush, submission, Rd. 2

     

    Sean Smith

    Nijem isn't a step up from Charlie Brenneman, and he might be a step down in competition for Dariush, who submitted "The Spaniard" in his first UFC outing. I don't see much reason Dariush shouldn't be able to improve to 2-0 inside the Octagon, whether it be with his striking or grappling, against Nijem.

    Dariush, Submission, Rd. 1

     

    Riley Kontek

    Let's put this simply: Beneil Dariush just showed he could stay upright and knock out a power wrestler like Charlie Brenneman. Ramsey Nijem is a less-talented power-wrestler than Brenneman. Dariush throws heat. Nijem has been knocked out before. It will happen again.

    Dariush, knockout, Rd. 1

     

    Craig Amos

    Nijem just hasn't been able to find that next gear since he first flashed promised as a cast member of The Ultimate Fighter back in 2011. Dariush, who has been somewhat overlooked as a prospect, could very well hand him the last loss of his UFC career.

    Dariush, Submission, Rd. 2

     

    James MacDonald

    I’m not a big believer in the potential of Nijem. Based on what he has shown thus far, he is too one-dimensional to ever become a top lightweight. The 24-year-old Dariush should have too many tools for the TUF veteran. Look for him to improve to 8-0 with a late stoppage.

    Dariush, submission, Rd. 3

John Howard vs. Ryan LaFlare

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Scott Harris

    LaFlare is a very big welterweight; Howard is not. The Long Islander will have six inches of height and two inches of reach on Howard, and he has the kicks and punches to pick "Doomsday" apart from the perimeter—and keep his unlikely UFC win streak rolling.

    LaFlare, Unanimous decision

     

    Sean Smith

    This matchup is a good test for both men. Howard has looked good since returning to the Octagon, but he's been getting by with takedowns against strikers. A more well-rounded opponent than Uriah Hall or Siyar Bahadurzada, LaFlare should be able to defend against Howard's wrestling more often than not and maybe force "Doomsday" to fight from the bottom.

    LaFlare, Unanimous decision

     

    Riley Kontek

    Ryan LaFlare has really impressed since debuting with the UFC. He has gone from an expendable Strikeforce import—that many thought would be gone quickly—to an undefeated UFC vet with a good set of tools. John Howard is a Muay-Thai striker that has shown susceptibility in the past against guys who can be explosive with their takedowns. LaFlare is one of those guys. He will use a balanced approach to frustrate Howard, winning a convincing decision in the process. 

    LaFlare, Unanimous decision

     

    Craig Amos

    Both guys are rolling right now, so whoever emerges victorious should be in line for a step up in competition. I predict LaFlare takes control of the action and pressures Howard into playing defense for the better part of 15 minutes. 

    LaFlare, Unanimous decision

     

    James MacDonald

    This is a tough fight to call. Stylistically, it’s difficult to break this one down. Howard is the superior striker, but possesses fewer tools than LaFlare. The outcome may depend on whether the latter can stop this from turning into a kickboxing contest. I expect LaFlare to score the takedown often enough to earn the decision.

    LaFlare, Unanimous decision

Clay Guida vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri

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    David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

    Scott Harris

    Kawajiri is a much better striker than Guida and a comparable grappler. But Guida has the edge in all the athletic departments. I think Guida will drag him down to the mat or mash him against the chain-link and ride the popular veteran to a decision win. Yee ha.

    Guida, Unanimous decision

     

    Sean Smith

    Although Guida hasn't looked great recently, he still has the wrestling to be a contender at 155 or 145 pounds. Kawajiri has also had success in both divisions and should be a competitive matchup for Guida. It could be a fight that comes down to the third round, which would allow Guida's conditioning to shine through.

    Guida, Unanimous decision

     

    Riley Kontek

    Clay Guida before Greg Jackson was like the kid in school you hated; he wasn't the best at what he did but his effort made everyone look bad. Nowadays, the energetic, wild-haired freak resorts to non-aggressive game plans which kills his efforts in the cage. Tatsuya Kawajiri makes a habit of outmuscling and outworking opponents to exhaustion. That won't be easy here, but the Japanese grinder will beat Guida and enter title talks.

    Kawajiri, Unanimous decision

     

    Craig Amos

    Kawajiri has looked better than Guida lately, but he's also been going up against a lax roster of opponents compared to his UFC Fight Night 39 counterpart. Guida should be capable of bringing enough pressure to stifle Kawajiri's offense, and convince the judges' that he deserves to have his hand raised.

    Guida, Unanimous decision

     

    James MacDonald

    How Clay Guida must regret his performance against Gray Maynard. Since that night, it seems like he has almost entirely fallen off the fans’ radar. Kawajiri is a tough challenge for “The Carpenter,” but I expect wrestling to be the difference in this fight. Guida should be able to impose his will on Kawajiri and avoid the submission.

    Guida, Unanimous decision 

Minotauro Nogueira vs. Roy Nelson

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    Eric Jamison

    Scott Harris

    Everyone loves Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Since I'm part of everyone, I guess I love him too. And yet, he's been running on fumes for three years now. I don't see him getting Nelson to the ground, and I don't see him standing up to Nelson's power.

    Nelson, knockout, Rd. 1

     

    Sean Smith

    In order to avoid his opponent's big right-hand, Nogueira's game plan should be to take Nelson to the ground. He might be the more technical striker, but Nogueira probably doesn't have the chin to take Nelson's best shots at this stage in his career. Even with the right game plan, "Minotauro" is also going to have trouble taking Nelson down.

    Nelson, knockout, Rd. 1

     

    Riley Kontek

    Big Country vs. Big Nog: That's a lot of big in one Octagon. That being said, despite Nogueira being one of the best heavyweights in MMA history, he has slowed down due to injuries and other intangibles. Nogueira's arms have been treated like wishbones in his last few fights, with Frank Mir and Fabricio Werdum snapping him like a twig. Nelson has the power to break through his dwindling chin and should be able to score a big blow.

    Nelson, knockout, Rd. 1

     

    Craig Amos

    Nogueira has carved a legend out of overcoming critical damage to achieve victory. But at this point in his career, he's no longer able to take punishment and survive. Should Nelson's right hand find its mark, that'll spell the end for Big Nog.

    Nelson, knockout, Rd. 2

     

    James MacDonald

    This isn’t a great stylistic matchup for Nogueira, particularly at this stage of his career. The former Pride heavyweight champion may have been able to take Nelson’s best shots in his prime, but his punch resistance has long since dissipated. I don’t expect Nogueira to go down without a fight, but “Big Country” will connect at some point and it’ll be game over.

    Nelson, knockout, Rd. 2