Welcome back fight fans! We’re back for another round of picks for UFC 206. UFC 206 goes down in Toronto, Ontario, Canada with a main event pitting Max Holloway against Anthony Pettis for the interim featherweight championship. The co-main event is another exciting match-up as Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone takes on fellow fan favorite, Matt Brown. Let’s get to the picks, and as always, keep a look out for last minute cancelled fights.
Max Holloway ($8,800) vs. Anthony Pettis ($7,400)
This fight was already an exciting one, given both fighters’ styles and resumes. Throw in a main event cancellation, as well as a pound-for-pound stalwart being stripped of his belt, and this fight becomes one of the more important ones of 2016 for the UFC. After the Cormier/Johnson bout was called off, the UFC made this the main event, and then promptly stripped Conor McGregor of his featherweight championship, making this fight for the interim featherweight title. The winner most likely takes on Jose Aldo next, who became the featherweight champion following McGregor being stripped. Holloway comes into this fight more than deserving of a shot at the title after winning 9 consecutive bouts, and against stiff competition. Former lightweight title holder Anthony Pettis comes into this one fresh off of a victory in his featherweight debut against Charles Oliveira. That win halted a 3-fight skid at lightweight. Also making this bout THAT much more notable, is that Pettis all of a sudden can be the 4th fighter in UFC history to earn a title in 2 weight classes. Needless to say, this is going to be a fun one to watch. I don’t expect this one to take place on the mat much, as both fighters’ strengths are on the feet. If this fight were to take place 2 years ago, I would say that Pettis has the obvious advantage, and that Holloway would be in for a long night. That isn’t the case in 2016. Holloway has improved arguably more than any fighter on the current roster since his debut against Dustin Poirier in 2012, and has looked almost unbeatable since his last loss to Conor McGregor, where he took the super star the distance. I think the fight will be close all the way until the final bell, and I truly believe it could be a fight of the year candidate. The x-factor for me will be the kicking game of Pettis. Holloway is more of a traditional boxer, and doesn’t throw nearly as many kicks as Pettis, who has a muay thai base. If Pettis can get the kicking game working, he could slow Holloway down and make this fight close. I envision both men standing toe to toe for 5 rounds, with both having their moments in this one. I’m rolling with Holloway here. He’s been on an absolute tear, while Pettis has not been incredibly impressive over the last year and a half, prior to the Oliveira victory. Holloway lands the cleaner shots and takes a close decision.
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Donald Cerrone ($9,300) vs. Matt Brown ($6,900)
The co-main event of the night is another match-up of fighters with exciting styles, as Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone takes on “The Immortal” Matt Brown. This bout is the product of a fight scrapped for UFC 205 when Cerrone was supposed to fight Kelvin Gastellum, who missed weight, and is also featured on this card. Cerrone has been on a tear since joining the welterweight division, winning 3 fights in impressive fashion. Including his days at lightweight, he’s an incredible 11-1 in his last 12 bouts. Matt Brown is admittedly one of my absolute favorite fighters, and his 20-15 record does not accurately describe his talent. He continually fights the elite of the welterweight division, and had a 7-fight win streak before dropping 4 of his last 5. He once again runs into one of the elite fighters on the roster here. Both fighters are guys I can’t help but root for, but this is the easiest fight for me to call on the card. The fight will take place on the feet for sure, where Cerrone will undoubtedly catch Brown with something. Brown has shown a weakness to body shots on numerous occasions, and Cerrone definitely knows it. I think he’ll take advantage of it, and hit brown with a liver kick that cripples Brown. Cerrone will follow it up with punches and end the fight by TKO late in the 1st round.
Dooho Choi ($8,900) vs. Cub Swanson ($7,300)
This is another featherweight fight on the card that could end up being a fight of the year contender. Dooho Choi has opened up his UFC career in impressive fashion, with 3 straight stoppage victories due to strikes. He has also finished 13 opponents in 15 wins total. Cub Swanson has been a crowd pleaser since his days in the WEC, and has been impressive in the UFC as well. He’s gone 8-3 since moving over to the UFC, including a 6-fight win streak that spanned over 2 years. After a 2-fight losing streak, he was inactive for a year, then rebounded this year with 2 straight victories. This is a great match-up that also serves both men well. Choi deserves a step up in competition, and Cub certainly is that. Meanwhile, Cub deserves a highly ranked opponent after 2 victories over tough competition, and Choi is ranked #11. Do not blink during this one. There’s no secret as to what both men will try to do. A battle on the feet is in store for fans, and both fighters are more than capable of ending the other’s night before the final bell. I think this one is a slugfest that ends up going the distance. While Choi has looked unstoppable so far, there is no doubt that Cub represents his toughest challenge to date by far. Cub has been around for years, and has defeated better fighters than Choi has ever faced to this point in their careers. Until I see Choi beat someone like Cub, I’m rolling with the veteran. My pick is Cub by a close decision in a thriller.
Tim Kennedy ($8,300) vs. Kelvin Gastellum ($7,900)
Interesting fight here, as both men had their bouts cancelled at UFC 205 in New York City. Kennedy was originally slated to fight Rashad Evans, who unfortunately couldn’t get cleared by the commission in New York. Meanwhile Gastellum missed weight for the 4th time in his UFC career, canceling his bout with Donald Cerrone. Gastellum was forced to fight at middleweight going forward, and he gets a high profile bout here against Kennedy. Kennedy finally makes his return after a highly controversial loss to Yoel Romero in 2014. Kennedy was the victim of one of the most blatant cheating attempts I’ve ever seen in a UFC bout, and probably should have been awarded a TKO victory. Both men obviously could use a win here. To me, this fight will more than likely end up as one of the uglier fights on the card, as both men employ a grinder style. Don’t be surprised if this turns into a battle of takedown attempts. I’m taking Kennedy to win by decision in this one. Gastellum wasn’t the biggest welterweight ever to begin with, and he’s going to have to deal with Kennedy’s size in addition to his elite skills. I think Kennedy grinds one out on the scorecards.
Jordan Mein ($9,000) vs. Emil Meek ($7,200)
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One of the former brightest prospects in MMA makes his return to the cage following a short retirement when Canada’s own Jordan Mein takes on UFC newcomer Emil Meek. Mein last competed against Thiago Alves in 2015, and was taking the fight to the Brazilian before being stopped in the 2nd round. At only 27, he’s still got time on his side to make a run in the crowded welterweight division. Meek makes his debut in the big show following an impressive KO in under a minute against former UFC submission specialist, Rousimar Palhares. This is yet another fight on the card that I am extremely excited for. Both fighters rarely make it to the score cards, and I don’t see them doing it here either. Mein will have to shake off some ring rust, but I envision him taking this fight. Meek is an impressive fighter, and will push Mein in his return, but I think Mein’s experience will be the decider here. Meek will probably have his moments in the 1st round, but Mein will turn it around in the 2nd and win the fight by TKO.
Nikita Krylov ($8,100) vs. Misha Cirkunov ($8,100)
The preliminary card headliner on FS1 should be a good one, as Nikita Krylov puts his 5-fight win streak on the line versus Toronto-based Misha Cirkunov. This fight is another example of how underrated this card is, as this should be a barn burner. Krylov lost his light heavyweight debut to Ovince Saint Preux, but has went unbeaten since, a span of over 2 years. He has finished all 5 of his opponents on his current streak. Cirkunov has been incredibly impressive since his debut in August of last year, and is on a 7-fight win streak dating back to his days on the Canadian regional circuit. He has finished his first 3 opponents in the UFC, and will look to continue the streak against Krylov, who represents his toughest test to date by far. Both men are pretty well rounded, and could finish each other on the feet, or by submission. This is an incredibly tough fight to pick a winner. As the Draftkings salaries point out, it’s a pretty even match-up. As with the Cub Swanson and Dooho Choi fight, I’m going to ride with the veteran here. Cirkunov is obviously talented, but until he beats someone on Krylov’s level, it’s hard to confidently take him. “Al Capone” has been incredibly impressive lately, and I’m riding his momentum. I think both fighters’ ground games will negate each other, leaving this one to take place on the feet. Towards the middle of the fight, I think a Krylov strike ends this one. The pick is Krylov by KO in the 2nd, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this one came back to haunt me.
Olivier Aubin-Mercier ($8,200) vs. Drew Dober ($8,000)
Canada’s Olivier Aubin-Mercier looks to win his 2nd fight in a row on home soil when he battles Drew Dober in a lightweight bout. Since losing to Chad Laprise in the finale of their TUF match-up, Aubin-Mercier has won 4 of 5 fights, including his victory over Thibault Gouti in June. Meanwhile, Dober has finally started to put things together in his UFC career, winning his last 2 fights after going 1-3 with a no contest to open his tenure with the promotion. Both fighters are skilled jiu-jitsu specialists with records littered with submission victories. I expect both fighters to hunt for submissions often, and this one will undoubtedly be a competitive battle. To me, Aubin-Mercier is simply the more talented fighter. He’ll work for the takedowns and control Dober on the mat en route to a clear-cut unanimous decision.
Valerie Letourneau ($8,400) vs. Viviane Pereira ($7,800)
After participating in the first ever women’s flyweight bout, Canadian Valerie Letourneau returns to strawweight to take on the undefeated Viviane Pereira. Letourneau looks to get back to her winning ways after dropping back to back contests to Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Joanne Calderwood. The loss to Jedrzejczyk was for the title, and Letourneau went the distance in a bout that showed Letourneau could hang with the very best strawweights in the world. Pereira is unknown to the casual fan. The 23-year-old Brazilian is a perfect 11-0 but has yet to be tested by top-notch competition. She will be out-matched by Letourneau from the jump, as she’ll have to contend with a 7-inch difference in height. To make matters worse for her, Letourneau is one of the world’s elite at 115 lbs. This will be a tough debut for the Brazilian. I’m taking Letourneau in what will prove to be a mismatch. The pick is Letourneau by TKO in the 2nd round.
Mitch Gagnon ($8,600) vs. Matthew Lopez ($7,600)
Bantamweights open the FS1 card when the Canadian Mitch Gagnon faces Matthew Lopez. Gagnon will make his return to the cage after almost 2 years away to the day. Lopez will be making his 2nd appearance with the UFC, after dropping his debut with the promotion against submission wizard Rani Yahya. Lopez almost went the distance with the longtime UFC/WEC veteran, before succumbing to an arm-triangle choke in the final minute of the fight. Gagnon will have some ring rust to deal with, but if he can over come that, he should be able to take this fight in relatively easy fashion in front of his home crowd. Lopez is a good enough fighter to earn a shot with the promotion, but Gagnon is clearly the better fighter and the gap isn’t close. With 11 of 12 wins coming by submission, I think he adds another to his resume here. Gagnon will take Lopez down early, where he’ll finish the fight before the round’s conclusion by rear-naked choke.
Lando Vannata ($8,700) vs. John Makdessi ($7,500)
UFC Fight Pass once again lands an incredibly exciting match-up as Lando Vannata takes on John Makdessi. We last saw Vannata as a short-notice replacement in his exciting loss to #2 lightweight Tony Ferguson. Vannata went for broke in that bout, and had Ferguson rocked badly in the 1st round before falling victim to a submission in the 2nd. He won a lot of fans over that night with his blitzing style, including myself. It’ll be 1 day short of exactly 6 years since Makdessi joined the UFC when he enters the cage Saturday. He’s had periods of moderate success, including a 3-fight win streak from 2012 to 2013. He’s fallen on hard times since 2014, losing 3 of 5 fights and essentially being lost in the shuffle with an ever growing roster of fighters. This should be a fun fight, and will excite the fans as I expect both men to hunt for the knockout. I love Vannata’s style, and with Greg Jackson backing him, I can’t pick against him here. I look for Vannata to overwhelm Makdessi in the middle of the fight, taking home a TKO victory in the 2nd round.
Rustam Khabilov ($9,100) vs. Jason Saggo ($7,100)
Lightweights Rustam Khabilov and Jason Saggo look to take a step forward in a crowded division when they do battle in the 2nd fight of the night. Khabilov looked ultra impressive in his first 3 bouts with the UFC, winning all 3 before taking on Benson Henderson in his first and only headline fight to date with the promotion. He dropped that bout, and the following contest to Adriano Martins, before embarking on another 3-fight win streak to push his overall UFC record to 6-2. A win over Saggo would lead to a higher profile bout, something that he needs after 8 fights in the UFC. Saggo is 3-1 since joining the UFC ranks, and his only defeat came to Paul Felder by a contentious split-decision. Khabilov is a Master of Sports in Sambo, while Saggo is a high level black belt in jiu jitsu under Royler Gracie. With that in mind, there is little doubt that both men are going to try to out-grapple each other. I think Khabilov is just too dominant in his grappling game, and should be able to grind Saggo out. I’m taking Khabilov to sweep the score cards after 3 rounds.
Zach Makovsky ($8,500) vs. Dustin Ortiz ($7,700)
This is a pretty good flyweight scrap to open the card, as the #7 ranked Makovsky takes on #11 ranked Dustin Ortiz. Both fighters have faced similar opponents, and are looking to take a step forward in the flyweight division. Makovsky has lost 2 in a row to top-flight competition, as has Ortiz. This should be a closely contested fight. Makovsky has yet to duplicate his Bellator success in the UFC to this point, but could take a step in the right direction with a win here. Makovsky was the Bellator bantamweight champion for over a year, and is the more talented fighter in this one. I love Ortiz’s style, and he has a great ground game that could do him some good here, but he is just out matched in my opinion. I’m taking Makovsky to win this one close. The pick is Makovsky by unanimous decision.
Max Holloway ($8,800)
Donald Cerrone ($9,300)
Cub Swanson ($7,300)
Tim Kennedy ($8,3000
Olivier Aubin-Mercier ($8,200)