Tonight, for the first time in exactly five years, the UFC will be holding a PPV on a Friday night. As was the case five years ago, the reason behind the Friday PPV is that New Years falls on a Sunday, so to avoid having to have a PPV on New Year’s Eve, the UFC is holding it on Friday night.
The main card is chock full of storylines, and those will all be addressed on the main card prediction post. Like the main card, the prelim card is loaded with intriguing and potentially fun bouts as well. The slate has seen some shifts though, due to injuries and cancellations on the main card. Due to a pair of notable fights being cancelled on the main card, Tarec Saffeidine vs. Dong Hyun Kim and Ray Borg vs. Louis Smolka were both moved to the main card, and a pair of Fight Pass bouts got moved to the televised FS1 portion of the card. There’s only five prelim bouts on deck now, but it should be a fun slate, and here are my picks for all five of the preliminary tilts on hand.
Fight Pass prelim (7:30/6:30c, UFC Fight Pass)
Alex Oliveira (16-3-1, NC) vs. Tim Means (26-6-1)
The lone Fight Pass bout of the evening is a damn good one. Both men have grappling skills, but are primarily knockout artists. Oliveira has ten knockouts to his credit, a 5-2 UFC record, and is fighting for the fourth time this year. Means has 18 knockout wins, as well as four submission and decision wins apiece, and has gone 6-2 since returning to the UFC in May 2014. Means has the more questionable chin, but also has more power. He’s also got more submissions, whereas Oliveira has been somewhat of a grinder in recent fights. Despite a potential style disadvantage, I see Means finding a way to capitalize before long, en route to a second round finish. Prediction: Means via tko, round 2.
Televised prelims (8/7c, FS1)
Niko Price (8-0) vs. Brandon Thatch (11-4)
The first televised bout of the card should be a straight-up slobber-knocker. Initially a Fight Pass bout, the fight got moved up to the tv prelims due to injuries to other fighters. Price may be a newcomer, but he’s very dangerous. He has seven finishes to his credit, including six knockouts, and six total first round finishes. Thatch has really sputtered of late, losing three straight fights via rear-naked choke, but had won his previous ten bouts, all in the first round, with seven of them coming via knockout. A loss for him won’t be shocking at all, but I see him finally righting the ship tonight, in what should be a fun brawl while it lasts. Prediction: Thatch via knockout, round 1.
Mike Pyle (27-12-1) vs. Alex Garcia (13-3)
The next fight feels like a retirement bout. Pyle is a veteran of the sport who made his pro debut against Rampage Jackson in 1999. He’s been all over the place, and has been with the UFC since May 2009. He won eight of his first 11 UFC bouts, and became a fan favorite due to winning many fights where he was expected to get beat down. However, he’s lost four of his last six, is 41-years-old, three of those losses have come via knockout, and it might be time to call it a career. He’s got 16 submission and seven knockout wins but has also been finished ten times, and if he calls it quits or gets released with a loss tonight, it won’t be surprising at all.
As for Garcia, the Tristar product is very good, but needs a win badly. He’s got five knockout and submission wins apiece, and began his career 12-1, but has lost two of three and a loss tonight could result in him getting cut. He’s 12 years younger than Pyle, faster, and expected to win. That said, Pyle has faced long odds before, and has overcome them countless times. Conventional wisdom says Garcia should and will win. My heart disagrees though, and I just hope it’s a good fight. Gut pick: Garcia via tko, round 2. Heart pick: Pyle via submission, round 3.
Antonio Carlos Junior (6-2, 1 NC) vs. Marvin Vettori (11-2)
Vettori is now 2-0 inside the octagon, with both wins coming via first round submission. He’s won eight total fights in that fashion, and another win will likely warrant a main card bout for him at the very least. Junior, nicknamed “Shoeface,” is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and quite a gas tank to boot. The TUF: Brazil 3 Heavyweight tournament winner is 3-2 with a no contest inside the octagon, and only one of those bouts ended prior to round 3. Basically, if this fight goes past the opening round, Junior should win. My gut says Vettori will win, but I’ll say Junior pulls off the W. Prediction: Junior via decision.
Johny Hendricks (17-5) vs. Neil Magny (18-5)
The headlining prelim bout is saddening. Exactly five years ago today, Johny Hendricks knocked out heavy favorite Jon Fitch just 12 seconds into their bout, creating a huge buzz as a result. A year later, he did the same to Martin Kampmann just 46 seconds into their co-main event bout. Then in November 2013, Hendricks headlined the UFC’s 20th Anniversary card against one of the greatest of all time, Georges St. Pierre, in what was an epic fight that many thought Hendricks has won. Then in March 2014, after St. Pierre retired and vacated the Welterweight belt, Hendricks won the title against Robbie Lawler via decision.
Since losing a razor-close rematch that December, Hendricks has hit rock bottom. He won a grinding decision over Matt Brown which was heavily panned, then had to bow out of a potential title eliminator bout at UFC 192 during the weigh-ins, and has lost two straight bouts since then. He missed wight for his last fight, a dispiriting decision loss to Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 200, and also missed weight for tonight’s fight. If he loses, it’s only fitting.
As for Magny, the former TUF competitor lost two of his first three UFC bouts, before reeling off ten wins in his following eleven fights, with the lone loss coming against Brazilian Jiu Jitsu master Demian Maia in August 2015. In his last fight, Magny looked shockingly out of place, getting TKO’d by Lorenz Larkin at UFC 202 in August. So pretty much, Magny doesn’t lose very often unless it’s August. He’s in better shape, has fought much more frequently and better than Hendricks has in the past few years, and is in much better spirits than Hendricks is. Of course, Hendricks’ one-punch knockout ability, which is what he became famous for, may still be there. That said, the safe bet is a Magny win, and I won’t go against conventional wisdom here. Prediction: Magny via decision.