As always, I break down the main event, including the co-main between welterweights Erick Silva and Neil Magny, and give my picks on the entire UFC card. Don't agree with my predictions? Let me know (nicely, of course) on Twitter: @bokamotoESPN.
Max Holloway (13-3) vs. Charles Oliveira (20-4) Featherweights Odds: Holloway -240; Oliveira +200
The amount of cage experience Holloway has already accumulated at age 23 is fairly ridiculous. Sunday will mark his 13th appearance in the UFC's featherweight division, most of all time.
That makes him unique. He's still in that phase of development where he's evolving a lot between fights (physically as well as technically), but at the same time, he's not a rookie. Holloway has fought into later rounds, he knows how to handle media, he's traveled overseas and cut weight before. He has the best of both worlds -- still very much growing into his game while also reaping the benefits of experience.
If there's one piece of Holloway's skill set we have reason to believe is missing, it's wrestling. He's been out-grappled in each of his three professional losses -- and judging by the fact that he's been credited with just two takedown attempts in his entire UFC career, it's pretty obvious he likes to keep things standing.
And it's easy to see why. Holloway is an animal on his feet. He's a good size featherweight, but still manages to set a hellish pace. He cuts angles, mixes strikes and sets a kickboxing distance that can be very hard to disrupt. You have to match this guy's offensive output to some extent to stand a chance. It's not a coincidence that the opponents who have fared the best against Holloway have been active, aggressive strikers who also threatened with takedowns: Andre Fili, Conor McGregor and Dennis Bermudez. Back off and allow him to get going? Trouble.
Oliveira, only 25 years old himself, has improved his striking in recent years, but stylistically, I don't like his chances against Holloway. He has an upright, rooted stance, which is good for power but not necessarily for movement. He basically stalks forward and looks to clinch and shoot on single legs. He's a former lightweight and he'll match up pretty well with Holloway in terms of size, but he's not real tricky in his entries. If Holloway has shored up his takedown defense, this looks like a pretty easy fight for him, frankly.
That's the million-dollar question, though: Can Holloway defend against the takedown? Oliveira might not have that beautiful, All-American blast double leg, but his ability to chain wrestle is probably a bit underrated at this point. And what's not underrated is his ground game. His ability to tap opponents once he's dragged them to the floor is probably second-to-none in the division. If Holloway's back hits the mat just once, he might never get back on his feet. The fight could be over before he knows what hits (or chokes) him.
If it turns out Holloway still can't wrestle and Oliveira can basically will him to the ground, the fight will be disappointing. Holloway is on a six-fight win streak and is on the cusp of jumping into real, legit title-contention talk. If he can't stop Oliveira's takedowns, he's not stopping Frankie Edgar's. Or Chad Mendes's. Or McGregor's again, for that matter. If his defensive wrestling has improved and he shuts down Oliveira in that regard, I think this turns into a blowout.
PREDICTION: Holloway via TKO, second round
Erick Silva (18-5) vs. Neil Magny (15-4) Welterweights Odds: Silva -175; Magny +155
A 22-day turnaround for Magny, which has to be noted but doesn't really concern me that much here.
Magny said he's felt more banged up after a hard training session than he did a second-round submission loss to Demian Maia on the first of the month. Although he was soundly dominated on the ground in that fight, he only absorbed 13 total strikes. He says he was back in the gym the following week.
As is always the case when Silva fights, this has the look of, "Either Silva destroys him in the first round or gasses out and loses late." There's no real secret to this. In 10 UFC appearances, Silva is undefeated in fights that end in the first round and 0-3 in fights that don't. (I'm counting his disqualification loss as a win for the purposes of this breakdown. He had Carlo Prater finished, but officially took a loss due to punches to the back of the head, thrown when the fight was all but over).
If Magny, 28, is anything, he is a workhorse. Five times in his UFC career, this guy has landed more than 100 total strikes in a fight. With the exception of his last fight, he's getting better and better at using his reach, which is freakishly long for the division. Here he'll have a six-inch advantage against Silva.
And Silva can be pretty easy to outwork because he throws everything he's got into every attempt. A good defensive fighter, which Magny is, should be able to claim the center of the cage, avoid the Brazilian's haymakers and go to work on his gas tank. If Silva falls off-balance after throwing a punch, take him down.
The wildcard in all of this, of course, is that Silva claims souls when he connects. What he did to Matt Brown in the first two minutes of their fight, even in a loss, was spectacular. He's a tried-and-true finisher, with far more highlight reel ability than Magny.
A workmanlike approach by Magny for the win. Silva is the flashier pick of the two and there is certainly a chance of him putting Magny away in the first round, but you can count on Magny being in shape, and his volume should give Silva problems. Intelligent pressure is the phrase of the day for Magny here. If he brings the fight to Silva and is able to survive the first round while doing so, it's his fight to lose.
PREDICTION: Magny by submission, third round
Rest of the main card
Josh Burkman (27-11) vs. Patrick Cote (21-9), welterweights
Two welterweights who are on the backside of their respective careers, but I think Cote is descending a little slower. It won't be pretty.
PREDICTION: Cote by unanimous decision
Chad Laprise (10-0) vs. Francisco Trinaldo (17-4), lightweights
Not an easy fight for Laprise, but very much in his wheelhouse. Standup fight without a lot of drama.
PREDICTION: Laprise by three 30-27s