A pair of undefeated bantamweight prospects, both of whom will turn 25 next month, will headline the UFC's Memorial Day event this weekend in Las Vegas.
Thomas Almeida and Cody Garbrandt will look to keep their perfect records intact at UFC Fight Night, in a rare Sunday event -- and a rare matchup for that matter, as the UFC typically steers its young, marketable prospects in different directions so as not to burn one on the other. In the co-main, former bantamweight champion Renan Barao makes his UFC featherweight debut.
Let's take a closer look at the main bouts on the card. Don't agree with these picks? Let me know on Twitter, @bokamotoESPN.
Thomas Almeida (20-0) vs. Cody Garbrandt (8-0)
Odds: Almeida -165; Garbrandt +145
Call this, what could prove to be, the first of several meetings between the two. I'm not convinced they don't run into each other multiple times over the course of their careers. But that's getting ahead of ourselves.
Who wins this one? On the feet, Almeida has more tools. That's not a knock on Garbrandt, as Almeida might possess more tools than just about any 24-year-old I've ever seen. He's throwing elbow strikes like they're punches and dropping guys with them. He's very range-savvy, not just in terms of landing, but what he's landing. Whether it's natural or a carefully honed skill in the muay Thai practice room (probably both), it results in wicked combinations and lots (and lots) of knockouts.
Based completely on the eye test, I think Garbrandt is the slightly better athlete. He's a natural wrestler, has great hand speed and is at home in the pocket thanks to an amateur boxing history and a complete lack of fear. He has a tendency to leave his hands down at the end of exchanges and keep his head on center, which could eventually get him in a lot of trouble, but his chin is rock solid and, as hittable as he is, I'd have a hard time picking against him in a brawl.
And this might have brawl written all over it. Both forfeit defense in favor of offense. Both have a pretty good deal of accuracy and throw at a high rate. Each likes to keep pressure on his opponent, and then downright floor it when the time comes. There will be no discrimination when it comes to offense in this fight -- body blows, leg kicks, head kicks and elbow strikes will be in play.
Garbrandt will be the better wrestler, but maybe not the better overall grappler. Almeida is very active if things go to the floor, certainly active enough to prevent Garbrandt from simply lying on top of him and taking rounds from top position. Not surprisingly, neither has been in a five-round fight but cardio hasn't been an issue for either (nor has confidence, for that matter).
Prediction: A finish, one way or the other. Both are more than capable of ending it, but I'll take Almeida in this one.
Other featured bouts:
Renan Barao (33-3) vs. Jeremy Stephens (24-12)
New home for Barao at 145 pounds, but the new scenery won't help if he hasn't addressed the holes in his game. Stephens is capable of making it hurt if he hasn't.
Prediction: Barao by decision.
Tarec Saffiedine (16-4) vs. Rick Story (18-8)
The finesse of Saffiedine or the blue-collar, hard-nosed work rate of Story? Both can be effective on any given night.
Prediction: Saffiedine by decision.
Sara McMann (8-3) vs. Jessica Eye (11-4)
Still feels like we haven't seen McMann reach her potential. But at what point do you start to wonder whether or not that ever happens? Important fight for the 35-year-old.
Prediction: McMann, submission.
Aljamain Sterling (12-0) vs. Bryan Caraway (20-7)
Bantamweight grudge match. At least, that's what it appears to be on Sterling's side. Sterling asked for this fight (loudly). Now, can he win it?
Prediction: Sterling via TKO.