Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to FOX Sports 1 this Saturday (Nov. 21, 2015) with what they call in the world of professional wrestling a "cool-down match." Let's face it, after the circus that was UFC 193 -- and the madness that will be UFC 194 -- mixed martial arts (MMA) fans could use a break.
In terms of drama, not fisticuffs.
To that end, UFC Fight Night 78 will send a pair of familiar faces into the network televised headliner of this weekend's big shebang, which also includes the featherweight debut of Diego Sanchez, as well as the finals for The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Latin America 2," which I know you all watched in earnest.
But before the "Magny vs. Gastelum" event gets underway from Mexico's Monterrey Arena, we're going to take a closer look at the six-fight main card line up. We as in myself and Patrick Stumberg, who wrote up a pair of fights that were originally scheduled for the "Prelims," but got bumped into prime time because UFC likes to troll us from time to time.
Let's get crackin'.
170 lbs.: Neil Magny (16-4) vs. Kelvin Gastelum (11-1)
Nostradumbass predicts: Like a lot of fighters, Kelvin Gastelum gets overlooked in his division because of his struggles outside the cage. In his case, the inability to consistently and effectively make weight. It's unfortunate, but forgivable, because the former middleweight is still just 24 years old.
I'm not expecting any hiccups (or trips to the hospital) this time out.
When we table those headlines and look solely at Octagon accomplishments, what we see is a very talented fighter with some pretty big wins over established veterans. I'm not going crazy over his loss to Tyron Woodley -- the current division No. 1 contender -- since he showed up to the arena in a hospital gown.
And nearly won the damn fight.
That said, Neil Magny is not a beat-up veteran he can just out-muscle. The Illinoisan has a frightening 80-inch reach and prior to his misstep against Demian Maia, was the winner of seven straight fights. Let's also not overlook the fact that he stands a towering 6'3".
This fight may be decided by Gastelum's cardio.
While Magny is a solid offensive wrestler, he's been taken down a staggering 20 times in his UFC career, which means he's going to the floor at some point in this 25-minute affair. I can't imagine Gastelum wanting to spend any more time than necessary against that Dhalsim-like jab.
The question is, will he be in good enough shape to stay aggressive for 25 minutes?
Magny feels like a solid pick, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him come alive in the latter half of the fight, but I just can't overlook his level of competition up until this point. Gastelum has faced -- and defeated -- much better fighters, leading me to believe this is his bout to lose.
Final prediction: Gastelum def. Magny via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Ricardo "The Bully" Lamas (15-4) vs. Diego "The Dream" Sanchez (25-7)
Nostradumbass predicts: There is nothing more depressing, at least in terms of combat sports, than watching a fighter who has nothing left, save for a big heart and the ability to absorb an unnecessary amount of punishment. The judges may continue to gift-wrap him wins every so often, but I have not seen an impressive performance from Diego Sanchez in over five years.
And for the record, "The Dream" has been hit 441 times over his last five fights.
Sanchez has not finished a fight since 2008 and continues to move down in weight. That he draws a veteran slugger and former No. 1 contender like Ricardo Lamas his first time out is troubling, as "The Bully" is a powerful striker with terrific wrestling, both offensively and defensively.
We must also acknowledge that when you continue to cut weight, you will eventually run out of excess water and fat and start stripping away muscle. The ferocious buzzsaw who was able to drive opponents into the cage and onto the floor is likely to be replaced by a weaker shadow of the once-feared "Nightmare."
This could get ugly.
Lamas is not without his flaws, but Sanchez does not have the power of Chad Mendes, or the technical striking of Jose Aldo. What he does have is will, something you can't manufacture or develop inside the gym. That -- coupled with raw aggression and punches in bunches -- was enough to run through the division in 2006.
That time is long gone, and Sanchez has gone with it.
Final prediction: Lamas def. Sanchez via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Henry "The Messenger" Cejudo (9-0) vs. Jussier "Formiga" Da Silva (18-3)
Nostradumbass predicts: While most of the talk surrounding Henry Cejudo centers on his Olympic wrestling -- and rightly so -- he's actually a fairly competent striker. Well, offensively that is, as "The Messenger" can be tagged with little-to-no effort.
Is he heir to the flyweight throne?
Not yet, but we'll get to see just how close he is when he throws hands against Jussier da Silva. Like Cejudo, the Brazilian's claim to fame is what he can do on the ground, but he's no slouch on his feet, either. In order to submit his Monterrey opponent he must first get him to the floor.
That ain't happening.
Similarly, I'm not sure how eager Cejudo will be to score points via takedown. I would argue that his control and experience on top would likely remove him from danger, but why take the chance? Better to bang it out on the feet where a knockout seems unlikely.
"Formiga" hasn't planted anyone in 18 wins.
That said, I wouldn't exactly call this a wrap. Da Silva has the hands -- as well as the experience -- to make this interesting. Unfortunately for him, the scorecards reward busy work, and Cejudo is going to be buzzing and stinging his way across their 15-minute affair, much to the judges' delight.
Final prediction: Cejudo def. Da Silva via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Efrain "Hecho En Mexico" Escudero (24-9) vs. Leandro "Buscape" Silva (18-3-1)
Nostradumbass predicts: Hard to believe it's been almost seven years since Efrain Escudero graduated from TUF 8 with honors, capturing the glass trophy and setting his sights on the upper echelon of the division. Then reality sank in and well, "Hecho En Mexico" has experienced an up-and-down career ever since.
This is currently an "up" phase, but I'm not sure for how long.
Escudero, who turns 30 in just over a month, is the same fighter he's always been: good, but not great. He can hold his own pretty much anywhere the fight goes and to his credit, his striking has improved over the past couple of years. Enough to get him to the promised land?
Despite his physical tools, there is something mentally that gives him pause. If he came into every fight with Leandro Silva's aggression, he'd probably be a top-five fighter. "Buscape" is not that different from his "Fight Night" opponent, though his skill set is a little more unbalanced.
The Brazilian is great on the ground and horrible on his feet.
With just one knockout in 18 wins, I don't think Escudero is in danger of going to sleep. What worries me is the possibility that both fighters settle for a sloppy kickboxing match, which will give us 15 minutes of turn-based power punching with little-to-no effect.
Or "Buscape" could drive him into the fence and work for takedowns.
If Escudero can maintain his space and commit to a high-volume striking attack, there's a chance he can weather the storm and capture the cards. The more likely scenario is Silva goes full rage mode, mugging and slugging his way to a decision.
Final prediction: Silva def. Escudero via split decision
170 lbs.: Enrique "Wasabi" Marin (8-2) vs. Erick "Perry" Montano (6-3)
Patrick Stumberg predicts: Erick Montano -- brother of fellow UFC welterweight Augusto "Dodger" -- won his first fight in TUF house when Marco Olano posted while being taken down, suffering a nasty fracture in the process. "Perry's" second fight, thankfully, featured no such catastrophe, dropping and submitting Vernon Ramos via rear-naked choke.
He has never gone the distance as a professional, submitting four opponents.
Despite an early surge from his opponent, Enrique Marin used precise combinations to earn his first win on the show at the expense of Kevin Medinilla. In the semifinals, he needed hardly any time to submit fellow Team Gastelum member Hector Aldana with a rear-naked choke.
"Wasabi" has tapped his last four opponents and five overall.
Montano appears to share his brother's lackluster technique, but lacks the overwhelming physicality "Dodger" uses to compensate. His striking is best described with a noncommittal "eh" and his fight with Ramos was basically a documentary on awful back control. Marin, by contrast, has some crisp hands, good work in the clinch, and solid grappling overall.
All three of Montano's professional losses have come by submission and Marin is well-equipped to hand him a fourth. Marin controls the striking for however long he wants until he grounds Montano and chokes him out.
Final prediction: Marin by submission
155 lbs.: Enrique "El Fuerte" Barzola (10-2-1) vs. Horacio "The Punisher" Gutierrez (2-1)
Patrick Stumberg predicts: Horacio Gutierrez, despite nursing an ankle injury, defeated countryman Danny Salas in the opening round via entertaining majority decision. His semifinal matchup with Marco Polo Reyes was a little more definitive as he dropped his foe with a savage left hook before pounding him out from mount. At 5'10," he is the taller man by three inches.
Enrique Barzola utilized quick striking, particularly his powerful kicks, to take a three-round unanimous decision from Jonathan Ortega in the quarterfinals. In the semis, the Peruvian "Incan warrior" forced Paraguay's Cesar Arzamendia to tap to a body shot from guard to earn a spot in the finals. "El Fuerte" has finished eight opponents, four each by knockout and submission.
This has the potential to be a solid scrap. Gutierrez has some sharp striking, especially with his punishing leg kicks, and Barzola's game for a scrap as well. In all likelihood, this fight will be determined by how well Barzola can implement his grappling.
I'm not confident.
In addition to the size discrepancy, Barzola showed a bit of shaky cardio in his fight with Ortega, not to mention the fairly solid takedown defense Gutierrez showed in his opening fight. On the feet, Gutierrez's hands are the faster of the two and his technique is cleaner. Expect "The Punisher" to take over midway through the fight with effective combinations before ultimately landing something definitive.
Final prediction: Gutierrez by technical knockout
That's a wrap.
MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 78 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the UFC Fight Pass "Prelims" bouts at 6:30 p.m. ET before moving on to the FOX Sports 1 "Prelims" offering at 8 p.m. ET, followed by the FOX Sports 1 main card line up at 10 p.m. ET.
For previews and predictions of all the UFC Fight Night 78 "Prelims" bout click here and here. Odds, betting lines, and best bets for "Magny vs. Gastelum" go here.
You've heard my picks, now let's hear yours. Who gets it done tomorrow night in Monterrey?