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UFC Fight Night 81 predictions, preview, and analysis

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Esther Lin

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is making a rare Sunday night pit stop on FOX Sports 1 to bring mixed martial arts (MMA) fans UFC Fight Night 81: "Dillashaw vs. Cruz," taking place on Jan. 17, 2016 inside TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.

The main card starts at 10 p.m. ET, so plan on being in a bad mood when you wake up for work on Monday morning.

On the plus side, we should get a handful of exciting fights, as the UFC bantamweight title will no longer be in dispute. Assuming, of course, we have a legitimate outcome when TJ Dillashaw puts his strap on the line against Dominick Cruz, who surrendered his gold back in 2014 due to injury.

Before that 135-pound barnburner gets underway, Anthony Pettis returns to the Octagon for the first time since coughing up his title to Rafael dos Anjos. Unfortunately for "Showtime" it's out of the frying pan and into the fire, as he faces a very tough out in ex-Bellator champ Eddie Alvarez.

And let's not forget the heavyweight brouhaha between Matt Mitrione and Travis Browne.

If you're looking for a comprehensive breakdown of all the UFC Fight Night 81 preliminary card action, see what the persnickety Patty Stumberg had to say about the "Beantown" festivities here and here. Odds and betting lines for all the Sunday night action can be found here.

As for the main card? I'm glad you asked.

135 lbs.: TJ Dillashaw (12-2) vs. Dominick "The Dominator" Cruz (20-1)

Nostradumbass predicts: I've seen some online chatter about this fight and what surprises me is how many critics will say "Let's not forget TJ Dillashaw was stopped by John Dodson." Trying to compare this version of Dillashaw to the fighter who graduated The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 14 is like suggesting Dominick Cruz is the same fighter who was submitted by Urijah Faber in World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC).

Ancient history folks, it's time to move on.

Dillashaw rose to power in the bantamweight division by adopting a style not unlike that of his Boston counterpart. But the comparisons end there, as the former Team Alpha Male product has proven to be a prolific finisher, ending nine of his 12 wins by knockout or submission.

That's more than Cruz, who has nine more fights to his credit.

There's a lot about the former champion's layoff that bothers me. Timing and cage rust are the obvious red flags and beating the shit out of Takeya Mizugaki did little to quell those concerns. No disrespect to the Japanese veteran, but we all know that was a tune-up fight.

The real issue for me is when Cruz left to deal with his rapidly-deteriorating body, the promotion went and created a flyweight division, leaving a giant spotlight on what at the time, seemed like impressive wins. In reality, Cruz was knocking around flyweights like Demetrious Johnson, Joseph Benavidez, and Ian McCall.

Even Scott Jorgensen had a handful of bouts at 125 pounds.

That's not to suggest Dillashaw has been facing a murderer's row in the bantamweight division. You can argue he was a bad match up for Renan Barao and well ... Joe Soto? The champ has some work to do before we start talking about legacies.

That's what makes this such a great fight.

Both champion and challenger have something to prove. I'm favoring Dillashaw for all the obvious reasons. He's been more active, has the wrestling background to match Cruz, and is just as fast as "The Dominator" on the feet. Cardio has never been an issue for Cruz.

But he hasn't gone five rounds since 2011, and that will prove to be the difference maker on Sunday night.

Final prediction: Dillashaw def. Cruz via unanimous decision

155 lbs.: Anthony "Showtime" Pettis (18-3) vs. Eddie Alvarez (26-4)

Nostradumbass predicts: Anthony Pettis was whipped so badly by Rafael dos Anjos -- an underdog heading into UFC 185 -- it's easy to forget just how dominant he was atop the lightweight division, to the tune of five consecutive wins and four straight finishes.

He was also the first fighter to ever submit Gilbert Melendez.

It's not unreasonable to think he was in cruise control while preparing for Dos Anjos and by the time he realized he was in trouble, the fight was already out of his control. It's tough to be humble or worry about legitimate challenges when you keep winning (just ask Chris Weidman) but I think Pettis is back on track.

That could be problematic for Eddie Alvarez.

The former Bellator champ is -- and has always been -- an outstanding boxer, making a career out of busting up the local and international scene. He's put away some pretty tough guys in the process, but knockout wins over Shinya Aoki and Tatsuya Kawajiri look less impressive when you consider both Japanese veterans are natural featherweights.

And Alvarez looked completely outclassed against Donald Cerrone.

Call it Octagon jitters, but his follow-up performance against Gilbert Melendez did not leave me feeling good about his chances against Pettis. It's no secret that "Showtime" can be shut down by spamming takedowns and minimizing distance, but Alvarez does his best work at range.

So too does Pettis, and for my money, he's the more dynamic (and effective) striker.

Final prediction: Pettis def. Alvarez via unanimous decision

265 lbs.: Travis "Hapa" Browne (17-3-1) vs. Matt "Meathead" Mitrione (9-4)

Nostradumbass predicts: Travis Browne has been able to find success as a heavyweight fighter because he's a heavyweight fighter. What I mean by that, is "Hapa" -- like some other big men -- can rise to prominence simply by punching hard and demonstrating above-average athleticism.

Everyone that size is dangerous.

But let's not forget he was dominated by Fabricio Werdum when they went to war for five rounds in 2014. I know his coach likes to blame broken this and busted that, but you can't have an excuse every time you lose. I blew out my hamstring against Bigfoot Silva!

Then we have the knockout loss to Andrei Arlovski.

Had Browne remained under the tutelage of Greg Jackson, I might have a more positive outlook on his future, but since shacking up with Edmond Tarverdyan, I'm concerned about his offensive strategy. Remember what happened the last time a long, rangy fighter defected to Glendale Fighting Club?

She was out-boxed by a Brazilian weeble-wobble with a six-inch reach.

While I think Browne gets too much credit, I also believe Mitrione doesn't get nearly enough. Part of that has to do with his personality, the other part can be attributed to some questionable fight I.Q. But let's also remember that he's fearless and most opponents don't realize just how fast he is until they get into the cage.

Just ask Derrick Lewis.

"Meathead" will be the superior athlete on Sunday night in Boston and as far as I'm concerned, the superior striker. I'll take Henri Hooft over Tarverdyan all day and assuming Mitrione doesn't go for a reckless takedown, or decide to hang out in guard, he's going to win.

A second-round ground-and-pound stoppage would not surprise me.

Final prediction: Mitrione def. Browne via technical knockout

155 lbs.: Ross "Real Deal" Pearson (18-9) vs. Francisco "Massaranduba" Trinaldo (18-4)

Nostradumbass predicts: It's hard to believe Francisco Trinaldo has been fighting inside the Octagon for almost four years -- a span of 11 fights -- because he's not a part of the top 15. That's probably because his four-fight win streak comes against the cream of the crap.

That would likely change with a big finish over Ross Pearson.

"Massaranduba" has skills on the ground, as well as on the feet. Unfortunately, they often work independently of one another (okay, I'm going to strike now!) and his offense, while effective, is not that hard to figure out. The question for Sunday night is how much he's willing to chase his foe.

Pearson, like he did in his robbery against Sanchez, will likely stick-and-move his way to the scorecards.

"Real Deal" is a great boxer and does his best work when he's able to control the tempo. Losses to Evan Dunham and Al Iaquinta are concerning, but if the Brit can stay off the cage and circle out of danger -- and there will be plenty of it -- I would expect Trinaldo, now 37 years of age, to empty his tank in pursuit.

Final prediction: Pearson def. Trinaldo via unanimous decision

That's a wrap. will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 81 fight card on Sunday night (click here), starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the main card start time at 10 p.m. ET, also on FOX Sports 1.

You've heard from me, now let's hear from you. Who gets the job done this weekend in Boston?