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UFC 196 predictions, preview, and analysis

Esther Lin

Conor McGregor is a star.

And when you're a star, people will come to see you do... well, just about anything. That's why I spent $8 to see Last Action Hero in the movie theater, and while I'll spend $60 to watch McGregor -- a featherweight -- fight a lightweight with a 2-3 record dating back to 2012.

At welterweight.

Whatever, we're not here for the sport, we're here for the spectacle, and the rejiggered UFC 196 main event will likely deliver in spades. You can thank Nate Diaz for that, who will not go gently into that good night (Sat., March 5, 2016) inside MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

I doubt he'll win, but who cares? I'm just here for the double bird.

In the UFC 196 co-headliner, Holly Holm makes her Octagon return to battle Miesha Tate, who wrangled a title fight from the impatient promotion when Ronda Rousey extended her leave of absence. Is "The Preacher's Daughter" a one-hit wonder? "Cupcake" and her vaunted wrestling game could answer that.

And how could we forget the pay-per-view (PPV) debut of Ilir Latifi? No more "Fight Night" nonsense for this Swedish "Sledgehammer."

Now then, let's get to picking.

170 lbs.: "The Notorious" Conor McGregor (19-2) vs. Nate Diaz (18-10)

Nostradumbass predicts: What makes Conor McGregor such an indomitable force in the stand up is his uncanny ability to do it all. So often you have fast, technical strikers who don't pack a lot of power. Or you have sluggers with cinder blocks masquerading as hands, who can't throw a decent kick.

"Notorious" has proven to be equally dangerous whether he's the aggressor, or simply the counter-puncher.

There has been a lot of talk about McGregor facing a new challenge in Diaz, who not only broke the record for most punches thrown during a UFC fight, but shattered it. The Stocktonite has a size and reach advantage that cannot be overlooked, as well as a fearless approach to boxing.

He's not afraid to get hit.

That's why his lead leg just sits there for the duration of the fight, no matter how many times it gets whacked. I don't know if it's a pride thing, or he truly just doesn't give a fuck, but Diaz fights like you're in the parking lot of his gym, as opposed to a UFC cage.

It's likely to cost him the fight.

Without the kind of wrestling to set up his jiu-jitsu, Diaz will need to rely on clinch work or power punches to get McGregor to the floor. Even then, there are no guarantees he can lock up a submission. At the end of the day round, he's going to live or die on his feet.

Risky business.

Fortunately for Diaz, McGregor is hittable. We've seen "Notorious" get tagged by all of his opponents, even dating back to Marcus Brimage. I would expect Diaz to keep him at bay with a rangy jab and probably look like a boss through the opening frame.

But sooner or later, his pattern will become predictable.

Champions always have a Plan B, so expect adjustments in defense and new strategies on offense. McGregor -- who is not in danger of succumbing to a one-hitter quitter -- is going to eventually discover the winning formula, then pour it on until he secures a finish.

Either way, I'm expecting a great fight.

Final prediction: McGregor def. Diaz via technical knockout

135 lbs.: Holly "The Preacher's Daughter" Holm (10-0) vs. Miesha "Cupcake" Tate (17-5)

Nostradumbass predicts: Credit to Miesha Tate for getting herself back to a championship title fight, something that seemed impossible in the wake of her second loss to Ronda Rousey back in 2013. "Cupcake," undaunted, went on a four-fight tear and showed some much-improved striking against Jessica Eye.

But winning the stand-up battle against "Evil" does not qualify her to go tit-for-tat against Holly Holm.

Tate is, and always was, an exceptional wrestler with tremendous heart. While she's incredibly well rounded, the former Strikeforce bantamweight champion often has trouble putting it all together inside the cage, leading to some less-than-smooth transitions between boxing and grappling.

That's okay against the B-team, not okay against "The Preacher's Daughter."

But as incredible as it might sound, based on how thoroughly she dismantled Rousey at UFC 193, there are some lingering questions about Holm. In part because of her uninspired performances in ho-hum decision wins over Raquel Pennington and Marion Reneau.

Both tough outs, no question, but c'mon.

The Holm camp suggests she was holding back and not showing all the goods, so that when the time came, she could catch Rousey by surprise. Not sure if I entirely believe that, but one way to prove it would be a first-round knockout tomorrow night in Vegas.

Too soon.

"Cupcake" won't be the raging bull "Rowdy" was and is not going to lumber forward with her hands down and her chin up. That in and of itself should get her into the championship rounds. But Holm is too big and way too powerful to get taken down at will.

In addition, the champ is going to do much more damage on the feet than Tate can do on the ground, if and when it ever gets there. A finish would not be unexpected, but I think a cautious Holm will be content to play keep away for 25 minutes.

Final prediction: Holm def. Tate via unanimous decision

205 lbs.: Gian Villante (14-6) vs. Ilir "Sledgehammer" Latifi (11-4)

Nostradumbass predicts: I love a good, old-fashioned hoss fight and well, this card won't do much better than Gian Villante vs. Ilir Latifi. What's interesting about this pairing is how similar both fighters are in terms of offense, as well as how they got to the big show.

By the time Villante crossed over from Strikeforce in April 2013, his best friend and training partner, Chris Weidman, was already booked to challenge Anderson Silva for the middleweight title. Similarly, Latifi earned his shot at the big time when Swedish pal Alexander Gustafsson was busted open, also in April 2013.

Villante is 4-3 during that span with three finishes, while Latifi is 4-2, with four violent endings.

Ordinarily, I would be concerned about the height and reach disadvantage, but Latifi has already established that he can get inside without fail. Villante can counter that with his wrestling and return fire, making this fight less about punching power and more about gameplan.

That's all well and good ... until the fuel gauge is on E.

Villante will control the action for the first half of the fight and may even land some big shots, but sooner or later he's going to run out of steam and learn, quite painfully, why his thewy opponent is nicknamed "The Sledgehammer."

Final prediction: Latifi def. Villante via knockout

205 lbs.: Corey "Beastin' 25/8" Anderson (7-1) vs. "Filthy" Tom Lawlor (10-5)

Nostradumbass predicts: Corey Anderson had a fair amount of momentum following his technical knockout win to capture The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 19 crown, following that up with a hard-fought decision win over Justin Jones at UFC 181.

Then it all came crashing down when Gian Villante flattened him at UFC on FOX 15.

The good new for Anderson and his awful nickname is that he was able to bounce back with consecutive wins over some pretty tough light heavyweights in the form of Jan Blachowicz and Fabio Maldonado. I would have preferred a finish in at least one of those two wins, but I don't want to get too greedy.

"Beastin' 25/8" is also just 26 years old.

I expect him to have his hands full against the suddenly resurgent Tom Lawlor, a fellow TUF grad and a fighter I had written off for dead a couple of years back. But then he returned at UFC on FOX 16 with a "Filthy" knockout win over the aforementioned Villante and that shut me (and a lot of other people) up.

Don't call it a comeback, he's been here for years.

Lawlor is also a decorated collegiate wrestler, so the tricks Anderson employed in previous wins are unlikely to be of much benefit come fight night. That doesn't mean he won't try, but when he does, Lawlor is going to remind him -- and the rest of the division -- why his underrated ground game is like the Wu-Tang Clan.

Ain't nothing to fuck with.

Final prediction: Lawlor def. Anderson via submission

135 lbs.: Amanda "Lioness" Nunes (11-4) vs. Valentina "Bullet" Shevchenko (12-1)

Nostradumbass predicts: Amanda Nunes, without question, is one of the most savage bantamweights on the entire roster -- male or female. Unfortunately, her gas tank is in line with her ferocity, which may be one of the reasons she's 4-1 inside the Octagon as opposed to 5-0.

She had Cat Zingano left for dead at UFC 178, but couldn't seal the deal.

Outside of her ever-improving stand-up, Nunes has a punishing ground game with legitimate jiu-jitsu skills (just ask Sara McMann). The Brazilian, however, prefers to bang it out on the feet and she's only been to the scorecards once in 15 pro fights.

I'm very worried for Valentina Shevchenko.

Her 12-1 record is impressive, as was her win over the gritty Sarah Kaufman at UFC on FOX 17, but knocking around regional stand-ins like Jan Finney and Hellen Bastos -- who both have losing records -- does not give me the confidence to believe "Bullet" can find the bullseye at UFC 196.

Not against the fourth-best bantamweight in the world.

The Russian-born kickboxer will come out and do all the right things and probably look good doing them. But once Nunes flips the switch and unleashes her Brazilian blood lust, they won't need a stretcher to take Shevchenko from the cage.

They'll need a sponge.

Final prediction: Nunes def. Shevchenko via technical knockout

That's a wrap.

For a closer look at the UFC 196 "Prelims" portion of the card click here and here. Latest odds and betting lines for "McGregor vs. Diaz" can be found here. will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 196 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.

You've heard from me, now let's hear from you. Who gets the job done at UFC 196?

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