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UFC Fight Night 116 predictions: ‘Rockhold vs Branch’ FOX Sports 1 ‘Prelims'‘ undercard preview

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UFC 179: Aldo v Mendes 2 Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Former Strikeforce and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight champion Luke Rockhold finally returns from injury this Saturday (Sept. 16, 2017), taking on two-division World Series of Fighting (WSOF) champ David Branch in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Joining them are Welterweight knockout artists Mike Perry and Thiago Alves, plus Middleweight finishers Hector Lombard and Anthony Smith.

And that’s not even mentioning top prospects Gregor Gillespie and Kamaru Usman in action against Jason Gonzalez and Sergio Moraes, respectively.

Four UFC Fight Night 16 “Prelims” undercard matches will grace FOX Sports 1 before the all-important main card (check out the Fight Pass portion here). Here they are, freshly analyzed for your pleasure.

155 lbs.: Tony Martin vs. Olivier Aubin-Mercier

Tony Martin (12-3) jumped right into the deep end when he joined UFC, starting 1-3 against the likes of Rashid Magomedov, Beneil Dariush and Leonardo Santos. He has since fixed his lingering cardio issues and won three straight, including a decision over Johnny Case in June.

He stands three inches taller than Olivier Aubin-Mercier (9-2) at 6’0.”

Aubin-Mercier’s Judo prowess carried him to The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Nations” finals, where he dropped a split decision to teammate Chad Laprise. He went on to win five of his next six fights, the sole blemish a decision loss to Carlos Diego Ferreira, and earned four submission wins in the process.

All but one of his professional victories have come by tapout.

It looks to me as though Martin has finally gotten his shit together. He’s enormous for the weight class and can now parlay that size and strength into overpowering offense without draining his gas tank. More significant, he’s become a legitimate threat as a striker, which should be the key against Aubin-Mercier.

“The Quebec Kid’s” stocky frame lends itself well to murderous clinch strength, but he’ll be giving up range to a crisper boxer who ostensibly has the strength and wrestling acumen to force protracted striking engagements. Were this the Martin who disintegrated halfway through the second round like clockwork, I’d favor Aubin-Mercier to wear him down in the clinch. Now, however, I see Martin outboxing him and shutting down his takedowns on his way to a decision victory.

Prediction: Martin via unanimous decision

265 lbs.: Anthony Hamilton vs. Daniel Spitz

Anthony Hamilton (15-7) has recently hit some bumps in the track after opening his UFC career 2-2. “The Freight Train” rebounded from a decision loss to Shamil Abdurakhimov with a 14-second knockout of Damian Grabowski, but soon found himself on the wrong end of consecutive bonus-winning finishes against Francis Ngannou and Marcel Fortuna, the latter of whom Hamilton outweighed by 48 pounds.

Eight of his professional wins, including two of his three in UFC, have come by form of knockout.

Daniel Spitz (5-1) racked up four first-round stoppages in his first five fights, including three in less than two minutes apiece. This set up a late-notice UFC debut against Mark Godbeer, who outstruck his lanky foe en route to handing him his first professional defeat.

At 6’7,” he stands two inches taller than Hamilton.

In one corner, we’ve got a massive underachiever whose size, power and wrestling pedigree consistently fail to produce results against above-average competition. In the other, we’ve got a green fighter one step below “prospect” who couldn’t keep a generic brawler in Godbeer off of him despite a seven-inch reach advantage.

Stirring stuff.

Unless Spitz has made monumental strides or Hamilton, in traditional Hamilton fashion, walks face-first into something brutal, bad things are in Spitz’s future. Hamilton finds his way inside, drops him with either punches or a double-leg, and pounds him out for the finish.

Prediction: Hamilton via first-round technical knockout

185 lbs.: Krzysztof Jotko vs. Uriah Hall

A loss to Magnus Cedenblad in his second UFC appearance wasn’t enough to deter Krzysztof Jotko (19-2), who defeated five consecutive opponents to crack the Middleweight Top 10. Once there, he welcomed two-division WSOF champion David Branch back to UFC at UFC 211 and suffered a narrow split decision loss.

He will give up two inches of arm and leg reach to Uriah Hall (12-8).

It’s been more than four years since Hall tore through TUF 17, only to fall to Kelvin Gastelum at the Finale. Once hailed as a potential Anderson Silva-like figure, Hall now finds himself on a three-fight losing streak and bearing a 5-6 UFC record.

Eight of his professional wins have come by (technical) knockout.

Jotko — whom I’ve underestimated quite a bit in the past — remains a potent threat in the Middleweight division. He’s a dangerous wrestler and top control artist with the durability and boxing to stay alive and set things up on the feet.

In short, not the sort of foe Hall can be relied upon to rebuild his career against.

Hall will struggle to stay on his feet, especially with his notorious lack of volume, and what flashy shenanigans he unleashes will only serve to open up more takedown opportunities for his opponent. Hall’s always a threat to uncork a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it finisher, of course, but the likeliest outcome sees Jotko grind him down for the full fifteen.

Prediction: Jotko via unanimous decision

135 lbs.: Luke Sanders vs. Felipe Arantes

Luke Sanders (11-1) — the former RFA Bantamweight champion — didn’t let short notice or a jump in weight stop him from demolishing Maximo Blanco in his Octagon debut and picking up a bonus in the process. Fourteen months later, he spent 1.5 rounds obliterating the highly-ranked Iuri Alcantara before tapping to a kneebar in one of 2017’s most shocking comebacks.

He has knocked out six professional opponents and submitted two others.

Felipe Arantes’ (18-8-1) 2015 drop to Bantamweight produced immediate results as he submitted Yves Jabouin and Jerrod Sanders in a round apiece. His next bout saw him face Mexican young gun Erik Perez, against whom “Sertanejo” dropped a split decision in hostile territory.

This will be his first fight in 10 months.

Arantes appears painfully close to the edge of gatekeeper territory, unable to break through. He’s a strong striker and a dangerous grappler, but appears doomed to be a massive headache for rising fighters rather than a contender in his own right. Sanders, a crisper puncher with quality wrestling and stomach-churning ground-and-pound, looks like another man destined to leave a narrowly-beaten Arantes in his wake.

Sanders’ takedowns ought to be enough to nullify the threat of Arantes’ kicks and he’s capable enough from top position to avoid that lethal armbar. Arantes will have his moments — and may win a round — but Sanders edges him out in a fun tussle.

Prediction: Sanders via unanimous decision

We’re going to get some memorable finishes, at least. See you Saturday, Maniacs.

Current UFC "Prelims" Prediction Record for 2017: 108-60 (1 NC)