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UFC Fight Night 126 predictions, preview, and analysis

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cowboy-finger Esther Lin

What do you get when you take two guys with finishes in every win since 2015 and throw them at each other for five rounds? Mixed martial arts (MMA) fans are about to find out this Sunday night (Feb. 18, 2018) when Donald Cerrone faces Yancy Medeiros in the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) headliner in Austin, Texas.

The Frank Erwin Center will also host a heavyweight clash between Derrick “The Black Beast” Lewis and Poland’s Marcin Tybura, plus a pivotal throwdown between lightweight standouts James Vick and Francisco Trinaldo.

Nostradumbass is currently awaiting execution in a foreign land after being framed for stealing some crown jewels, so the duty of analysis falls to me once again. You can also look at our breakdown of the UFC Fight Night 126 Prelims here and here, then head on over to our odds analysis here.

170 lbs.: Donald Cerrone (32-10) vs. Yancy Medeiros (15-4)

I won’t argue that Cerrone’s losses to Jorge Masvidal and Darren Till weren’t devastating, but let’s not forget that he gave Robbie Lawler a damn good fight just this past July. “Cowboy” ain’t riding off into the sunset anytime soon, especially not against the man with the worst striking defense in the entire welterweight division.

That’s the thing; Medeiros is powerful, gutsy, has inhuman recovery ability, and can snatch a choke out of nowhere. He’s also ludicrously easy to hit, not terribly hard to drop, and isn’t much of a wrestler. He isn’t the sort of technician Masvidal and Till are, either, and trying to pressure Cerrone without the proper craft means eating a boatload of intercepting knees to the body until your gas tank empties and he starts punting your leg halfway across the arena. Cerrone’s going to hurt him before too long.

And when Cerrone hurts people, they don’t get back up.

I do believe we’ve seen the end of Cerrone as a fixture of the top five. I do not, however, believe we’ve seen the end of Cerrone as a threat to everyone below the elite. As entertaining as Medeiros is, one simply cannot be that willing to take punishment against a sniper like “Cowboy.” He drops Medeiros in the early going and locks up his favorite rear naked choke on the way up.

Prediction: Cerrone via first-round submission

265 lbs.: Derrick Lewis (18-5) vs. Marcin Tybura (16-3)

I love “The Black Beast.” He’s got charisma for days and his ground-and-pound is the stuff of nightmares. At the same time, I recognize that he’s a deeply flawed fighter whose physical health is a question mark thanks to a persistent back injury. In Tybura, he faces a serious stylistic clash, a sharper kickboxer with superior wrestling and no major cardio issues.

Lewis’ strategy is fairly simple: if he can’t get easy takedowns, he’ll stay patient and let his opponents wear themselves out trying to overpower him on the mat. His striking consists of periodic bull-rushes unless his opponents choose to get in his face, at which point he’ll throw down and destroy them with his durability and colossal power. Unfortunately for him, Tybura has a strong long-range kicking game and quality takedown defense, allowing him to play matador and steer clear of the meteors Lewis has instead of fists.

If this were five rounds, I’d probably pick Lewis, as he as an uncanny ability to pounce the second his opponents are sufficiently tired. Since it’s just three, though, I say Tybura can manage his stamina and rack up damage from range all night. “Tybur” wins a fairly uneventful decision.

Prediction: Tybura via unanimous decision

155 lbs.: James Vick (12-1) vs. Francisco Trinaldo (22-5)

Behold that rarest of MMA creatures, the lanky fighter who actually know how to fight long. It feels like just yesterday that Vick was getting clipped by 5’8” Nick Hein and hauling ass away from the German’s 66.5” reach for the rest of the fight. He’s finally added stopping power to his hands to complement his killer jiu-jitsu and kicks, which is a scary prospect for a 6’3” lightweight.

But people are seriously sleeping on Francisco Trinaldo.

“Massaranduba,” once known for gassing out after six minutes in fights he was winning, put together a seven-fight winning streak in the massively stacked lightweight division. He’s honed his striking and pressure fighting to the extent that he tore Paul Felder up on the feet before ultimately finishing him on a grievous cut. Despite pushing 40, he’s incredibly adept at forcing opponents to the fence and putting his refrigerator-like 5’9” frame to use with power shots on the inside.

Vick is certainly capable of jabbing him to bits, but his struggles with another southpaw slugger in Beneil Dariush are an ill omen. Worse, Trinaldo is the superior wrestler of the two, which mitigates the threat of Vick’s chokes and gives him another option with which to hamstring Vick’s striking. “Massaranduba” finds the mark with his overhand left sometime in the first round.

Prediction: Trinaldo via first-round TKO

170 lbs.: Thiago Alves (22-11) vs. Curtis Millender (14-3)

According to the UFC’s measurements, which admittedly don’t have a sterling track record of accuracy, Millender will have six inches of height on Alves. Tapology says he’ll also have eight inches of reach, although it pegs Millender at 6’2” instead’s 6’3”. Millender has some brutal long-range attacks and his head kick in particular is top-of-the-line.

So why are the oddsmakers and I picking Alves when “The Pitbull” has lost two of his last three?

The key is that Alves has, after years of being wrestled into the dirt by the likes of Jon Fitch and Rick Story, become an extremely capable takedown artist. Millender, meanwhile, got taken down and touched up by the shorter Nick Barnes in his last fight. Further, Millender appears to have issues with low kicks, which have been Alves’ trademark since his UFC debut all those years ago.

Alves has the countering skills to punish Millender when “Curtious” overextends with his punches and the wrestling to disrupt his offense. Unless Millender can sneak his shin around Alves’ guard, which he is certainly capable of doing, expect Alves to cruise to victory with precise punches and regular takedowns.

Prediction: Alves via unanimous decision

145 lbs.: Steven Peterson (16-6) vs. Brandon Davis (8-4)

This slot originally belonged to a strawweight fight between Jessica Aguilar and Livia Renata Souza, but the latter recently suffered a broken hand. Instead, we get this former Fight Pass fight, which I’d already written up. Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V.

Steven Peterson choked out Manny Vazquez in 2016 to cap a six-fight win streak and earn the Legacy FC Bantamweight title, only to lose it to The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Brazil” competitor Leandro Higo in his first defense. He got a shot on the “Tuesday Night Contender Series” (DWTNCS) anyway and — though he lost a split decision to Benito Lopez — joined the promotion proper after a technical knockout victory in Dec. 2017.

He will give up one inch of height and three inches of reach to Brandon Davis.

“Killer B” likewise graced the DWTNCS Octagon, out-slugging Austin Arnett on episode four to earn himself a spot in UFC. Kyle Bochniak proved too elusive a target, however, and handed Davis his first defeat since 2016 at UFC 220.

He steps in for Humberto Bandenay, who ran into visa issues, on just one week’s notice.

I felt that Peterson had a solid chance against Bandenay, who is still fairly unproven and would have had issues with Peterson’s relentless grappling. Against Davis, he’s in for a beating. Peterson straight-up has some of the worst striking defense I’ve seen in quite a while, marching face-first into almost everything his opponents throw so as to tie up on the fence and work for trips. He’s not like Bochniak — he’s going to stand there and eat Davis’ strikes all night long.

His rock-solid chin could be an issue, but his poor level changing and vulnerability to shots on the way play right into Davis’ hands. “Killer B” scrambles up from takedowns and wrecks him on the inside, piling on damage for either a late stoppage or wide decision.

Prediction: Davis via unanimous decision

155 lbs.: Sage Northcutt (9-2) vs. Thibault Gouti (12-3)

Thibault Gouti has been stopped three times in four UFC fights. Two of them lasted a combined 2:00 flat. His sole victory came over Andrew Holbrook, whose chin is somewhere between “questionable” and “nonexistent.”

Can you tell this is a showcase fight?

Gouti has some power and isn’t lost on the mat, but there’s really nothing here to suggest he has a shot at the upset. “Super Sage” looked better than ever against Michel Quiñones, mixing up his strikes extremely well, and Gouti doesn’t have the tools to put him on his back the way Bryan Barberena and Mickey Gall did. It’s going to be a striking battle, one “GT” is woefully ill-equipped to survive.

Never count out Northcutt’s ability to shoot himself in the foot, of course, but he won’t need to be firing on more than 3/4s of his cylinders to win this. He tears Gouti up on the feet for his third UFC finish.

Prediction: Northcutt via first-round TKO will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 124 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET and the FS1 main card at 10 p.m. ET.

For much more on UFC Austin, click here.