32 events later (that we picked from anyway), we’re here at the finish line. We’ve seen quite a bit this year with the rise of superstars, the falls of others, a lot of title changes, and a lot of flotsam and jetsam along the way.
Thank you for following along with the 2015 picks, and I’m happy to say we’ll be back for another year…but with a different captain helming the ship. Paul Fontaine will be penning these starting in 2016 and will be joining the picks group along with fellow staff writer Ryan Frederick. Everyone, including yours truly, will be back with the exception of Sherdog’s Jack Encarnacao who is taking his victory lap tonight and will leave a champion.
For the final time in 2015, I present your picks panel:
– Jack Encarnacao (111-46 | .707): Sherdog Rewind host, The Lapsed Fan podcast co-chair
– Steve Juon (104-53 | .662): AngryMarks founder, MMA Mania writer
– Mike Sempervive (102-55 | .650): Wrestling Observer Live & Big Audio Nightmare co-host
– David Bixenspan (102-55 | .650): Figure Four Weekly writer, Observer Daily Update writer, podcast host
– John Pollock (101-56 | .643): Fight Network personality, Live Audio Wrestling co-host, The MMA Report host
– Dave Meltzer (98-59 | .624): Wrestling Observer founder & writer
– Front Row Brian (97-60 | .618): MMA newsbreaker, Twitter personality, podcast host
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– Mike Sawyer (94-63 | .599): Tough Talk MMA, 2014 picks panel champion
– Josh Nason (90-67 | .573): JNPO host, Wrestling Observer digital media and content guy, WON Twitter guy
> UFC Lightweight Champion Rafael dos Anjos (24-7) vs. Cowboy Cerrone (28-6-0-1) II
It feels like it’s been two years since we saw RDA shock the MMA world in dispatching Anthony Pettis back in March to win the title. Since 2012, RDA is 9-1 with wins over Cerrone, Nate Diaz, Pettis, Benson Henderson, and a slew of lower-tier lightweights. His sole loss in that stretch? To oft-injured Khabib Nurmagomedov. The winner of four straight has a lot of MMA gossip bees buzzing about how different his body looked, but at weigh-ins, there wasn’t a discernable difference. Underappreciated? Yes. Overlooked? Yes. A win tonight would help that a lot.
Cerrone’s UFC career began back in 2011 following the WEC merger, and he’s been nothing if not active and a winner in that time. In 18 trips to the Octagon, he’s won 15 times and is on an eight-fight win streak. The heads of Edson Barboza, Jim Miller, Eddie Alvarez, Myles Jury, and Benson Henderson were mounted on his trophy wall during that time and a possible tilt with featherweight champion and game-changer Conor McGregor awaits him if he can pull out a win. There’s a lot riding on tonight.
RDA (favorite): Meltzer, Juon, Bix, Encarnacao, Sawyer
Cerrone: Nason, Sempervive, Pollock, FRB
> Junior dos Santos (17-3) vs. Alistair Overeem (39-14-0-1)
I feel like this fight has been talked about for a solid year and to no surprise, it’s been a year since we last saw JDS winning a brutal bout with Stipe Miocic on Fox. The big question here is whether the beatings JDS has taken in the past few years have caught up with him to the point where he wilts in a fight he should win. He’s 11-2 in a long UFC career with two losses coming to a guy named Cain.
The Reem is a free agent after this fight, so it’s in his best interest to put on a great show. He’s only fought once this year, a March decision win over Roy Nelson that I remember nothing about. He’s won two straight and has had an odd UFC career the past few years, a mix of no-doubt KOs that had him looking up at the lights and a few decision wins that kept him alive. What’s the value of a 35-year-old heavyweight free agent? His performance tonight should help give us an answer.
JDS (favorite): Nason, Sempervive, Meltzer, Juon, Bix, Pollock, Encarnacao, Sawyer
> Michael Johnson (16-9) vs. Nate Diaz (17-10)
Holy Christmas, I can’t wait to see this. The two had a pull-apart earlier this week and are intense enough where you know they’re not going to mess around in there. Johnson was steamrolling through a slew of veterans until rising prospect Beneil Dariush stopped that cold in August with a split decision win. This is a big spot for him and one that UFC has to expect him to win. He’s just got to do it.
It’s been a solid year since we last saw Diaz, a loser in three of his last four. In those three, those defeats have come at the hands of Benson Henderson, Josh Thomson, and the current lightweight champion with his only win coming over a guy in Gray Maynard who should be retired. He’s an underdog here and for a good reason. He’s in fantastic shape, but with the Diaz brothers, there’s always more of a question of what’s happening between the ears.
Johnson (favorite): Nason, Sempervive, Meltzer, Juon, Bix, Pollock, FRB, Encarnacao, Sawyer
> Randa Markos (5-2) vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz (7-0)
This is the first fight on big Fox for a reason, friends. The 30-year-old Markos is 1-1 in the UFC and is coming off an April decision win over Aisling Daly. However, the Polish Double-K is the real reason to pay attention here. The undefeated 30-year-old is making her UFC debut just a few years into her pro career. To no surprise, she’s on a similar career track to countrywoman Joanna Jedrzejczyk and with two or three impressive wins, you could see an all-Polish title fight happening in that country in late-2016 or early-2017.
Markos (favorite): Juon, Bix, Pollock, FRB
Double-K: Nason, Sempervive, Meltzer, Encarnacao, Sawyer
> Charles Oliveira (20-5-0-1) vs. Myles Jury (15-1)
The 26-year-old Oliveira missed weight…again. It’s the third time he’s failed to hit 145 in eight efforts. While it might not seem like a big deal, it is. Oliveira saw a four-fight win streak (three finishes) snapped in August due to a ruptured esophagus against Max Holloway, a very strange finish to one of the most anticipated featherweight fights of the year. He’s got a chance here to get back in the conversation and to perhaps get a Holloway rematch with a big win.
The 27-year-old Jury makes his featherweight debut in his first fight since getting his first loss in January to Donald Cerrone. Before that, he had won all six of his battles in the Octagon including Michael Johnson, Diego Sanchez, and Takanori Gomi. He can be a force at 145 if his body adapts appropriately and if his skills continue to evolve. I see lots of good things ahead for Jury if both of those come together.
Jury (slight favorite): Nason, Sempervive, Juon, Pollock, Encarnacao, Sawyer
Oliveira: Meltzer, Bix, FRB