UFC Phoenix: Lightning Picks

2016 was the most important year in mixed martial arts history when it comes to commercial growth and mainstream reach. Based on the recent staff changes and inexplicable Interim title bouts, I can only assume WME are looking to keep the momentum going. The UFC returns to Phoenix more than 760 days since the company made its debut in the southwestern state. Without further ado, let's get to the lightning picks:

John Moraga vs. Sergio Pettis

To open up the main card, former flyweight title challenger John Moraga (16-5 MMA, 5-4 UFC) steps up on short notice to fight Sergio Pettis (14-2 MMA, 5-2 UFC). I'm expecting a highly competitive contest, but I'm picking Sergio. He burst onto the scene with dynamic, aggressive striking, though his momentum was slowed down by losses to more experienced peers. I believe he has learned from those encounters, and the Pettis that we'll see will be composed, calculated, and intelligent. I have tons of respect for Moraga. Still, I don't see him snapping out of his current losing streak.

Prediction: Sergio Pettis

Ben Saunders vs. Court McGee

Moving on to the welterweight division, Ben Saunders (20-7 MMA, 7-4 UFC) takes on Court McGee (18-5 MMA, 7-4 UFC) in another close fight. First off, I'm so glad to see War Killa B back in the UFC. He's a blast to see, and I have him getting his hand raised. McGee might try to push Ben against the cage and engage in the clinch, where he does some of his best work. That said, Saunders has displayed some very serviceable defensive skills. I believe he will be able to avoid getting caught up in bad situations, getting the better of the kickboxing exchanges and possibly obtaining the finish.

Prediction: Ben Saunders

Joe Lauzon vs. Marcin Held

Cutting down to lightweight, the co-feature will present a battle between submission experts, as Joe Lauzon (26-12 MMA, 13-9 UFC) looks to defeat Polish newcomer Marcin Held (22-5 MMA, 0-1 UFC). Held became quite popular in Bellator, ultimately making the transition to the UFC last November, in a losing effort against Diego Sanchez. While he has displayed a very well-rounded game, fighting Joe Lauzon is a serious challenge. 17 wins by submission, 8 by KO, 15 post-fight bonuses. I could drop stats all day. The point is, Joe is a badass who isn't quite ready to call it quits. I think his experience alone should be enough to walk out victorious.

Prediction: Joe Lauzon

BJ Penn vs. Yair Rodriguez

Finally, the evening's headliner will see the return of a legend, as BJ Penn battles Yair Rodriguez in the featherweight division. Let's start with Yair. The Mexican striker is perhaps the most exciting prospect in the company. This Taekwondo black belt is unbelievably athletic, versatile, and creative. His stand-up game has always been high-level, but his willingness to embrace the other facets of the game is what could take him to the next level. On the other side, BJ is a two-division world champion with tremendous ground skills. What surprised me about this match-up is how many people have Penn winning. The man hasn't won a fight in more than 6 years. MMA can't revert itself back to a prime BJ. The sport caught up to him. Nothing about his last three performances tells me The Prodigy could have another run. Yes, everything is possible in combat sports. There's a chance the Hawaiian HOF shocks the world. However, I expect El Pantera to dominate, earning a second round finish.

Prediction: Yair Rodriguez

 December 2016 Accuracy: 69.3% (9/13)
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