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411's MMA Roundtable Preview - UFC Fight Night: McGregor vs. Brandao
Posted by Dan Plunkett on 07.18.2014

UFC returns to Ireland with Conor McGregor vs. Diego Brandao in the main event! In the co-main event, Gunnar Nelson battles Zak Cummings. At flyweight, Brad Pickett faces Ian McCall. Plus, Norman Parke vs. Naoyuki Kotani, and more!


  • From Five Quick Rounds, Evan Zivin!

  • From MMA's 3R's, Jeffrey Harris!

  • From 411's MMA Rankings, Jonathan Solomon!

  • He's got you locked in the guillotine, Robert Winfree!

  • He's your host for 411 MMA Fact or Fiction, Wyatt Beougher!

    Preliminary Card:
    All bouts stream on UFC Fight Pass
    Flyweight Bout: Patrick Holohan vs. Josh Sampo
    Light Heavyweight Bout: Cody Donovan vs. Nikita Krylov
    Middleweight Bout: Tor Troeng vs. Trevor Smith
    Middleweight Bout: Cathal Pendred vs. Mike King
    Flyweight Bout: Neil Seery vs. Phil Harris
    Light Heavyweight Bout: Ilir Latifi vs. Chris Dempsey


    Lightweight Bout: Norman Parke vs. Naoyuki Kotani

    Evan Zivin: It's everyone's favorite British winner of TUF! Well, after Michael Bisping. And Ross Pearson. And there might be a couple others in there. Kotani is returning to the UFC after an 0-2 stint in 2007. He enters this fight on a 13 fight win streak, which is impressive but his level of competition hasn't been that great. It's always hard to predict how returning or debuting fighters will do against established UFC talent. It's usually more a question of whether I think the UFC vet is good enough to beat the guy. Do I think Parke is good enough? Sure, why not.

    Winner: Norman Parke, Decision

    Jeffrey Harris: Parke ran into a bit of bad luck in his last fight, which was scored a draw because of a shorts grab. It was weird because of the inconsistent application of rules by the referees, but whatever. He is still unbeaten in four UFC fights. Naoyuki Kotani is making his UFC debut here. He is a Japanese fighter with a lot of wins and experience. He's also fought in the UFC before, but all of those fights were losses. I think Kotani will remain winless in the UFC after this fight. Parke dominates the fight and gets the win.

    Winner: Norman Parke, Decision

    Jonathan Solomon: Parke will be fighting in his own country for the first time since 2012 and the first time in the UFC. The TUF winner from almost two years back, he is clearly in this position as a way to showcase one of Ireland's own on this night. Kotani has won his last 13 bouts (the quality of opponents over that span can be debated) but is a victim of having been unimpressive in his first UFC run seven years ago. Despite his success, Kotani is taking a step up in competition and Parke has been impressive over his past four fights. There's no reason to pick against Norman Parke in this fight.

    Winner: Norman Parke, Decision

    Robert Winfree: Norman Parke has had a decent post TUF career, he's unbeaten in the UFC and is coming off of an unfortunate draw in his last outing. Kotani is a decent fighter, but he's not competed against top level competition and is making his UFC debut here, all signs point to Norman Parke picking up another win.

    Winner: Norman Parke, TKO Round 2

    Wyatt Beougher: Kotani is making his UFC after an 0-2 stint there back in 2007, but he's riding a thirteen fight win streak dating back to 2010, so he does have that going for him. Parke, on the other hand, doesn't dress like a skeleton and carry a steel chair everywhere he goes, so I hate him immensely. In all seriousness, Parke is a TUF: Smashes winner and would be riding a ten-fight win steak (also dating back to 2010) if he hadn't had a point deducted for grabbing Leonardo Santos' shorts back in March and been forced to settle for a draw. Both fighters have a majority of their wins by submission, so this could be a very good grappling battle. In spite of being only five years older, Kotani has more than double the fights Parke has, though he's been fighting much lesser competition, at least over the past eighteen months or so. This fight is a coin-flip for me, so I'm giving the nod to Parke, since he'll be fighting in his home country.

    Winner: Norman Parke, Decision

    The staff picks Norman Parke, 5-0.

    Flyweight Bout: Brad Pickett vs. Ian McCall

    Evan Zivin: This has the potential to be a barn-burner, or whatever the Irish equivalent is (probably a barn-burner but with a whole bunch of Guinness involved). Both guys are upper echelon fighters, only losing to the best in their weight classes. This has a bit of a grappler vs. striker feel, as McCall will likely look to use his wrestling to control Pickett while Brad will be swinging away, trying for the knockout. Both guys need a win to keep their hopes for a title shot alive (although Chris Cariaso is getting a shot so anything is possible now) and I think McCall, being a but more well rounded than Pickett, can find a way to get the job done.

    Winner: Ian McCall, Decision

    Jeffrey Harris: I like this fight a lot. With the division sort of opened up at the top with John Dodson injured and Ali Bagautinov failing a drug test, either one of these guys could be closer to a title opportunity. At least on Pickett's part since he is the only guy with a win over the flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson under the ZUFFA banner, other than Dominick Cruz of course. Pickett's generally seen as more of a brawler, but he actually is one of the few British fighters with some solid grappling and submission skills. He just does not show them often enough. He dominated Johnson on the ground. I hope this fight is as good as it looks on paper. I'm picking Pickett for the win here based off his superior striking and boxing, and I believe he will be able to deal with any of McCall's offense.

    Winner: Brad Pickett, TKO, Round 2

    Jonathan Solomon: They are in position to establish themselves in a very uninspired flyweight division. Pickett will turn 36-years-old in September and earned a decision win over Neil Seery in his 125-pound debut in March. "Uncle Creepy" is back for his first fight since last August due to injury and will try to build his first UFC winning streak. He defeated Iliarde Santos in Brazil last summer in a 'Fight of the Night' performance. While Pickett scored the win earlier in the year, he was not at his best and it's assumed the weight cut played hell on his energy on fight night. I don't see how such a weight cut will be any easier for him this time and if he's slower, McCall will be able to score with strikes and will not be taken down at will. "Uncle Creepy" should have the better gas tank and although it's only three rounds, he should be able to outclass Pickett in a division he's competed in for many years.

    Winner: Ian McCall, Decision

    Robert Winfree: Once Demetrious Johnson disposes of Chris Cariaso, and I have no doubt about the outcome of that particular fight, the winner here could be next in line. Flyweight is wide open and Brad Pickett was the last man not named Dominick Cruz to beat Johnson, so there's a story to tell there. McCall hasn't looked all that impressive in his UFC run, his wrestling hasn't been there, his footwork needs improvement, and his striking seems to be more brawl oriented. Brad Pickett has good grappling and excels in brawls. I think Pickett out strikes McCall, maybe even surprises him with some takedowns and wins a decision.

    Winner: Brad Pickett, Decision

    Wyatt Beougher: I'm torn here, because while I can recognize that both fighters are flawed and aren't likely to become champion, I am a fan of watching both of them fight. McCall's greatest achievement thus far in the UFC has been beating current UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, only for it to be officially ruled a draw because apparently Australia doesn't teach math, and then subsequently losing the rematch and a contendership bout against Joseph Benavidez. He did pick up a win over Iliarde Santos last August, but he's been twice injured since then and has done everything that he can in that time frame to get under Pickett's skin. From Pickett's response back when these two were first scheduled to fight, it appears to have worked, and with seven Fight of the Night bonuses between them, this fight could easily steal the show, or Pickett could live up to his "One Punch" nickname and it could all be over before it even begins. And while Pickett is fighting a lot closer to home than McCall is, McCall is a natural flyweight while Pickett is making the cut to 125. He looked good in his flyweight debut, but I think McCall has the slight edge here.

    Winner: Ian McCall, Decision

    The staff picks Ian McCall, 3-2.

    Welterweight Bout: Gunnar Nelson vs. Zak Cummings

    Evan Zivin: I'm guessing this fight was made so that Conor and Gunnar, being training partners, could do their fight camp together. Also, Iceland isn't too far from Ireland. Well, if you swim it might be. This fight looks like a mismatch but maybe it's not as much as it seems. Cummings has done well so far in the UFC, winning his first two fights at welterweight. Nelson is 3-0 and has looked pretty dominant in grappling all three of his opponents and submitting two of them. Cummings strength is also his grappling but I don't expect that to matter much. Gunnar will get Cummings to the ground and choke him out because that's what Gunni does.

    Winner: Gunnar Nelson, Submission, Round 1

    Jeffrey Harris: I'm happy to see Nelson on this card and staying active after his last fight last March. Cummings has some UFC wins and is on a nice little streak, but Nelson's skills just look on a completely other level. On one hand, I'm kind of glad his fight with Ryan LaFlare fell out. On one hand, I think LaFlare like Nelson is another good, rising prospect for the welterweight division. So I think it would have been a little too early for this fight to happen. Nelson gets a hold of Cummings and tosses him like a sack of potatoes. He gets this to the ground and submits him early.

    Winner: Gunnar Nelson, Submission, Round 1

    Jonathan Solomon: Speaking of showcasing European talent, here is Gunnar Nelson, the budding Icelandic star. He's a Pan-Am Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gold medalist, a BJJ black belt and it shows with the fact that over his 13-fight career, eight have ended by submission (though one of those were due to strikes). In the UFC, he has choked out DaMarques Johnson and Omari Akhmedov and last year, he defeated former Sengoku champion Jorge Santiago by decision. Enter Zak Cummings. The Texas native is back in action after defeating Yan Cabral in May, filling in for RYan LaFlare who was substituted out of this fight due to injury. The problem for Cummings in this matchup is that his strength (grappling) happens to be a strength for his opponent, too. Plus, I don't know that anyone would argue that Nelson is the superior submission fighter and this match should be evidence of that.

    Winner: Gunnar Nelson, Submission, Round 1

    Robert Winfree: The injury to Ryan LaFlare really hurts my interest in this as a competitive fight. LaFlare is a talented grappler who's stock is rising and fights out of a camp that's having a great deal of success at the moment. Zak Cummings is a fair to middling TUF alumni, but I don't think he's got much of a chance against Gunnar Nelson. Nelson is a world class grappler, and I don't say that lightly. Nelson also has been improving his striking skills, he's someone who will likely be in the title picture at some point next year if he maintains his trajectory and I don't think Cummings has the skills to beat him.

    Winner: Gunnar Nelson, Submission Round 1

    Wyatt Beougher: YES! My favorite named fighter is back in action! Nelson is still impressively undefeated, though I'm not sure Cummings necessarily represents a step up in competition. That's not to take anything away from Cummings, who is undefeated in the UFC and a pretty solid hand all around. Nelson is a pretty heavy favorite for this bout, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that while Cummings is average-to-good at pretty much everything, Nelson is good-to-great at them. For that reason, I look for him to surprise Cummings on the feet and then lock in a submission.

    Winner: Gunnar Nelson, Submission, Round 2

    The staff picks Gunnar Nelson, 5-0.

    Featherweight Bout: Conor McGregor vs. Diego Brandao

    Evan Zivin: Dublin's native son is returning home to fight for the first time since entering the UFC. He looked good in his first two UFC fights, even though he was a bit sluggish in his decision over Max Holloway last August. Part of the blame for that was an injury that has sidelined him until now. He was supposed to beat up Cole Miller here but an injury resulted in Diego Brandao as a replacement. The former TUF winner has been solid so far but he has yet to prove he has what it takes to be top ten at featherweight. He got smashed by Dustin Poirier in his last fight and, while I don't expect this fight to end as quickly or violently as that one, I imagine something similar happening here. The jury is still out on how good Conor really is and how far he'll go at 145 but he should have no problem beating Brandao, even with the layoff. It's a five round fight. If Conor doesn't finish in the first round, Diego will be gassed by the second so, one way or another, Conor will get the job done.

    Winner: Conor McGregor, TKO, Round 2

    Jeffrey Harris: I'd say this is a good fight for McGregor's first fight after a near one-year layoff. Brandao is a tough fighter and he's very aggressive. But he also tends to gas out in the first round. Not only that, his mental state going into the cage is always questionable. All the hype and attention is on McGregor now. This looks like a fight he should be able to win. McGregor has to be careful because Brandao tends to be pretty dangerous in the first round. Provided he weathers the storm and he has a lack of ring rust after the layoff, I think he beats Brandao.

    Winner: Conor McGregor, TKO, Round 3

    Jonathan Solomon: McGregor is one of the more entertaining fighters in the sport if for no other reason than he annoys many because he is anointed as THE UFC's European superstar. Aside from being his first UFC main event, this will be his first time fighting in the octagon in his hometown and it's also noteworthy for being his first fight back since tearing his ACL last summer. He's back in under a year and any return from such an injury is always cause for concern. His opponent is Brazilian juggernaut Diego Brandao who is best known for his aggressive fighting style and when he isn't overwhelming opponents, gassing out. He dramatically missed weight in December, by more than six pounds, and was outmatched by Dustin Poirier, losing by knockout in the first round. If Brandao forgets his overzealous nature as a striker and focuses on getting McGregor on the ground so the BJJ black belt can take advantage of his strength, this is a much closer fight. As long as it's standing, McGregor will be the more technical striker and with the extra adrenaline from fighting in front of friends and family, should pick Brandao apart. But, if Diego can be more disciplined, he has every chance to ruin the homecoming and put a halt in front of the Conor McGregor train.

    Winner: Conor McGregor, TKO, Round 3

    Robert Winfree: This fight is moderately less interesting than the original main event, but that's only because McGregor and Cole Miller had some incredibly heated exchanges. Diego Brandao is a suitable replacement, the fight should still be a good one. Brandao has some explosive grappling skills, knockout power on the feet, and a push forward mentality. Sadly he also struggles with his conditioning and is a bit of a head case. McGregor is a talented striker, and his grappling looked good his last time out. I think McGregor weathers an early storm and then picks Brandao apart in the second round, likely leading to a finish in the third.

    Winner: Conor McGregor, TKO Round 3

    Wyatt Beougher: McGregor is the sole reason that the UFC opted to head back to Ireland for the first time since 2009. He's amassed quite a social media following and become something of a star, which is impressive for a guy with only sixteen fights under his belt (and only two of those in the UFC). Brandao, on the other hand, has gone 3-2 inside the Octagon since winning the fourteenth season of The Ultimate Fighter. And while he's looked like a star in the making in his own right at times, at other times, he's looked like he's not quite ready for the big time. And while McGregor is coming off a nearly year-long layoff due to a major knee injury, I still think he picks up the win here. He's got the mental edge against Brandao and the homefield advantage, and I think that's going to be enough to pick up the win.

    Winner: McGregor, TKO, Round 3

    The staff picks Conor McGregor, 5-0.

    Remember to join 411's coverage of UFC Fight Night on Saturday!


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