There was a time when Ryan Bader appeared to be only one win away from a light heavyweight title bid in the UFC. How long ago that now seems.

Over the last nine months, Bader’s unblemished record has fallen. First, it was at the hands of the phenom Jon Jones, who would go on to dominate Mauricio “Shogun” Rua en route to claiming UFC gold. It was easy to write that off as a loss to another top echelon fighter.

Then came a much more embarrassing blow to Bader’s reputation. Almost exactly five months after his February loss to Jones, Bader looked to rebound with a win at UFC 132 against Tito Ortiz. Ortiz had not delivered a victory since a 2006 beating of Ken Shamrock. However, the “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” further derailed Bader’s hype train by rocking the TUF 8 champion and finishing him via a guillotine choke less than two minutes into their fight.

Now, at UFC 139, Bader is in desperate need of a win. Standing in his way on Saturday in San Jose, Calif., will be Jason Brilz. Brilz has picked up just one win in his last four outings, though some might argue that his loss to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira could have just as easily gone his way. Brilz has had limited success inside the Octagon, but his performance against Lil Nog and his overall record suggest that he could be another big obstacle in the path of Bader regaining his confidence and posting a victory.

The two will meet on the live Spike TV portion of the preliminary broadcast, which also features a bantamweight showdown between the highly-touted Michael McDonald and the debuting prospect Alex Soto. The action kicks off on the cable network at 8 p.m. ET. The remainder of the preliminary card will air live on Facebook.

The MMA Corner’s panel of Chase Buzzell, Josh Davis and Duncan Price break down all seven prelim battles in this edition of the Round Table.

LW: Shamar Bailey (12-4) vs. Danny Castillo (11-4)

Price: Most people will remember Shamar Bailey from his run on The Ultimate Fighter: Team Lesnar vs. Team dos Santos, where he was billed as a strong wrestler with rudimentary stand-up ability. He has actually fought twice since then though, defeating TUF teammate Ryan McGillivray in the season’s finale, and then dropping a unanimous decision loss to the always tough Evan Dunham.

So far, Bailey seems to have been content to use his wrestling to try and control opponents rather than take a risk and finish the fight. That cost him against Dunham, as Bailey was unable to get the fight to the mat and he ate a lot of solid strikes in his attempts to do so. Bailey’s conservative style will definitely need to improve and evolve if he has any intentions of advancing in the lightweight division.

After an impressive victory over Joe Stevenson in his UFC debut, former WEC notable Danny Castillo earned a match-up against challenging grappler Jacob Volkmann. Whilst Castillo seemed to equal his rival on the feet, when the action hit the ground Volkmann was able to dominate him on the way to a unanimous decision victory.

Castillo has a decent enough reputation from his days in the WEC, but that doesn’t necessarily mean much to the current crop of fans. He is a solid all-round competitor with just as many wins by one method as any other, although he’ll likely be looking to keep the fight standing here.

Both men are 1-1 in the promotion, so the loser of this contest will surely be on the precipice of unemployment. Whilst Castillo has shown a weakness for wrestlers, I do think he will have enough to overcome Bailey by unanimous decision.

Buzzell: Bailey is a natural athlete that has shown a propensity to learn quickly. He did not start wrestling until his senior year in high school and by the time he was in college he qualified for the NCAA Division II national tournament. He has shown great hips, which is ever so important in the world of MMA. Bailey’s hips have allowed him to avoid the takedown, while he can execute a takedown on his terms and ultimately control his opponent when he has them on the mat. He can also rain down heavy punches in the ground-and-pound game. With the good comes the bad though, because Bailey is relatively new to the sport there are some glaring weaknesses to his game. He does not display a ton of submission skills and, as Duncan stated, when he fights conservative he gets hit and doesn’t do much hitting himself.

Similar to Bailey, Castillo is still developing aspects of his MMA game, namely, his technical striking skills. Castillo, however, displays some knockout power for a lightweight and when combined with his aggressive nature, that can be dangerous. Castillo also has good wrestling skills, but they are not up to par when compared to Bailey.

Shamar Bailey (Spike TV)

Castillo and Bailey are both sub-par in the submission aspect of MMA, so don’t expect any tapping to occur in this fight. Castillo has a tendency to look for the big punch, but in this fight I don’t think such an approach will be successful because Bailey is too athletic and will be able to avoid the one-punch knockout. Conversely, Bailey is more athletic, the better wrestler and should be able to take Castillo down and ground-and-pound him out. Bailey, second-round stoppage.

Davis: I have to agree with both Chase and Duncan here. Bailey is the better athlete and a much superior wrestler. He should be able to use this to his advantage and take Castillo down and control the fight on the ground. Castillo, however, should not be underestimated. He is a very aggressive fighter and he does have knockout power. He also does have enough wrestling skills to make Bailey work for his takedowns. If Castillo can take advantage of his striking and stuff some takedowns, he could come away victorious.

Bailey’s wrestling and superior athleticism should play a significant part in this fight. I look for Bailey to take Castillo to the mat and grind out a victory. Bailey wins this fight by unanimous decision.

WW: Matt Brown (12-10) vs. Seth Baczynski (14-6)

Buzzell: Brown is a one-trick pony; he has good takedown defense and cannot take his opponent down with efficiency. Supposedly, “The Immortal” has good hands, but personally I remain unconvinced. Moreover, Brown does not have one-punch knockout power; thus, he has to grind his opponents.

Matt Brown (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Baczynski offers a solid ground game and trains with guys like Ryan Bader, CB Dolloway, Jesse Forbes and Aaron Simpson. This group of guys are the cusp of a new evolution of fighters with ground game combined with submissions, threatening with a lot of “head and arms” and chokes.

Brown is fighting in his hometown, which should provide some inspiration. However, he enters a fight with one mission, to knock his opponent out and has not done so in an impressive fashion.

The “Polish Pistol” is on the rise and I believe that he will prove too much for Brown. Although Brown is incredibly tenacious and hard to finish, I have Baczynski submitting Brown in the second. However, if Baczynski does not finish the fight, he will prevail in the decision.

Davis: I have to agree with Chase here. Brown is a one-trick pony. His takedown defense is decent but not great and his stand-up is also decent but not great. He also offers very little on the ground. Baczynski, on the other hand, is a very well-rounded fighter and he will have a significant advantage in the ground game.

On the feet this fight is even, so it is going to come down to whether or not Baczynski can get it to the ground. I believe that he will be able to take Brown to the mat and when he does he will be able to finish the fight. Baczynski wins this fight by second-round TKO.

Seth Baczynski (Al Fuentes/Mental Champ Coaching)

Price: I have to say that I disagree with a fair few of the comments above from my two colleagues. Brown does prefer to stand and bang, but he also possesses some ability on the ground, even though his attack is far better than his defense. It’s dangerous to disregard him because of his scrappy style, literally anything can happen.

For me, Baczynski is being rated on a single fight, his most recent outing in which he demolished a rather underwhelming Clay Harvison. If you look at his 14-6 record, there isn’t a single victory over a household name. Baczynski’s toughest fight came against TUF alum Brad Tavares, in which he lost via unanimous decision.

The clinching factor for me though, having said all that, is that Baczynski seems to be improving whereas Brown appears to have reached his ceiling. This either ends early or goes all the way, so my intuition says Baczynski by unanimous decision.

BW: Miguel Torres (39-4) vs. Nick Pace (6-2)

Davis: This is a fight between two guys that are desperately in need of a win if they want to stay relevant in the bantamweight division. Torres stormed onto the scene, winning 36 of his first 37 fights. Since then, however, he has gone a dismal 2-3 in his last five fights and he has not looked like the dominant champion that he once was either. He has looked hesitant and slow and willing to let other fighters bring the fight to him.

Pace also started off well, winning his first five fights, but since then he has gone 1-2. Pace also has not looked good in recent fights. In his last fight against Ivan Menjivar at UFC 133, Pace was completely dominated. Menjivar did come into the fight overweight by three pounds, but it did not matter. Pace did not look like he was ready to fight.

Torres is going to be the taller, lengthier fighter and he will also enjoy the reach advantage in this fight. Look for him to stand on the outside and work his striking to set up the clinch and possibly take this fight to the ground. When the fight does go to the ground Torres will certainly be looking for a submission. Torres has too many advantages in this fight and will ultimately win a unanimous decision.

Price: Every now and again it seems to me that the UFC feeds an opponent to a popular fighter who has perhaps lost a fight they shouldn’t have or has struggled with injury.

The former is certainly true with Torres, as everyone expected him to beat Demetrious Johnson at UFC 130 and earn a shot at the bantamweight title. However, best-laid plans went awry and he needs another victory under his belt to solidify his weakened footing in the division.

Don’t get me wrong, Pace is a decent competitor, but he’s just not on the same level as Torres. As Josh outlined above, Torres has an advantage in virtually every area and it’s going to be difficult for Pace to formulate any kind of game plan to embarrass the former champion.

This mismatch ends quickly for my money, Torres dominates Pace for a round and then finishes it off in the second by TKO.

Buzzell: I believe that my colleagues have more than adequately analyzed this fight, there are not too many layers to this onion. On paper, Torres is the decisive favorite and I do not see any variable that would controvert this position. Moreover, Torres has stumbled recently, as Josh stated, and I see this as the perfect fight for him to get back on track. Torres once was aggressive and dominant and I see him returning to those ways, as he will be like a shark smelling blood in Pace.

Torres, first-round referee stoppage.

LW: Gleison Tibau (24-7) vs. Rafael dos Anjos (15-5)

Buzzell: This match-up is probably the toughest on the card. Both of these fighters are incredibly skilled and boast solid career numbers. The solid numbers of each fighter go beyond each respective win-loss record. Tibau has successfully executed 62% of his takedowns and once he has his opponent down, Tibau has toyed with his opponents, evidenced by 51 guard passes. Defensively, Tibau is superb, thwarting both strikes and takedowns with incredible efficiency.

Dos Anjos also flaunts some impressive secondary numbers, however he does not have as large of a sample set. Moreover, dos Anjos has been much more successful at defending attacks than he has been at executing strikes and takedowns. For example, dos Anjos has completed 32% of his strikes and 41% of his takedowns. This is paltry when compared to Tibau.

Therefore, when looking at the underlying numbers, one can see that although both of these fighters appear equally matched, especially in the defensive aspect, Tibau seemingly has a slight edge in that he has been more successful in strikes and takedowns. However, it is important to note that Tibau has shown a tendency to slow down in the third round. Ultimately, Tibau will finish dos Anjos with a submission in the first round.

Price: I agree with Chase in that these two are evenly matched, but I disagree slightly with his view on the outcome.

Both men are ground specialists with very similar skill-sets and their ratios of submissions to knockouts and decisions are almost as identical. Normally when this happens, like when a wrestler meets a wrestler, the battle is fought on the feet and that is where I see this tussle playing out.

Neither dos Anjos or Tibau are particularly powerful strikers, so I don’t see a decisive end by knockout or TKO. Unlike Chase, I don’t see a submission either, as both men are pretty much even in terms of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and submission ability. So, narrowing it down to a judges’ verdict, I’ll plump for Tibau to sneak it by split decision.

Davis: I have to agree with both Chase and Duncan here. In addition to being the better all-around fighter in this match-up, Tibau is also going to be the bigger, stronger fighter as well. He will be able to use his superior size and strength to control the wrestling and ground fighting to dictate the pace of this fight.

Dos Anjos’ best chance of winning is to keep this fight standing and attempt to out-strike Tibau and take this fight into the later rounds where Tibau’s conditioning might play a factor. If dos Anjos allows this to turn into a grappling match, he could be in for a long night.

Tibau is the better overall fighter in this match-up and he has more ways to win. Tibau wins this fight by submission in the second round.

MW: Tom Lawlor (7-3) vs. Chris Weidman (6-0)

Price: I’ve been a fan of Chris Weidman for a while now. I researched him thoroughly before his short-notice UFC debut against Italian striker Alessio Sakara, which he won by unanimous decision. The things that initially impressed me were his excellent wrestling pedigree and the fact he just seems to be a raw natural athlete. Although he clearly relies on his wrestling base, Weidman is steadily progressing in other disciplines. He is a student of Matt Serra, so it comes as no surprise that his submission game is fast becoming a potent weapon in his growing arsenal. Perhaps Weidman’s only weakness is his relatively basic boxing technique, but that too is improving with experience.

A victim of his own popularity in his early UFC days, Lawlor was better known for his antics outside of the Octagon than his talent inside. He has since pledged to concentrate more on winning fights and less about entertaining fans, but some concerns still linger in regards to his seriousness. He is another guy who is seemingly skilled in most areas, but doesn’t particularly excel in any specific one. If anything, he would probably lean on his grappling in difficult times, but that clearly isn’t a tactic he can use against Weidman. In his most recent bout in the promotion, against Patrick Cote at UFC 121, Lawlor showcased his much-improved cardio and ground game. Hopefully he can carry that development on and progress to the next level.

Although Lawlor is the more experienced man, I just can’t pick against Weidman. Much like the meteoric rise of Phil Davis, Weidman appears to be on a fast-track to the top of the division and Lawlor isn’t the man to derail his train. It will likely go the full three rounds, but Weidman takes the win by unanimous decision.

Davis: I too am a big fan of Weidman and certainly believe that he has a bright future in this sport. He was a two-time Junior College All-American in wrestling and he has been able to use that to dominate his opponents.

Lawlor’s career, on the other hand, has not been so bright. He has never really lived up to his full fight potential. He has the skills to be an elite fighter, but he has failed to show them at times inside the Octagon. In his las fight, Lawlor did end a two-fight losing streak with a win over Cote, but I think in the fight Weidman’s relentless pace and superior wrestling will be too much for him.

Weidman will be able to capitalize on his superior wrestling and grind out a victory. Weidman wins this fight by decision.

Buzzell: Although it is merely dicta, because in the end I agree with my fellow analysts, I believe that Lawlor does have good grappling skills. Lawlor is a former USSA National Sambo Champion, competed at the 2009 ADCC Submission Wrestling Championships in Barcelona and currently holds a BJJ purple belt under Mike Lee. Perhaps a purple belt may not strike fear in many opponents, but at least it shows that Lawlor is not receiving belts that he does not deserve, which is beginning to become a trend in gyms around the country. Also, “The Filthy Mauler” did have a successful wrestling career, albeit at a non-NCAA school; it nonetheless shows athletic ability and wrestling foundation and knowledge.

Tom Lawlor (Clinch Gear)

Weidman, as stated above, is simply a phenomenal wrestler, winning two national titles at the Junior College level and received All-American honors at the NCAA level. Thus, I undoubtedly agree that Weidman has the advantage over Lawlor in the wrestling game.

I do not believe either fighter has an overall polished striking game, which leads me to believe that this fight will end up on the mat. If this holds true, then the advantage goes to Weidman, and once on the ground Weidman has shown an ability to land strikes from the top or utilize his growing submission game.

Weidman will prove to be too much for “The Filthy Mauler” and will end the fight before it can get to the cards. Weidman, third-round referee stoppage.

BW: Michael McDonald (13-1) vs. Alex Soto (6-0-1)

Davis: This fight could be the most exciting fight on the card, as two up-and-coming featherweights will battle each other to move one step closer to the top of the division. McDonald is one of the youngest fighters in the UFC at the age of 20, but he has a lot of experience for his age. He already has 14 fights with 13 victories and has fought some of the best in the division. McDonald has excellent kickboxing and solid striking. He is also no slouch on the ground, winning four fights by submission.

Alex Soto

Soto is also a very talented fighter, but this will be his UFC debut and you never know how somebody will handle their first Octagon experience. For many, the big stage can be too much. In addition to making his UFC debut, Soto is also coming off a draw in his last fight. He is a very well-rounded fighter and wants to showcase his skills to the world and get back to his winning ways.

McDonald is the better striking and the better ground fighter. He will be able to use his superior striking to control this fight and dictate how it will take place. McDonald wins this fight by decision.

Buzzell: This fight isn’t so much of what Soto brings to the cage, but more about how ridiculously talented McDonald is. McDonald not only possesses the physical attributes to make a successful career in MMA, “Mayday” also possesses the mental wherewithal to be a champion someday. Just when listening to him, one can observe how intelligent and articulate McDonald is. Inside the cage, he has shown a vast amount of talent, displaying an ability to fight fast with his quick and natural hands, or patient and slow when using technique in working submission attempts. McDonald has also shown tremendous flexibility, which is magnified by his lanky physique.

Soto is quite talented himself, but as Josh stated, this is Soto’s first fight in the UFC and he only has seven fights in total. Additionally, Soto has not fought any big names within his division and McDonald is a big step up.

I believe that we will be talking about “Mayday” as a title contender withing two years and Soto, although talented, is a mere one-round roadblock. McDonald, first-round submission.

Price: Like Josh and Chase, I believe that McDonald is an excellent prospect and certainly has a ton of talent at such a young age. I’m not necessarily convinced by Chase’s comments in respect to McDonald’s physique and stature though, as he is in fact an inch shorter than his opponent. One thing is for sure though, McDonald must be pegged as the heavy favourite here as he is a better all-round fighter and has a lot more experience.

Not only does Soto come in on short notice, but he actually comes in off a short career, only having competed a total of seven times. He has two wins by knockout and three by submission, so he obviously has a passing knowledge in both areas. You can’t say outright that Soto is better or worse than McDonald until you see them square off, but noone can deny that he faces an uphill battle in his first UFC appearance.

The odds are stacked against Soto and I’m not backing him to upset them. McDonald should make quick work of the debutant, scoring the TKO in the very first round.

LHW: Ryan Bader (12-2) vs. Jason Brilz (18-4-1)

Price: This is going to be a really tough task for Brilz. For a man who would consider wrestling to be his main area of strength, he is facing an opponent in Bader who is a two-time All-American in that very sport.
It’s best not to discount Brilz altogether though, as many people did when he battled Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 114. Brilz came into that bout on less than a month’s notice and toughed out all three rounds with the legendary Brazilian, losing via a very contentious split decision. In his most recent outing, Brilz was knocked out very quickly by the veteran Vladimir Matyushenko. Even though that raises questions over his chin, people do get caught cold and if he has any sense, he’ll be better prepared for the heavy hands of his rival this time.

Really, this is Bader’s fight to win. He is an excellent wrestler, possesses heavy hands and has good cardio, seemingly all the pieces to solve Brilz’s puzzle. A year ago, Bader was on a tear in the light heavyweight division, riding a five-fight win streak in the promotion following his victory on season 8 of The Ultimate Fighter. He then met the juggernaut that is Jon Jones in what was billed as make-or-break for the two young stars. Bader was pretty much decimated by the diverse mix of skills demonstrated by Jones and many were surprised that he didn’t pose more of a threat. Unfortunately that seemed to take the wind out of Bader’s sails, as he took on Tito Ortiz in his subsequent, and most recent, encounter. Everyone thought he would demolish the former champion, but Ortiz shocked the world by rocking Bader and then locking up a fight-ending guillotine choke. From a highly-rated undefeated prospect, Bader had fallen right back into the middle of the divisional pack.

The UFC seems to like Bader, as do the fans. I think they have fed him a favorable draw here against Brilz, who doesn’t appear to have an advantage anywhere the action may go. Don’t rule Brilz out entirely, but Bader will be highly motivated to get back in the win column and should take this by TKO in the first.

Buzzell: I am really excited for this match-up for reasons alluded to in Price’s analysis; each fighter has shown flashes of brilliance. For example, Bader’s five-fight win streak and Brilz taking Nogueira the distance in a arguable decision. At the same time, each fighter has shown considerable shortcomings; Bader’s sketchy showing against a shell of a fighter in Ortiz and Brilz’s three losses in his last four fights. This compilation of factors creates an uncertainty as to which fighters will show up.

Not only looking the part as a fighter to fear, Bader is an excellent athlete and an extremely explosive fighter. He offers heavy hands and an emerging submission game. Also, when in doubt “Darth” can rely on his NCAA Division I wrestling pedigree to control his opponent.

Brilz is a savvy veteran that can give most opponents he faces a run for their money. I find it ironic that he is nicknamed the “Hitman” when his ground game is far more polished than his stand-up game. Even with that being said, when Brilz does end up on the mat he is significantly more comfortable on top rather than fighting from his back.

I agree with Duncan in nearly everything he stated except a sliver of a difference with respect to any area that Brilz may have an advantage. Brilz can be methodical in his guard passes and Bader still needs work when fighting from his back, as “Darth’s” guard is questionable. However, in order for “The Hitman” to pass, he needs to put Bader on his back, which I do not see happening. Although I can easily imagine and would not be surprised if this fight went the distance, I believe Bader is just too much of an athlete for Brilz and I see this one ending with fireworks. Bader, first-round KO.

Davis: This is a must-win for both fighters. Bader is coming off of two straight losses and can not afford a third. Brilz is also coming off of two straight losses and he has lost three out of his last four. A loss here will probably mean the end of his UFC career.

Brilz’s bread and butter is wrestling, however he will be at a wrestling disadvantage in this fight. He will need to use his striking to set up any takedowns that he attempts and use his size in the clinch to wear down Bader. If he is going to win this fight, he is going to need to win the striking battle.

Not to long ago, Bader was being hyped as one of the best light heavyweights in the world, then he lost back-to-back fights. Not only did he lose two straight, he was completely dominated in both. If Bader is going to get back to where he once was he needs to get a victory in this fight. In order for that to happen, he needs to go back to what brought him to the dance and that is his All-American wrestling skills. Bader needs to take this fight to the ground and grind out a victory. His stand-up is solid, but he should not get into a slugfest with Brilz.

Both fighters are fighting for their UFC lives and in the end it will be Bader that gets his hand raised. Bader wins a hard-fought unanimous decision.

Top Photo: Ryan Bader (Daniel Herbertson/Sherdog)