While the UFC’s schedule seems to become more dense with each passing year, three annual shows remain constant: The July 4th Weekend show, the New Year’s Eve Weekend show and the Memorial Day Weekend show. The promotion certainly tries to make every one of its pay-per-view offerings worthy of fans’ purchase, but these three shows usually hold a little extra importance, due to their positioning around major American holidays.

The July 4th and New Year’s Eve cards typically contain at least one of the year’s biggest fights—in past years we’ve gotten Anderson Silva vs. Chris Weidman (both of them), Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos 2, and a handful of Brock Lesnar bouts. Memorial Day Weekend has also seen its share of important fights. Chuck Liddell fought Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in 2007, Lyoto Machida won his first UFC title (against Rashad Evans) in 2009 and, just last year, fans were treated to a heavyweight doubleheader with dos Santos facing Mark Hunt and Velasquez defending his title against Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in the two featured bouts at UFC 160.

This year’s Memorial Day Weekend show was originally set to feature UFC middleweight champion Weidman in his first title defense against someone not named Anderson Silva. Initially, Weidman was supposed to face Vitor Belfort, but the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s recent ban on testosterone-replacement therapy led Belfort to opt for a longer layoff. Weidman was then set to face Machida in the latter’s first middleweight title fight, but the champion was forced to bow out after injuring his knee.

Instead, UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao gets the main-event nod as he tries to extend his title reign to four fights. Standing in Barao’s way is Team Alpha Male standout T.J. Dillashaw, looking perhaps to surpass the success of teammate Urijah Faber, who has twice fallen victim to Barao in the Octagon. Throw in an intriguing light heavyweight contenders’ bout between the ageless Dan Henderson and former Olympian Daniel Cormier and what surely must be considered a welterweight title eliminator between recent championship challenger Robbie Lawler and the dangerous Jake Ellenberger, and you’ve got yourself a nice little Memorial Day Weekend event.

UFC 173 takes place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The main card will be broadcast on pay-per-view at 10 p.m. ET, and the preliminary card will air on Fox Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET and on UFC Fight Pass at 6:30 p.m. ET.

The MMA Corner’s Dale De Souza, Gregory Chase and Eric Reinert break down the entire card in this edition of the Round Table.

LW: James Krause (20-5) vs. Jamie Varner (21-9-1)

Chase: Jamie Varner is a fighter that I always enjoy watching fight. His return to the UFC has been a little rocky, but he has shown a lot of heart in his fights. He has also demonstrated that he is still game. Varner is coming into this fight against Krause on back-to-back losses, though, and he is in great need of a big win at UFC 173.

His opponent is not going to be an easy foe to walk through. James Krause ran into some trouble in his last outing versus Bobby Green, but he did look good in his UFC debut against Sam Stout. Krause, like Varner, is coming off a loss, but Varner’s desperation will show in this contest.

Skill-wise, both men are well rounded and have a strong submission game. Neither is afraid to trade blows, but the ground game is where they have spent a good number of their fights. Because of the similarity in their styles, I think this fight could end up being a great battle that spans across the stand-up and ground. The man who wants it more will be the victor, and that man will be Varner.

Varner by submission or a grueling, close decision.

De Souza: As is the case with just about any Varner bout, this tilt holds potential to be one of the best fights on the card, even if the main event and co-main event still hold far more significance, given the title implications and such. With both men looking to get back on the winning track, this bout does hold some significance of its own. Varner could find himself out of the UFC with a third straight loss, and Krause could be nearing the chopping block, too, if he loses on this night.

Varner lost at UFC 169 against Abel Trujillo, and he had been defeated at UFC 164 by Gleison Tibau as well. In his defense, he did land more strikes than Tibau when they fought, and he even attempting a submission at one point, but Tibau took control on the ground, passing Varner’s guard at will.

Varner will look to establish control in every aspect of this bout, including the ground game. Still, “The James Krause” is no easy fight. The man behind GrindHouse MMA carries a vaunted striking game, but he also keeps a crafty Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu game in his back pocket. His battle with Stout featured one such occasion where he fought with a tough striker on the feet, but kept his BJJ handy in case the opportunity showed itself. That opportunity came, and Krause slapped on a fight-ending submission.

The opportunity won’t come as easily against Varner. The former WEC champion does not appear to be the same man who once seemed susceptible to submissions. Unless Krause gets an opening to rock Varner, the smart money says he gets a unanimous decision instead.

Reinert: Perhaps more than any other fighter in recent memory, Varner has undergone the most significant transformation from reviled to revered. Back in his WEC days, fans couldn’t wait to see another lightweight beat the brakes off the former champion. In the years since, though, and especially since Varner arrived in the UFC after spending more than a year competing in smaller promotions, people have wanted to see him succeed. His upset over Edson Barbosa cemented his new position as a MMA fan-favorite, and most have been hoping for his success ever since. Unfortunately, Varner’s time in the UFC has been met with mixed results, and on Saturday he’ll carry a 3-4 UFC record (including two fights from 2006/7) to the Octagon.

Looking to build his own reputation on the back of the veteran Varner will be Krause. Krause was riding an eight-fight winning streak before his November 2013 loss to Green, and he will surely look to reestablish himself in the lightweight division at UFC 173. Although certainly not a one-note fighter, he has secured 22 of his 32 professional wins by submission, so I expect Krause to be looking for takedowns early and often against Varner.

Both Varner and Krause bring a wealth of experience to the Octagon on Saturday night. Neither has yet reached his 30th birthday and both have more than 30 professional fights, so we’re definitely not talking about a couple of green competitors here. Both have been exposed to a variety of attacks, and I expect this one to make its way into the later rounds. Varner’s cardio will be key, and if he gasses out and Krause gets him to the ground, it’ll probably be all over. With that in mind, I predict a Krause submission victory sometime in round three.

BW: Takeya Mizugaki (19-7-2) vs. Francisco Rivera (10-2)

De Souza: I like Takeya Mizugaki’s chances against Francisco Rivera just a little bit more than I would’ve liked them against T.J. Dillashaw. That’s not to say Mizugaki could not have found a way to keep the fight off the ground against a grappler like Dillashaw, but it would not have been an easy undertaking. Besides, considering that Rivera loves to stand and trade on the feet, it’s safe to say that this fight may serve more to Mizugaki’s liking.

Mizugaki does his best when the fight turns into a brawl, though he has been smart about mixing his game up by including takedowns, ground control and a variety of other elements. He’s blended everything so well up to this point, in fact, that he now rides a four-fight winning streak, his longest streak since his pre-WEC days—when he started his career with a 6-0-1 mark, lost two fights back-to-back, and then accumulated a five-fight winning streak with one draw just prior to his now-famous fight with Miguel Torres. Mizugaki, with a win, may find himself inching closer to a title shot.

Rivera’s rise through the UFC bantamweight division may come as more of a surprise. Outside of a knockout win over Roland Delorme, which got overturned due to a failed post-fight drug test, Rivera has not been beaten in his current run through the division. He has picked up wins over the likes of George Roop and Edwin Figueroa. A victory over Mizugaki would mark Rivera’s biggest accomplishment to date.

This fight seems like one of those scenarios where it’s one man’s fight to lose, no questions asked. In this particular case, this is Mizugaki’s fight to lose. Against a banger like Rivera, Mizugaki will ring a full bag of tricks to the cage. The Japanese fighter will look to test Rivera everywhere. Unless Rivera can time a few awesome liver shots or blast the iron chin of the former WEC title contender, Mizugaki scores two rounds out of three for a unanimous decision win.

Reinert: Amid the excitement of UFC 173’s bantamweight title fight, the intrigue of its light heavyweight challenge match and importance of its welterweight title eliminator is a fight that could very easily end up as one of the best on the card. Dale correctly points out that both Mizugaki and Rivera vastly prefer to keep things standing, and that could be the recipe for a very exciting main-card bantamweight match-up.

Both competitors have gone at least four fights without a loss, so the winner here will surely be in the mix for a possible title shot in the near future, particularly considering the way in which current 135-pound champion Renan Barao has been cleaning out the division. The motivation to succeed, therefore, is going to be even greater than usual for both fighters, and as a result I expect this to be one of the most exciting fights of the year.

Despite the potential fireworks here, I don’t expect either fighter to be finished inside the distance. Mizugaki has proven himself to be a solid defensive competitor (by which I mean he can take a licking and keep on ticking) and Rivera’s impressive all-around game will put that quality to the test. I anticipate a bloody affair, but, unlike Dale, I predict Rivera will emerge victorious after three rounds.

Chase: This fight could end up being a great technical battle. Mizugaki is a tough fighter to put away, and he always puts on a good fight. As my fellow panelists mentioned, both of these men prefer to strike. Normally, the edge would go to Rivera, but Mizugaki’s chin makes that less of a definite in this fight.

Neither man’s ground game really jumps out, and this fight should reflect what history has shown us. It will be a brawl where the two warriors trade punches to the end. I, too, don’t expect anyone to get finished in his fight. Instead, it will be a very tough fight between two strikers that end up having some great exchanges. A decision win is the likely outcome, but this fight could prove to be a very exciting one on the card.

I’ll side with Dale and pick Mizugaki as the victor by a close and hard-fought decision.

WW: Jake Ellenberger (29-7) vs. Robbie Lawler (22-10)

Reinert: Other than the title fight at the head of this card, this de facto title eliminator is the most important fight taking place at UFC 173. In one corner, you have Robbie Lawler, a man experiencing a late-career renaissance who fell short by just one point in his bid for the welterweight belt against Johny Hendricks, and in the other, you have Jake Ellenberger, another member of the 170-pound top five who, save for a couple of ill-timed losses, has looked every bit the juggernaut that his nickname says he is.

Lawler has looked pretty much unstoppable since resurfacing in the UFC in early 2013. His knockouts of Josh Koscheck and Bobby Voelker and somewhat unexpected decision win over Rory MacDonald made him an instant contender and fan-favorite, and he’s enjoyed a position near the top of the welterweight division ever since. Ellenberger is no slouch either, with eight UFC wins, including a run of six straight from 2010 until mid-2012. Both fighters are coming off losses, and will surely look to not only regain their respective footholds at 170 but also impress the UFC’s brass enough to get the winner a title fight amid a crowded group of potential challengers.

No matter who comes out on top, one thing is for sure: this is going to be a barnburner. Each fighter owns 18 wins by knockout or TKO and neither has recently shown a propensity for ground fighting. These are also two of the toughest guys one can find in the UFC, so despite the likely fireworks, I don’t expect to see either ending the night having been finished inside the distance. That said, I like Lawler to take this one by decision and retain his status as one of the welterweight division’s top contenders.

Chase: I am very excited for this fight. Despite both men coming off losses, they have been looking impressive in their fights recently. These are two of the top welterweights in the division, and both men want to get back on track to the title. Lawler has the fuel of recently losing his chance at UFC gold against Hendricks, so he will come out with something to prove.

With a loss to MacDonald in his last fight, Ellenberger certainly wants to make a statement that he, too, is in deserving stature in the elite of the division. Both men have deadly strikes, and this will probably come down to who lands the first clean hit. Neither man is timid about standing in front of an opponent and trading blows, and this is why the fight will not go the distance.

Lawler will be prepared and hungry for this fight. The UFC title slipping through his fingers so recently will motivate him to get the win against Ellenberger. Lawler comes in throwing bombs, and he exits with a knockout or TKO in the first or second round.

De Souza: Lawler’s hard-fought loss to Hendricks is the front-runner for “Fight of The Year.” He comes off that defeat to face Ellenberger, who certainly hopes to return to form come Saturday night. These men show more of a desire to knock people out cold as opposed to trying to play the ground game with their foes, but only one can walk out of UFC 173 a winner.

Lawler arguably held the status of No. 1 title challenger to Georges St-Pierre’s title before the two-time champion vacated the throne last year and paved the way for what we saw at UFC 171. To Lawler’s own credit, though, he more than held his own against Hendricks. In fact, despite getting outstruck in terms of significant strikes, he still landed 45 percent of his most significant strikes in comparison. This means that Lawler can do a lot of damage without necessarily having to outstrike or even come close to outstriking “The Juggernaut.”

On the other hand, Ellenberger can win fights without necessarily outstriking his foes. Prior to that bummer of a battle with MacDonald, Ellenberger fought Nate Marquardt and defeated him in a bout where both men stuck a combined total of 26 strikes, with each man landing 13 strikes. Against MacDonald, Ellenberger might have hunted for one big shot, but that should not be too much of an issue against Lawler.

If one hole still remains in Lawler’s game, it is in his takedown defense. Mind you, not just anyone takes Lawler down, but those with good takedowns, great grappling and/or solid wrestling usually find the most success with keeping Lawler on his back. However, Lawler should be able to prevent Ellenberger from getting anything out of his takedown attempts. If Lawler can do that, he will score a TKO of Ellenberger inside the distance.

LHW: Daniel Cormier (14-0) vs. Dan Henderson (30-11)

De Souza: Even when Daniel Cormier and Dan Henderson were in Strikeforce, we knew that if this fight ever happened, it would promise two things. First, that someone was going to get knocked out. Second, that the winner would become an undisputed contender to a world title. Of course, Cormier was a full-time heavyweight in those days, but things have changed now that he’s at 205 pounds.

Cormier has made it a mission to go through anyone in his way for a chance to eventually do battle for the UFC light heavyweight crown. Whether or not his UFC 170 win over Patrick Cummins put him close to achieving that goal is debatable, but while beating Rashad Evans would have helped more, the win over Cummins didn’t exactly hurt Cormier. In fact, the win marked one of Cormier’s most impressive performances to date, even if it was a lopsided affair that honestly did not need to happen.

Cormier will need to be able to put it all together well, just as he did against Cummins, in order to give Henderson trouble. But how will Henderson respond to the task of facing the heavy-handed former heavyweight without testosterone-replacement therapy? Now that the substance has been banned by just about every state athletic commission, Henderson will need to make sure he can adapt to the change if he is to be successful. But with a record of successful finishes dating back to before he was first prescribed TRT, it remains possible that Henderson can adapt.

If he cannot, it will be a long night for the former Pride two-division titleholder and former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion. Cormier will be all over Henderson like white on rice, and he will not quit until he stops Henderson. Henderson will put up a valiant effort, but ultimately, he will go down. Cormier’s undefeated streak continues with a late first-round TKO win.

Chase: While this is an exciting fight, the generation gap makes this one tough to call. You can never count Henderson out—not while he still has breath in his lungs and his legendary H-Bomb cocked and loaded. He may not be the fastest or most well rounded, but Henderson has heart and power that no opponent should ever ignore.

Cormier is the younger fighter, and he carries with him great power in his hands as well. The difference here is going to be the wrestling and strength prowess. Henderson is a great wrestler, but Cormier has shown that he can ragdoll opponents and grind them out as well. This may end up being a fight that stays mostly on the ground, due to the respect each man has for the other’s striking power. Whether that will be after one of them gets hit or not, we will see, but expect for huge shots to be thrown early on.

Henderson will certainly try to use his weapon of choice, and you can bet Cormier will be as prepared as he can be for it. But even though you know it’s coming, that doesn’t mean you’re going to avoid it. Cormier is the more athletic of the two, and his speed will make all the difference. Cormier remains undefeated with a TKO or knockout in the first round.

Reinert: I consider this fight to be the most interesting on the UFC 173 card for reasons that I won’t reiterate at length here.

Henderson is 43, and that fact alone makes any fight of his worth watching. Compounding the intrigue is the fact that this will be Henderson’s first fight since UFC 161 that he’s not been using commission-approved testosterone-replacement therapy, so his performance Saturday will be telling for not only his age but the impact that TRT has had on his recent performances.

In addition, this is Cormier’s first true challenge at light heavyweight (no disrespect to Cummins), and it will give fans and the UFC brass alike a look into what the former heavyweight can do against a veteran grinder. Cormier has looked pretty unstoppable thus far in his MMA career, but he’s probably never been hit by anyone with the sort of legendary power that Henderson possesses.

That being said, I expect Cormier to adopt a similar strategy against Henderson, who will almost certainly be the smaller fighter, as he did against Frank Mir—a lot of cage control and dirty boxing. I don’t see Henderson being able to summon the strength to outmaneuver the younger, more powerful Cormier, but I disagree with my two colleagues here that Henderson will be finished inside the distance. I see a convincing, if somewhat unexciting, Cormier win by decision.

BW Championship: Renan Barao (32-1) vs. T.J. Dillashaw (9-2)

Chase: This title fight between UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao and challenger T.J. Dillashaw is a complete mismatch on paper, and one that should result in proving the oddsmakers correct. Despite Dillashaw’s good showing against Mike Easton back in January, he has never faced the caliber of opponent that he is going to step into the cage against at UFC 173. Everything points to this being a short and painful night for the challenger.

To his credit, though, Dillashaw has shown some good ground skills in his fights. Furthermore, he has displayed an overall versatility in his skills. However, he has a long way to go to match the tear Barao has been on.

Barao’s run of wins says it all. This guy is a winner—32 times over, in fact—and he finds a way to finish. He is very strong on the ground with his submissions, but he also has explosive power in his striking. He has looked very strong, in his last few fights especially, and he shows very little intention of slowing down anytime soon. Barao is the younger fighter with the longer reach and more momentum going into this fight. He has a vast amount of experience fighting top fighters and looked impressive against them all.

This fight goes to Barao, hands down. Dillashaw will get a rude awakening when he’s finished before the last round comes to a close. Barao continues his incredible winning streak and adds on another finish to his record.

Reinert: Not much more I can say that isn’t just repeating what Greg asserts here. Barao has not lost since his very first professional MMA fight in 2005. He’s made all of his UFC opponents thus far look like they don’t even belong in the promotion. He’s probably the most dominant champion we’ve seen since Anderson Silva and has a legitimate claim to being the sport’s top pound-for-pound fighter. I just don’t see a way for him to lose on Saturday.

For Dillashaw, UFC 173 presents the best opportunity yet for him to assert himself as one of Team Alpha Male’s alpha males. Thus far, it’s been Chad Mendes, Joseph Benavidez and Dillashaw’s fellow bantamweight Urijah Faber that have garnered most of the attention among the fighters in the Sacramento camp. But, against Barao, Dillashaw will perhaps be able to establish himself as the squad’s new force to be reckoned with at 135 pounds now that Faber himself has lost twice to the current champion.

Dillashaw is a talented fighter, but Barao is in a class nearly by himself. Whatever Dillashaw brings to the Octagon on Saturday, Barao is going to be able to overcome it. The champion will retain his belt on Saturday night, and he’ll do it with a TKO of his latest challenger.

De Souza: Barao, plain and simple, might be one of the scariest bantamweights alive today. When he first entered the UFC, the main attraction of Barao’s game mostly concerned his jiu-jitsu. He could improve position and secure submissions against some of the best of the best in the Brazilian circuit, and he showed the world exactly what he could do stateside when he joined the WEC. But when it came to top-level talents, could he do more than just hunt for submissions in the UFC?

When the UFC absorbed the WEC featherweights, bantamweights and lightweights, Barao, with his performances against the likes of Brad Pickett, Scott Jorgensen, Michael McDonald, Eddie Wineland and Faber, showed the world he could do more. Using a diverse striking arsenal complete with volume punching and spinning attacks, Barao went on to dominate the division and now stands alone as the undisputed best in the world.

Do not sleep on Dillashaw, ladies and gentlemen. A training partner of Faber at Team Alpha Male, the 28-year-old knows what Barao brings to the table because he has seen Barao compete in two fights with “The California Kid.” This means that he can already get a feel for Barao’s timing, striking patterns and the things the 27-year-old Brazilian likes to do when grappling with his opponents. Dillashaw can formulate a plan to beat Barao at his own game, whether in the striking or the grappling aspects of the bout.

Just because Dillashaw can, though, doesn’t mean he will. Barao may not bring something new like a Jon Jones or Anthony Pettis, but he does have a way of taking his opponents out of their element and bringing them into his world. In this case, taking Dillashaw’s grappling out of the equation means doing a little bit of what he did against Faber, albeit with a bit more cautiousness and also with the conscious realization that Dillashaw’s style is nothing like Faber’s, save for the Team Alpha Male trademark guillotine choke submission. Barao takes a TKO inside of four rounds, retaining his title and moving his way toward becoming by far one of the greatest bantamweights in the history of MMA.

Preliminary Card
WW: Jingliang Li (8-2) vs. David Michaud (7-0)

Reinert: Both of these welterweights carry impressive records into their mutual UFC debut, with David Michaud’s having yet to be blemished by a loss. Jingliang Li, as the owner of five submission victories, seems to be a more grappling-centered fighter, but he is coming off a layoff that went more than a year. That, plus Michaud’s equal number of submission and KO/TKO victories, has me throwing my hat in the corner of the American.

De Souza: I would dissent simply because of Li’s relative experience edge, but Michaud seems like one of those undefeated dudes no one should sleep on, primarily because of how he has ended fights. The South Dakotan will have plenty going for him against the Legend FC standout, but don’t expect Li to go down without a fight. Michaud will get as good as he gives in this bout, but he will take a unanimous decision win after attempting to finish the fight within the first and third rounds.

Chase: Li’s submission victories have been impressive, but the layoff that Eric mentioned is the big factor here. Ring rust can be a very real thing for some fighters, especially when you are relatively new to the pro level. I expect Li to put up a good showing, but Michaud will look better in this fight. Li will want to take it to the ground, but Michaud will be strong enough to dictate the pace and placement of this fight. Michaud by decision.

FW: Aaron Phillips (5-0) vs. Sam Sicilia (12-4)

Chase: Even though Aaron Phillips is undefeated and Sam Sicilia is coming off a loss, I still have to give the nod to Sicilia. He strikes me as the more well-rounded fighter, and one that will come into this fight looking for nothing short of an incredible finish. Sicilia is the better ground fighter, but both men have some nice TKO victories under their belts. If this ends by submission, expect Sicilia to have his hand raised. If it concludes with a knockout or TKO, I’d give a slight edge to Phillips.

De Souza: At this point, Sicilia needs to prove that he can keep a winning streak together while part of the UFC featherweight division. Like his UFC 173 foe, Sicilia likes to knock out opponents as quickly as possible, and I sense he will try for the same here. Sicilia scores a first-round knockout midway through the frame.

Reinert: It’s put-up-or-shut-up time for Sicilia, who has gone 2-3 in the UFC and needs to prove that he belongs among the promotion’s featherweight contenders. He’ll have a great opportunity to do that if he’s able to stop the undefeated momentum of the debuting Phillips. Both fighters have shown a tendency to keep it standing, and I believe they’ll follow through with this trend on Saturday night. In the end, Sicilia should be able to keep his UFC dreams alive with a TKO victory.

LW: Anthony Njokuani (16-7) vs. Vinc Pichel (8-1)

De Souza: Anthony Njokuani and Vinc Pichel share common ground in that neither man has ever submitted an opponent in their respective careers, and that won’t change on Saturday. PIchel will give Njokuani some serious trouble in spurts, but Njokuani will be able to handle whatever Pichel throws at him. Njokuani will outstrike Pichel in the first two rounds and take a third-round TKO after rocking The Ultimate Fighter 15 alum.

Reinert: Many MMA fans, myself included, probably remember Pichel best as the guy who Rustam Khabilov suplexed into oblivion in his UFC debut. Pichel required a year-long layoff after that fight, but he rebounded in January with a decision victory. In Njokuani, he faces a seasoned MMA veteran who has alternated wins and losses during his six-fight UFC career. On Saturday, I expect Njokuani to notch a second consecutive win for the first time since coming to the UFC. I’ll agree with Dale that it will probably come in the form of a striking stoppage.

Chase: As my fellow panelists have suggested, this will be a fight that remains standing. Njokuani is the better striker, the more experienced fighter and the more explosive one in this match-up. There’s not much more to be said. Njokuani gets a TKO victory here in a swarm of punches.

LW: Mitch Clarke (10-2) vs. Al Iaquinta (8-2-1)

Reinert: The opening fight for the Fox Sports 1 portion of the UFC 173 card showcases Mitch Clarke and Al Iaquinta, two hungry lightweights who are surely eager to stand out in one of the promotion’s most crowded divisions. Clarke went 9-0 before arriving in the UFC, where he lost his first two fights before rebounding with a win last June. Iaquinta, a teammate of UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman, is in the midst of a three-fight UFC winning streak after losing in the finale of The Ultimate Fighter 15. Despite his recent success, Iaquinta has in the past exposed himself as being vulnerable to submissions, and that seems to be Clarke’s bread and butter. I like Clarke to wrap up a choke inside the distance for the win.

Chase: Submissions are the key here for Clarke, and what I ultimately see as the end result. Eric put it accurately—Iaquinta has shown that his kryptonite so far has been submissions, which accounts for the only way he has lost in his professional career. He brings great hands into this fight, but expect Clarke to take this to the ground and lock on the submission early.

De Souza: I’ll agree with my colleagues here that, despite the heavy power possessed by Iaquinta, Clarke will bring something deadlier to the cage in the form of his submissions. Unless Weidman and company have helped Iaquinta to either keep this one standing or fight fire with fire, so to speak, Clarke out-grapples Iaquinta easily. Regardless of what body part Clarke finds first, he will secure a first-round submission win.

BW: Chico Camus (14-4) vs. Chris Holdsworth (5-0)

De Souza: It’s hard not to like Chico Camus in any fight, but Chris Holdsworth, for all intents and purposes, is a gosh-darned beast. Five opponents, including The Ultimate Fighter 18 bantamweight runner-up Davey Grant, have tried to halt Holdsworth’s ascent through the ranks, and all five have come up short. But it takes more than just grappling to make it in this game, even if grapplers have gotten to Camus in the past. In any event, Camus lays hands on Holdsworth and finds a way to control the fight on the ground before grounding and pounding his way toward a TKO win in the second round.

Chase: I have to favor Holdsworth in this one. His five wins have been submissions, and Camus doesn’t strike me as a fighter who will finish Holdsworth. Camus may have the better striking, but Holdsworth will ride the momentum of his five finishes and undefeated status to get him another notch on his belt in similar fashion. Holdsworth takes this one by submission.

Reinert: Just like his fellow Team Alpha Male bantamweight T.J. Dillashaw, Holdsworth has the opportunity on Saturday to grab a little piece of the MMA spotlight from his more well-known stablemates, and I expect him to do just that. Although Camus does have the superior striking on paper, let’s not discount Holdsworth’s training so quickly. Surely he’s been working with the other elite strikers in Sacramento to shore up this part of his game. Here’s the bottom line: if this fight goes to the ground, it’s all over. I believe that exact thing will happen, and therefore I’m predicting Holdsworth to win by submission.

LW: Tony Ferguson (14-3) vs. Katsunori Kikuno (22-5-2)

Chase: Tony Ferguson and Katsunori Kikuno are finishers, but I have to give the nod to Ferguson. Kikuno looked decent in his UFC debut, but this will his first true test in the UFC against a good UFC-caliber fighter. Ferguson can win this fight wherever it goes, but I don’t expect Kikuno to go down without a fight. The experience Ferguson has had inside the Octagon will show in this contest, and he will issues a TKO or knockout to Kikuno early on.

Reinert: I completely agree with Greg here. Both of these lightweight fighters have had a lot of success, but Ferguson’s has come against a much more difficult lineup of opponents. Although both fighters have demonstrated knockout power, neither has actually been finished by knockout or TKO. I therefore expect this to be a back-and-forth battle with neither fighter able to finish the other. After three rounds, Ferguson will have the scorecard advantage and the win.

De Souza: As much as Kikuno deserves a chance to do well here, and he does, the advantage goes to Ferguson. The Ultimate Fighter 13 winner understands that MMA is a sport where one truly needs a mixed bag of tricks to win. Outside of his vaunted karate (and his crescent kicks of doom), Kikuno won’t be able to do anything that will catch “El Cucuy” by surprise. Ferguson finishes this one inside of two rounds by way of TKO.

LW: Michael Chiesa (10-1) vs. Francisco Trinaldo (14-3)

Reinert: While on paper this fight might seem difficult to pick, I think there are a number of factors working in Michael Chiesa’s favor. First, Francisco Trinaldo is fighting for the first time outside of Brazil at UFC 173, which will no doubt have an impact on his performance. Second, Chiesa has demonstrated an impressive submission game. Eight of Chiesa’s 10 professional wins, including all three in the UFC, came by submission, whereas two of Trinaldo’s three losses were by tapout. Finally, Chiesa is just 26 years old, compared to Trinaldo’s 35. Chiesa should emerge from this one looking the best he’s ever looked after winning by submission in the opening round.

De Souza: Trinaldo is a curious case, because he looks like a tank when you first see him. In his defense, he’s only lost two of his six UFC bouts, but he has found it to be a struggle when it comes to chaining more than two wins together. Meanwhile, Chiesa scored a second-round submission over Colton Smith his last time out, and those two submission losses that Eric alluded to earlier were both second-round submissions. Chiesa strikes me as a person with a genuine hatred for decisions. so look for him to wear down Trinaldo in the first round and get his back in the second. From there, Chiesa hands Trinaldo another second-round submission loss by way of a rear-naked choke.

Chase: Indeed, Trinaldo has had a back-and-forth career these past couple years, but he always seems game. Chiesa is going to emerge victorious here, though. Simply put, expect a grand submission from Chiesa as he stops Trinaldo from getting a winning streak going again. Chiesa is the younger fighter and possesses a very dangerous ground game. When put together, those qualities will account for a short night for Trinaldo.

About The Author

Eric Reinert
Staff Writer

Eric Reinert has been writing about mixed martial arts since 2010. Outside the world of caged combat, Eric has spent time as a news reporter, speechwriter, campaign strategist, tech support manager, landscaper and janitor. He lives in Madison, Wis.