UFC Fight Night 88 Predictions: A New Contender Will Emerge

Thomas Almeida vs. Cody Garbrandt:

Mike Drahota:

I found it a bit surprising that the UFC was willing to book two of the suddenly booming bantamweight division’s up-and-coming talents against one another so soon, but they are most certainly two of the most exciting strikers at 135 pounds, so that dynamic should be a recipe for Memorial Day fireworks in Las Vegas. I believe it will become a slugfest rather rapidly thanks in no small part to the bad blood spoken in the media and from the fight week hotel confrontation between Garbrandt and Almeida’s team, so this is going to come down to Almeida’s Muay Thai and Garbrandt’s boxing. While the undefeated Brazilian sensation did get caught by veteran Brad Pickett at UFC 189 last July, I believe he simply has more ways to win with elbows, kicks, and knees while also having more experience (even if it is against “cab drivers” like “No Love” said). It should be a back-and-forth fight, and Garbrandt could obviously catch him with a big shot that ends the bout, but I’m going with Almeida by third-round TKO.

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Rory Kernaghan:

Thomas Almeida comes in to this fight undefeated at 21-0, off the back of three straight knockouts from four UFC wins, and possibly the toughest fight of his career against Brad Pickett. This is where the difference will be made against the harsh striker Cody Garbrandt, because aside from experience and having dug to the limit more times, there’s not really much to separate these two. I also feel that ‘Terminator’ has a little more variety in his attacks than ‘No Love,’ although Garbrandt’s patented Team Alpha Male style footwork is a sight to behold. Expect a war, won by Almeida by TKO in round three.

Mike Henken:

I have to say that I’m extremely excited for this scrap, as two of the division’s best undefeated rising contenders will do battle to prove who truly belongs in the title discussion. The 24-year-old Garbrandt has established himself as a legitimate fighter with great speed and strong knockout power as shown in his last bout, but he’ll be facing off with a scary, scary man in Almeida. The Brazilian packs a 21-0 professional record with an impressive 16 knockouts. I just feel as if his arsenal will be too much for “No Love.” Almeida by third round knockout.

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Renan Barao vs. Jeremy Stephens:

Mike Drahota:

On paper this is an incredibly tough test in a move up a weight class for formerly dominant bantamweight champion Barao, who hasn’t looked anything close to his once-cowering form since TJ Dillashaw shockingly dethroned him in devastating fashion at UFC 173 two years ago. Although Stephens has shown bouts of inconsistency mixed with bouts of brilliance, his last loss to Max Holloway came to a potential future title contender at featherweight. Barao has obviously yet to attain that after admitting the cut down to 15 pounds was simply too much anymore, and this fight could be a rude awakening for him. Stephens is a power-punching brawler with great takedown defense, and Barao has exhibited a concerning tendency to stand still and eat punches later. Up at 145 against a knockout specialist by the highly experienced Stephens, I don’t believe that will end well for him. Stephens stops Barao by TKO in the first round.

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Rory Kernaghan:

Former champion Barao faces frequent underdog Stephens in a battle of heavy hitters. The former bantamweight champion has a tough debut at featherweight against Stephens, who has a habit of knocking people silly when it’s against the odds. Where this fight is won is anyone’s guess, mine is that Barao is getting upset here. I think Stephens clips ‘Baron’ early on and continue the run of bad luck befalling the Brazilian Nova Uniao camp. Jeremy Stephens upsets the former champion by one-punch knockout in round one.

Mike Henken:

The former bantamweight champion Barao will be moving up to his new home at 145 pounds for the first time, and he won’t be given a tune-up fight in any way. Stephens is a very experienced and gritty veteran who possesses brutal knockout power and a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. However, I feel as if “The Baron’s” combination of championship caliber Muay Thai and submission skills will get the job done. I also think the easier weight cut will play a factor here. Barao by unanimous decision.