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Fight Night Sydney Main Card Fantasy Preview

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One of the most heated rivalries in the UFC comes to a head this Friday (Saturday in Australia) when Luke Rockhold meets Michael Bisping in the UFC Fight Night main event in Sydney.
Bisping ruffled Rockhold's feathers with a comment a couple years ago, and ever since, the two former sparring partners have been on a collision course that will see the two battle it out in the Octagon.
In the co-main event, former Ultimate Fighter winner Ross Pearson looks for another win as he takes on New Yorker Al Iaquinta, who hopes to build on a recent TKO victory of his own when he travels to Australia.
In today's fantasy preview, we'll examine the four fights on the main card to see who has a leg up on the competition and help push you forward in the UFC Pick Em contest.
The odds are definitely stacked against Michael Bisping in the main event as he comes in as a huge underdog to former Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold.  Bisping has faced adversity plenty of times during his career and the way he gets into his opponent’s head before a fight might be one of the greatest 'X' factors in the entire sport.
Bisping didn't get here by sheer luck.  He's an extremely skilled fighter, especially on the feet, where he's landed more significant strikes than anyone in middleweight history.  He stands behind only Georges St-Pierre in terms of the all-time UFC record for significant strikes landed.  Considering how many strikes he's landed throughout his UFC career, then it should be a shock that he also lands an incredible 4.39 strikes per minute.  Bisping is constantly active, always moving, and he couples his striking rate with great defense, where he's blocking his opponent's attacks almost 70 percent of the time.
Rockhold will certainly be a stiff test for the Brit.  The former Strikeforce champ is the picture of consistency outside of the loss to Vitor Belfort in his UFC debut, where he lost by head kick knockout.  Discounting that performance, Rockhold has been virtually unstoppable in every other fight he's had. He's beaten Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Tim Kennedy, who are both currently ranked in the UFC top 10. He mangled Tim Boetsch in under a round and knocked out Costa Philippou in just over two minutes and 30 seconds.  
Rockhold is a nasty combination of power, speed and grappling.  He's got long range, accurate striking and incredible takedown defense.  Rockhold can't be defined as a striker or a wrestler or a submission specialist because he does all things well.  It's a big reason why he may one day be the toughest test standing in front of UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman.
Given all the tools Rockhold has at his disposal, he still has to go in and fight Bisping without an ounce of anger or frustration.  Bisping feeds on an opponent overreacting in a fight and making mistakes, which gives him the openings to take advantage.  If Rockhold can maintain his normal disposition, unloading his monstrous body kicks and keeping Bisping from putting together combinations, he should win round after round on his way to victory.
Prediction: Luke Rockhold by unanimous decision
Ross Pearson faces Al Iaquinta in a very intriguing lightweight matchup in the co-main event in Australia.  Pearson is a tough-as-nails boxer with heavy hands and lightning quick feet.  Iaquinta comes from the same team as middleweight champion Chris Weidman, so he's got a mix of good boxing and slick submission skills learned from former welterweight champ Matt Serra.
Both fighters are well-known for landing a ton of strikes - Pearson at 4.04 strikes per minute, Iaquinta at 4.96 per minute.  Pearson and Iaquinta both land with about the same accuracy and within two percentage points in defense as well.  What separates Pearson and Iaquinta is a massive difference in level of competition.
Pearson has faced a laundry list of top fighters since coming to the UFC by way of The Ultimate Fighter. He's got a TKO over former title contender Gray Maynard and has been in the Octagon with names like Diego Sanchez, Edson Barboza and Dennis Siver. Iaquinta just hasn't been around as long to face the type of fighters, but undoubtedly this is a big step up in competition for the 27-year-old from New York.
Pearson's fast hands and combinations could give Iaquinta real problems from the outside.  Iaquinta might hit with more power, but Pearson may hit him three or four times before he can unload a haymaker while looking for the knockout.  Iaquinta is definitely a gamer and he hits like a truck, so he's going to be dangerous from the opening bell to the final horn.
Still, Pearson's a fighter who could be knocking on the door of the top 15 soon and unless he's completely underrated Iaquinta going into this fight, he should pitch a shutout en route to victory.  
Prediction: Ross Pearson by unanimous decision
Former Ultimate Fighter winner Robert Whittaker will make a move up in weight class as he debuts as a middleweight.  Whittaker is a crafty striker with a background in karate and serious power in his hands, as he's knocked out five past opponents.  Whittaker is extremely active during his fights. where he lands 4.53 strikes per minute. He also keeps his fights standing with incredible takedown defense.  Whittaker has blocked 90.48 percent of the takedowns attempted against him during his UFC career.
It's still going to be interesting to see how he does at middleweight, especially in his debut, as he faces a massive 185-pounder in Clint Hester. The former Team Jon Jones member on The Ultimate Fighter comes from a boxing background, but he's developed his entire game and now stands undefeated in the UFC.  Hester has a 73 percent finishing rate by knockout or TKO, and given his size and power advantage, he might increase those numbers by the time his fight with Whittaker is finished.
Hester will be the bigger fighter. He'll be the stronger fighter, and unless he just toys with the Kiwi, Hester should find an opening and land a big shot on Whittaker's chin, putting this fight away.  Maybe this is an experiment for Whittaker to test out life at 185 pounds, but he may not enjoy it much once he gets there.
Prediction: Clint Hester by TKO, Round 2
Probably the most difficult fight to predict on the main card is this bout between local favorite Soa Palelei and American Walt Harris, who takes this fight on short notice after the Australian's original opponent fell out due to injury.  Harris' previous stint in the UFC ended with a thud after suffering two losses in a row, the second of which ended with a highlight reel knockout.
Harris still has all the raw materials to be a very exciting heavyweight prospect. As a former basketball player, Harris is a natural athlete with size and reach.  He's like dynamite with his strikes, and he can explode at any time with a big punch or a combination of shots to put an opponent away.  Because this is the heavyweight division, it only takes one shot landing on the button and anyone can go to sleep.
Palelei had been on an 11-fight win streak prior to his last defeat, where he got stuck under wrestler Jared Rosholt for the better part of 15 straight minutes.  Prior to that loss, Palelei was the one on top as he bludgeoned opponents like Ruan Potts and Pat Barry with the massive canned hams he calls hands.  Palelei is a huge heavyweight who might have one of the nastiest top games in the business.  He doesn’t even have to wind up on punches to land with power.  One shot and he can put most guys to sleep.
On paper, Palelei should be able to get this fight to the ground, where he can hurt and finish Harris before the second round is over.  Still, Harris has the ability to come out and just blast through Palelei in the opening seconds of the fight while never allowing the Australian to get comfortable.  Palelei remains the safer bet with a more varied attack and good takedowns to nullify Harris on the feet.  If there's an upset to pick on the main card, however, Harris might be the one to pull it off.
Prediction: Soa Palelei by TKO, Round 1

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