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Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson is routinely regarded as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport and he returns this weekend in a main event against Kyoji Horiguchi at UFC 186 in Montreal.
Johnson has been virtually untouchable since dropping down to 125 pounds and winning the UFC title nearly three years ago. He has run roughshod over every contender the UFC has thrown in his path, but Horiguchi is undefeated in his UFC campaign and looking to exploit a weakness in Johnson while potentially pulling off one of the biggest upsets in recent memory.
Also on the card, Michael Bisping looks to return to form after suffering a loss in his last fight as he takes on former Ultimate Fighter finalist CB Dollaway in a pivotal matchup at 185 pounds.
As UFC 186 draws near, today's fantasy preview will break down some of these key matchups and hopefully give you the edge over the competition when it comes to which fighters to choose, who will come away victorious and what might be an upset worth watching.
These are the matchups that likely favor one fighter over another going into fight night, but always remember, MMA is a completely unpredictable sport, so anything can happen once the two competitors step inside the Octagon.
Demetrious Johnson (-1000 favorite over Kyoji Horiguchi)
It's nearly impossible to pick against flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson these days and UFC 186 will probably be no different. Johnson is rapidly becoming one of the most well respected fighters on the roster, with a skill set that includes knockout power, lightning quick movement and a powerful wrestling game that has rarely been countered in his 125-pound career.
Johnson is a blur in the cage, moving from side to side and from front to back with such speed and elusiveness that his opponents rarely have time to catch up to him before they are getting countered with takedowns or a barrage of punches. Johnson lands 3.71 strikes per minute with over 52-percent accuracy and also averages over three takedowns per 15 minutes in the cage with over 50-percent success. In other words, Johnson will almost always control where a fight takes place, which gives him a huge advantage over most opponents.
Horiguchi rates high in several of his statistical categories as well, including slightly higher averages for both striking and takedown accuracy than Johnson. He has two knockouts since coming to the UFC as well so Horiguchi definitely has deadly stand-up that can put an opponent's lights out in a hurry.
Despite all those accolades, the one thing Horiguchi doesn't have is experience against the best fighters in the world at 125 pounds and he's now jumping into the deep end with the deadliest shark in the division. Johnson gave Chris Cariaso a brutal welcome party when he stepped up the ladder for a title shot last year and the flyweight king will likely give the same to Horiguchi this weekend. Johnson is so versatile and so good wherever a fight goes that unless he's somehow slipped into complacency, he should once again cruise to victory.
Prediction: Demetrious Johnson by submission (round three)
Fabio Maldonado (-265 favorite over Steve Bosse)
Fabio Maldonado might fight like he's preparing for the zombie apocalypse because he takes a ridiculous amount of head strikes during many of his exchanges, but that doesn't take away the Brazilian's ability to dish out even more punishment in return. Maldonado is the picture of consistency when it comes to his workmanlike pace, constant pressure and unrelenting ability to absorb his opponent's best punches before countering with a brutal delivery of offense of his own.
This weekend, Maldonado faces late replacement Steve Bosse, who took the fight after Quinton “Rampage” Jackson was deemed ineligible to compete at UFC 186. Bosse is a semi-pro hockey enforcer who actually retired last year before ultimately deciding to come back for this fight in Montreal in his home country of Canada. Despite the late notice, Bosse isn't a novice when it comes to facing tough challenges, and he holds wins over several notable UFC names, including Wes Sims, Marvin Eastman and Houston Alexander.
Unfortunately, Bosse has also been out of action for nearly two years and after he retired in 2014 there's no way to know for sure the kind of training he's put in to prepare for a fight against someone like Maldonado on such short notice. Bosee definitely has a puncher's chance because he swings his arms like sledgehammers and he can do damage in a hurry if he lands.
Chances are Maldonado has already been preparing for a heavy-handed opponent, so switching to Bosse shouldn't change his approach very much. This could turn into a Fight of the Night candidate and Bosse will definitely do his best to put on a show, but in the end Maldonaldo's boxing and constant pressure will likely make the UFC newcomer fade late.
Prediction: Fabio Maldonado by knockout (round three)
Thomas Almeida (-450 favorite over Yves Jabouin)
Thomas Almeida is a name to know in the next year as this rising bantamweight prospect starts getting into the thick of the 135-pound division. The young Brazilian is not only undefeated through 18 fights in his career, but he might just be the brightest up and comer on the roster and he'll get a chance to shine again on Saturday night against veteran fighter Yves Jabouin.
Almeida is a vicious, high volume striker who landed over eight strikes per minute in his UFC debut with over 55-percent accuracy as well. Almeida has a submission arsenal to compliment his versatile striking game, but there's no doubt that he will be looking for a knockout from the minute the fight starts until the referee stops it.
Jabouin is no pushover and his 64-percent striking defense is still six-points higher than the UFC average, but getting into exchanges with someone like Almeida is playing with dynamite. At some point or another, he's going to explode.
Watch for Almeida to settle into a comfort zone after getting through his first UFC outing and he should unleash something big in this fight to help kick off the UFC 186 main card on pay-per-view. Almeida is an exciting fighter to watch and that should be no different when he faces Jabouin on Saturday.
Prediction: Thomas Almeida by TKO (round two)
These are the fights that are much tougher to call and could mean the difference between winning and losing in the fantasy game for UFC 186.
Michael Bisping (-150 favorite) vs. CB Dollaway (+130 underdog)
There's no bigger clash of styles on the entire UFC 186 card than the matchup between Michael Bisping and CB Dollaway and whichever fighter is able to implement their particular game plan will likely come away the winner.
Bisping is a slick striker with high volume output and good accuracy with boxing being his primary weapon. His footwork and head movement are outstanding and Bisping can turn up the intensity at any moment while landing a barrage of combinations. His one glaring weakness that grounded him in recent memory was in his fight against Tim Kennedy, where Bisping spent the majority of the bout planted on the mat thanks to his opponent's superior wrestling.
Dollaway has plenty of wrestling to give Bisping nightmares as a former All-American, with his takedowns landing with over 54-percent accuracy. If Dollaway doesn't get too enamored with his striking game, which can be formidable, his wrestling quickly becomes his ultimate equalizer.
If Dollaway employs a takedown-heavy strategy, he can grind Bisping into the ground for a decision victory. If Dollaway decides to play to the crowd and make this a striking war, he still has one-punch knockout power but he will probably have a much harder time finding a home for his hands against Bisping's quick movement and fast counters. Bisping just needs to avoid Dollaway's wrestling and he can win this fight based on his striking alone, but if he's fending off takedowns for 15 minutes it could take him completely out of his game.
In other words, this really is a toss up.
Prediction: Michael Bisping by split decision
Patrick Cote (-185 favorite) vs. Joe Riggs (+160 underdog)
Two of the biggest punchers in the welterweight division face off as Patrick Cote meets Joe Riggs in the featured bout of the preliminary card.
Both fighters are well known for an aggressive striking game, although Cote has become more technical in his approach while Riggs is still the same hard punching knockout artist he's always been and he's still just as dangerous.
While this fight could easily come down to who connects first, Cote has managed to become a little more versatile in his attacks in recent years while depending on good head movement and footwork to play defense instead of a granite chin, which got him through the earliest part of his career. Riggs has been a little more uneven in his performances of late and after a freak injury cost him in his last fight, the pressure is higher than ever to return with a win. It might make Riggs take a few too many chances, which leaves the door open for Cote to take advantage.
Prediction: Patrick Cote by unanimous decision
Randa Markos (-260 favorite) vs. Aisling Daly (+220 underdog)
Former Ultimate Fighter veterans Randa Markos and Aisling Daly go to war on the UFC Fight Pass prelims in what could be another potential show stealer. Markos accepted this fight on shorter notice, which certainly won't benefit her in this matchup. At the same time, Daly was originally supposed to fight a few weeks ago until an injury took out her opponent, so she was forced to push back and extend her camp, which could be just as damaging if she wasn't able to slow down her workout sessions so she didn't get burned out and physically spent before ever stepping foot in the Octagon.
Markos remains one of the brightest prospects from the reality show with a great wrestling base combined with good submissions and a heart that just won't stop. Markos is tenacious and always attacking with incredible cardio and a never say die attitude, no matter where she's at in the fight.
Daly is a veteran with a much bigger resume with wins over several well-known fighters, including top 10 ranked women's bantamweight Jessica Eye while competing for a large part of her career at 125 pounds. That size difference could be a factor in this fight because Daly struggled to make weight for her last fight and while she was able to get the win in the first round, if she can't do the same to Markos, conditioning could be a problem late.
Prediction: Randa Markos by unanimous decision
Bryan Barberena (+250 underdog to Chad Laprise)
It's a little shocking that Bryan Barberena is as big an underdog as he is going into his bout with former Ultimate Fighter winner Chad Laprise, especially given his performance in his last bout against Joe Ellenberger. Barberena is a physically imposing welterweight with long reach and knockout power.
Laprise can definitely win by knockout as well, but he's also found his way to decisions on more than a few occasions in the past. His striking defense is superb, but it only takes one punch slipping through from Barberena and it changes the course of this fight.
Look for Barberena to pressure Laprise and put together combinations to keep the Canadian backing up. If Barberena is successful in pushing Laprise around early, it will allow the second-time UFC fighter to start unloading at will and eventually he'll find a home for one of his best punches, which could easily put an end to this fight before the final bell.
Prediction: Bryan Barberena by TKO (round three)