UFC Fight Night 88: SportJOE picks the winners so you don't have to
Let the battle of the bantamweight sleepers commence!
MMA writers' 2016 records
Darragh The Quizmaster Murphy: 49-21
Bourbon Ben Kiely: 44-26
Thomas Almeida (21-0) vs. Cody Garbrandt (8-0)
DM: At 24 years old, both Tommy Almeida and Cody Garbrandt are two of the most dangerous strikers at 135 lbs.
There are definitely still some holes in both their games, mostly stemming from their desire to press forward in pursuit of the finish.
I don't think Almeida's 10/17 favouritism is quite reflective of his superiority over 'No Love' but I do see him taking this one.
They say the most difficult thing for young fighters to learn is how to nullify a reach advantage and as talented as Garbrandt is in the boxing realm, I don't think he's at the stage where he can deal with a five inch edge for the Brazilian beast who has scary power for a bantamweight. Almeida via TKO (round two)
BK: The only truly surprising result here would be this fight going the distance.
There's a lot of unknowns surrounding these two ferocious strikers because neither have faced top-tier opponents yet. Almeida's been tested more having passed that beautiful stand-up war against crafty veteran Brad Pickett with flying colours, but we're going to know a lot more about both fighters after this fight.
I'm leaning towards the Brazilian because he's faced tougher opponents in the Octagon, but wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if the Team Alpha Male prospect upsets the odds.
I'd imagine the main talking point in terms of the bantamweight title picture will be Aljamain Sterling's performance against Bryan Caraway in the Fight Pass prelims though. I'm expecting big things from the "Funk Master". Almeida via TKO (round three)
Renan Barao (33-3, 1 NC) vs. Jeremy Stephens (24-12)
DM: Renan Barao is such an enigma.
At one stage, he was thought to be unbeatable at 135 lbs and then, all of a sudden, he was made to look distinctly average and was sent packing from bantamweight.
Confidence is key and I feel it's a bad idea for him to try his hand at featherweight after being embarrassed twice in two years by TJ Dillashaw.
Jeremy Stephens is no bum and his fight IQ has kept him in and around the 145 lbs rankings for a long time.
He's 1-3 in his last four fights but don't be fooled, 'Lil Heathen' has come on leaps and bounds and those defeats have come against the cream of the crop. I don't think Barao will be able for Stephens pressure and ability to mix it up between striking, takedown attempts and clinchwork. Stephens by decision
BK: This is a toughy.
Stephens is a lot bigger, hits harder and Barao is coming off two demoralising knockout losses to TJ Dillashaw. However, I think the former bantamweight champion has the ability to take the win here, but it would require a lot of composure.
Stephens loves fire-fights. He thrives when it descends into a brawl, with both he and his opponent are biting down on their mouth pieces and swinging from the pocket until someone's lights get turned out. If this happens in Vegas, then we could be in for a quick finish.
What Barao needs to do to avoid this is to fight smart and not pursue the finish from the get-go. Barao can work his striking from the outside, work for the takedown and try to get that top position on the ground where he loves to fight.
Will he adopt this approach after Stephens shoved him at the weigh-ins? He might, but it's extremely doubtful. Lil Heathen's one of the more intelligent fighters in the UFC, and I don't mean just fight IQ, he's a genuinely smart dude. He knew exactly what he was doing there. Stephens via KO (round two)
Tarec Saffiedine (16-4) vs. Rick Story (18-8)
DM: If Story is on his game, he can trouble anyone but Tarec Saffiedine just has that special something .
The Belgian's injury-plagued career is one of the great tragedies of mixed martial arts because he'll likely never fulfil his potential now.
Story has the grit to grind out a decision against Saffiedine but you'd have to give Saffiedine the technical advantage. Saffiedine by decision
BK: "The Horror Story" is becoming a bit of a dark horse in the welterweight division. You get the feeling that on his day, he can beat just about anybody.
Saffiedine didn't exactly blow the MMA world away with his performance against battle-worn Ellenberger, but he was never going to look his best returning from such an extended period out of the cage with injury.
If he's in anyway gun-shy or sloppy against Story, the American could have a relatively easy night's work, that is assuming he's the same fighter following his injury trouble. Story by decision
Chris Camozzi (23-10) vs. Vitor Miranda (12-4)
DM: I think Camozzi should be tentative against the Brazilian powerhouse but, simultaneously, I know that he won't be.
Camozzi has never been knocked out in his professional career but Miranda has more killer instinct on the feet than the TUF 11 alumnus has ever come up against. Miranda via KO (round one)
BK: Camazzi's got outstanding heart and is good everywhere, but not great in any one aspect of the fight game.
Former kickboxer Miranda has the clear advantage in the striking department and considering he comes into this bout off the back of three successive knockout victories, he should be confident that he can put away the American. Miranda via TKO (round two)
Jorge Masvidal (29-10) vs. Lorenz Larkin (16-5, 1 NC)
DM: I love, love, love Jorge Masvidal!
Lorenz Larkin might be flashy with his stand-up but God damn Masvidal does the basics well.
Masvidal's Diaz-style boxing is absolutely gorgeous to watch and while he may not look like the most powerful of men, his accumulative striking wears on his opponents and if he hits you on the sweet spot, it's night night.
I don't see a finish on the cards for him but I'm plumping for 'Gambred' here. Masvidal by decision
BK: Larkin's an athlete, Masvidal is a technical fighter who seems genetically-engineered to dispatch of flashy strikers like Larkin.
We should see fundamentals performed to the highest degree from "Gamebread". For God's sake, the man held his own against Benson Henderson. That's not exactly an easy feat. Masvidal by decision
Josh Burkman (28-12, 1 NC) vs. Paul Felder (11-2)
DM: The ease with which Burkman saw off karate black belt KJ Noons earlier this year may lead you to believe that he'll be able to deal with Felder's traditional martial arts background but Tae Kwon Do and karate are very different disciplines and I think Felder is much more creative than Noons.
I think the move to lightweight is a smart one but I really believe Burkman is in trouble against a striker like Felder and, at 36, chins have a tendency to suddenly weaken. Felder via KO (round one)
BK: Burkman will be the bigger fighter in the cage, but that's just about the only advantage I see him having in this fight.
It should stay standing, where Felder will have the technical advantage, but Burkman may look for the takedown when the proverbial hits the other proverbial. That being said, the path to victory for the "Irish Dragon" is just way more clear.
If Burkman wants to win, he might have to make this a weird fight, take Felder out of his comfort zone and grind his way towards the final bell. Felder by decision
UFC Fight Night 88 goes down from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas Nevada on Sunday May 29. BT Sports will be showing all the action from the preliminary card onwards, which kicks off at midnight.
However, if you want to catch Aljamain Sterling vs Bryan Caraway, you'll need to check it out on the prelims exclusive to UFC Fight Pass, which kick off at 11 pm. Main card proceedings will begin at 2 am Irish time.