UFC Fight Night 81 Hot Picks: Staff Predictions for T.J. Dillashaw vs. Dominick Cruz

January 17, 2016

I love it when title fights happen on free TV, don’t you? Especially when it’s two elite fighters who have each been champion as is the case with the bantamweight title fight between T.J. Dillashaw and Dominick Cruz. This is Cruz’s chance at redemption after being forced to drop his title due to inactivity. It’s the kind of fight where the fans are the real winners, no matter the outcome.

The co-main event is sure to be fire, a bout between two men looking to prove they still matter in the lightweight division. So take our advice and lay some money down on these expert picks.

T.J. Dillashaw (c) (12-2) vs. Dominick Cruz (20-1)

Erik Fontanez: When T.J. Dillashaw started busting up bantamweights on his way to beating Renan Barao for the division title, there was a sense that I had seen his style before. I told myself, “Why’s this guy remind me so much of Dominick Cruz?” The answer was in the footwork, and Dillashaw looked like had matched the former champ’s dance moves, step for step. Combine that with the Jedi teachings of Duane Ludwig and you have a guy who is wise in the ways of caged fisticuffs. But there’s always that thing about the originator of a style always having the upper hand over those who mimic his methods. I’d apply that to this fight and pick Cruz to regain that belt he never lost as a result of a UFC bout. Winner: Cruz via unanimous decision.

Matthew Roth: This is a great fight to put on free television. T.J. Dillashaw has developed into a complete fighter with explosive striking under the tutelage of Duane Ludwig. When he first debuted on “The Ultimate Fighter,” he was a wrestler with rudimentary boxing. Now? He’s the top dog in the division. The fight against Cruz is an interesting one because in the past 51 months, Cruz has fought just once due to a litany of injuries. When he’s healthy, Cruz is one of the best fighters in the world due to his footwork and ability to transition between boxing and the mat. This is Dillashaw’s first bout away from Team Alpha Male and will be very telling as to who was truly responsible for his title run. I’m counting on Dillashaw to win as he’s shown more. Cruz’s health is always going to be an issue and I can’t rely on him coming in healthy until he fights regularly. Winner: Dillashaw, unanimous decision.

Joshua Molina: Can Dominick Cruz become the “Comeback Kid” once again? Cruz has fought one time in four years, if you can count a 61-second knockout in his last fight as cage time. He was arguably the best fighter in the world at the time of his first ACL tear. Then he injured his groin. Then he tore his other ACL. Cruz is a great fighter, but he is injury prone. And he is stepping into the cage against champion Dillashaw, the new hot thing in MMA. If Cruz comes into the fight in his old form it could be a short night for Dillashaw. Cruz is fairly close to unbeatable when he is at his best. Dillashaw is on a roll and knocked out Renan Barao, a guy that everyone at the time thought was the best fighter in the world. Both guys have great mobility and are true all-around martial artists. This fight should be exciting, but it’s Cruz’s to lose. If Cruz is 100 percent healthy, he’ll win a unanimous decision. Winner: Cruz, unanimous decision.

Steven Muehlhausen: Cruz has been waiting for this moment since he was stripped of the title in January 2014. After all the injuries, he’s finally made it back to a title fight. All that’s in his way is Dillashaw. Fans have been salivating for these two to battle. They are evenly matched. Both have great footwork and wrestling. The champion seems to have the advantage in the striking department. If Dillashaw can get his hands on Cruz it will be a long night for “The Dominator.” The fight goes into the later rounds and Dillashaw will clip Cruz and end the fight. Winner: T.J. Dillashaw by fourth-round knockout to retain the bantamweight title.

Anthony Pettis (18-3) vs. Eddie Alvarez (26-4)

Erik Fontanez: These two have held titles in a division that runs deep like the lyrics from Ice Cube’s “Today Was a Good Day.Eddie Alvarez fought in some wars with Michael Chandler in Bellator, and I honestly feel like those two fights alone took a ton out of him. Anthony Pettis, on the other hand, although injury prone, doesn’t strike me as a fighter whose chin has turned to paper from the fights he’s seen in the cage. I can’t say the same for Alvarez, unfortunately. I got Pettis giving Alvarez the business in the third round. Winner: Pettis via third-round TKO.

Matthew Roth: Man, what could have been. This is one of those fights that is happening at a time it seems like both fighters are on the backend of their careers. Eddie Alvarez’s UFC run has been underwhelming at best and Anthony Pettis is coming off that devastating loss to Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 185. This should be an exciting bout but it’s just missing … something? I don’t know. There should be a lot of hype for it, and instead it’s just blah. Alvarez has never had the best chin and Pettis is really dynamic in his ability to land strikes from different angles. I’m picking the former UFC lightweight champ to bounce back. Winner: Pettis, KO, Round 2.

Joshua Molina: Had this fight happened three years ago it could have been a barnburner. Pettis has peaked. Alvarez has peaked. Both guys are fighting to restore their reputations. Pettis wants to prove that he’s still one of the best in the world after losing his title to Rafael dos Anjos. Alvarez wants to prove that he is belongs in the UFC. Alvarez has performed unimpressively in his first two fights. He lost to Donald Cerrone then squeaked by Gilbert Melendez by split decision. Alvarez, the longtime Bellator champion who was blocked by Bjorn Rebney from joining the UFC, and was only set free by new CEO Scott Coker, will probably experience more hard times against Pettis. One thing about Alvarez is that he is an exciting fighter to watch. But he’s got a glass jaw. Look for Pettis to come out swinging and knock Alvarez out. Winner: Pettis, KO, Round 1.

Steven Muehlhausen: How will Pettis react after losing his lightweight belt to Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 185? Pettis once again suffered an injury and had to pull out of his scheduled fight with Myles Jury in July. Pettis claims the time off helped him. After a shaky UFC debut against Donald Cerrone, Alvarez got his first UFC win against Gilbert Melendez at UFC 188. If you pressure Pettis like Clay Guida and dos Anjos, Pettis seems to wilt. That plays right into the hands of Alvarez. Winner: Eddie Alvarez by unanimous decision.

Travis Browne (17-3-1) vs. Matt Mitrione (9-4)

Erik Fontanez: Heavyweights, y’all. My basic prediction for all heavyweight fights is picking the guy whom I think is going to land first, and measure that against the reputation of his opponent’s chin. In this case, I’d expect Travis Browne to land first, but Matt Mitrione isn’t a guy who knocks out easily. Browne, however, has experienced some tough losses of late, one of which to current champ Fabricio Werdum. And his latest fight? A knockout loss to the one-time king of getting KO’d, Andrei Arlovski. He needs to bounce back, but I can’t imagine he can trade punches with “Meathead” for 15 minutes. Winner: Mitrione by knockout, Round 2.

Matthew Roth: Bungalows. That’s what these two gigantic men will be throwing at each other. I know that people have made a big deal about Mitrione’s supposed inability to take a big punch, but they also seem to forget that Browne has shown to also have a questionable chin. I think Browne has the better footwork, but Mitrione is coming from the stronger camp. Browne needs this win in order to stay relevant in the heavyweight division. I’m going to pick Mitrione because when it comes down to punching power, I think he has the edge. Winner: Matt Mitrione, KO, Round 2.

Joshua Molina: If you like fighting, this is your match. But don’t blink. You might miss Matt Mitrione come crashing to the ground. These two HEAVYweights will slug it for about one minute before someone comes down. It will probably be Mitrione. Browne was on a roll before getting KO’d by Antonio Silva and then Andrei Arlovski. But when he shows up and lands his kicks and punches, he’s pretty impressive. Mitrione isn’t known for his cagy defense so expect the mega powers to explode and Mitrione get flashbacks to Roy Nelson. Winner: Travis Browne: KO, Round 1.

Steven Muehlhausen: Both fighters are coming off a loss. Browne lost by knockout to Andrei Arlovski at UFC 187, while Mitrione lost to Ben Rothwell by first-round submission at UFC Fight Night in June. Browne has gone through the gamut outside of the sport with domestic abuse allegations from his ex-wife, which resulted in the slugging heavyweight to be suspended. Oh, and he also started a relationship with Ronda Rousey. Mitrione says he’s focused and the biggest obstacle has been him. It doesn’t seem like Browne is entirely focused with all the distractions. Going to Australia two months before this fight shows he doesn’t seem to be too focused at all. This fight will end on the feet and Mitrione will spring the upset. Winner: Matt Mitrione by first-round knockout.

Ross Pearson (20-9, 1 NC) vs. Francisco Trinaldo (18-4)

Erik Fontanez: *skips fight because NFL Playoffs run longer than anticipated* Winner: Ross Pearson via unanimous decision.

Matthew Roth: I don’t think I can be excited for an opening bout any less. Ross Pearson is a talented fighter with pretty solid boxing, but it just seems like a bout where I’m wondering if there’s any reason to really tune in. Trinaldo has quietly put together a four-fight winning streak but it wasn’t against top talent. I dunno, I’ll pick the Pearson but just because I need to make a pick. Winner: Pearson, unanimous decision.

Joshua Molina: Pearson is younger, faster and more experienced. He’s also smarter inside the cage. Trinaldo poses a serious power threat and knock Pearson out at any time, but endurance and “fight IQ” should prevail here. The younger guy wins. Winner: Pearson, unanimous decision.

Steven Muehlhausen: This is a battle of youth vs. experience. I like Pearson’s youth and in-Octagon experience to be too much for the Brazilian. Winner: Ross Pearson by unanimous decision.

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