UFC Fight Night 26 will unleash its torrent of MMA awesomeness this Saturday on Fox Sports 1 with a stacked card chalk-a-block full of exciting match ups that are due to entertain. Unlike most large UFC cards, this event looks to be promising all the way through the very bottom of the card where the “snoozer” match-ups are often put. The undercard is 7-fights large with the first three on Facebook and the last four on Fox Sports 1, so prepare for an amazing undercard! Let’s start!

Ramsey Nijem vs. James Vick

Starting off the event on Facebook is a battle between two TUF competitors in Nijem and Vick. Nijem was a finalist in his season of TUF while Vick fell short in the semi-finals after being knocked out by Michael Chiesa who went on to win the show. Nijem has been fairly active in the UFC with a 3-2 record; he’s looking to get back in the win column after being KO’d by Myles Jury in the second round. However, James Vick has been very inactive as he has yet to debut in the promotion after being unable to fight in the TUF finale and also pulling out due to injury later after that. It’s been about a year since Vick has fought live on TUF and about two years since he’s competed in a sanctioned MMA bout – I think it’s safe to say Nijem is going to be the fresher fighter of the two coming into this fight as Vick will have to adjust to the shelf-time.

Stylistically this is a pretty good fight because of their style clash; Nijem is an aggressive grappler who is definitely going to want to get this fight to ground as that is where he is strongest. Vick on the other hand is a fairly well-rounded fighter who showed some solid stand up skills in the Ultimate Fighter and seems to be durable wherever the fight takes place.

Ultimately, it’s hard not to side with the guy who’s been more active and arguably more successful in Ramsey Nijem. I just think Nijem is going to be too much for Vick to handle after not competing in so long. Expect Nijem to pressure Vick on the feet in pursuit of the clinch where he likes to score trip takedowns and take the back. Vick’s biggest chance in this fight is going to be landing a big counter on an overaggressive Nijem, which isn’t too far out of reality, but I’m predicting Nijem to get the takedowns that he needs and end this fight by submission in the second round.

Ramsey Nijem via 2nd Round Submission 

Cody Donovan vs. Ovince St. Preux 

This light-heavyweight bout will feature two fighters eager to score their second victories under the UFC banner as the Nate Marquardt protege Cody Donovan faces Strikeforce stand-out, Ovince St. Preux. After capturing a controversial technical decision in his UFC debut, OSP is looking for a dominant win here so he can finally move up the 205lb ladder. While St. Preux is known for his wrestling skills, which compliment his extreme athleticism, it is noted that OSP’s striking has been looking extremely improved and contains one-punch KO power. His opponent, Cody Donovan, inexperienced as he may be looks to be an exciting 205lb fighter who’s aggressive on the feet but also on the ground. As a black-belt in BJJ under MMA veteran Nate Marquardt, Cody Donovan possesses a very lethal ground game, an active guard, but also some power on his feet as he displayed against Nick Penner in his UFC debut.

In this fight, Cody Donovan will be at the wrong side of a 5” reach advantage for the Haiti-native. That will play in significantly as Donovan is a guy who likes to rush in, bully his opponent into a clinch, and take the fight to the ground. As OSP fights very long, it’ll make it very difficult for Cody to do that, so expect counter strikes to a very viable source of offense for Ovince. We saw that in Donovan’s debut where he was dropped by counter strikes, but rallied back to win in the first round with his aggressive and powerful punching. With a clear edge in reach, technique, and defense, it’ll be OSP’s fight to lose on the feet.

On the ground, Cody Donovan is very dangerous. He is very active off of his back and moves quickly for a big 205lb’er, but unfortunately so does Ovince St. Preux. With freak athleticism and a large frame, OSP is difficult to shake off and always seems to be one step ahead of you on the ground. Expect Donovan to be shut down on the ground, as Ovince doesn’t give him any room to breathe. It’ll be a dominant 3 rounds as Ovince out-strikes, out-muscles, and shuts down Donovan to take a decision.

Ovince St. Preux via Unanimous Decision 

Manny Gamburyan vs. Cole Miller 

Both Manny and Cole started their UFC careers way back in 2007 where they competed as lightweights on Season 5 of the Ultimate Fighter. After up-and-down careers in the UFC, they find eachother against one another nearly 6 years later. Since then, both guys have dropped down to 145lbs to try and re-vamp their MMA careers. Neither fighter has had a whole lot of lucky as Miller has gone 1-2, while Gamburyan experienced a brief title run in the WEC before getting knocked by Jose Aldo. Now at 4-3 in the 145lb division, Manny looks to battle Cole Miller to see who will move one step up the stacked featherweight bracket.

Comparing Gamburyan and Miller is a lot like comparing apples to oranges as both fighters have completely unique skillsets and are also very opposite from eachother in terms of their build and frame. Miller stands very tall and lanky at 6’1” while Gamburyan is the shorter and stockier figure at 5’5”. It’ll be up to Gamburyan to close the distance and get the fight up close and personal, which is where his 3rd degree black belt in Judo can shine. While Manny is also an accomplished Kyokushin Karate practitioner, Cole Miller should be able to use his definitive reach advantage to keep Gamburyan ate bay where he can then pick him apart with his long jab and kicks. While neither fighter is known for an extensive striking arsenal, it should be noted that Gamburyan has a lot of power. If Manny lands a big overhand right on the longer Miller, he definitely has enough power to put him to sleep. However, Miller is very experienced facing heavy hitters, and should be smart enough to keep his range and not let Gamburyan get on the inside.

With that said, at some point, both of these fighters are going to want to take this fight to the ground. Gamburyan I’d say has the wrestling advantage and is definitely the stronger of the two in the clinch, so look for Manny to be the one initiating takedowns. However, Miller is deceptively dangerous from any position, and will most likely be looking to take Gamburyan’s back whenever he gets the chance. With a specialty in chokes, expect Cole Miller to be attacking the neck with guillotine attempts but also attacking off of his back with armbar and triangle attempts – Gamburyan’s submission defense will be put to the test if he wants to be ontop.

Ultimately, I’m predicting a much stronger output of offense coming from Miller which is what I think will win the fight for him. While Gamburyan has the skill and experience to not get submitted or finished, I believe Miller will keep him on edge and on the defensive side of the feet for the majority of 3 rounds – that is, if Gamburyan doesn’t land a big power shot on the feet. Miller should be able to edge Gamburyan in this one.

Cole Miller via Split Decision 

Diego Brandao vs. Daniel Pineda 

This featherweight bout will feature two of the divisions most aggressive fighters set to square off in what should be a blinding furry of fists and explosive grappling transitions. Daniel Pineda, the 28 year old from Texas who has beaten 17 of his 26 opponents with a 100% finish rate, stacks up against the TUF 14 winner Diego Brandao who has scored himself a solid 3-1 record in the UFC.

While Brandao started off his UFC career with a go-for-broke mentality, he’s starting to develop into a style that is more controlled aggression. Brandao still contains the devastating punching flurries and the explosive grappling skills, but I think he’s quickly found out that timing is important. With the ability to end the fight on the feet, or on the ground, the well-versed Brandao is going to need to be on his toes when to comes to Daniel Pineda, who is as dangerous as they come.

Pineda is primarily a grappler with an aggressive striking style very similar to Brandao, however I wouldn’t say he’s had as much success as Diego has. Pineda has been caught flush with counters before, and has also been submitted several times in the past. Pineda’s aggression can easily cost him in this fight, as Brandao packs the harder punch and the more explosive flurries. Pineda will also find himself at a disadvantage when it comes to the grappling as I feel that Brandao is a little more skilled on the mat compared to Pineda. All in all, Brandao is just too good and too explosive for Pineda to overwhelm. Expect Diego to fire back heavy leather on the feet, which will pave the way for a second round submission.

Diego Brandao via 2nd Round Submission 

Mike Brown vs. Steven Siler 

After nearly a  year out of action, former WEC featherweight champion Mike Brown returns to the cage battle the up-and-coming TUF 14 alumni Steven Siler. Brown was previously on a 2-fight winning streak being getting a case of the injury-bug which has put him out of action for a year. While Brown hasn’t necessarily made as big an appearance in the 145lb division as he did back in the WEC days, he is still a very dangerous fighter and one of the best powerhouse wrestlers in the division.

Steven Siler, known for being a high-volume striker and a dangerous grappler, is really going to have his work cut out for him in this fight. While Siler relies mostly on capitalizing on his opponents errors with submission attempts, I really don’t see him being able to catch Mike Brown off guard with anything – especially considering Brown has survived against top level grapplers like Rani Yahya, Urijah Faber, and Jeff Curran. This fight will most likely be Brown landing the crisper combinations on the feet, holding a high guard to limit Siler’s output of strikes long enough for him to secure double legs where he should be able to dominate the majority of the fight. If Brown doesn’t score a submission victory late in the fight, look for him to take a one-sided decision as he cruises to victory in a cautious return to the Octagon.

Mike Brown via Unanimous Decision 

Conor McGregor vs. Max Holloway 

This next fight, also slated in the featherweight division, will feature two of the divisions most promising stars in Conor McGregor and Max Holloway. A fight being highly anticipated by the fans, both McGregor and Holloway will look to move one more step up the ladder as their striking skills will be put on display. For McGregor, a win here will validate the massive amount of hype behind, and ramp the wave of momentum behind him to hopefully launch him among the top in the division. For Holloway, the young 21 year old will be looking to get back into the win column after a disappointing loss to Dennis Bermudez earlier this year. While this loss hasn’t really set him back much, a win over a large name in McGregor will rocket him back in there where he was when he went on his 3-fight tear in 2012. With both of these fighters being strikers, this fight could easily turn into segments of back-and-forth exchanges and really be a barn-burner  for 3 rounds, or until someone drops.

While 2” isn’t really much of an advantage, it will put McGregor as the longer reach which could very well be a definitive aspect to this fight. Holloway likes to throw to the body and if he’s having to reach, it’s going to expose him to heavy handed counters courtesy of McGregor’s tight boxing. The one thing Holloway does have over Conor is variety in arsenal. Max likes to throw lots of different kicking techniques whereas McGregor has a style similar to Cub Swanson; primarily boxing based with a heavy emphasis on movement and footwork to open up angles. Stylistically, I see the striking between these two to favor Conor McGregor as he just seems more developed and calculated. Look for his footwork and movement to really set Max Holloway off, and force him into giving Conor openings for him to land punches.

Holloway is a very tough guy and has never been stopped on the feet before, despite taking some very large shots, so I think he’ll be safe from any sort of knockout courtesy of McGregor’s striking. However, I’m predicting McGregor to light Holloway up on the feet consistently for 3 rounds. Max’s toughness will really shine through in this fight, but it comes down to it, McGregor’s boxing style combined with his footwork is on a whole other level than Holloway’s aggressive and wild striking style.

Conor McGregor via Unanimous Decision 

Michael McDonald vs. Brad Pickett 

Atop of the prelims on Fox Sports 1 is a highly anticipated bout between two of the bantamweight divisions finest competitors in Michael McDonald and Brad Pickett. This fight is the new age vs. the old as the 22 year old McDonald is fighting to reclaim his spot as the number one contender against Brad Pickett, age 34. Pickett has had an up and down career in terms of wins and losses, but with 4 fight bonuses in a total of 5 UFC fights, Brad Pickett has renowned himself as one of the most exciting fighters on the UFC roster.

Heavily favoring the stand-up game, Brad Pickett has tight boxing skills that he uses to try and out-strike his opponents in every fight. Sometimes he faces wrestlers whom he can’t stay vertical against for very long, but that doesn’t stop Pickett from being an offensive fighter from every position. Pickett is aggressive and scores damage and strikes from every position in the fight and makes wrestlers’ jobs no easy task. However, his opponent Michael McDonald, is much more than just a wrestler.

McDonald has made himself known as being one of the UFC’s most brightest stars. At 22 years of age McDonald has captured some of the most impressive wins in the division, including a KO over former long-time champion Miguel Torres. While McDonald fell short in his Interim title shot against Renan Barao, McDonald got a chance to showcase his skills among arguably the number one fighter in the division. McDonald has dynamite punching power, and is a very strong athletic guy who can also use takedowns to score offense.

In this fight with Pickett, it’s really going to come down to the takedowns. On the feet, I’d put these guys about even. McDonald has the power, but Pickett has the speed and the technique. We’ve seen McDonald fade later in fights, courtesy of his very large frame which dwarfs most other bantamweights, but early in the rounds McDonald can stand with the best of them. Look for McDonald’s trade mark right straight to give Pickett all he can ask for on the feet. While they may be evenly matched early on, expect McDonald to slowly start transitioning to his wrestling by mixing in some takedowns to get ahead on the score card. Ultimately, it’ll be McDonald’s takedowns and damage on the feet that will declare him the verdict.

Michael McDonald via Unanimous Decision