UFC Fight Night 88 Observer panel picks: Garbrandt vs. Almeida; Barao vs. Stephens

If you were to have a title match in the main event, Sunday’s show could easily be a high quality PPV card. Instead, it’s a Sunday show on Fox Sports One.

Every one of the five fights our panel is picking here could’ve main evented this show as it’s one of the deepest TV cards in memory. Most are close matchups as the biggest underdog of the 10 fighters in these five fights is Bryan Caraway at +270. In fact, 3 of the 5 fights are a dead heat according to our panel, which may be a first. It should be a great night of fights and with no baseball or hockey, you might as well cap off the long weekend with a free UFC show!

Here’s our panel with the 2016 records in parenthesis. We’ve also added a running tally of the records of the favorites going into the fights and the panel consensus picks.

John Pollock (31-14; .689) – Fight Network analyst, Live Audio Wrestling co-host, MMA Report co-host
Josh Nason (30-13; .667) – Host of Josh Nason’s Punch Out; writer/editor WrestlingObserver.com, WON Twitter guy
Consensus picks (26-15; .634)
Mike Sawyer (28-17; .622) – Tough Talk MMA
David Bixenspan (28-17; .622) – Figure Four Weekly writer, podcast host
Ryan Frederick (27-17; .622) – WrestlingObserver.com UFC reporter, WON Twitter guy
Mike Sempervive (27-18; .600) – Wrestling Observer Live and Big Audio Nightmare co-host
Favorites (27-18; .600)
Dave Meltzer (27-18; .600)– Wrestling Observer founder
Steve Juon (26-19; .578) – MMA Mania/Wrestling Observer writer. Angry Marks founder
Front Row Brian (25-20; .556) – MMA newsbreaker, Beloved internet personality, Podcast host
Paul Fontaine (21-24; .467) – MMADraws.com founder, WrestlingObserver.com writer

Thomas Almeida (21-0) vs Cody Garbrandt (8-0)

At first glance, this doesn’t strike one as a main event fight but what more can you ask for than two unbeaten fighters putting their perfect records on the line? There’s been a lot of bad words going back and forth between the two of these guys so it should be a fun fight in that sense as well. The winner here may be in line for a title once the Cruz/Faber/Dillashaw stuff plays out. Both are just 24 years old so this could be the start of a heated rivalry between the two.

Almeida (slight favorite) – Frederick, Juon, Nason, Pollock, Sempervive, Bix, Meltzer, FRB
Garbrandt – Sawyer, Fontaine

Renan Barao (33-3) vs Jeremy Stephens (24-12)

These two had a bit of a confrontation at the weigh-ins yesterday and Stephens especially seemed particularly motivated to lay a beating on his Brazilian foe. Barao famously had a 10 year winning streak stopped when he lost his Bantamweight title to Dillashaw. After losing his rematch, he decided to move up a weight class and he’s got a tough opponent for his first time out. Stephens has lost 3 of his last 4 and is hungry for a win. 

Barao (slight favorite) – Frederick, Juon, Sawyer, Sempervive, Bix
Stephens – Nason, Pollock, Fontaine, Meltzer, FRB

Tarec Saffiedine (16-4) vs Rick Story (18-8)

Since 2009, the only two fighters that Saffiedine has lost to are Tyron Woodley and Rory McDonald, both top 3 fighters in the division. He’s a former Strikeforce champion and even though it feels like he’s been around forever, he’s still just 29 years old. Really, he may be one of the most underrated fighters in the company. Story is coming off a win over top contender Gunnar Nelson but hasn’t fought since October of 2014. Will ring rust be a factor for the 31 year old? We’ll find out here. This could be an FS 1 or Fight Pass main event and it’s 3rd from the top here.

Story (very slight favorite) – Frederick, Juon, Pollock, Bix, FRB
Saffiedine – Sawyer, Nason, Sempervive, Fontaine, Meltzer

Sara McMann (8-3) vs Jessica Eye (11-4)

Each of these women comes in having lost 3 of their last 4 fights, even though they’re both top 10 contenders. This is another one that could easily headline a TV card and it’s the featured FS 1 prelim bout. McMann is a former world title contender and Olympic wrestler. Her 3 losses, though, have been to Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and Amanda Nunes, 3 of the top 4 fighters in the division. Eye is probably the biggest name in the division to have not received a title shot and missed out on her best chance when she lost a tough decision to Tate. Her only UFC win has been over Leslie Smith, who just lost to Cris Cyborg last weekend, although she did have a win over Sarah Kaufman overturned due to a drug test failure for marijuana in her UFC debut.

McMann (slight favorite) – Sawyer, Nason, Pollock, Fontaine, Bix
Eye – Frederick, Juon, Sempervive, Meltzer, FRB

Aljamain Sterling (12-0) vs Bryan Caraway (20-7)

Sterling is coming off letting his contract run out and testing free agency and after not receiving a lot of interest elsewhere, he re-signed with UFC. He asked for this fight with the top 15 contender better known as Miesha Tate’s boyfriend and got it. Again, this is a fight that easily could’ve headlined this card. Sterling is one of the most talked about young contenders in any division. Caraway is a tough out though and comes in having won 3 of his last 4, with 2 coming by submission. Sterling has been very vocal about wanting a title shot out of this and in fact could end up against the winner of the main event if he gets past Caraway.

Sterling (big favorite) – Frederick, Juon, Nason, Pollock, Sempervive, Fontaine, Bix, Meltzer, FRB
Caraway – Sawyer

Action begins with the Fight Pass Prelims at 6:00 pm eastern, followed by the FS 1 portion at 7. The main card kicks off at 9 pm and Ryan Frederick will have play by play coverage.

While you’re waiting, check out the following content:

DFS playbook – Who to  pick, who to avoid
Fight Night 88 discussion on the Board, including Ryan Frederick’s extensive preview of the card, along with fighter notes
Josh Nason’s Punch-Out with Andreas Hale previewing the show

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