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UFC 191 Fantasy Preview

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Don't miss UFC 191 this Saturday night live on Pay-Per-View from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. 

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Demetrious Johnson will look to make his seventh successful title defense this weekend at UFC 191 when he faces possibly his toughest challenge to date in John Dodson, who looks to avenge an earlier loss while claiming the 125-pound title.
 
Johnson and Dodson first met in 2013 in a highly anticipated flyweight title bout. The result that night was Johnson coming away victorious by decision, but not before Dodson became the only fighter in the division to drop him with a punch while winning at least a couple rounds on the judges' scorecards.
 
Now Dodson is determined to finish what he started two years ago, but can he find a way to solve Johnson where so many others have failed?
 
Also at UFC 191, two of the most legendary heavyweights in UFC history will meet, as Andrei Arlovski seeks his fourth win in a row since returning to the promotion when he takes on former champion Frank Mir, who has picked up back-to-back knockouts in 2015to rejuvenate his career.
 
UFC 191 features a ton of top 10 fighters, champions and former champions, and our fantasy preview will break down some of those key matchups to see who has the edge going into Saturday night, which fights are seemingly a lock and maybe even an upset to keep your eyes on.
 
SPLIT DECISION
 
These are the fights that are just too close to call, but a few minor differences between favorite and underdog could lead one fighter to victory and the other to defeat.
 
Demetrious Johnson (-500 favorite) vs. John Dodson (+400 underdog)
 
The odds make it seem like this main event fight is a mismatch, but those numbers couldn't be further from the truth. The fact is that Johnson demands higher odds because he's been such a dominant champion that it's nearly impossible to pick against him. But no one during his reign has given him a tougher fight than Dodson.
 
John Dodson (R) fights Demetrious Johnson (L) during thier Flyweight Championship Bout part of UFC on FOX at United Center on January 26, 2013 in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Al Bello/Zuffa LLC)Dodson is a very dangerous matchup for the champion for a number of reasons, the biggest of which is his power. Dodson has dropped opponents six times since debuting in the flyweight division after winning The Ultimate Fighter at bantamweight - and knocking out future champion TJ Dillashaw in the process. Dodson averages 1.3 knockdowns per 15 minutes in the cage, which is the highest average for any fighter at flyweight. He also possesses the second best takedown defense in the division by blocking nearly 89-percent of his opponent's attempts. And last, but not least, Dodson can match Johnson's speed, which is a variable that virtually no one can come close to at 125 pounds.
 
Still, Johnson has all the weapons to counter Dodson.
 
He's an incredible wrestler who is tenacious with his takedowns, so even if Dodson shuts him down early, that won't stop Johnson from trying repeatedly to get him on the mat. Johnson is deceptively good on the feet as well, where he has the highest striking accuracy in the division with incredible volume.
 
If Johnson can weather the storm from Dodson early, just like in their previous fight, he should be able to take over late. Johnson just has to fight with a tactical game plan and avoid big exchanges with Dodson in rounds one and two or he might wake up looking at the lights and seeing his flyweight title wrapped around somebody else's waist. Johnson just needs to fight smart and stick to his game plan and not allow Dodson's movement and heavy hands to throw him off.  Much like the first fight, Johnson might drop a couple of rounds before he's able to come storming back to get the win. It will be close, but Johnson should be able to edge Dodson out in the end.
 
Prediction: Demetrious Johnson by split decision
 
Andrei Arlovski (-155 favorite) vs. Frank Mir (+135 underdog)
 
There's little debate when discussing the career accolades of Andrei Arlovski and Frank Mir that they will go down as two of the greatest heavyweights in UFC history. Lately, however, Arlovski and Mir have been more worried about the future than the past as they've enjoyed a healthy second wind with five combined wins between the two of them over the past year. Arlovski just recently put on a Fight of the Year performance against Travis Browne, while Mir made short work of Todd Duffee while scoring his second straight knockout in 2015.
 
 Andrei Arlovski reacts to his victory over Travis Browne in their heavyweight bout during the UFC 187 event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 23, 2015 in Las Vegas, NV. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)Arlovski and Mir share a slew of UFC records between the two of them although chances are only one will get to add another trophy to the resume after this weekend is over.
 
Mir has been working tirelessly on his boxing with coach Angelo Reyes, and instead of sparring with top level MMA fighters, he's been going hard rounds with championship level boxers to really get his hands on point. Mir remains the most dangerous submission fighter in the history of the UFC, but his confidence to stand with an opponent has served him well this year with two consecutive KO wins.
 
When it comes to striking and knockouts, Arlovski is still the superior fighter, however, and he will be targeting Mir's chin from the moment the referee says go. Arlovski has nine knockouts during his UFC career, and while his hands are ultra dangerous, a big part of his recent success is due to defense. Arlovski has avoided damage at a much better rate in his last few fights, and while he did get clipped and nearly finished in his last fight against Browne, his ability to recover and counter was the key to his victory.
 
It's the same thing in this fight.
 
Arlovski just needs to avoid one of Mir's big hooks that come swooping in from the side and he can counter with his fast, straight punches. Arlovski is still the faster fighter who will be throwing harder punches consistently in this fight. Watch for Arlovski to bait Mir with side-to-side motion before stepping straight forward to launch an attack. One or two hard combinations could put Mir down and out for good and give Arlovski another big win.
 
Prediction: Andrei Arlovski by TKO, Round 2
 
John Lineker (-115 favorite) vs. Francisco Rivera (-105 underdog)
 
The odds can't get much closer than this bantamweight matchup between John Lineker and Francisco Rivera.
 
Francisco Rivera kicks Takeya Mizugaki in their bantamweight bout during the UFC 173 event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 24, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)Lineker goes up to 135 pounds after a few disastrous cuts to flyweight forced him to switch divisions, while Rivera looks for another knockout to add to his already impressive resume over the last few years.
 
Lineker was always one of the biggest fighters at flyweight, but he won't be giving up much size by competing at bantamweight. He's an incredibly hard puncher with great output as well, landing over 5.4 significant strikes per minute. Lineker's biggest issue in the past has been his conditioning, which typically backfires thanks to a hard weight cut. So going up to 135 pounds could actually help Lineker in a similar fashion as it did Dustin Poirier, who has looked better than ever since moving from featherweight to lightweight.
 
Still, as powerful as Lineker could be at 135, Rivera's power is proven and he's going to enjoy a six-inch height advantage over his Brazilian opponent. Rivera might just be the hardest hitter at bantamweight, and if he can keep Lineker at the end of his punches, he should be able to tee off at will with combinations until he lands the knockout blow. Make no mistake, if Rivera doesn't fight long and allows Lineker to get inside, this fight could take a dramatic turn towards the Brazilian.  The exchanges in this fight should be legendary, so don't blink and get ready for a potential show stealer.
 
Prediction: Francisco Rivera by TKO, Round 3
 
KNOCKOUT PICKS
 
These are the fights that appear to be a little more one-sided, but remember that this is MMA, where anything can - and usually does - happen.
 
Anthony Johnson (-500 favorite) vs. Jimi Manuwa (+400 underdog)
 
Two of the best strikers at 205 pounds will meet this weekend as Anthony Johnson meets Jimi Manuwa in another crowd-pleasing affair.
 
Anthony Johnson knocks out Antonio Rogerio Nogueira with a series of uppercuts in their light heavyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at SAP Center on July 26, 2014 in San Jose, CA. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)Johnson might be one of the hardest hitters in the UFC, no matter what division you're talking about, because his punches come down like cinder blocks being dropped from 20 stories above. Johnson averages 1.62 knockdowns per 15 minutes in the cage - that is more than four times the rate of the average UFC fighter. Johnson isn't just a heavy puncher because he also combines his boxing with good kicks and, while facing another striker, it's likely we'll see his legs in action since he probably won't have to avoid too many takedown attempts.
 
Manuwa is no slouch on the feet, either, although he doesn't seem to have the one-punch stopping power that Johnson carries in both hands. Manuwa lands just under four significant strikes per minute with incredible 59-percent accuracy. He can stand and bang with anyone in the world, but there's one glaring deficiency that could cost him dearly against Johnson.
 
Manuwa only has 47-percent defense, which is more than 10 points below the UFC average. While the poor defensive statistics only cost him once against Alexander Gustafsson in his only professional loss, those kinds of issues could easily see Manuwa face planted against someone as dangerous as Johnson.
 
Look for Johnson to test Manuwa's speed and aggression early and then he will eventually uncork a punch that will send his opponent's jaw back across the pond to England. Johnson may have failed in his first bid to capture a UFC title when he lost to Daniel Cormier back in May, but this fight should prove that he's still an elite light heavyweight and will probably be back in the hunt for the gold at some point in 2016.
 
Prediction: Anthony Johnson by KO, Round 1
 
Paige VanZant (-1300 favorite) vs. Alex Chambers (+850 underdog)
 
The biggest mismatch on paper comes from the opening bout on the UFC 191 Pay-Per-View card as Paige VanZant faces former Ultimate Fighter competitor Alex Chambers, and the odds aren't wrong on this one.
 
Felice Herrig and Paige VanZant grapple in their women's strawweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Prudential Center on April 18, 2015 in Newark, NJ. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)VanZant is a rising star with all the potential in the world to be a title challenger one day, and while she's taking the slow and steady approach to her career, this 21-year old phenom is going to tear through anybody on the outer edges of the top 10, and that includes Chambers this weekend.
 
VanZant mixes quick combinations on the feet, landing over four strikes per minute, with a blinding game on the ground with more than two takedowns landed per fight and an aggressive striking attack on the mat. VanZant doesn't just outpoint opponents when she drags them to the ground; she looks for the finish and that's exactly what you should expect on Saturday night.
 
Chambers is tough and won't fade away easily, but VanZant is relentless, and once she puts “Astro Girl” down, chances are she won't get up again. VanZant is just better everywhere, and unless she gets cocky and just makes a rookie mistake, she'll cruise to victory in this one while taking another step forward in her career.
 
Prediction: Paige VanZant by TKO, Round 2
 
Paul Felder (-360 favorite) vs. Ross Pearson (+300 underdog)
 
This lightweight matchup between Paul Felder and Ross Pearson looks like a sure thing, but that doesn't mean it won't be fun.
 
Paul Felder lands an elbow to the chin of Jason Saggo of Canada in their lightweight bout at the Scotiabank Centre on October 4, 2014 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. (Photo by Nick Laham/Zuffa LLC)Felder is a rising star in the lightweight division, and he put on an instant classic in his last fight against Edson Barboza, who is considered one of the most lethal strikers in the entire division. Felder stood toe-to-toe with him for three rounds and put on a spectacular performance before coming up just short on the scorecards. Felder isn't a technical marvel on the feet, but his ability to mix things up with good kickboxing and an unorthodox arsenal of spinning back fists, elbows and kicks make him a lot of fun to watch.
 
Pearson is a much more technically sound boxer, but he's also weathered his fair share of damage over the years as well, and that's why this fight looks like a lock for Felder this weekend. Pearson has solid defensive stats while blocking nearly 69-percent of his opponent's strikes, but he also hasn't been facing an explosive, quick hitter like Felder lately either. Pearson has a chance to steal one if he can frustrate Felder with his boxing and head movement to stay out of danger to make him miss. If Pearson opts to exchange, however, his night is going to come to a fast and decisive end.
 
Prediction: Paul Felder by TKO, Round 2
 
UPSET SPECIAL
 
Corey Anderson (+130 underdog) vs. Jan Blachowicz (-150 favorite)
 
Like all upset picks, this one doesn't come without its share of fair warning that this matchup is so close that it really could go either way.
 
Corey Anderson punches Gian Villante in their light heavyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Prudential Center on April 18, 2015 in Newark, NJ. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)Jan Blachowicz may not have the biggest name in the UFC, but he's a tough customer with a wealth of experience against top level opponents all over the world. He knocked out Ilir Latifi in his debut, and while he came up short against Jimi Manuwa in his last fight, Blachowicz is still a tough out for anyone at 205 pounds.
 
Former Ultimate Fighter winner Anderson suffered the first setback of his career in his last fight when he fell to Gian Villante late after winning the fight early with his wrestling and clinch game. Anderson has to do the same against Blachowicz while hopefully not running out of steam this time, which is the exact reason he lost his last fight.  Anderson has good output on the feet and on the ground, averaging nearly six strikes per minute standing and almost five takedowns per 15 minutes in the cage. Anderson just has to hope his conditioning has improved since his last fight and, if so, he could take Blachowicz to the ground or keep him trapped against the cage to do damage.
 
Blachowicz might be the more well-rounded fighter, but Anderson has a wrestling game that could be the big equalizer in this one. If he puts the pressure on Blachowicz early and keeps it up for 15 minutes, Anderson should grind his way to victory.
 
Prediction: Corey Anderson by unanimous decision.
Saturday, December 30
10PM/7PM
ETPT
Las Vegas, Nevada

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