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UFC 214 Observer Panel Picks: Three title fights, Lawler vs. Cerrone

It’s the biggest UFC show of the year so far as Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier step into the Octagon in Anaheim to renew their rivalry. Jones won the first time out to retain the light heavyweight title, but his antics outside the cage cost him his belt.

DC picked up the slack in the meantime, and he looks to defend his belt for the third time against his biggest rival. In the co-main event slot, Demian Maia gets his long-deserved shot at the welterweight title and division kingpin Tyron Woodley.

Invicta FC bantamweight champion Tonya Evinger debuts for the company as she faces former Invicta and Strikeforce featherweight champion Cris “Cyborg” Justino. The winner claims the UFC women’s featherweight title, which was vacated by Germaine de Randamie.

Despite the other title fights, the second most anticipated bout on the card may very well be former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler taking on Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. This was originally scheduled as one of the featured bouts for UFC 213 during International Fight Week but was pushed back to this show due to injury.

Rounding out the main card, and likely kicking off the pay-per-view, is a fight that could determine the next challenger for the winner of the main event. 205 pounders Jimi Manuwa and Volkan Oezdemir will throw down in a war that promises to be quick and violent.

If you're new here, our panel picks are listed below and listed alongside the fighter's names are their worldwide FightMatrix rankings, as well as BestFightOdds.com betting odds. The panelists' 2017 records are in parentheses, and we also have panel consensus picks along with a line where we show how the betting favorites did:

  • John Pollock (39-17; .696) -- Fight Network analyst, Live Audio Wrestling co-host, MMA Report co-host
  • Favorites (37-19; .661)
  • Dave Meltzer (37-19; .661) -- Wrestling Observer publisher
  • Consensus Picks (35-20; .636)
  • David Bixenspan (35-21; .625) -- Deadspin pro wrestling columnist, Between the Sheets podcast host
  • Mike Sempervive (33-23; .589) -- Wrestling Observer Live and Big Audio Nightmare co-host
  • Steve Juon (33-23; .589) -- MMA Mania writer, Angry Marks publisher
  • Josh Nason (33-23; .589) -- Host of Josh Nason’s Punch-Out, WrestlingObserver.com assistant editor
  • Mike Sawyer (32-24; .571) -- Tough Talk MMA publisher
  • Ryan Frederick (31-25; .554) -- WrestlingObserver.com UFC writer
  • Paul Fontaine (30-26; .536) -- MMADraws.com publisher, WrestlingObserver.com writer
  • Tom Lawlor (10-9; .526) -- Filthy Four Daily co-host, pro wrestling undercard fighter, UFC enhancement talent currently suspended due to wellness violation
  • Front Row Brian (27-29; .482) -- MMA newsbreaker, beloved internet personality, podcast host

Main event for the UFC light heavyweight title -- Champion Daniel Cormier (19-1) vs. Jon Jones (22-1)

These two may hate each other more than any two fighters in MMA. Cormier needs this win to prove that he’s the real champ. Jones wants to regain the belt that he never really lost. It’s a simple story.

One of the compelling things about this fight is what’s next. Jones pretty much cleaned out the division during his title run, and Cormier hasn’t had much trouble with anyone besides Jones. There are heavy rumors that Jones might move up to heavyweight after this fight, with Brock Lesnar as his most speculated on first opponent in that division.

  • Jones NR; -260 betting favorite -- Frederick, FRB, Juon, Meltzer, Lawlor, Sawyer, Nason, Pollock, Fontaine, Bixenspan, Sempervive

For the UFC welterweight title -- Champion Tyron Woodley (17-3-1) vs. Demian Maia (22-6)

Maia won seven straight to earn this shot, most in dominating fashion. Woodley knocked out Robbie Lawler to win the title but escaped by the skin of his teeth after two fights with number one contender Steven “Wonderboy” Thompson that really didn’t settle anything.

What’s interesting here is that all three people who’ve beaten Woodley in his career have also beaten Maia -- and by the exact same method. Rory McDonald and Jake Shields hold decision wins over both and Nate Marquardt has knocked them both out. Woodley is four years younger, which could end up being the deciding factor here.

  • Woodley #1; -193 betting favorite -- FRB, Juon, Meltzer, Lawlor, Sawyer, Nason, Pollock, Fontaine, Sempervive
  • Maia #3; +180 betting underdog -- Frederick, Bixenspan

For the vacant UFC women’s featherweight title -- Cris “Cyborg” Justino (17-1) vs. Tonya Evinger (19-6)

Cyborg has already fought twice in the UFC, winning both of her fights via KO. She has not lost since her pro debut 12 years ago. Evinger’s run has been impressive as well, with 10 straight wins that took her to the Invicta bantamweight title (which she vacated in order to get the UFC shot).

Much has been made of the fact that Evinger wasn’t “good enough” for the UFC bantamweight division, but two of the women she successfully defended against were signed by the UFC after their fights.

Cyborg has rarely faced anyone the caliber of Evinger. Aside from Marloes Coenen and Leslie Smith, none of her opponents have done much of anything in MMA since facing her.

  • Cyborg #1; -940 betting favorite -- Frederick, FRB, Juon, Meltzer, Lawlor, Sawyer, Nason, Pollock, Bixenspan, Sempervive
  • Evinger #7 at women’s bantamweight; +971 betting underdog -- Fontaine

Robbie Lawler (27-11) vs. Donald Cerrone (32-8) (welterweights)

When Lawler was fighting for the middleweight title in Strikeforce and Cerrone was competing for the lightweight title in WEC, who’d have thought this fight was possible? Now they find themselves in the same weight class in UFC and it’s possibly the best fight on the card on one of the biggest shows of the year.

Cerrone hasn’t fought since January, which is like a decade by his schedule. Lawler is one year removed from losing his title to Tyron Woodley, with this being his first fight since. The winner here is probably one win away from a shot at the Woodley-Maia winner.

  • Lawler #4; -145 betting favorite -- Frederick, FRB, Juon, Meltzer, Lawlor, Sawyer, Nason, Pollock, Fontaine, Bixenspan, Sempervive

Jimi Manuwa (17-2) vs. Volkan Oezdemir (14-1) (light heavyweights)

These may be the two best light heavyweights in UFC who have never faced either Cormier or Jones, and this very well could be a number one contender’s fight. Manuwa has won two straight, both by KO, since being knocked out by former title contender Anthony “Rumble” Johnson.

Oezdemir thrust himself into title talk by stunning Misha Cirkunov and knocking him out in under 30 seconds. Both men also hold wins over top contender Ovince Saint Preux and a win here, especially if it’s impressive, is probably a ticket to the biggest fight in either man’s career.

  • Manuwa #6; -176 betting favorite -- Frederick, FRB, Juon, Meltzer, Sawyer, Nason, Pollock, Bixenspan, Sempervive
  • Oezdemir #10; +161 betting underdog -- Lawlor, Fontaine

**********

The rest of the card --

Ricardo Lamas (17-5) vs. Jason Knight (18-2) (featherweights)

  • Lamas #4; +110 betting underdog
  • Knight #14; -112 betting favorite

Renan Barao (34-4) vs. Aljamain Sterling (13-2) (140 lb catchweight)

  • Barao #17 featherweight; +115 betting underdog
  • Sterling #11 bantamweight; -115 betting favorite

Bryan Ortega (11-0) vs. Renato Carneiro (11-0-1) (featherweights)

  • Ortega #11; +143 betting underdog
  • Carneiro #8; -149 betting favorite

Andre Fili (16-4) vs. Calvin Kattar (16-2) (featherweights)

  • Fili #38; -350 betting favorite
  • Kattar #130; +336 betting underdog

Jarred Brooks (12-0) vs. Eric Shelton (10-3) (flyweights)

  • Brooks #29; -141 betting favorite
  • Shelton #36; +130 betting underdog

Kailin Curran (4-4) vs. Aleksandra Albu (2-0) (strawweights)

  • Curran NR; +138 betting underdog
  • Albu NR; -151 betting favorite

Josh Burkman (28-15) vs. Drew Dober (17-8) (lightweights)

  • Burkman #82; +269 betting underdog
  • Dober #98; -300 betting favorite

Action begins with the Fight Pass prelims at 6:30 p.m. ET and moves over to FXX at 8 p.m. ET. The main card airs on PPV at 10 p.m. ET, and our own Dave Meltzer will be cageside covering the show. Check out the links below for more coverage: