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UFC 216 Observer Panel Picks: Two title fights and history in the making

UFC 216

Image: Daily Mail

UFC is back in Las Vegas for UFC 216 tonight and after the horrific tragedy earlier this week, hopefully a show headlined by two title fights can help clear fans' minds, even if for just a few hours. 

Lightweights Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee will each main event a PPV for the very first time as they meet for the interim lightweight title in both guys' first tiel opportunity. Ferguson in particular has a penchant for picking up post show bonus awards and both would love a big money fight with divisional kingpin Conor McGregor, should he return to the sport.

The other title bout sees Demetrious Johnson attempt to defend his flyweight title for a record 11th straight time as he goes up against Ray Borg. This fight was originally scheduled for last month in Edmonton but Borg had health issues just a couple days before the fight and it was scrapped.

Former heavyweight champ Fabricio Werdum will attempt to rebound from a tough loss against Derrick Lewis, also coming off a loss. The winner will remain in title contention while the loser will probably drop to the role of divisional gatekeeper.

Longtime lightweight vet Evan Dunham will attempt to continue his late career renaissance with a fifth straight win as he goes up against the very tough Beneil Dariush in another main card fight. Rounding out our panel picks is a middleweight clash on the Fight Pass portion of the show as veterans Brad Tavares and Thales Leites meet for the first time.

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 panelist's 2017 records is in parentheses, and we also have panel consensus picks as well as a line where we show how the betting favorites did:

  • Dave Meltzer (45-21; .682) -- Wrestling Observer publisher
  • John Pollock (44-22; .667) -- Fight Network analyst, Live Audio Wrestling co-host, MMA Report co-host
  • Favorites (44-22; .667)
  • Consensus Picks (41-24; .631)
  • Tom Lawlor (18-11; .621) – Co-host Filthy Four Daily; pro wrestling undercard fighter; UFC enhancement talent currently suspended due to wellness violation
  • David Bixenspan (41-25; .621) – Deadspin pro wrestling columnist; Between the Sheets podcast host
  • Josh Nason (41-25; .621) -- Host of Josh Nason’s Punch Out, WrestlingObserver.com assistant editor
  • Mike Sempervive (40-26; .606) -- Wrestling Observer Live and Big Audio Nightmare co-host
  • Steve Juon (40-26; .606) -- MMA Mania writer, Angry Marks publisher
  • Mike Sawyer (40-26; .606) -- Tough Talk MMA publisher
  • Ryan Frederick (36-30; .545) -- WrestlingObserver.com UFC writer
  • Paul Fontaine (35-31; .530) -- MMADraws.com publisher, WrestlingObserver.com writer
  • Front Row Brian (34-32; .515) -- MMA newsbreaker, beloved internet personality, podcast host

> UFC interim lightweight championship: Tony Ferguson (22-3) vs Kevin Lee (16-2)

Ferguson is on one of the most impressive runs in the entire company since dropping a decision to Michael Johnson in May 2012. Since that loss, he’s won nine straight, including six by stoppage. Perhaps even more impressive, he’s picked up six post show bonus awards in that stretch. Lee has won five straight with the last four coming via stoppage. He’s also coming off a very impressive performance in his first main event, a first round submission over Michael Chiesa.

While these guys might not be big names to casual fans, hardcores have been waiting for this one since the day it was announced. It’s hard to imagine this fight being any less than excellent.

  • Ferguson #3; -211 betting favorite: Juon, Sawyer, Frederick, Nason, FRB, Pollock, Fontaine, Meltzer, Sempervive, Bix
  • Lee #7; +207 betting underdog: Lawlor

> UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson (27-2-1) vs Ray Borg (11-2)

Speaking of great runs, flyweight king Demetrious Johnson has not lost in almost six years since challenging Dominick Cruz for the bantamweight title. He’s the only champion in the division’s history and has pretty much run through all the contenders, including some more than once. Borg has a modest two fight win streak but is the remaining top contender DJ hasn't baten yet. He made weight with a half pound to spare and vows to win the title and then defend against Johnson in a “historic rematch”.

Many feel that if Johnson retains his title and breaks the record, he’ll move back to bantamweight for potential big fights with names like Cody Garbrandt or TJ Dillishaw. 

  • Johnson #1; -980 betting favorite: Juon, Sawyer, Frederick, Lawlor, Nason, FRB, Pollock, Fontaine, Meltzer, Sempervive, Bix

> Fabricio Werdum (21-7-1) vs Derrick Lewis (18-5)
HEAVYWEIGHTS

When we last saw Lewis, he lost a tough fight against Mark Hunt after which he “retired” in a post-fight interview. That didn’t last long as he’s back here against former champion Werdum in what is the biggest fight of his career to this point. Werdum desperately needs a win after a tough loss to Alistair Overeem. A second straight loss after the age of 40 could signal the end is near for the former champion, but a win over a rising contender could get him in the title mix of a thin division. He's lost two of his last three.

One thing is almost for sure. This one shouldn’t take long.

  • Werdum #3; -247 betting favorite: Bix, Juon, Sawyer, Lawlor, Nason, FRB, Pollock, Meltzer, Sempervive
  • Lewis #10; +221 betting underdog: Frederick, Fontaine

> Evan Dunham (18-6) vs Beneil Dariush (14-3)
LIGHTWEIGHTS

Dunham looked to be nearly done in UFC following his third straight loss in July 2014. Since that time, he’s racked up four straight wins including the fight of the night in his last bout over Rick Glenn. He’s on the verge of a top 10 ranking. Dariush came into UFC with a blaze of glory but has been finished in two of his last four. Once thought to be a future title contender, he’s a long way from that now in a stacked division. He badly needs a win here to stay relevant at 155.

  • Dunham #17; +200 betting underdog: Sawyer, Frederick, Lawlor, Fontaine
  • Dariush #13; -217 betting favorite: Juon, Nason, FRB, Pollock, Meltzer, Sempervive, Bix

> Brad Tavares (15-4) vs Thales Leites (27-7)
MIDDLEWEIGHTS

With 32 UFC fights between them, it’s hard to believe these two veterans have never met in the Octagon. Tavares was last beaten by the current interim champion Robert Whittaker. He’s won two straight and three of his last four and another win would be really big for the Hawaiian.

Leites has won two of his last three and has not been finished in a fight in over seven years. The longtime contender is coming off a win over Sam Alvey in which he made him look average. A victory over Tavares would be one of the biggest in his long career.

  • Tavares #27; -170 betting favorite: Juon, Werdum, Frederick, Lawlor, Nason, FRB, Pollock, Meltzer, Sempervive, Bix
  • Leites #16; +165 betting underdog: Fontaine

**********

The rest of the card:

> Maria Romero Borella (11-4) vs Kalindra Faria (18-5-1)
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHTS

  • Borella #17; +190 betting underdog
  • Faria NR; -195 betting favorite

> Tom Duqesnoy (15-1) vs Cody Stamman (15-1)
BANTAMWEIGHTS

  • Duquesnoy #20; -150 betting favorite
  • Stamman #43; +148 betting underdog

> Lando Vannata (9-2) Vs Bobby Green (23-8) LIGHTWEIGHTS

  • Vannata #117; -199 betting favorite
  • Green #106; +190 betting underdog

> Pearl Gonzalez (6-2) vs Poliana Botelho (5-1) STRAWWEIGHTS

  • Gonzalez NR; +128 betting underdog
  • Botelho NR; -135 betting favorite

> Walt Harris (10-5) vs Mark Godbeer (12-3) HEAVYWEIGHTS

  • Harris #47; -302 betting favorite
  • Godbeer #72; +279 betting underdog

> Magomed Bibulatov (14-0) vs John Moraga (17-6) FLYWEIGHTS

  • Bibulatov #8; -500 betting favorite
  • Moraga #28; +472 betting underdog

Matt Schnell (10-4) vs Marco Antonio Beltran (8-5) FLYWEIGHTS

  • Schnell #85; -112 betting favorite
  • Beltran +126; +110 betting underdog

Action begins with the Fight Pass prelims at 6:30 PM EST and moves over to FX at 8 PM EST. The main card airs on PPV at 10 PM EST, and our own Ryan Frederick will be cageside covering the show.