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UFC 194 Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor: The Observer Picks Contest

UFC 194

It's here. If your heart can take any more build, watch all six episodes of UFC Embedded today. It's well worth it.

Our Panel:

- Jack Encarnacao (109-43 | .717): Sherdog Rewind host, The Lapsed Fan podcast co-chair

- Steve Juon (102-50 | .671): AngryMarks founder, MMA Mania writer

- Mike Sempervive (100-52 | .658): Wrestling Observer Live & Big Audio Nightmare co-host

- David Bixenspan (98-54 | .645): Figure Four Weekly writer, Observer Daily Update writer, podcast host

- John Pollock (98-54 | .645): Fight Network personality, Live Audio Wrestling co-host, The MMA Report host

- Dave Meltzer (95-57 | .625): Wrestling Observer founder & writer

- Front Row Brian (95-57 | .625): MMA newsbreaker, Twitter personality, podcast host

- Mike Sawyer (92-60 | .605): Tough Talk MMA, 2014 picks panel champion

- Josh Nason (88-64 | .579): JNPO host, Wrestling Observer digital media and content guy, WON Twitter guy

*****

> UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo (25-1) vs. UFC Interim Featherweight Champion Conor McGregor (18-2)

During the first episode of UFC Embedded, there was something about McGregor that didn’t seem right, almost like he was too comfortable. As I was chatting with fellow New Englander J.B. on Twitter, he mentioned something similar without me even prompting it. Maybe we’re too tied up in David Price and thinking about the Red Sox season, but there’s talking about being hungry to get there and feeling like you’re already there.

I’m going with Aldo for a few reasons. One is that he hasn’t lost in 11 years and like champions before him (Anderson Silva, GSP, Jon Jones), long stretches of dominance and fending off challengers even when your body is screaming no. The other is he looks comfortable and ready. He’s laughing and joking. He looks like he’s ready to remind the world why so many have considered him the pound-for-pound best.

Of course, McGregor could starch him in three rounds. LET’S JUST DO THIS ALREADY.

- Aldo (slight favorite some places): Nason, Bix, Sempervive, Encarnacao, Sawyer, Juon, FRB, Meltzer
- McGregor (slight favorite other places): Pollock

> UFC Middleweight Champion Chris Weidman (13-0) vs. Luke Rockhold (14-2)

A few weeks ago, I was trying to articulate to Ariel Helwani on Twitter how this fight felt like two NFL quarterbacks or two ace pitchers going head to head in their prime. Then, he nailed it: Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson. Now, while I don’t agree with Ariel that Weidman is in the conversation for the best middleweight champion of all time, this is, arguably, the best middleweight title fight of all time.

Weidman is undefeated, but Rockhold is pretty spot on when he says that all he’s beaten is a bunch of deflated Brazilians. The 31-year-old downed Silva twice to win the title, then Lyoto Machida in one of the best fights of 2014, and the deflated balloon that is Vitor Belfort.

After losing to the inflated version of Belfort, Rockhold has ripped off four straight with four finishes over Tim Boetsch, Costas Phillipou, Michael Bisping, and Machida. There’s some ‘eh’ in there as well, which is what makes this fight so damn compelling. Both can kick, both can punch, both are young, both can wrestle and grapple, and both are (hopefully) healthy. I could see this fight happening a few more times until it’s all said and done.

- Weidman (slight favorite): Nason, Sempervive, Pollock, Encarnacao, Sawyer, Juon, Meltzer
- Rockhold: Bix, FRB

> Yoel Romero (10-1) vs. Jacare Souza (22-3-0-1)
Middleweights

The awesomeness of the top two fights here has completely overshadowed what is essentially a bout for the no. 1 contendership to the winner of WIDE MAN VS. ROCK HOLD. Souza has won eight straight fights (5-0 UFC) including Chris Camozzi twice of all people. He just turned 36 and could have easily got the shot against Weidman tonight, but a win here makes him a no-doubter for that opportunity. Can he outstrike Romero and does he want this to go to the ground against the Olympic wrestling medalist?

Romero burst on the scene by busting up the consciousness of those who dare stepped in against him….except for Tim Kennedy and that whole sitting on the stool thing. Much like Souza, Romero came from Strikeforce and like Souza, is undefeated in the Octagon (6-0). He is coming off the June decimation of Lyoto Machida and has T/KO finishes in five of his six wins.

Souza has been knocked out in two of his three career defeats, but one was his first pro fight and the other was September 2008 against Gegard Mousasi. However, this is the biggest puncher he’s faced in the UFC to date. Keep that in mind if the “Soldier of God” can find his range.

- Souza (slight favorite): Pollock, Encarnacao, Juon, FRB
- Romero: Nason, Bix, Sempervive, Sawyer, Meltzer

> Demian Maia (21-6) vs. Gunnar Nelson (14-1-1)
Welterweights

That collective satisfied moan you hear is from all of the world’s BJJ/grappling lovers who are getting to see this dream fight play out live. That being said, it will probably be 15 minutes of awkward stand-up.

The 38-year-old Maia is on a three-fight win streak and is coming off an August submission win over The World’s Most Active Fighter Neil Magny. After getting to a point in his career where he abandoned his tremendous BJJ game for the striking life with comme ci, comme ca results, Maia has found a groove again.

11 years Maia’s junior, the Icelandic Nelson has become a fan favorite in Ireland because of his association with Conor McGregor’s team. He’s 5-1 in the UFC and is coming a suffocating first round submission victory over Brandon Thatch in his first-ever fight on U.S. soil. His game plan is simple: survive and submit. I’m sure Maia sees a lot of his younger self in Nelson and the question is whether the future of BJJ aces in the welterweight division is now.

- Maia (slight favorite): Bix, Pollock, Encarnacao, Juon, Meltzer
- Nelson: Nason, Sempervive, Sawyer, FRB

> Max Holloway (14-3) vs. Jeremy Stephens (24-11)
Featherweights

Just over a week removed his 24th birthday, we’ve seen Holloway grow up before our eyes. He’s nearing the completion of his fourth year of UFC competition and in that time, he’s fought 13 times (10-3). He rides a seven-fight win streak into the PPV opener and tonight’s fight will mark the second straight calendar year in which Holloway has fought four times.

Stephens has found a nice home at 145 with a 4-2 record there since May 2013. After back-to-back losses to Cub Swanson and Charles Oliveira in 2014, the 29-year-old surprised many by beating Dennis Bermudez by 3rd round TKO in July. He’s a big underdog going into this one, but that won’t stop him from trying to take Holloway’s head off his shoulders.

Holloway (big favorite): Nason, Bix, Sempervive, Pollock, Encarnacao, Sawyer, Juon, FRB, Meltzer

That’s all and that’s it. Enjoy the fights!