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UFC Fight Night Boston: Dillashaw vs. Cruz Observer panel picks

UFC Fight Night 81

Sunday night brings our first free UFC card of the year and it’s a big one as a men's title fight will air on FS 1 for the first time in company history as bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw looks to defend against former champion Dominick Cruz. Cruz will fight for just the second time in four years, but this may be the biggest fight in the division’s history.

The action doesn’t stop there as Anthony Pettis will try to begin his road back to the top of the lightweight division with former Bellator champion Eddie Alvarez standing in his way. Also, Travis Browne will attempt to rebound from a stunning KO defeat at the hand of Andrei Arlovski when he faces soon-to-be free agent Matt Mitrione. There are familiar names up and down the card including four longtime UFC vets as Patrick Cote goes up against the resurgent Ben Saunders and Ed Herman takes on Tim Boetsch in a pairing of two struggling middleweights moving up a weight class.

Here’s our panel with the 2015 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 (5-0 | 1.000) – Fight Network analyst, Live Audio Wrestling co-host, MMA Report co-host
  • Favorites (4-1 | .800)
  • Consensus picks (4-1 | .800)
  • Mike Sempervive (4-1 | .800) – Wrestling Observer Live and Big Audio Nightmare co-host
  • Steve Juon (4-1; .800) – MMA Mania writer & Angry Marks founder
  • David Bixenspan (4-1 | .800) – Figure Four Weekly writer, podcast host
  • Mike Sawyer (4-1 | .800) – Tough Talk MMA
  • Josh Nason (4-1 | .800) – Host of Josh Nason’s Punch Out; writer/editor WrestlingObserver.com , WON Twitter guy
  • Ryan Frederick (4-1 | .800) – WrestlingObserver.com UFC reporter, WON Twitter guy
  • Dave Meltzer (3-2 | .600) - Wrestling Observer founder
  • Paul Fontaine (3-2 | .600) – MMADraws.com founder, WrestlingObserver.com writer
  • Front Row Brian (3-2 | .600) – MMA newsbreaker, beloved internet personality, podcast host

> UFC Bantamweight Champion TJ Dillashaw (12-2) vs. Dominick Cruz (20-1)

Dillashaw makes his 3rd title defence here after finishing former champion Renan Barao and upstart/last-minute challenger Joe Soto. Cruz last fought just over a year ago, dismantling veteran Takeya Mizugaki in quick fashion. Cruz never lost his title in the ring as he was stripped due to an extensive injury layoff. Dillashaw is with a new fight team but the heat between Cruz and Team Alpha Male runs deep and this has been a heated rivalry. Our panel is a little more confident than the betting line in this one.

  • Dillashaw (slight favorite): Bix, Juon, Front Row Brian, Frederick, Nason, Meltzer, Sempervive
  • Cruz: Pollock, Sawyer, Fontaine

Anthony Pettis (18-3) vs. Eddie Alvarez (26-4)

Neither the oddsmakers or our panel are giving Alvarez much of a chance here. Pettis steamrolled through the division before running into Rafael Dos Anjos last year, losing his lightweight title in the process in a one-sided affair. Alvarez is 1-1 in UFC after a long and successful career in Bellator, while Pettis hopes to earn a title shot with a dominant win here. If Alvarez wins, he’d probably need at least one big win before getting a title shot but stranger things have happened.

Pettis (huge favorite): Bix, Pollock, Sawyer, Juon, Front Row Brian, Frederick, Fontaine, Nason, Meltzer, Sempervive

Travis Browne (17-3-1)  vs Matt Mitrione (9-4)

Browne has been dealing with a lot of turmoil outside the cage since losing to the aforementioned Arlovski in one of 2015’s most memorable fights. With domestic abuse allegations that he was cleared from and his highly publicized relationship with Ronda Rousey, Browne could be vulnerable here. Mitrione, though, has been very vocal about the fact he’s not happy in UFC and with his contract expiring after this fight, he could be on his way out. He’s a familiar name with a crowd-pleasing style and would likely get picked up by Bellator should he chose not to re-sign. Whatever happens, this fight should be quick.

  • Browne (moderate favorite): Pollock, Sawyer, Juon, Front Row Brian, Frederick, Fontaine, Nason, Meltzer, Sempervive
  • Mitrione: Bix

Patrick Cote (22-9) vs Ben Saunders (19-6-2)

Cote has been around since UFC 50 and is still looking good in the Octagon as evidenced by his third round stoppage win over Josh Burkman last August. He’s fought as high as 205 pounds, but is still in great shape at 170. While not a title contender by any stretch, he’s a very popular fighter and usually has good fights. Saunders is a perfect 3-0 since leaving Bellator MMA. The submission specialist is surprisingly a favorite here but our panel is split on this one.

  • Cote: Sawyer, Juon, Frederick, Nason, Sempervive
  • Saunders (slight favorite): Bix, Pollock, Front Row Brian, Fontaine, Meltzer

Ed Herman (21-11) vs Tim Boetsch (18-9)
Light Heavyweights 

Both guys are moving up from middleweight in an attempt to stop the downward momentum they’ve had in recent years. Both have lost four of their last six, and both are coming off of first round KO losses in their last fight. Herman is in his 10th year in UFC, but this could be his last if he doesn’t turn it around. Boetsch has “only” been in UFC since 2008, but has also seen better days. This really could be a loser leaves town fight. Again, our panel agrees with the oddsmakers.

  • Herman: Pollock, Front Row Brian
  • Boetsch (big favorite): Bix, Sawyer, Juon, Frederick, Fontaine, Nason, Meltzer, Sempervive

Josh Nason will be live cageside for all the coverage starting with the Fight Pass prelims at 6 PM EST.