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It’s finally time to close the cage door and see some strikes thrown. UFC 241 is set to kick off from Anaheim, California, at the Honda Center with one of the deepest cards UFC has put together in 2019. On the marquee is a heavyweight title rematch between Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic. The two will run back their headliner from July 2018, where Cormier scored a shocking first-round knockout over the reigning champion who was looking to extend his record-setting title defense streak.
Cormier has made one successful defense of the belt — over Derrick Lewis in November 2018 — while Miocic has been patiently waiting on the sidelines, biding his time for an opportunity to try and reclaim the title from the former Olympian’s grasp.
Not to be outdone, the co-main event might have just as much buzz around it. It’s the return of folk hero Nate Diaz as he takes on former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis in a welterweight showdown. Diaz has been inactive since losing a majority decision to Conor McGregor in August 2016 and believes a win on Saturday could vault him into the title picture in either the 155-pound or 170-pound divisions.
Plus, a crucial showdown in the middleweight division gets prime positioning on this card as former title contender Yoel Romero battles fast-rising prospect Paulo Costa of Brazil. The two have been working to make this fight happen for over a year and will finally meet inside the Honda Center.With such a loaded event on tap, the crew at CBS Sports went ahead with predictions and picks for the main card with latest odds from Westgate. Here are your pick makers: Brent Brookhouse (Combat sports writer), Brian Campbell (Combat sports writer), Matthew Coca (producer), Jack Crosby (editor), Michael Mormile (producer) and Brandon Wise (editor).
Campbell on why Cormier will win: Cormier should certainly expect a very different fight against Miocic one year later now that the former champion has a chance to correct his technical mistakes that led to the early knockout loss at UFC 226. What will be most interesting is whether Cormier will look to take the fight to the ground on a consistent basis considering Miocic’s power and the fact he was able to connect often against DC before the stoppage. Either way, look for this fight to go longer in terms of rounds yet end up with the same man winning.
Crosby on why Miocic will win: It does amaze me a little bit just how little fanfare Miocic has received since securing the rematch, but as I wrote in his keys to victory, that’s not really a bad thing. He’s had his eyes and his mind deadlocked on getting another crack at Cormier for over a year, with little distraction to take his eyes off the prize. That should show on Saturday. I expect Miocic to do a much better job this time around of not getting tangled up with Cormier and utilize a more proficient boxing strategy. He may not knock the savvy veteran Cormier out, but I could see Miocic regaining the UFC heavyweight title on points after five rounds with strikes.
Brookhouse on why Pettis will win: Diaz looks physically ready, and I have no doubt his conditioning will be there, but three years is a long time between fights. Pettis also fights much more like the guys who Diaz has lost to than the guys he beats (McGregor aside). I’m expecting Pettis to get in and out too quickly and mix things up too much for a rusty Diaz to adjust to in a three-round fight. A Diaz win wouldn’t shock me, but I figure speed kills in this one.
Campbell on why Diaz will win: For as many questions as Diaz must face coming back to the Octagon following a three-year layoff in this welterweight duel, one must be careful not looking past the ones Pettis must also face. The former lightweight champion has alternated wins and losses over his last eight bouts, and was losing almost every second of his dramatic knockout of Stephen Thompson which sparked talks of a resurgence. There will certainly be action, but if Diaz can control distance and take advantage when the fight goes to the ground, this is a decision he can win.
Crosby on why Romero will win: I’ve doubted the “Soldier of God” a few too many times in the past, and I’ve learned my lesson. I’ve enjoyed the 4-0 UFC run of Costa to this point as much as the next person, and I believe that, at just 28 years old, he does have a future as a champion in the middleweight division. In a way, I guess you could compare my prediction here to Brian Ortega in the featherweight division. We can visualize the bright future for the rising star, but that momentum is about to be pushed back a bit as he’s brought back down to earth by the seasoned veteran for a moment. Much like most of us said when Ortega was knocked down a peg by champion Max Holloway, a loss to Romero here — no matter how brutal — is nothing the Brazilian can’t learn and bounce back from while continuing to climb the ladder.
Wise on why Costa will win: This could be a classic “wrestler vs. striker” showdown featuring two of the most chiseled fighters in UFC. While Costa still has much to prove on the highest level, this provides him the perfect opportunity to showcase his skillset. If he is able to survive the early pressure from Romero (who has to show signs of aging at some point, right?), Costa could go for the finish in Round 2. He has never been beyond the second in a professional fight, and don’t expect to see it on Saturday night.