Jose Aldo is the prohibitive favorite Saturday to defend his featherweight championship against Chad Mendes at UFC 142 in Rio de Janeiro. (AP)
SI.com analysts Ben Fowlkes, Loretta Hunt, Jeff Wagenheim and Jon Wertheim provide their predictions for UFC 142 on Saturday in Rio de Janeiro.
José Aldo vs. Chad Mendes
FOWLKES: If Mendes actually manages to go on the attack early, he could be the toughest test the champ has had in the UFC. In the end though, Aldo's speed and ability to adjust mid-fight will make the difference. Aldo by decision.
HUNT: Aldo has more tools in his arsenal to thwart the grinding wrestler. Aldo by decision.
WAGENHEIM: Mendes might have what it takes to put the champ in an uncomfortable position, but fighting in Brazil will provide an adrenaline rush that'll keep Aldo in his comfort zone no matter what. Aldo by decision.
WERTHEIM: If Aldo, a WEC refugee, can defend the takedown and avoid Mendes superior wrestling, he should win by decision. Simply the more skilled all-around fighter. Aldo by decision.
Vitor Belfort vs. Anthony Johnson
FOWLKES: As long as Johnson can stay conscious past the three-minute mark of round one, I like his chances to outwrestle and outwork Belfort, who's been known to fade when he doesn't finish fast. Johnson by decision.
HUNT: In my book, Belfort will forever have one of the fastest, most accurate set of hands in the sport. Johnson's debut at middleweight will show promise, but I like Belfort's experience and (I can't believe I'm saying this) centeredness going into this one. Belfort by TKO.
WAGENHEIM: A bulked-up Johnson is not to be taken lightly -- nyuk, nyuk -- but the heaviest things we're going to see in the octagon during this bout will be Belfort's punches. Belfort by KO.
WERTHEIM: Belfort will be the crowd favorite but there's a lot of mileage on that odometer. A likely fight of extremes: Either Belfort by electrifying TKO or Johnson by pedestrian sprawl-and-stall decision. We'll take the latter. Johnson by decision.
Rousimar Palhares vs. Mike Massenzio
FOWLKES: Barring any more bizarre mental lapses -- and those are always a possibility with Palhares -- this one should be all "Toquinho." Palhares by submission.
HUNT: Known for his vicious submissions, Palhares' polished aggression will be too much for Massenzio, who just hasn't met the same level of competition yet. Palhares by submission.
WAGENHEIM: Massenzio is big enough at middleweight to not get muscled around by Palhares, but will his wrestling keep him out of harm's way against the submission specialist? Oh, well, I've got to pick an upset sometime. Massenzio by decision.
WERTHEIM: Palhares is just masterful on the ground, classic BJJ sorcery. Palhares by submission.
Erick Silva vs. Carlo Prater
FOWLKES: Prater's a replacement for the injured Siyar Bahadurzada, who would have been a much tougher opponent for the up-and-coming Silva. Instead, he gets a veteran with more experience than truly threatening ability. Silva by TKO.
HUNT: Silva, who's never competed outside of Brazil, has trained with the cream of his country's crop, including UFC champ Anderson Silva and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza. Floating in those circles will give him a leg up against one-month replacement Prater. Silva by TKO.
WAGENHEIM: It's tough to pick against a guy on a 10-fight unbeaten streak. Unless he's undertaking a significant step up in competition, which is not the case here. Silva by submission.
WERTHEIM: This feels dangerously close to a record-padding mismatch a la boxing. Silva is younger, stronger and, frankly, better than his veteran opponent on every dimension. Silva by TKO.
Edson Barboza vs. Terry Etim
FOWLKES: I suspect that this won't be quite as easy a fight for Barboza as oddsmakers seem to think, and Etim may surprise some people. But in a close fight, it helps to be a Brazilian fighting in front of a Brazilian crowd. Barboza by decision.
HUNT: Clearly a style vs. style matchup, Barboza has the striker's edge over the submission-savvy Etim. Barboza by TKO.
WAGENHEIM: Coming off two straight Fight of the Night performances, the 9-0 Barboza will be out to impress the hometown crowd. Barboza by decision.
Barboza by decision.