A breakdown of the fights on the main card of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 128 card at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, with picks from the Review-Journal’s Adam Hill and Heidi Fang:
Edson Barboza (19-5) vs. Kevin Lee (16-4)
Line: Lee -160
Storyline: Barboza is a fantastic striker, particularly with his kicks, though he has struggled against elite competition in the division. His three losses over his last nine fights have come against Michael Johnson, former interim champ Tony Ferguson and current champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. The Nurmagomedov loss, which came in Barboza’s last fight in December, should be the most concerning in relation to this fight. Lee may not be quite as dominant as Nurmagomedov in terms of takedowns and controlling position, but he does possess a very similar style. He is also dangerous in the standup even though it’s probably not in his best interest to test that particular skill against Barboza. There are some concerns with Lee here. First, after struggling to make weight in his last few fights, he finally missed for the first time this week. He is also coming off a loss to Ferguson in an interim title fight, a bout he badly wanted to win to put a UFC belt around his waist and was in position to do so after a great start. Most importantly, this will be his first fight since the suicide death of his coach Robert Follis. That’s a lot of factors for Lee to overcome in what figures to be a close fight.
Hill’s Pick: Lee by decision
Fang’s Pick: Lee by fourth-round knockout
Frankie Edgar (21-6-1) vs. Cub Swanson (25-8)
Line: Edgar -230
Storyline: If your first thought upon seeing Edgar’s name listed in this matchup is, ‘Wait, didn’t he get knocked out just a few weeks ago,’ don’t be alarmed. You’re correct. He was knocked out for the first time in his career by Brian Ortega on March 3 in Las Vegas. Edgar was adamant he get on this card so he could fight close to home. He hopes it doesn’t prove to be a mistake. Swanson is a dangerous opponent capable of finishing fights with strikes or submissions, so he will test Edgar’s readiness. They are both coming off a loss to Ortega, who ended Swanson’s four-fight winning streak in December. If Edgar is right, his movement and speed should give Swanson problems. That’s a big question mark, though.
Hill’s Pick: Edgar by decision
Fang’s Pick: Edgar by third-round knockout
Justin Willis (6-1) vs. Chase Sherman (11-4)
Line: Willis -315
Storyline: After dropping his professional debut, Willis won his next four bouts to earn a UFC contract and has now won his first two fights in the organization. The former all-conference lineman at San Jose State has all the physical tools to be a future champion. He’s also training under the watchful eyes of some of the top talent in the sport at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California. Sherman is deceptively athletic and has decent power to go along with one of the best athlete Twitter accounts on the platform. He may be overmatched against Willis, but this number is way too high in a heavyweight bout that could very well end with one punch either way..
Hill’s Pick: Willis by first-round knockout
Fang’s Pick: Sherman by decision
David Branch (21-4) vs. Thiago Santos (17-5)
Line: Santos -170
Storyline: Santos has always possessed an insanely powerful and diverse array of kicks. He seems to be figuring out how to translate that skill into success in the cage. He has knocked out his last four opponents, with three of the finishing sequences starting with a kick. Branch is enjoying a second-chance in the UFC. After a short-lived run in 2010 and 2011, he went out and won multiple titles in World Series of Fighting and earned his way back to the UFC last year. Branch won his return and put some early pressure on former champ Luke Rockhold before a takedown eventually did him in. Branch will likely try to make this as boring a fight as possible by looking to slow Santos down and either taking him to the mat or grinding him against the cage.
Hill’s Pick: Santos by second-round knockout
Fang’s Pick: Branch by decision
Aljamain Sterling (14-3) vs. Brett Johns (15-0)
Line: Pick ‘em
Storyline: It hasn’t taken Johns long to make a big splash in the division. He followed up two quality victories with a spectacular submission of Joe Soto that truly announced his arrival. Now he has an opportunity to record the biggest win of his career. Sterling is a tough matchup, however. He’s a fairly similar fighter to Johns in that he is a capable striker with an outstanding wrestling and grappling game. The problem for Johns is that Sterling’s kicks probably give him the edge in the standup and unlike his previous opponents, Sterling won’t be terrified of the takedown. That should give Sterling the edge here as long as he’s mentally recovered from a brutal knockout loss to Marlon Moraes.
Hill’s Pick: Sterling by decision
Fang’s Pick: Sterling by decision
Jim Miller (28-11-0, 1 No Contest) vs. Dan Hooker (16-7)
Line: Hooker -350
Storyline: Miller is a beloved fan favorite who has been one of the most consistent and durable fighters in the organization for the better part of a decade. He has fallen on hard times as of late, however, dropping three straight fights by decision. The New Jersey native hopes to get back on track in his backyard. He faces a stiff test in Hooker, who has really hit his stride since moving back up to 155 pounds last year. After delivering a spectacular knockout of Ross Pearson, Hooker submitted hyped prospect Marc Diakiese in December. A third consecutive win over a big-name lightweight would put him in a great position in the division. The number on the fight makes it very, very tough to bet him, though.
Hill’s Pick: Hooker by decision
Fang’s Pick: Miller by second-round submission