UFC 97 is only three weeks away and what better time than to get our early picks out of the way. It’s going to be a star studded undercard filled with some of the UFC’s most talented fighters. How will TJ Grant do in his debut? Will the Crow bounce back in the UFC? And just how good is Denis Kang. Read on and find out.

Sam Stout vs. Matt Wiman

The London, Ontario native Sam Stout has gone 2-2 in his last 4 but his two losses came against opponents have a combined career record of 44-16. Stout has high level striking and will look to keep the fight standing in order to play to his strengths. He has split his time training for this fight between Xtreme Couture Vegas, XC Toronto and the Adrenalin Training Centre in his hometown. Matt Wiman is 4-1 in his last 5. In that stretch his toughest opponent was Jim Miller on short notice and he lost to him decisively. Wiman has a wide open style but is strong in every area of the game. Wherever the fight ends up Wiman should feel comfortable.

Prediction: Stout seems impossible to knock out and Wiman isn’t a submission artist. Stout has been working on his wrestling for long enough, it should be clearly improved for this fight. He should be able to keep the fight standing as long as he wants and look for a 3rd round TKO for Stout, the first one in his UFC career.

Ryo Chonan vs. TJ Grant

Not much a lot is known of Chonan (15-9) and even less of Grant. Most recognize Chonan as the guy who pulled off a ridiculous submission win over Anderson Silva once upon a time. But that win was over 4 years ago and Chonan has gone 7-5 since, with losses to Phil Baroni, Karo Parisyan and Brad Blackburn. Chonan is a loss or two away from being cut by the UFC, so he will be desperate. Grant, fitting out of Fit Plus in Darthmouth, Nova Scotia Canada is a wonder kid on the ground. At just 25 years of age he has amassed an MMA record of 13-2 including an incredible 12 by submission. (92% sub rate). He has beaten 2 UFC vets in Chad Reiner and Forest Petz, but make no mistake – Chonan will be his toughest test.

Prediction: In Chonan’s 9 career losses only one has came by submission. He’s not an easy guy to tap, but if anyone can do it Grant should be able to. Look for Grant to try and get the fight down late in the first round and tighten up an armbar near the end of that round.

David Bielkheden vs. Mark Bocek

Both Bocek and Bielkheden have some incredible BJJ and this fight will be won or lost on the mat. Bieklheden is 13-6 overall and inside the UFC he is 1-1 with a loss to Diego Sanchez at 170 lbs and a win over Jess Liaudin at 155. Bocek is 6-2 overall and 2-2 in the UFC. His UFC losses are to Frankie Edgar and Mac Danzig while he has wins over Doug Evans and Alvin Robison.

Bocek looked much improved at UFC 91 vs. Robinson and his stand up has improved enough working with Xtreme Couture Toronto and ATT that he no longer has to force any of his takedowns.

Prediction: Both are great on the ground, but Bocek is just better. Bocek should take this one by submission in the 2nd round starting a winning streak for the Toronto native.

Ed Herman vs. David Loiseau

A homecoming for David Loiseau is his home province of Quebec. Removed from the UFC for almost 3 years after back to back losses to Rich Franklin and Mike Swick, Loiseau (18-8) looks to bounce back after a long UFC lay off and going 4-2 outside of the octagon with losses to Jason Day and Joey Vallasenor. Herman is coming off back to back losses to Demian Maia and Alan Belcher. He was dominating the Maia fight until he was caught in a sub and his loss to Belcher could have gone either way on the judges scorecards. Herman has above average stand up and BJJ and he always comes focused.

Prediction: It’s hard to bet against Loiseau in his home province, but since the Franklin fight he hasn’t looked the same. Look for Herman to grind out a decision and use some improved stand up to slowly pick apart the French Canadian and upset him in front of his home fans.

Vinicius Magalhaes vs. Eliot Marshall

After TUF 8, Vinny was built up as the next Demian Maia. The problem is people forget how inexperienced he is with only 5 fights and a 2-3 record. He was knocked out in the finale of TUF and his stand up looked unimpressive. Marshall has more experience at 6-1 and has been training with Nate Marquardt and Shane Carwin for over 2 years. His one and only fight in UFC was a win over Jules Bruchez at the TUF 8 finale, which did little to cement him as a UFC fixture, but Marshall has some big potential.

Prediction: Until Magalhaes feels more comfortable with his hands, he won’t last long in the UFC. The 205 lbs division is just too strong for a one dimensional fighter at this point. Looked for Vinny to be improved, but we eventually get caught by a Marshall right hand for the KO win, sometime in the second round.

Xavier Foupa-Pokam vs. Denis Kang

Kang looks to rebound after his debut loss to Alan Belcher at UFC 93. A former top contender, Kang will need to put a win streak together to get back into the top 10.

Foupa-Pokam is 12-1 in his last 13. His only loss coming to Ninja Rua over a year and a half ago. Pokam has some impressive stand up, but has fought 7 times this year and is a UFC rookie. Anytime you are stepping into the octogan for the first time you feel added pressure.

Prediction: Throughout his career Kang has been tough to beat in Canada at with the bright lights at UFC 97 flashing on him, this won’t be any different. He will rebound from his UFC debut loss and win a hard fought decision over the Frenchman who won’t be on his game in his UFC debut.

Jason MacDonald vs. Nate Quarry

Both Macdonald and Quarry need a win and need it now. Quarry is coming off a quick submission loss to Demian Maia at UFC 91 and Macdonald was knocked out by Wilson Gouveia at the TUF 8 Finale in December. J-Mac is much stronger on the ground than Quarry is, but Quarry has great take down defense and should be able to keep this fight standing which will play to his strengths.

Prediction: As good as MacDonald can be on the ground, his stand up hasn’t improved at the same pace as his ground game. Quarry was subbed by Maia because Maia was able to get him down by pulling guard. J-Mac won’t pull guard. Instead he tries to take opponents down and Quarry has great take down defense. Look for MacDonald to try repeated take downs and get caught a few times coming in throughout the fight and Quarry will escape with a narrow decision win.