It's Christmas Eve and I have some bad news. You'll have to wait until Saturday to get your best gift. Arguably the greatest year in the history of mixed martial arts is almost at its end. But first, the UFC is set to cap things off with a fittingly stacked card located in non other than the fighting capital of the world, Las Vegas, Nevada. In the past, we've reserved our fight predictions for main card bouts only. But when an event is this monumental, we simply wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't predict them all. So let's jump right in! Here are the official Water Cooler MMA predictions for UFC 168.
ONLINE PRELIM PREDICTIONS
Robbie Peralta last fought on April 6, 2013 against Akira Corassani. He tested positive for marijuana after the bout, leading to a six month suspension from the UFC. Set to face Estevan Payan at UFC 168, Peralta will be looking to avenge his unanimous decision loss to Corassani by knocking out Estevan in spectacular fashion. Despite a number of fights going the distance as of late, Peralta has won 12 out of his 16 wins via KO or TKO, most recently against Jason Young on September 29, 2012, in which he scored a KO victory in just 23 seconds at UFC on Fuel TV: Struve vs. Miocic.
Looking to avoid the big knockout and finally get one in the win column with the UFC is Estevan Payan. After a brief stint in Strikeforce where he went 2-0, Payan lost his UFC debut against Jeremy Stephens via unanimous decision. He has a slight height and reach advantage, but ultimately I believe the punching power of Robbie Peralta will prevail.
Winner: Robbie Peralta
By: 2nd Round KO via punches
It's not too often that a fighter goes from a main card to the online prelims, but Bobby Voelker has had a disappointing run in the UFC thus far. After back to back 2nd round TKO wins over Roger Bowling in Strikeforce, Voelker lost his first and second UFC fights to Patrick Cote and Robbie Lawler respectively.
William Macario is winless in the UFC as well, but with a professional record of 6-1, his MMA career is just beginning, unlike the veteran Voelker, that has been fighting professionally since 2006, with 34 bouts under his belt. In other words, I would rather be Macario than Voelker for the future's sake. That being said, I'd rather be Voelker than Macario on December 28th. There comes a time when the benefits of youth catch up with the benefits of experience, but I don't believe Saturday is that day.
Winner: Bobby Voelker
PRELIMINARY CARD PREDICTIONS
1st Fight: John Howard vs. Siyar Bahadurzada
John Howard's last fight was underwhelming to say the least. Howard was first signed to the UFC back in 2009 and strung together four wins in a row before losing his next three and ultimately getting cut from the roster. After amassing a 6-1 record in lesser promotions, Uncle Dana invited Howard back to the UFC to fight TUF 17 runner-up, Uriah Hall. Howard, who won his last two fights via lighting fast knockouts and Hall, who looked more dominate than arguably any cast member in TUF history were matched up for one of the most highly anticipated bouts on a stacked card in Boston, MA. The reality was a high five fest in which both fighters patted themselves on the back more than they threw any as-advertised power shots. Howard won his return fight regardless and has drawn a tough matchup for his second fight back.
Siyar Bahadurzada will be entering the Octagon for his third time this weekend. With a 1-1 UFC record, including a 'Knockout of the Night' victory over Paulo Thiago, Siyar has shown potential for greatness, but is yet to truly prove himself in the Octagon. He will have his chance against Howard, but Howard is not the type to go quietly. Dana expressed displeasure with the Howard-Hall contest and Howard will want to make a statement against Bahadurzada on Saturday.
Winner: John Howard
By: 3rd round KO via punch
This is an extremely intriguing fight. Denis Siver is the clear favorite, winning 9 of his last 12 bouts and earning five post-fight bonuses in the process. He is currently ranked 7th at featherweight and is coming off a 'Fight of the Night' performance against the 4th ranked Cub Swanson at UFC 162. He can win a fight by knockout or submission and has proven that he can grind out decision wins as well. He should win on Saturday.
But if anyone was built for the underdog role, it would be Manny Gamburyan. Manny, or mini Joe Rogan as Water Cooler MMA writer Pete Quinn once coined, has been considered the underdog throughout his career. As a cast member of TUF 5, Manny ignored the critics and defeated the heavily favored Joe Lauzon in the semifinal matchup of the TUF tournament. He nearly defeated finalist and eventual winner Nate Diaz as well, however a shoulder injury prevented him from finishing the job as he lost in the second round due to TKO via injury. He is the teammate of Ronda Rousey as well, which provides another interesting side plot, as Rousey has shown how much the successes and failures of a teammates affects her emotions. This fight could certainly have an effect on her performance against Miesha Tate.
Winner: Dennis Siver
Gleison Tibau has been fighting for a long time. At just 30 years old, he has fought in 37 bouts, making his pro debut back in 1999 and his UFC debut in 2006. He is coming off two consecutive wins, looking to add a third against a tough opponent on Saturday. A black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Tibau has an excellent submission game and excellent submission defense as well. Tibau will take this one to the ground where he can stay out of harm's way and control the 5'11" Lightweight on the canvass.
Michael Johnson may be in trouble for this one. He will be smart to try to keep it standing, but if he can't, he will be in big danger. Johnson has shown a weakness to submissions in the past, with 6 out of his 8 loses coming via tap out. He certainly has the ability to knock Tabau out, but after failing to finish a flat Joe Lauzon in Boston and falling short in his previous two fights, I'm not convinced Johnson has what it takes to repeat his 'Knockout of the Night' performance against Danny Castillo from October 5th, 2012.
Winner: Gleison Tibau
By: 2nd round submission via rear naked choke
4th Fight: Chris Leben vs. Uriah Hall
This one has all the makings for an extremely exciting fight. Both fighters are in desperate need of a win and they match up very well stylistically, at least from a fan's perspective. With Leben's leave-it-all-in-the-cage mentality, he is sure to press the pace and act aggressively throughout the fight. Leben has had his share of ups and downs both in the cage and in life, however after losing three in a row, Leben is currently in the worst tailspin of his career. If he loses on Saturday, I expect Dana White to strongly encourage him to retire. He has been in some wars over the course of his career, and he is certainly showing signs of slowing.
After looking so dominate in his run on The Ultimate Fighter, I think we were all surprised to see Hall with an 0-2 start to his UFC career. While he is yet to be finished in the Octagon, he has shown a considerable lack of aggression, leaving Dana White and plenty of others to make claims that Hall is not a 'real' fighter. We all know he has the build, the technique, and the power to stop almost anyone at 185lbs. But without the will, what's the point. Hall will have that will on Saturday. I don't expect Leben to high five him for three rounds like John Howard did. This fight will be finished, one way or the other, and I only see it going one way.
Winner: Uriah Hall
By: 1st round knockout via head kick
MAIN CARD PREDICTIONS
I fully expect this one to win 'Fight of the Night' honors. Obviously, there is the disadvantage of lesser stakes, as a close fight in either the main or co-main event will steal any FOTN bonus hopes away from earlier fights, as having a title on the line trumps all. That being said, this will be the clear front-runner until that time. Dustin Poirier is one of the more exciting fighters in the featherweight division. With an overall record of 14-3 and only two losses since dropping to 145 lbs, Poirier has the skill to break into the top 5 and will likely do just that with a win on Saturday.
If Poirier is exciting, Brandao is... I don't know something more than exciting. After winning season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter in spectacular fashion, he has gone 4-1, winning his last three fights in a row. He comes out fast, throws a variety of attacks, and doesn't let his opponent rest. He has struggled with pacing himself, but has continues to improve in this area and should be able to fight hard until the final buzzer. That being said, I don't think he'll have the chance.
Winner: Dustin Poirier
By: 2nd round submission via d'arce choke
At one point in time, Jim Miller was 20-2, winning 9 out of 11 bouts in the Octagon, and just a stone throw away from a shot at the title. It was here that he met eventual Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson. After losing via unanimous decision, it took a 1st round 'Submission of the Night' victory over Melvin Guillard to get him right back to the top of the stack. He fought Nate Diaz for the chance to avenge his loss to Bendo, but fell short when he was forced to tap to a 2nd round guillotine choke. He's fought two times since then, defeating Joe Lauzon in a battle worthy of '2012 Fight of the Year' honors and losing to Pat Healy in a 'Fight of the Night' effort. The fight was eventually ruled a No Contest after Pat Healy tested positive for Marijuana. Miller is currently ranked #10 in what is arguably the deepest division in UFC and is a serious threat to every 155 pounder in his way.
Fabricio Camoes is a risky fight for Jim Miller. With a UFC record of 3-2-1, most recently losing to Melvin Guillard, a man that Miller defeated rather decisively just one fight prior to Guillard vs. Camoes, Camoes is still in the 'proving-himself' stage of his career. Miller would be much better served fighting a fellow top ten-er, but I don't see him having much trouble getting past Camoes and working his way back up the lightweight ranks with the good old fashioned 'baby steps' approach.
Winner: Jim Miller
By: 2nd round submission via armbar
Fireworks, fireworks, fireworks. Expect nothing less. Josh Barnett and Travis Browne have finished 72% and 76% of their opponents respectively. Excluding a loss to top contender Daniel Cormier in mid-2012, Barnett hasn't tasted defeat since 2006. He is 10-1 in his post-pride days, and currently the #6 ranked heavyweight in the UFC. After defeating Frank Mir in decisive fashion, he is set to square off against top five contender Travis Browne this Saturday, looking to make it a perfect 3-0 in 2013.
Travis Browne is currently ranked #5 in the division, and is one of the most dangerous heavyweights in the world. He finished Stefan Struve, Chad Griggs, Gabriel Gonzaga, and Alistair Overeem, all in the first round of action. Each of those finishes earned post-fight bonuses (3 KOTN, 1 SOTN), and he is one of the front-runners for 'Knockout of the Year' with his front kick to the face of Overeem at UFC Fight Night in Boston, MA. Browne is exciting. Browne is powerful. Browne is tough. But Barnett will win this one. In the words of Joe Rogan, "Expect a war ladies and gentlemen."
Winner: Josh Barnett
Co-main Event: Ronda Rousey (C) vs. Miesha Tate
I wish I could pick the upset here, but I can't. No suspense in this write up. Rousey is too good for Tate. Tate has the advantage in striking. She is more powerful and technically sound on the feet. And she may even have the mental edge, although I believe that point is a little over-exaggerated as Rousey has proven that she is one of the most focused and disciplined athletes in the world. But like the 'Iceman's and 'Cro Cop's of the world, sometimes one tool is all you need. I won't waste your time by breaking this fight down further as my prediction should be in line with what you are probably expecting.
Winner: Ronda Rousey
By: 1st round submission via armbar
Excited yet? How about now? I can't be the only person looking forward to this fight more than I'm looking forward to Christmas Day. Anderson Silva is considered by many to be the greatest fighter who ever lived, and for good reason. Prior to his first match against Weidman, Silva was a perfect 16-0 in the Octagon and had defended the UFC Middleweight Championship an unbelievable ten consecutive times (with four additional non-title fight victories scattered in between). Many attribute his loss of the title to overconfidence and an underestimation of Weidman's power, the truth of which is yet to be disproved or confirmed.
Weidman, known primarily for his ground game, was successfully baited into staying on his feet by a taunting Anderson Silva in the 2nd round. He attempted one 2nd round takedown, but it was stuffed. In the 1st round, Weidman successfully took Silva down and maintained top position until abandoning the ground and pound to attempt a couple lower body submissions, ultimately allowing Silva to stand back up. In the rematch, I expect Weidman to return to his bread and butter and attempt to keep the fight on the ground. Normally, it's not a good idea to get too specific with predictions, however I'm going to go out on a limb in this one.
Weidman will score an early takedown and control Silva for round 1. Round 2 will go the same way as the 1st, leaving Weidman with a 20-18 lead heading into the third round. Weidman will attempt a takedown in the third, but this time, Silva will counter with a knee to the head. The knee will drop Weidman, and Silva will finish the fight with a number of punches to a grounded Weidman until the referee throws Silva off him. Boom, fight predicted. Impress your friends by pretending it's yours.
By: 3rd round TKO via knee and punches