This is the big one. The UFC middleweight title up for grabs. It's arguably the greatest fighter of all time versus a man some believe to be very ordinary and others expect to prove he's a Superman behind his Clark Kent persona.
Can Silva solidify his legacy as the guy who defeated every conceivable type of challenger and put them away with ruthless impunity? Is Weidman the real deal? Who will emerge as the UFC middleweight champion on Saturday night? I answer these questions and more with my predictions for Saturday's event.
Where: The MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada
When: Saturday, the two-fight Facebook card starts at 7 p.m. ET, the four-fight FX card starts at 8 p.m. and the five-fight main card starts on pay-per-view at 10 p.m.
If you're picking Weidman, then you need to be honest with yourself and others that part of your reasoning relies on an expectation that he'll fulfill the path of a growth curve you've believed him to be on. In other words, some of your reasoning relies on a healthy dose of guesswork about something you think will happen where there isn't complete evidence just yet.
The problem for Weidman in terms of public perception is he lacked the break out moment. Where Daniel Cormier had high expectations, he also had the Josh Barnett fight in 2012 to confirm everything we thought possible and then some. We had proof not just of the level of his ability, but his capacity to execute it after 25 minutes against battle-tested opposition. This never happened for Weidman. The Munoz fight was a prelude to this, yes, and impressive, certainly. But it was the fight or two after that should've happened and never did that would've told us more. That's why if you're picking him, you're doing so because you believe something likes beneath the surface. You believe he was on a path that we never got to see finished and this fight will be something of a coming out party.
Either that sounds ludicrous to you or perfectly plausible. I can personally see a case for either fighter. But depending on how you view the above argument, that will tell a lot about who you are picking.
I also object to this idea that the best thing that can be said for Weidman is 'styles make fights'. They do, except that's an awfully incomplete argument. For starters, it doesn't tell us much in terms of specifics, tactically speaking. Second, it also discounts the truth about Silva's abilities. Yes, I am certain Weidman can take Silva down, but Silva's takedown defense is not wretched. And yes, I'm sure Weidman's jiu-jitsu is better than Silva's, but Silva's ability to stay calm in bad spots and create scrambles is hugely underrated. He also doesn't suck at preventing the guard pass. There are huge portions of the Weidman hype train whose reasoning for his victory is, at best, shoddy.
But I do like Weidman's chances. And the reason why is we've got enough reason to believe based on his previous fights and his implementation of a smart, grappling-centric game plan that can at least find moments to control Silva and attack. That, in and of itself, is not enough to win, which is why I started off this prediction by admitting I'm waiting for Weidman to fulfill the expectations of the growth curve I think he is on. Unlike other more elite Division I or freestyle wrestlers, it is my belief Weidman and his game have acclimated far better to MMA than his peers. When he threw the elbow against Munoz that ended up being the beginning of the end, he did so because he saw it on YouTube and wanted to try it. He barely practiced it. The last fighter I can recall doing something so effectively improvisational is Jon Jones. I certainly don't think Weidman is the next Jones, but I do believe what Weidman possesses is the ability to get better with extraordinary speed. He improves with ease. That he's already building on top of a skill set that can cause Silva unique problems gives me reason to believe he is a serious competitor in this contest.
Is it guaranteed? Is it going to be a walk in the park? Please. Some of the Weidman hype train is comically delusional. If Weidman wins, he's going to have to earn it. He's an aggressive grappler, but only in open spots, which means he's also a patient grappler. This may not go the distance, but I find it almost impossible to believe Weidman is ending it early. If it ends early, it's because of Silva. Also, you're not going to mentally break Silva. It's not happening. That doesn't mean he can't be submitted or TKO'd, but it does mean this idea that sustained pressure from Weidman is enough to take Silva out of the fight is simply fantasy.
And that's the other part. Weidman needs this fight to go longer to win. But in a way, that keeps Silva in the fight, too. That means even if you think Weidman has the skills to win, he has to execute on an approach that minimizes risk the entire time. It's one thing to have the skills. It's quite another to be able to bring them to life with the correct game plan.
So here's what I expect: whoever is going to win this is going to have to earn it. Even if you like Silva's chances, you should be honest with yourself and admit it's not going to come easy. At least not early. The victor on Saturday is going to have to take it from the other guy and that means pain, fighting through fatigue, dealing with a skill one of the competitor's didn't anticipate their opponent having and much, much more. This means, for a lack of a better description, a fight.
I'll take Weidman in the upset. He's going to be bloody, battered and probably on the precipice of being stopped once or twice in this bout. In the end, though, I expect him to fulfill the expectations of growth curve he was on. If he doesn't, he cannot and will not win. If he does, look out. The next big thing will have arrived.
At first I didn't care much for this bout. Despite Edgar's losing streak, I believed him to be the inevitable winner here and to achieve that end with authority. But I've actually come around on it. The fact is, fairly or unfairly, Edgar has been losing way too much. He needs to get back on track. He has to start the process of rebuilding. Oliveira has his faults and limitations, but he's a credible fighter. This is precisely the sort of fight Edgar needs after dropping three tough fights in a row.
I think the former champ boxes on the outside en route to a second or third-round stoppage. No more, no less. But he'll also end this dark cloud hanging over his career, which is the most important thing he can do.
I certainly wouldn't rule out a Gracie win, but I see it as unlikely. Kennedy has strong enough takedown defense and can land combinations from the outside. Gracie obviously excels in contests where opposition are forced to grapple with him, but when they're not? The results are less than inspiring.
I struggled with a pick here. On the one hand, Munoz has mentally and physically been all over the place. He looks sharp now, but he's struggled with weight, depression, injury and age. That'd make one want to pick Boetsch, but he looked as flat as can be in his bout with Costa Philippou. Age appears to be catching up with him.
I'm going to go with Boetsch if for no other reason than control and takedowns. I can easily see Boetsch scoring takedowns and controlling Munoz on top, for long stretches of a round(s). But am I confident about any outcome here? No, not really.
I respect Siver quite a bit and wonder if I'm taking him too lightly. I also wonder if one of his spinning back kicks will end Swanson's night early. It certainly could happen, but I'm ultimately forced to choose Swanson here. I believe he's the harder striker of the two with more ability to create offense in different phases of the game. I also believe Swanson, despite some of his historic recklessness standing, to be far more technically polished than he once was. His takedown defense is wildly improved as is his penchant for creating scrambles.
This bout could be closer than some expect, but Swanson should prove the version of himself who was guillotined by Jens Pulver is long since gone.
From the preliminary card: