Thiago Silva | Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
For good reason, all of the spotlight before and after UFC on FUEL 2 centered on Alexander Gustafsson, the lanky Swede who is quickly proving himself worthy of a top 10 slot and continued advances in competition level. The 25-year-old is rangy and poised and well-versed in all aspects of the game. In other words, he's a legitimate contender.
But what now do we make of his opponent, Thiago Silva? At 29, he's not exactly old, but his body has seemingly betrayed him over and over with back injuries that have robbed him of some his mobility. While light-heavyweight is not a division completely dependent on speed, it is a class heavy on wrestlers at the top. So if Silva struggles with Gustafsson's movement, you have to wonder how he'll fare with opponents who feature the takedown as a key component of their arsenal. It's hard enough to stop a Jon Jones, Rashad Evans or Ryan Bader takedown when you're healthy. When your back and body core are unstable, how do you deal with that?
This is a question he must face down in his near future. If he's losing the striker vs. striker matchups, how much is left for him?
Even though Gustafsson was favored to beat Silva, the ease of his performance was probably the most striking aspect to his win. He was never in any trouble and stayed composed even when Silva charged forward. That's a great sign for his future momentum, as he'll be seeing all sorts of various attacks from the different skill-sets that reside at the top of the division. Because there are a few top fighters waiting for their next fight date, there are several opportunities available, but I think one makes the most sense.
Prediction: He faces Ryan Bader
After 15 months on the sidelines, perhaps we can give Silva something of a pass on his loss, even if it was fairly one-sided. To his credit, he declined the chance to chalk up the loss to ring rust, saying he simply couldn't find the proper striking distance. But he only gets the benefit of the doubt once. If he has the same problems next time around, we have to wonder if his back condition is simply degenerative, and if we may have already seen the best of him.
Prediction: Since Brandon Vera's taken, Silva faces Stephan Bonnar
It was a fight Stann was supposed to win, facing a guy who'd been off for over one year and specializes in the same style as him, though with a suspect jaw. Stann has performed well as a middleweight, with his only loss coming to No. 1 contender Chael Sonnen. He deserves a high-level opponent, but unfortunately, many of the division's best are already locked into fights in the near future. That may force him to wait a while until his next booking.
Prediction: He faces the winner of May's Rousimar Palhares vs. Alan Belcher fight.
The Afghan-born welterweight couldn't have asked for a more impactful debut, becoming the first man ever to finish the durable Paulo Thiago. There's an explosion of welterweight matches coming in the next two months, so there's no obvious opponent of a similar rank available for him. Then again, his win was so quick that he shouldn't be made to wait very long.
Prediction: He fights John Maguire, who also won last Saturday night.
After nearly missing weight in his first time at 145 pounds, there were concerns about how Siver would perform in a fight that could go the distance, but he didn't appear the worse for wear in beating Diego Nunes by decision in a three-rounder. Prior to the fight, Siver said that he would only decide if he'd stay at featherweight after the fight, and determining how his body felt. Since he didn't appear at the post-fight press conference, no one has had the chance to ask him just yet, but I'm going to assume he'll believe the second time around will be easier, and he'll stay at 145.
Prediction: He faces Yuri Alcanatara
Pickett's had an up-and-down career in Zuffa, but always seems to engage in one of the night's best scraps. At 33 years old, he still harbors title hopes (remember, he once beat bantamweight No. 1 contender Demetrious Johnson), but could be running out of time after splitting his last four fights. That means it's time to start a winning streak and make a statement.
Prediction: He faces Chris Cariaso
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