This is it for the year. The UFC saved its biggest card for the last event of the year and to emphasize that they are even raising prices for the cost of the PPV. Minor gripes aside, this really is going to be an awesome card. There are two title fights that should have a definitive ending and a heavyweight bout to determine one of the participants in a #1 contenders match that is unlikely to go to decision. To spell it out for those of you that struggle to put two and two together, not only are the fights on the card high stakes but they should be explosive affairs as well. If you are any sort of fight fan you can not, should not, and will not miss this event.
I don't want to go into the meat and potatoes right here, so I'll shut my mouth with regards to an introduction and deliver the main course.
(C) Chris Weidman (10-0) vs. Anderson Silva (33-5), Middleweight
This could be the most anticipated rematch in the history of MMA. If it isn't, its as close as it can get to the top without reaching the plateau. Silva was undefeated in the UFC for 7 years and had a reputation of clowning many of his opponents before finishing many of them in devastating fashion. No fighter ever had a reputation as close to untouchable as he had. Then along comes Chris Weidman with his clean-cut All-American image who makes Silva pay for his clowning and disrespect by catching Silva with a left hook and putting him to sleep. Now Silva is back to reclaim his throne from the man who took it from him. If you aren't giddy (yes, I used the word giddy on an MMA preview) with anticipation you are no true fight fan.
Weidman was the New York state wrestling champion in high school and became a two time Division I All-American at Hofstra in wrestling as well. He ended up finding his way to the Serra-Longo Fight Team to initially help some of their students out with their wrestling and decided to stick around and learn the MMA trade himself. After winning his first four fights in the Ring of Combat, including a victory over Uriah Hall of TUF season 17 fame, he made his UFC debut on short notice against Alessio Sakara in March 2011. He bowled over all of his opponents leading up to the Silva fight, including one of the most violent KO's seen in the sport when he put out Mark Munoz. Every fight in which he has had a full training camp he has been able to finish his opponent, The fights he didn't finish are his fight with Sakara (which as mentioned earlier was his UFC debut) and Demian Maia (which he took on 9 days notice and had a tough weight cut as well). To sum it up as simple as possible, he has not shown any major weaknesses up to this point. He hasn't been outwrestled, outstruck, or outgrappled (or even taken down) by any opponent up to this point. He showed immense amounts of mental strength by not being intimidated by Silva's clowning in the first match in addition to handling his home being destroyed by Hurricane Sandy earlier that year. Weidman has it all.
Silva is beyond doubt the greatest active legend in the fight game. His streak of dominance was unparalleled and seems likely it will never be matched. As good as Weidman's striking is, no one is in the same league as Silva. The combination of technique, strength, and flair which he possesses is close to untouchable. The only weakness in his striking would have to be the overconfidence (or cockiness... either word works) he displayed against Weidman as he didn't respect Weidman's striking. That should not be an issue this time around as one would expect Silva to have learned his lesson. His wrestling has long been identified as his biggest weakness and rightfully so. He does have an offensive guard which opponents have to be wary of if they decide to take him down. Just ask Chael Sonnen. His takedown defense isn't as porous as his reputation would have some believe as he has avoided 70% of his opponents attempts in the UFC and he has faced some solid wrestlers in Weidman, Sonnen, Nate Marquardt, Dan Henderson, and Yushin Okami.
Perhaps the biggest weapon that Silva has had for a while has been the mystique that built up around him during his unbeaten streak. Weidman didn't buy into it and shattered it. So that shouldn't be an issue in this fight. But the mental state will be the difference here. Silva now has it in the back of his mind that Weidman has beat him once before and Weidman has it in his head that he knows (not believes) he can beat Silva since he has done so before. And Silva had to be talked into a rematch so it is hard to say how motivated he is to regain the title. Throw in the fact that Silva continues to ask for a fight with Roy Jones Jr. it seems hard to believe that his focus is completely on this fight. Weidman will likely mix more wrestling in this fight as it is doubtful that Silva will clown around this time and leave holes in his striking. This will be similar to the first Silva-Sonnen fight as Weidman is a better version of Sonnen... including the power to stop the fight via GNP. Weidman by TKO 3rd Round
(C) Ronda Rousey (7-0) vs. Miesha Tate (13-4), Women's Bantamweight
In what will be the true conclusion to the TUF season 18, Rousey and Tate may truly squash their rivalry once and for all. Few rivalries have been more heated then the tension that has brewed between these two... but there is more to this fight than that. Rousey has been the dominating figure in women's MMA for the last few years and Tate recognizes that this will be her best (and perhaps last) chance to usurp Rousey from that throne. There is more than just a UFC title on the line in this match... it is likely the winner will become the face of women's MMA for the next few years.
Rousey became the face of WMMA so fast that it is easy to forget that she is still inexperienced in the MMA world. She won the Strikeforce Women's bantamweight title in less than a year after her pro debut and hasn't even had 13 minutes of professional fight time as of yet! That isn't UFC time... that is her entire career. But she has an enormous amount of combat experience as she is a two time Olympic judoka, taking bronze in the 2008 games. It has also become well-documented that Rousey was awoken every morning growing up by her judoka mother applying an armbar upon her. If that isn't combat experience, I don't know what is. If you don't know that Rousey has also one every one of her fights by armbar in the first round, it would be appropriate to ask why you are reading this or how that rock you live under is. Her game plan is simple and everyone knows it but is difficult to stop thanks to her ability to get the fight to the ground through her judo background. Her striking hasn't been particularly impressive, but has shown progress. Perhaps the most impressive part of her game has been her focus which never seems to waver in the Octagon.
Tate has been fortunate to reverse the roles and become a fan favorite thanks to the reality show (not to mention her looks). Tate has more than twice as much fight experience (at least matches) and a more well-rounded game. She wrestled in high school (yes, women do that) and won the state championship in 2005. She started training MMA shortly after heading off to college and made her Strikeforce debut in her third fight. Wrestling is her bread and butter, though her striking has proven to be more than competent. She has basically zero takedown defense though (20% success rate at preventing them in the UFC and Strikeforce) which is surprising with a wrestling background as impressive as hers. Tate showed some mental weakness in her first fight with Rousey as she allowed her to get into her head and become too emotional. She has admitted that herself though and seems to have learned from that, initiating the head games this time around before the fight which could very well give her an advantage.
Tate has the standup advantage for sure and is a better wrestler. She will likely show more poise and better focus this time around, but considering Rousey's inexperience in the MMA world, Rousey has more room to grow from their first fight. This means Rousey should have a better standup game this time around.The biggest factor though will lead to this fight being very similar to the first match. Tate's inability to stay standing and Rousey's ability to take the fight to the ground its difficult to see this fight going much different than last time. Rousey by Submission (armbar) 1st Round
Travis Browne (15-1-1) vs. Josh Barnett (33-6), Heavyweight
With Cain Velazquez undergoing shoulder surgery that will put him on the shelf for a while, this match has higher implications than it did just a few short weeks ago. The winner gets the honor of facing Fabricio Werdum in a #1 contender's match. High stakes baby!
Browne is a former collegiate basketball player which is highly evident once you get a glance of his athleticism. He does things guys his size shouldn't be able to do. The front kick he landed on Alistair Overeem was a great example of that. He uses his height and reach very well to his advantage and moves fluidly inside the Octagon. The Overeem fight also showed an impressive chin as he seemed to take Overeem's best in the opening moments and came back to add to his list of highlight reel KO's (Stefan Struve comes to mind) to display his awesome power. He has yet to be taken down in the UFC and has had great success in getting his opponents down when he has tried. He has shown competency on the ground submitting Chad Griggs (remember that it is Chad Griggs though) and sound wrestling, but is far from a wiz on the mat. What may be scariest about Browne is he has only trained MMA for about 5 years and is still getting better... especially at his weak points.
Aside for being known for failing multiple steroid tests, Barnett has one of the craftiest submission games (if not the craftiest) in the heavyweight division which he developed from a catch wrestling base. The 20 submission victories under his belt are plenty of proof of his abilities. Though grappling is his biggest strength he has shown a willingness to engage on his feet throughout his career and has done so fairly successfully. He isn't a counter puncher and will never be mistaken for one with his aggressive style. He was able to make short work of Frank Mir in his last fight, though that isn't the same accomplishment it was a few years ago, using solid clinch work against the cage and landed a devastating knee to put him out. What serves him so well is his rock solid chin having only been KO'd once in his career (almost 13 years ago!). He does an excellent job of avoiding getting hit as well, not an easy thing to do for a heavy.
This is a very hard fight to predict. Browne will want to keep it on the feet and it wouldn't be surprising to see Barnett oblige him. But Barnett has grown smarter over the years and knows that his best chance will be for him to get the fight on the ground. Browne has proven that this won't be an easy task. What this fight boils down to is whether the old, crafty lion will be able to outwit the younger and stronger upstart. Browne continues to show improvement each time out and it'll be enough this time to get him another victory by slim margins. Browne by Decision
Jim Miller (22-4, 1 NC) vs. Fabricio Camoes (14-7-1), Lightweight
Who made this match? This seems to be one of the more lopsided pairings the UFC has made in a long time and is even more puzzling considering there aren't exactly a lack of options in the lightweight division. But weird things do happen in this sport...
Miller has been around the UFC for about 5 years and has faced many of the top fighters in the division, so he doesn't lack for experience against top level competition. He has often come up short against those hovering at the top though. The ground game is his world as he wrestled in both high school and college and has 12 submission wins on his resume. He is excellent in scrambles and at one point even caught submission specialist Charles Oliveira in a knee bar showing no fear against the best on the mat. Even though it isn't his strength, his striking is far from inept. A southpaw, he has a technically sound boxing centric style in which he mixes in the occasional leg kick. He doesn't own a lot of power, but more than often lands more than his opponent to wear them down. He is a smart fighter that is rarely overpowered by his opponents (only Gray Maynard and Pat Healy have done so) despite his lack of strength.
Camoes biggest claim to fame is going 25 minutes bare knuckled with one Anderson Silva early in his career. That was 15 years ago before Anderson Silva became Anderson Silva, but is a testament to his toughness nonetheless. A ground specialist who got off to a rough start in his career, he has since won 10 of his last 13 with the only exceptions being within the UFC. To say he is just a ground specialist doesn't do him justice as he owns a 3rd degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and has solid GNP which he has used to set up chokes, his favorite type of sub. While his striking game isn't up to par with his ground game, it isn't wise to sleep on him standing either as he has shown the ability to put his opponents to sleep (see his beautiful head kick of Steve Lopez). He has shown a tendency to be taken down fairly easy, but considering he doesn't mind the ground that may not be a worry for him.
Miller isn't scared to go to the ground with anyone and it would be wise to expect some exciting scrambles and transitions in this fight. But Miller isn't stupid and knows he'll have the advantage standing. He'll try to keep it in his universe. Camoes is tough and won't go away easily. The last time he looked bad was against Kurt Pellegrino almost 4 years ago. Unfortunately Miller could be looked at as a better version of Pellegrino. Miller by Decision
Dustin Poirier (14-3) vs. Diego Brandao (18-8), Featherweight
This fight has been getting lost in the shuffle of all of the other quality fights, but should not be overlooked. It could determine a possible future contender and is a viable contender for FOTN.
It is a rarity for Poirier to be in a boring fight. After debuting in the WEC at lightweight, he found his true home at featherweight once he transitioned into the UFC, upsetting a highly touted (at the time anyway) Josh Grispi. A southpaw who relies on a high volume striking approach, Poirier is constantly in his opponents face with a variety of punches, kicks, knees, and elbows. Don't mistake him for a brawler though, he is very technically sound. If you need any proof that he can take a shot, watch his battle with Chan Sung Jung to get an idea of the amount of punishment he can take. His wrestling is solid, allowing him to hold his own against most, but isn't great by any means. A brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, he has some slick submissions (see Max Holloway) on his resume with 6 total victories by submission. Considering Poirier has been a division staple since its inception into the UFC its easy to forget that he is only 24 and still improving.
Brandao was looked at by some as a potential title contender when he won the TUF season 14 tournament and though some of that talk has cooled after his loss to Darren Elkins, he has since won three straight and at 26 still has room to grow. Brandao is very intense in the ring and it seemed as though it got the best of him at times as he would gas early which is what cost him against Elkins. He has become a smarter fighter since that time, learning to pace himself and effectively go the distance in a fight if needs be. A violent striker with somewhat of a brawler mentality, he hits very hard but also tends to leave himself open to being hit as he moves forward. His ground game is underrated as he earned his strikers reputation from the tournament, but is more than capable of catching his opponent in a submission which his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu also shows. Perhaps his biggest key to success in the Octagon has been his ability to dictate where the fight takes place, showing great takedowns and takedown defense.
Both of these fighters are on the upswing and are far from peaking as fighters. This fight may only prove which fighter peaks soonest. Poirier's fighting style will likely bring out the brawler in Brandao and create fireworks. Poirier's gas tank runs deeper though and will allow him the energy to put out Brandao late in the fight. Poirier by KO 3rd Round
Chris Leben (22-10) vs. Uriah Hall (7-4), Middleweight
Leben has been a longtime staple of the UFC. The original bad boy of TUF, he has been through a number of battles and has a lot of wear and tear on his body. His chin is notoriously iron clad which has lead to a career of fan-pleasing brawls as he has been more than willing to stand and trade with anyone and the toll it has taken on his body has begun to show over his last few bouts. Though he is still capable of taking a roundhouse and keep coming forward, his movement has slowed considerably and left him more open to strikes from his opponent. Fortunately for him his power doesn't seem to have gone anywhere and one solid punch could be all he needs. His ground game is often overshadowed by his brawler reputation, but has proven capable on the mat with solid wrestling and can even surprise his opponent with a submission (see Yoshihiro Akiyama). His gas tank doesn't appear as deep as it used to be and he'll likely look to end the fight early.
Hall was the golden boy of TUF season 17 due to the violent style in which he ended his fights during the tournament. He has been a huge disappointment since he lost to Kelvin Gastelum in the finals, following that with a loss to short notice replacement John Howard. His background is in kickboxing as he owns a 2nd degree black belt under Tiger Schulmann. He packs a lot of power behind his strikes as well as a lot of flash. Spinning kicks have shown to be part of his retinue (see Adam Cella) and is incredibly lanky for a middleweight with a height advantage on most. His wrestling is serviceable at best, but has displayed vicious GNP and even strikes from the bottom. Hall has shown some mental weakness however, fighting continually with his hands down against Gastelum and being too buddy-buddy with Howard to show killer instinct. If he gets his head on straight he could have a bright future. It is worth noting that though he is still a prospect, he is already 29.
This match has all the makings of a loser-leaves-town match. Leben seems to have slowed down considerably and if he can't get past Hall it will be time to move on. Hall has simply been a disappointment following all of the hype he built up on the show. Both men realize this. Expect Leben to lumber forward looking to land a bomb and Hall to use his quickness and reach to his advantage. Hall will land many more shots, but Leben's chin will at least let him see the end of the third round. Hall by Decision
Michael Johnson (13-8) vs. Gleison Tibau (28-9), Lightweight
Johnson has been consistently inconsistent. He'll throw together a string of matches where he looks like he belongs with the cream of the lightweight crop only to drop the ball shortly thereafter. It seems to occur after he has been rocked and his confidence seems to go out the window. If he can toughen up mentally and maintain his poise Johnson could develop into a contender. He is a fantastic athlete, competing in both football and wrestling in college at Missouri State, and his athleticism is readily apparent in the Octagon. He has also developed into a great boxer, effectively stringing combos together from his natural southpaw stance. He rarely goes for the takedown but is adequate when he does so, and shown great takedown defense... against those without a strong wrestling background. His ground game needs a lot of work never having gone for a legit submission attempt in the UFC and struggling against those with either a submission or wrestling background (see Paul Sass and Myles Jury).
Tibau may be the largest lightweight in the UFC as he seems to regularly walk around at 185 lbs. He has been effective in using that size to his advantage to smoother his opponents. He was a champion wrestler in both wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu in Rio De Janeiro in high school, obtaining a black belt in the latter. Though he doesn't often attempt the submission, he is well-versed in defending them as he has only been submitted once in his career which includes 20 UFC bouts. His striking is nothing spectacular (he owns 1 KO/TKO victory in his time in the UFC), but is solid enough that he is never embarrassed on his feet and he is quick for his size. Often the biggest factor with Tibau is how smoothly his weight cut goes. Some bouts he comes out looking sluggish, others he seems to be the fresher of the fighters.
Tibau has long been a gatekeeper and Johnson is in danger of being labeled one. He could escape that fate with a victory here. But Tibau is too big and too good in the wrestling department for Johnson to handle. Tibau uses his size to wear him down to eventually catch him in a submission and label Johnson a fellow gatekeeper. Tibau by Submission 3rd Round
Dennis Siver (21-9) vs. Manny Gamburyan (13-7), Featherweight
Siver may have had his best opportunity to get into title contention go by the wayside with his last loss to Cub Swanson. Looking to get back on track, Siver is as stout as they come with muscle packing every inch of his 5'7 frame. An amateur kickboxing champion in Germany and owner of a black belt in taekwondo, Siver's strength is striking. His boxing his fairly standard, capable of throwing effective combinations with power. He is well reputed for throwing devastating spinning back kicks into his opponent's midsection, often with devastating results. The funny thing is despite his reputation as a striker, the majority of his victories have come by submission with 9 compared to 5 via KO/TKO. He doesn't often go for the submission, but when he does he makes it count. Though his own takedowns are pourous, he is very good at avoiding being taken down himself with a good center of gravity.
Gamburyan is built fairly similar to Siver though with a slightly less bulky appearance. That is by no means a knock on his strength as Gamburyan lives up to his moniker of 'The Anvil' very well. A 3rd degree black belt in judo who was once a member of the judo junior world team, Gamburyan is an expert in throws and maintains excellent balance making it difficult to take him down. He is dogged in attempting takedowns and if he doesn't succeed the first time he is bound to try again and likely to get his opponent down multiple times in the course of a 15 minute match. Not much of a wrestler, he does know how to get and maintain top control and utilize GNP. His defense is solid as well, never having been submitted in his career. His striking is limited and not at all diverse relying solely on looping haymakers which have a lot of power behind them despite a lack of technique.
Gamburyan has now won two in a row and experiencing a resurgence after having dropped three in row and could get some mention in the top 10 if he can beat Siver. If he can get Siver to the ground consistently than he more than likely will. But Siver is good at keeping the feet standing and his diverse striking will be too much for Gamburyan to handle. Siver by KO 1st Round
John Howard (21-8) vs. Siyar Bahadurzada (21-5-1), Welterweight
Howard was able to make his way back into the UFC following a two year hiatus by being a short notice replacement facing Uriah Hall. Though the match has caused controversy based on the action in the ring, Howard made the most of the opportunity and won the match. Howard seems to rely on his striking in particular having explosive punching power, but has a tendency to get outstruck in most battles as he exhibits little movement. He is efficient at getting takedowns and owns a solid (not great though) wrestling game that he is more than willing to reveal. He has shown a tendency to suffer from a lack of focus (its not the only example, but should he have been high-fiving Uriah Hall or trying to take his head off?), but seems to recover quickly. If not careful it could cost him a match one of these days.
Bahadurzada's favorite activity has to be getting into a violent brawl from which someone goes to sleep. So far in his career, he's never been the one to go to sleep. Though his striking looks to be out-of-control (and quite possibly it is), it has proven to be very effective for the Afghanistan native. That isn't to say that he isn't well-rounded either, but more than half of his career victories have come by KO/TKO. Despite his aggressiveness he is a highly effective counter puncher too. Perhaps his biggest weakness would be takedown defense and wrestling defense as his last match against Dong Hyun Kim perfectly illustrated as he was smoothered the whole time. He is tough to submit though and capable of pulling off a submission himself... though his last submission hold victory came about 7 years ago.
Howard loves to stand and trade and if he can find an opponent to do so, expect it to be a standup war despite his advantage on the ground. This will likely play right into Bahadurzada's plans. Expect Bahadurzada to land a KO blow eventually. Bahadurzada by KO 2nd Round
Bobby Voelker (24-10) vs. William Macario (6-1), Welterweight
Voelker has gotten off to a rough start for his UFC career, dropping his first two matches under the banner. Having got into trouble for street fighting when he was younger, he started kickboxing and boxing late in high school. He is a very aggressive fighter looking to clinch up with his opponent looking for knees, elbows, and short punches to wear them down. He has great punching power as the owner of 15 KO/TKO victories. He has shown improved takedown ability recently and is good at keeping the fight standing when he wants to as well. His submission offense is mediocre (no submission hold victories), but has shown solid defense only being submitted once in his career.
Macario got his UFC start on the second season of TUF Brazil making it all the way to the finals before being submitted by Leonardo Santos. At 22 though, it is likely that Macario will have a longer UFC career than the winner... if he reaches his potential. Similar to Voelker, Macario largely utilizes a boxing style and has done so to great success, showing fast hands and explosive power. He does utilize leg kicks every now and then. He has shown a solid top game when the fight hits the ground with devastating GNP. He has shown little jiu-jitsu, prefering to pound out his opponents.
Fans should be excited for this match as both men love a standup battle and Armageddon is likely around the corner if this match turns into something else. This match is certainly a crapshoot as neither man has a definitive advantage in that realm. Voelker has an experience advantage for sure, but he also has a lot more wear and tear on his body. As a result, Macario ends up being the man with the stronger chin if not the more powerful punches. Macario by TKO 1st Round
Estevan Payan (14-4, 1 NC) vs. Robbie Peralta (16-4 1 NC), Featherweight
Payan enjoys a standup fight as much as anyone but lacks the power that many of the traditional standup fighters enjoy. He utilizes more of a punches in bunches style and is good to mix in some leg kicks as well. Much preferring to keep the fight standing, Payan rarely goes for the takedown and though it isn't outstanding, he owns solid takedown defense himself. He showed a lot of toughness in his last fight against Jeremy Stephens as Payan soaked the mat in his blood but hung in there until the end of the match.
Peralta has shown a lot of potential, but failed the drug test after his last fight and is likely on thin ice at this point. He has very much a brawler personality preferring to keep the fight standing (seems to be a theme on this card) but does have solid technique in his punches. 12 of his victories have come by KO/TKO to show his proficiency. He'll throw in some solid legs kicks to keep his opponents guessing as well. He doesn't take the fight to the ground too often (in part because his takedowns aren't overly effective) largely due to the fact he has some holes in his game.
An outstanding match to open the card that will largely be a standup battle, don't expect much time on the ground in this one. Both men have strong chins so the question becomes who has more power. Peralta wins in that department so he'll take this match based on the accumulated damage. Peralta by Decision
Anything anyone wants to add is more than welcome.