The UFC returns to the UK with arguably the biggest star they've ever taken there in the modern era. More than that, the entire card is airing on Fight Pass, a demonstration they're making an attempt to invest in the platform. The rest of the card is designed for European audiences with talent who are designed to catch local fans' eyes, but who are on the bubble in terms of meriting a roster slot in the UFC.
What: UFC Fight Night: Silva vs. Bisping
Where: The O2, London, England
When: Saturday, the nine-fight Fight Pass preliminary card starts at 12:45 p.m. ET and the four-fight Fight Pass main card starts at 4 p.m.
Anderson Silva vs. Michael Bisping
I really want to pick Bisping here. I really, really do. I have a deep admiration for his career and recognize just how much he's been set back by opposition using PEDs. More than that, he's been badly knocked out and shown virtually no psychological scars as a consequence. Many fighters would never have recovered from the way in which Dan Henderson beat him. I also don't think Silva had the greatest showing against Nick Diaz. The truth is, though, Silva's only ever lost to Chris Weidman in the UFC. He rushed to return to make the Diaz fight happen. I don't think we've had a chance to see what could be still there in terms of his offensive potency. I don't know where Silva is now and none of us do. But in order for Bisping to have a chance against Silva, the Brazilian's decline would have to be precipitous. Maybe it is and we're about to find out, but there's a nagging skepticism telling me we're jumping the gun on Silva just a bit.
No one deserves a signature win more than Bisping. I don't cheer for fighters, but there is a part of me that hopes he gets it, if I'm just being honest, but forced to make a pick, I can't bank on the Brit.
Gegard Mousasi vs. Thales Leites
Leites is more than improved. He's almost transformed his game. We saw that in the Bisping fight. His striking is basic, but powerful and his willingness to strike in the pocket is bold. We obviously know what he offers on the ground. That said, I like Mousasi's ability to stuff the takedown and like Bisping, be the more precise striker who doesn't need to take as many positional risks in order to land. Mousasi is cleaner with his technique and positioning on the feet and over time, that's going to make a huge difference.
Tom Breese vs. Keita Nakamura
I just don't see how Nakamura wins here unless Breese makes some sort of critical error. He's better everywhere, physically much bigger and there's been stretches of Nakamura's career where he was part time. This feels like a set-up fight and not in a bad way. Breese deserves to be brought along slowly, but yeah, he should easily cruise here.
Francisco Rivera vs. Brad Pickett
Pickett's going to have more energy and power at bantamweight, so that's a plus for him. Beyond that, however, this should be Rivera's fight to lose. The American doesn't quite have the head movement to dismiss Pickett's chances, but power for power, Rivera cannot be topped in this fight. Even if Rivera is hurt, he has good durability and as aforementioned, more than enough punch to give Pickett problems. It should also be noted Pickett, while still a legitimate challenge, has a number of miles on him at this point in his career. One or two big shots from Rivera is more than enough to close the show. Pickett's cleaner in the pocket and has a more diverse offense, but I'm not sure that's going to matter.
From the preliminary card:
Makwan Amirkhani def. Mike Wilkinson
Davey Grant def. Marlon Vera
Scott Askham def. Chris Dempsey
Arnold Allen def. Yaotzin Meza
Krzysztof Jotko def. Brad Scott
Rustam Khabilov def. Norman Parke
Daniel Omielanczuk def. Jarjis Danho
Teemu Packalen def. Thibault Gouti
David Teymur def. Martin Svensson