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A Look Ahead: UFC 168

UFC

In just under a week’s time the UFC will hold its annual year-end fight card at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.  Typically this card tends to be rather loaded in terms of quality fights on paper and this year certainly isn’t an exception.  You have two title fights as well as a bout that will get us one step closer to having our next heavyweight title contender.  Not to mention two great openers featuring multi-time post fight award winners Jim Miller and Dustin Poirier and two men trying to make their mark on the main card in Fabricio Camoes and Diego Brandao.  That’s not even taking into consideration that both title fights are highly anticipated rematches. 

Due to the nature of this card there has been a one-time bump in the normal PPV price by $5.  While some have been critical of the bump up due to comments Dana White has made in the past, it’s not a decision that was made by him.  For me I don’t have a problem with it as long as it is something that only applies to truly stacked cards as the year end card typically is.  It’s not out of the ordinary for companies to increase the price of a big card for PPV, it’s a practice used by boxing and wrestling for years.  Considering the card is headlined by arguably the best pound for pound fighter in UFC history in Anderson Silva trying to avenge his first true loss (not counting the DQ loss in 2006) since 2004, I think the bump can be justified.

That said, let’s take a look at the full televised and pay-per-view portions of the card.

Fox Sports 1 Preliminary Bouts (to air starting at 8PM EST)

John Howard (21-8-0) vs Siyar Bahadurzada (21-5-1) Welterweight Bout (170 lbs)

John Howard is a tough guy no doubt about it, he just isn’t always the most consistent.  When his nickname “Doomsday” shows up, it very probably is going to be a rough night for someone as Howard most certainly isn’t afraid to stand and trade punches with his opponent.  After putting together a solid four fight winning streak in the UFC he then lost three straight to end his first tenure.  He did manage to put together a rather impressive win streak winning 7 of his 8 fights after his first UFC run that landed him as a late injury replacement in his hometown of Boston en route to a Split decision win over Uriah Hall.  Now Doomsday is going to attempt to keep momentum on his side as he opens up the televised preliminary portion of the year’s biggest fight card.

Bahadurada while an experienced fighter is still relatively early in his UFC career.  He debuted in April of 2012 with an absolute vicious highlight knockout in 42 seconds of Paulo Tiago but followed it up with a lop-sided decision loss to Dong Hyun Kim in March of this year.  Thus how this fight plays out is going to be a tale of “where does it take place”.  While both fighters have heavy hands, Siyar has better overall striking and the ability to string together the better combinations, thus I believe a better chance at victory if it is contested on it’s feet.

Prediction: John Howard by Decision. 

If Howard watched the tape of Bahadurzada’s fight with Kim then he should have a decent blueprint for victory.  I’m not saying abandon striking all together, but try and be smart about it and use it to set up takedowns.

Dennis Siver #7 (21-9-0) vs Manny Gamburyan (16-8-0) Featherweight Bout (145 lbs)

Siver is a monster at 145 and despite his most recent fight ending in a TKO loss to Cub Swanson, he is far from an easy win for anybody in the division and is currently ranked #7 in the UFC’s Featherweight rankings.  While he has a vicious spinning back kick and great overall kickboxing skills he has had a tendency at times to get involved in wild exchanges that have led to some of his losses on his record.  A big key for Siver is going to be whether he can maintain his composure and use his kickboxing to his advantage rather then just get lost in a wild brawl.

Manny is in a weird spot in his career.  He once was on the cusp of winning the second Ultimate Fighter before a shoulder injury in the bout caused him to lose in the finals to Nate Diaz.  After going 2-2 in the UFC’s Lightweight division he dropped down to Featherweight and went to the WEC.  While there he put together a streak that earned him a title shot at WEC Featherweight and current UFC Featherweight champion Jose Aldo, in the final WEC defense of the featherweight title before the division was absorbed into the UFC.  After falling short in his title bid “The Anvil”  finds himself in a familiar spot; in the midst of a 2-2 stint in the UFC.

Prediction: Dennis Siver by Decision

Unfortunately I don’t expect this bout to be close, which is a shame because I like Gamburyan.  I feel Siver will approach this fight smart and utilize his kickboxing experience to out strike Manny.  At the same time Siver has a lot to lose facing an unranked opponent and I see him being cautious because of that.  Manny on the other hand may quite possibly be fighting for his job as a loss will put him in a very difficult position.

Gleison Tibau (37-9-0) vs Michael Johnson (14-8-0) Lightweight Bout (155 lbs)

This fight will be a lot closer than the records indicate and could potentially be the sleeper pick for best fight of the prelims.  Tibau has quietly put together quite the UFC career.  I say quietly because while the guy is the youngest guy to have 20 UFC fights under his belt, he certainly isn’t well known outside of the diehard MMA community.  His opponent Johnson looked absolutely brilliant in his complete dismantling of Joe Lauzon in his last bout and if THAT Michael Johnson is the Johnson that we get on Saturday then Tibau is in trouble.  The problem is Tibau is always game for a fight and has the ability to hang with the best because of his experience.  Thus the fight in general should be a real test to Johnson and show whether he truly has greatly improved striking or if he just had a really good night in Boston.

Prediction: Gleison Tibau by Decision

This is the fight I feel the least comfortable making the pick and could just as easily flipped a coin.  Johnson definitely can win this fight I just don’t feel confident in saying that he will based on how different he looks from fight to fight.  If he does to Tibau what he did to Lauzon, then I’ll definitely be ready to sing the Michel Johnson praises.

Chris Leben (22-10-0) vs Uriah Hall (8-4-0) Middleweight Bout (185 lbs)

The main event of the Preliminary card could very well end up being someone’s swansong since both guys are in must win situations.  It’s an odd turn of events when you look at how dominant Hall appeared while on the Ultimate Fighter.  Prior to the finals he destroyed everybody he faced and posted one of the most vicious knockouts ever seen.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHjA3_kmYqs  Yet in his appearance in the finals he seemed somewhat tentative and eventually lost a Split Decision to his fellow Team Sonnen teammate Kelvin Gastelum.  He then lost his next UFC fight by Split Decision to John Howard in a bout that looked more like a sparring session.  That’s the thing about Hall, he clearly has very vicious striking but it’s almost as if something holds him back in fights keeping him from doing what he’s truly capable of.  His fight with Howard even had Dana White whom had been a huge supporter of his on the show, declare that he’s not a fighter.  In some sense I have to agree. while the skills themselves are clearly there he seems at times too emotionally attached to his fights and unwilling to unleash something that could badly hurt his opponent.

Chris Leben is another guy Dana is a huge fan of and made his name as one of the guys in the inaugural season of the Ultimate Fighter.  He has shown threw the years that his heart is second to none and you can never count the guy out.  Dana has even said Leben would always have a job but you have to question how many miles he has left on him as a fighter at this point.  The type of wild brawls that Leben likes to take part in definitely take their toll on your career and at this stage in his career he has lost 4 out of his last 5 fights and hasn’t won since a 2011 knockout of Wanderlei Silva.

Prediction: Uriah Hall by Decision

I went back and forth on this one a little bit but ultimately my head beat my heart on this one.  While Hall has certainly looked tentative in the octagon he still has managed to be involved in two close decisions.  Leben on the other hand has found himself on the wrong side of one-sided decisions as of late and even though Leben always has a punchers chance to win, the reality is Hall has only be knocked out once and it was by UFC Middleweight Champion Chris Weidman.

Pay-Per-View Main Card (to air starting at 10pm EST)

Dustin Poirier #6 (14-3-0) vs Diego Brandao (22-8-0) Featherweight Bout (145 lbs)

Brandao is the season 14 winner of the Ultimate Fighter and has put together a record of 4-1 in his UFC run.  This is is first time being on the main card of a PPV event and he’s looking to make an immediate impact by taking on the #6 ranked Featherweight, Dustin Poirier.  Each guy has received a fight of the night bonus and a submission of the night bonus so there is a solid chance that this could very well be one hell of a fight and probably the perfect fit to kick off the main card.

Prediction: Dustin Poirier by Submission

While I am very confident in the Poirier pick, the method could vary.  However with both guys being submission guys I see the fight eventually turning into a great grappling contest similar to Poirier’s bout with the “Korean Zombie”.  Brandao’s cardio will also be a huge factor and Dustin’s pace may end up being too much for Diego to handle.  Still it’s a fight that will benefit Brandao and the step up in competition should make him better in the long run.

Jim Miller #10 (22-4-0) vs Fabricio Camoes (14-7-1) Lightweight Bout (155 lbs)

This fight may possibly play out very similar to the Poirier/Brandao fight.  Both have offenses that are highlighted by their submission skills and both more times than not finish the fight.  Both are also coming off loses, though Miller’s loss to Healy was changed to a No Contest.  Needless to say the chances that this doesn’t go the full 15 minutes are rather high.

Prediction: Jim Miller by Submission

Much like the previous bout, I see conditioning playing a large roll in this contest.  Thus I see the bout playing out similar to Fabricio’s loss to Kurt Pellegrino.

Josh Barnett #6 (33-6-0) vs Travis Browne #5 (15-1-1) Heavyweight Bout

With Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez on the shelf until mid-late 2014 the winner of this bout is currently scheduled to face Fabricio Werdum to determine the next title contender.  Browne’s only professional loss came via TKO to Antonio Silva after Browne injured his knee in the fight and was unable to defend himself.  His opponent Barnett is a former UFC champion in his second stint with the company and has only one loss in the past 7 years.  It’s also a classic case of the vet versus the surging star and at 36 it would be easy to write off Barnett as being in the twilight of his career.  Problem is if you look at his performances as of late he doesn’t exactly seem to be slowing down.  Browne himself has managed to look better in almost every performance inside of the octagon.  He also showed how strong his chin was by hanging in there and weathering the early onslaught versus Allistair Overeem to comeback and score the knockout victory.

Prediction: Josh Barnett by Decision

Despite Barnett’s penchant for finishing his opponent I think Browne is simply going to show too much heart to be finished.  That said I still think Barnett simply has more tools and experience that should be able to lead him to victory.

Co-Main Event: Ronda Rousey (c) (7-0-0) vs Miesha Tate #2 (13-4-0) Women’s Bantamweight Title (135 lbs)

The first of two rematches on the card, this one has quite a bit of bad blood behind it.  When Miesha was the Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Champion she didn’t hide the fact that she didn’t feel Rousey was a worthy contender to her title.  The end result saw Rousey beat Tate in the same way she has won every single one of her amateur and professional bouts.  That’s the thing about Rousey, her Judo skills are so good that she manages to get the fight to the ground in every single fight and thus win via submission by armbar every single time.  In fact, nobody has made it outside of the first round with Ronda.

That’s where strategy is going to come into play for Miesha.  She is a great wrestler, solid striker, and a pretty good submission specialist in her own right.  Whether than let herself be fueled by emotion she needs to be more calculated with her striking and slow things down at first.  How Ronda fights in rounds outside of the first is something that has never been seen, and is something that should be pushed if nothing else than for the mental victory.  Training for a five round fight and actually being in a five round fight are two completely different things.

Prediction: Ronda Rousey by Submission

At the end of the day it’s extremely hard to predict against a proven formula and while there are certainly various factors that could change things drastically, it’s hard not to call a Submission victory for Rousey at this point.  However, I will predict that Tate takes this thing deeper than Ronda has ever been and puts Rousey in trouble a bit.  The key is going to be how Ronda acts with her back against the wall.

Main Event: Chris Weidman (c) (10-0-0) vs Anderson Silva #1 (33-5-0) Middleweight Title

The Main Event and second rematch on the card is quite possibly the most anticipated rematch in the history of the UFC.  People are wondering if Weidman is the next Middleweight star or if his win in the first fight had more to do with Silva’s antics than Weidman’s skill set.  Silva also wants to show the world that he simply got caught rather than his career is on the decline.  He has publicly stated that he has no intention of having his career end in the same way that another UFC great Chuck Liddell’s career ended.  Weidman is out to be the only guy to beat Silva twice and further cement himself in the history books rather than become a trivia question.

A big part of this fight is going to be Silva’s approach.  Silva often time plays in the octagon, and a lot of that is him getting inside of his opponents head.  He did a lot of things right in that fight, though keeping his hands down while taunting Weidman certainly wasn’t one of them.  Such antics have worked in the past but Silva isn’t typically in there with guys with the reach of Weidman.  If Silva sticks to a normal fight and keeps the taunting to a minimum his striking is still among some of the best.

Weidman on the other hand needs to stay level headed and not let the desire for a big knockout cause him to stand up with Anderson more than he should.  Despite the result of the first contest, a straight up kickboxing contest is not what Weidman wants to be involved in.  He landed some solid strikes in their first fight from the top position and it could be a key to success in the rematch.

Prediction: Anderson Silva by TKO

A bold prediction to some but I’m not ready to announce Weidman as the next big thing just yet.  I look at Weidman’s win over Silva in the same sense as JDS’ knockout of Cain Velasquez.  JDS landed a clean shot but then got dominated in the two rematches.  I do think Weidman will fair better than JDS but ultimately will succumb to Silva’s strikes.

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