UFC 168 goes down Saturday night headlined by the biggest fight in UFC history, a rematch between UFC Middleweight Champion Chris Weidman and former UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva. Also on the card is Women’s Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey defending her title against former Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Champion Miesha Tate, a Heavyweight bout with huge implications between Josh Barnett and Travis Browne, and many more. Below are my breakdowns and predictions for all 11 UFC 168 bouts:
MIDDLEWEIGHT TITLE FIGHT: (c) Chris Weidman vs. #1 Anderson Silva
Breakdown: We’ve all seen the footage a million times. Anderson pretending to be hurt only to be smashed by a left hook from Chris Weidman and just like that the UFC had its first new UFC Middleweight Champion since 2006. The first fight between Weidman and Silva is very hard to judge. There are many question marks surrounding how seriously Silva took the fight. One thing is for certain though, Weidman dominated almost every minute of that fight. The first round couldn’t have played out any better for Weidman as he took Silva down, hit him with heavy ground and pound, and threatened Silva with submission attempts. The second round was very different than the first. Silva defended Weidman’s takedown attempts with ease and goaded the All-American Wrestler into a stand-up fight. Things seemed to be turning Silva’s way as Weidman abandoned his wrestling in favor of a boxing-oriented attack, but then the shot heard ’round the world happened. Who knows if the knockout came as a result of Silva taking his eye off the ball for a second or Weidman’s ability as a striker. All that matters is that Weidman won the fight.
While I would score every minute of the first fight for Weidman there were some things I found disturbing in his performance. Weidman seemed to tire in the second round and left behind his wrestling too quickly. Against an assassin like Silva you cannot afford to play in his realm for too long because you will find yourself on the receiving end of a highlight real knockout ninety-nine out of a hundred times. For Weidman to win this fight he has to keep Silva’s back against the cage or on the mat. For Silva to win the fight he has to come out fighting like he did against Forrest Griffin and Chael Sonnen in the second fight; no nonsense and looking to get the job done quickly.
Prediction: Silva wants to erase what happened to him this past July. Silva is going back to his roots for this fight training with Diogenes Asahida (his Muay Thai coach for the first Rich Franklin fight) so my prediction is Anderson Silva to defeat Chris Weidman by TKO (Knees) in the second round.
WOMEN’S BANTAMWEIGHT TITLE FIGHT: (c) Ronda Rousey vs. #2 Miesha Tate
Breakdown: In the co-main event of the evening one of the most polarizing figures in MMA puts her title on the line as Ronda Rousey defends her title against No. 2-ranked Miesha Tate. These two women first met back in March of 2012 where Rousey armbarred Tate in the first round to capture the Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight title. Since then both fighters have gone in opposite directions with their careers. Rousey is 2-0 since their first fight defeating both Sarah Kaufman and Liz Carmouche by first round armbar. With that being said Rousey did show a glaring hole in her game during her fight with Carmouche. Rousey’s use of Judo often leaves her open for opponents to take her back. Carmouche capitalized on this and almost finished Rousey with a submission. For Tate this is something for her to keep in mind as she was also in a very similar position with Rousey in their first encounter.
Tate on the other hand has gone 1-1 with a comeback victory over Julie Kedzie and most recently a third round TKO loss to Cat Zingano earlier this year. In Tate’s first fight post-Rousey she turned in a very poor performance against Kedzie. Kedzie dominated the first two rounds of that fight rocking Tate with a head kick and was well on her way to a decision victory if she hadn’t tired out in the third. Tate took advantage of Kedzie’s poor cardio in the third latching onto an armbar to secure the victory. After the fight Tate was very open about taking a time off from MMA which is never a good sign for any fighter. Tate returned to fighting rejuvenated after the Strikeforce Women’s division was brought under the UFC banner. In her UFC debut Tate looked great in the first round against Cat Zingano but eventually tired and was TKO’d in the third round.
PREDICTION: If Zingano hadn’t blown her knee out we probably wouldn’t even be talking about Tate being in the title picture. We all know how this one is going down. My prediction is Ronda Rousey to defeat Miesha Tate by Submission (Armbar) in the first round.
HEAVYWEIGHT BOUT: #6 JOSH BARNETT vs. #5 TRAVIS BROWNE
Breakdown: The UFC has set-up a dandy of a match-up here between Josh Barnett (33-6) and Travis Browne (15-1-1). Not only is this fight a classic grappler versus striker match-up but also a bout between the old guard and the new guard. Barnett brings in a wealth of world class experience into this match-up and one of the best submission skill sets in all of mixed martial arts. What makes Barnett such an amazing fighter is his ability to dictate where the fight takes place. In his bouts with Frank Mir and Sergei Kharitonov, Barnett took both fighters where they were most uncomfortable. For Mir it was pressing him up against the cage which eventually led to a fight ending knee. For Kharitonov it was the mat where Barnett wasted no time setting up an impressive arm-triangle for the win. If Barnett wants to win this fight he has to put Travis Browne against the cage and work for a takedown from there.
On the other side of the cage we have Travis Browne. Browne has only been training in mixed martial arts for five years but has jumped up the ranks rather quickly currently holding the No. 5 slot in the UFC’s official rankings. Browne’s best work in the cage happens when he’s at distance from his opponent. A great example of this would be his 2011 bout with Stefan Struve which saw him crush Struve with a superman punch. We saw Browne struggle in his last outing when Alistair Overeem closed the gap and punished Browne with knees in the clinch. If Browne wants to win this fight he has to utilize solid movement and footwork to avoid being pushed up against the cage. Browne has the power to put any heavyweight’s lights out.
PREDICTION: The odds makers have Barnett installed as a favorite over Browne but I’m not buying it. I’ve been impressed with the athleticism and heart of Browne and I think he wins this fight and gets a number one contender’s bout with Fabricio Werdum in early 2014. My prediction is Travis Browne to defeat Josh Barnett by TKO in round two.
LIGHTWEIGHT BOUT: #10 Jim Miller vs. Fabricio Camões
Breakdown: In a rather odd match-up No. 10 ranked lightweight Jim Miller takes on unheralded Fabricio Camões. Miller has alternated wins and losses in his past six bouts but that in no way takes away from the caliber of fighter he is. In his last outing, we saw Miller come out strong against Pat Healy but lost steam in the second round before eventually being choked unconscious in the third round. Before that we saw Miller look great rebounding from a submission loss to Nate Diaz with a unanimous decision win over Joe Lauzon. Miller tends to get in trouble when he is matched with opponents who have a size advantage over him in one area or another. Miller struggled with the length of Nate Diaz and was unable to get anything going in the standup against the Stockton native. Miller’s issues are not just limited to opponent’s with a reach advantage but also extend to opponent’s with a weight advantage as well. We saw Miller get demolished by a much larger Ben Henderson in August of 2011.
In the blue corner we have Fabricio Camões, a third degree Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under Royler Gracie. Camões is 1-2-1 over two runs with the UFC and has yet to prove himself as a UFC worthy talent. His lone win inside the Octagon came in January 2012 against Ultimate Fighter reject Tommy Haden. In Camões’ last bout he showed decent offensive wrestling against Melvin Guillard but an alarming inabliity to keep his opponent on the mat. Guillard was repeatedly taken down in the fight by rarely found himself there for any significant amount of time. Another thing of note from Camões’s bout with Guillard is that he had Guillard in full mount and was unable to submit a rather elementary grappler. Camões has been out of action for nearly a year and a half which is never a good thing for fighters, add that to fighting an opponent like Jim Miller and you have a recipe for disaster.
PREDICTION: If Camões can take down Miller and keep him there the fight is his to take. Unfortunately for him I don’t see him being able to do that. Miller will avoid the take down in this fight and punish Camões on the feet. After a lopsided two rounds Miller will drop Camões in the third, take his back, and submit the Brazillian with a rear naked choke. My prediction is for Jim Miller to defeat Fabricio Camões by Submission (Rear-naked Choke) in round three.
FEATHERWEIGHT BOUT: #6 Dustin Poirier vs. Diego Brandao
Breakdown: The opening bout of UFC 168’s main card is one hell of a scrap between Dustin Poirier and Diego Brandao. Poirier has always been considered a solid featherweight but has never been able to move from solid to elite. Poirier’s best wins have come over good fighters like Erik Koch and Johnathan Brookins but he has struggled when facing top contenders like Cub Swanson and Chan Sung Jung. Poirier is a very well rounded fighter with solid striking, good wrestling, and an amazing submission repitoire. Poirier could win this fight with Brandao on the feet but his safest path to victory would be utilizing his wrestling and looking for submissions while on the mat. Poirier has finished fights with armbars, mounted triangle armbars, and rear naked choke but his submission of choice is the d’arce choke. Poirier is very sneaky with his d’arce choke sinking it in when his opponents least expect it.
Poirier’s opponent Saturday night is Ultimate Fighter Season14 winner Diego Brandao. Brandao has shown a lot of promise in his career thus far but has lacked the cardio to become a top contender. Inside the first five minutes Brandao is one of the most dangerous men in the UFC as he can finish a fight by knockout or submission. Brandao looked great in the first round against Darren Elkins in May of 2012 but ended up losing a decision due to his poor cardio. Even with improvements to his stamina if Brandao wants to win this fight he has to do it early. Poirier showed vulnerability in his striking against Johnathan Brookins, a fighter who is primarily a grappler. If Brandao can find the same openings Brookins did then it will be a quick night of work for him.
PREDICTION: Brandao has all the tools to put Poirier away quickly but I can’t see him putting enough leather on Poirier in the first round to finish him. Look for Poirier to weather an early storm en-route to a late stoppage victory. My prediction is Dustin Poirier to defeat Diego Brandao by Submission (D’arce choke) in the third round.
PRELIMINARY CARD QUICK PICKS:
MIDDLEWEIGHT BOUT: CHRIS LEBEN vs. URIAH HALL
BREAKDOWN & PREDICTION: Leben has regressed rapidly over the past two years going 0-3 since November of 2011. I don’t see things getting much better for him here as his style is tailor made for a quick and flashy striker like Uriah Hall. If Hall’s mental skills have caught up to his physical skills look for him to make quick work of Leben. My prediction is Uriah Hall to defeat Chris Leben by Knockout (Head-Kick) in the first round.
LIGHTWEIGHT BOUT: GLEISON TIBAU vs. MICHAEL JOHNSON
Breakdown & Prediction: Both Tibau and Johnson have been plagued by inconcistency throughout their respective careers. A win in this bout would provide either fighter with a boost to becoming a fringe top ten lightweight. Johnson is light on his feet and has very good striking but has a glaring hole in his takedown defense. Tibau is a serviceable striker but if he wants to win this fight he needs to take Johnson down and I think he will be able to do that. My prediction is Gleison Tibau to defeat Michael Johnson by Submission (Guillotine Choke) in the third round.
FEATHERWEIGHT BOUT: #7 Dennis Siver vs. Manny Gamburyan
Breakdown & Prediction: Siver and Gamburyan are both respected veterans of the sport who are in need of a victory this Saturday night. For Siver he needs to keep Gamburyan at a distance by using kicks to Gamburyan’s body and legs. If Gamburyan wants to win this fight he needs to close the distance between himself and Siver and land one of his signature haymakers or use his world class judo to get Siver to the mat. Gamburyan’s disadvantage in the length department will ultimately lose him this fight as he will be unable to close the gap between himself and a superior striker in Siver. My prediction is Dennis Siver to defeat Manny Gamburyan by decision.
WELTERWEIGHT BOUT: John Howard vs. Siyar Bahadurzada
Breakdown & Prediction: Siyar Bahadurzada burst onto the scene in the UFC with a brutal knockout of veteran Paulo Thiago. In his sophmore bout he feel short against Dong Hyun-Kim in one of the most one sided fights of 2013. John Howard returned after a two year absense from the UFC fighting as a middleweight in a winning effort against Uriah Hall in August. Howard comes to strike but has shown a willingness to wrestle in his fights with Matt Brown and Daniel Roberts. Bahadurzada’s only way to win this fight is on the feet and Howard knows that. Howard will oblige Bahadurzada’s demand for a standup fight shortly before taking down the Afghan fighter over the better part of three rounds. My prediction is John Howard to defeat Siyar Bahadurzada by decision.
WELTERWEIGHT BOUT: WILLIAM MACARIO vs. BOBBY VOELKER
BREAKDOWN & PREDICTION: Both Macario and Voelker come into this fight known as knockout artists. Between both men two thirds of their fights have ended by knockout and this one won’t be any different. This fight is as close to a coin flip as you can get but I like Voelker’s veteran status to help him succeed in this one. My prediction is Bobby Voelker to defeat William Macario by TKO in the second round.
FEATHERWEIGHT BOUT: ROBBIE PERALTA vs. ESTEVAN PAYAN
BREAKDOWN & PREDICTION: When Peralta and Payan open the fight card this Saturday expect a stand-up battle between two of the most willing sluggers in the featherweight division. Peralta was gaining momentum in the UFC piling up three straight wins before losing a decision to Akira Corassani. Payan showed his durability after getting thrashed for three rounds by Jeremey Stephens back in May. Look for Peralta to use his more diverse striking aresnal to secure the victory. My prediction is Robbie Peralta to defeat Estevan Payan by decision.