Fight fans around the globe will be glued to their television sets this Saturday anxiously awaiting the result of the rematches between UFC Middleweight Champion Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva and Woman’s Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate.
Outside of the two title fights atop the card, UFC 168 features a plethora of storylines that have fallen to the wayside due to the magnitude of the Main Event and Co-Main event. Here are the top five storylines to look out for Saturday night outside of UFC 168’s title bouts:
1. The Emergence of a New Heavyweight Contender:
Fight: Josh Barnett Vs. Travis Browne
Where To Watch: Pay-Per-View
The most intriguing bout going down this Saturday outside of the Weidman/Silva rematch is the heavyweight swing bout between Top Ten heavies Josh Barnett and Travis Browne. Barnett first rose to superstardom in the early 2000’s culminating in winning the UFC Heavyweight Championship with a TKO of Randy Couture. Barnett’s title reign was cut short after being stripped of the title for testing positive for banned substances after his fight with Couture. Since then Barnett’s career led him on successful runs in PRIDE FC and Strikeforce before returning to the octagon with a first round TKO over former UFC champion Frank Mir. Standing across from Barnett with be six foot seven Hawaiian Travis Browne. Browne had only been competing professionally for one year when he got his call to make his UFC debut in 2010 but has been everything the UFC could have asked for and more. Browne has posted a 6-1-1 record inside the octagon stopping former Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion Alistair Overeem in his last bout. This bout has fireworks written all over it. Both men look for the finish with Barnett holding a sizable advantage in the grappling department while Browne holds an edge in striking and power. This fight will push one of these men to the top of a very short list of challengers for Heavyweight Kingpin Cain Velasquez and is one you won’t want to miss this Saturday night.
2. Featherweights Battle to Solidify Elite Status:
Fight: Dustin Poirier Vs. Diego Brandao
Where To Watch: Pay-per-view
Opening up the main card is a featherweight bout between number six ranked Dustin Poirier and Ultimate Fighter Season fourteen winner Diego Brandao. Both Poirier and Brandao have carved out their statuses as solid UFC featherweights but neither stand out as elite in the division. This Saturday night gives both men the platform to upgrade their ranking and make a statement to the rest of the division. Poirier has more experience fighting top fighters but has fallen short each time he has taken a step up in competition. We last saw Poirier pick up his best win in the UFC with a dominant decision win over once scheduled featherweight title challenger Erik Koch. A win this Saturday will show UFC brass that Dustin Poirier is no joke and push him that much closer to a title shot. For Brandao this is a chance for him to jump into the top ten with a statement win. During his time on the Ultimate Fighter, Brandao became one of the most feared competitors in the show’s history with his ability to finish fights at the drop of a dime. Since Brandao left the show he has posted a 4-1 record in the UFC but has looked less than stellar in many of his bouts due to issues with his cardio. If Brandao can pull off a finish over Poirier he will not only show that he is ready for top level competition but that he is one of the most dangerous men in the UFC. This fight is a guaranteed barn burner and is my pick for fight of the night. Do not miss this one.
3. Staying Away from the Pink Slip:
Fight: Chris Leben Vs. Uriah Hall
Where To Watch: FOX Sports 1
Headlining the Fox Sports One prelims is a bout between two men looking to stay employed with the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Chris Leben and Uriah Hall are at separate points in their career but both are facing the same reality if they fail to walk out of the octagon with a victory. Leben, a competitor on season one of the Ultimate Fighter, fought his way into the hearts of many fight fans with his always move forward style and ability to finish fights when he is on the brink of being finished himself. As of late Leben has fallen on tough times only picking up one win in his last five outings and has looked progressively worse in each bout. Since knocking out Wanderlei Silva in 2011, Leben was stopped by Mark Munoz, dominated in one of the worst fights of 2012 by Derek Brunson, and looked slow on the feet against Andrew Craig. While Leben does have a fan friendly style the UFC is where the best fighters in the world come to compete and quite frankly if Leben goes 0-4 in his last four fights he does not deserve a spot with the world’s top MMA promotion. Leben is a grizzled veteran from Season one of the Ultimate Fighter while his opponent Uriah Hall had one of the most memorable knockouts in the history of the show during season seventeen. Hall is somewhat of an enigma to fight fans. While on the Ultimate Fighter Hall showed some of the nastiest killer instinct in the history of the sport with brutal finishes of Adam Cella, Bubba McDaniel, and Dylan Andrews. Once Hall left the show and the bright lights turned on everything changed. During his two official UFC bouts Hall looked scared to pull the trigger costing him both of those bouts. Hall possesses all of the physical skills to become a solid middleweight in the UFC but if his mental game cannot catch up to his physical game he may have to look elsewhere for employment. Fighters tend to perform best when their backs are against the wall and I think this fight will bring out the best in both men resulting in a quick and brutal finish. Make sure you’re tuned into Fox Sports One for this one because you’ll be talking about the finish of this fight for days.
4. The Search for Consistency
Fight: Gleison Tibau vs. Michael Johnson
Where To Watch: FOX Sports 1
Both Gleison Tibau and Michael Johnson have had signature wins inside the octagon but have yet to truly make a push toward top contendership. Tibau is one of the longest tenured fighters in the UFC competing in the promotion since 2006 but has never been considered a top contender. Tibau is 3-2 in his last five bouts beating the likes of Jamie Varner, John Cholish, and Francisco Trinaldo but also sandwiched in losses to Evan Dunham and Khabib Nurmagomedov. For Tibau, a win over Johnson gives him three straight wins for the first time since 2011 and puts him in line for upper echelon bouts in 2014. A finalist on Season 11 of the Ultimate Fighter, Michael Johnson quickly became a rising prospect in 2012 after posting consecutive wins over Shane Roller, Tony Ferguson, and Danny Castillo but was quickly derailed with back to back losses to Myles Jury and Reza Madadi. After those two losses Johnson rebounded in a big way dominating Joe Lauzon en route to a lopsided decision win. Johnson is a lot like the aforementioned Uriah Hall. He possesses all of the tools to become a star in the sport but will often come out very flat and look nothing like the fighter fans know he can be. If Johnson can pull off an impressive win over a veteran like Gleison Tibau he will regain much of the steam he had for himself in 2012 and once again make himself a must watch prospect in the UFC’s lightweight division.
5. A Return to Form
Fight: Robbie Peralta vs. Estevan Payan
Where to Watch: Online Prelims
Robbie Peralta was one of the featherweight division’s rising stars after putting on a leg kick clinic against Mike Lullo, rallying back after a tough first round against Mackens Semerzier, and starching Jason Young in 23 seconds. Peralta was then matched with Akira Corassani whom many felt did not deserve a fight with Peralta. Corassani proved many doubters wrong soundly beating Peralta by unanimous decision this past April. This Saturday Peralta will look to open up the card and a new chapter in his career with a bang and regain the dark horse contender label he gained after his first three UFC appearances. His opponent Estevan Payan proved to be one of the most game fighters in the sport after taking a beating from Jeremy Stephens this past May but not falling before the final bell. Payan has a very real chance to win this fight but the big storyline in this bout is if Peralta can work his way back up the UFC featherweight rankings. I’d make sure to tune into this one because something tells me Peralta is looking to get back in the win column and do it in a very impressive fashion.
There you have it fight fans. UFC 168 is obviously the Chris, Anderson, Rousey, Tate show but there are plenty of interesting storylines going down Saturday Night that you should keep an eye out for.