The UFC’s Memorial Day weekend show is traditionally one of the biggest MMA events on the calendar and this year is no different. This Saturday, the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada will play host to UFC 162 where UFC Middleweight Champion, consensus P4P #1 and arguably the G.O.A.T., Anderson Silva will look to defend his belt against the 185lbs #1 contender, Chris Weidman. Weidman is seen by considerable sections of the media and many of his peers to be the greatest threat to Silva’s title and company record 16-fight win streak, as his greatest strengths lie in the one area that Silva has been troubled in the past, wrestling. However, Weidman is far from one dimensional as he also possesses a high level BJJ game and competent, evolving striking all of which have led many to believe that Weidman will be the man to finally dethrone Silva. UFC 162 does not stop there though, oh no. Former UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar will be taking part in his first three round fight in over 3 years when he does battle with fellow featherweight Charles Oliveira in the co-main event of the evening and we also have the return of a Gracie to the UFC as Roger Gracie makes his UFC debut against fellow promotional newcomer Tim Kennedy in the 185lbs ranks. Rounding off the main card will be what many are predicting to be a strong contender for Fight of the Night, as Cub Swanson and Dennis Siver lock horns in the featherweight division with the victor placing himself amongst the plethora of contenders for José Aldo’s belt. Now, where did those prelims get to?
Chris ‘The Crippler’ Leben (22-9-0) vs. Andrew ‘Highlight’ Craig (8-1-0) -
Headlining the UFC 162 undercard is a middleweight bout between Chris Leben and Andrew Craig. Leben has found himself in a real slump of late and is currently 1-3 in his last four Octagon appearances. Having had somewhat of a career renaissance in 2010 where ‘The Crippler’ reeled off three straight wins, Leben has suffered defeats to Brian Stann, Mark Munoz and most recently Derek Brunson. That sensational 27-second KO victory over Wanderlei Silva seems a long way away now. Leben will look to bring his patented brawling style in to the cage with him this Saturday and recklessly hunt for the KO as he has for all the years he has spent entertaining us.
Craig recently described himself as Chris Leben 2.0 and it’s not too hard to see why. Craig possesses many of the same qualities as his opponent such as the ability to wade through punishment, a powerful striking game and a reputable gas tank. However, Craig does also have limitations like Leben and his lack of striking movement, speed and wrestling ability hinders any real progression as a threat in the middleweight division for now. Last time out Craig suffered his first defeat as a professional at the hands of Ronny Markes at UFC on FX 7 back in January and I am eager to see if the Texan can bounce back, particularly as this will be the most high profile fight of his career so far.
Gabriel ‘Napão’ Gonzaga (14-7-0) vs. Dave Herman (21-5-0) -
To his detriment, Gonzaga fell in love with his striking after KO’ing Mirko Cro Cop with one of the most iconic UFC finishes in history and this led to many sloppy performances from ‘Napão’ as he began trading strikes rather than dragging foes to the mat and utilising his high level jiu-jitsu which had fared him well previously. This tactic would eventually result in Gonzaga’s release from the promotion but after only one fight on the regional circuit, he was back. Gonzaga had found great success on his return to the UFC back in early 2012, as he started off his second stint with the promotion in impressive fashion by defeating both Ednaldo Oliveira and Ben Rothwell by submission. Last time out however, Gonzaga’s mini revival was halted by the fists and elbows of Travis Browne as the husky Brazilian was on the receiving end of a TKO loss, that at one point he had considered appealing due to the placement of some of Browne’s strikes. Gonzaga will look to rebound from defeat as he takes on Dave Herman.
Herman should be thanking his lucky stars that he is booked to fight this Saturday. Having triumphed in his UFC debut back in 2011 against John-Olav Einemo, Herman has suffered a serious downturn in fortune going 0-3 against Stefan Struve, Roy Nelson and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira; being finished in all three encounters and even failing a post-fight drug test in the most recent bout with Nogueira. Herman does have the required ability to hang within the heavyweight division but has been fed a steady diet of competition which appeared to increase at the same rate as his defeats and Gonzaga is no gimme fight.
As Herman has openly showed distain for jiu-jitsu and Gonzaga is an elite level jiu-jitsu competitor, it would be foolish not to expect Gonzaga to want to try and test Herman’s theory at some point. Herman has reasonable submission defence but if we’re comparing the grappling credentials of both men, then there really is no contest if Gonzaga is able to take it there. If Gonzaga is unable to secure a takedown or is more than happy to trade with Herman, then the playing field is a little more even and maybe even slightly in Herman’s favour as 15 of the American’s 21 wins have come via KO/TKO.
Edson Barboza (11-1-0) vs. Rafaello ‘Tractor’ Oliveira (16-5-0) -
Before being surprisingly derailed by Jamie Varner back at UFC 146, Barboza was fast becoming one of the fighters to watch in the UFC’s lightweight division and was beginning to involve himself in title talk, particularly after his highlight reel KO of Terry Etim. Barboza would bounce back from the Varner defeat by dispatching with Lucas Martins this past January at UFC on FX 7 forcing his opponent to tap out due to strikes. Barboza was originally scheduled to fight John Makdessi this Saturday but this fight was nixed due to an injury sustained by ‘The Bull’ and as a result Barboza now faces fellow Brazilian, Rafaello Oliveira.
Oliveira managed to snap a two-fight losing streak last time out against Yoislandy Izquierdo at UFC 148 and looks to secure back-to-back UFC victories for the first time in his career and in his second stint with the promotion. Oliveira is a black belt in BJJ but his best route to success in this fight will be to rush Barboza and look to close the distance in order to prevent his opponent from using him for target practice.
This is a bad matchup for Oliveira as he does not possess the skills on the feet to trouble Barboza, nor the required wrestling skills to take his foe to the ground and out of his comfort zone. Barboza is on a different level to Oliveira striking-wise and I feel that barring something bordering on miraculous from Oliveira, I think that Barboza has his way here. Oliveira is 1-2 in his previous three Octagon appearances and with another loss here it is unlikely that he’ll live to fight another day in the UFC due to the talent rich nature of the 155lbs division, in spite of his willingness to step up on short notice.
Mike Pierce (16-5-0) vs. David ‘Daudi’ Mitchell (12-2-0) -
First up on the prelims is a welterweight clash featuring Mike Pierce and David Mitchell. When you take a look at Pierce’s recent record, here is a guy making his twelfth appearance in the Octagon riding a three-fight win streak and is currently 4-1 over his last five UFC outings with the one loss coming via a highly contentious split decision defeat to top-10 welterweight Josh Koscheck. In spite of this, Pierce is left to languish at the bottom of the card and based on previous treatment, stands to gain very little with a win. While this seems incredibly unfair on Pierce, there is a method to this supposed madness. The UFC has built it success on providing high quality, entertaining fights for the fans and unfortunately for Pierce and his chances of receiving a little love from the UFC, he is anything but entertaining. Pierce’s style is downright horrible to watch in action. Yes, I understand that his craft has taken years to perfect, that he has considerable talent, a dedication to the sport and to have lasted so long in the world’s leading MMA promotion is commendable, but fans do not enjoy a three round long grind where it is evident that an opponent is never in any real danger of being finished. This is how Pierce works and this is why he is so far down the card.
Mitchell is on thin ice here having compiled a 1-2 record since signing on with the UFC back in 2010 and a loss to Pierce will likely result in his walking papers. This is all a far cry from when Mitchell entered the Octagon with an unblemished 11-0 record but consecutive losses to TJ Waldburger and Paulo Thiago looked to have stymied any hopes of a profitable career within the UFC. Mitchell was however given another chance to perform and he took it, defeating Simeon Thoresen last time out via decision at UFC on Fox 6. If Mitchell is to triumph in this contest it is likely to come by way of submission as 9 of Mitchell’s 14 wins have been as a result of a tapout.
Tags: anderson silva, Andrew Craig, Charles Oliveira, Chris Leben, Chris Weidman, Cub Swanson, Dave Herman, David Mitchell, Dennis Siver, Edson Barboza, Frankie Edgar, Gabriel Gonzaga, Jose Aldo, Mike Pierce, Mixed Martial Arts, Rafaello Oliveira, Roger Gracie, tim kennedy, UFC, UFC 162