This is it.
The big one.
UFC 168 will be bringing 2013, arguably MMA’s greatest year, to a close this Saturday for the sport’s biggest fight promotion and boy are they going all out in celebration.
Headlining the card is the rematch that people have not been able to stop talking about since their first encounter as Chris Weidman looks to defend his UFC middleweight championship for the first time against the man he dethroned back in July at UFC 162, Anderson Silva. Silva will be appearing as challenger for the first time since 2006 and will be looking to reclaim his belt as well as restore some of that sparkle he lost through his histrionics and Weidman’s subsequent knockout blow.
Serving as the co-main event of the evening is another rematch, with this particular one based more off of a clash of personalities than of any competition based reasoning, as UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey takes on Miesha Tate for the second time. With time spent
away from the Octagon on movie sets and with a fan backlash off of the back of her role as coach alongside Tate on the latest series of The Ultimate Fighter, Rousey will be under real scrutiny here as she looks to defend her title for the second time.
Rounding out the rest of the card is a trio of intriguing match-ups across the divisions as Josh Barnett and Travis Browne lock horns in a heavyweight contender battle, lightweights Jim Miller and Fabricio
Camoes do battle and featherweights Dustin Poirier and Diego Brandao will also be sharing a cage come Saturday.
Now as ever, let’s get on with what we all came here for, the prelims. Here’s my rundown of what you should be looking out for, why they matter and who I’m picking…
Chris Leben vs. Uriah Hall – 185lbs.
There surely comes a point when the goodwill Leben has built up over the years inside the Octagon runs out. Leben is currently 1-4 over the course of his last five outings, with his last win coming back in 2011 against Wanderlei Silva, and ‘The Crippler’ is riding a three fight losing streak having most recently lost to Andrew Craig back at UFC 162 in July.
The Uriah Hall hype train has been well and truly derailed thanks to two back-to-back lacklustre performances since leaving the TUF gym for the bright lights of the Octagon. Hall’s most recent loss to John Howard back in August was the most disheartening for those fans of his who are still waiting for the killer that they saw on their television screens during his run on TUF to come to the fore in the big leagues. Hall put on a toothless display against Howard and incurred the wrath of many a more fan for high-fiving and hugging throughout proceedings.
Both men need a win here.
If a focused, aggressive Uriah Hall turns up then this really is his fight to lose. With both men pretty even in the KO power stakes, the striking aspect of this one will come down to speed and technique, which Hall far exceeds Leben in. Think quick, think nasty.
Predicition – Hall via KO/TKO in the 1st round.
Michael Johnson vs. Gleison Tibau – 155lbs.
Michael Johnson recorded the biggest win of his career last time out, taking home the decision victory against Joe Lauzon back in August. Previous to this Johnson’s momentum had begun to stall as the TUF graduate was unable to build upon a three fight win streak that had included victories over Tony Ferguson and Danny Castillo, as Johnson would go on to drop consecutive contests to Myles Jury and Reza Madadi before bouncing back with the Lauzon victory.
Perennial UFC lightweight nearly man, Gleison Tibau will look to secure his third victory in a row when he takes on Johnson this Saturday. Tibau’s UFC career follows somewhat of a pattern, with the hulking Brazilian lightweight enjoying spurts of good form until he faces off with someone on the cusp of the top ten where he invariably comes up short. Michael Johnson will prove a stern test of TIbau’s abilities and shortcomings.
For me this comes down to whether or not Tibau can take Johnson down often enough to take the decision. Unfortunately for Tibau, I see Johnson proving to be far too elusive and athletic for this to happen and being able to pick Tibau apart on the feet.
Prediction – Johnson via unanimous decision.
Manny Gamburyan vs. Dennis Siver – 145lbs.
Fresh off his stint as a coach on Team Rousey during the latest season of TUF, Manny Gamburyan plans to extend his current two-fight win streak to a UFC-career best of three straight victories. The Armenian-American judokan’s most recent triumph came back in August at UFC Fight Night 26 over Cole Miller and with victory here, Gamburyan will likely be readying himself for an assault on the top ten of the division.
Dennis Siver will always be a dangerous opponent for all but the elite thanks to his previous high-level kickboxing experience. Unfortunately for Dennis, save for these skills he does not quite have any other facet to his game that would cause his opponent to fret; and it has come down in the past that if you can stifle Siver’s striking, that’s half the battle over with. Siver’s last opponent was able to do just that, as Cub Swanson was able to put out Siver’s lights late on in their fight to secure a TKO victory back in July.
I don’t like Gamburyan’s chances in this one. I cannot see Gamburyan being able to close the distance intelligently enough to prevent Siver from landing at will, as these two gentlemen’s striking levels are at opposite ends of the scale. If Gamburyan can secure the takedown then the advantage will sway in his favour, however, for me, Siver takes this one standing.
Prediciton – Siver via KO/TKO in the 2nd round.
John Howard vs. Siyar Bahadurzada – 170lbs.
After successfully navigating his return to the UFC with a win over Uriah Hall back in August, John Howard is back in the Octagon and looking to extend his current three fight win streak.
While Howard will be looking to kick on, Siyar Bahadurzada will want to bounce back after losing out last time around to Dong Hyun Kim back in March of this year.
Both men are capable of landing the big shot, with Bahadurzada holding the advantage in technique. However, I can’t see Howard being foolish enough to risk any extended periods of time on the feet and will likely look to utilise his superior grappling to control this fight from the ground.
Prediction – Howard via unanimous decision.