UFC

UFC 156 fight card preview

Overeem's return bolsters stacked UFC 156 main card.
Overeem's return bolsters stacked UFC 156 main card.
Special to FOX Sports Ariel Shnerer, FIGHT NETWORK
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Superfights are a true rarity in combat sports. Great fights are common, but there's something truly special about two elite fighters in their primes matched up on the sport's biggest stage.

We've seen some historic fights over the years, including Georges St-Pierre vs. B.J. Penn and Fedor Emelianenko vs. Dan Henderson. Recent focus has centered around a potential clash between St-Pierre and Anderson Silva, but two of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world are already set to meet in the Octagon. Recent talks may have overshadowed Saturday's tantalizing clash, as a fight of this magnitude should be grabbing everyone's attention.

When UFC 156 emanates from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, we'll see an outstanding championship showdown between two of the most imposing and consistently entertaining lighter weight competitors in UFC history. Judging from recent performances turned in by featherweight ruler Jose Aldo and title challenger Frankie Edgar, we're in for a treat. In other words, this megafight has all the makings to be an all-time classic contest.

Co-anchored by a quartet of intriguing matchups and potential title eliminators across four weight divisions, UFC 156: Aldo vs. Edgar is one of the most stacked pay-per-views in recent memory.

Here's a closer look:

Main Card (PPV):

Jose Aldo (21-1) vs. Frankie Edgar (14-3-1) - UFC Featherweight title

Brazilian featherweight king Aldo defends against former lightweight juggernaut Edgar.

The 26-year-old Aldo has already established himself as the best 145-pounder in history, defeating the likes of Jonathan Brookins, Cub Swanson, Mike Thomas Brown, Urijah Faber, Manny Gamburyan, Mark Hominick and Kenny Florian.

Aldo last saw action at UFC 142 in January 2012, crushing Chad Mendes with a first-round knee to retain his belt.

Riding a 14-fight winning streak, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has imposed his will on every opponent, breaking them down with a vicious muay thai game. Arguably the sport's most dangerous leg kick specialist, Aldo lands strikes at a 49% success rate, while thwarting 95% of takedowns, both highly impressive statistics.

Aldo's only potential weakness was exposed in his victory over Hominick at UFC 129 as his gas tank was failing him during the championship rounds, leading to a Hominick takedown and fifth-round ground-and-pound onslaught. Nonetheless, Aldo emerged triumphant in the face of adversity.

It's worth noting Aldo has been nursing injuries for over a year. Conditioning and ring rust often go hand in hand, so Aldo needs to be coming off one of his best training camps as he faces the biggest threat to his throne.

A product of Nova Uniao and Black House Gym, Aldo is unbeaten since a November 2005 submission loss to Luciano Azevedo in Brazil, and he continues to improve every time he enters the cage.

The 31-year-old Edgar is still widely considered the sport's premier lightweight, having dropped a pair of razor-thin decisions to Benson Henderson last year.

Following victories over Sean Sherk, B.J. Penn and Gray Maynard, Edgar silenced critics who questioned where he was physically big enough to hang with top lightweights.

Still, the former NCAA Division I All-American and Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt stands only 5-foot-6 and he's evidently better suited for the featherweight class.

A representative of Renzo Gracie Combat Team, the New Jersey native effectively combines exceptional speed, footwork, wrestling and submissions.

Edgar is deceptively strong for a man his size, successfully taking down the likes of Penn, Maynard and Henderson during their title fights.

With a stellar wrestling base and cardio to last for days, Edgar possesses the perfect stylistic traits to excel against the Brazilian berserker.

Both men have showcased tremendous chins and resilience, particularly Edgar in his come-from-behind wins. But Edgar often leaves himself open to big counters, a fatal proposition against the sharp champion.

Traditionally, Edgar is also a slow starter. Even Matt Veach had his way with the former lightweight champion in the early stages of their December 2009 bout. If Edgar finds himself stumbling the same way he did against Maynard, Aldo will pounce like a shark smelling blood.

In a matchup of quintessential mixed martial artists in the prime of their careers, we can expect a technical showcase of everything the sport has to offer.

Edgar may be the underdog, but he has all the tools to put Aldo in precarious positions, while outworking the champion down the stretch. It won't be easy, but Edgar's steady movement and swift takedowns will be key factors in this fight, both offensively and defensively. A successfully executed strategy could see the title change hands as judges finally give Edgar his due, siding with the speedy American after five fantastic rounds.

Verdict: Edgar via decision

Alistair Overeem (36-11) vs. Antonio Silva (17-4)

"The Reem" makes his long awaited return to the UFC after testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone. His first test is fellow Strikeforce import "Bigfoot."

After destroying Brock Lesnar in his December 2011 UFC debut, Overeem was set to challenge then-champion Junior dos Santos for the title. However, Overeem failed his pre-fight drug test and the rest is history.

The gargantuan 32-year-old Dutchman has a long history in the sport, including wins over Igor Vovchanchyn, Sergei Kharitonov and Vitor Belfort under the now-defunct Pride Fighting Championships banner in Japan.

Throughout much of his career, Overeem struggled with consistency issues as he fought at 205 pounds. After bulking up considerably to the point of being bombarded with accusations about steroid abuse, Overeem took over the Strikeforce heavyweight division, defeating Brett Rogers and Fabricio Werdum.

Overeem's greatest accomplishment may have been his 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix victory as he dispatched a who's who of elite kickboxers to claim the sport's top prize.

A menacing striking game is certainly Overeem's scariest weapon, but "The Demolition Man" is also a savvy ground player with 19 career submission victims.

Overeem has been criticized for fighting lesser opponents over the years, but he finally gets the opportunity to prove his worth as his sights are set on the UFC heavyweight title.

The 33-year-old Brazilian Silva is an equally imposing specimen, who possesses black belts in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo and karate.

A former champion in defunct promotions such as Cage Rage and Elite Xtreme Combat, Silva defeated Andrei Arlovski and Mike Kyle in Strikeforce to earn a spot in the promotion's heavyweight grand prix.

Three months later, Silva picked up the biggest win any fighter could ask for — a second-round stoppage of legendary heavyweight icon Fedor Emelianenko, in which he physically brutalized the Russian legend to the point of being unable to continue.

Silva was knocked out in his next two outings against American Kickboxing Academy products Daniel Cormier and Cain Velasquez before rebounding with a first-round stoppage of Travis Browne this past October.

Silva packs great power in his punches and his top game is overwhelming, but getting Overeem down will be a difficult task. Keeping him there, however, could prove nearly impossible.

In a battle of powerful hitters, technique should trump sloppy aggression. Overeem will carefully pick his spots and dissect the enormous Brazilian with technical striking. He'll inevitably find a home for his trademark knees, leaving Silva flattened on the canvas.

Verdict: Overeem via KO, Round 1

Rashad Evans (22-2-1) vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (20-5)

Light heavyweight contenders collide as the 33-year-old Evans and 36-year-old Nogueira face off.

The former UFC light heavyweight champion Evans came up short in his bid to dethrone Jon Jones last April, dropping a unanimous decision to his former teammate.

Prior to that setback, Evans had only tasted defeat once — a May 2009 knockout loss to Lyoto Machida. Meanwhile, the New Yorker has earned wins over Michael Bisping, Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin, Thiago Silva, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Tito Ortiz and Phil Davis.

A former NCAA Division I sensation, Evans has evolved into an exceptionally well-rounded fighter with fast hands and a strong grappling game.

The longtime Jackson's MMA member is now one of the key staples in Florida's "Blackzilians" camp, where he trains with the likes of Alistair Overeem and Vitor Belfort.

THE ULTIMATE FIGHTER

Jon Jones. Chael Sonnen. What more could you want? Relive all the action from TUF 17.

Nogueira, a third-degree Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, earned notable wins over Overeem, Dan Henderson and Kazushi Sakuraba in Pride.

Since making his UFC debut in November 2009, Nogueira is 3-2, having dropped a pair of decisions to standout wrestlers Phil Davis and Ryan Bader, while finishing the likes of Ortiz and Luiz Cane.

The brother of former Pride and UFC heavyweight champion "Minotauro" Nogueira, "Little Nog" was involved in one of the greatest fights in mixed martial arts history, dropping a thrilling decision to Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at Pride Critical Countdown 2005.

A well-versed boxer, the battle-tested Brazilian has trained extensively with the Cuban Olympic team. Nogueira's bread and butter remains his sublime submission game.

On paper, Nogueira has all the tools to be successful in the UFC. However, inadequate takedown defense has already cost him a pair of fights in the Octagon, which doesn't bode well for the Brazilian against a wrestler the caliber of Evans.

Furthermore, Evans is armed with dangerous knockout power, and longtime fans will recall Nogueira's stunning knockout loss to Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou at Pride 33.

Nogueira remains one of the most durable fighters in the game, but Evans should have his number. The American's tremendous athleticism and strong wrestling pedigree will be his biggest strengths as he outworks "Little Nog" to come away with a pivotal decision.

Verdict: Evans via decision

Jon Fitch (27-4-1) vs. Demian Maia (17-4)

In a compelling welterweight scrap, the perennial contender Fitch looks to hand the Brazilian submission ace Maia his first blemish at 170 pounds.

Fitch, 34, made an emphatic statement in his return this past October, overcoming surging Brazilian contender Erick Silva to bounce back from a 12-second knockout loss against Johny Hendricks in December 2011.

Aside from the loss to Hendricks, the American Kickboxing Academy prodigy has only tasted defeat once in his 15 prior UFC appearances, dropping a hard-fought decision against welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre in August 2008.

Throughout his run, Fitch has conquered the likes of Thiago Alves, Mike Pierce and Diego Sanchez.

Often criticized for "boring" fights, the former NCAA Division I wrestler and Guerrilla Jiu Jitsu black belt turned in a spirited effort against Silva, which could be a sign of his resurgence.

Maia, 35, a fourth-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, has always been acknowledged as one of the best pure grapplers in the sport.

THEY'RE KNOCKOUTS

It's hard not to fall hard for the UFC Octagon Girls.

Following an inconsistent middleweight run, the former ADCC submission wrestling world champion wisely dropped to 170 pounds last July.

Despite decision setbacks against Nate Marquardt, Mark Munoz, Chris Weidman and pound-for-pound king Anderson Silva, Maia did well for himself, taking the organization by storm after his 2007 debut and submitting his first five opponents, one of them being Chael Sonnen.

At welterweight, Maia finished Dong Hyun Kim in July before submitting unheralded slugger Rick Story with a neck crank this past October in Brazil.

Fitch, who often relies on his takedowns and clinch work, may pursue a different approach this time around as he elects to keep the fight standing. If successful, Fitch should outwork the Brazilian with superior combinations.

Maia is freakishly strong at 170 pounds, so he could surprise a few people. We should recall Maia using a judo toss and subsequent triangle choke to finish Sonnen in less than three minutes when they crossed paths in February 2009.

Even if Maia secures a desirable position, Fitch is one of the toughest fighters out there to submit as we've seen him survive countless precarious predicaments on the ground.

All in all, the crafty Indiana native should have his bases covered against Maia. We'll likely see a combination of striking and scrambles on the mat with both fighters having their moments. In a back-and-forth tilt, Fitch should eke out the victory in customary Fitch fashion.

Verdict: Fitch via decision

Joseph Benavidez (16-3) vs. Ian McCall (11-3-1)

A potential title eliminator in the flyweight division pits former two-time bantamweight title challenger Benavidez against fellow 125-pound tourney entrant McCall.

Both men came up short against flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson last year as their sights are set squarely on a rematch with "Mighty Mouse."

Benavidez, 28, was a longtime contender in the WEC's bantamweight division, defeating Jeff Curran, Rani Yahya, Miguel Torres, Wagnney Fabiano and Eddie Wineland during his stint at 135 pounds.

The Texan lost only two fights in the division — a pair of decisions against bantamweight titleholder Dominick Cruz.

McCall, 28, who entered the UFC riding wins over Jussier Formiga and Darrell Montague, gave the champion one of his toughest tests in their first meeting last March as judges scored the bout a majority draw. McCall dropped the subsequent rematch, however, so both fighters are looking to rebound from losses against the same man.

The Team Oyama pupil McCall, is a strong wrestler with an outstanding chin, traits also possessed by his adversary.

The southpaw Benavidez, who has more big fight experience, knows his performance against Johnson in September was not his best, so we should expect to see him in top form against McCall. A dynamic striking game coupled with dangerous submission attempts will be the order of the day as Benavidez notches a hard-fought decision.

Verdict: Benavidez via decision

 

Preliminary Card (FX):

Evan Dunham (13-3) vs. Gleison Tibau (35-8)

The 31-year-old Xtreme Couture product Dunham clashes with the 29-year-old American Top Team-based southpaw Tibau in the lightweight headliner of the prelims on FX.

Dunham, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, earned some impressive wins after joining the UFC in 2009 before a gutsy split decision loss to Sean Sherk in September 2010, a fight many observers scored in his favor. In defeat, the Oregon native was still on a roll, but his momentum was derailed by Melvin Guillard in their January 2011 bout.

A flashy southpaw with well-rounded skills, Dunham rebounded against Shamar Bailey and Nik Lentz before dropping a unanimous decision to T.J. Grant this past September.

Tibau, also a BJJ black belt, has been with the UFC since November 2006, defeating the likes of Terry Etim, Jeremy Stephens, Josh Neer, Caol Uno, Rafael dos Anjos and Francisco Trinaldo.

Tibau has yet to build up the type of streak to put himself in line for title contention, but he's incredibly strong for the weight class and overpowers most opponents.

Dunham has not fared well against bigger and stronger men, so Tibau should have this one under control. Constant pressure and critical exchanges should win valuable rounds if it goes the distance.

Verdict: Tibau via decision

Jay Hieron (23-6) vs. Tyron Woodley (10-1)

Rugged welterweight wrestlers will meet as the 36-year-old Xtreme Couture product Hieron tangles with the 30-year-old American Top Team disciple Woodley.

Hieron dropped his UFC return against Jake Ellenberger this past October, while Woodley suffered the first loss of his career against Nate Marquardt last July.

Both men are outstanding wrestlers, although Woodley should have the upper hand, but Hieron is a more seasoned striker with a wealth of experience.

In what could be a dull encounter, we should see Hieron attempt to keep the action standing, while Woodley will need to score takedowns to ensure he wins rounds.

Hieron utilized an effective sprawl in his Bellator 56 title fight with Ben Askren, but he ultimately lost the fight due to takedowns.

The former IFL champion Hieron will need to keep the fight standing, while Woodley will follow the same strategy employed by Askren as he sets up persistent takedown attempts. If he's successful, judges' scorecards should sway in his favor.

Verdict: Woodley via decision

Bobby Green (19-5) vs. Jacob Volkmann (15-3)

In a lightweight bout, the 26-year-old Californian Green makes his UFC debut against the 32-year-old Minnesota native Volkmann.

Green is riding a four-fight winning streak in Strikeforce, including decisions over James Terry and Matt Ricehouse. The Pinnacle Jiu-Jitsu product has come a long way since his rivalry with Charles "Krazy Horse" Bennett under the King of the Cage banner. His most impressive win on paper was a second-round submission of Daron Cruickshank in August 2010.

The Minnesota Martial Arts Academy pupil Volkmann submitted and retired WEC veteran Shane Roller this past October to rebound from his only loss in the 155-pound division — a first-round submission against Paul Sass last May.

The former NCAA Division I All-American has beaten the likes of Ronys Torres, Paul Kelly, Antonio McKee, Danny Castillo and Efrain Escudero since making the drop to lightweight, where his suffocating wrestling game poses a greater threat.

Volkmann's wrestling will be the difference maker on fight night as he closes the distance and repeatedly plants Green on his back. If Volkmann can avoid Green's submission attempts, the decision should be his.

Verdict: Volkmann via decision

Yves Edwards (42-18-1) vs. Isaac Vallie-Flagg (13-3-1)

Kicking off the prelims on FX is a lightweight pairing pitting the 36-year-old Bahamian veteran Edwards against the 34-year-old newcomer Vallie-Flagg.

A longtime member of American Top Team, Edwards shocked oddsmakers with a memorable first-round knockout of Jeremy Stephens in December. An active competitor since 1997, Edwards has a wealth of experience and a well-rounded repertoire.

Vallie-Flagg, a product of Jackson's MMA, recorded his biggest career win last May, defeating Gesias Cavalcante by split decision under the Strikeforce banner.

Edwards is nearing the end of his career, while Vallie-Flagg is still improving. However, Edwards remains a crafty combatant who knows what it takes to win. He will likely elect to keep the fight standing, teeing off on the UFC first-timer with an assortment of combinations over the course of three rounds.

Verdict: Edwards via decision

Online Prelims:

Chico Camus (12-3) vs. Dustin Kimura (10-0)

In bantamweight action, the 28-year-old Roufusport prodigy Camus makes his sophomore Octagon appearance against the undefeated 23-year-old newcomer Kimura.

As we've come to expect from Duke Roufus protégés, Camus is a well-versed kickboxer. The Wisconsin native outpointed Dustin Pague at UFC 150 in August.

Meanwhile, Kimura, a stablemate of fellow UFC prospect Max Holloway, has submitted six opponents during his perfect professional campaign. He last saw action in November, knocking out Shooto veteran Guy Delumeau in the third round.

While the sky is the limit for Kimura, we'll need to see how he copes with the step up in competition and the much larger competitive platform.

A striker at heart, Camus will pick his shots carefully, wearing down the Hawaiian newcomer to remain perfect inside the Octagon.

Verdict: Camus via decision

Edwin Figueroa (9-1) vs. Francisco Rivera (8-2)

In the first fight of the night, the 28-year-old striker Figueroa goes toe to toe with the 31-year-old California native Rivera in a bantamweight affair.

A Texan of Salvadoran descent, Figueroa rebounded from his only professional loss, a unanimous decision against Michael McDonald, by rattling off a pair of wins over Jason Reinhardt and Alex Caceres.

Rivera is on a four-fight winning streak since suffering a pair of setbacks against Erik Koch and Reuben Duran. Most recently, Rivera destroyed Roland Delorme by first-round knockout, only to fail his post-fight drug test for an over-the-counter stimulant, which led to the bout being overturned to a no contest.

In this clash of fiery strikers, we shouldn't see many takedown attempts. The fighters match up evenly on paper, but Rivera will be particularly motivated to put on a strong showing after his recent suspension.

The outcome could depend on who lands the first critical blow, but Rivera will look to replicate his decimation of Delorme. Figueroa has never been finished and there's no reason to suspect that will change, so look for Rivera's combinations to leave a lasting impression on the judges if he comes out on top.

Verdict: Rivera via decision

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