When the main event is over, which word from “The Veteran Voice of the Octagon” Bruce Buffer will echo throughout the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas: "still" or "new"?
Saturday night, the undisputed UFC middleweight champion of the world — and consensus greatest fighter in the history of the sport — Anderson Silva defends his title for the 11th time, squaring off with unbeaten challenger Chris Weidman in the main event of UFC 162, a man heralded by both the promotional materials and professionals within the industry alike as “the perfect opponent” to potentially dethrone Silva.
Will he or won’t he? Still or new? That’s what we’ll be watching to find out.
Anderson Silva (33-4-0) vs. Chris Weidman (9-0-0)
I’m going to hedge here a little and say this: I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Weidman succeeded where 16 men before him failed, and became the first man to defeat Silva inside the Octagon. He has the skills, approach, and mindset to make it happen.
That being said, how can I pick against Silva at this point? Even if you think there is an above-average chance that Weidman wrests the middleweight championship away from “The Spider,” you have to also concede that Silva could halt the challenger’s unbeaten streak in a heartbeat as well.
As much as I don’t think Silva has been in the cage with someone as complete as Weidman in quite some time, “The All-American” hasn’t faced anyone close to Silva’s level, and I’m inclined to give the edge to the guy who has gone 16-0 on the biggest stage in the sport.
Prediction: Anderson Silva by TKO, Round 3
Frankie Edgar (15-4-1) vs. Charles Oliveira (16-3-0)
This is a make-or-break fight for the former lightweight champion Edgar. He has dropped three straight and sports a 1-3-1 record over his last five appearances, and after headlining seven consecutive UFC events where a championship belt was on the line, another setback here would be costly.
Oliveira climbed the lightweight ladder quickly upon arriving in the UFC, only to run into some of the best the division has to offer. Losses to Jim Miller and Donald Cerrone – as well as a no contest result against Nik Lentz – prompted the Brazilian to relocate to featherweight. After a 2-0 start, Oliveira ran into Cub Swanson (more on him shortly) last September at UFC 152, falling to the surging contender in the first round.
This is Edgar’s fight to lose.
He’s far more experienced and, despite his recent results, remains one of the top fighters in the sport. He held his own with Jose Aldo last time out, and you could easily make a case for him beating Benson Henderson in their second meeting. Who knows where he’d be had the scorecards come back differently in that fight. Chances are, it wouldn’t be a co-main event slot opposite a good-but-not-great former prospect.
Prediction: Frankie Edgar by unanimous decision
Roger Gracie (6-1-0) vs. Tim Kennedy (15-4-0)
A battle of former Strikeforce fighters serves as the midway point of the main card, and the second of three middleweight fights on the UFC 162 pay-per-view.
Kennedy was twice a bridesmaid during his time in Strikeforce, coming up short in a pair of attempts to win championship gold — once against Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, and once against Luke Rockhold. Gracie, the grandson of the late Carlos Gracie, is one of the most decorated grapplers to ever grace the Octagon — a 10-time world champion, who has gone 2-0 since making the move to middleweight.
While Kennedy has a vast edge in experience and a more complete arsenal, I expect Gracie to take the next step forward in his development, and show that he is someone to keep an eye on in the 185-pound ranks going forward.
Gracie’s ground game is next-level, and only made more dangerous by his tremendous length. As much as the other areas of his offensive repertoire are still a work-in-progress, there may not be a more technical, gifted grappler in the UFC than Gracie, and he’ll show that here.
Kennedy showed a willingness to go to the ground with both Souza and Rockhold and is more of a wrestler/grappler himself, which will prove to be his undoing. Gracie will get this fight to the ground, transition to a dominant position, and find a finish; my guess is an arm triangle choke.
Prediction: Roger Gracie by submission, Round 2
Mark Munoz (12-3-0) vs. Tim Boetsch (18-5-0)
Prior to their last respective appearances, both Munoz and Boetsch were in the thick of the championship chase in the middleweight division. Now, they’re squaring off to see which one gets to make a quick return to pursuing the title, and which one ends up on a two-fight losing streak.
Munoz has been out of action for nearly a year. After losing to Chris Weidman last July, “The Filipino Wrecking Machine” was sidelined by a broken foot, and the time away from training led Munoz to combat his on-setting depression by eating. His weight climbed towards the heavyweight limit, but from the Instagram photos he’s been posting recently, the former NCAA Division-I national champion wrestler (Oklahoma State, 2001) appears to be in the best shape of his career.
After working his way into contention with a four-fight winning streak that included victories over Yushin Okami and Hector Lombard, a whole lot of bad luck at UFC 155 brought his run to an end. While Costa Philippou earned the victory, a pair of accidental fouls played a serious part in the outcome, as Boetsch was victim of both an eye-poke and a headbutt in the bout.
Though the fact that he hasn’t fought in nearly a year is a slight concern, I think this is a fight Munoz wins, and wins rather impressively.
Forgetten in the “Boetsch climb to contention” story is the fact that Okami controlled the first two rounds of their meeting, beating him to the punch and getting the better of him on the ground as well. I expect Munoz to duplicate that performance here, throwing heavy strikes early as he looks to get inside, where he’ll drag Boetsch to the ground and unleash his patented “Donkey Kong” ground-and-pound to earn the victory.
Prediction: Mark Munoz by TKO, Round 2
Cub Swanson (19-5-0) vs. Dennis Siver (21-8-0)
The best fight on the card that very few people are talking about pits a pair of top-10-ranked featherweights together in what should be an explosive encounter.
Siver has looked very good since moving down to featherweight. He’s earned back-to-back decision victories, building off his debut win over Diego Nunes with a one-sided shellacking of Nam Phan back in December. I was cageside for that contest in Seattle, and Siver looked phenomenal, landing an astounding 128 significant strikes (and 222 strikes overall) in the 15-minute affair, according to FightMetric. Compact and explosive, the Mannheim, Germany-based kickboxer is a much better fit at 145 pounds than he was at lightweight.
Over his last four fights, Swanson has earned three knockout victories and a unanimous decision win over Dustin Poirier to put himself near the top of the featherweight division. The only thing working against him is that he’s already lost to champion Jose Aldo and elite contenders Chad Mendes and Ricardo Lamas. Nonetheless, the Palm Springs, California, native is firing on all cylinders and has finally translated the immense talent he’s always shown into results.
Look for “Killer Cub” to keep rolling here.
Siver is hittable and has some bad habits when he throws strikes. Those habits were exposed by Swanson’s teammate and training partner Donald Cerrone in the past, and you can be sure “Cowboy” passed on some pointers to Swanson as he prepared for this contest.
But it’s more than inside information that should bring Swanson the victory here. He is one of the most technical and powerful boxers in the division, and that is what separates him from many of his featherweight contemporaries. One shot is all it takes to end the fight, but rather than have to hunt for it, Swanson is able to connect from combinations and timing, doing damage and scoring points while waiting for an opening to present itself.
Somewhere early in the first, Siver will get caught with his hands a little low, and Swanson will celebrate another knockout victory.