Jose Aldo (22-1) vs. ‘The Korean Zombie’ Chan Sung Jung (13-3)
Although it’s not quite the opponent he was initially expecting, the UFC featherweight champion Aldo must be on top of his game as he seeks his 16th consecutive victory against the crowd favorite Jung.
Aldo, 26, earned a competitive unanimous decision nod over Frankie Edgar in their superfight at UFC 156 in February, building on previous UFC victories over Mark Hominick, Kenny Florian and Chad Mendes.
Since destroying Cub Swanson, Mike Brown and Urijah Faber to cement himself as the best 145-pounder in the game, Aldo continues to improve, which is a scary proposition.
A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt based at Nova Uniao and Black House, the Manaus native continues to brutalize foes with world-class muay thai and an elite ground game.
Aldo, the first featherweight champ in promotional history, could soon make a case for himself as the premier pound-for-pound fighter in the sport, as he’s nearly cleaned out his division, and he’s done it with style.
Aldo’s destructive finish of Mendes was the perfect showcase of his speed, timing and explosiveness. Averaging 92% takedown defense and 73% striking defense, Aldo seized the perfect moment to pounce with a dazzling knee, flooring Mendes for the first-round finish with just one second remaining.
Jung, 26, a taekwondo black belt, has assembled an impressive streak of three finishes, most recently submitting Dustin Poirier in a "Fight of the Year" performance in May 2012. The South Korean sensation previously knocked out Canadian kickboxer Mark Hominick in just seven seconds, which followed the first twister submission finish in UFC history against Leonard Garcia.
Appropriately nicknamed "The Korean Zombie" for his aggressive offensive approach, Jung has undergone a career transformation since joining the UFC. In his final WEC appearance, Jung succumbed to a head kick knockout at the hands of George Roop, which exposed holes in his technical striking and raised doubts about his chin.
The Sengoku veteran has been nothing short of spectacular in subsequent performances, but the level of competition still pails in comparison to the Brazilian torchbearer.
Jung is an all-action fighter who has yet to be taken down during his Octagon campaign. He’s a kickboxer at heart, so he’ll be coming forward and unleashing a storm of punches. But Aldo knows better than to stand right in front of him.
The recurrent shortcoming in Aldo’s nearly flawless repertoire is conditioning. Aldo lost two rounds against Edgar and he absorbed a ground-and-pound beating from Hominick in the fifth. Technically, he still turned in brilliant performances, but he tends to fade late, a potential deficiency that could favor Jung’s rigorous pressure.
The determined challenger will look to overwhelm Aldo with relentless output, while the champion picks him apart with his signature leg kicks and counters. In a fight that could be played out standing, technique should trump aggression.
Lyoto Machida (19-3) vs. Phil Davis (11-1)
Adamant that he’s the No. 1 contender at light heavyweight, Machida needs to solidify his standing against the highly athletic wrestler Davis.
Machida, 35, still has his sights set on a rematch with champion Jon Jones after being submitted for the first time in December 2011.
The former UFC light heavyweight champion owns notable wins over Tito Ortiz, Thiago Silva, Rashad Evans, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Randy Couture and Ryan Bader. Most recently, however, Machida eked out a forgettable split decision over Dan Henderson in February, which did little to cement his place as the top contender.
An elusive Brazilian southpaw with black belts in Shotokan karate and BJJ, Machida possesses a unique style, which relies heavily on a traditional karate stance and constant angles. Machida’s 56.9% significant striking accuracy is the seventh highest in UFC history. Meanwhile, his 11 knockdowns is tied for fourth.
When Machida catches his opponents flush, it often qualifies for highlight reel material. Conversely, Machida’s tactical decisions can also be painfully slow, which is often the case with patient counterstrikers.
The Black House product is the only fighter to arguably steal a round from Jones as he caught the champion with well-timed combinations in the first round of their UFC 140 title clash.
Davis, 28, a former four-time NCAA Division I All-American, is coming off back-to-back victories over Vinny Magalhaes and Wagner Prado since he suffered his first career blemish against Evans in a five-rounder in January 2012.
The Alliance MMA pupil has seamlessly integrated submissions into his wrestling-based offense, recording other marquee wins over Brian Stann, Alexander Gustafsson, Tim Boetsch and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
Davis’ wrestling experience undoubtedly gives him the edge with takedowns, but we have yet to see an opponent keep Machida grounded. On the other hand, Davis’ striking still has a long way to go. Machida will punish Davis for robotic combinations and slower reflexes.
Still, Davis’ ability to avoid damage against more experienced strikers warrants Brownie points. His 1.08 strikes absorbed per minute is the second-lowest in UFC history, while his 74.2% significant striking defense rate ranks fourth.
Machida will benefit from the championship experience and vastly superior striking arsenal, and he’ll look to outclass Davis with quicker footwork and crisp counters.
Cezar Ferreira (5-2) vs. Thiago “Marreta” Santos (8-1)
In middleweight action, Brazilian compatriots Ferreira and Santos will look to make the most of their main card showcase.
Ferreira, 28, won the inaugural season of "The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil," outpointing Sergio Moraes in the final at UFC 147 last June.
A BJJ black belt and representative of the Florida-based "Blackzilians" camp, the Sao Paulo native had previously suffered losses against Antonio Braga Neto and Elvis Mutapcic, though he finished all three of his opponents in the "TUF" house.
Santos, 29, makes his UFC debut on short notice as a replacement for the injured Clint Hester. The Tata Fight Team member last saw action in July, knocking out Denis Figeira da Silva in the first round.
A two-time muay thai state champion and BJJ specialist, Santos was a member of Team Werdum on the second season of "TUF: Brazil," where he suffered a decision loss to eventual season winner Leonardo Santos.
With Santos stepping in late and lacking a full-time training camp, Ferreira should excel the longer the fight goes, particularly if he maintains positional control with his superior fundamental grappling.
Thales Leites (20-4) vs. Tom Watson (16-5)
The former UFC middleweight title challenger Leites makes his Octagon return against the British slugger Watson.
Leites, 31, is riding a three-fight winning streak over Tor Troeng, Jeremy Horn and Matt Horwich.
Most fans likely recall Leites’ lackluster fight with then-middleweight champion Anderson Silva at UFC 97 in April 2009 in which he repeatedly pulled guard and refused to engage.
After a subsequent split decision loss to Alessio Sakara, the Rio de Janeiro native was released from the promotion.
A BJJ black belt anchored at Nova Uniao, Leites remains one of the middleweight division’s most proficient submission players.
Watson, 31, finished Stanislav Nedkov to earn bonuses for both "Knockout of the Night" and "Fight of the Night" this past February, successfully rebounding from a split decision setback against Brad Tavares in his UFC debut last September.
The Southampton native now trains at Montreal’s Tristar Gym and Jackson’s MMA in New Mexico, following a regimen similar to that of UFC welterweight juggernaut and teammate Georges St-Pierre.
The muay thai specialist owns other key wins over John Maguire, Denniston Sutherland, Horwich, Alex Reid, Murilo "Ninja" Rua and Jack Marshman.
This intriguing clash of styles will favor the fighter who can bring the action into his realm. Leites will be far more dangerous if he takes Watson to the canvas, while the durable Brit should be successful if he averts danger and sticks with his aggressive muay thai assault.
John Lineker (21-6) vs. Jose Maria Tome (33-3)
Explosive and experienced Brazilian flyweights will kick off the pay-per-view as the three-time UFC veteran Lineker battles the red-hot newcomer Tome.
Lineker, 23, suffered a submission loss to Louis Gaudinot in his May 2012 UFC debut before rebounding with wins over Yasuhiro Urushitani and Azamat Gashimov.
The well-rounded youngster was the first Brazilian flyweight on the UFC roster.
Tome, 31, has not lost since 2008, while recording 19 first-round finishes in his career, a remarkable stat, particularly at 125 pounds.
Tome’s 12-fight winning streak will be put to the test against his equally dangerous countryman, but a closer review of his recent opposition raises some serious doubts about how he’ll cope with the step up in competition.
Lineker has already demonstrated that he has what it takes to emerge victorious in the Octagon, but Tome will need to prove himself against an elite opponent. He isn’t getting any passes on Saturday night, however, as Lineker will pose a threat from bell to bell.