The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) closes out 2013 with UFC 168 and a pair of title fights this Saturday, December 28, as middleweight champion Chris Weidman looks to take two straight from former strapholder Anderson Silva, and women's bantamweight phenom Ronda Rousey squares off against longtime foe Miesha Tate, live from the MGM Grand Garden Arena (7 P.M. EST, Pay Per View).
Less than six months ago, Weidman topped Silva on the very same Las Vegas stage to earn the belt, knocking out the ex-185-pound king with a left hook and ensuing ground-and-pound to hand the Brazilian his first defeat under the UFC banner. But the victory was mired in controversy that Silva threw the fight, evidenced by his erratic fight style and constant taunting; Weidman will now attempt to prove that his first win over "The Spider" was no fluke and retain promotional gold.
Never before has a main event been met with such anticipation. Silva (33-5, 16-1 UFC) is the UFC's biggest star and owner of a number of records, including successful consecutive title defenses, while the undefeated Weidman (10-0, 6-0 UFC), the New Yorker who ended Silva's title reign and seven year unbeaten streak, represents a crop of new talent that is seemingly destined to lead the UFC into its third decade.
On paper, the second fight stacks up much like the first. Silva, known for his Muay Thai precision, speed, and counter punching, will look to keep the fight standing against Weidman, a dominating wrestler and Jiu Jitsu practitioner. However, while Weidman has always been touted for his ground expertise, it was on his feet where he topped Silva in the first encounter, so it is difficult to predict where this contest will go.
Many expect that Weidman will repeat his last performance and finish Silva for the second straight meeting, tightening his hold on the middleweight strap. However, Silva now has the benefit of understanding Weidman's punching power and will make the proper adjustments to counter the American's attack.
Look for Anderson Silva to re-capture the UFC title he lost in July, taking the contest by TKO in the fourth round, setting up a pivotal 2014 rubber match.
Co-main event: Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate
A rivalry that dates back to March 2012 pits current women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey (7-0, 1-0 UFC) against Miesha Tate (13-4, 0-1 UFC), the former Strikeforce women's strapholder, who tapped out to Rousey's signature armbar in their first encounter.
The bad blood between Rousey and Tate was well documented on the eighteenth season of "The Ultimate Fighter" and the two athletes will now take their feud to the octagon, where Rousey will again attempt to use her Olympic-caliber Judo skills to ground Tate and hyper-extend her arm at the elbow. Tate, a more conventional mixed martial artist, will use her punches to set up takedowns and attempt to ground-and-pound her way to victory.
While the ongoing war of words between these women made for compelling television, the battle in the octagon may not be so highly contested. Expect Rousey to score another armbar submission to improve to 8-0.
Josh Barnett vs. Travis Browne
Heavyweight Josh Barnett's (33-6, 5-1 UFC) return to the octagon after an eleven-year absence has been one of the more intriguing stories of 2013, and having easily dismantled Frank Mir in his first fight under the Zuffa banner, the former UFC champ now looks to knock off rising star Travis Browne (15-1-1, 6-1-1 UFC), who is coming off a pair of first-round knockout victories of his own.
Barnett, considered one of the finest heavyweight grapplers in MMA history, will look to move in close and bring this contest to the mat, while Browne will use the length of his 6'7" frame to impose his technical striking game.
While Browne has made tremendous strides in 2013 and looks to be a future title contender, the advantage falls to the more experienced Barnett, who is looking for a title shot of his own, and appears to be only a couple wins away; Barnett by submission in the second round.
Jim Miller vs. Fabricio Camoes
It has been almost 18 months since Fabricio Camoes (14-7-1, 1-2-1 UFC) made his last professional appearance, a unanimous decision loss to Melvin Guillard at UFC 148, and UFC matchmaker Joe Silva has spared no punches on his return to the octagon, pairing the Brazilian lightweight with resilient Jiu Jitsu ace Jim Miller (22-4, 11-3 UFC).
Miller, who is coming off a third-round submission loss to Pat Healy, a result that was later ruled a no contest after Healy tested positive for marijuana during a post-fight drug screening, will attempt to return to his winning form and score his first victory of 2013.
This fight will no doubt be decided on the ground, where both Miller and Camoes have scored a high percentage of their career wins. However, expect Miller to do the majority of the damage and land a second round submission.
Dustin Poirier vs. Diego Brandao
Kicking off the UFC 168 main card, Dustin Poirier (14-3, 6-2 UFC) and Diego Brandao (18-8, 4-1) square off in a contest of rising featherweights.
Coming off a unanimous decision win over Erik Koch at UFC 164, Poirier will attempt to string together back-to-back victories for the first time since early 2012, while Brandao, a former "The Ultimate Fighter" winner, is looking to run his streak to four straight.
The sixth-ranked Poirier appears to be the more well-rounded fighter, while Brandao relies heavily on his Brazilian Jiu Jistu black belt skills. But directing traffic from Brandao's corner will be veteran MMA coach and strategist Greg Jackson, whose experience and tactics will give the Brazilian a slight edge. Expect Brandao to score the win by decision.
Best of the Undercard
"The Ultimate Fighter I" alum Chris Leben (22-10, 12-9 UFC) makes his 22nd appearance in the octagon, headlining the undercard (5 P.M. EST, FOX Sports 1) against former "TUF" finalist Uriah Hall (7-4, 0-2 UFC), and is looking to end a three-fight losing streak that has many questioning his looming retirement from pro MMA. Win or lose, Leben, who leads all active UFC fighters with 1,780 total strikes landed, is an exciting, and polarizing, athlete that has captured the attentions of mixed martial arts fans since 2005, and while his heart and tenacity have never lacked, his timing has appeared to slow with age, and Hall's sharp and precise striking, that includes an arsenal of picturesque Karate kicks, may prove to be too much at this stage of Leben's career.
A pair of exciting featherweights in Dennis Siver (21-9, 10-6 UFC) and Manny Gamburyan (13-7, 4-5 UFC) will do battle with the hopes of climbing the 145-pound ranks. Siver, a high level kickboxer, is coming off a TKO loss to Cub Swanson, while Gamburyan, a former "The Ultimate Fighter" finalist, is riding a two fight win streak, that includes a controversial decision victory over fellow "TUF" cast mate Cole Miller. Gamburyan has the edge on the ground, but Siver's Muay Thai is too dominant. Siver lands the knockout blow in the first round.