The Ultimate Fighting Championship closes out an active month this Saturday, January 31 (10 P.M. EST, Pay Per View), as two of the promotion's biggest stars make their long-awaited comebacks in the UFC 183 main event.
Former middleweight champion Anderson Silva (30-6, 16-2 UFC), holder of some of the organization's most prized records, returns to the Octagon for the first time since December 2013, set to square off against former welterweight challenger Nick Diaz (26-9 1 NC, 7-6 UFC), who will fight for the first time in over 22 months.
Never before has there been so much anticipation for a main event featuring two fighters riding back-to-back losses, but Silva and Diaz are unique talents to MMA; the pair represents two of the sport's more intriguing personalities and skill sets.
A kickboxer and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt, Silva is regarded by many as the greatest athlete in the history of the sport of mixed martial arts. Once recording 16 straight wins inside the Octagon, along with 10 successful title defenses, both UFC records, Silva will now return after suffering one of MMA's most gruesome and graphic injuries, breaking both his fibula and tibia in the second round at UFC 168. Silva moves like no other, mixing kicks and punches with devastating knees and elbows. He's also perfected the Thai clinch, demolishing everyone in his path, save current champion Chris Weidman.
Diaz, a former titlist in the now-defunct Strikeforce promotion, is one the finest boxers and Jiu Jitsu practitioners the UFC has ever seen, recording notable wins over current welterweight champion Robbie Lawler and former two-division strapholder B.J. Penn. Training out of Stockton, California under the tutelage of Cesar Gracie and Richard Perez, Diaz returns to the Octagon on the heels of a unanimous decision loss to Georges St-Pierre at UFC 158 and his second retirement from MMA.
The matchup between Silva and Diaz has created a stir and interest unlike any before it, mainly because the two main-event fighters are some of the sport's most beloved veterans. But there remain questions about how competitive this contest will be.
There has been much emphasis placed on the fact the Diaz is fighting 15 pounds above his normal weight, which seemingly gives Silva a significant size and strength advantage. But Silva rarely relies on out-muscling opponents, instead choosing to finesse his way into range before unleashing his power punches. Diaz, who is second all time in strikes landed inside the Octagon, is known for his constant pressure and forward movement, regularly putting himself in harm's way to land flurries; he delivers the kind of gutsy performances that resonate with the combat sports' audience. But with the rewards comes a high level of risk, and sometime in the third round, Silva will land knees in the clinch before finishing Diaz with punches.
Co-main event: Tyron Woodley vs. Kelvin Gastelum
A marquee matchup in the welterweight division, the bout between third-ranked Woodley (14-3, 4-2 UFC) and seventh-ranked Gastelum (10-0, 5-0 UFC) features two high-level wrestlers with exceptional finishing ability and title aspirations.
Woodley, who is coming off of a technical knockout of Dong Hyun Kim last August, is an explosive athlete known for his punching power and sheer strength. A standout Division-I wrestler at the University of Missouri, Woodley is one of the bigger athletes in the 170-pound division, using his size and speed to stifle and pressure opponents before setting up his takedowns with punches.
Gastelum, a former middleweight tournament winner on The Ultimate Fighter, also predominantly relies on his wrestling prowess, although he has developed a slick submission game, as evidenced by his rear-naked-choke victory over Jake Ellenberger at UFC 180.
Both Woodley and Gastelum will trade punches for the better part of 15 minutes, forcing and grinding the action toward the fence. Both athletes will attempt and land takedowns, but the stoppage will not be there. And, after three rounds, Woodley will earn the decision win.
Joe Lauzon vs. Al Iaquinta
One of the UFC's most entertaining fighters, Lauzon (24-9, 11-6 UFC), who is a 13-time bonus winner on account of his submission skills, is looking to win three consecutive contests for the first time since 2007, and is set to take on up-and-comer Iaquinta (10-3-1, 5-2 UFC).
A former finalist on The Ultimate Fighter, Iaquinta is powerful puncher who trains under Ray Longo and one-time welterweight champion Matt Serra in Long Island, New York. Iaquinta is also seeking a third-straight win, and is coming off a pair of technical knockouts to close out 2014.
Likely a candidate for the "Fight of the Night," this bout will be non-stop action from the opening bell. And while Lauzon will move in close and attempt a variety of submissions, Iaquinta will prove to be too much, earning the TKO victory.
Tim Boetsch vs. Thales Leites
A battle of two top-15 middleweights, this contest between Boetsch (18-7, 9-6) and Leites (24-4, 9-3 UFC) is unlikely to propel the winner further up the cluttered 185-pound ladder, but will likely end in a finish.
Boetsch is a powerful wrestler with heavy hands. He is a long-time UFC veteran who is durable and savvy, all qualities he'll need against Leites, who is in the midst of a career resurgence, going 4-0 during in his second stint with the UFC.
A former title challenger, Leites was initially released from the UFC in 2009 before making his return in 2013. Known as a Jiu Jitsu specialist, he has won his last two bouts by knockout or TKO. And while Leites will take the first two rounds on account of his striking and ground game, Boetsch will come from behind to secure the TKO in the third frame.
Jordan Mein vs. Thiago Alves
Just 25 years old and already a veteran of 38 professional fights, Mein (29-9, 3-1 UFC) enters his bout against Alves (20-9, 12-6 UFC) on the heels of two-straight wins, including a technical knockout of Mike Pyle in August 2014.
Alves, a former title challenger who took a lengthy break from MMA in 2013, returned to the Octagon last April with a decision victory over Seth Baczynski. A powerful puncher and wrestler, Alves trains at American Top Team with several of the UFC's top welterweights, and while Mein is a rising talent with excellent punch and kick combinations, Alves will be able to neutralize Mein's reach and boxing, controlling the contest against the cage.
This one goes the distance, with Alves taking a decision.
Best of the Undercard
Flyweights Ian McCall (13-4-1, 2-2-1 UFC) and John Lineker (24-7, 5-2 UFC) square off on the preliminary card in what is likely to be a title eliminator at 125 pounds.
A bout that was rescheduled after McCall fell ill on the eve of the pair's previous booking in November, the contest pits Lineker's heavy punching ability against McCall's wrestling prowess.
Both McCall and Lineker have traded verbal jabs, as Lineker has failed on several attempts to make weight and McCall came down with a viral infection that postponed the original bout. And while Lineker's weight issues seem to be a thing of the past, McCall will use takedowns to control the contest, winning a unanimous nod after three rounds.