For the first time in nearly a year, the UFC heavyweight championship is on the line, as current belt holder Fabricio Werdum attempts to make his first title defense, taking on challenger Stipe Miocic in the UFC 198 (10 P.M. EST, Pay Per View) main event.
This is the second attempt at pairing the UFC champion with the promotion's number-two ranked heavyweight. Werdum (20-5-1, 8-2 UFC) and Miocic (14-2, 8-2 UFC) were briefly linked to a title fight at the event that became known as Ultimate Fight Night 82. However, a last-minute injury forced Werdum out of the bout, postponing the matchup to this Saturday, May 14.
Werdum has looked impressive in his second run with the UFC. He's won six-straight contests dating back to 2012, none more impressive than his UFC 188 win over former titlist Cain Velasquez, and it's been the emergence of a crisp striking game to complement a world-class Brazilian jiu jitsu acumen that has propelled Werdum to the top of the ranks.
Miocic, who has won his last two, including a dominant TKO victory at UFC 195, is a highly athletic wrestler and boxer with tremendous pressure.
With both Werdum and Miocic owning wins over Mark Hunt, Andrei Arlovski, and Roy Nelson, there's a lot of footage and style matchups to compare. And while Werdum has faced a higher level of competition during his 14 years in pro MMA, Miocic is still improving and coming into his own inside the Octagon.
Look for Werdum to come out patiently, while Miocic attacks on the feet from the opening bell. Werdum will welcome a ground fight, but Miocic will be too smart to attempt the takedown, opting to use his athleticism to keep the bout against the cage. It is in the clinch where Miocic will do the most damage, and ultimately land the TKO in the middle rounds. Stipe Miocic walks away from Arena Da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil as the new UFC heavyweight champion.
Co-main event: Vitor Belfort vs. Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza
A likely middleweight title eliminator, this matchup between Brazilians has strong implications on the 185-pound division.
A former UFC champion in the 1990s, Vitor Belfort (25-11, 14-7 UFC) is one of the most accomplished mixed martial artists in history. Known for his fast finishes and powerful punching combinations, Belfort is also skilled on the ground.
Souza (22-4, 5-1 UFC), the UFC's number-two ranked middleweight, enters the bout on the heels of a controversial split-decision loss at UFC 194. A former Strikeforce champion, Souza dropped his most recent bout, but seems to have lost no momentum in the race to the title, after opponent Yoel Romero was busted for a performance enhancing drug violation. Romero was not reprimanded for an in-cage fence-grabbing violation during the fight with Souza.
With a win, Souza would make a strong case as the next middleweight contender; however, Belfort is no slouch. And every time the world thinks Vitor Belfort is done, he's shown some new technique in victory. And while Souza seems to have the advantage on paper, in particular on the ground, Belfort will wrap this one up quick.
Look for Vitor Belfort to earn the TKO in the first round.
Anderson Silva vs. Uriah Hall
Widely considered the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, Anderson Silva (33-7 1 NC, 16-3 1 NC UFC) has fallen on tough times during the last few years. With his last official win coming in 2012, Silva has made multiple comebacks since shattering his lower leg in 2013 and failing an in-competition drug test 2014.
But the UFC's record holder for most consecutive title defenses has yet to return to the form that helped him win his first 16 bouts inside the Octagon, and if his last performance, a decision loss to Michael Bisping at Ultimate Fight Night 84, is any indicator, Silva is merely a shadow of his former self, trying to regain his championship form.
A counter striker who built much of his style on Silva's game, challenger Uriah Hall (12-6, 5-4 UFC), the UFC's number-10 ranked middleweight, is equally in need of a win here. Considered a blue-chip prospect prior to signing with the UFC in 2014, Hall has yet to display any true consistency inside the Octagon. Known for his flashy kicks and spinning techniques, Hall has delivered some memorable knockouts, but he's also dropped some less-than stellar bouts.
This fight certainly has potential to result in a fantastic finish, but there is also some idea that a pair of counter strikers will patiently paw at each other while looking for an opening that never quite materializes.
This bout ends in favor of Silva, by decision, but only after 15 minutes of uneventful positioning and parrying.
Cristiane "Cyborg" Justino vs. Leslie Smith
Making her Octagon debut, Cris Cyborg (15-1, 0-0 UFC) has long since been considered the greatest female in mixed martial arts outside of the UFC.
Cyborg, who is unbeaten since 2005, is the current featherweight champion for all-women's MMA promotion Invicta FA. And while she has demolished every challenger she's faced during the last decade, Cyborg will, for the first time, compete at 140 pounds, taking on UFC veteran Leslie Smith (8-6-1, 2-2 UFC).
A heavy underdog, Smith trains with San Francisco-based MMA team the Skrap Pack, and brings a competent skill set of wrestling and boxing into the Octagon. But Cyborg will prove to be way too much for Smith.
Look for Cyborg to make good on her UFC debut and earn the first round knockout.
Mauricio "Shogun" Rua vs. Corey Anderson
Another matchup between a former world champion and a rising prospect, this bout between Rua (23-10, 7-8 UFC), who currently sits at number-8 in the light heavyweight rankings, and Anderson (8-1, 5-1 UFC), the UFC's twelfth-ranked 205-pounder, will ultimately be a sort of passing of the torch to a new generation of mixed martial artists.
Once considered the best light heavyweight in the world, Rua has declined in recent years, unable to win back-to-back bouts since 2009.
Anderson, a former winner on The Ultimate Fighter, has looked better with every outing, using his phenomenal cardio and pressure to box his way inside. Anderson's athleticism allows his to avoid takedowns and damage.
And while Anderson will not be able to deliver a knockout here, he will out-strike and out-point Rua, winning the standing exchanges and avoiding the clinch.
Look for Corey Anderson to win via decision.
Demain Maia vs. Matt Brown
Headlining the UFC 198 preliminary card (8 P.M. EST, FOX Sports 1) are a pair of top-ten welterweights. BJJ world champion Demian Maia (22-6, 16-6 UFC) takes on fan favorite Matt Brown (20-13, 13-7 UFC) in a pivotal matchup at 170 pounds.
Maia, who has won four straight overall, looked great in his last outing, winning a one-sided decision over Gunnar Nelson at UFC 194. Maia put on a Brazilian jiu jitsu clinic to a dismantle the Icelandic prospect, and a win over Brown would propel him into the title picture.
Brown, who last fought at UFC 189 in July 2015, enters this bout after completing his first training camp with Team Elevation at his new home base in Colorado.
A self-professed "technical brawler," Brown always finds himself in exciting fights, using his forward pressure and boxing to move in close. Brown has demonstrated a consistent ability to absorb punishment and finish fights, but against Maia, his biggest challenge will be to avoid the clinch and the grappling game altogether.
And while there likely won't be a finish here, look for Maia to welcome Brown inside before grabbing ahold of the American's waist and dragging the bout to the ground. Demian Maia takes this bout via decision.