Dubbed the biggest event of the year by Dana White, UFC 148 gets underway in Las Vegas tomorrow night and we’ve got our full preview and predictions for the night’s big fights below.

Main Card:

Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen

So, the wait is finally over for one of the most anticipated fights in recent memory and it’s going to be even more intriguing than their first encounter because we know that Sonnen has a legitimate chance at victory thanks to his performance in their first encounter, while the freshly fired-up, angry Silva brings added spice to the bout.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the first fight was Sonnen’s ability to hurt Silva a few times on the feet. If he can do so again then that will be huge for him. Honestly though, I doubt it. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the punch that shook Silva in the opening round in 2009 was lucky, but it was certainly against the grain for Sonnen who’s never been a renowned heavy-hitter.

I believe Silva underestimated Sonnen’s stand-up the first time around, and he won’t make the same mistake twice. The reality is that on his day Silva is in a different world from his opponent in terms of striking ability and it should show here. A crucial point however will be how well he adapts this time around to Sonnen pushing the pace. The Brazilian generally likes to dictate the tempo and slowly work his way into his fight, but the challenger won’t sit back and accept that as many of Silva’s other opponents have done.

Chances are Sonnen is well aware that he’ll be taking a big risk standing with Silva, and of course he had such success in taking him down and controlling him on the mat the first time around that he’s going to be doing his level best to replicate that again on Saturday night. No doubt Silva will have worked on his takedowns diligently, but considering Sonnen was able to take him down in every single round last time out, you’d have to imagine he’s going to have at least some success in doing so here if the fight plays out over five rounds.

Sonnen has a stifling top game and is smart about using just enough ground and pound to keep the referee from standing him back up without exerting too much energy or taking too many chances. He got sloppy in the final round of their last fight and paid the price and you’d have to imagine he’s put in many hours on the mat trying to make sure he shores up those holes in his game – and in fact he brought in a BJJ wizard in Vinny Magalhaes to ensure he did just that.

Nevertheless, Sonnen has always had an achilles heel for submissions, and Silva has proven he can seize upon the slightest opportunity – not only against him, but others like Dan Henderson and Travis Lutter too, so you can’t completely rule out the possibility of lightning striking twice here.

Prediction:

For me Sonnen had the fight of his life last time out, while Silva was performing below-par. While I can absolutely see the possibility of the fight playing out much the same way as last time on the mat and Sonnen making it to the end this time to claim victory, my gut feeling is that Silva will produce a more definitive victory here. Silva is as deadly a striker as we have in the sport and even if he’s limited to only a limited amount of time engaging in a stand-up battle with Sonnen he’s still going to have enough chances within give rounds to make his mark. The last time Silva was fired up for a fight he knocked out Vitor Belfort with a front kick, and while the finish may not be as spectacular or as definitive this weekend, I’m predicting he will be the first man to knockout his greatest rival.

Anderson Silva to win by KO in Rd3.

Forrest Griffin vs. Tito Ortiz

We’ve already seen two fights between these two UFC veterans so we’ve got a pretty good idea of what to expect this time around since both fights played out in much the same way.

Griffin is the better striker of the two, but he’s never quite been able to show that definitively against Ortiz. He’s able to connect with regularity, but the problem is that his defense is left open enough that Ortiz is able to get in some decent licks of his own. He also just simply doesn’t have the kind of knockout power required to finish the durable Ortiz. The blessing though is that while his own chin is looking increasingly fragile, Ortiz doesn’t pack much of a punch either.

I get the feeling both think they can outdo the other on the feet, but for Ortiz in particular it would be wise to also instigate some takedowns if for no other reason than to score some points as this one could well be heading to yet another decision. Ortiz is the better wrestler of the two, but Griffin is underrated on the ground and is crafy enough to either get back to his feet relatively quickly or pull a reversal so I don’t foresee a long, drawn-out ground battle taking place.

Cardio could be an issue here. Griffin has always had a very good gas-tank so I don’t believe it’ll be an issue for him. On the other hand Ortiz had a poor training camp prior to his last fight due to a lack of motivation, and while he may be geared up to go out in his retirement fight with a bang, you have to wonder whether his heart is really still in it and he’s put in the work required pre-fight. He’s also looked weary in the last round of his two prior fights with Griffin so the signs don’t look to god there.

Prediction:

I’ve always felt like Griffin has a slight edge in this match-up and I expect that to be the case again tomorrow night. He needs a good win to stave off rumors of retirement himself so I don’t see Ortiz being any more motivated than he is. As long as he doesn’t afford Ortiz too many chances to utilize his wrestling then I think he should be able to clinch at least two of the three rounds in the striking battle to earn a decision win.

Forrest Griffin to win by decision.

Cung Le vs. Patrick Cote

In Le and Cote we have two fighters who can potentially produce an exciting finish to their encounter in Las Vegas.

Le possesses something of a swiss army knife of strikes, and spinning kicks in particular. While some throw such techniques for show, Le can genuinely land fight-finishing blows with those moves. Cote likes to stand and trade too, but he’s a little more reserved and relies on a brutally effective overhand right to put away his opponents.

That’ll be a concern for Le as his offensive style does leave him vulnerable to the kind of well-timed counter that Cote is capable of landing. Le’s also not the most durable fighter and can wilt if he’s hurt, while Cote has a cast-iron chin.

Le won’t change up his gameplan regardless of how the fight is going, but while it’s not his preference taking the fight to the mat is something Cote might consider. Le isn’t completely helpless there, but it’s definitely outside of his comfort zone and could be a good way for the Canadian to swing the fight in his favor.

While Le’s exotic striking is fun to watch it’s also tiring and at the age of 40 cardio is going to be an issue in the later rounds. Cote tends to fight at a more measured pace so I don’t see him experiencing the same problem.

Prediction:

It’s a fight that could go either way, but while I think Le might get off to a bright start, Cote will come on strong later in the bout and he only needs one punch to connect cleanly to change the course of this encounter. He might have to wait until the final round, but I’m tipping him to stop Le before the final bell.

Patrick Cote to win by TKO in Rd3.

Dong Hyun Kim vs. Demian Maia

The UFC haven’t given Maia an easy task in his first outing at welterweight against one of the division’s most consistent performers in Kim.

A big problem with Maia’s game at middleweight was that he’s just not a natural striker and didn’t wield the kind of power that would trouble his fellow 185lb’ers. Personally, I’m not convinced that the drop down in weight is suddenly going to make a big difference. He’s still going to offer up the same kind of pedestrian, predictable offense that’s unlikely to trouble someone like Kim.

To be fair, Kim isn’t a particularly notable striker himself, but he’s shown some signs of improvement recently and generally looks more fluid and agile than Maia in this facet of the game.

Kim is also strong in the clinch and has a good judo base so he has takedown options, and it’s on the mat that he’s at his best. He’s not a big risk taker on the ground and probably won’t be looking to finish Maia, but he does have very good technique and control.

He’ll need it as Maia is a legitimate jiu-jitsu beast, though it’s been quite some time since he’s really shown it in the UFC. Ideally he’d want to be the one on top, but he’ll have a tough time taking Kim down. Instead he’s more likely to be working off his back, and while he has all the tricks in the book to pull off either a submission or a sweep, Kim’s conservative style is going to make that exceedingly difficult to accomplish and could result in a stalemate.

Maia’s conditioning was absolutely terrible in his last fight, and though I expect him to have worked hard on that aspect of his game there will still be a question mark over his cardio in the later rounds here depending on how tough his first weight cut down to 170lbs has been. Such issues won’t be a factor at all for Kim.

Prediction:

It’d be great to see a rejuvenated and revived Maia get back to his early UFC form with this drop down to welterweight, but I’m not convinced it’ll happen, and I think Kim is just a bad match-up for him.

Dong-Hyun Kim to win by decision.

Chad Mendes vs. Cody McKenzie

I’ll be honest, this seems like a bit of a mismatch to me. You have to give credit to McKenzie for making it this far in his UFC career with such a limited skill-set. It’s remarkable that one particularly lethal guillotine choke has caught out so many opponents, but take that away and he’s got very little else to offer.

Mendes isn’t yet a deadly striker, but he’s improved significantly since his early days in the WEC and I think this is an opportunity for him to show off what he’s learned as McKenzie is very awkward in this department. He still looks like someone that’s only barely grasping the basics and his telegraphed punches and kicks don’t have enough on them to trouble Mendes.

Mendes real strength is his wrestling though and while McKenzie has shown a few signs off being somewhat crafty off his back, I don’t expect him to have any such luck under the stifling level of control that ‘Money’ will have over him from trop control.

No doubt McKenzie will go for his patented guillotine choke, but don’t forget that Mendes comes from the Team Alpha Male camp who just happen to be renowned experts in that very technique so it’s highly unlikely he’ll fall for that trick.

Prediction:

Mendes is just a vastly superior fighter here who’s smart enough not too fall for the one trick up McKenzie’s sleeve. The only question is whether he can finish him inside the distance. He’s not known for his stopping power, but I think he’ll hurt his opponent enough to enable the referee to step in here.

Chad Mendes to win by TKO in Rd2.

Prelims: (Predicted winners in bold)

Ivan Menjivar vs. Mike Easton
Gleison Tibau vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov
Melvin Guillard vs. Fabricio Camoes
Constantinos Philippou vs. Riki Fukuda
John Alessio vs. Shane Roller
Rafaello Oliveira vs. Yoislandy Izquierdo

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