The UFC gets their first big outing on FOX of the year this Saturday night, and unlike November’s ‘UFC On FOX 1’ event, this time they are coming with a full two hour show consisting of three great fights.

Check out our full preview and predictions below.

Main Card:

Rashad Evans vs. Phil Davis

There’s title implications in this match-up…sort of. If Evans wins he gets the next shot at the champ Jon Jonse, but whether Davis would get a chance if he is victorious depends on how impressively he performs on the night according to Dana White.

Striking wise Evans has the advantage here. He’s got KO power, is very quick and has good movement. He was varying things up and looking more fluid in his last outing against Ortiz which was impressive given that he’d been out of the Octagon for well over a year prior to that fight. His biggest weakness is his chin though and that has made him a more cautious fighter.

I don’t think he’ll be overly concerned with Davis’ power though as the wrestler hasn’t showed particularly heavy hands in the Octagon so far and prefers to kick. He’s a work in progress in the striking department though so we may see significant improvements on Saturday night. One advantage he does have is size – he’ll have 3 inches in height and 4 inches in reach over his opponent and he’ll certainly look to use that.

In the build-up to this fight both men have been bickering back and forth about who the better wrestler is. The truth is that they are both pretty damn good. In terms of pure wrestling I’d give Davis the edge and he’s the one that’s most likely to use it offensively in this fight, but one aspect of it that Evans holds the trump card is in his application of it in MMA – his transition from striking to takedown attempts is silky smooth.

Over the course of a 25 minute fight I don’t think one will be able to dominate the other on the mat with purely wrestling, so I’m anticipating a fair amount of stand-up action too. When the fight does hit the mat though it’ll be interesting to see how jiu-jitsu will play into the contest.

While it’s not the first tool on his belt Evans has worked diligently on his BJJ and indeed has a black belt, while Davis has shown a natural aptitude for it and has a handful of submission victories to his name. We haven’t seen much to indicate how he is defensively though and overall I’d slightly give the advantage to Evans in this regard.

Prediction:

I like Evans here. I think his wrestling is good enough to ensure the fight stays standing for for significant periods and he’s far more comfortable and able to do damage on his feet than Davis. I like him to finish this one inside the distance and finally book up that title shot against his nemesis Jon Jones.

Rashad Evans to win by TKO in Rd3

Chael Sonnen vs. Michael Bisping

This middleweight No.1 contender bout has been billed as the co-main event, but the pre-fight buzz surrounding it suggests that this the fight that fans wil be most eagerly awaiting tomorrow night on FOX.

While he’s often criticized for his lack of KO power, Bisping is a very technical stand-up fighter who’s shown time and time again that he can get the better of it on the feet with all but the very cream of the 185lb striking crop, and I think that will be the case against Sonnen as well. His chin is a concern, but Sonnen doesn’t have much in the way of power himself.

Sonnen is a pretty decent striker himself – he picked apart Yushin Okami standing and of course famously had his moments against Anderson Silva too. He’s also very durable so if Bisping wants to beat him by trading blows then he’s probably going to have to do so for three full rounds.

Of course it’s no secret that Sonnen holds a big wrestling advantage here and his grinding work from top control could be a huge problem for Bisping. The Brit does have very good takedown defense though and while he generally likes to stand and trade with his opponents, when he has been put on his back in the past he’s looked very comfortable and has shown real skill in being able to shrimp his hips out and get back to his feet.

Bisping also has good submissions, and in fact has spent a significant portion of this camp working on his BJJ in preparation for his originally scheduled opponent Demain Maia. That could end up workng in his favor as Sonnen’s biggest weakness is his submission defense.

I don’t expect there to be any cardio issues in this bout as both men always show up in excellent physicial condition.

Prediction:

I’m almost tempted to pick Bisping here if for no other reason than that the odds which have been as high as 5/1 in Sonnen’s favor are just silly. If Bisping can stuff a few takedowns and turn this into a stand-up battle I really think the fight swings in his favor, but at the same time it’s hard to bet against Sonnen’s tenacity, determination and relentless, grinding style. Oh what the hell, since everybody else seems to be picking Sonnen I’m going to throw caution to the wind and say Bisping can pull off an upset win.

Michael Bisping to win by decision.

Chris Weidman vs. Demian Maia

The opening fight on the main FOX card isn’t getting overshadowed by the other two bouts, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an interesting encounter.

Maia’s striking has improved considerably over the last few years since he’s spent the majority of his time focusing on it. That being said he’s still nothing more than a reasonably solid striker, and in all honesty a bit of a pedestrian one since he just doesn’t have that natural killer instinct with his hands and feet and lacks the power to really trouble his opponents.

Weidman on the other hand has more power, but less technique than the Brazilian. He shows promise, but he’s certainly not the finished article yet. He might pay the price against a more dangerous striker, but against Maia I think he can pretty much hold his own.

For an up and comer Weidman has shown himself to be fairly well rounded so far in the Octagon and he has a good wrestling base. He’d be wise not to use it to look for takedowns however given Maia’s ground skills, but he could use it defensively to attempt to keep this fight standing where he’s in less danger of being finished.

Maia has some crafty takedowns though, making good use of trips to catch his opponents by surprise and take them to the canvas. Once there he is of course a true force in the jiu-jitsu department who’s got a complete arsenal of submissions at his disposal. His focus on striking lately has appeared to erode his ground game, but he vowed after his last fight to refocus on his submission skills which could be bad news for Weidman.

To be fair, Weidman looks to be developing into a good jiu-jitsu player himself under Matt Serra’s tutelage, but Maia is on a different level and the fact he’s only had 10 days to prepare for this short notice fight means his submission defense isn’t likely to be where it probably needs to be to survive if they get into a prolonged battle on the mat.

Prediction:

I think the smart money is on Maia here, particularly since Weidman is a late notice replacement. I do think Weidman is a genuine talent at 185lbs, but this is a big step up for him and Maia’s world-class submission abilities are probably going to be too much for him at this stage of his career.

Demain Maia to win by submission in Rd2.

Prelims:

Evan Dunham vs. Nik Lentz

Michael Johnson vs. Shane Roller

Cub Swanson vs. George Roop

John-Olav Einemo vs. Mike Russow

Johnny Bedford vs. Mitch Gagnon

Chris Camozzi vs. Dustin Jacoby

Joey Beltran vs. Lavar Johnson

Eric Wisely vs. Charles Oliveira

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