Saturday, August 3rd.
Facebook prelims: 6:35 p.m. ET / 3:35 p.m. PT
FX prelims: 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT
Main pay-per-view card: 10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. PT
The UFC returns to Brazil this Saturday with UFC 163: Aldo vs. Korean Zombie, much to the certain delight of the 15,000 fervent fans filling the HBSC Arena in the heart of Rio de Janeiro. A few interesting matchups litter the preliminary card, including the always-exciting flyweight “Uncle Creepy” Ian McCall vs. the likely overmatched Iliarde Santos, a welterweight scrap between TUF alumni Neil Magny and Sergio “Serginho” Moraes, and a light heavyweight set-to featuring submission specialists Vinny Magalhaes and Anthony “The Hippo” Perosh (who we last saw get KTFOed courtesy of robot-dancer Ryan Jimmo).
Among the most under-promoted pay-per-views in recent memory, there still are a few compelling fights aside from the main event worth tuning in for, most notably the light heavyweight matchup between all-time great (and personal favorite) Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida and ace wrestler/submission specialist Phil “Mr. Wonderful” Davis, and a middleweight tilt between TUF Brazil winner (and Vitor Belfort protégé) Cezar “Mutante” Ferreira and Thiago “Marreta” Santos.
Of course, the main event is and should be the focal point of the evening and it is impossible for this one to disappoint. Featherweight kingpin Jose (pronounced Jo-say) “Scarface” Aldo has looked practically indestructible since transferring over to the UFC when parent company Zuffa absorbed the WEC in late 2010, blasting through a formidable cast of challengers including the now-retired Mark Hominick, the also-retired Kenny Florian, Chad Mendes and, most recently, the lightweight-turned-featherweight Rocky Balboa, Frankie “The Answer” Edgar. This time Aldo will be taking on another fan favorite in “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung, who has looked more improved with every appearance.
My accuracy record for predicting main card fights comes in at 75 percent thus far; I got the opening fight of the UFC 162 main card wrong when I picked Jessica Andrade to submit Liz Carmouche. I knew I had chosen unwisely once I watched the weigh-ins on Friday night and saw how massive Carmouche was compared to the very talented but relatively undersized Andrade (who would benefit from the creation of a women’s flyweight division). Since I’m making these predictions prior to weigh-ins once again, I may wind up feeling the same way, but – as they say on the playground – no take-backs.
So let’s get to it! Here are my predictions for the UFC 163 main card. Notice next to the fighters’ names their accompanying ranking (if applicable), record and the betting lines on each fighter as they stand at the time of this publication:
Flyweight (120 lbs.) Fight. 3 Rounds:
#7 John “Hands of Stone” Lineker [21-6] (-400)
Jose “No Chance” Maria Tome [33-3, 2 NC] (+300)
A few things first about Jose Maria Tome: he’s late replacement (filling in for an injured Phil Harris) coming in to this fight on very short notice, and he earned his UFC debut as a result of a 17-fight win streak (albeit against arguably less-than-UFC-caliber competition). Lineker, conversely, is a top 10 ranked flyweight on a 2-fight win streak against UFC-level opponents, his only loss since 2010 coming during his first stateside fight, where he had difficulties adjusting. Both men are from Brazil, so there’s no home-turf advantage to be had for either of them.
On paper, both of these guys are very well-rounded fighters competent in all aspects of the game. Though he lost in his UFC debut, this is Lineker’s second fight in a row in his native country and that most likely will make for a very difficult evening for the 31-year-old Tome, who deserves kudos for keeping Lineker on the card but will most likely be getting a loss on his record as a thank you. He appears to have a good enough game to go the distance, but not one tested so thoroughly for me to believe he has any real chance, outside of a flash knockout or unlikely stupid grappling decision by the savvy Lineker, to pull off the upset. Considering how thin the flyweight herd currently is, the fact that Tome is stepping up will likely earn him another appearance against an unranked opponent.
Lineker via decision.
Middleweight (185 lbs.) Fight. 3 Rounds:
Tom “Kong” Watson [16-5] (+100)
Thales Leitis [20-4] (-130)
Here’s to hoping UK-to-California transplant Tom Watson – who we last saw TKO Stanislav Nedkov in the second round at UFC on Fuel TV 7, earning himself the rare double bonus with “Knockout of the Night” and “Fight of the Night” – did the smart thing and traveled to Brazil a few weeks early to acclimate. Time and again, while in their native land, Brazilians have decimated their visiting opponents. On more than one occasion, they’ve won every bout of the evening. Leitis, who nearly everyone solely remembers for doing the backstroke for five rounds against a tentative Anderson Silva long ago at UFC 97, is looking for a triumphant return to the big show after going a very decent 6-1 outside of the promotion.
Leitis is a better fighter than most give him credit for and he’s a legitimate threat on the ground. He boasts decent wins over quality competition including Pete Sell, Nate Marquardt, Drew McFedries, Tor Troeng and Dean Lister. His most recent win was a submission over Matt Horwich which avenged a tap-out loss to him a year and a half before.
As I mentioned, it’s pretty tough to justify betting against a good Brazilian fighter while he’s got his countrymen at his back, but I think I’m going to do just that for this fight. Watson has a few impressive victories of his own, including a TKO win over grappling expert John Maguire and a head kick KO over Murilo “Ninja” Rua. Take it for what it is, but when he faced their opponent in common, the journeyman Horwich, he dominated the fight (after escaping the same sub – a rear naked choke – that caught Leitis) en route to a unanimous decision victory. As long as he doesn’t do something dumb like go to the ground with Leitis, he wins this pretty handily, betting odds being ever-so-slightly not in his favor aside.
Watson via (T)KO.
Middleweight (185 lbs.) Fight. 3 Rounds:
Cezar “Mutante” Ferreira [6-2] (-400)
Thiago “Marreta” Santos [8-1] (+300)
Let’s clear up some confusion right off the bat right here. The Thiago Santos fighting this Saturday is not the heavyweight Thiago Santos we last saw in a 3-fight Bellator laugh track that consisted of – in order – a fight being ruled a no-contest due to an illegal groin kick against Eric Prindle, a subsequent fight he won as a result of a disqualification due to an illegal groin kick from Eric Prindle and a TKO loss against Rich Hale, who had just moved up a weight class. Honestly, I’m both glad and – though I’m a tad ashamed to admit it – somewhat disappointed. Who doesn’t like a nice groin strike now and again? You know, for kicks.
The Thiago Santos competing this weekend came in as a late replacement for Ferreira’s original opponent, Clint Hester, when he was injured during training. Santos is a scrappy fighter whose sole loss came against Vincente Luque under the SMMA promotion. During his 9-fight career, he’s displayed a well-rounded skill set focusing more on boxing-specific standup. He is entering this fight as quite an underdog, and deservedly so.
Cezar Ferreira, the inaugural winner of TUF Brazil, is a well-rounded muscle machine (hence his nickname, “Mutante,” which is Portuguese for – you guessed it – mutant) who has displayed brutal one-punch knockout power. He’s enormous for his weight class, which is something that will be glaringly evident at the weigh-ins, considering Santos’s natural weight class is 170 lb. That Ferreira has been wobbled by strikes in almost every fight I’ve seen him in would be more notable were he fighting against someone of comparable size and reach, however the combination of discrepancy in size and of having a full training camp behind him are deciding factors enough. He’s also used to the glitz of the octagon and the fame that comes along with it.
Ferreira by (T)KO.
Light Heavyweight (205 lbs.) Fight. 3 Rounds:
#1 Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida [19-3] (-360)
#7 “Mr. Wonderful” Phil Davis [11-1, 1 NC] (+290)
Former UFC light heavyweight champion and human buzzsaw Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida is a unique fighter in today’s landscape littered with tried and true – yet predictable – combative templates. He implements a brilliant karate style that cannot be mimicked and a fascinating, almost hypnotic ring generalship. The great striking analyst Jack Slack, who I mentioned in my last post, just published a terrific breakdown of him that is an absolute joy to read.
During his 22-fight career, Machida has defeated a who’s who of UFC champions including Rich Franklin, B.J. Penn, Tito Ortiz, Rashad Evans, “Shogun” Rua, Randy Couture and Dan Henderson, as well as other quality opponents such as Stephan Bonnar, Vernon White and Thiago Silva. At this point, he’s lost in all three possible ways: once by knockout (to Rua, in their rematch), once by submission (to LHW and pound-for-pound king Jon Jones) and once via split decision (to “Rampage” Jackson), though he’s always bounced back and has seemingly not lost a step, actually adding subtle new nuances to his craft.
Conversely, “Mr. Wonderful” Phil Davis has only lost once via unanimous decision against Rashad Evans who, coincidentally, is the man Machida knocked out for the LHW title. His list of victories is a respectable one, though hardly the caliber of Machida’s, and includes victories over Brian Stann, Alexander Gustafsson (who will be facing Jon Jones for the title very soon), Tim Boetch, Rogerio Nogueira and, most recently, Vinny Magalhaes.
This fight seems tailor made for a Machida victory, as he has seemingly figured out the perfect formula to defeat the prototypical wrestler (with the exception of the Jones loss, though it’s hardly accurate to call Jones a “prototypical wrestler”) – he waits outside of his opponent’s striking range, retreating whenever his opponent comes in, baiting them into a chase that, when the time is right, he counters with usually one of three excellent and refined strikes: a karate-style straight left, an intercepting knee to the midsection or, his latest addition, a sneaking right elbow to the jaw line. If his opponent is able get their hands on him, it is often to no avail; Machida is also a former sumo champion and his takedown defense is ridiculously good. In fact, don’t be surprised if “The Dragon” scores some takedowns himself, as he is very crafty with trips inside the clinch.
Machida isn’t an initiator, he’s the quintessential counterstriker. If Davis expects to win this, he needs to close the distance and get the fight to the ground. This may happen, but I think that Machida will do just enough to stay ahead on the scorecards and Davis won’t be stupid enough to charge in like an idiot and get knocked out like Ryan Bader did.
Machida via decision.
Featherweight (145 lbs.) Title Fight. 5 Rounds:
Champion: Jose “Scarface” Aldo [22-1] (-750)
#5 “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung [13-3] (+550)
I don’t want to talk about how Ricardo Lamas deserves this fight more than “The Korean Zombie.” Jung earned the shot 15 months ago (though he’s been sidelined partially due to injury since), long before Lamas properly made his case. And he’s looked absolutely phenomenal since the UFC’s absorption of the WEC, racking up the only twister submission in UFC history against Leonard Garcia and the second fasted KO in UFC history against Mark Hominick (6.2 seconds). He’s also the only man to have ever finished the ultra-talented Dustin Poirer (by way of D’arce choke). Jung is a battle beast who has only ever truly lost decisively once and he is among the most exciting fighters on the planet to watch.
That high praise is also deserved of featherweight champ Jose Aldo, who has just been murderizing everyone put in front of him since, well, forever. He ripped through the WEC (and Urijah Faber’s leg), won the title and has made defending it look easy since (the sole exception perhaps being his wilting cardio against a guy appropriately nicknamed “The Machine,” Mark Hominick, who, yes, Jung destroyed in less time than it’ll take you to write a proper haiku).
This fight should be a blast, though I don’t expect it to go the distance. Aldo’s leg kicks are legendary, and though Jung is a warrior, there is only so much the human body can take and keep plodding forward. They’ve both got decent head movement, something that I think will get the fight past the second or third round, however from there it’s fish in a barrel for Aldo.
Here are some numbers to consider:
Aldo has a 92 percent takedown defense, the highest in featherweight history.
He has a 73 percent striking defense, meaning he hits but doesn’t get hit very often.
Lastly, he’s collected 8 knockout victories, also a featherweight record.
Conversely, Jung lands almost 5 significant strikes (you know, the ones that can knock you out if they hit just right) per minute, which is far higher than the norm.
He’s boasts an 83 percent takedown accuracy, meaning that when he wants to get the fight to the ground, he often does just that.
He also has a longer reach (74”) than Aldo (70”), which may come into play once “Scarface” starts whipping those kicks around (remember, you can’t move and kick at the same time… or at least not effectively).
Have you considered those numbers? Good. Aldo still takes this in what will be an exciting fight up until Jung’s body folds under accumulated damage. The Zombie’s in better shape than he’s ever been, anything can happen, and I for one would love to see Jung have that belt wrapped around his waist.
I’m just not going to put any money on it happening this Saturday.
Aldo by (T)KO.
(Photos courtesy of Zuffa LLC. and Cagewall, video courtesy of Zuffa LLC.)