UFC 163 airs live on PPV, Saturday, August 3, 2013 beginning at 10 PM (EST). Preliminary action begins on Facebook starting at 6 PM (EST), with coverage continuing on Sportsnet 360 at 8 PM (EST).
Flyweight Bout: John Lineker (2-1 UFC, 21-6) v. Jose Maria Tome (0-0 UFC, 33-3)
John Dodson…John Moraga…could John Lineker be the next John to challenge for the flyweight title?
Okay, that’s not exactly the most exciting narrative (and it sounds vaguely inappropriate) but it’s not too early to start hyping up Lineker’s chances. Like Moraga, he’s quietly amassed an impressive list of conquests including perennial top 5 flyweight Yasuhiro Urushitani; unfortunately, also like Moraga, he’s never fought on the main card before (both his wins occurred on the Facebook portion of the preliminaries). He’s a ferocious stand-up fighter and he’ll have a willing partner in Jose Maria.
Beware Tome’s gaudy statistics. Here are the records of his last five opponents (at the time of their meeting): 8-8, 2-1, 4-1, 0-0 (!), 3-3. He has won 16 straight fights (not including 1 no-contest) against opponents with a combined record of 24-17. That includes 7 fighters who had zero wins when they met Tome. Suffice to say, Tome’s resume is slightly embellished.
That said, when you’re an up and comer on the Brazilian scene your only job is to shut up and fight. Tome has done his job, running through the lacklustre talent placed in front of him and he’s been rewarded with a plum opening slot on a UFC PPV (replacing an injured Phil Harris). The flyweights might not be marquee headliners, but they’re perfect for whetting the appetites of what should already be a ravenous audience.
Middleweight Bout: Thales Leites (5-3 UFC, 20-4) v. Tom Watson (1-1 UFC, 16-5)
Hi, I’m Thales Leites. You might remember me from such mixed martial arts contests as “My Opponent Beat Himself” (Nate Marquardt), “This Gets You a Title Shot?” (Drew McFedries) and “The Worst Middleweight Title Fight in UFC History” (Anderson Silva).
(That’s not even mentioning the appalling Alessio Sakara fight that got Leites booted from the company after just challenging for the title.)
There’s no denying Leites’ jiu-jitsu acumen or his 6-1 record since being released (including wins over fellow UFC castoffs Dean Lister, Jesse Taylor, Jeremy Horn and Matt Horwich). He’s earned another crack at the big time. Still, considering his history of atrocious efforts, his placement on the main card is mystifying to say the least.
There will be a lot of pressure on Watson to make this fight watchable, not to mention having to deal with a Brazilian crowd that will be praying for Leites to rip one of his limbs from his body. The Englishman fell flat in his debut against Brad Tavares, but he looked more like the high profile signing he is when he wore out Stanislav Nedkov in his second outing in the octagon. Having won several titles in the UK, Watson has made it no secret that he hopes to contend for a UFC title sooner rather than later. A win over a former title challenger could go a long way towards making that goal a reality.
Middleweight Bout: Cezar Ferreira (1-0 UFC, 5-2) v. Thiago Santos (0-0 UFC, 8-1)
For Ferreira (better known as Cezar Mutante), having the distinction of being the first winner of the Brazilian edition of The Ultimate Fighter should have given him instant credibility; instead, his victory was tarnished by his opponent getting injured (all but killing any interest in the tournament final) and then he himself was derailed by an injury. Over a year later, the Vitor Belfort protégé finally gets to remind people why he’s such a big deal.
Standing in his way is Santos, a participant on TUF: Brazil 2. Santos will be jumping up from welterweight, likely a temporary move to accommodate his replacing Mutante’s original opponent, Clint Hester. “Marreta” fell to eventual TUF: Brazil 2 champion Leo Santos, so a win over Mutante would be redemption in a round-about way. Beating a champion is as good as being the champion, right?
Mutante will have a considerable size advantage while Santos can look forward to having a more visible cheering section (the arena is close to where Santos lives). The latter could be important as we’ve seen how the passion of the Brazilian fans can spur on their warriors (the last card in Fortaleza saw a Brazilian’s hand raised in each of the twelve contests) and any momentum could sway the match. Still, this should be a showcase bout for Mutante who has the backing and pedigree to be a future star.
Light Heavyweight Bout: Lyoto Machida (11-3 UFC, 19-3) v. Phil Davis (7-1 UFC, 11-1)
Machida might have taken a round from Jon Jones when they met back in December of 2011, but the only thing most observers remember is Machida’s body lying limp against the cage as he was choked out. Fair or not, that image has been the biggest obstacle the Dragon has faced in his quest for a rematch (and his own seeming reluctance). Well, that and a habit of putting on…“methodical performances”.
That trend could possibly continue against Davis, a dangerous grappler with an improving striking game. The question is whether the striking has improved enough to force Machida out of his comfort zone. Machida has made mincemeat out of wrestlers turned mixed martial artists, including Rashad Evans, Randy Couture and Ryan Bader. Only former Olympian Dan Henderson had any sort of success against him and even Hendo looked completely befuddled as to how to solve the Dragon’s riddle.
Davis is a superior athlete to any of the aforementioned names and he’s also got youth on his side. Other than Evans and arguably Shogun Rua, Machida hasn’t faced anyone with the explosiveness of Davis. It’s not a bodybuilding contest or a track meet, but next level athleticism can cover up your shortcomings even if you’re facing someone as brilliant as Machida. The big question is how much Davis has improved since his own meeting with Evans. He struggled mightily against the former light heavyweight champion, getting swept on the scorecards en route to his only loss to date.
In his last appearance, Davis out-struck Vinny Magalhães for three rounds, which was an encouraging display…until you realize that he was out-striking Vinny Magalhães. Going from Magalhães to Machida is like getting called up to the majors after dominating your co-ed softball league. It will be an adjustment.
There are no guarantees that Davis will be able to get the fight to the ground either. Machida’s takedown defence is immaculate. Few fighters have been able to put him on his back, much less keep him there. It will take every ounce of speed and concentration to take advantage of an opening, assuming Machida even allows for one.
Stylistically, this is a nightmare for Davis but from a physical standpoint, the action trends strongly in his favour. More and more, MMA is becoming a young man’s game and this should be a classic case of a fighter in his prime stepping over a presumably declining opponent on his way to the top. But there’s never been a fighter like Machida before, whose technique and precision transcends common wisdom. That elusive rematch has never been closer.
Featherweight Championship Bout: José Aldo (4-0 UFC, 8-0 WEC, 22-1) v. Chan Sung Jung (3-0 UFC, 0-2 WEC, 13-3)
Full disclosure: I’m heavily biased towards The Korean Zombie. Just like everyone else, I hopped on the bandwagon after the Leonard Garcia fight and never looked book.
My bias actually makes me cautious when it comes to picking his fights. At first, I didn’t know enough about him to know whether there was any substance behind the crowd pleasing style. With every fight, I became less skeptical:
- George Roop: after Roop reminded us that a head shot (or kick) is the only way to keep down a zombie, I thought that Jung’s 15 minutes were up.
- Leonard Garcia II: I viewed his twister submission victory over Garcia as a trifle; after all, he’d essentially beaten Garcia before so this didn’t prove anything.
- Mark Hominick: it’s telling that on a card where Jon Jones was defending his title and Antônio Rogério Nogueira was facing an aging Tito Ortiz, Hominick was considered the safest bet of UFC 140. His crisp kickboxing would be too much for the Zombie to overcome…or so we thought. For a fleeting moment, Hominick seemed more concerned with getting a Knockout or Fight of the Night award and he threw an odd, looping punch. Jung landed a flawless counter, following up with several punches that robbed Hominick of his consciousness. It was tied for the fastest knockout in UFC history.
- Dustin Poirier: surely, Jung had just caught Hominick on a bad night, right? That flash KO was indicative of the fickle nature of the sport, not any sort of validation of Jung’s talents, right? When two hungry contenders collide, the results can be telling. For Jung, you couldn’t have booked a more perfect display for his talents. He looked more focused on the feet, got the better of Poirier in their scrambles and best of all, pulled out a submission victory after a grueling, high octane fight.
After all that, I was pleasantly surprised by the confirmation that Jung was the real deal. If he could make it this far, who is to say he can’t go all the way?
José Aldo, for one.
Funny thing about zombies: They’re slow. Aldo is fast. Real fast. He might have the fastest hands and feet at 145. Considering he just beat Frankie Edgar, that’s saying something. The other thing about that Edgar fight was that it answered a lot of questions about his conditioning. The weight cut is clearly getting harder for him as he gets older, but it didn’t show one bit in his last title defence against one of the most active fighters in all of MMA. It was a good and close fight. In the end, Aldo rightfully had his hand raised.
Aldo also hits as hard as any other featherweight. Heck, he hits harder than most light heavyweights. His stand-up game is both diverse and devastating. I’ve read arguments that Jung might have the ground chops to squeak out a submission, but people seem to forget how good Aldo’s jiu-jitsu is. In his first WEC title defence against Urijah Faber, he dominated the Alpha Male leader on the floor. If anything, the grappling might actually favour the champion.
The Korean Zombie has more than a puncher’s chance. He’s at his best when he fights smart and uses (not abuses) his now legendary durability to maneuver himself into positions where he can finish. He might be the most unpredictable challenger that Aldo has yet faced. He finds ways to do damage and work for submissions that most fighters wouldn’t even think of. If he can find a way to make Aldo lose his composure, his chances increase exponentially.
You could make an argument that Aldo is already the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world based on the level of competition he’s had to deal with over the last four years and the panache with which he triumphs. We shouldn’t be surprised that Jung is such a heavy underdog; on the other hand, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised if he manages to pull this off either.