UFC on FOX 2 is already upon us, and, despite a last minute injury, the world's premiere MMA organization has come through with a pretty solid main card.
First up, veteran Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace Demian Maia takes on rising prospect Chris Weidman, who was gutsy enough to take this bout on just 11 days notice.
Maia's original opponent, Michael Bisping, will not be taking on Chael Sonnen in a middleweight title eliminator after Mark Munoz suffered a serious elbow injury less than two weeks before the event.
In the main event, "Mr. Wonderful" Phil Davis takes on perennial light heavyweight contender Rashad "Suga" Evans, to likely decide who is next for 205-pound champion Jon "Bones" Jones.
Bleacher Report MMA Featured Columnists Jordy McElroy, Dwight Wakabayashi, Jeffrey McKinney, Dale De Souza and myself, John Heinis, will be breaking the fights down this week.
Take a look inside for the in-depth predictions.
John Heinis: Two well-versed grapplers square off in the first bout on the main card. Weidman is a former Division I All-Ameircan wrestler with a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, while Demian Maia is one of the slickest BJJ black belts on the block.
Weidman comes in with a perfect record of 7-0, with five finishes, while Maia comes in at 15-3, coming off of a comfortable decision win over Jorge Santiago at UFC 136.
Maia's striking has improved by leaps and bounds since entering the UFC in October of 2007, to the point where he may be the more technical striker here. But Weidman definitely has the heavier hands and could end this one unexpectedly if the fight stays standing.
However, this is a huge step up in competiton for Weidman, and the fact that he took this fight on less than two weeks notice isn't helping his cause.
Maia, a four-time Submission of the Night winner, has proved he can hang with the big boys on many occasions.
He owns quality wins over Chael Sonnen, Dan Miller and Jorge Santiago, while his most recent loss was a razor-close split decision to Mark Munoz at UFC 131.
Weidman will hang tough and make the Brazilian work, but overcoming a consensus top-10 middleweight on short notice will just be too much for the undefeated prospect.
Demian Maia via unanimous decision (29-28)
Jordy McElroy: Demian Maia was expected to face Michael Bisping on this card, but after an injury forced Mark Munoz out of the co-main event, the Brit was bumped up as a replacement.
Things won’t be any easier for Maia as he is set to face undefeated middleweight prospect Chris Weidman.
Strong wrestlers with good striking always seem to give Maia problems. Unfortunately for the Brazilian, Weidman exhibits both of those traits.
The Baldwin, New York native is a two-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler, and he qualified for the 2009 ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship.
Even with his accolades, Weidman’s submission skills pale in comparison to Maia, who is recognized as one of the best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu artists in all of MMA. As cliché as it sounds, styles make fights.
Maia is a tremendous submission artist, but superior wrestlers are able to neutralize his BJJ by fending off takedowns and keeping the fight standing. It’s easy to see this bout going the same way.
The standup battle should be interesting. Maia has made nice improvements in his striking, but Weidman seems to be the more fluid and dynamic striker.
Let’s shake things up a bit and pick an upset in this one. Weidman will do enough in the standup exchanges and shrug off takedowns en route to a close decision win.
Chris Weidman by split decision
Dwight Wakabayashi: Losing a chance to beat on Michael Bisping is enough to depress anyone, but Demian Maia better not wallow in his grief on Saturday night. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace and evolving fighter will now face tough, undefeated American wrestler Chris Weidman.
Maia was looking at a huge opportunity to vault himself back into the title mix at 185 pounds with a strong win over Bisping, and it must be a bit of a let down now having to face the risk of Weidman.
Maia will have to concentrate on his game, which has become much more well rounded in the past year and worry less about the switch of opponent.
Maia has improved his stand up considerably as we witnessed in his last two fights against Jorge Santiago and especially Mark Munoz at UFC 131 last June.
Weidman is a Matt Serra product who comes from a very solid college wrestling background, and he has stormed into the UFC and beaten some tough guys like Alessio Sakara, Jesse Bongfeldt and "Filthy" Tom Lawlor.
Maia is a large step up, though, and Weidman will need to rely on his strength and wrestling in this one to avoid the dangerous game of Maia.
I do believe that Weidman is the stronger of the two fighters, so if he can channel that power into his punches and grappling, he may have a chance at a decision.
I see this fight with Weidman starting out strong on Maia, but eventually it will go to the ground and Maia's brilliant ground game will catch Weidman in a bad spot
Demian Maia via 3rd round submission
Jeffrey McKinney: Starting off the night will be Demian Maia vs. Chris Weidman.
Maia was scheduled to take on Michael Bisping. But after Bisping was bumped up to take on Chael Sonnen, Weidman stepped in his place.
This is a huge test for the undefeated Weidman who is coming off of a submission win against Tom Lawlor.
Weidman has proven to be dangerous, as five of his seven victories have come by submission or knockout.
Weidman is also a D-1 All American wrestler; Maia was training for a kick boxer.
But Maia is a tough guy to put out. Only one of his three losses has come by stoppage.
Because the fight is on short notice, and because Weidman is truly a guy that’s hungry, I wouldn’t be surprised if he picked up the win.
But Maia is far more experienced and should be just as hungry because a loss could mean he’s nothing more than a middleweight gatekeeper.
Demian Maia by submission
Dale De Souza: Two weeks ago, Demian Maia was facing a heavy-handed striker with a fairly well-rounded game in The Ultimate Fighter Season 3 light heavyweight winner Michael “The Count” Bisping. But an injury sustained by Mark Munoz made room for Chris Weidman to step up to the plate and prove his mettle as a UFC middleweight—after Rousimar Palhares turned the opportunity down.
Weidman has not been tested by someone on Maia's level, despite wins over Alessio Sakara, Jesse Bongfeldt—though the win came with Weidman serving as a replacement for Court McGee—and Tom Lawlor. But some people are still confident in what Weidman can do and thus believe that he will be more than up to the task of combating Maia.
Maia is a pupil of Wanderlei Silva and one of the best BJJ practitioners in the middleweight division right now, and, unlike Weidman, Maia has fought the likes of Munoz, Nate Marquardt, Anderson Silva, Chael Sonnen and Jorge Santiago before.
So to say Maia has been tested is a big understatement. But while Maia’s BJJ is always going to be a threat, there is a question of whether he’s lost the ability to finish on the ground or whether he’s really trying to exhibit more of his standup and his wrestling—I’d like to think the latter is true.
Weidman, on the other hand, is a Serra-Longo prospect who is really showing his well-roundedness as a fighter—with superior skills in the wrestling, submission and striking departments. The fact that he trains with Ray Longo and former UFC Welterweight Champion Matt “The Terror” Serra should drop some subtle hints as to whether or not he’s schooled in BJJ.
In short, there might not be much that Weidman can throw at Maia that Munoz didn’t, but the real wild card is what happens if Maia does take Weidman down—and that goes as much for Weidman’s ground game from the bottom as it does for Maia’s game from the dominant position.
As long as Weidman pressures Maia and eventually finds a way to throw him off, this fight could be the breakout fight of Weidman’s career. And, of course, his performance may be enough to make some believe that he really might just be the heir apparent to the UFC middleweight throne.
Chris Weidman by round 3 submission (Arm Triangle) or unanimous decision
John Heinis: The only thing that fans do not like about this fight is how quiet Chael Sonnen has been on the trash talk aspect of things.
Despite Bisping making claims that Sonnen has "one testicle" and is "in the wrong sport" if he needs to use testosterone replacement therapy, Uncle Chael has, for the most part, refused to fire back.
Leading up to his fight with Brian Stann at UFC 136, the former stand-out wrestler at the University of Oregon decided to let his actions in the cage speak the volumes fans are accustomed to, and he is following suit here.
Bisping, originally slated to face Demian Maia, had a huge opportunity presented to him when Mark Munoz had to withdraw with his title eliminator bout with Sonnen.
Despite just 11 days notice, Bisping readily accepted, completely confident he can beat the perennial number two middleweight and then go on to give middleweight Anderson Silva a run for his money.
"The Count" is riding a four-fight win streak, but the last time he fought a top-five middleweight he was infamously knocked out by Sonnen's Team Quest teammate, Dan Henderson, at UFC 100.
Wins over Dan Miller, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Jorge Rivera and Jason "Mayhem" Miller (the only common opponent between Sonnen and Bisping) don't make you a world beater.
That, coupled with Sonnen's unstoppable takedowns and newfound submission skills, will make anyone who watches this fight will understand why Bisping is entering as a 5-to-1 underdog.
Chael Sonnen via unanimous decision (30-27)
Jordy McElroy: Michael Bisping is a top-10 middleweight and relatively underrated, but stylistically, this is a slightly easier bout for Chael Sonnen than Mark Munoz would’ve been.
Sonnen’s primary objective should be to slow the pace of the fight. Bisping has never shown stellar takedown defense, but he is underrated in his ability to work back to his feet and scramble out of unfavorable positions.
Former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans struggled immensely in keeping the Brit on his back in their November 2007 bout.
Sonnen’s wrestling tends to be a bit more suffocating. He is a very technical wrestler and a master at maintaining position.
Bisping has to find a way to keep this bout on the feet. Sonnen has proven to be no slouch in the striking department, but Bisping should have a nice advantage in the standup exchanges.
He has to utilize good footwork and octagon awareness to avoid takedowns in the open or getting trapped against the cage.
With the winner likely earning a title shot against Anderson Silva, fans can expect a fun fight in this one. Look for Sonnen to utilize his superior grappling to work Bisping over with dirty boxing and ground-and-pound.
Bisping will hang tough and survive the onslaught, but Uncle Chael’s hand will be the one getting raised in the end.
Chael Sonnen by unanimous decision
Dwight Wakabayashi: In what many believe should be the main event of the evening, Chael Sonnen will fight Michael Bisping to determine who will get a possible shot at the title.
This juicy fight was put together last minute, and while it is a bit disappointing to miss out on all the entertaining pre-fight talk that a normal lead up to Sonnen-Bisping could bring, I am glad this fight is here right now.
Did anyone see Chael Sonnen's last fight against Brian Stann? This one is going to be much of the same.
Bisping might try to float, stick and move a bit better than Stann did, but once uncle Chael gets him wrapped up and down to the floor, I don't see Bisping getting up.
That means that Bisping has a submission's chance at victory over Sonnen, and I don't think he has the skills.
This fight will show once again how Sonnen's style is so hard to stop and leave Bisping stunned like Stann, who was dominated and beaten easily.
The only difference will be that Stann made no excuses, while "The Count" will have his ready to go.
Chael Sonnen via unanimous decision
Jeffrey McKinney: It’s a shame that this match up was created on such short notice.
Bisping and Sonnen are two of the biggest and most annoying trash talkers in MMA history.
Nonetheless, this match up still has a lot of buzz around it.
Bisping comes into the match on a four-fight winning streak. What may be more important are the three losses in his career.
They came against perhaps his three biggest opponents to date, Rashad Evans, Dan Henderson and Wanderlei Silva.
Sonnen, on the other hand, nearly defeated the best middleweight in the world, Anderson Silva.
Sonnen’s never been knocked out cold in a fight and will have the obvious wrestling advantage.
This is the biggest fight of Bisping’s career. A win will finally put him in a title fight and prove that he can defeat a top level fighter.
But the only way I see Bisping winning this fight is by making Sonnen tap, and I honestly can’t see that happening.
Sonnen will find a way to get this fight to the ground and punish Bisping.
Chael Sonnen by unanimous decision
Dale De Souza: The crazy thing about Chael Sonnen vs. Michael Bisping is that it was thought to potentially be the bout that made the most sense for Bisping after a win over Jason “Mayhem” Miller. But those who thought Sonnen would cross paths with Bisping next probably didn’t think that the bout would be made after Mark Munoz suffered a last minute injury.
It would have been awesome—to some—if Sonnen and Bisping were matched up earlier just because the trash talk would have been amazing.
Still, in all honesty, there might be enough sound bites in the world to promote both of their careers, but all the sound bites in the world cannot make this bout stylistically better for Bisping.
His only edge on Sonnen would be his ability to push the action on Sonnen with his striking game. But if we’re talking takedowns or any sort of forward-attacking offense, then we’ll have to dial back a bit on Bisping and spin it more towards Sonnen...barring a trip from Bisping that puts Sonnen on his back and some crazy top game that nobody’s ever been able to work against Sonnen.
Otherwise, the way this breaks down is simple: if Bisping defends Sonnen’s takedowns and manages to establish his striking early, he’ll win the fight. If Sonnen can grind out Bisping against the cage and establish his punishing wrestling game, this fight belongs to the largest arms-of-steel in West Linn, Oregon.
Sonnen has only lost twice by TKO, but nobody’s been able to knock him out in 38 pro fights—just like Bisping’s only loss by way of a stoppage was his legendary loss to Dan Henderson at UFC 100. Additionally, nobody has been able to submit him in 25 pro fights.
All the more reason why “Uncle Chael” will be the first to do so come Saturday night, and, like it or not, we all are aware of Sonnen’s ability to make that happen.
Besides, if anyone’s going to be stopping Chael, it’ll be that one Brazilian who submitted him.
Chael Sonnen by round 2 submission (Rear Naked Choke)
John Heinis: Rashad "Suga" Evans has been practically frothing at the mouth for a title fight with former Greg Jackson MMA training partner Jon Jones for about a year now, but he has to get past undefeated prospect Phil Davis first.
Davis, a four-time All American wrestler at Penn State, should have the wrestling advantage here, but it would be a little silly to think that he can hold Evans down for 15 minutes.
Evans possesses a formidable striking advantage, while the jiu-jitsu aspect of the fight may be a wash.
Although Davis is only a blue belt in BJJ, his natural, freakish athleticism and high-level wrestling should be enough to keep him from getting submitted by Evans.
Rashad is a BJJ black belt that hasn't won by submission since April 10, 2004.
The x-factor here could be that Evans has fought better competition, defeating Thiago Silva, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Tito Ortiz amidst his three-fight win streak.
While Davis is 9-0 as a professional fighter, his best wins have come against Brian Stann and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
This should be a fun fight to watch, but I think Evans does what needs to be done and wins a clear cut decision.
Rashad Evans via unanimous decision (30-27)
Jordy McElroy: “Suga” Rashad Evans will be looking to hop the final hurdle that guarantees a shot at light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
Phil Davis, an NCAA Division I wrestling champion, will be the one standing in his way.
This is an interesting style matchup, considering both fighters are world-class wrestlers. When two dominant grapplers go toe-to-toe, the bout usually comes down to which fighter can impose their will on the feet.
Evans is an incredibly proficient boxer with blistering speed and surprising knockout power. Typically, it takes a while for a wrestler to fully grasp the art of striking, but Evans is really starting to come into his own.
Davis, on the other hand, continues to improve with every outing, but his striking isn’t nearly as polished. At UFC Fight Night 24, he got lit up in the standup exchanges against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
Luckily, he was able to secure takedowns out of desperation to eke out a decision.
Davis will have to find a way to outgun Evans on the feet if he hopes to be successful. He can forget about securing telegraphed double leg takedowns in the open. If he hopes to put Evans on his back, he’s going to have to use his striking to setup shots.
This is an incredibly tough fight for Davis, and it might have come a bit too soon in his UFC career.
While Davis has grown into a surefire top-10 light heavyweight, his striking hampers him from being on the same level as some of the elite contenders.
There is always the chance he lands a haymaker and punches the off button on Evans’ switch-like chin, but that ending is far-fetched.
Evans should cruise to a unanimous decision with a well-rounded display of striking and wrestling.
Rashad Evans by unanimous decision
Dwight Wakabayashi: This fight is a large risk for Rashad Evans and a nice opportunity for the undefeated 9-0 Phil Davis to establish himself as the No. 1 contender for a title shot.
Evans already has that spot in hand, and that's why it is largely a no-win for him. But he is a well-rounded professional who seems confident that he is on another level than Davis.
Evans is coming off a solid win over Tito Ortiz and has only one loss on his 18-fight record. A supreme athlete and fighter, Evans has developed a very dangerous striking game, and this is where he has the edge on Davis.
He may well even be the better wrestler, and I think it spells doom for his opponent.
Davis has been cool and confident leading up to this fight. And while it is true he has not lost yet in his career, he has not faced a guy on Evans' level yet either, and I'm not sure "Mr. Wonderful" realizes what he is in for.
Davis will desperately try to keep Evans in a hold and on the bottom all night, but Rashad is a decorated wrestler, and I can't see that happening.
Evans will use his strength and experience to keep this one moving all over the octagon, and he will win the battles in most areas.
Davis has only a wrestler's chance of winning a decision while Evans has knock-out skills and power to boot. This one ends with "Suga" pounding Davis out from the top.
Rashad Evans via 3rd round TKO
Jeffrey McKinney: The night’s main event will feature two former Big Ten wrestlers in Rashad Evans and Phil Davis.
While both men have a wrestling base, they have scored some impressive wins by knockout and submission in their careers.
Davis comes into this fight a perfect 9-0 with wins against Brian Stann, Alexander Gustafsson and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
Evans, on the other hand, is a former UFC champion whose only loss came against Lyoto Machida.
Not only does Evans have the experience factor, we know that he can perform well after a long layoff or injury.
This will be Davis’ first time fighting in 10 months, the longest stretch between fights in his career.
While Davis could come back stronger than ever, I believe Evans wants this fight more.
A win puts him right back in a title fight, something that injuries pushed him out of for much of the past year.
Rashad Evans by decision
Dale De Souza: “Mr. Wonderful” Phil Davis vs. “Suga” Rashad Evans is the main event of the UFC on Fox 2 card, but, as everyone knows, the fight was set to take place as the headliner for UFC 133 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania before an injury forced Davis out of action.
Rashad kept his spot in the main event and made relatively short work of Tito Ortiz, but, alas, we’re back to square one, and Davis is headlining a card opposite Evans.
Now, on the surface, this seems like a complete mismatch. Evans is a proven striker, a great wrestler and a very intelligent fighter who is a lot more well rounded than people want to give him credit for.
Also on the surface, Davis is an undefeated prospect who has shown a knack for grappling, wrestling and the occasional ground-and-pound. But he may have no edge apart from the ground game against Evans, who is a lock to thoroughly decimate Davis.
However, once you delve a bit deeper into this fight, it becomes difficult not to wonder if everyone that sees an easy win for Evans is simply underestimating Davis’ ability to last longer than twenty seconds with Evans.
Davis is an ever-improving fighter who is developing into a total package with each and every fight, and his wrestling against Evans could be better than some think.
I would expect this bout to be a bit on the slower side of things and, at best, MAYBE a Submission of The Night candidate or Knockout of The Night candidate.
Still, Davis is no slouch, and I for one might expect that the height and four-inch reach advantage will present difficulties for Rashad coming in—thus setting up Davis’ chances to take the fight to the ground and introduce Evans to a loss by submission.
As for Jon Jones…sorry, champ, but Dan Henderson will have to keep you occupied in Atlanta.
Phil Davis by round 1 (or round 3) submission (Anaconda Choke)
Fight of the Night: Maia vs. Weidman
Knockout of the Night: George Roop
Submission of the Night: Charles Oliveira
Fight of the Night: Maia vs. Weidman
Knockout of the Night: Mike Russow
Submission of the Night: Evan Dunham
Fight of The Night: Evans vs. Davis
Knockout of the Night: Rashad Evans
Submission of the Night: Demian Maia
Fight of the Night: Evans vs. Davis, Joey Beltran vs. Lavar Johnson and Mike Russow vs. John-Olav Einemo
Knockout of the Night: Mike Russow
Submission of the Night: Demian Maia
Dale De Souza:
Fight of the Night: Sonnen vs. Bisping
Knockout of the Night: The winner of Joey Beltran vs. Lavar Johnson
Submission of the Night: Chris Weidman or Phil Davis
John Heinis: I can't wait to see Sonnen smash Bisping! It would be nice if Davis pulled off the upset, but it's not happening.
Jordy McElroy: This should be a fun fight card overall. If Michael Bisping submits Chael Sonnen with a triangle choke, he would gain enough popularity to run for public office in Brazil.
Dwight Wakabayashi: I am looking forward to seeing if the Sonnen-Bisping fight does in fact play out similar to Sonnen-Stann—or does Bisping have something in his game that I am not giving him credit for?
If Bisping can defeat Sonnen I will definitely change my tune on him and give him the respect a title contender deserves. If Sonnen does win in dominant fashion, does it not prove (Munoz aside) that it really is only Silva and Sonnen and then everyone else at 185? I can't wait to see this fight—more than Evans-Davis.
Jeffrey McKinney: Chael Sonnen and Rashad Evans may not be the most liked guys in MMA, but it will be great to see them pull off the win. Sonnen can get his much-anticipated rematch with Anderson Silva while Evans can finally (and hopefully) get his shot at Jon Jones.
Dale De Souza: This is an awesome card, despite the last minute loss of Bedford-Gagnon—that fight could have been a fun look at the future of the bantamweight division for sure.
Still, the rest of the night, including the three-fight main card on Fox, does promise to deliver fireworks, so whether it’s Demian Maia testing Chris Weidman, Chael Sonnen’s obliviousness to the little things (i.e. footwork and game plans) as he looks to throw down fisticuffs with Michael Bisping or “Suga” Rashad Evans vs. “Mr. Wonderful” Phil Davis in the MMA version of “Michigan State vs. Penn State,” the UFC on Fox 2 fight card promises to deliver with a little bit of something for everybody