The questions that followed UFC 117 are about to be put to bed when the two elite middleweights step in to the cage Saturday night.
What was to be a stadium show in Brazil for UFC 147 changed in to a week-long spectacle in Las Vegas for the holiday week. The UFC 148 card lost Rich Franklin and the Bantamweight Championship, but the card remains strong with a six-fight main card.
Patrick Cote returns to the UFC to replace Rich Franklin against Cung Le, and Forrest Griffin looks to settle the score against Tito Ortiz (who will enter the UFC Hall of Fame earlier in the day) in their third and final fight. Other bouts on the main card feature contenders in their respective divisions looking to add to their win total.
The pre-fight press conference between Silva and Sonnen was electric, and as the International Fight Week moves along with the UFC Fan Expo, the electricity will continue to build.
As the title indicates, I will supply you with previews, odds and predictions.
The PPV will kick off with fast-paced, exciting action as the bantamweight division starts the night.
Both men enter on win streaks and are undefeated inside the Octagon. A win on Saturday would elevate the victor into the upper echelon of the division. Menjivar, The Pride of El Salvador, boasts a 24-8 record with three straight wins inside the cage. Easton brings in a 12-1 record with seven consecutive wins.
Both men bring excitement, which makes it a perfect way to start off the year’s biggest show. They enjoy throwing down for the crowd, and both men are equally hard to finish.
Betting Odds: Menjivar (-105), Easton (-115) at www.sportbet.com.
Prediction: What makes this fight exciting also makes it very difficult to predict. Whoever walks away with the win will probably have done so via a judges’ decision.
If I were forced to make a call, which I am, I would lean toward Menjivar. The Tristar member should have the advantage on the feet, has ample takedown defense and should be able to take two of the three frames on the cards.
Ivan Menjivar wins via unanimous decision.
“Money” Mendes reenters the cage for the first time since his knockout loss to reigning UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo. He will try to get back on the title path by facing off with former TUF competitor Cody McKenzie.
Mendes is far and away the favorite in this fight. He brings in some of the best wrestling in the division with good submission defense and an ever-improving striking attack.
McKenzie got back on the winning side of things following a submission victory over Marcus LeVesseur. With a guillotine choke, of course. For McKenzie, this is a golden opportunity to break through to the next level of the Featherweight division. A win over Mendes would instantly send him to the front of the pack.
Betting Odds: Mendes (-600) over McKenzie (+450) at www.sportbet.com.
Prediction: In spite of his incredible knack for finding chokes, it promises to be a long 15 minutes for McKenzie. Mendes is far too good to be threatened in this fight. McKenzie will need to get lucky with his one-trick pony to walk away the victor.
Chad Mendes wins via unanimous decision.
In one of the most interesting fights on the card, Maia will make his UFC welterweight debut following a loss to Chris Weidman in his last middleweight outing.
However, he will not get an easy out after dropping to 170. Maia will meet one of the division’s best, Dong Hyun Kim.
Kim rebounded from his first professional loss to now UFC Interim Welterweight Champion Carlos Condit by dominating Sean Pierson en route to a decision victory.
The fight pits one of the very best Judo practitioners against one of the very best in Jiu-Jitsu. If striking is the deciding factor, then the Korean will hold an advantage over the Brazilian despite the leaps he has made in his game.
Betting Odds: Kim (-145) over Maia (+125) at www.sportbet.com.
Prediction: I am always hesitant to pick a fighter dropping weight for the first time, even more so when he is taking on one of the best in the division. If Maia cannot get the fight to the mat, it is hard to envision him taking the fight.
Kim outpoints Maia on the feet and uses his incredible balance to avoid any takedown attempts.
Dong Hyun Kim wins via unanimous decision.
In what was to be another high-profile addition to the card with Cung Le vs. Rich Franklin, this bout changed in lieu of the UFC 147 injury bug. Now, Patrick Cote returns to the UFC after posting four wins outside of the Octagon.
In his last outing, Cote knocked Gustavo Machado out and put him back on Joe Silva’s radar. Primed for his return, he comes in on short notice against Sanshou expert Cung Le.
Le made his long-awaited UFC debut against Wanderlei Silva in 2011. After performing well early on against the MMA legend, he faded and was finished by the former PRIDE champion. The 40-year-old is seeking his first win in the UFC.
The bubble burst on Le back in Strikeforce, and an aging Silva pounded that point home with his TKO victory. Regardless, the fight against Cote should be an exciting affair. Le brings in an array of strikes and a lot of flash against the hard-hitting middleweight.
For Le, this may be his final chance to bank on a big stage, but for Cote, it has much larger consequences. With a loss to Le, he may find himself back out of the UFC. Cote has only managed a 4-7 record in the organization to date, but a win gives “The Predator” five wins in a row and a victory over a marketable name. It is just the shot in the arm his career needs.
Betting Odds: Cote (-245) over Le (+205) at www.sportbet.com.
Prediction: Cote is a durable fighter. That will probably be Le’s downfall. The San Jose striker tends to fade quickly in his fights, and not being able to put Cote away in the first round will probably spell doom for his UFC career.
Cote will come on later in the fight and return to the UFC in emphatic fashion.
Patrick Cote wins by TKO in the third round.
Two close decisions between the two UFC stars give us the backdrop to the third and final encounter. The added flavor to this bout is that it will be Ortiz’s swan song in the sport he helped elevate to new heights.
“The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” will act as if “The People’s Champion” nickname never came to fruition, and enter the cage for the final time Saturday.
The former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion has meant a lot to the UFC and the sport in general. After dropping his last two fights to Rashad Evans and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, he will seek to get that final win before hanging up his gloves.
Griffin, standing opposite Ortiz at 148, will try to prove he still has fight left in the tank. Despite winning two consecutive fights, questions about his longevity and relevancy came about following his KO loss to Shogun Rua.
The third meeting between the two will hopefully settle the score once and for all. Two fights, two close decisions. Under the bright lights of Las Vegas and the year’s biggest card, it seems fitting for these two combatants.
Betting Odds: Griffin (-310) over Ortiz (+255) at www.sportbet.com.
Prediction: It is hard to believe that Ortiz will simply roll over in his final fight. His emotions will run high, and we will all have to see if that helps or hurts his cause in this matchup.
Unfortunately for Ortiz, it seems like Griffin is just the better fighter. Griffin came on strong in the later rounds of their first fight and pulled away in their second outing. I’m expecting more of the same in the third meeting between the two former title holders.
Forrest Griffin wins via unanimous decision.
The UFC Middleweight Champion of the World is undefeated under the UFC banner. Only one man has come close to ending the reign of “The Spider.” Whatever self-given nickname you want to use or however you want to downplay what happened in August of 2010, Chael Sonnen is the only man to come close to defeating Silva in the UFC.
The proud West Linn, Oregon, native was minutes away from taking the 12 pounds of gold back home. This time around, Sonnen looks to complete the task at hand. But has he awoken the inner beast inside the champion?
Silva has been outspoken at the UFC press events recently. He has been downright scary in his statements and demeanor. Until Saturday night, we won't know if this will benefit or hinder the champion. It is all speculation at this point.
What we do know is what we saw the first go-around. Sonnen utilized his wrestling expertly against the Brazilian, hammering away for over four rounds until he got caught in a triangle choke and tapped out. Was Silva injured? Was it just a near perfect game plan? Can he do it again? We should find out on Saturday.
Betting Odds: Silva (-275) over Sonnen (+235) at www.sportbet.com.
Prediction: This is such an interesting fight. While some detractors may say the first go-around was a bit boring, I found it intriguing. We had not seen Silva dominated in that fashion. It was interesting to watch the first time and will be more so the second time.
Sonnen has to close the distance and do exactly what he did at UFC 117. Silva, however, has experienced this inside the Octagon now. Giving him more information to break down an opponent is deadly. That is the biggest X-factor in this fight.
Silva saw the best Sonnen; Sonnen did not see the best Silva. Out to prove a point, on his feet this time, Silva should take out the challenger in jaw-dropping fashion.
Anderson Silva wins by knockout in the first round.