Just because Christmas has come and gone doesn't mean that all of the best gifts in 2012 have been delivered. On Saturday night, UFC 155 will provide fans with a battle for the most prestigious prize in all of mixed martial arts: the UFC heavyweight championship.
Headlining the card is a championship bout between reigning champion Junior dos Santos and former kingpin Cain Velasquez. The two met previously at the inaugural UFC on FOX event last November in a fight that saw JDS strap the belt around his waist following a first-round knockout.
In the co-main event, fans will be treated to a lightweight showcase of jiu-jitsu specialists when Joe Lauzon takes on Jim Miller. Miller takes this fight on short notice after a training injury forced Gray Maynard from the contest.
A trio of middleweight battles rounds up the main card as the surging Tim Boetsch meets Costa Philippou, Alan Belcher looks to win a rematch against Yushin Okami and a returning Chris Leben welcomes Strikeforce veteran Derek Brunson into the Octagon.
The following is an in-depth look at UFC 155, including preview, odds and predictions.
Author's Note: For previous events, the best betting odds have been given only for the statistical favorite. Beginning with UFC 155, we will offer underdogs the same courtesy. After all, anything can happen in MMA.
All betting odds are courtesy of BestFightOdds.com.
After sitting on the sidelines for more than a year, Chris Leben will finally return to the UFC on Saturday night. This will be his first fight since UFC 138, where "The Crippler" tested positive for painkillers.
This is the second failed drug test for Leben, who tested positive for stanozolol at UFC 89. When combined with a 1-2 record in his most recent outings, it's important that the crimson-haired warrior show up in tremendous shape for his bout with Strikeforce import Derek Brunson.
Brunson holds a professional record of 9-2 and was 3-0 in Strikeforce until a knockout loss to Ronaldo Souza back in August.
Betting Odds: Leben (-154) over Brunson (+126) at SportBet
Betting Odds: Brunson +130) over Leben (-160) at BetUS
Prediction: Chris Leben has some of the best takedown defense in the middleweight division, so this fight is likely to be contested on the feet. Combine Leben's incredible power with the fact that Brunson recently suffered his first knockout loss and you've got a recipe for hesitance in the cage.
While this isn't the best stretch of The Crippler's career, he is still a big-show veteran who has encountered and bested many fighters like Brunson in the past. On the other hand, Brunson is 0-2 against MMA notables who has yet to prove himself on a major stage.
Chris Leben defeats Derek Brunson via knockout in the first round.
Heading into UFC 150, former title challenger Yushin Okami was amid the only losing streak of his career. Thankfully, the Japanese star was able to get back into form and defeat opponent Buddy Rogers, who took the fight on short notice after both Rousimar Palhares and Luis Cane backed out.
On Saturday night, he will have a rematch against 13-time UFC veteran Alan Belcher. Okami was victorious in their first engagement at UFC 62, but both fighters have evolved tremendously since that time.
The world-class skills of Belcher have led to wins in four consecutive fights, and that streak would be seven were it not for poor judging at UFC 100. Originally, this success was rewarded with a UFC 153 bout against Vitor Belfort, but "The Phenom" pulled out in order to meet Jon Jones at UFC 152.
Betting Odds: Okami (-105) over Belcher (-125) at Sportsbook
Betting Odds: Belcher +105) over Okami (-135) at BetUS
Prediction: There is a bit of an X-factor going into this fight: motivation.
In mid-2010, Belcher suffered a detached retina that left his vision blurred and career in doubt. With his sight returned, "the Talent" isn't taking his second chance for granted as he continues to get better with every appearance.
Yushin Okami has fought his way into title contention and tumbled down the mountain when given his opportunity to thrive. Additionally, he has little to prove, as he is fighting a man he has already defeated.
When skills are nearly equal, heart and determination will typically determine who gets his nose across the finish line first.
Alan Belcher defeats Yushin Okami via unanimous decision (29-28).
While the UFC middleweight division was mostly cleaned out at the beginning of 2012, this has been a promising year for several surging fighters. At UFC 155, two of those competitors square off in hopes of separating themselves from the pack.
Since dropping down from light heavyweight, Tim Boetsch has gone 4-0, earning wins over the aforementioned Yushin Okami as well as former Bellator champion Hector Lombard.
Likewise, Philippou is also 4-0 in the UFC's middleweight division. The sole blemish on his career with Zuffa came in a 195-pound catchweight contest that was taken on short notice.
This is another fight where the Greek Cypriot is competing on short notice. On Saturday night, Philippou is filling in for teammate Chris Weidman, who was forced to withdraw from this fight due to injury.
Betting Odds: Philippou (-130) over Boetsch (EVEN) at BetDSI
Betting Odds: Boetsch (-125) over Philippou (-105) at Sportsbook
Prediction: Tim Boestch might find himself ranked in the Top Five of the middleweight division, but he has hardly earned the respect of odds makers. While the line is nearly even in the matchup between Boetsch and Serra/Longo-trained Costa Philippou, many bookies have "The Barbarian" trailing ever-so-slightly.
While Boestch has a solid wrestling background, Philippou works on his takedown defense with Chris Weidman. If this fight stays upright, I find it hard to believe that "The Barbarian" can box his way to victory in this fight.
Costa Philippou defeats Tim Boetsch via unanimous decision (29-28).
After the trio of middleweight battles, we will move on to the co-main event of the evening: a lightweight affair between Joe Lauzon and Jim Miller. With an incredible 30 submission wins between them, these are two of the most respected ground technicians at 155 pounds.
In yet another contest that was altered by the injury plague of 2012, Jim Miller comes into this fight as a late replacement for Gray Maynard, who was forced from the fight due to a knee injury.
Lauzon has 11 Fight Night bonuses to his credit, which is only one behind all-time leader Anderson Silva. Considering that J-Lau's last fight netted him double bonuses, it's not out of the realm of possibility that he will surpass "The Spider" on Saturday night.
Betting Odds: Miller (-200) over Lauzon (+160) at Sportsbook
Betting Odds: Lauzon (+190) over Miller (-240) at BetUS
Prediction: Lauzon isn't worried about being an underdog. His wins against Melvin Guillard and Jens Pulver both came at a time where oddsmakers were betting against the Massachusetts native. However, Jim Miller is a dangerous man.
Like many grappler versus grappler fights, it's likely that this contest will take place standing. While Lauzon has heavier hands, Miller's chin is considerably better.
That is not to say that Miller is a slouch in the power department. His combinations have been known to wobble the best of opponents put in his way.
Jim Miller defeats Joe Lauzon via TKO (strikes) in the third round.
dos Santos has been the knockout constant in the heavyweight division, leaving a trail of fallen opponents behind him. That trail led him to the UFC heavyweight championship last year. At UFC 155, "Cigano" looks to make his second defense of the belt.
The man standing across the cage from him is none other than Cain Velasquez, the AKA-prodigy he defeated to capture the title. The UFC on FOX clash remains the only career loss for Velasquez, who ransacked Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva earlier this year to earn his rematch.
The Bigfoot fight took place at UFC 146, and it showed fans how determined Velasquez is to reclaim his championship. Fans of JDS had better hope that he took great notes if he is to avoid a similar fate.
Betting Odds: dos Santos (-180) over Velasquez (+150) at BetDSI
Betting Odds: Velasquez (+175) over dos Santos (-200) at BetOnline
Prediction: In their initial encounter, dos Santos knocked out Velasquez in the first round—a fight that was lightning-quick.
But lightning never strikes the same place twice.
Velasquez had been out of action for a year when their first contest took place. With ring rust historically taking its toll on even the best of fighters, it would be unfair to suggest that Cain was at his peak.
The second time around, ring rust isn't an issue. Both fighters are healthy and Cain is more determined than ever. Plus, Cain is a smart enough fighter to recognize that JDS will win a standup affair.
This fight will be all about the takedown. Regardless of what you think of "Cigano's" impressive takedown defense, let's not forget that Velasquez took down world-class wrestler Brock Lesnar with minimal effort. Working a non-wrestler to the mat will be less challenging.
Velasquez defeats dos Santos via TKO (ground-and-pound) in the second round.