It’s a fresh new year in the UFC, and I’m sure everyone is happy about that. After all the injuries, disappointments and incidents of last year, this new year has come at the perfect time. So far it has been a good year with several major fights scheduled and a few major highlights already.
We will finally see Anthony Pettis get his much-deserved title shot for the lightweight championship at some point in 2013, while Vitor Belfort’s knockout of Michael Bisping via head kick will be one to remember for years to come. It’s nice to start off the year with some positivity, and now we get to the first major show of the year.
UFC 156 is a stacked card despite some possibly one-sided fights.
We get some major returns in Alistair Overeem, Rashad Evans and featherweight champion Jose Aldo. Those are three main event-caliber fighters to go along with Frankie Edgar and Antonio Silva. This card is special on paper, even though I think it’ll end up being a bit too one-sided in reality.
Flyweight: Joseph Benavidez vs. Ian McCall
I’m not crazy about the flyweight division. It doesn’t get me very excited, but as long as a flyweight fight is not the main event on a pay-per-view card, I don’t see anything wrong with it.
This is a major fight for the division as the winner will face Demetrious Johnson next for the title.
Benavidez is versatile with his striking and unpredictability. I expect him to improve on his takedown defense after Johnson took him down repeatedly.
McCall has a great story coming back from near death to win three fights in a row in 2011. Then he had two battles with flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, drawing in the first and losing in the second. McCall is relentless and will try to take the fight to the ground, where he has the advantage over Benavidez.
Nevertheless, I’m picking Benavidez in this fight. He was on a long winning streak before being caught off guard by Johnson’s superior wrestling ability. Benavidez has a great work ethic, and I expect him to smother McCall’s takedowns.
Final Prediction: Benavidez by unanimous decision.
Welterweight: Jon Fitch vs. Demian Maia
If you are looking for knockouts, this fight won’t provide one. That being said, this will be a technical battle with two fighters who seem rejuvenated. While they are both considered to be past their prime, this fight is probably the most even fight on the card.
After dropping down to welterweight, Maia has won his last two fights in the first round. He has looked more aggressive and seems to be more comfortable at welterweight than at middleweight.
He has always been excellent on the ground, but his standup has looked better recently. Maia rarely knocks people out, but it’s clear that he’s been working on his standup to be more unpredictable.
Fitch has fallen off from his days as a main eventer against Georges St-Pierre in 2008 and during his five-fight winning streak. The critics have always criticized him for his tendency to lie on top of his opponent and not strive for an exciting finish.
After facing the possibility of leaving the UFC, Fitch fought with purpose and put together his best performance in some time in beating Erick Silva and receiving Fight of the Night honors at UFC 153.
Both Maia and Fitch are riding momentum after struggling for the last couple of years. This is another close fight that will deal with mostly wrestling and ground control.
I’m going with Fitch here, which may be a surprise because I’m one of the many people who have been critical of him over the years. However, he seems to be more motivated than ever to prove people wrong. I expect him to do more damage on the ground than Maia.
Final Prediction: Fitch by split decision.
Heavyweight: Antonio Silva vs. Alistair Overeem
He may not be a fan favorite anymore, but if you aren’t excited for Overeem’s return, you are lying to yourself.
Overeem is not only one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, he’s also one of the most exciting. With the heavyweight division being relatively lackluster, the return of fighters such as Overeem and Frank Mir will help the division headline PPVs more often.
Despite being 32 years old, Overeem is in fantastic shape and in prime position to earn a title shot. Some people were skeptical of him coming to the UFC, but he shut them up by retiring Brock Lesnar.
He is the complete package as a heavyweight with his kickboxing, muay Thai and submission ability. I’m not sure who is going to stop him, but Antonio Silva is going to try to give Overeem his first loss since 2007.
This is going to be a tough matchup for Silva, who has a questionable chin and tends to struggle with larger heavyweights. The best hope for Silva is to use his judo because trying to trade with Overeem will result in a quick loss.
Silva may be an excellent kickboxer, but if he doesn’t get off to a good start in this fight, it’s going to end quickly.
I’m shocked that these two never fought in Strikeforce since they were two of the bigger stars in that promotion. This fight has been long overdue but seems very one-sided.
Overeem is one of the most dominating fighters in the world, while Silva is starting to decline. Silva may prove me wrong, but I think Overeem will control the cage and then pound Silva in the corner similar to Overeem’s fight against Lesnar.
Final Prediction: Overeem by first-round TKO.
Light Heavyweight: Rashad Evans vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
It seems odd that Rashad Evans is in a fight with no title implications. Evans is one of the best light heavyweights of all time, and up until now every fight he’s been in had title implications. That doesn’t mean this isn’t a big fight, but it just seems odd. It’s also a strange matchup against Nogueira.
Nogueira hasn’t fought in more than a year. His last fight was against Tito Ortiz, which doesn’t have much value anymore even if it was a dominant victory. He’s been a disappointment so far in the UFC with a record of 3-2 against no stars in their prime.
Nogueira used to be great in Pride, but he’s on the list with Shogun Rua and Rampage Jackson as light heavyweights who cannot fight at a high level anymore.
He’s still fighting at a high level and arguably gave Jon Jones the toughest fight of his title reign last April. His wrestling is still among the best in the world, and he is still dangerous in standup, even though he hasn’t had many knockouts in the past few years.
This fight will be won on the ground, where both fighters have had their most success. They both can stand up and strike too, which could make for an entertaining fight. I just don't believe that Nogueira is the same fighter he was from a few years ago, while Evans has a major chip on his shoulder.
I expect Evans to be aggressive and use his speed to dominate Nogueira, especially when he goes for takedowns. This will be another great performance by Evans, which could possibly set up a superfight against Silva.
Final Prediction: Evans by second-round TKO.
Featherweight Title Fight: Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar
It's finally here—the heavily debated superfight. While Dana White has called it a superfight, others might disagree.
When two fighters in their prime—both with long title reigns—meet, it's a superfight in my opinion. Aldo needs to face better competition—how much better can it get than Frankie Edgar?
I’m not sure why people think Edgar is starting to fall off just because he lost his last two fights.
How he didn’t win his last fight against Benson Henderson is beyond me because I thought he did more damage. It was a shame, but Edgar has been positive and knows he has a great opportunity against Aldo. With his nonstop motor and wrestling ability, he is more than capable of winning this fight.
Aldo hasn't fought in more than a year, but he is back after a few injury issues. The layoff was tough for him because it slowed his momentum after his dominance of the prior two years.
Aldo has been successful by frustrating his opponents with leg kicks and using stiff jabs to cause them more problems. He is an athletic freak who constantly keeps moving, which is why he's dominated opponents so far.
This fight is going to be exciting because both guys have similar styles. Aldo will have to contend with Edgar’s wrestling ability. Aldo’s takedown defense is usually top notch, but this will be the biggest challenge of his career.
Edgar will have to watch out for Aldo's diverse variety of kicks and knees. It will be a chess match, and Aldo will wind up on top. He’ll score enough damage on Edgar, including coming close to knocking him out on a few occasions.
Final Prediction: Aldo by unanimous decision.
For the first time in a long time, I don’t see one fight that is going to be a dud. The casual fan may not like the first two fights, but I’m expecting high-paced action and great technical battles. This whole card could be exciting, even though I expect some convincing victories.
This should be a fantastic PPV that might lead to two superfights. If the results go as predicted, we could see Cain Velasquez vs. Alistair Overeem and Rashad Evans vs. Anderson Silva in 2013. Those matchups would be phenomenal.
I’ll have a full breakdown of the card on Monday. Thanks for reading.
Allen Strk is a columnist on Bleacher Report. You can read more of his work at TJRSports.com covering NFL, NBA and MMA. You can follow him at @Allen_Strk on Twitter or e-mail questions/comments at AStrk19@gmail.com.