UFC 138 goes down on Saturday, with the world's premiere fight league heading to Birmingham, England for just the second time in UFC history.
The first time was UFC 89, where oddly enough, Chris Leben fought in the main event.
While he lost to Michael Bisping back then, "The Crippler" hopes to continue to pave his road for another title shot by taking out "The Filipino Wrecking Machine" Mark Munoz in a headliner that promises fireworks.
The co-main event features an under the radar British fighter in Brad "One Punch" Pickett, as he takes on rising Brazilian Jiu Jitsu star Renan Barao, who hasn't lost a fight since 2005.
Thiago Alves has looked lackluster since working his way up to a welterweight title shot in 2009, but he looks to regain his dominance in the division when he takes on the undefeated Papi Abedi, who is making his UFC debut.
Liverpool England's own Terry Etim looks to take out Eddie Faaloloto in a lightweight bout, while two veteran heavyweights in Cyrille Diabate and Anthony Perosh square off in the first bout on the main card.
Bleacher Report MMA Featured Columnist Dwight Wakabayashi, Jordy McElroy, Dale De Souza and myself, John Heinis are here to tell you who wins on Saturday.
Take a look inside for the fight by fight breakdown.
John Heinis: Two fighters in their late 30s are both on a mission to prove that they still have with it takes to brawl in the Octagon.
Perosh is a BJJ black belt with eight of his 11 wins coming by way of submission, while Diabate has 13 finishes in 17 career victories.
Eight of those finishers were knockouts for Diabate, who also has a whopping 42 professional kickboxing fights under his belt.
Long story short, we have a striker vs. grappler bout to kickoff the main card on Saturday.
Perosh does not have the wrestling skills to get this fight to the ground, so it seems more than safe to say Diabate is going to pick him apart before he makes this a quick fight.
Cyrille Diabate by first round KO
Jordy McElroy: The card opens up with Cyrille Diabate taking on Anthony Perosh in a classic striker versus grappler match-up.
Stylistically, this is one of the easier bouts to decipher on this card.
Perosh is a gifted Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner, but Diabate isn’t a slouch in defending takedowns.
Unless Diabate haplessly jumps into guard or slips and falls, it’s going to be a tall task for Perosh in dragging the fight to the floor.
On the feet, Diabate should be able to use his incredibly lanky frame to pick Perosh apart in the open, while looking to close the distance and utilize his devastating Muay Thai.
This won’t be a pretty fight. Look for Diabate to bust up Perosh in the clinch with an endless onslaught of knees and elbows. The ref will be forced to step in to save a bloodied and battered Perosh towards the end of the first round.
Cyrille Diabate by Round 1 TKO
Dwight Wakabayashi: This is a lightheavyweight battle between two aged veterans on thier last legs in the UFC and MMA altogether.
The 38-year old Diabate is a French, Muay Thai specialist and a southpaw and that is enough to give anyone problems in the stand up game. He is 2-1 in the UFC with wins over Luis Cane and most recently Steve Cantwell.
Perosh on the other hand, is a 39-year old jiu-jitsu specialist who is 1-1 in the UFC. He has been out of action since February as an eye injury forced him to withdraw from his scheduled fight against Krzysztof Soszynski at UFC 131 in June.
Another classic battle of striker vs grappler and I like the fact that Diabate has faced tougher opponents in his time in the UFC.
Cyrille Diabate via unanimous decision
Dale De Souza: Tough to say many things about this fight, other than Cyrille Diabate is on it.
Diabate is coming off of a win over Steve Cantwell at UFC on Versus 3, while Perosh is coming off of his win over Tom Blackledge.
This is really just a striker-vs-grappler affair between two guys who are international sensations but who have yet to break through in the main stream of things.
If Perosh gets Diabate down, he has a good shot of submitting the striker, but we don't know how well Diabate's ground game has improved since we last saw him fight.
Best bet: Diabate takes Perosh's legs out and finds an opening to get Perosh down, where he will let his fists rain down on Perosh en route to a likely TKO victory.
Cyrille Diabate by 1st round TKO
John Heinis: Terry Etim has quietly earned a 14-3 professional MMA record, and although his 5-3 UFC record is nothing special, he does have a surprise unanimous decision victory over Sam Stout at UFC 89.
Meanwhile, Faaloloto is still pretty new to the sport. The 26-year old has a 2-2 record overall, most recently getting decimated by Michael Johnson at UFC Live: Kongo vs. Berry in June.
While there is not much of a field of reference, Faaloloto looked a lot better at welterweight, since both of his wins came at the heavier weight class.
Etim is no world beater, but his has a more than adequate grappling game that will give the inexperienced striker fits.
The Liverpool, England native goes out there and makes it look easy in front of the home crowd.
Terry Etim via round 1 submission
Jordy McElroy: It’s hard not to feel bad for Eddie Faaloloto.
Surely, he has achieved a lifelong dream in getting the opportunity to compete in the UFC, but his dream may have come just a smidge too early.
After winning his first two professional fights, Faaloloto was forced into the fire against Anthony Njokuani and Michael Johnson, who both earned TKO stoppages over him.
Now, his UFC career will likely be decided on whether or not he can travel overseas and defeat Terry Etim in his home country.
Etim presents a nice mix of solid striking with decent grappling. While he isn’t considered world class in any particular aspect, he is a tough lightweight with enough skills to at least challenge some of the division’s best.
Faaloloto is a decent grappler in his own right, but he won’t be able to outwit Etim on the ground. The English native will do work on the feet, drag the fight to the floor and lock up a rear naked choke for the first round finish.
Terry Etim by round 1 submission
Dwight Wakabayashi: Liverpool England's Terry Etim is making his return to the UFC following a year-and-a-half away from competing due to a rib injury.
He is an exciting, slick fighter who has shown well rounded skills in his time in the UFC. A 5-3 record in the UFC with three submission wins proves that he is not strictly a striking fighter anymore.
Eddie Faaloloto is getting another chance to stamp his place among the best fighters in the world after losing badly to TUF 12 winner MIchael Johnson at UFC Live Kongo vs Barry in June.
He was originally a transfer signing from the WEC merger and he lost his only fight in that promotion as well
I see Etim making a glorious return and picking apart Faaloloto everywhere in this fight and eventually finishing the Hawaiian
Terry Etim via second round submission
Dale De Souza: Terry Etim is a fantastic striker and competent enough to hold his own in any area of the game, but he gets a tough test in Edward Faaloloto.
Actually, Faaloloto gets a tough test in Etim, and Faaloloto gets a likely release from the UFC if he does not beat Etim.
Etim is coming off of a loss to Rafael Dos Anjos and a long layoff due to injury, but he's not one loss away from a pink slip.
Apologies if I'm being rough on Faaloloto, as I'm sure the man is exciting to watch when his game face is on, but he just hasn't shown anything to us that'll make us believe that he's a guy to watch in MMA.
Some guys falter under the pressure of fighting at home, but a wise betting man will not consider Etim one of those guys, and they will expect Etim's striking to be on full display in his home country.
Terry Etim by 2nd round TKO
John Heinis: At a quick glance, one may mistake this guys for two contestants in the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding show. These are two jacked up welterweights getting read to tango.
Despite a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, you'd think Thiago Alves has absolutely no grappling game based on the fact that he has lost three of his past four fights to top notch wrestlers in Georges St-Pierre, Jon Fitch and Rick Story.
Although Alves defeated John Howard relatively recently at UFC 124, there are some whispers going round indicating that a loss here could mean the end of the UFC road for "The Pitbull."
It could be possible, given that the vast majority of MMA fans had never heard of Papi Abedi prior to this fight being announced.
Abedi has been no joke thus far into his fight career, going 8-0, scoring five knockouts in the process despite boasting a black belt in Judo and a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
While Abedi may have some success in the UFC down the line, I think this is just too tough of a fight for him right off the bat.
I think Alves definitely gets back in the win column in this one.
Thiago Alves via second round KO
Jordy McElroy: It could be do or die for former welterweight title contender Thiago Alves when he welcomes UFC newcomer Papy Abedi.
Based on looks alone, this bout looks like a showdown between comic book characters. Both of these welterweights are exceptionally large and toned for 170-pounds.
How good is Abedi?
This is the most important question when trying to break down this fight. Abedi is currently undefeated, and only one of his fights have ever gone the distance.
The majority of his wins have come by TKO. Along with nasty power on the feet, he boasts solid wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Judo skills.
On paper, this all sounds great, and Abedi could be a future force in the welterweight division.
Alves is an incredibly tough opponent for a UFC debut. He is a former top-3 welterweight and a major UFC veteran with experience against world class opposition like Georges St-Pierre, Matt Hughes, Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch.
Abedi hasn’t fought anywhere near this level of competition.
With that lone fact, it behooves this journalist to side with the veteran. Alves returns to his winning ways with a third round TKO stoppage.
Thiago Alves by round 3 TKO
Dwight Wakabayashi: It's tough to say that this is a do or die fight for a 28-year old with a 10-5 record in the UFC but with three losses in his last four fights that is the position that Alves finds himself in.
From his malformation in the brain in 2010 to his constant struggles to make weight at 170-pounds, Alves needs a dominant win over the newcomer Abedi if he wants to keep his career on track.
Abedi is making his debut in the UFC and the grappling whiz is being thrown right in to deep waters in facing "The Pitbull."
Abedi is a grappler by his background; however, in his 8-0 professional career has 5 knockouts so don't disregard his power.
I see Alves as being too tough a matchup for a first fight in the UFC and it could be a short night for Abedi
Thiago Alves via round 1 KO
Dale De Souza: A step down in competition, this is not--let's get that straight right now.
This is undefeated Papy Abedi and his aggressive blend of Judo and striking getting thrown to a more experienced striker with scary Muay Thai and even scarier takedowns.
Clearly, someone thinks Abedi is the future of the Welterweight division, because very few up-and-comers can say that they drew Alves in their first fight, but is it premature to give this kid some credit before we see what he does against a vicious striker like Alves?
If you're asking me, I think so, and while I definitely want to see what Abedi can do against an Alves in his first fight, we can't forget that Alves has welcomed impressive guys into the UFC and he's put them on the fast track to the pink slips before we even knew what Alves hit them with.
I like what Abedi could do, but I like Alves' experience and his intelligent offense just a hint better, and fans should expect this one to be a case of a hungry prospect learning to high kick before he's able to walk.
In other words, as impressive as Abedi might be, don't get too comfy with the thought of him surviving long with Alves until fight night rolls around--at which point, I MIGHT change my mind.
Thiago Alves via unanimous decision (30-27)
John Heinis: The last time Renan Barao has not lost since his professional debut in 2005, and the 24-year old rattled off a ridiculous 26 wins since then (including one no contest as well).
Bear in mind 25 of those 28 wins came in Barao's homeland of Brazil, so he likely has not beaten any future world champions.
Nevertheless, he then went on to win his two WEC fights and his UFC debut in May, so this guy obviously has some real talent, regardless how high his ceiling is.
Meanwhile, Brad "One Punch" Pickett is no slouch either, boasting a 21-4 record that includes a win over Demetrious Johnson and a loss to Scott Jorgensen.
Although he hails from London, Pickett actually is a pretty decent wrestler that has some crisp boxing. Will that be enough to overcome the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt?
Hard to say, but I think the difference maker is the fact that Pickett has faced plenty of stiff challenges in his career, and won most of them.
In the end, I expect a competitive fight where One Punch walks away with the W.
Brad Pickett via unanimous decision (29-28)
Jordy McElroy: Brad Pickett and Renan Barao has the potential to be a very intriguing bout.
Barao is a major Brazilian prospect and training partner of pound-for-pound standout and UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo.
Minus a no contest in December 2007, Barao is riding a winning streak that surpasses even “The Land Before Time” series. He has won 26 straight fights, with the last three coming in the UFC and WEC promotions.
Meanwhile, Pickett is a top-10 bantamweight, who is coming off a unanimous decision win over Ivan Menjivar at WEC 53. This will be Pickett’s UFC debut.
Pickett’s persistent pace will keep this bout interesting. He is a strong grappler with brute-like power. His standup is far from otherworldly, but he possesses the boxing chops needed to keep opponents guessing whether or not he’s going to throw a punch or change levels for a takedown.
Barao, a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, should give Pickett fits from bottom with an active guard and seamless transitions.
Look for Pickett to close the distance with his standup, secure takedowns and ride out a workmanlike unanimous decision.
Brad Pickett by unanimous decision
Dwight Wakabayashi: Brad Pickett is a 33-year old estabished MMA veteran who is making his much anticipated debut in the UFC this weekend.
Not only is he making his debut, he is making it in his home country and carrying the hopes of local fans as well. Think "One Punch" will feel any pressure?
Pickett has always been a tough, entertaining and successful fighter who can beat you with boxing and jiu-jitsu. He won his last fight in December of 2010 over Ivan Menjivar but lost to Scott Jorgensen before that.
I hope Pickett can rise to the occasion and thrill the English fans. Renan Barao is a young fighting phenom with an incredible 26-1 record in his pro career.
He is fighting his second fight in the UFC and got a win in his debut over Cole Escovedo in May.
With 12 submissions and 6 knockout victories, the 24-year old is explosive and cunning in the cage and will be a big test for Pickett.
Renan Berao via split decision
Dale De Souza: You would think that with me being huge on former WEC fighters and so forth, that I'd easily think Brad Pickett will win in his own hometown, right?
Wrong, and there is a reason for that:its name is Renan Barao.
It speaks to how underrated a man is in MMA when he tears through a Brazilian circuit of Bantamweights, goes 2-0 in the WEC before he's ever able to get a proper test, gets written off after facing a former WEC Fatherweight Champion who merely got bested, and is still not being paid attention despite facing a UK fighter with superb Boxing and sound Jiu-Jitsu skills.
Actually, the fact that Pickett is not being shown much love despite his own record speaks to what Pickett is as well, and the simple facts are that Pickett is under-appreciated while Barao is unjustifiably overlooked.
If Barao's techinically-sound Muay Thai and slick Jiu-Jitsu take their pound of flesh away from the Brad Pickett hype train, Barao will hopefully be no longer overlooked, but rest assured, it will not be easy.
Expect this one to be a blueprint of what the Bantamweight division is all about, and at the end of the night, anticipated the hometown boy trying his heart out, yet coming out with the shorter end of the stick, but only by a smidgen.
Renan Barao by Split decision (29-28 x2)
John Heinis: The only fight on the card the majority of fans want to see has some serious title implications on the line...sort of.
A win for Munoz could put him as high as a top three guy in the division, while a win for Leben probably leaves him two to three fights from another title shot.
However, Munoz is a Black House teammate of middleweight champion Anderson Silva, so who knows if a Silva-Munoz title fight would ever come to fruition (not that anyone was salivating for that match up anyway).
Meanwhile, Leben has won four of his past five, but when the most notable (and most recent) win is over Wanderlei Silva, survey says you're still a ways away from title contention.
Nevertheless, is is impossible to deny both those guys are fun to watch and make for a decent main event on Spike (for our American fans at least).
Munoz is coming off of a very close win over Demian Maia at UFC 131, which needless to say made his stock in the division skyrocket.
The former two-time All-American wrestler has a big advantage on paper, given that Leben is a brawler with a very basic grappling game.
"The Filipino Wrecking Machine" also has some heavy hands and a good chin, which really makes this an uphill battle for "The Crippler."
As always, Leben has a puncher's chance and will be game for a war, but I really don't see Munoz losing this one.
Mark Munoz via unanimous decision (30-27)
Jordy McElroy: “The Crippler” meets “The Filipino Wrecking Machine” in a bout that could decide a future contender for the UFC middleweight title.
As the main event, this fight is set for five rounds, but it’s doubtful these two sluggers go the distance.
Coming off a first round knockout victory over MMA legend Wanderlei Silva at UFC 132, Chris Leben is a hard-nosed striker with an underrated guard game.
He seems to have an appetite for punches, seeing as he’s always willing to take multiple strikes in an attempt to counter with a haymaker.
Despite his above average chin, Leben will have to be careful in the pocket against Mark Munoz, a former NCAA Division I wrestling champion with vicious knockout power in both hands.
Munoz should be the favorite in this fight, but his tendency to engage in ill-advised slugfests on the feet could cost him.
With such a great wrestling pedigree, the sky is the limit for Munoz, but at times, he feels the need to throw his game plan out the window and sit in the pocket winging punches.
Leben has a great chance in stealing this fight if he can draw Munoz into sloppy, unnecessary exchanges, but with a potential title shot in view, the former Oklahoma State Cowboy will show caution on the feet, take advantage of Leben’s lackluster striking defense and mix in takedowns.
Munoz will earn the second round TKO stoppage and continue his march towards the UFC title.
Mark Munoz by Round 2 TKO
Dwight Wakabayashi: In obviously the biggest fight of the night with key implications in the middleweight division, Chris Leben wants to keep his train rolling against an equally game Munoz.
Leben and his stock are on a serious rise, his loss to Brian Stann aside, he has beaten some tough hombres in his last five fights.
We all know the brawlers style and there is a lot on the line in this fight and look for Leben to try and bully and beat Munoz from the top position.
He has the harder head but the inferior wrestling in this one and he better be ready to sprawl.
Mark Munoz is on an impressive roll himself and coming off a razor thin win over Damian Maia at UFC 131 in June. His three fight win streak has seen him use excellent wrestling and top level strength to beat the likes of C.B. Dollaway and Aaron Simpson.
At 11-2 overall Munoz knows his strengths and he plays to them and he will want to take Leben down quickly and dominate him from there and conditioning is never an issue.
Mark Munoz via unanimous decision
Dale De Souza: Mark Munoz believes that this fight will be a battle between two guys that will fight to win every time, and I believe him.
I believe that although Munoz has gone to the judges before and although Leben has lost convincingly before, both men will try and throw bombs, both men will trade shots down the stretch of each frame, and they will try to do enough to win the fight as opposed to "not losing" the fight.
When Mark Munoz says that, I for one believe him, but is it really worth it when a wrestler of his caliber opts to trade bombs with a zombie like Leben, knowing full well that he puts on memorable fights based solely on his ability to take and give punches?
Does Munoz really want to stand with a guy that cut a fight with Wanderlei Silva short by 27 seconds in what was supposed to be a Fight of The Year candidate in the eyes of some?
If he does...well, I don't want to quote Michael Bisping, so I won't, but he might be a little bit off his rocker.
See, there is a difference in this fight that will show, and that difference is this:
Mark Munoz hits guys hard, but Chris Leben hits guys harder, and whether Munoz likes it or not, Leben will hit Munoz harder than Munoz has ever hit anybody before.
Chris Leben by 3rd round KO
John Heinis: Fight of the Night - Munoz vs. Leben
Knockout of the Night - Thiago Alves
Submission of the Night - Terry Etim
Jordy McElroy: Fight of the Night - Munoz vs. Leben
Knockout of the Night - Cyrille Diabate
Submission of the Night - Terry Etim
Dwight Wakabayashi: Fight of the Night - Pickett vs. Barao
Knockout of the Night - Thiago Alves
Submission of the Night - Terry Etim
Dale De Souza: Fight of the Night - Barao vs. Pickett
Knockout of the Night - Chris Leben
Submission of the Night - Chris Cope (if he beats Che Mills)