UFC 203: Miocic vs. Overeem Early Main Card Preview and Predictions

Steven Rondina@srondinaFeatured ColumnistAugust 22, 2016

UFC 203: Miocic vs. Overeem Early Main Card Preview and Predictions

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    After an epic month highlighted by a dramatic main event in UFC 202, the UFC is looking forward to an action-packed September with a card on every Saturday in the month. The biggest, of course, is its next pay-per-view, UFC 203.

    The full card is as follows:

    • Stipe Miocic vs. Alistair Overeem
    • Fabricio Werdum vs. Travis Browne
    • CM Punk vs. Mickey Gall
    • Urijah Faber vs. Jimmie Rivera
    • Jessica Andrade vs. Joanne Calderwood
    • Jessica Eye vs. Bethe Correia
    • Nik Lentz vs. Mairbek Taisumov
    • Ian McCall vs. Ray Borg
    • Drew Dober vs. Jason Gonzalez
    • Damir Hadzovic vs. Yusuke Kasuya

    The order of the bouts is yet to be officially announced past the top three fights, but Bleacher Report is set to give you an early preview of the five biggest bouts of the night.

    So let's take a close look at them.

Jessica Andrade vs. Joanne Calderwood

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

    Division: Strawweight
    Records: Jessica Andrade (14-5), Joanne Calderwood (11-1)

    There's a lot to love about both Joanne Calderwood and Jessica Andrade. Both have bright futures and could very well be championship material. So naturally, UFC matchmakers are having them face off in a pointless bout in which neither will have the opportunity to look good.

    Calderwood's bread and butter is her dynamic striking game. Her knees can wear opponents down in the clinch, and she has no shortage of tools at range. While Calderwood suffered a major setback when she lost to Maryna Moroz in 2015, her win over former contender Valerie Letourneau has put her back in the thick of the Top 10.

    Andrade, meanwhile, has long been a fighter caught outside her weight class. A staple of the women's bantamweight division for years, she cemented herself as a solid gatekeeper with her pure ferocity, but she was never able to grow out of that role due to her lacking size.

    Now fighting at strawweight, however, there's reason to buy into her as a legitimate contender, given her savage win over former title challenger Jessica Penne.

    It's a shame that these two are facing off so early in their renewed relevance since the loser will suffer a huge setback when they could otherwise be en route to a title shot. Such is life as a UFC fighter, though.

    Andrade is the pick here based on her toughness and pure strength, but this one could go either way.

    Prediction: Jessica Andrade def. Joanne Calderwood by unanimous decision

Urijah Faber vs. Jimmie Rivera

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    David Becker/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Division: Bantamweight
    Records: Urijah Faber (33-9), Jimmie Rivera (19-1)

    At 37 years old, Urijah Faber is old for a fighter and damn near ancient for a bantamweight.

    That's not a knock on the California Kid (turned California Middle-Aged Man). The smaller weight classes require a level of speed and agility that is always quick to leave fighters once they pass their athletic prime, and Faber's is in the distant past. 

    While Faber still wins more often than not, he suffered a sharp physical decline in 2015, showing a dwindling level of explosiveness and physicality in two generally forgettable performances. Following his second loss to Dominick Cruz at UFC 199, it was easy to wonder if he may retire with no clear avenue to a title shot and few exciting potential opponents.

    Unfortunately, Faber seems content to stick around for generally meaningless fights against unknown opponents—opponents like Jimmie Rivera.

    Rivera isn't a bad fighter by any stretch of the imagination. 19-1 in his professional career and 3-0 in the UFC, the Bellator and World Series of Fighting veteran has had consistent success against high-level competition since his debut in 2008. He also showed he can hang with Top 10-caliber opposition by defeating Iuri Alcantara at UFC on Fox 18.

    He's an underrated player in the division and could easily take the win, which makes this all the more sad.

    A win does nothing for Faber. Rivera lacks name recognition, adds nothing to Faber's legacy and does nothing to change the fact that he is locked out of title contention. 

    A loss? Well, that would just put him on the same sad path that other legends like Chuck Liddell, Ken Shamrock and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira all walked on toward the sad ends of their respective careers.

    That, unfortunately, is what fans are likely in store for at UFC 203.

    Prediction: Jimmie Rivera def. Urijah Faber by unanimous decision

CM Punk vs. Mickey Gall

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Division: Welterweight
    Records: CM Punk (0-0), Mickey Gall (2-0)

    It's the fight we've all been waiting for.

    Former WWE champion, former ECW champion and two-time Mr. Money in the Bank CM Punk is taping up his hands (instead of drawing X's on them), sliding on some four-ounce gloves and stepping into the Octagon. His opponent? Mickey Gall.

    Punk's presence on the roster has been one of the most hotly debated topics in MMA in recent years.

    For the most part, knowledgeable fans accept and even embrace the crossover between professional wrestling and MMA.

    From the carnival days of shooters like Ed "Strangler" Lewis and Stanislaus Zbyszko, to forerunners like Gene LeBell and Antonio Inoki, to modern legends like Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn and Kazushi Sakuraba, the wild world of "sports entertainment" and no-holds-barred fighting have been intertwined for over 100 years. 

    But while there has always been crossover, Punk just doesn't fit into the framework of modern MMA.

    There are plenty of professional wrestlers who have either had MMA success (like Bobby Lashley and Brock Lesnar) or could have MMA success based on their athleticism and legitimate combat sports backgrounds (like Jack Swagger, Chad Gable and Dolph Ziggler). That's not the case for the man otherwise known as Phil Brooks.

    Punk has no legitimate combat sports background. Punk is not a standout athlete. Punk is a 37-year-old whose body is most likely worn down from 15 years of professional wrestling. That makes it hard to buy into him having a shot at success, no matter the opponent. 

    The UFC is throwing him a softball in Gall, an unheralded 2-0 fighter. Even so, it doesn't feel like Punk will be able to get a hit, literally or metaphorically.

    Prediction: Mickey Gall def. CM Punk by unanimous decision

Fabricio Werdum vs. Travis Browne

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    David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

    Division: Heavyweight
    Records: Fabricio Werdum (20-6-1), Travis Browne (18-4-1)

    In 2013, Travis Browne was the scariest heavyweight in the UFC. 16-1-1 in his MMA career and coming off back-to-back-to-back knockouts of Gabriel Gonzaga, Alistair Overeem and Josh Barnett, he looked like the top candidate to unseat the seemingly unstoppable champion, Cain Velasquez. All he had to do was post a win over aging veteran Fabricio Werdum. No problem, right?

    Wrong.

    In one of the biggest surprises of 2014, Werdum stepped into the cage with Browne and absolutely manhandled him. He out-struck him. He out-grappled him. He out-hustled him.

    Werdum would go on to win the title from there, and Browne has been spinning his wheels ever since.

    There's a redemption story in the making for Browne at UFC 203. A win over his old foe would vault him up the rankings, and a title change in the main event could put him right into contention. 

    Unfortunately, that isn't likely to happen. Unless Browne can land something big and heavy early on in the bout, look for Werdum to once again piece him up en route to a win on the scorecards.

    Prediction: Fabricio Werdum def. Travis Browne by unanimous decision

Stipe Miocic vs. Alistair Overeem

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    Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Division: Heavyweight
    Records: Stipe Miocic (15-2), Alistair Overeem (41-14)

    At one point, Stipe Miocic and Alistair Overeem were both damaged goods.

    How could someone who got knocked out by Stefan Struve ever go anywhere? What about someone who didn't bother to go anywhere as a college wrestler? Forget about his technically solid boxing and athleticism, Miocic was destined to a lifetime in the midcard.

    Oh, and Overeem? He couldn't fight without the stuff. Just look at his 1-3 run after getting popped. How could someone who gets knocked out by Antonio Silva, Travis Browne and Ben Rothwell in an 18-month stretch go anywhere? The UFC probably should've just ignored his amazing striking pedigree and technical prowess and cut him.

    Obviously, things didn't pan out that way, and now, they're main eventing an incredibly interesting pay-per-view with the heavyweight title on the line.

    Overeem, the challenger, is a familiar name for any longtime MMA fan. A holdover from the defunct-but-beloved Pride FC, Overeem has built an impressive collection of titles, including the Strikeforce heavyweight title, the Dream heavyweight title and the 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix title.

    He's acquired those belts and trophies through a combination of potent, diverse striking and a pure savvy that can only be acquired by fighting dozens upon dozens of times.

    Miocic, the new champion, was a mystery to most until taking the UFC title at UFC 198, but he's quietly been an amazing fighter for years now. He took a unique path to the big show, going from NCAA Division I wrestling to baseball, then to MMA, then to boxing, then back to MMA.

    While those strange transitions led to some hiccups, he entered the UFC with a unique blend of athleticism, solid wrestling and technical boxing and has posted numerous impressive wins as a result.

    That makes this an incredibly interesting fight. While Overeem has fought and defeated nearly every manner of fighter, Miocic is very well-rounded and technically sound with no clear weakness.

    This is a pick'em, if there's ever been one. Miocic is the slightly safer bet, given his superior wrestling game, sturdier chin and the potential for a home-cooked decision. Don't put money down on this one, though.

    Prediction: Stipe Miocic def. Alistair Overeem by unanimous decision

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