Aside from the championship main event, there is a stacked undercard to enjoy at this weeks UFC pay per view, so if you’re not suffering from the burnout of three successive weeks of free UFC (as well as Cage Warriors and Invicta) it’s well worth checking out.
The co main event features a grudge match five years in the making between perennial middleweight contenders Michael Bisping (23-5) and Alan Belcher (18-7).
Bisping has been one win away from a title shot for what seems like years, always falling short just when that next victory would unlock the championship opportunity. Originally a kickboxer, Bisping has developed into a well rounded mixed martial artist capable of using developed wrestling and ground games.
The biggest flaw in his career has been a tendency to move into trouble, with his movement letting him down and leading to his two KO defeats to Dan Henderson and Vitor Belfort, the second of which he is now looking to bounce back from.
Many American fans like to say that Bisping has a glass chin, but two KO losses in 28 professional fights (18 of them in the UFC) say otherwise. There’s not many who can say they’ve gone the distance with Rashad Evans, Wanderlei Silva and Chris Leben.
Until his recent loss to Yushin Okami, Belcher was very much the overlooked dark horse of the middleweight division, and went into that bout riding a 4-0 streak that could easily have been 7-0 bar some dubious judging in his split decision loss to Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 100.
Always an exciting fighter, Belcher has shown his varied skills with submission and KO wins in almost equal measure while also developing a reputation of being incredibly hard to submit – the fact that Rousimar Palhares had him in a leg lock and didn’t walk away with the win tells you all you need to know there.
The trash talk for this bout – Michael Bisping is involved, of course there is trash talk – has revived around Bisping making a throwaway statement along the lines of ‘I bet you, I knock him out’ along with a jab at Belcher’s distinctive Johnny Cash tattoo which Belcher ran with and responded with increasingly ludicrous bets challenging Bisping to get a similar tattoo if he lost or to put up a high value car.
Belcher’s trash talk may have the effect if throwing Bisping off – his losses to Belfort and Henderson came off the back of heated exchanges – but it’s just as likely it inspires Mike to a dominant performance, as shown against Jason Miller and Jorge Rivera.
On balance, I think Bisping is the more developed martial artist and gets back in a winning way with a decision here. I’ve been wrong before though…
Next down the bill is a heavyweight clash between two knockout artists who couldn’t have more different physiques. Roy Nelson (18-7) is the antithesis of what you’d expect a modern day professional martial artist to look like, rotund, pasty and often in recent times sporting a beard of hobo-like extremity. However, with his top notch jujitsu background, deceptively acute striking and iron clad chin, he’s far from a journeyman.
Cheick Kongo (18-7-2) by contrast always resembled a slab of chiseled onyx, sporting one of the most ripped physiques in the heavyweight division and offsetting that with an air of Gallic culture and sophistication that defies the stereotype of a ‘cage fighter.’
A kickboxer by inclination, Kongo also boasts quality wrestling and submission skills which have allowed him to take dangerous strikers like Matt Mitrione and Shawn Jordan to decision wins.
Despite their almost cartoonish differences in appearance and demeanour, these two match up very well, as legit heavyweights who’s first inclination is to stand and trade but who have other tools should they become necessary.
Kongo is the more technical striker while Nelson has the edge in sheer bull-necked un-knock-out-able-ness (that’s a word, right?). Kongo has the edge in wrestling, but Nelson is better on the ground.
I have NO IDEA how this is going down.
Another match spawned of trash talk sees Ultimate Fighter finalist Vinny Magalhaes (10-5) putting his reputation as one of the best jujitsu guys in MMA on the line against Phil Davis (10-1) who is still trying to establish his place in the division following his January 2012 loss to Rashad Evans that cost him his unbeaten record and bumped him out of the title picture.
Magalhaes is (as I’ve said) a top level jujitsu guy (served as BJJ coach for Team Sonnen on the most recent series of the Ultimate Fighter) and is riding a six fight winning streak which rescued him from hit and miss results in the first few years of his MMA career (only three years ago, his record was 4-5). The Magalhaes we’ll see on Saturday is a world away from the youngster who went 0-2 in his initial UFC run in 2008-09.
Of course, Davis is a top notch wrestler, with a history of using that wrestling base to score submission wins, especially his preferred Anaconda Choke. Rangy in a similar way to champion Jon Jones, Davis uses his length to keep opponents at the right distance before unleashing his wrestling. His bout against Rashad Evans showed that he can be frustrated by an opponent with good movement and takedown defence, and lets not remember that taking someone like Magalhaes to the ground is a bold tactical choice.
I’m very interested to see how this one turns out, but my affection of jujitsu over wrestling means I have to be cheering for Vinny here.
The main card is rounded out with a lightweight clash between the always-close-to-a-title-shot Jim Miller (22-4) and Strikeforce import Pat Healy (29-16).
As a former Welterweight, Healy has a size advantage over Miller and I’d suspect he’ll be looking to continue his 6-0 streak with his usual tactics of overwhelming his opponent and submitting them.
Jim Miller is no easy man to submit though. In fact it’s only been done once inside the cage, when Nate Diaz (another one time Welterweight) managed to sink in a choke. The likes of Ben Henderson and Joe Lauzon have failed to submit Miller, while his own grappling skills are beyond dispute.
I think Miller takes this through a combination of Octagon Shock on Healy’s part and his top level experience and speed countering Healy’ size. I never bet against Jim Miller.
The preliminary card is, as ever sprinkled with interesting bouts. I was quite excited to see the continued rise of Erik Perez but his injury and replacement with Bryan “Mr Tate” Carraway for the bout against Johnny Bedford has dulled my interest a little.
The UFC’s third ever female bout takes place here as undefeated Olympic medallist (that’s familiar) Sara McMann (6-0) faces Germany’s Sheila Gaff (10-4-1).
McMann turned to MMA quite late, following her grappling career but has quickly amassed a notable record, boasting wins over top level female talent like Shayna Baszler and Tonya Evinger since her debut only two years ago.
At nine years McMann’s junior, Gaff has more MMA experience and comes into this fight on the back of three first round KO wins.
When I first saw this match, I thought that Gaff was being presented as a sacrificial victim to US hero McMann, especially as her career has been spent at Flyweight. However, I’m increasingly unsure about that and I have to admit that my opinion of Gaff is coloured by her decision to pull out of her Cage Warriors main event with Rosi Sexton last year because of ‘flu’ which coincidentally struck after it was agreed both fighters would undergo voluntary drug testing.
That said, TKO1s over Aisling Daly and Jennifer Maia are not to be ignored.
As always with the girls, this is going to be interesting.
Other bouts that stand out to me see Russian suplex machine Rustam Khabilov (15-1) facing undefeated Strikefore import Yancy Madeiros (9-0) and the clash between the ever entertaining Leonard Garcia (15-10-1) and Cody McKenzie (13-3) with both men looking to recover from some crushing losses.
As usual, please check http://www.ufc.com for local listings in your area and we’ll have live Twitter commentary via @TeamKumite on the night.
MAIN (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
• Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen – for light-heavyweight title
• Alan Belcher vs. Michael Bisping
• Cheick Kongo vs. Roy Nelson
• Phil Davis vs. Vinny Magalhaes
• Pat Healy vs. Jim Miller
PRELIMINARY (FX, 8 p.m. ET)
• Johnny Bedford vs. Bryan Carraway
• Ovince St. Preux vs. Gian Villante
• Sheila Gaff vs. Sara McMann
• Rustam Khabilov vs. Yancy Medeiros
PRELIMINARY (Facebook, 6:30 p.m. ET)
• Leonard Garcia vs. Cody McKenzie
• Nick Catone vs. James Head
• Kurt Holobaugh vs. Steven Siler