UFC 203 has potential to make big shifts in the Heavyweight Division. There are two fights that will likely determine the next Heavyweight Championship match-up on the same card. The champion will look to defend his belt, and the number one contender will look to secure a chance to get his belt back. Also on the card will be the long awaited debut of the WWE & UFC crossover experiment that is CM Punk. Throw in a UFC fan favorite fighting for his chance to get back into the Bantamweight championship fight and you have the makings for a great PPV card. I’ll take a look at what I think to be the most interesting fights on the UFC 203 card, and offer some predictions to improve your financial holdings.
Notable Main Card Fights:
Urijah “The California Kid” Faber (2nd) vs Jimmie “El Terror” Rivera (12th) (Bantamweight 135lbs)
Preview: If it feels like Urijah Faber been in the top 5 always close to a title shot no matter what division he fights in, it’s because he has. Faber’s entire career has seen him fight and succeed most of the time against the top talent in both the Bantamweight and Featherweight divisions. Unfortunately he has been unable to unseat the champions in either division during his entire UFC career. Faber is 0-4 in UFC championship fights, and at 37 years old this is likely his last real shot to push for a title. He currently ranks 2nd in the Bantamweight division but he’ll need to prove to the UFC brass that its worth putting him in against 3rd fight against Dominik Cruz the current champion who has beaten him twice already. In all likelihood Faber would have to demolish Jimmie Rivera and hope to score a grudge match fight against former teammate and current #1 contender TJ Dillashaw. If Faber can somehow manage to beat both Rivera and Dillashaw he could argue he’s earned one final shot at the title. However, Faber is in for a brutal fight against Rivera, a young prospect looking to make a name for himself with his first victory against a top 10 opponent. Rivera has tremendous takedown defense and dangerous hands making Faber’s typical game plan of takedowns a tall order. This fight will likely come down to whether Rivera can hurt Faber with his striking, and keep himself off the cage where Faber can use his skill set to get Rivera to the mat. Rivera is a pretty decent wrestler, but his size disadvantage could force him to stay in the center of the ring and on his feet if he wants to win.
Odds: Faber (+105) vs Rivera (-125)
Prediction: The odds are close to dead even for this fight and I’m a little perplexed about the disparity in experience between Faber and Rivera. Yes Rivera is a good-looking prospect who has yet to lose since entering the UFC, but who has he beaten? Luri Alcantara, Pedro Munhoz, and Marcus Brimage. All solid fighters but not a single one of his opponents held a rank when he fought them. Nor did any of his opponents have a fraction of the big stage experience Faber possesses. I think Faber has the better grappling, submissions, and wrestling than Rivera. He also will have a size and a significant experience advantage forcing Rivera to out strike Faber to get the win. I think Faber knows this is his last run to get one more title shot before his inevitable retirement. A loss to Rivera would effectively stop that run, Faber is too good and too seasoned to let Rivera derail his last run. I think you get great value on a high-level albeit older fighter facing a much less proven youngster with no real skill advantages.
(Faber (+105) via Unanimous Decision)
Mickey Gall vs CM Punk (Welterweight 170lbs)
Preview: The long-awaited debut of Phil Brooks aka CM Punk will happen on Saturday. I’ve tried my best to take this fight seriously but I cannot get away from the fact this is a freak show fight. I addressed some of my thoughts on CM Punk getting his shot and while I respect his heart, I do not think he belongs in that cage. At least his opponent Mickey Gall, while inexperienced has an amateur record, and an official UFC victory to give some legitimacy for his place on a main card PPV. Gall is young and athletic, with a heavy jiu-jitsu background which should make him a nightmare for Punk from the opening bell. Punk has literally zero fighting background so it’s tough to say where he may have any skill he could call a strength. He did make a wise choice going with the legendary Duke Roufus’s gym to prepare for the fight. However, he is as green as anyone who has ever fought in the UFC and is a rightful underdog. Gall’s game plan is simple, do whatever he wants, expose Punk’s lack of skill and just don’t get caught with a miracle punch.
Odds: Punk (+345) vs Gall (-415)
Prediction: I can’t in good conscience pick CM Punk in a fight that is not predetermined or scripted. If you can find an under 1.5 rounds bet it. If you can find plus odds for a Gall by Submission bet it. If Punk shocks the MMA world and beats Gall, I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong and congratulate him. I just don’t see a world where a 37-year-old untrained fake wrestler beats a real live UFC fighter but it would be fun to see it.
(Mickey Gall (-415) via Submission / Under 2.5 Rounds -195)
Fabricio “Vai Cavalo” Werdum (#1 Contender) vs Travis Browne (6th) (Heavyweight 205-265lbs)
Preview: In a co-main event of sorts former UFC Heavyweight Champion and current number 1 contender Fabricio Werdum will face Travis Browne. Werdum vs Browne will be a rematch from their 2014 matchup that saw Werdum absolutely dominate Browne. Werdum would win a wide unanimous decision, and go on to capture the UFC championship in his very next fight. Browne came into his 2014 fight against Werdum on fire, but since that loss has seen his career sputter. He’s lost to any of the top-tier talent he’s faced, and his only victories came in controversial fashion against two guys no longer in the UFC. Browne is in no danger of being cut anytime soon as the Heavyweight division is fairly shallow outside of the top. However, if he loses to Werdum again, his days as a title contender, will likely be through if they are not already. Werdum has his own set of demons to overcome in this fight, after he lost his championship to Miocic for being wreck less by most media accounts. Miocic starched the champion after he became too aggressive early in their title fight, and lost his belt because of it. He cannot make that same mistake against a motivated and power punching Browne. Werdum will try to avoid taking any big shots, and get Browne to the mat where he should have a huge advantage. Browne will try to use his height and reach advantage to make Werdum fight his fight standing up.
Odds: Werdum (-200) vs Browne (+170)
Prediction: My initial reaction was to pick Werdum easy, as he dominated their first encounter. Very rarely does a guy get beaten so thoroughly, that he comes back and wins the rematch if there ever is one. However, there are two things going for Travis Browne in this fight that were not there in their first matchup. Werdum is coming off a devastating knockout loss, and even though he’s lost before, you do not know how your body will respond after such a loss until you get hit again. Browne also knows this is his last shot at getting at staying in title contention, so that added motivation and pressure will likely have him ready as he can possibly be. It’s the heavyweight division so one punch can win any fight, but after saying all that I just can’t pick against Werdum here. He has wins against MMA legends like Fedor, Hunt, and Velasquez. All of whom are better than Travis Browne. Most importantly he’s already beaten Browne before, giving him the confidence he can do it again. Werdum knows if he can put Browne away, he’ll likely get another shot to get his belt back after this fight. As long as Werdum does not “clown around” or overlook Browne, I think he gets the finish this time.
(Werdum (-200) via TKO ref stoppage)
Main Event (Heavyweight Championship Fight)
Stipe Miocic (Champion) vs Alistair “The Reem” Overeem (3rd) (Heavyweight 205-265lbs)
Preview: Stipe Miocic will make his first title defense in his home state of Ohio against the ultra-dangerous Alistair Overeem. Miocic got the belt after his devastating knockout of Fabricio Werdum. His prize for getting the championship belt is a matchup with possibly the most decorated and devastating striker in UFC history. Overeem is a former K-1 kick boxing champion, and an athletic freak. He can switch any UFC heavy weights lights off with a single punch or kick. After a bumpy start through his first five UFC fights, he has ripped off four consecutive victories earning his first title shot. Stipe does not have an overly elite skill set like Overeem, but he does have a more well-rounded MMA style. He also has very sneaky speed for a man his size that compliments his boxing when in punching range. Both men are 6’ 4’’ and have an 80” reach, but Overeem does maintain a sizeable 5” leg reach advantage. Overeem will look to capitalize on his leg reach advantage, with his phenomenal and powerful kicks to punish Miocic. Overeem also has a great takedown defense, stuffing 78% of the attempts against him making it difficult for Miocic to get him to the mat. Miocic’s best advantage in this fight will be his stamina. Overeem has a tendency to gas out towards the tail end of the 3rd round; making him susceptible if the fight goes into the 4th or 5th rounds of a championship fight. It will be critical for Miocic to not get caught up trying to trade with Overeem and instead be smart with his attack. Overeem ha been hurt and knocked out, but Miocic must exercise patience in the early rounds if he hopes to do it.
Odds: Miocic (-140) vs Overeem (+120)
Prediction: This fight is a coin flip. Overeem can win anytime he steps into the octagon because he has the power in all his limbs to end a fight at any moment. He’s fought on every big stage combat sports sans boxing, has to offer. He does not seem overwhelmed by his first UFC title fight. He’s been loose and joking with the crowd all throughout the lead up to the fight this week. A loose, relaxed, and prepared Overeem is a scary man. However, I can easily see Miocic weathering an early Overeem storm after a few scary moments. Overeem may tire, and Miocic will begin to batter a tired Overeem until the ref stops it. I’m just not sure how Miocic will respond with the pressure of being the champ instead of chasing the champ. Add in the extra pressure and obligations of fighting in front of his home crowd and that could tip the advantage to Overeem. I’ll take the kickboxing legend to use his kicks to bust the champ up, and eventually finish him. I think Overeem captures his first UFC gold and I’ll take the plus odds in a true toss-up fight to close out UFC 203.
(Overeem (+120) via Knockout)
Prediction Record Year to Date (8-6-0) (-$30)
-Record& predictions based on Win vs Loss predictions only. Unless specified otherwise I use increments of $100 (for + odds predictions) & $110 (for – odds bets) as hypothetical wagers for each prediction.
-Predictions& Records are for entertainment value only
*Stats via www.UFC.com