If fans were dissatisfied with the UFC‘s decision to employ a one-fight card for its historic debut on FOX, they should be far more appeased the second time around, as the world’s MMA leader is staying true to its promise of delivering “PPV caliber” cards on network television, with a hat-trick of mouth-watering bouts. Both the headlining fight and the co-main event bear direct title implications, as Rashad Evans bids to cement his status as the number one contender for the light heavyweight championship for the umpteenth time, while Chael Sonnen defends his fake middleweight title against Michael Bisping for a shot at the division’s real kingpin. Meanwhile, a very tricky battle awaits Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace Demian Maia when he locks horns with one of the sport’s brightest prospects in Chris Weidman.

Preliminary Predictions:

* Chris Camozzi to defeat Dustin Jacoby by Decision
* Joey Beltran to defeat Lavar Johnson by Decision
* Shane Roller to defeat Michael Johnson by Decision
* Charles Oliveira to defeat Eric Wisely by Submission in Round 1
* George Roop to defeat Cub Swanson by Decision
* Mike Russow to defeat Jon-Olav Einemo by TKO in Round 2
* Evan Dunham to defeat Nik Lentz by Decision

Main Card Predictions:

Middleweight Fight: Demian Maia vs. Chris Weidman

One of the most promising rising fighters in the sport, Weidman’s transition from wrestling to MMA has been as seamless as he could have hoped. Like other fellow wrestlers-turned-martial artists, Weidman has been able to pick up the grappling aspect of the game with remarkable ease. His last two bouts showed the kind of submission grappler he’s developed into, as Weidman displayed a very diverse top game. Constantly looking to improve position while simultaneously punishing his opponent with ground-and-pound, the former “All-American” is far from being single-minded in his approach from the top. His guard-passing is extremely fluid, and is rendered even easier with an onslaught of punches and elbows. Where Weidman shines the most however, is when he is able to secure front headlock control, where he possesses quite an arsenal of submissions.

Interestingly, this could all prove irrelevant against Maia, whose BJJ wizardry could well negate Weidman’s grappling — that is of course, if Weidman decides to shoot on his opponent to begin with. After all, Maia’s bottom game is about as good as it gets in the middleweight division. In fact, the Brazilian is one of the few fighters in the sport who can still afford to use an open guard, as his triangles and vast arsenal of sweeps are a handful for any opponent to handle. Even if Weidman is confident in his ability to survive inside Maia’s guard, he is unlikely to find much joy in doing anything noteworthy from the top.

For his part, Maia will undoubtedly look to close the distance, get the clinch and work for the takedown. Maia’s takedowns from the clinch are extremely underrated, but putting Weidman on his back is a tall order. If he is able to do it, even for a brief moment, he could make inroads, as Maia is an expert at taking advantage of his opponent’s eagerness to regain his feet and use it to take the back, where he is incredibly difficult to shake off. When that fails however, Maia often likes to transition from single leg attempts to pulling guard in order to take the fight to his element; though just how much offense he can produce from the bottom remains to be seen.

Maia’s main flaw is his blatantly unpolished striking, highlighted by some extremely wild boxing. He will often rely on throwing a sloppy left cross and leaves himself vulnerable to getting countered in the process. Conversely, Weidman’s striking is a little raw as well, but he has shown some mild — but potentially crucial — improvements. His kicks have come along nicely, and he will be content to stay on the outside and chomp on Maia’s legs. When moving forward, he’s also capable of putting together combinations and dirty box from close-quarters.

It is a difficult test for the Matt Serra protege to take on such short notice, but this isn’t a match-up where he risks getting beat up. However, it is not a match-up where he is likely to look too good either, as his main strengths are negated by Maia’s. We could well be looking at a controversial decision in this one, as Weidman may enjoy some time on top, but his opponent will likely be doing most of the work. On the other hand, Maia’s takedowns from the clinch, sweeps, and scrambles could see him through.

Official Prediction: Demian Maia to defeat Chris Weidman by Decision

Middleweight Fight: Chael Sonnen vs. Michael Bisping

Fresh off his long awaited Octagon return where he made short work of Brian Stann, Sonnen squares off with Bisping for a shot at Anderson Silva‘s middleweight title. After initially being scheduled to take on a wrestling oriented fighter in Mark Munoz, Sonnen is actually facing an easier stylistic match-up here.

Despite his rightful reliance on his wrestling, Sonnen is much improved as an overall MMA fighter. His striking has become quite solid, highlighted by a surprisingly quick left cross. Additionally, Sonnen has always possessed a very good chin and has never been stopped with strikes, which allows him to aggressively move forward, eat some shots, but get the takedown anyway. This is made even easier by Sonnen’s speed, explosiveness, and ability to cover an usual amount of distance with his shot. Even when shooting for a power double from seemingly outside of the proper range, Sonnen’s quick first step allows him to catch opponents by surprise and get the takedown. Shooting for power doubles isn’t all the Oregon loudmouth can do, as if he decides to close the distance, Sonnen is an absolute terror in the clinch, where he can rough up his opponent with dirty boxing, get underhooks, and put him on his back.

For his part, Bisping will be the superior striker, despite some obvious flaws in his stand-up. He is constantly guilty of circling to his opponent’s power hand, and more worryingly as far as this bout is concerned, backpedaling right into the fence when pressed. Instead of circling out and resetting, Bisping digs himself a hole by allowing his opponent to have him pinned against the cage. Given that Sonnen will be looking to rush him at any given chance and put him on the back-foot, this could spell trouble for “The Count.” Bisping will look to get on the bicycle, land some jabs, throw plenty of body kicks, and mix them up with some combinations. He does well to set up the high kick, but he lacks the power to really use it to clobber an opponent. His right cross is his best punch, and to his credit, he rarely throws it as a single strike with little set-up.

The real issue for Bisping is that he doesn’t quite possess a puncher’s chance in this one, in the sense that he was never a one-punch knockout artist, and Sonnen’s chin has historically held up very well. When the Brit has managed to put his opponent away, he did it with a barrage of strikes from up close. Against Sonnen, this is a tough proposition, as he could easily change levels and shoot or clinch up every time Bisping is within that range.

The most underrated aspect of Bisping’s game is his ability to escape from the bottom. He possesses surprisingly dynamic hips, is good in the scrambles, and is especially savvy when it comes to getting back to his feet. This will be crucial, as he is almost certainly going to end up on his back in this fight, perhaps repeatedly. Sonnen however, has a suffocating top game that makes life very difficult for his foes. He is absolutely relentless, is constantly pounding to the head and body from inside the guard, and if his recent bout with Stann is any indication, is developing solid submission grappling to complement his punishing ground-and-pound. In that regard, Sonnen has definitely improved his guard-passing technique, which adds another dimension to an already authoritative top game.

Of course, Sonnen’s Achilles heel has long been his submission defense. He tends to leave his neck exposed when shooting in, is prone to getting caught in a guillotine, and has been submitted from the bottom on numerous occasions; mainly with triangles. However, Bisping has never been a significant submission threat, and the short notice nature of the fight means he didn’t have the necessary time to focus on working submissions from the bottom.

Look for Sonnen to do what he does best (no, not trolling), and dominate Bisping on his way to a decision.

Official Prediction: Chael Sonnen to defeat Michael Bisping by Decision

Make sure to check back tomorrow for my breakdown of the main event between Evans and Phil Davis…