Jose Aldo has eight finishes during his 15-fight winning streak. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
With the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as the familiar stage, the Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday drags its Octagon into the Southern hemisphere for UFC 163.
Pound-for-pound standout Jose Aldo will defend his featherweight title for the fifth time against Chan Sung Jung in the main event, while 2008 NCAA wrestling champion Phil Davis will attempt to solve the Lyoto Machida riddle in the co-headliner.
The Portuguese chants will be loud and proud since the majority of the card pits native Brazilians against foreigners.
How We Got Here: The No. 1 contender sweepstakes at 145 pounds eventually landed on “The Korean Zombie.” Ricardo Lamas was promised a crack at Aldo after he beat Erik Koch at UFC on Fox 6, but Anthony Pettis cut in line. All it took was a supposed text message from “Showtime” to UFC President Dana White stating he could shed the superfluous 10 pounds and drop a weight class. However, Pettis, a former World Extreme Cagefighting champion, withdrew with an injury, leaving Jung and his blitzkrieg style as the most intriguing matchup in the eyes of Zuffa brass ... Two light heavyweights on two-fight winning streaks will clash before Aldo and Jung go at it. Machida thought he had banked a title shot after edging Dan Henderson at UFC 159. Unfortunately for “The Dragon,” the win was overshadowed by the lack of action in the bout, leaving him to tread water at 205 pounds. He faces Davis, who draws his first top 10 opponent in three appearances.
Home Sweet Home: If you bet on Brazilians fighting non-Brazilians in Brazil, you are probably a rich man by now. UFC on Fuel TV 10 in June featured a host of Brazilians battling foreigners, and every foreigner who faced a Brazilian lost. Whether or not this is a premeditated move by matchmakers, Brazilians tend to fight harder at home, meaning those coming through customs are faced with an uphill battle. Nine of the 12 matches at UFC 163 pair a Brazilian with a non-Brazilian. Placing locals on a Brazilian card makes sense from a promotional standpoint: they speak the language, they do not have to travel and they help rally local media. Good luck, imports.
Featherweight Fun: The 26-year-old Aldo is already the most accomplished featherweight in the division’s short history, having held the UFC title with an iron fist. He has defeated a diverse crop of contenders, from former lightweights Frankie Edgar and Kenny Florian to Team Alpha Male’s Chad Mendes. Luckily for fans, new contenders sprout as fast as Aldo knocks them down. Jung punched his ticket to Brazil with a three-fight winning streak. Beyond the South Korean, three contenders stand out. The aforementioned Mendes and his wrestling credentials made for an intriguing matchup since standing with Aldo seems about as wise as grappling with a cactus. The presence of new Team Alpha Male coach Duane Ludwig has helped upgrade his standup from rudimentary to dangerous in a few short months, adding to an already potent arsenal. Mendes will face Clay Guida at UFC 164. Cub Swanson finds himself on a five-fight winning streak, boasting four knockouts in that stretch. He demolished Dennis Siver at UFC 162 and seems to have found himself as a fighter. Swanson is fighting with vicious purpose and creativity. Lamas is the only one of the three who has not faced Aldo yet, and he submitted Swanson in November 2011. An NCAA All-American wrestler at the Div. III level, he is undefeated since downshifting to featherweight, finishing three of his four opponents. Lamas is the front runner as far as the Smartest Guy at the Bar is concerned.
Useless Fact: Recently retired former World Extreme Cagefighting champion Brian Stann will fill in for Joe Rogan as color analyst for UFC 163. The former Marine has plenty of plans for retirement. He will continue in his role as a UFC analyst for pre- and post-fight shows. Additionally, the Silver Star recipient made such a positive impression on Fox that he was signed to call college football games for the network in the fall. It appears Stann, who played linebacker at the Naval Academy, will be wearing makeup more often than he wore the five-ounce gloves inside the Octagon.
Say What: MMA fans love to discuss super fights, as they represent a break from the ordinary. It should come as no surprise that fans are intrigued by the thought of Aldo competing against top lightweights. However, weight classes exist for a reason, and fighters who ignore them generally do not get their hands raised. Look at B.J. Penn’s record at 170 pounds. Aldo said all the right things about the subject during a pre-fight media call: “One step at a time. I want to focus on my fight against ‘The Korean Zombie’ and then we’ll worry about a potential lightweight move. I don’t want to take too big of a step. I respect my opponent and can’t overlook him.”
Awards Watch: “Submission of the Night” will be tough to pin down on a card overflowing with Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts who are matched against foes from countries without BJJ studios on every street corner. With that said, Vinny Magalhaes is taking on Anthony Perosh in Brazil; that is all you really need to know ... Ian McCall needs to make a statement, and he knows it. He remains winless in the UFC, though his three fights have come against the top two flyweights in the world. Look for “Uncle Creepy” to right his ship with a “Knockout of the Night” effort against Illiarde Santos ... In 2011, Jung won “Submission of the Year” with his twister on Leonard Garcia. A year later, he was part of the “Fight of the Year” against Dustin Poirier. He is lined up for another memorable performance here. Give “The Korean Zombie” and Aldo “Fight of the Night” honors.