Can Anderson Silva reclaim that which was once his? | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Three days before we make New Year’s resolutions we will never keep, UFC 168 “Weidman vs. Silva 2” assaults the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas with a title-fight doubleheader in the annual end-of-the-year MMA extravaganza. In a year riddled with engaging rematches, they saved the best for last, as two undefeated champions defend their titles against two very familiar foes. The event on Saturday is at least $5 better than every other Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-view before it. Numbers do not lie, folks.
How We Got Here: With one either meticulously calculated or extremely lucky fluke punch at UFC 162, Chris Weidman knocked out Anderson Silva -- the last guy in the MMA world you would expect to get posterized. Despite “The Spider” professing to the contrary minutes after his first Octagon loss, the immediate rematch was a no-brainer. The “All-American” makes his first middleweight title defense against Silva ... While Weidman and Silva remain amicable, the rivalry between UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate involves neither sugar nor spice. The de facto No. 1 contender in Cat Zingano’s stead, Tate took advantage of Zingano’s knee injury and slid into her spot as both coach on “The Ultimate Fighter” and bantamweight title challenger. Rousey will make her second defense of the UFC crown against the fighter from which she took the Strikeforce title in March 2012 ... Rounding out a night which, according to UFC President Dana White, will be the biggest in UFC history, perennial heavyweight contenders Josh Barnett and Travis Browne square off in the final fight on the menu not involving a shiny gold belt.
With champion Cain Velasquez on the shelf recovering from shoulder surgery, number one contender Fabricio Werdum may need a dance partner in the interim. The winner of Barnett-Browne should fill those shoes.
The Final Showdown, Maybe: The sport changed forever when Weidman’s left fist connected with Silva’s jaw at UFC 162. The greatest fighter of this generation looked human for the first time in the Octagon at the hands of an undefeated, young American. Shock and disbelief reverberated through everyone in that arena and those watching the fight all over the world. Only combat sports can deliver those precious moments when shock, disbelief and ecstasy intersect so perfectly. As UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta said, it is those “Oh S---!” moments that keep the money rolling in. A rematch offers the best opportunity to recreate such a moment. It was a forgone conclusion immediately after their first encounter, even with the Brazilian denying the need for a second bout with Weidman. Everyone knew the powers that be would make the rematch happen. Should Weidman defeat Silva again, proving the first win was no fluke, the book closes on the rivalry. However, if “The Spider” can recapture the title he held for seven years, a third fight would figure to do even bigger business. As with every rematch, the next fight could determine who stands on top of the rivalry or merely puts us one step closer to one of the best trilogies of all-time.
Say What: MMA fans received their fair share of zingers out of Rousey on Season 18 of “The Ultimate Fighter.” The Olympic judo bronze medalist warned everyone before the first episode even aired that things would get ugly between her and rival coach Tate. “Cupcake” stayed composed and calm while “Rowdy” found the act fake and infuriating. Tate came off as the Nancy Kerrigan to Rousey’s Tonya Harding. At a recent media luncheon in Los Angeles, Rousey was quick to remind everyone, with the kind of eloquence only she can deliver, how fast tables can turn in this business. “Everyone’s memory is as long as their Twitter timeline,” she said. “How long ago was it that Robert Downey Jr. was blacklisted from Hollywood? And now he’s the number one paid actor. How long ago was it that Kim Kardashian had d---s in her mouth? And now she sells my little sister shoes.”
Moment of Silence: The late Shane del Rosario was originally scheduled to face promotional newcomer Guto Inocente in a heavyweight showcase at UFC 168, but both fighters withdrew due to injury. The 30-year-old del Rosario died on Dec. 9 after suffering cardiac arrest.
With this being the first pay-per-view since his death and seeing as though he was once booked to compete on the card, it would be appropriate if Zuffa memorialized him somehow. He left far too early.
Happy Trails: Two of the more memorable “Ultimate Fighter” alums face each other as part of the Fox Sports 1 prelims, as Chris Leben collides with Uriah Hall. However, the pairing was not made under the best of circumstances. Leben, who became notorious for his drunken antics during Season 1 of the reality series, finds himself on a three-fight skid. Hall, who has thus far failed to deliver on the hype he accrued during Season 17, has lost two in a row. Few UFC fighters keep their jobs in the midst of such struggles.
Heavy Great: Barnett-Browne might be the coolest fight the UFC can put together in the heavyweight division. This fight pits the veteran, former champion in Barnett against a still-developing martial artist with huge upside in Browne. A win by either man makes a massive statement. Either Barnett proves he is still an elite fighter with UFC gold in his sights or Browne’s potential comes to fruition against his most accomplished opponent. Not to mention both guys have been delivering serious beatdowns in their most recent fights.
Useless Fact: If 2012 was the year of injuries, 2013 will be remembered as the year of championship rematches. Six championship fights in the UFC alone featured two fighters who have already squared off with one another. Velasquez-Antonio Silva, Benson Henderson-Anthony Pettis, Velasquez-Junior dos Santos, Demetrius Johnson-Joseph Benavidez and now UFC 168’s main and co-main events. Do not mess with a winning recipe.
Awards Watch: Rousey enters as a huge favorite to defeat Tate and a -350 favorite to submit her.
Just to clarify for any reader who has not spent a weekend choking on the cigarette smoke at a Las Vegas casino: It will cost you $350 to win $100 to bet on a Rousey submission win. Pencil her in for “Submission of the Night” … John Howard and Siyar Bahadurzada are two welterweights with 20 knockout victories between them. The 21st should deliver a “Knockout of the Night” bonus to one of them … The stakes are so high for Weidman and Silva that even a mediocre match will feel vastly important and increase the odds of it becoming “Fight of the Night.” However, there are a couple of featherweights who probably think differently. Diego Brandao and Dustin Poirier are high-energy, high-output mixed martial artists with deep gas tanks and diverse skill sets. Neither man earns post-fight bonuses often, but they match up so well that they should bring out the best in each other. Give them “Fight of the Night” if Weidman-Silva does not result in something spectacular.