Once a perfect 10-0, Evan Dunham has lost three of his last five fights. | Photo: Jeff Sherwood
The Ultimate Fighting Championship unveils its first pay-per-view effort of 2013 on Saturday, presenting UFC 156 from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
This year’s annual Super Bowl weekend show is dense from top to bottom and features a highly anticipated featherweight title headliner between reigning king Jose Aldo and former lightweight titlist Frankie Edgar. Additionally, former Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem returns from his nine-month suspension to take on onetime EliteXC champion Antonio Silva, and ex-light heavyweight ruler Rashad Evans meets former Pride Fighting Championships star Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
Though the main draw offers up a heaping helping of readily apparent star power, the show’s free undercard is a stout offering in its own right. Here are five reasons to whet your appetite by tuning in to FX and Facebook to catch the prelims:
Sherdog Fantasy MMA: UFC 156 Free Fan Pick’Em
Stuck in the Middle with You
Evan Dunham may never sit atop the lightweight division, but fans could not ask for a gamer representative of the UFC’s deepest weight class.
The Oregonian has seen his share of ups and downs in the Octagon, beginning his UFC career with a quartet of impressive performances that netted him victories over Per Eklund, Marcus Aurelio, Efrain Escudero and Tyson Griffin. The southpaw then suffered the first loss of his career in a widely disputed split decision defeat to former champion Sean Sherk and saw a booking against Kenny Florian morph into a meeting with the hard-hitting Melvin Guillard -- a development that resulted in Dunham kissing the canvas for the first and only time. Though back-to-back triumphs over Shamar Bailey and Nik Lentz followed for the 31-year-old, he was ultimately outpointed by surging Canadian T.J. Grant in a bloody battle at UFC 152 in September.
Dunham’s current pairing with Gleison Tibau should prove telling, as the Brazilian has long been considered one of the division’s most well-rounded and respected tests for fighters looking to make their way up the 155-pound ladder. Is Dunham poised for another run at the Top 10?
Gatekeeper to the Stars
Just as Dunham needs a victory to reassure fans that he is destined for greater things than a middle-of-the-pack UFC career, so, too, must Tibau continue in his winning ways if he is to ever climb as a lightweight contender.
Tibau seems to possess all the necessary skills to find his way into the Top 10. He is a massive lightweight whose size is matched by his strength, skill and durability. In fact, Tibau is enjoying arguably the best stretch of his 13-year career. Were it not for a contentious decision loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 148, the Brazilian would currently be riding a five-fight Octagon winning streak.
Much like in Dunham’s defeat to Sherk, most major media outlets scored Tibau’s clash with Nurmagomedov for the Brazilian, contradicting the opinion of the three cageside judges. Nevertheless, Tibau was forced to start his run over and did so with an excellent performance against powerful countryman Francisco Trinaldo at UFC 153 in October.
Can Tibau find his way inside to utilize his physical strength or will he get caught on the end of Dunham’s crisp boxing attack? The answer to that question may well determine which man we end up talking about as a future Top 10 talent.
Tyron Woodley is a man in serious need of a training montage.
Previously regarded as one of Strikeforce’s finest welterweight prospects, “T-Wood” worked his way up from the Challengers circuit to earn hard-fought wins over Tarec Saffiedine, Paul Daley and Jordan Mein, compiling a 10-0 record to start his career and earning a shot at the vacant Strikeforce title.
The two-time NCAA Div. I All-American wrestler watched his perfect career mark evaporate in just seconds, however, as Nate Marquardt pinned him up against fence and unloaded with a violent explosion of punches and elbows. The finish was so brutal that Marquardt even found himself in the running for Sherdog.com’s 2012 “Knockout of the Year.”
This is a place Woodley has never before been. Can the 30-year-old bounce back in his Octagon debut and surprise veteran Jay Hieron?
If Woodley does manage to right his ship and get back into the win column, it will not come easy against a former champion like Hieron.
Hieron was initially expected to face highly regarded Brazilian prospect Erick Silva before “Indio” pulled out with an injury. Instead, “The Thoroughbred” will welcome Woodley to the UFC in what should be a better matchup for him, though it also amounts to quite a dangerous fight.
While Silva probably would have out-quicked the former International Fight League champion, I do not think Woodley will do the same. Nonetheless, Woodley is a foe with legit wrestling credentials that may still be able to step inside of Hieron’s striking range and grab ahold of a double-leg.
It would be silly to ignore Woodley’s lack of name recognition among UFC fans in comparison to Silva, who last danced with well-known welterweight and perennial Top 5 talent Jon Fitch. As a result, Hieron must take this fight as seriously as any he has ever had. If he does not, he will find himself recovering from back-to-back defeats and potentially even looking at a promotional pink slip.
Small Man, Big Punch
Here is one for the hardcores to holler about.
There is nothing like watching two bantamweights with knockout power who are not afraid to use it. Both Francisco Rivera and Edwin Figueroa fit that description, and one would be a fool not to watch these fellows throw down at UFC 156.
Rivera has laid out three of his last four opponents, most recently turning out Roland Delorme’s lights at UFC 149 in a result that ultimately became a no contest after Rivera tested positive for an unnamed over-the-counter stimulant. By the way, anybody want to take bets on the stimulant’s identity? Give me $40 on nasal spray.
Figueroa was scrappy in going the distance with current No. 1 contender Michael McDonald in his UFC debut and followed that performance with a second-round technical knockout of Jason Reinhardt at UFC Live 5. Most recently, Figueroa found himself the beneficiary of a harsh two-point foul deduction that cost Alex Caceres a decision win at UFC 143.
Caceres’ length plagued “El Feroz” in that meeting, but that should not be a problem against Rivera. It is truly a rarity when one can state with confidence that two bantamweights will likely blast each other into oblivion long before the final horn sounds, so take advantage of such a circumstance and fire up that old Facebook stream.