UFC 168 Prelims: 5 Reasons to Watch

By Mike Whitman Dec 23, 2013
Uriah Hall has not yet lived up to expectations. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday will return to the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas to close out 2013 with the type of bang that has come to be expected from year-end MMA shows.

UFC 168 will see undefeated middleweight champion Chris Weidman put his title on the line against ex-titleholder and long-suspected cyborg Anderson Silva, who hopes to even the score with the man who bounced his head of the canvas like a basketball in July.

Prior to the pay-per-view festivities, which will also see Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate square off in a rematch of their 2012 Strikeforce confrontation, the show’s Fox Sports 1-broadcast preliminary card is highlighted by Uriah Hall’s middleweight clash with Chris Leben.

Hall introduced himself to UFC fans as a cast member on “The Ultimate Fighter 17,” scoring some of the most violent knockouts in the history of the show. Of particular importance was the spinning heel kick delivered to the head of Adam Cella, which nearly knocked out everyone in the room by virtue of its sheer awesomeness. The New Yorker then proceeded to wreck Bubba McDaniel and Dylan Andrews on his way to the live finale, where he was expected by many to do the same thing to Kelvin Gastelum. However, somebody forgot to tell Gastelum to roll over, and the young buck instead walked away with a split decision victory.

Another split verdict went against Hall in his next outing, as veteran John Howard outpointed the former Ring of Combat champion to make a successful Octagon return at UFC Fight Night 26 in August. In both of his UFC defeats, Hall barely resembled the aggressive striker who terrorized Season 17 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series.

Now staring at a two-fight skid, Hall has much riding on his upcoming clash with “The Crippler.” In fact, I would say this bout is actually deserving of the clichéd “must-win” label. Will Hall crash and burn or earn a measure of redemption when he meets the durable southpaw?

Watching Hall fight with his back to the wall is but one reason to scope the UFC 168 prelims. Here are four more:

Sherdog Fantasy MMA: UFC 168 Free Fan Pick’Em

‘Crippler’ Crossroads

In Leben, Hall will face an aging talent who has little chance of defeating him on paper -- though such odds have never stopped Leben before.

Even as a young man, the heavy-handed southpaw was never a blue-chip athlete. However, the Oregon native maximized his strengths, using the granite in both his fists and his jaw to earn a spot on the inaugural season of “The Ultimate Fighter” and later take on some of the UFC’s best middleweights.

Now 33 years old, Leben has struggled in the last three years, dropping four of his last five bouts and serving a one-year suspension after testing positive for banned painkillers in 2011. I do not want to speak out of turn, but I think a loss might signal the end of Leben’s long UFC career.

Can the 32-fight veteran drag his faster opponent into a brawl to even the playing field or will Hall prove too quick for the heavy-handed veteran?

‘Killer’ Return

Photo: Taro Irei/Sherdog.com

Bahadurzada prefers to trade.
Siyar Bahadurzada made such a beautiful noise when he came to the UFC.

There were many questions from casual fans about the Afghan fighter’s identity and what he brought to the table. Violence, I said. He brings insane, Old Testament-level violence. Sure enough, the 29-year-old did not disappoint, burying Paulo Thiago with a vicious counterpunch in a 42-second UFC debut last year. However, such a finish was not to be had in his sophomore Octagon appearance, as Bahadurzada was taken down and controlled for 15 minutes by Dong Hyun Kim at UFC on Fuel TV 8 in March.

After suffering an injury that knocked him out of a planned showdown with Robbie Lawler in July, Bahadurzada will now collide with “Doomsday” Howard, a man more likely to oblige the Afghan in the standup. Fireworks should be the name of the game, and you would be silly to miss it.

‘Menacing’ Once More

Michael Johnson has piqued my curiosity once again.

I must admit that I doubted “The Menace” after he was out-wrestled by Myles Jury and then submitted by Reza Madadi, but Johnson certainly regained a measure of momentum in my mind by beating a lightweight the caliber of Joe Lauzon. Johnson was simply better than the Massachusetts native in virtually every area of the fight over the course of three rounds, and I think such a performance deserves no small measure of praise. The real trick for Johnson will be to build on that performance in an effort to find the consistency that has thus far eluded him in his UFC career.

Hoping to hand Johnson his third loss in four fights is Gleison Tibau, one of the division’s largest and steadiest competitors and a go-to measuring stick for lightweights on the rise. Can Johnson defeat the Brazilian and show that his excellent performance against Lauzon was no aberration?

Featherweight Find

Once the world’s top featherweight contender, Manny Gamburyan has seen his ups and downs in recent years.

“The Anvil” was starched by then-World Extreme Cagefighting champion Jose Aldo to close out 2010 and then began his UFC career with a pair of decision defeats to Tyson Griffin and Diego Nunes. However, Gamburyan has since rebounded with back-to-back victories, first outpointing Michihiro Omigawa before scoring a controversial judges’ verdict over Cole Miller in August.

Gamburyan has now been paired with Dennis Siver, an ex-lightweight who saw a two-fight winning streak snapped by Cub Swanson in July. Prior to that knockout defeat, Siver posted decision wins over Nunes and Nam Phan, with the latter victory coming in particularly impression fashion.

The featherweight division seems to be growing more competitive all the time given the UFC’s continual additions of new talent. Which of these veterans will take a step toward regaining a spot in the top 10?
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