UFC 153: Official Preview and Predictions
By Tom Taylor
This Saturday, UFC light heavyweight Stephan Bonnar will have to chance to pull off one of the biggest upsets in UFC history. When UFC 153’s original main event, a featherweight title fight between champ Jose Aldo and former lightweight champ Frankie Edgar fell through, Bonnar agreed to enter the cage with a man many believe to be the most dominant fighter to have ever competed in mixed martial arts: Anderson Silva. The pair will fight for three rounds at light heavyweight, the weight class above Silva’s usual home of middleweight. Before Bonnar has his chance at solving the puzzle that is Silva, heavyweight legend Antonio “Minotauro” Nogueira will go to war with the hard hitting Dave Herman in the evening’s co-main event. The co-main event will be preceded by a pivotal welterweight scrap between Jon Fitch and rising Brazilian star, Erick Silva. The card will be sweetened even more by a pair of light heavyweight showdowns between Glover Teixeira and Fabio Maldonado, and Phil Davis and Wagner Prado. And finally, the main card action will be kicked off by a fight between welterweights Demian Maia and Rick Story. When the action begins on Saturday night, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, here is what we can expect from the main card.
Stephan “The American Psycho” Bonnar (15-7-0) vs. Anderson “The Spider” Silva (32-4-0)
There’s a reason Stephan Bonnar is being talked about as the biggest underdog in UFC main event history. That reason is Anderson Silva’s absolute clear-cutting of the UFC middleweight division, and his spectacular success in his two previous trips up to light heavyweight. “The Spider” has not lost since entering the UFC, and has outclassed the likes of Rich Franklin (twice), Vitor Belfort, Dan Henderson, Demian Maia, Yushin Okami and Chael Sonnen (twice), to name a very small few, as a middleweight. Silva has also had two memorable outings at light heavyweight, against James Irvin and the former champion, Forrest Griffin, both of whom he knocked out in the opening stanza. Realistically, there aren’t many fighters you could pair up with Silva who wouldn’t be sizable underdogs leading up to the bout. Still, Bonnar has promised to bring the fight to him, undaunted by Silva’s laser-precise striking and slick submissions.
While Bonnar does not have quite the same star power as Silva, he has carved out a name for himself as a fan-favorite, as he has slugged it out time and time again with his opponents. “The American Psycho” began building this reputation at The Ultimate Fighter season 1 finale, where he and Forrest Griffin blasted each other in a fight that is seen as the catalyst for MMA’s ascension into the mainstream. Unfortunately for Bonnar, charging forward and swinging for the fences will not prove fruitful against Silva.
Bonnar’s chances at victory are slim, but do not be fooled, they are far from nonexistent. If he wants to beat the pound-for-pound great, he will need to fight smart from start to finish. Put simply, against an opponent like Silva, Bonnar cannot afford to make any mistakes. He cannot over-commit to punches, or get in too close with Silva, as doing so puts him right in the trajectory of Silva’s devastating punches and Muay Thai plum. Bonnar might try to take the fight down, but he does not have the wrestling pedigree of Chael Sonnen, and will likely have difficult dragging Silva to the mat. His options look limited, and are hindered even more by the distinct speed disadvantage he will have, but he will not be without advantages.
For one, he is the bigger man. There’s always the chance he’ll be able to outmuscle Silva, pressing him against the cage and wearing him out over the course the fight. Bonnar is also part of a small group of fighters who never been knocked out or submitted, which is saying something, considering the who’s who list of opponent’s he’s faced. Throughout bouts with the likes of Jon Jones, Rashad Evans, Forrest Griffin (twice), Lyoto Machida and Mark Coleman, Bonnar has only ever been stopped due to cuts. He’ll be fighting a different beast altogether against Silva, but his chin and submission defense might be enough to keep him alive. Better yet, they might allow him to do something no one has really been able to do before, they might allow him to truly get in there and bang it out with Silva.
But alas, Silva knocked out Chris Leben when Leben’s chin was thought to be unbreakable. Silva submitted Dan Henderson, which only two other people have done. At the end of the day, Bonnar doesn’t bring anything into the cage the Silva hasn’t faced and dominated before. Bonnar’s striking is solid, but doesn’t match that of Vitor Belfort or Nate Marquardt, both of whom Silva knocked out. Bonnar’s grappling is sharp, but it doesn’t match that of Demian Maia, Dan Henderson, or Chael Sonnen, all of whom Silva beat soundly. Bonnar has the heart of a lion, but his advantages against Silva are few and far between. Everybody loves an underdog story, but this is not Bonnar’s fight to win, as Silva outclasses him on the feet, neutralizes any takedown attempts, and takes everything Bonnar has to give, before stopping him with strikes.
The Pick: Anderson Silva takes what appears to be a third relaxing vacation up to light heavyweight, and in the second round, becomes the first man ever to knock out Stephan Bonnar.
Antonio “Minotauro” Nogueira (33-7-1) vs. Dave “Peewee” Herman (21-4-0)
In UFC 153’s co-main event, Both Herman and Nogueira will be looking to rebound from losses they’re surely looking to forget. Herman was most recently knocked silly by Roy Nelson at UFC 146, while Nogueira will be returning after having his arm broken by a Frank Mir kimura at UFC 140. Given the go-for-broke style of Herman, even if it isn’t always successful, and the durability of Nogueira, we’re probably in for an entertaining fight regardless of who walks away with the win.
Herman’s strategy in this fight will probably won’t shock anyone. As a man who has openly criticized the usefulness of Jiu Jitsu, Herman has made it no secret that he prefers to strike. With 15 knockout wins over the course of his career, his striking skill is certainly nothing to smirk at. He has, however, ended up on the wrong end of fist fights of late. While he was able to knock out Jon Olav Einemo in his promotional debut, Herman has been stopped in both of his most recent fights, most recently by Nelson, and before that, by Stefan Struve. This may be an indication that Herman needs to broaden his skill set in some way, as a reliance purely on his hands and feet does not to be serving him well.
Against Nogueira, Herman will face a veteran fighter whose bread-and-butter is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It is without a doubt safe to say then, that in the area of grappling the advantage is in Nogueira’s corner. Given Herman’s recent knockout losses though, he may also be in trouble on the feet in this fight. Nogueira, after all, was teeing off on Frank Mir before being submitted in his last fight. He is certainly no slouch in the stand up department. And while hehas recently been knocked out by Cain Velasquez and Frank Mir, he is still an incredibly resilient fighter. So this is not so much a battle between a striker and a grappler. Instead, it seems to be a battle between a striker who doesn’t grapple and a grappler who can strike. This is by no means an easy fight for the Brazilian legend, but he has more advantages.
When the opening bell rings, look for Herman to wade in as he has done so many times before. Nogueira has never been one to say no to a slugfest, despite his Jiu Jitsu roots, and will happily oblige Herman. Look for both men to land, and both to see stars early on. Eventually, Nogueira will ring Herman’s bell in a significant way and change the course of the fight. From there, look for the Brazilian to bring the fight to the ground, where he ties up and submits a dazed Herman.
The Pick: Nogueira teaches Herman a lesson in the importance of Jiu Jitsu, submitting him in the first round.
Glover Teixeira (18-2-0) vs. Fabio Maldonado (18-5)
It took awhile to find someone who was willing to fight Glover Teixeira. Despite the fact that the Brazilian prospect has only had one fight in the UFC so far, several notable light heavyweights decline to fight him. Eventually, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson stepped up, only to withdraw from the fight with an injury. Then, the significantly lower-ranked Fabio Maldonado, who is coming off back-to-back losses to Kyle Kingsbury and Igor Pokrajac, agreed to meet Teixeira, on the condition that he would not be cut with a loss.
When these two Brazilians step into the cage with each other, the verdict will probably come quickly. Maldonado, who is a former pro boxer, will be content to stand with Teixeira, knowing full well what a knockout win over the highly-regarded prospect would do for his own career. Maldonado is the underdog for a reason, but he wields enough power in his hands enough to have knocked out 12 opponents in 18 wins, so he certainly has a chance at victory. Teixeira showcased his own striking abilities in his UFC debut however, as he rocked Kyle Kingsbury with a punch, only to submit him moments later. With that win, the hype that followed Teixeira into the UFC appeared quite justified, if it wasn’t already. With 11 knockout wins and five submission wins among his 18 career triumphs, Teixeira has proven himself to be a fighter who is dangerous in all aspects of the game. Furthermore, Maldonado has proven to be fairly susceptible to takedowns and clinch-work in the past. Overall, then, he appears to have fewer strengths and more weaknesses than Teixeira—bad news for Maldonado.
When the fight is waved on, expect Maldonado to come out in an atypically tentative fashion. Even in defeat he often outlands his opponents, but whether he chooses to subscribe to the Teixeira hype or not, he will know that he is in the cage with an extremely dangerous man. Teixeira will probably be the first to engage, as he approaches his opponent and starts letting the leather fly. Teixeira will land early, but Maldonado has never been knocked out—in boxing or MMA—and will be able to cope with Teixeira’s initial offence. Look for Maldonado to fire back with fury, but eventually leave himself open to a takedown— an opportunity on which his opponent will capitalize. From there, the smooth transitions of Teixeira will prove disastrous for his fellow Brazilian, as he chases down Maldonado’s neck or arm.
The Pick: Teixeira’s momentum continues to build as he replicates his win over Kyle Kingsbury with a first round submission over Maldonado.
Jon Fitch (23-4-1) vs. Erick “Indio” Silva (14-2-0)
Jon Fitch’s style of fighting might not be a fan favorite, but it usually works. In his last fight, he was leveled in just 12 seconds by a Johny Hendricks left hook, but barring that, he has been able to impose his grinding style on the majority of his opponents. What this means, is that Fitch’s dynamic, young opponent, Erick Silva, will have his work cut out for him. Silva is rising quickly up the UFC’s welterweight pecking order, and is a proven finisher, having most recently submitted Charlie Brenneman with a first-round rear-naked choke at UFC on FX 3. This fight, at the end of the day, is either a chance for Fitch, who is perennially referred to as a perennial contender, to right his ship and once again work his way to a title shot, or a chance for Silva to prove that he is in fact the real deal.
When dissecting this fight, it’s difficult not to draw on Silva’s win over Brenneman. In Brenneman, Silva fought an opponent who is in many ways similar to Fitch. Like Fitch, Brenneman likes to impose a stifling top game, and do the majority of his work on the ground. However, when he was taken down by Brenneman, Silva was able to right himself and return to the feet. Brenneman, who has now been released from the UFC, is not quite on the same level as Fitch talent-wise, but the fact that Silva was able to escape his takedowns is interesting. Fitch will most likely be looking for takedowns early on in this bout, and the outcome of the fight will probably depend largely on his success in this department. If Silva is able to pop back up to his feet like he did against Brennemen, Fitch might be in trouble.
Silva’s primary weapon is his Jiu Jitsu, but he has shown his power on several occasions, such as his controversial disqualification loss to Carlo Prater. Fitch, on the other hand, although he does not demonstrate it often, is actually fairly proficient on the feet. Silva appears to be a natural striker though, and will probably hold the advantage in this facet of the game. Silva also has his jiu jitsu to fall back on when the fight hits the ground, but Fitch’s style extends far beyond takedowns. When he gets on top of his opponents, he clings to them like wet clothing, which makes submission attempts very difficult. Again, the glaring x-factor here is Silva’s ability to overcome Fitch’s strategy.
Given the immense talent of both men, and their contrary styles, we can expect this bout to occur at an array of altitudes. When the bout begins, look for Fitch to surprise the crowd with his willingness to stand with Silva. The former title challenger has acknowledged the fact that his style doesn’t garner title shots as quickly as more entertaining styles do, and will be eager to answer any questions about his chin following his loss to Hendricks. Given this, expect him to bring the fight to Silva, as he corners him against the cage and tees off. This might catch Silva off guard, but he will not be intimidated as he picks his shots and counters in the face of Fitch’s aggression. Eventually, Fitch will resort to his vintage style as he throws Silva to the floor and gets busy with elbows and punches from the top. Silva may slip out from underneath his opponent a few times, but overall, Fitch will prove more successful than Brenneman, taking his adversary down on multiple occasions.
This will be the story of each round, as Fitch uses wild aggression on the feet to distract his less-experienced opponent until the opportunity for a takedown presents itself. Amidst the chaos on the feet, we might see both men take some damage, but in the end, it will be the smothering style of Fitch that wins the fight.
The Pick: Fitch surprises a few people as he opts to bang it out with Silva on several occasions, but in the end he uses his infamously stifling style to secure a unanimous decision win.
Phil “Mr. Wonderful” Davis (9-1-0) vs. Wagner “Caldeirao” Prado (8-0)
At UFC on Fox 4, Phil Davis and Wagner Prado fought for 88 seconds. Before the bout could reach its 89th second, an accidental eye-poke from Davis led to the fight being stopped and ruled a no contest. This Saturday, Davis and Prado will settle their score.
Until Davis was completely outclassed by Rashad Evans at UFC on Fox 3, he was being talked about as a title contender. Thankfully for the young light heavyweight prospect, the loss did not send him too far down the ladder, and a win over Prado should ensure he returns to the upper echelon of the division. Prado on the other hand, an undefeated Brazilian striker with seven of his eight wins coming by way of knockout, will look to upset Davis, and begin making his own ascent up the ranks of the 205 lb division.
There isn’t much we can take away from their first encounter, given its brevity, but we can surmise the probable game plan of each man leading into their second fight. Prado will be content to hunt for a knockout on the feet, while Davis will probably look to use his wrestling chops and impressive musculature to work his opponent over on the mat. His stand up look fairly rudimentary in his defeat to Evans, and against a striker like Prado, he will need to be careful not to let this fact be exploited. Prado on the other hand, has never fought a wrestler like Davis. Davis’s takedowns may have proven fairly ineffective against Evans, but Evans is a talented wrestler himself, and Prado will not be nearly as proficient at stuffing the shot. Given this, we can assume it’s only a matter of time before Davis successfully takes his debutant opponent down. Every fight begins on the feet however, and Davis will need to be careful to avoid the dangerous arsenal of Prado while they stand together.
Look for this bout to unfold largely on the mat, as Davis finds success in his takedowns and hunts for submissions. We can expect Prado to be competent on the ground, however, as he is a member of Team Nogueira. Despite Davis’s best attempts, Prado will hang in there when he finds himself on his back. This trend should repeat itself each round, but do not be surprised if Prado tags Davis at any point. He is the superior striker after all. But, if Davis is able to keep his cool, he should be able to turn to his wrestling as needed, and escape any trouble on the feet in this way. In the end, Davis’s takedowns act as the catalyst for a unanimous decision win.
The Pick: Prado proves well prepared when he’s on his back, but Davis controls the fight well enough to earn a justified unanimous decision.
Rick “The Horror” Story (14-5-0) vs Demian Maia (16-4-0)
Just as it’s difficult to deduce anything from Davis and Prado’s first fight, it is also difficult to evaluate Demian Maia’s first performance as a welterweight— the fight was just too short, and too strange. Maia, who is a former middleweight title challenger, debuted at welterweight at UFC 148, where he was awarded a win after his opponent, Dong Hyun Kim, sustained a freak rib injury just 47 seconds into the opening round.
Maia will have the opportunity to make a more definitive statement at 170 lbs as he takes on Rick Story, who not long ago was being talked about as a title contender. Story will enter the fight with a sound decision win over Brock Jardine in his wake. Before that, however, Story lost back to back decisions to Charlie Brenneman and Martin Kampmann. The loss to Brenneman was particularly significant to Story’s story, as it followed the biggest win of his career: a hard fought unanimous decision over the ever-dangerous Thiago Alves. After the win over Alves, Story’s name was often brought up when discussing contenders for Georges St. Pierre’s welterweight throne. That hype has largely disintegrated now, but a win over Maia would certainly begin to restore it.
Maia, who is one of the premier Jiu Jitsu practitioners in mixed martial arts today, nearly reached the top of the mountain as a middleweight, but in the end, couldn’t reach the summit, due largely to deficiencies in his striking game. Recently, his striking has improved, but following a loss a loss to Chris Weidman at UFC on Fox 3, he elected to make the cut to welterweight. In doing so, he entered a division thick with powerful wrestlers, one of which is Story.
While Story’s base is wrestling, also has decent striking. He may not have the most polished technique, but he was able to go toe-to-toe with Alves—something few people would dare to do. In his fight with Maia, look for Story to use a similar strategy, as he runs into Maia like a locomotive, pressing him into the cage and working him over with quick, powerful shots. Maia’s striking has improved, but when he is sandwiched between Story and the cage, it won’t matter. Despite being bulldozed by his powerful opponent, however, Maia will prove durable. Story will not be able to finish him on the feet, and will eventually take him to the mat. Maia’s submission chops make this a dangerous move for anyone to make, but Story will confidently wade into deep water as he takes Maia down and turns to ground and pound. This choice will be Story’s undoing. Maia hasn’t submitted an opponent since he beat Chael Sonnen at UFC 95 in 2009, but when Story takes him down; Maia will refresh the world’s memory as to why his Jiu Jitsu is so respected.
The Pick: In a fight that is action-packed while it lasts, Maia locks up a submission from his back in the first round.