UFC 203 pops off from the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, OH, this Saturday (September 10, 2016). The two primary narratives that have the masses buzzing are the main event and the debut of a certain sports entertainment superstar.
The headliner of the UFC’s first event in Cleveland is a good one. Ohio native Stipe Miocic will make the first defense of his newly-minted heavyweight strap. Miocic got his hands on the belt by viciously ripping it from the grasp of Fabricio Werdum, who happens to be serving in the co-main event this weekend. With a single right hand, Miocic felled the recklessly onrushing Brazilian, simultaneously stamping himself into the history books.
He will be doing battle with hulking Dutch knockout machine Alistair Overeem. “The Reem” rides a four-fight winning streak into his first UFC title fight. He will be looking to add the premiere piece to a trophy case that already includes Strikeforce, Dream, and K-1 heavyweight gold.
Also on the main card is the much-talked about and much-maligned MMA debut of former pro wrestler Phil “CM Punk” Brooks. He will lock horns with 2-0 Mickey Gall, found on Dana White’s “Lookin’ for a Fight” series. Despite being just two fights into his pro career, Gall is veritable veteran next to Punk, who boasts no amatuer fighting or combat sports background of any kind.
These two storylines have driven most of the conversation relating to the UFC’s latest offering on pay-per-view (PPV), but there are other compelling narratives worthy of your attention. Here are five of them.
1. Can Werdum Bounce Back From His Crushing Loss To Miocic?
Along with UFC 203 marking Miocic’s first appearance since winning the title, it will also be the first time former champion Fabricio Werdum sets foot in the Octagon since he lost it at UFC 198. The loss was embarrassing on many levels. “Vai Cavalo” was coming into the fight off his title-winning performance over Cain Velasquez. That victory completed a trifecta for Werdum. Having already beaten Fedor Emelianenko and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Werdum finished the third man in the conversation as the best heavyweight ever.
“Vai Cavalo” was coming into the fight off his title-winning performance over Cain Velasquez. That victory completed a trifecta for Werdum. Having already beaten Fedor Emelianenko and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Werdum finished the third man in the conversation as the best heavyweight ever. With such a convincing win over Velasquez, the Brazilian seemed to firmly entrench himself atop the division.
UFC 198 would emanate from Werdum’s home country in front of a packed soccer stadium of screaming Werdum fans. After getting thousands of masks made portraying his patented “Werdum face”, the Brazilian grappling legend boasted that Miocic would be fighting 45,000 Werdums.
His hubris extended to his walkout, as he danced his way to the cage, seemingly already in celebration mode. When he wildly chased after Miocic with no regard for the consequences, the former Golden Gloves champion made him pay. Werdum ran face-first into a blistering right hand, his reign over before it ever really began.
The devastating nature of the defeat has many questioning whether the veteran is done for good. He will look to put that devastating loss firmly in the rearview Saturday against familiar foe Travis Browne. The two already clashed in a main event on FOX, with Werdum emerging victorious with a dominant five-round decision. Can Werdum convince fans that his title loss was a fluke, or will Browne knock the former Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu champion farther down the heavyweight mountain?
2. Can Urijah Faber Stay At The Top A Little Longer?
“The California Kid” has been a staple of the top five at either featherweight or bantamweight for a decade. Despite being 0-7 in his last seven title bouts, Faber has won just about every other fight he has had since losing his WEC featherweight strap to Mike Brown. In fact, Faber was undefeated in non-title scraps until he dropped a unanimous decision to Frankie Edgar at UFC Fight Night 66 in May 2015.
The Team Alpha Male founder is coming off another setback in a title bout, this time losing his trilogy match with Dominick Cruz at UFC 199 on June 4. Cruz lived up to his “Dominator” moniker in cruising to a decision over his nemesis. While Faber doesn’t figure to be in the title picture again, perhaps ever, he remains a stiff test for anyone looking to reach the 135-pound mountaintop.
Faber will attempt to send another up-and-coming tumbling back down the rankings when he meets the hard-punching Jimmie Rivera in a main card tussle. How much “The California Kid” still has left in the tank is something fans will be on the look-out for Saturday night.
3. Is Jimmie Rivera An Elite Bantamweight?
Staring across the Octagon at Faber on Saturday night will be Jimmie Rivera, he of the 19-1 professional record. Since arriving in the Octagon, Rivera has gone 3-0, most recently
Since arriving in the Octagon, Rivera has gone 3-0, most recently decisioning the dangerous Iuri Alcantara at UFC on FOX 18 in January. Currently on an 18-fight winning streak, Rivera spent a large part of his career taking decisions over his opponents. However, he rode two knockouts into his UFC debut, and he earned another there as well against Marcus Brimage at UFC Fight Night 66.
The Team Tiger Schulmann rep has frustrated opponents with his smooth boxing and stout takedown defense. He will be facing his toughest test yet when he locks horns with Faber on the main card of UFC 203. Will Rivera be able to stay upright and put hands on the crafty veteran? Or will Faber’s top-shelf experience and innate scrambling ability enable him to put Rivera in uncomfortable spots and defeat the bantamweight prospect?
4. The Loser Between These Bantamweights Could Be On The Chopping Block
The featured prelim of UFC 203 pits two ranked women’s bantamweights against each other. Title stakes are not on the line, but something far more important is: a job.
Former title challenger and #10 women’s 135-pounder Bethe Correia meets #11 ranked contender and Ohio native Jessica Eye in Cleveland Saturday night. “Evil” Eye is just 1-4 with one no-contest in her UFC tenure. Though she has lost to some of the division’s best – Miesha Tate, Julianna Pena, and Sara McMann among them – dropping to 1-5 in the UFC would be untenable. She will look to stop her current three-fight skid in front of her hometown crowd Saturday night.
Brazil’s Correia finds herself staring down the barrel of her own three-fight losing streak should she fall to Eye. The “Pitbull” rose to status as the #1 contender with three straight victories to begin her Octagon tenure, riding that momentum and her unbeaten record into a showdown with then-divisional queen Ronda Rousey. Rousey destroyed her in under a minute in devastating fashion. Correia’s return bout saw her drop a decision to up-and-coming Raquel Pennington. This leaves her in an unenviable position, as she could be facing a pink slip with another loss.
It is the strange nature of the thin women’s bantamweight division that such a fight could happen between borderline top ten fighters. The pressure is on both women to not just climb back up the rankings, but to stay employed come Sunday morning.
5. Can Dollaway Recapture His Winning Ways At 205?
A former finalist on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), CB “The Doberman” Dollaway has hit a rough patch of late.
After falling to Amir Sadollah in the TUF 7 finale, Dollaway carved out a place for himself as a UFC mainstay by winning five of his next eight fights. After disappointing losses to Mark Munoz and Jared Hamman, Dollaway went on to have five straight quality performances (four wins and a robbery decision loss to Tim Boetsch).
Unfortunately for the Power MMA and Fitness standout, his up-and-down UFC tenure would continue. After impressive victories over Cezar Ferreira and Francis Carmont, Dollaway found himself knocking on the door of title contention. But three straight losses have followed his spectacular run. Knockout losses to Lyoto Machida and Nate Marquardt sandwiched a decision loss to current middleweight champ Michael Bisping.
Possibly facing a roster cut, Dollaway has decided to take his talents up the scale to the light heavyweight division. There he will be met by Brazilian bully Francimar Barroso in a Fight Pass preliminary bout. Will the move up in weight grant “The Doberman” a speed advantage and improved durability, or will the big men at 205 pounds be too powerful for the former middleweight contender? We may find out Saturday night.