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It's the biggest main event in UFC FIGHT PASS history this Saturday when former middleweight champion and arguably the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of all time - Anderson Silva - meets Michael Bisping in London.
Silva has been out of action for the past year, but he's got a renewed sense of purpose with his body healthy and his mind focused on regaining the title that he held for 10 successful defenses over seven years. If he wants to take one step closer to a potential shot at the belt, Silva is going to have to get through a very determined Bisping, who would like nothing more than to add a future Hall of Famer to his resume and possibly get in line for a title shot of his own.
Also on the card, perennial contender Gegard Mousasi will try to bounce back from a recent loss as he takes on Brazilian middleweight Thales Leites. Both fighters have suffered setbacks in their previous contests, so this will be a proving ground to find out which one of them is still in the race for a spot in the top 10, and which one might be on the outside looking in when the night is over.
In today's fantasy preview, we're going to examine some of the key matchups on the card to find out who has the advantage as we look ahead to UFC Fight Night: Silva vs. Bisping.
MORE ON FIGHT NIGHT LONDON: Join UFC FIGHT PASS | Fight Night London Embedded: Episode 1 | UFC Battle Lines: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 | UFC Breakdown: Fight Night London | How to watch Silva vs. Bisping | Read: Comeback? Anderson Silva never really left | Bisping finally gets career-long wish: Silva fight | Say it again - Silva's greatest soundbites, Bisping's greatest soundbytes | Super Spider - Silva's defining moments | Silva, Bisping trade barbs with fight nearing | Watch: Open Workout Highlights | Bisping - Warrior Code | Pundits weigh in on Silva-Bisping | Bisping - Fighting and Family | Big Nog on Silva's Best Fights | Under the radar fights | Breese turns from UFC student to fighter | Svensson ready to prove himself | Askham counting on hometown advantage | Teymur faces friend
These are the fights that are just too close to call, but a few minor differences between favorite and underdog could lead one fighter to victory and the other to defeat.
Anderson Silva (-320 favorite) vs. Michael Bisping (+250 underdog)
It's awfully hard to pick against Anderson Silva, even if recent performances and age say that he's slightly past his prime. Silva was arguably the most dominant fighter the sport has even known during his first eight years with the UFC, including the longest title reign in promotional history. Still, Silva did suffer through a broken leg in his second fight with Chris Weidman, not to mention his last performance against Nick Diaz, which showed him to be a far cry from the most terrifying fighter the middleweight division has ever faced.
Bisping knows this is his chance to win the big one. He's been asking to face Silva for several years, but never got his wish until now. Bisping has fallen short against the top fighters at middleweight that he's faced throughout his career and that fact doesn't get missed by the former Ultimate Fighter winner. Bisping says he's been better than ever in training for this fight and he knows a win will catapult him into title contention, so he's putting everything on the line.
But does he have a great shot at getting it done?
Well, Bisping is a real offensive machine on the feet. He actually has better output on the feet than Silva, landing over a strike more per minute over the course of a fight. His defense is slightly better as well, and Silva will often invite his opponents to attack him just so he can counter with his devastating punches and kicks. Bisping also has an underrated wrestling game that could play a real factor in this fight if he chooses to employ a few takedowns to keep Silva guessing while also potentially taking away his kicks, which are definitely one of his best weapons.
All that being said, Silva is still the choice here because he has a body of work that trumps virtually every fighter at 185 pounds and even on his mediocre days, he's better than probably 95 percent of the competitors in his division. Silva is a force of nature who lands with surgical precision in the cage – an incredible 64 percent accuracy to be exact – and he doesn't need to even land with what looks like a tremendous shot to put an opponent away. Ask Forrest Griffin about that one.
It's impossible to know if Silva is back to his old form or not, or if he ever will be again, but he's still one of the best fighters of all time, and if he fights to his best abilities, he should get a win on Saturday in London.
Prediction: Anderson Silva by TKO, Round 3
Gegard Mousasi (-300 favorite) vs. Thales Leites (+240 underdog)
Following a disappointing outing in his last fight, Gegard Mousasi returns to action this weekend against fellow middleweight Thales Leites, with both fighters in need of a big win to stave off an exit from the rankings.
Mousasi has always been one of the toughest competitors in the middleweight division, with a strong striking style that mixes in a technical boxing game as well as plenty of kicks to batter his opponents. Mousasi is definitely capable of throwing in a few takedowns as well to keep Leites off balance, but considering the Brazilian is a noted submission specialist, he might avoid that tactic this weekend.
Since returning to the UFC, Leites has looked like a completely different fighter than in his previous tenure with the promotion. While his ground game is still world class, Leites has worked tirelessly on improving his kickboxing and it has showed in many of his biggest wins over the last couple of years. Leites came up just short of picking up a signature win over Bisping in his last fight, but he was likely one round away from coming away the victor.
Because Leites has shown off real confidence in his striking lately, it could bait him into a stand-up fight with Mousasi, which is exactly what the former Strikeforce champion will want. Mousasi may not have the fastest hands in the world, but he's very consistent with his output and he won't have to worry about the flashy moves that cost him a loss in his last fight. So long as Mousasi doesn't over extend and get put on his back from an aggressive takedown courtesy of Leites, he should rack up enough points to get the win.
Prediction: Gegard Mousasi by unanimous decision
Francisco Rivera (-235 favorite) vs. Brad Pickett (+195 underdog)
If the main event doesn't get the early lead for Fight of the Night, then this bantamweight battle certainly gets the nod. Rivera and Pickett are both well known for having some of the most exciting fights in the division, and this matchup promises to be a crowd pleasing affair.
Rivera is looking to get back on track after suffering a loss in his last fight to John Lineker, and he's looking to take out his frustration on Pickett this weekend. Rivera has some of the heaviest hands in the entire division, with massive one punch knockout power in both hands – and his feet as well. Rivera is best when he's backing his opponents up against the cage and unloading a heavy barrage of shots. His mistake in the last fight with Lineker was simply standing in front of the Brazilian and trading punches until one of them fell over.
Rivera has to be careful against somebody like Pickett, because he can do the same exact thing. Pickett loves a good brawl and he's more than happy to throw hands with anybody in the division while also showing off some very underrated wrestling.
That being said, Rivera's power is a game changer in a fight like this. He only needs one big shot to slip through and Pickett could be in big trouble. There's no doubt that Pickett is one of the toughest fighters in the world, so putting him away won't be easy, but Rivera should be able to either land a couple of hard knockdowns or potentially get the knockout blow to earn the victory.
Prediction: Francisco Rivera by TKO, Round 3
These are the fights that appear to be a little more one-sided, but remember that this is MMA, where anything can – and usually does – happen.
Tom Breese (-1000 favorite) vs. Keita Nakamura (+650 underdog)
It's probably fair to say that Tom Breese might be the best prospect out of England since Bisping first arrived on the scene.
Breese is an absolute beast in every way when he steps inside the Octagon, with huge power in his hands and a devastating ground game to compliment his striking. Breese has never gone to a decision during his career because he not only goes out to win fights, but he wants to punish his opponents into submission. More recently, Breese began traveling to Montreal to do his training camps at the Tristar gym under coach Firas Zahabi while working with fighters such as Rory MacDonald and Georges St-Pierre.
As for Nakamura, he's no slouch by any means, with more than four times the professional experience of his opponent in this fight. Nakamura has taken on a laundry list of top fighters over the years while continuing to grow and evolve his overall MMA game. Nakamura is a submission specialist with a wide variety of finishes to his credit, but going into a fight like this, he's going to struggle to even get Breese to the ground before he's eating a barrage of shots.
Breese is a brute inside the Octagon, pushing his opponents around like they are from a weight class below and then absolutely pouring on the punishment second after second, minute after minute until the fight is over. The best way to describe Breese is relentless, and if he performs up to his ability on Saturday, Nakamura is going to have a tough time surviving the first round, much less walking out with a victory.
Prediction: Tom Breese by TKO, Round 1
Makwan Amirkhani vs. Mike Wilkinson
Another top prospect to watch this weekend is "Mr. Finland," Makwan Amirkhani, who has been ultra impressive since debuting in the UFC, and this could be another showcase for him against Mike Wilkinson.
Wilkinson won't just roll over and play dead for Amirkhani, especially with his heavy-handed approach and knockout power. But Wilkinson has been out of action for well over a year and he's got a very tough test ahead of him this weekend.
Amirkhani is an accomplished wrestler with great submission skills, and to add on to his game ahead of this fight, he traveled to Ireland, where he worked with coach John Kavanagh as well as featherweight champ Conor McGregor and noted grappler Gunnar Nelson. Amirkhani was already a fighter on the rise to watch in 2016, but with even more support from one of the top teams in Europe, the sky is the limit for this 27-year-old.
Amirkhani will surely run into some stiff competition once he begins knocking on the door of the top 15, but this Saturday should give him the chance to put on another great performance.
Prediction: Makwan Amirkhani by submission, Round 2
Scott Askham vs. Chris Dempsey
Scott Askham has come up short in a couple close fights since joining the UFC roster, but he has some serious punching power and that could give Chris Dempsey some trouble, especially with his move back down to middleweight for this bout.
FREE CONTENT: Anderson Silva vs. Rich Franklin | Michael Bisping vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama | Silva vs. Stephen Bonnar | Submission of the Week: Thales Leites vs. Tim Boetsch | KO of the Week: Silva vs. Vitor Belfort | Submission of the Week: Silva vs. Dan Henderson
Dempsey has put on some very uneven performances since joining the UFC roster, going 1-2 with two knockout losses, and his lone victory was an ultra close and somewhat controversial decision over former Ultimate Fighter winner Eddie Gordon. Dempsey has enough wrestling that he could potentially look to grind Askham into the mat and keep this fight on the ground, but even there he could be in danger because the Brit is more than capable of pulling off a submission.
On the feet, Askham is a very solid striker with good power and a lot of pop behind his punches, while also staying accurate with more than 55-percent of his shots hitting the target. While his takedown defense has been somewhat suspect, Askham should be able to stave off Dempsey's attacks and put together a combination that will stagger the American before getting the finish.
Prediction: Scott Askham by TKO, Round 3
Norman Parke (+215 underdog) vs. Rustam Khabilov (-255 favorite)
It won't be easy for Norman Parke to pull off the upset in this lightweight matchup against Rustam Khabilov, but he's got the skills to get the job done, as long as he fights smart and doesn't get caught in a grappling match with the Dagestani veteran.
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Parke has shown off some tremendous boxing throughout his UFC career, but his biggest issue has been the inability to really put his opponents away. Parke is very adept at landing solid combinations and getting the better of exchanges, but he rarely goes for the kill and it's harmed him in the eyes of the judges several times recently. In this particular fight, however, Parke keeping the score close against Khabilov could pay off in the end.
Khabilov is a physically intimidating Sambo specialist with tremendous power in his takedowns and some very unorthodox throws. Unfortunately, Khabilov has also dealt with some serious time off, with this fight taking place a year after his last trip to the Octagon. In that bout, Khabilov struggled to deal with the striking of Brazilian fighter Adriano Martins, and while Parke certainly doesn't have the same approach, he could learn something from that performance.
Parke just needs to keep Khabilov on the end of his punches while avoiding the clinch, and if he does that, the former Ultimate Fighter winner could squeak by with a decision on Saturday night.
Prediction: Norman Parke by split decision