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A legend will return at UFC 183 when Anderson “The Spider” Silva steps back into the Octagon for the first time in over a year following a devastating leg injury that many thought might end his career.
Maybe the only person who could match Silva in sheer anticipation when it comes to a fighter coming back to the cage is Nick Diaz, who comes back from semi-retirement to face the man recognized as the greatest of all-time in the main event this weekend.
In addition to Silva vs. Diaz, two of the best welterweights in the world will square off when Tyron Woodley looks to build on his recent knockout over Dong Hyun Kim against former Ultimate Fighter winner and undefeated prospect Kelvin Gastelum.
To get ready for this weekend's massive UFC 183 fight card, our fantasy preview will break down some of the key matchups and determine who is the biggest lock to win on Saturday night, who isn't as much as a sure thing as you might think and what upsets might be brewing when the UFC returns to Las Vegas.
ANDERSON SILVA (-440 FAVORITE OVER NICK DIAZ)
Despite the fact that Silva is coming back from a broken leg, he's still a force to be reckoned with and this is a stylistic matchup that will play right into his biggest strengths. Diaz is also one of the toughest fighters in the history of the sport, so he won't make it easy on Silva, but odds are still on The Spider to come away victorious.
Silva is not only regarded as the greatest of all-time, but he's got a slew of records to back up that claim. He has the most knockouts, the most finishes and the highest striking accuracy of any fighter in UFC history. He also has the highest amount of knockdowns with 17 and he can hit an opponent from anywhere with a huge arsenal of weapons. Silva has good boxing, incredible Muay Thai and, for the first time in a while, he'll have at least two inches in height on his opponent, which could open up his devastating clinch game with knees.
Diaz won't go away without a fight, however, and considering his ability to throw punches for 25 straight minutes without slowing down, he's got the volume to match Silva from the start of the first round until the final horn sounds. Diaz has possibly the best boxing in all of mixed martial arts, highlighted by a stiff jab and a variety of rib-crunching body shots. His ground game is also ultra dangerous, but rarely does he take a fight to the mat. Instead, he ties his opponents up in knots when they try to put him on the ground. Diaz's best way to win any fight is to overwhelm an opponent with strikes over the course of a few rounds, but he's got to weather a storm of punches and kicks courtesy of Silva, and that will likely prove to be the difference in this fight.
Silva can match Diaz's pace, but his greatest weapon is the ability to end the fight with one shot. Whether he unleashes a kick, a knee or maybe even an elbow, Silva doesn't need to accumulate volume to pepper an opponent into submission - he just needs to find the right opening and the fight is over.
Prediction: Anderson Silva by TKO, Round 3
While fighters like Robbie Lawler and Anthony Johnson get the lion's share of attention when it comes to career rejuvenation in the UFC over the last year, Thales Leites gets lost in the mix a bit, but he's been nothing short of spectacular since returning to the promotion in 2013. Leites was a former middleweight title contender who left the UFC following back-to-back losses and it seemed like his glory days were behind him.
Leites had other ideas.
Since coming back, Leites has gone 4-0 with finishes in his last two fights by knockout. While his background is still primarily Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Leites has shown off his hands quite a bit lately and he'll have a chance to do it again this weekend against Tim Boetsch.
Boetsch is an incredibly strong fighter for 185 pounds, with knockout power in both hands and a solid wrestling game to boot. His ability to endure punishment and return fire is one of his most dangerous attributes, so the last thing Leites can do is get overconfident and leave an opening for Boetsch to surprise him.
If Leites fights the way he's been lately, he'll be in and out before Boetsch has a chance to mount any real offense. On the ground, Boetsch has a decided advantage with wrestling, but definitely not when it comes to submissions, and that's one area he won't want to test Leites at all on Saturday night. This fight will likely come down to a striking battle. Boetsch still has the power to end the match in one punch, but he'll have to catch up to Leites first and through 28 fights in his career, no one has managed to do it - not even Anderson Silva.
Prediction: Thales Leites by unanimous decision
The biggest odds on the entire UFC 183 card are with prelim fighter Derek Brunson, who enters his fight with Ed Herman as nearly a five-to-one favorite. The odds might be a bit askew in this one considering Herman's veteran experience inside the Octagon, but at the end of the night the overall selection still seems right on the money.
Brunson is a physically imposing wrestler with great power and stifling technique on the mat. He averages over four takedowns per 15 minutes and, typically speaking, opponents don't get up very easily when Brunson is on top. To add to his wrestling prowess, Brunson has never been taken down during his UFC career and that includes going nearly three rounds with former Olympic silver medalist in wrestling Yoel Romero.
Herman will have his chance in this fight because he's got an underrated submission arsenal and solid wrestling, but it's just not on par with Brunson. Herman's best chance for victory is drawing Brunson into a striking battle, where he has a shot to catch the North Carolina native. Unless that happens, Herman is probably going to spend the majority of his night looking up at the lights, fighting to get off the mat as Brunson attacks on the ground.
Prediction: Derek Brunson by unanimous decision
These are the fights on the card that are just too close to call, but getting the correct pick could mean the difference between winning or losing when the total points are tallied at the end of the night.
AL IAQUINTA (-175 FAVORITE) VS. JOE LAUZON (+155 UNDERDOG)
This lightweight matchup has Fight of the Night written all over it, but then again, most of Lauzon's bouts end with him carrying a bonus back home to Boston. Lauzon has secured more post-fight bonuses than any fighter in UFC history and he may snag another one by the time UFC 183 has come to an end.
Iaquinta is going to give Lauzon everything he can handle and more. The New Yorker has proven in his last few fights that he has incredible power in his hands, especially with his performance in putting away former Ultimate Fighter winner Ross Pearson. Iaquinta trains out of the Serra-Longo camp, so he's getting the same instruction as middleweight champion Chris Weidman. Iaquinta's hands have surpassed his wrestling and submission skills, but that's all he's needed lately to get his wins inside the Octagon.
It probably all changes at UFC 183, however, because Lauzon is one of the best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners the sport has ever seen. Lauzon has finished 71-percent of his fights by submission and this might be another to tack onto his record.
If Iaquinta has struggled with any one style during his UFC career, it's fighters who can tap him out on the ground. His three career losses have all come by way of submission and now Iaquinta is facing probably the most deadly ground specialist of his entire career. Lauzon will have to be prepared to go into deep waters to get this fight to the mat, but once he gets Iaquinta down, it's only a matter of time before he wraps up an arm or maybe a neck to put a stop to the fight.
Jordan Mein battles Thiago Alves in a fight that could produce fireworks and a knockout for the ages, depending on how this matchup plays out.
Mein is one of the biggest names to watch in the welterweight division going into 2015, but how successful his year will be all depends on Saturday night. Mein is 3-1 since coming to the UFC, with two finishes by knockout. He's ferocious on the feet, keeping an unrelenting pace and landing over four significant strikes per minute. Mein is incredibly nasty on the inside with good elbow strikes and lands with nearly 45-percent accuracy.
Alves is no slouch in the striking department and might be considered one of the best stand-up fighters the welterweight division has ever known. He already is likely to possess the nastiest leg kicks of any fighter at 170 pounds. When he puts his hips into a kick, Alves looks like he could chop a tree in two, much less the fighter standing in front of him. If there's been a knock on Alves lately, it's his extreme inactivity due to injury. This fight against Mein will be only his third in the past three years.
What bodes well for Alves is the stylistic matchup. He has typically feasted on fighters willing to stand and trade with him, and if he's in tip-top condition, Alves is still a machine when it comes to striking in the welterweight division. Mein's best way to throw Alves off his game is to come out of the gate and attack immediately. He can't give Alves time to warm up or he'll start eating shots late in the first round and the barrage will continue until it's over.
This might be the biggest toss up of the entire night, so flip a coin, hope for the best and get ready to be entertained.
Another close battle takes place in the featured preliminary bout of the evening when former Strikeforce women's champion Miesha Tate takes on Olympic silver medalist in wrestling Sara McMann.
Tate has won her last two fights, although neither seemed to show her best performance possible. She'll need that at UFC 183 if she plans to get past McMann. What Tate has on her side is a vast experience difference in every facet of the game. She's gone multiple rounds with women's champion Ronda Rousey, and while she's walked away with two losses, Tate gave her a tougher battle than anyone else in history - that includes McMann. Tate is a wrestler in her own right, although it's tough to imagine that she'll take McMann down - especially considering that McMann has never been taken down since coming to the UFC. Still, Tate has a slick submission arsenal and that's one area McMann has struggled with since transitioning to MMA a few years ago.
McMann knows her path to victory is clear - wrestle, wrestle, wrestle and then wrestle some more. She averages over six takedowns per fight, which is one of the highest rates of any fighter in the UFC. McMann has great top control with a suffocating attack that usually shuts down an opponent's ability to get off the ground outside of the referee opting to intervene and get the fight back to the feet.
Where Tate can excel in this fight is with her Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu game. Both Shayna Baszler and Lauren Murphy gave McMann trouble on the mat and neither of them has the same level of submission skill as Tate.
If Tate can catch McMann coming in with a guillotine choke or possibly look for a sweep or a choke from the bottom, she'll get her third win in a row and third victory overall in the UFC.
Prediction: Miesha Tate by submission, round three
TYRON WOODLEY (+120 UNDERDOG TO KELVIN GASTELUM)
It's almost shocking that Tyron Woodley will walk into his fight against Kelvin Gastelum as an underdog, but that's where he's sitting currently. The odds are very close so things could shift by fight night, but Woodley has a strong chance to make a serious statement this weekend while putting the first loss on Gastelum's record.
The best indicator of Woodley's ability to counter Gastelum's offense comes courtesy of Rick Story.
Gastelum fought Story to a split decision in March 2014, but he had to do everything in his power to eke out the victory that night. Story's power and wrestling matched Gastelum at every turn and the former Ultimate Fighter winner had to dig deep to find a way to squeak by each round. It's not clear he can do the same to a superior fighter like Woodley.
Woodley is a powerhouse at 170 pounds – he has huge, one-punch knockout power, not to mention some of the best wrestling in the entire division. Woodley lands takedowns with just under 45-percent accuracy, and his defense is nearly impenetrable, stuffing almost 92-percent of the attempts against him.
Gastelum's best hope is to attack Woodley on the feet and keep him off balance enough to make him a stationary target the same way Rory MacDonald did in their fight last year at UFC 174. The problem is Gastelum doesn’t have nearly the striking arsenal as MacDonald and his wrestling isn't on par with Woodley either.
By the time the third round rolls around, Gastelum could be searching for answers and maybe even getting a little desperate, which means he's still dangerous, but a long shot to pull out the decision.
Prediction: Tyron Woodley by unanimous decision