UFC 198 lands in Curitiba, Brazil this Saturday with the biggest card to ever take place in the country, one headlined by heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum taking on Stipe Miocic in the main event.
Werdum is making the first defense of his undisputed title after defeating Cain Velasquez last year, while Miocic wants to bring a championship back to Cleveland as he gets his first shot at UFC gold.
Plus, Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza will attempt to secure his own title shot when he takes on Brazilian legend Vitor Belfort in the co-main event.
This card is insanely stacked, and in today's fantasy preview we're going to examine some of these key fights to see who has the advantage going into Saturday night and if there might be an upset brewing somewhere on this incredible show.
More on UFC 198: Watch: UFC 198 Countdown - Jacare vs Belfort | Cris Cyborg - Welcoming Opportunity | Miocic in hostile environment | Read: Reasons to watch UFC 198 | FIGHT PASS spotlight - Preview UFC 198's fights | Long road to UFC 198 'meant to be' for Werdum | Cyborg ready to be amongst UFC greats
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.
Fabricio Werdum (-150 favorite) vs. Stipe Miocic (+130 underdog)
Heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum has been one of the best fighters over the past decade, picking up notable wins over a huge list of iconic names, but he might face his toughest challenge this weekend.
Stipe Miocic is a former college wrestler and noted boxing specialist with extremely heavy hands and the conditioning to withstand a five-round war. Miocic's game is billed as the anti-Werdum, as he has incredible takedown defense — blocking 70 percent of the attempts against him – while putting together a punishing striking game on the feet.
On the other side, Werdum has worked tirelessly to improve his striking under head coach Rafael Cordeiro while also developing a slick Muay Thai game, complete with knee strikes and kicks. Werdum is still strongest on the mat, where he is a world-class grappler, but typically he waits for his opponents to put him down on the ground rather than look for those exchanges himself. It's the mistake Velasquez made when they met last June after he was worn down on the feet and then shot in for a sloppy takedown attempt and Werdum took full advantage.
Chances are Miocic won't make those same mistakes, especially considering his gas tank, granite chin and heavy-handed style on the feet. Another benefit Miocic has going into this fight is his style of striking, where he throws a lot of punches but rarely uses kicks. Without a leg to grab in a moment of desperation, Werdum may not be able to counter with a takedown if he gets into trouble. Add to that the fact that Miocic just fought in January and now returns in May with a full training camp to prepare for the champion, and he may just walk out of Brazil with a gold belt around his waist.
PREDICTION: Stipe Miocic by TKO, Round 3
Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza (-320 favorite) vs. Vitor Belfort (+250 underdog)
Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza may be a heavy favorite going into Saturday night, but that doesn't mean Vitor Belfort can't pull the upset and score a huge knockout in this co-main event matchup.
Belfort is an incredibly fast starter, and his best path to victory is overwhelming Souza in the first round before the submission specialist even has a chance to warm up. Belfort isn't known for having the best conditioning or finishing ability late in the fight, but with only three rounds scheduled, he can go guns blazing as soon as this one starts as he looks to take Souza out before he knows what hit him. Belfort lands with brutal accuracy at just under 48 percent, and he might have the most vicious one shot knockout power in the division.
That being said, Souza just needs to weather that early storm and then allow his complete MMA game to take over. Souza has plenty of pop in his punches that could hurt Belfort, but his ground game is on another level. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt averages nearly three and a half takedowns per fight, and if he puts Belfort on the ground, he could wear him out as this matchup moves into the second and third rounds.
Belfort won't go away easy, but "Jacare" is a very heavy fighter on top, and once he gets on the ground, he'll dominate there against almost anybody he faces. With a chance to secure a title shot in the near future, Souza won't likely give Belfort any openings to land a knockout shot early, and the longer this fight goes, the more it falls to his favor.
PREDICTION: Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza by unanimous decision
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.
Cris "Cyborg" Justino (-1700 favorite) vs. Leslie Smith (+1100 underdog)
Cris "Cyborg" Justino will make her long awaited UFC debut this weekend in a catchweight bout of 140 pounds against Leslie Smith, and she enjoys the biggest odds of anyone on the card at UFC 198. Most people should be familiar with Cyborg by now on reputation alone, but if not, here are a few facts about this Brazilian legend of women's MMA.
Cyborg is undoubtedly the most devastating striker to ever compete in women's MMA. She has been undefeated over the last 10 years with 15 wins and 12 of those coming by way of knockout. She's won her last five fights in a row by knockout, with only one going past the first round. Cyborg is an absolute bully in the cage as she pushes her opponents around with devastating power, and she's deadly on the inside. She loves to press her opponents against the cage wall before unleashing shots with unrelenting precision until they wither and fade.
Now Leslie Smith might be one of the toughest women she's ever faced - this is the person who had her ear nearly torn off in a fight with Jessica Eye and yet she still wanted to continue. Smith trains under a great system of coaches in Northern California and she's got plenty of kickboxing experience under her belt. Smith also has a tendency to get drawn into wars with her opponents and that's the last place she wants to be against Cyborg.
The biggest problem Cyborg faces in this fight is the battle against the scale on Friday. She's a natural 145-pound fighter and she has to find a way to shed another five pounds to get down to 140 for the fight with Smith. If Cyborg has found a healthy way to do that, there's little doubt that she's going to put on a show for the fans in Brazil in her UFC debut.
PREDICTION: Cris "Cyborg" by TKO, Round 1
Warlley Alves (-550 favorite) vs. Bryan Barberena (+425 underdog)
When it comes to top prospects in the welterweight division, there may not be a better name in the mix than former Ultimate Fighter Brazil winner Warlley Alves. Alves is a true hybrid mixed martial artist with incredible power on the feet and a nasty submission game on the ground. Alves is a complete package with no glaring weaknesses in his arsenal outside of a conditioning problem that he showed in his fight against Alan Jouban, but that could have easily been caused by the near finish he scored in the opening round that drained his gas tank.
Bryan Barberena is no slouch and he's an incredibly tough and durable athlete. Barberena isn't the kind of fighter to blow you away with flashy moves or technical prowess, but he gets the job done. Barberena is game on the feet and he's very hard to deal with on the ground, especially if he's on top, raining down punishment on his opponent.
He's just running into an impossibly hard task this weekend against Alves.
Alves is seemingly superior in most facets of the game, and unless he makes a colossal mistake with his cardio and allows Barberena to hang around into the latter parts of the third round, he should cruise to victory in front of his home country fans.
PREDICTION: Warlley Alves by TKO, Round 2
Thiago Santos (-355 favorite) vs. Nate Marquardt (+295 underdog)
Thaigo Santos remains one of the most exciting fighters to watch in the UFC thanks to a devastating striking style on the feet that has earned him knockouts in three of his past four wins in the Octagon. Santos shows no fear when he's attacking an opponent and he does so with good precision and fight-ending power. He also has good volume with his strikes, landing 3.7 significant shots per minute, while showcasing great defense on his feet.
Now Marquardt certainly has the kind of strength to finish this fight by knockout as well. He showed off that power in a win over CB Dollaway in his last fight, but this time around Marquardt is facing one of the most dangerous knockout artists in the entire division. Santos isn't just scary early either because he's shown enough conditioning to get the same kind of knockout in the third round that he can get in the first. Marquardt can't make any mistakes or Santos will jump all over him, and given the way these two match up on the feet, chances are that's going to happen sooner rather than later.
PREDICTION: Thiago Santos by TKO, Round 2
Matt Brown (+250 underdog) vs. Demian Maia (-300 favorite)
Demian Maia continues to be one of the best welterweights in the world, and over his last few fights he's gone back to his biggest strengths by taking his opponents to the mat and overwhelming them with his grappling. Maia, along with "Jacare" Souza and Fabricio Werdum, is among the best grapplers in the UFC today, although this welterweight submission specialist could be the top of the list. Maia's wrestling has drastically improved as well, and his control is stifling and absolutely suffocating.
All that said, Matt Brown still has the weapons to beat him.
Brown isn't a distance striker, which means he will get in close on Maia to unload his heavy barrage of punches, knees and elbows. Now there's always the chance that backfires as Maia looks to take this fight to the ground, but if Brown can get in close with his hips away from the Brazilian, he could unload a lot of shots inside before he ever hits the mat.
Brown lands strikes with nearly 55 percent accuracy and he has the ability to absolutely break his opponents with the kind of pressure he delivers over three rounds. Brown also enjoys a three-inch reach advantage, so he can use that distance to keep Maia at bay until he decides to press the fight on the inside, where he can batter the Brazilian with short elbows and quick, stunning punches. Obviously if this fight hits the ground, it's Maia's world, but on the feet is where Brown can do a lot of damage.
If Brown can survive an early onslaught, he could turn this into the same kind of dogfight that Maia experienced against Rory MacDonald, and that didn't end well for him. Brown just needs to stick to that game plan, avoid throwing a lot of kicks, and make Maia pay every single time he gets close to him. Work that strategy over three rounds and Brown can pull off the upset.
PREDICTION: Matt Brown by TKO, Round 3