The best fighter in the world will grace our presence at UFC 162 as Brazil's reigning middleweight champion Anderson Silva faces yet another roadblock against fast-rising American star Chris Weidman at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Rounding out one of the most stacked cards in recent memory, the pay-per-view extravaganza will feature Frankie Edgar and Cub Swanson in pivotal featherweight matchups, the long awaited return of Mark Munoz, plus the promotional debuts of Strikeforce middleweight standouts Roger Gracie and Tim Kennedy.
Here's the full breakdown:
Main Card (PPV, 10 p.m. ET):¿
-Anderson Silva (33-4) vs. Chris Weidman (9-0) - UFC middleweight title
Silva's days as the UFC's indomitable pound-for-pound wrecking machine could be numbered as the red-hot contender Weidman will pose many threats on Saturday night.
With a record-setting 10 successful title defenses, the 38-year-old UFC middleweight champion seeks his 17th consecutive victory in the octagon after recently inking a 10-fight contract extension with the sport's foremost organization.
Widely regarded as the greatest fighter in mixed martial arts history, Silva has set numerous records since his professional debut in 1997.
The former Shooto and Cage Rage beltholder first gained recognition competing under the defunct Pride Fighting Championships banner, where he would suffer shocking submission losses against Daiju Takase and Ryo Chonan.
After contemplating retirement, Silva would rekindle his fire when he began training under the wing of the Nogueira brothers, eventually earning his Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt to accompany his black belts in muay thai, judo and taekwondo.
The flashy southpaw eventually made his UFC debut in June 2006, dismantling Chris Leben by first-round knockout to earn a crack at the title.
In just his second promotional bout, Silva decimated longtime champion Rich Franklin with an onslaught of knees, kicking off a dominant run still in full swing to this day, including title defenses against Dan Henderson, Demian Maia, Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort and Yushin Okami to go along with 205-pound destructions of soon-to-be-inducted UFC Hall of Famers Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar.
We could go on for days about Silva's accomplishments and legacy in the sport. But a fight's a fight, so all it takes is a single error to end his unbelievable run, comparable to Fedor Emelianenko's heavyweight supremacy over the span of nearly 10 years.
The Sao Paulo native is a supremely talented martial artist with some of the most vicious striking tricks we've ever seen. Simply put, Silva's accuracy, power, speed and timing are on another level. He's caught opponents in slick submissions as well, but engaging Weidman on the ground could be a death sentence.
Silva may be sensational when he's in his comfort zone, but he still has a glaring weakness, which also happens to be his opponent's strength. The Brazilian has struggled with pressure wrestlers in the past as he was taken down by Okami, Franklin, Travis Lutter, Nate Marquardt and Sonnen.
When opponents are sloppy or they lack the speed to threaten Silva, he makes it look easy, evidenced by his seemingly effortless wins at light heavyweight.
Silva's UFC-best 12 post-fight bonuses, 67.8% significant striking accuracy, 17 knockdowns and 11 total knockouts clearly separates him from the pack, but he must keep the fight standing to effectively implement his game.
With Burger King and Nike sponsorship deals in Brazil, Silva has everything to lose and very little to gain against his relatively unknown challenger.
Still perfect in nine professional bouts, the 29-year-old Weidman captured the Ring of Combat middleweight title, dispatching "TUF 17" runner-up Uriah Hall along the way, before making his UFC debut in March 2011 with only four fights under his belt.
After thoroughly controlling Alessio Sakara in his promotional debut, Weidman rattled off wins over Jesse Bongfeldt, Tom Lawlor, Demian Maia, and, most recently, Mark Munoz.
A former NCAA Division I All-American, Weidman joined the Serra-Longo Fight Team, where he earned his BJJ brown belt from former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra.
Weidman took well to the art of submissions, competing in the prestigious ADCC grappling tournament and winning the Grapplers Quest tournament, including the open-weight absolute division.
The full extent of Weidman's all-around arsenal was on full display in his second-round knockout win over Munoz last July. Weidman manhandled a former NCAA wrestling champion, dominated the positional exchanges and landed precise combinations, including a sharp elbow that led to the finish. In all five of Weidman's combined UFC fights, he's been controlled for a total of three seconds, while outstriking every opponent and landing 4.47 takedowns per 15 minutes, the highest rate in the middleweight division.
A graduate in Psychology from Hofstra University, Weidman knows the importance of the mental aspect all too well. Silva has most opponents beaten before they even enter the cage, but Weidman is an exception. He's been oozing confidence since the opportunity to fight Silva presented itself, going as far as guaranteeing a finish and promising Silva a rematch when the sport is legalized in New York.
Weidman's confidence should not be mistaken for a desperate ploy to sell the fight. He legitimately believes this is his time, and he's not alone. Numerous fighters and coaches have leaned on Weidman as the favorite, including welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, Kenny Florian, Daniel Cormier and Rashad Evans.
Despite all his promise, Weidman needs a consummate performance to dethrone Silva.
Following the blueprint successfully employed by Sonnen, Weidman should waste little time circling and trading with the Brazilian. Look for the New Yorker to rapidly close the distance with pressure takedowns. Silva will capitalize on the slightest error, so timing is everything.
If Weidman secures a dominant position on the mat, Silva will be entirely out of his element. Weidman possesses the physical strength and grappling acumen to thoroughly control Silva in a pure grappling contest. Unlike Sonnen, who left himself open to counters in Silva's guard, Weidman is a savvy submission specialist and he'll be the one threatening the champion on the ground.
Weidman can't afford to give Silva the chance to find his rhythm standing, which will require unrelenting pressure. However, pressure differs from reckless aggression, as Silva will make the challenger pay for predictable strikes or clumsy takedown attempts.
For most of his UFC journey, Silva has defeated challengers at a crossroads of their careers or prospects who simply weren't ready for the step up in competition. This time, however, he faces a surging contender on the rise, an opponent with the optimal skillset to shine.
Silva has already cemented his place in the history books as one of the elite fighters of our generation, but his time to pass the torch could finally be upon us.
-Frankie Edgar (15-4-1) vs. Charles Oliveira (16-3)¿
In his first non-championship fight since 2009, Edgar seeks a successful sophomore featherweight outing against the Brazilian youngster Oliveira.
Despite a three-fight losing streak in razor-thin title fights against Benson Henderson and Jose Aldo, the 31-year-old Edgar remains one of the sport's most effective competitors.
Edgar's losing skid should not overshadow the competitiveness of his setbacks and the magnitude of his prior victories over B.J. Penn and Gray Maynard.
A former NCAA Division I All-American and BJJ brown belt based at the Renzo Gracie Combat Team, Edgar is dynamic in his offensive output, while sharing the same training camp as middleweight title challenger Chris Weidman.
Edgar's 767 significant strikes landed are the second most in lightweight history. Meanwhile, his 42 takedowns and 71.8% striking defense rate both rank third.
Having fought at lightweight for most of his UFC career, Edgar knows how close he came to winning the title at 145 pounds. He always pushes a frantic pace, landing a high volume of combinations, rapidly dodging out of striking range and surprising stronger wrestlers with quick takedowns.
The 23-year-old Oliveira missed weight for his most recent featherweight appearance at UFC 152 this past September. He went on to suffer a crushing knockout loss at the hands of Cub Swanson, dropping from vicious body shots and precision power.
Like Edgar, Oliveira opted to make the cut from 155 pounds after first-round losses against Jim Miller and Donald Cerrone. Prior to the Swanson setback, Oliveira finished both Eric Wisely and Jonathan Brookins in his newfound weight class.
A BJJ black belt who always looks to finish, Oliveira's average fight time of 4:37 is the third shortest among active fighters, while he lands 3.73 significant strikes per minute and holds the record for third highest submission attempt average among active fighters with 3.65 attempts per five minutes.
Oliveira's biggest strength is likely his ground game, but with crisper striking and superior takedowns, Edgar should assume control of the fray.
-Tim Kennedy (15-4) vs. Roger Gracie (6-1)
A clash of debuting middleweights from Strikeforce pits the former two-time title challenger Kennedy against the BJJ legend Gracie.
Kennedy, 33, last saw action this past January, dispatching Trevor Smith by third-round submission. His Strikeforce highlights include wins over Robbie Lawler, Melvin Manhoef and Trevor Prangley, though he came up short in both of his opportunities at the title, dropping decisions against Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza and Luke Rockhold.
A former Special Forces Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army, Kennedy has fully committed himself to mixed martial arts following a tour of Iraq.
Anchored at Jackson's MMA in New Mexico, Kennedy possesses strong wrestling and submissions. His five submission wins are tied for the most in the promotion. Additionally, Kennedy's 81.8% takedown defense rate and 49.3% significant striking accuracy both rank in the top five in Strikeforce history.
Gracie, 31, is not your run-of-the-mill BJJ black belt. With seven world championships, three open-weight world titles and an ADCC gold medal, Gracie is the cream of the crop and the best active grappler in the world today.
Since his transition to MMA, Gracie has defeated UFC veterans in his first six professional fights, including Kevin Randleman and Keith Jardine. He fought on the same card as Kennedy in January, submitting Anthony Smith in the second round.
Gracie has never been taken down during his Strikeforce run with his opponents combining for just two seconds of fight control. His 2.54 submission attempts per 15 minutes is the highest rate among Strikeforce fighters with at least five fights.
Defensively, Gracie has absorbed the fewest strikes per minute in Strikeforce history, but his chin remains a question mark after he was knocked out by Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal in his only career defeat.
Kennedy is likely the superior striker, but Gracie's sizeable height and reach advantage will be critical defensive tools. Gracie usually lures opponents into his web of submissions, but Kennedy is hardly a fish out of water on the ground.
-Mark Munoz (12-3) vs. Tim Boetsch (16-5)
In an exciting middleweight meeting, "The Filipino Wrecking Machine" returns after nearly a year on the sidelines for a showdown with the American powerhouse Boetsch.
Munoz, 35, has needed to overcome a broken foot, a bout of depression and ongoing weight issues to groom himself for top form.
Riding a four-fight winning streak, including back-to-back victories over Demian Maia and Chris Leben, Munoz was completely outmatched against headliner Chris Weidman when they crossed paths last July. The fight was all Weidman, accentuated by a brutal second-round knockout.
A former NCAA Division I All-American and BJJ purple belt, the Reign Training Center standout is armed with heavy hands and strong takedowns. His 9.56 takedown attempts per 15 minutes is the most among active middleweights, while he lands 65.9% of his significant strikes in close quarters, either in the clinch or on the ground.
Boetsch, 32, is also on the rebound trail following a third-round TKO loss against Constantinos Philippou this past December, which snapped a four-fight winning streak of his own.
After dropping from light heavyweight to 185 pounds, Boetsch earned quality wins over the likes of Nick Ring, Yushin Okami and Hector Lombard.
The Matt Hume-trained AMC Pankration product has the second highest striking accuracy among active middleweights at 54.4%, second only to Anderson Silva, along with the fourth largest proportion of standing strikes in middleweight history at 91.2%.
Boetsch has the power to make Munoz second guess about shooting in, so it should make for an interesting fight. The reality of ring rust should also be a factor.
Despite only three professional losses, we've often seen Munoz absorb big shots, including a head kick knockout at the hands of Matt Hamill four years ago. If Munoz appears wobbled from a big Boetsch right hand, a quick barrage could seal the deal.
-Cub Swanson (19-5) vs. Dennis Siver (21-8)
Explosive featherweight strikers collide with a future title shot likely hanging in the balance.
Swanson, 29, a BJJ black belt fighting out of Jackson's MMA in New Mexico, has reinvented himself over the past two years, amassing an impressive four-fight winning streak, including stoppages of George Roop, Ross Pearson and Charles Oliveira. Swanson fought in February, earning a hard-fought decision over Dustin Poirier.
Since his eight-second knockout loss against Jose Aldo in June 2009, Swanson has been hoping to one day get his redemption. The rematch is becoming more of a reality, especially with another emphatic win on Saturday night.
With seven featherweight victories, the third most in UFC and WEC featherweight history, Swanson has been a familiar face for years, but he's only know beginning to realize his true potential.
Swanson's 55% takedown accuracy is the highest in featherweight history and his 48% significant striking accuracy ranks second, so there will be little wasted motion.
Siver, 34, is unbeaten since his drop to 145 pounds, including successive decisions over Diego Nunes and Nam Phan. The Russian-born German fighter has achieved mixed results throughout his 155-pound campaign, defeating Matt Wiman, George Sotiropoulus and Spencer Fisher, while dropping fights to Gray Maynard, Melvin Guillard, Pearson and Donald Cerrone.
A dynamic taekwondo black belt and BJJ purple belt, Siver comes to bang every time. His seven career knockdowns ranks third among fighters 155 pounds and under, while his 71% takedown defense rate will have Swanson thinking twice about traditional double-legs.
Siver's most recent victory over Phan set a record for most strikes ever landed in a UFC or WEC featherweight fight at 222, including 125 significant strikes.
With bases in judo and sambo, Siver can take care of himself on the ground, but he's usually content with an old-fashioned kickboxing matchup.
In what could be an early "Fight of the Night" candidate, Swanson's speed and diversity could be integral elements as the fight progresses.