This Saturday, the octagon heads to Curitiba, Brazil for UFC 198 and many native fighters are featured on the card where the results will seemingly have a drastic impact on the direction of their individual careers. As the Ultimate Fighting Championship has undergone a transition phase of sorts within the past year, the deck has been reshuffled so to speak and the landscape appears to be much different going forward than in the past. However, careers have been rejuvenated before and this event should be an indication of who will extend their career into another era or won’t keep pace with the rapidly changing climate of mixed martial arts.
At the top of the card, Stipe Miocic, the Croatian, who KO’d Andre Arlovski and Mark Hunt in his last two fights, will finally get a shot at the UFC Heavyweight title. Miocic was willing to step in on short notice to fight for the belt after Cain Velasquez sustained yet another injury in February, but the champion, Fabricio Werdum, cancelled the bout, conveniently citing an injury after the replacement was announced. With a record of 8-2 in the UFC and a 14-2 record overall, Miocic has steadily become a force in the heavyweight division during the past few years. The former golden gloves winner in amateur boxing and collegiate wrestler has drawn comparisons to another Croatian, the legendary Mirko Cro Cop, for his precise striking and take down defense. Werdum, the first competitor to submit the legendary Fedor, had a career resurgence after he defeated the legendary Russian in Strike Force. Currently on a six fight win streak, Werdum shocked the world when he defeated Velasquez in June of last year.
The question is, was Velasquez rusty from returning after an injury, or has Werdum reached the top-tier of the division?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not to take anything away from Fabricio, but he hasn’t defended the belt yet, and Cain has a lengthy history of injuries so it’s tough to gauge where Werdum ranks among the current heavyweight division. The Brazilian native is a black belt in jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai so obviously, he will bring well rounded skill set into the fight, and the same can be said about Miocic, which is why this should be a very evenly matched fight. The key to this contest will be if Miocic can avoid the take down and use striking ability to win the fight. It appears that much of the result of this contest will depend on if Fabricio can use grappling skills to try to neutralize the boxing ability of the challenger. It’s tough to pick a winner here, but I will guess that Stipe Miocic will win the title.
After years of speculation and anticipation, Cris “Cyborg” Justino will finally make her UFC debut when she fights Leslie Smith. Nothing short of dominant in her MMA career, Cyborg brings a 15-1 record into the octagon and has been undefeated for over a decade. Among the notable victories in her career, Justino defeated the first face of female MMA, Gina Carano, in the first round and Carano hasn’t fought since 2009. Cyborg is also the current Invicta Feather weight champion, which is why the UFC bout will be at a 140 catch weight. While Justino is the 145 lbs Invicta champion, the delay of her arrival to the UFC was based on if she could make weight for the women’s bantamweight division so the future for her seems uncertain at the moment, unless she alternates between defending her Invicta title and catchweight fights. It seems like the only way Cyborg would be on the UFC roster full-time is if she decided to drop down to 135 to fight competitors such as Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, etc. Other than dropping down to bantamweight, it doesn’t seem like there’s many options for Cyborg in the UFC because how many of the established names are going to be willing to fight at a catchweight?
Her challenger, Leslie Smith, is an extremely tough competitor, which she proved when her cauliflower ear burst during a fight with Jessica Eye at UFC 180. During the very graphic scene between rounds, Smith’s ear was partially hanging from her head and she was protesting the doctor stoppage. That being said, Smith is a mid card type fighter and the stage is set for Justino to showcase her skills. It won’t be an easy fight, but I have to pick Cyborg to win it.
Vitor Belfort is fighting the dangerous Ronaldo Souza and it could decide the direction of his career. Amid the TRT banned and testing positive for steroids previously in his career, Vitor has been the subject of much controversy during the past few years. He has kept his career going with various win streaks over the years, but was defeated when he fought top tier competition, including Jon Jones and Chris Weidman. With title aspirations not a realistic option, a loss at UFC 198 could be an exit from the sport for him.
Another Brazilian that could be nearing the conclusion of his career is Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, who will fight Corey Anderson. Shogun reached legendary status during his career, but a series of injuries derailed him at times. The past several years yielded mixed results for him, as there were some bouts where Shogun looked rejuvenated and other times, it seemed like the injuries had taken a toll. Another defeat might be a sign that he should retire, but Shogun has a legendary career.
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