There's no better place than home.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum puts his belt on the line for the first time in his native Brazil this Saturday night (May 14, 2016), taking on surging bruiser Stipe Miocic in the pay-per-view (PPV) main event of UFC 198 inside Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil.
The massive venue will also play host to a Middleweight clash between "Jacare" Souza and Vitor Belfort, not to mention Anderson Silva's fight with Uriah Hall and the long-awaited promotional debut of "Cyborg" Justino against Leslie Smith.
We've still four "Prelims" undercard matches to preview and predict, all of which will air on FOX Sports 1 (check out the Fight Pass portion right here), before we turn our attention to the PPV main card. Let's get to it:
170 lbs.: Demian Maia vs. Matt Brown
Now almost nine years into his UFC career, Demian Maia (22-6) continues to soldier on in a division full of young stars, winning four straight since his loss to Rory MacDonald. His last two bouts have seen him hand Neil Magny his only loss in his last 11 fights and dominate ADCC competitor Gunnar Nelson on the mat.
Ten of his wins have come by submission.
The unexpected rise of Matt Brown (20-13) through the Welterweight division came to an end at the hands of Robbie Lawler, who outbrawled the Muay Thai specialist over five rounds. A decision loss to Johny Hendricks followed, but "The Immortal" re-entered the win column with a guillotine finish of Tim Means in July 2015.
He was booked to face Kelvin Gastelum in Nov. 2015 before suffering an ankle injury.
Maia is so adept at chain wrestling and slipping onto the back during scrambles that he's basically become the sock from "Monsters, Inc.:" If he touches you, panic. MacDonald showed that he can be worn down with a careful ranged attack and Jake Shields showed that a world-class top game and extreme patience can pay dividends, but without one of those two skills, you're in for a long night.
Brown has neither.
Brown's tremendous durability, cardio and preternatural ability to select the exact limb needed to inflict maximum damage make him a nightmare match up for anyone intent on striking with him. His own aggression will work against him here, however, as his preferred clinch puts him in Maia's grasp. He's not getting out once he's there -- Maia spends a few minutes on Brown's back before choking him out.
Prediction: Maia via first-round submission
170 lbs.: Warlley Alves vs. Bryan Barberena
Warlley Alves (10-0) may have gotten some help from the judges in his fight with Alan Jouban, but he didn't need them for his next two bouts. The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Brazil 3" winner guillotined Nordine Taleb in Aug. 2015, then used the same move four months later to finish Colby Covington in less than 90 seconds.
All six of his submission wins are via form of choke.
Few gave Bryan Barberena (11-3) much of a chance when he stepped in on short notice to face Sage Northcutt, who had been tabbed as one of the promotion's future stars. Unfortunately for UFC, "Bam Bam" defied the odds, using his size and grit to choke Northcutt out in the second round.
He has knocked out eight of his opponents as a professional.
While Barberena would likely be better served going back to the Lightweight division, where he seemed able to maintain his cardio while bringing his strength to bear, he's a good test for Alves. The explosive Brazilian still needs to prove he can maintain his pace against relentless foes.
Basically, if Alves is what he's cracked up to me, he should take it. His wicked submissions, power striking and underrated takedowns form a devastating skill set. If he tries to bomb Barberena out like he did Jouban, however, he's in trouble. I'll err on the Brazilian's side and say he locks up a guillotine before Barberena can get going.
Prediction: Alves via first-round submission
185 lbs.: Thiago Santos vs. Nate Marquardt
Following a 1-2 start to his UFC career, Thiago Santos (12-3) quickly established himself as one to watch in the Middleweight division with brutal knockouts of Andy Enz and Steve Bosse, the latter one of 2015's best. Despite this, he entered his next bout against Elias Theodorou as an underdog, but managed to wear down and batter the Canadian for a unanimous decision win.
He has knocked out seven opponents overall.
Nate Marquardt (34-15-2) stepped into the cage opposite C.B. Dollaway with his back against the wall, having lost five of his previous six fights in fairly one-sided fashion. "The Great" came through in the clutch with a blistering right hand that laid out "The Doberman" early in the second round.
Sixteen of his 26 stoppage wins have come by submission.
I'll readily admit that it was a hell of a knockout, but I am not convinced that Marquardt is "back." His wrestling hasn't kept up with the sport's evolution, leaving him unable to bring his submission game to bear, and he's no longer durable nor fast enough to hold his own on the feet with big hitters.
Santos is a very big hitter.
Marquardt simply does not have the striking acumen to keep the Brazilian at bay nor the physicality to overpower him. Santos breaks him down with heavy kicks before stopping him in the second.
Prediction: Santos via second-round knockout
135 lbs.: John Lineker vs. Rob Font
Despite a career-best win over Ian McCall, the persistent weight issues of John Lineker (26-7) forced him to move back to Bantamweight, where he took on fellow slugger Francisco Rivera in Sept. 2015. The two duked it out for a furious 2:08 before "Hands of Stone" forced a tap via guillotine.
He was set to face Cody Garbrandt in February before coming down with dengue fever.
Injuries on both his and his opponents' parts kept Rob Font (12-1) out of action for 1.5 years following his one-hitter-quitter against George Roop. He returned to the cage in January against Joey Gomez, whom he punched into submission in Boston's TD Garden.
He stands six inches taller than Lineker at 5'8."
Long-time readers may be aware that I am a shameless Lineker fanboy, so it shouldn't surprise you that I'm picking the tiny bastard to win by stoppage. The thing about Lineker is that he never stops -- he's one of the most active punchers in UFC and can keep that pace for 15 minutes, punishing the body and eventually drawing opponents into slugfests they can't win. He's also got the defensive wrestling to shut down the likes of McCall and a chin that could probably stand up to a meteor strike.
Font's massive length advantage and diverse striking should pay early dividends, but once the body shots start piling up, it's just a matter of time. Lineker drops the first round before ultimately battering Font into submission late in the second.
Prediction: Lineker via second-round technical knockout
Damn, UFC 198 is a great card. Hope you'll join us Saturday, Maniacs, for both our sakes.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 198 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:15 p.m. ET, and then the remaining under card balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.