The UFC heavyweight division is the most annoying weight class in all of mixed martial arts (MMA).
After Cain Velasquez held the 265-pound title hostage for nearly two years, he surrendered it to Fabricio Werdum who then responded in kind and sat out for 11 months. It's almost worth rooting for Stipe Miocic at UFC 198, set to go down inside Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, on May 14, 2016, just so this insane cycle doesn't start all over again.
The good news is, we have a stacked pay-per-view (PPV) fight card that helps sort through some of the middleweight clutter. Just a few years back, Vitor Belfort was fighting for the 185-pound title. By the time the curtain falls on UFC 198, he could both be eliminated from the division title chase.
Elsewhere on the card, former Strikeforce champ and Invicta featherweight despot Cris Cyborg will make her Octagon debut at a special catchweight of 140 pounds, while "Shogun" Rua tries to do something he hasn't done over seven years (win back-to-back fights).
Now then, let's get picking.
265 lbs.: Fabricio "Vai Cavalo" Werdum (20-5-1) vs. Stipe Miocic (14-5)
Nostradumbass predicts: Fabricio Werdum has beaten -- and finished -- three of the best heavyweights to ever compete in MMA. But somehow he still doesn't get the credit he deserves. Excuses include: Fedor Emelianenko was overconfident and got caught, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was old and shot, Cain Velasquez was unprepared for the high altitude in Mexico City.
"Vai Cavalo" also knocked out Mark Hunt and laid claim to Alistair Overeem's arm back in PRIDE.
I don't think it's an exaggeration to call him one of the finest jiu-jitsu fighters in the sport, but we also can't sleep on his Muay Thai, which has grown exponentially since the days of his ho-hum slap fights against Sergei Kharitonov and Andrei Arlovski.
Just ask Travis Browne, who got schooled for 25 minutes on FOX.
When you look at his record, which on paper features a murderer's row of heavyweight smashers, it's very hard to build a credible case for Stipe Miocic. Credit where credit is due, he's beaten some very tough guys like Roy Nelson and the aforementioned Hunt, but at the same time, he's only faced one fighter currently ranked in the top five.
And he lost.
Miocic is a big, durable fighter with above-average boxing and long-distance cardio, but there is no one skill set where he holds a distinct advantage. Werdum is no stranger to knockout power, durable wrestlers, and five-round fights. I think the challenger's best chance at taking the upset is to out-athlete the champ.
Stick and move!
Not the kind of thing I would lay money on.
Final prediction: Werdum def. Miocic by submission
185 lbs.: Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza (22-4) vs. Vitor "The Phenom" Belfort (25-11)
Nostradumbass predicts: It's pretty hard to gauge where Vitor Belfort is at during the twilight of his career. While using TRT, he was a bona fide assassin, smashing and trashing three straight opponents, including current middleweight champion Luke Rockhold.
Then his artificial fountain of youth dried up and "The Phenom" was promptly disposed of by Chris Weidman.
That said, he did look like his usual dangerous self before getting taken down by the "All American," and he did crush Dan Henderson last November, but it's tough to get crazy over that particular win since "Hendo" is just 2-6 over the past couple of years.
As for Souza?
He's the same combatant he's always been. A very dangerous grappler -- capable of submitting any fighter on the middleweight roster -- with heavy hands. His cardio is not exactly legendary but he's no Gonzaga, either. I doubt he wants to make this a kickboxing battle because a 39-year-old Belfort is still a force to be reckoned with.
It should be noted "Jacare" has not been finished in almost eight years.
Souza has not faced the caliber of opposition that Belfort has, but he's certainly the more consistent fighter. I think without a knockout blow in the opening frame, which is certainly possible, it's only a matter of time before this fight gets to the floor.
That's bad news for a gassy Belfort.
Final prediction: Souza def. Belfort by submission
140 lbs.: Cristiane "Cyborg" Justino (15-1) vs. Leslie "The Peacemaker" Smith (8-6-1)
Nostradumbass predicts: Let's just cut the bullshit and get right to it. Cris Cyborg is one of the best female fighters in the world with devastating knockout power. Tito Ortiz once put her in a triangle choke during training and she picked him up and slammed him like a sack of potatoes.
Now she's finally here, making her Octagon debut against Leslie Smith, who struggled to fend off the (cough) "pressure" from the 5'1" Rin Nakai back in March. Sure, "The Peacemaker" will land some shots -- most opponents do -- but Cyborg is going to eat them like Roy Nelson eats a Whopper, then fire back.
Smith is 8-6 for a reason. She's got heart, no question (proof), but not the kind of savvy skill set that will keep her out of danger. Her only hope is that Cyborg fucks up the weight cut and leaves herself gassed out in the opening frame. If Smith can survive the initial blitzkrieg and come back fresher in round two, a submission is possible.
Possible, but not plausible.
Final prediction: Justino def. Smith via technical knockout
205 lbs.: Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (23-10) vs. Corey "Beastin 25/8" Anderson (8-1)
Nostradumbass predicts: The fact that people were celebrating Mauricio Rua's win over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira like it was of any consequence says a lot about where "Shogun" is at in his combat sports career. Soon to be 35, the Brazilian has not beaten anyone of relevance in many, many years.
Let's also note the seven finishes in 10 losses.
He's also suffered so many injuries he's probably walking around on somebody else's legs by this point. Think Bill Chrushank in Body Parts minus the homicidal tendencies. In addition, the ebb and flow of his endurance is directly proportionate to the gameplan of his opponent.
That spells doom against a young buck like Corey Anderson.
There's a lot to like about The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 19 grad, and it's pretty remarkable to see how well he's endured in such a short time as a pro. That said, he's still pretty green and does not want to get into a firefight with "Shogun" or he'll be seasoned with smelling salts about 30 seconds into the bout.
Fortunately, he doesn't have to.
Rua, like most aging (and broken down) veterans, can be defeated by a superior athlete. Anderson needs to stay away from the knockout punch and make this a grueling, tiresome affair that blends takedowns with wall-and-stall. It may not be pretty and the Brazilian fans will boo the shit out of him, but it's not like they would have cheered him anyway.
Final prediction: Anderson def. Rua via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Bryan "Bam Bam" Barberena (11-3) vs. Warlley Alves (10-0)
Nostradumbass predicts: Bryan Barberena thinks he's the cat's meow after a submission over lightweight wunderkind Sage Northcutt, though I'm not sure how much intel we're able to glean from that particular performance, as "Super" was felled by strep throat and fighting above his weight class.
But that's okay, as "Bam Bam" was looking pretty good before that.
While we don't have a tremendous body of work to draw from, Barberena tore through the regional scene and stunned Joe Ellenberger in his Octagon debut, prior to a decision loss to Chad Laprise. He's a good wrestler with solid grappling and a stiff test at 170 pounds.
So too, is Warlley Alves.
The Brazilian is perfect in 10 trips to the cage and he's done some damage under the ZUFFA banner, scoring three submission wins as well as a unanimous decision victory over Alan Jouban after winning TUF: "Brazil 3." He's also an accomplished kickboxer with sneaky submissions.
Wherever Barberena is good, Alves is just a little bit better.
That means the tricks "Bam Bam" used to stymie Northcutt will not apply against Alves and it would not surprise me to see a takedown -- perhaps out of frustration or even desperation -- put Barberena in harm's way.
Final prediction: Alves def. Barberena via submission
There you have it.
For our extensive preview and predictions of the UFC 198 "Prelims" card click here and here. Odds and betting lines for this weekend's fight card can be found here.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 198 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.
You've heard from me, now let's hear from you. Who gets it done tomorrow night in Brazil?