Despite a plethora of card changes and injuries, UFC 153 will go down as planned Saturday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, headlined by the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter stepping up in weight.
Meanwhile, a number of top Brazilian contenders round out the main card as compatriots Glover Teixeira and Fabio Maldonado collide, former Pride and UFC heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira returns for the first time since a gruesome arm injury to take on Dave Herman, explosive welterweight wrecking machine Erick Silva looks to continue his meteoric rise against longtime perennial contender Jon Fitch, undefeated Brazilian muay thai specialist Wagner Prado gets another crack at American wrestling standout Phil Davis, plus submission ace Demian Maia seeks his second win as a welterweight when he battles durable scrapper Rick Story.
It’s not quite the event the UFC initially had planned with names like Jose Aldo, Frankie Edgar and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson dropping off the card, but the live crowd should appreciate the addition of the two most decorated and beloved Brazilian fighters of all time in Silva and Nogueira.
The six-fight card is deeply stacked with quality talent and solid matchmaking throughout, as local heroes take on American imports. It will serve the purpose of establishing new contenders in various weight classes, while giving the world’s premier fighter a platform to further cement his legacy.
Here’s a closer look at the marquee matchups:
-Anderson Silva (32-4) vs. Stephan Bonnar (15-7)
After offering to fight at UFC 151 to save the show, the world’s best fighter has come to the rescue yet again, agreeing to a short-notice light heavyweight bout with one of the faces who helped propel the organization into mainstream stardom.
The reigning UFC middleweight champion Silva, 37, has already done it all in the UFC. A black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo and taekwondo, the Team Nogueira member is riding a 16-fight winning streak.
Undefeated since joining the UFC in June 2006, the former Shooto and Cage Rage champion has steamrolled the middleweight division for years, defeating the likes of Chris Leben, Rich Franklin, Dan Henderson, Demian Maia, Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort and Yushin Okami.
Silva can finally move past his feud with Sonnen after decisively finishing the outspoken American in the second round at UFC 148 this past July.
Silva has tried his hand at 205 pounds already, easily vanquishing overmatched foes Forrest Griffin and James Irvin.
With an 11-0 record in championship fights, the most in history, and 10 successful consecutive title defenses, also a UFC record, Silva really has nothing left to prove.
The biggest mixed martial arts star in Brazil has already become a household name in the U.S. and he’s widely acknowledged as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, arguably the best of all time.
The Brazilian southpaw’s career has not been entirely flawless as he suffered a pair of shocking submission losses against Daiju Takase and Ryo Chonan during his stint with Pride in Japan, but those setbacks are a distant memory.
Still, the Sao Paulo native knows it takes a single error to come out on the losing end and he carefully handpicked a much slower opponent to make a statement in his 205-pound return.
Silva’s skillset is well-documented. His striking ranks among the most dynamic in the sport, comparable to featherweight champion Jose Aldo and former K-1 Grand Prix winner Alistair Overeem. His submission game and grappling are also outstanding. Wrestling may be Silva’s lone weak point, but his solution is a strong sprawl coupled with effective takedown defense.
The 6-foot-2 Brazilian is rangy and long for 185 pounds, which has worked in his favor throughout his career. At 205 pounds, Silva is still big, but he’ll be no match for Bonnar in terms of sheer size.
Bonnar, 35, a finalist on the inaugural season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” engaged in an epic brawl with Griffin, coming out on the losing end of a fight that helped put the UFC on the map.
His subsequent UFC journey has been marred by inconsistency. Losses against Rashad Evans, Jon Jones and Mark Coleman exposed visible deficiencies in his game, but Bonnar has finally found some rhythm in recent appearances.
The Indiana native is entering this fight riding an impressive three-fight winning streak over Kyle Kingsbury, Igor Pokrajac and Krzysztof Soszynski.
A disciple of the late Carlson Gracie, Bonnar’s credentials are no joke as he possesses black belts in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, taekwondo and Kyrpa karate.
Bonnar will need to exploit Silva where he has traditionally shown the most vulnerability. The American should use his heavy 6-foot-4 frame to weaken the Brazilian on the canvas.
However, speed will be the deciding factor in this fight. The task of taking Silva down will prove extremely difficult as the Brazilian dashes in and out of range at will, anticipating Bonnar’s sloppy shots and clumsy combinations.
To Bonnar’s credit, he’s armed with a sturdy chin and savvy defensive grappling, having only been stopped by cuts in his career.
Giving Bonnar every benefit of the doubt, he may find some success in close quarters, using his mass to lean on Silva, while feverishly pushing for takedowns, but Bonnar has never been the best wrestler.
Bonnar has found some success brawling with rudimentary strikers. But comparing Bonnar and Silva’s performances against Griffin is a good indicator of what will happen if Bonnar tries his hand at a kickboxing match.
The masterful pound-for-pound great will catch Bonnar coming in with his hands low, exploiting a visible speed advantage and connecting with a sizzling sequence of strikes to seal the deal.
Verdict: Silva via KO, Round 1
-Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (33-7-1) vs. Dave Herman (21-4)
After suffering a severely injured arm in his loss to Frank Mir last December, the beloved Brazilian heavyweight Nogueira returns home to teach “Pee-Wee” Herman a lesson about Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Nogueira, 36, the former Pride and interim UFC heavyweight champion, will go down in history books as one of the most accomplished heavyweight competitors of all time.
A 3rd degree Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and judo black belt, the former Brazilian Top Team standout has trained and mentored some of the best fighters in the sport, including current UFC champions Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo and Junior dos Santos.
Nogueira’s sterling run in Japan saw him trounce the likes of Mark Coleman, Dan Henderson, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Sergei Kharitonov, Fabricio Werdum and Josh Barnett.
Since joining the UFC, Noguiera is 4-3, having defeated Heath Herring, Tim Sylvia, Randy Couture and Brendan Schaub, while suffering the first three stoppage setbacks of his career — knockouts against Mir and Velasquez and an unlikely submission loss in his rematch with Mir at UFC 140.
A battle-tested warrior, Nogueira has been involved in some of the most heated rumbles in mixed martial arts history. He’s never been the same fighter since a trio of battles with the legendary Fedor Emelianenko. Those beatings have obviously taken their toll, leaving Nogueira a shell of his former self.
Nonetheless, the inspirational Brazilian heavyweight, who recovered from a coma after being run over by a truck at the age of 10, is still one of the best heavyweights on the roster.
Nogueira’s submission game is comparable only to the likes of Mir and Werdum, while a sound boxing base is also a major catalyst to his offense. Noguiera has trained extensively with the Cuban boxing squad and while his hands are gradually getting slower, his power and precision remain a threat.
Herman, 28, will likely be handed his walking papers if he doesn’t deliver the goods against Nogueira on Saturday night.
A product of Team Quest, the Indiana native is on a two-fight losing skid with knockout losses against Roy Nelson and Stefan Struve.
To make matters worse, Herman has already been criticized by UFC president Dana White for his outlandish body and facial hair, prompting the return of a clean-cut look for this Saturday’s tilt.
An EliteXC, Bellator and Sengoku veteran, Herman’s notable victims include Mario Rinaldi, Don Frye, Michal Kita and Yoshihiro Nakao. A former wrestler for Indiana University, Herman is armed with dangerous knees and finishing power, so this won’t be a walk in the park for Nogueira.
Herman made headlines when he proclaimed that Brazilian jiu-jitsu doesn’t work following a victorious UFC debut against BJJ black belt John-Olav Einemo in June 2011. As such, Nogueira would like nothing more than to win this fight by submission.
With the crowed going berserk, Nogueira will use his hands to set up an eventual takedown. If Herman survives the Brazilian’s fistic flurries, which is a question mark in and of itself, he’ll be entirely out of his element off his back. Nogueira will utilize his world-famous grip to transition into a choke or armbar, coaxing a late tapout to the delight of the deafening crowd.
Verdict: Nogueira via Submission, Round 3
-Glover Teixeira (18-2) vs. Fabio Maldonado (18-5)
In a clash of Brazilian light heavyweights, the highly touted Teixeira hopes for a successful sophomore UFC outing against the rebounding Maldonado.
A myth has surrounded the 32-year-old Teixeira after multiple opponents turned him down, notably Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Rashad Evans.
The John Hackleman and Marco Ruas-trained fighter is not new to the sport by any stretch, having served as Chuck Liddell’s primary training partner for a large portion of his prime.
Now riding a 16-fight winning streak, the Luigi Mondelli Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt is coming off a triumphant UFC debut this past May in which he submitted Kyle Kingsbury in under two minutes.
Teixeira holds notable wins over the likes of Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou, Joaquim Ferreira, Marcio Cruz, Antonio Mendes, Marvin Eastman and Ricco Rodriguez.
The California resident is a strong wrestler with excellent submissions and heavy hands. He has all the potential to be the next big challenger in the 205-pound class, but he would have benefited far more from fighting his original opponent Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
The 32-year-old Maldonado is on a two-fight losing streak after dropping decisions to Igor Pokrajac and Kingsbury.
The Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt is a product of Team Nogueira, but boxing is his primary weapon. Maldonado is 22-0 in professional boxing competition with 21 knockouts, a highly impressive feat.
Maldonado’s loss to Pokrajac this past May was an all-action battle and we’ve come to expect nothing less from the Sao Paulo native. His body work is exceptional, though he still struggles with wrestlers.
Teixeira’s superior wrestling base will allow him to dictate where the fight takes place. He’ll be most successful imposing his top control to set up a fight-ending submission.
Verdict: Teixeira via Submission, Round 2
-Erick Silva (14-2) vs. Jon Fitch (23-4-1)
In a pivotal welterweight matchup, one of the brightest prospects in the UFC faces one of the most durable competitors in promotional history.
From what we’ve seen thus far, the 28-year-old Silva is the real deal. The Brazilian is still untested against elite opposition, but he’s definitely here to stay.
A Team Nogueira member, Silva has destroyed Luis Ramos, Carlo Prater and Charlie Brenneman since joining the UFC, but he was disqualified for strikes to the back of the head, a highly questionable call in his bout with Prater.
The Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo black belt is well-versed in all areas as his muay thai base and sublime submissions are complimented by knockout power and shark-like killer instinct. Moreover, Silva demonstrated tremendous takedown defense against Brenneman, an accomplished collegiate wrestler.
As the first-ever Jungle Fight welterweight champion, Silva is no stranger to Brazilian fans and he should anticipate a warm reception for the most important fight of his career.
The 34-year-old Fitch, a former NCAA Division I wrestler, has been a force at welterweight for most of his UFC tenure, defeating the likes of Thiago Alves, Diego Sanchez, Paulo Thiago and Mike Pierce.
After a hard-fought draw against B.J. Penn in February 2011, Fitch suffered the first knockout loss of his UFC career at the hands of Johny Hendricks just 12 seconds into their bout this past December.
The American Kickboxing Academy product and Guerrilla Jiu Jitsu black belt under Dave Camarillo has often been criticized for his tendency to win slow-paced decisions. Fitch has spent the better part of four years campaigning for a rematch with welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, the only other man to beat him in the UFC, but he’ll settle for any kind of win he can get against the promising young upstart.
Fitch will need to go back to the basics against Silva. His striking has undoubtedly come a long way, but trading with the quicker and more explosive Brazilian will be a costly error. Fitch should push the pace, initiating clinches and pursuing takedowns. If everything goes according to plan, he’ll grind his way to a decision. At this point, however, with nearly a full year of inactivity and also coming off the worst loss of his career, Fitch could be in trouble against his dynamic adversary.
Silva will need to perform up to his full potential, scrambling out of precarious positions and capitalizing on every opportunity to hurt Fitch with combinations. Silva’s unpredictable fast tempo offense will be the difference maker as he picks his spot for a finishing flurry.
Verdict: Silva via KO, Round 2
-Wagner Prado (8-0, 1NC) vs. Phil Davis (9-1, 1NC)
Their initial encounter this past August ended prematurely due to an accidental eye poke, so we’ll see it again Saturday as the undefeated Brazilian muay thai specialist Prado takes on the four-time NCAA Division I All-American Davis.
The 25-year-old Prado is a Team Nogueira pupil. Still largely untested, Prado is a dangerous striker with seven knockout victims in eight career wins.
Nicknamed “Caldeirao” from an appearance on a popular Brazilian television show, Prado was discovered by the Nogueira brothers, who have since taken the young prospect under their wing. With a number of training partners also preparing for battle at UFC 153, Prado should enter the Octagon in top form.
The 28-year-old Davis is among the most accomplished collegiate wrestlers to make the transition into mixed martial arts.
Training under Lloyd Irvin at Alliance MMA, Davis has taken well to the submission game. Davis’ striking was no match for Rashad Evans in his lone professional blemish this past January, but victories over Alexander Gustafsson, Tim Boetsch and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira are highly impressive feats this early into his career.
Davis will need to avoid testing his improved hands with Prado. Instead, he should fall back on his wrestling instincts, shooting in for strong takedowns and using his long frame to wear on the Brazilian in the clinch. Prado actually possesses excellent takedown defense, so Davis will need to push a relentless pace from bell to bell. It won’t be easy, but Davis should be favored to come away with the win if he succeeds in doing what he does best.
Verdict: Davis via Decision
-Demian Maia (16-4) vs. Rick Story (14-5)
Following a triumphant welterweight debut this past July, the submission magician Maia will have his hands full against the underrated slugger Story in a clash of southpaws with contrasting styles.
Maia, 34, a 3rd degree Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, is one of the most talented grapplers in the sport. A former ADCC submission wrestling champion, Maia took the UFC by storm after debuting in October 2007. He finished his first five foes by submission, including Ed Herman and Chael Sonnen.
Maia struggled with several losses at middleweight, including a 21-second knockout against Nate Marquardt and decisions at the hands of Anderson Silva, Mark Munoz and Chris Weidman.
In his 170-debut, Maia may have lucked out as Dong Hyun Kim suffered a muscle spasm leading to the finish, but there’s no doubting the Sao Paulo native’s potential at his newfound weight.
Story, 28, could be flying under the radar as one of the most underrated fighters on the UFC roster. Story’s hot streak was halted following a a pair of razor-thin decision losses against Charlie Brenneman and Martin Kampmann, but he rebounded with a victory over newcomer Brock Jardine in June.
Story remains a legitimate contender as he boasts wins over the likes of Jake Ellenberger, Johny Hendricks and Thiago Alves.
While his foundations are mostly wrestling-based, Story is content using his pedigree to keep the action standing. Story enjoys trading heavy shots and winging wild hooks as he charges forward with an aggressive style.
On the other hand, Maia is still not entirely comfortable standing. His boxing has come a long way, evidenced in his win over Dan Miller, but submissions are his specialty for a reason. Maia is an assassin on the mat and he thrives whenever he takes the fight there.
Story is probably being overlooked in this fight, which he’s quite comfortable with. He’ll look to utilize his wrestling base to thwart Maia’s takedowns, while making him pay by lunging forward with heavy artillery. Story’s rock-hard chin and strong submission defense will both come in handy down the stretch. The American’s ability to push the pace and administer the most damaging shots should be reflected on the judges’ scorecards, spoiling Maia’s Brazilian homecoming.
Verdict: Story via Decision