UFC 198 PREVIEW: Penick’s main card breakdown and fight picks for “Werdum vs. Miocic” event

By Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief

UFC 198 hits Curitiba, Brazil, on Saturday night in front of 45,000 fans at the Arena da Baixada, the biggest ever event the organization has ever run in the country. That’s not only from a venue size standpoint, as even with the loss of Anderson Silva from the fight card it remains the most stacked event they’ve brought to Brazil on paper. The main card features some of the country’s best and most well known fighters, and there’s further intrigue in the UFC debut of Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino.

Here’s what’s coming on tomorrow’s pay-per-view card:

Fabricio Werdum vs. Stipe Miocic (Heavyweight Championship)

Werdum’s performance in capturing the UFC Heavyweight Championship last June was excellent. He beat Cain Velasquez to the punch more often than not, wearing him down until he went for a desperation takedown in the third round. Werdum’s quick guillotine on the attempt was enough, and the submission established him as the man to beat in the heavyweight field.

It’s been a long journey to the top for the 38-year-old, but he’s only gotten better the longer his career has gone. When he was knocked out by Junior dos Santos and sent out of the UFC back in 2008, he was still almost entirely reliant on his ground game. He’d simply not worked enough on improving his striking game to that point in his career, and though he was still competing at an elite level it was with a relatively one-dimensional skill set. That’s changed in the eight years since that, and more accurately that’s changed over the last four. He continued to utilize his considerable ground game to success in Strikeforce, culminating in his at-the-time shocking upset win over Fedor Emelianenko.

However, things needed to change after the butt-scooting abomination that was his rematch with Alistair Overeem in his final Strikeforce appearance. Things were clearly different for him in his return to the UFC, as he completely out-struck Roy Nelson before taking out Mike Russow and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. A great performance in a decision over Travis Browne continued his run, and he finally got his title fight after taking out Mark Hunt for the Interim Title in similarly destructive fashion.

Miocic enters this title shot with an 8-2 mark inside the UFC, with five of those wins coming by (T)KO. He’s got considerable power in his strikes, and his boxing game has been mostly good in his UFC run. He should arguably be 9-1 in his UFC run, as he had a great case for the decision win in his fight with Junior dos Santos, though that fight wasn’t particularly impressive for either of them. A quick win over Andrei Arlovski in January is what got him this shot, and though it was impressive, he still hasn’t necessarily shown the overall game to take Werdum out unless he manages to catch him in similar fashion to that eight year old JDS KO.

Werdum’s got the striking chops in 2016 to more than hang with Miocic, and he’s got a considerable edge on the ground. Miocic should be competitive for a time, but Werdum’s likely to wear him down either through grappling or by out-striking him, and eventually he’ll find his opening.

PREDICTION: Werdum by submission in the second round

Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza vs. Vitor Belfort (Middleweight)

This is a veritable striker vs. grappler match, it just so happens to feature one of the sport’s most feared strikers against one of it’s most feared submission specialists. Vitor Belfort’s first round blitz has become something of legend throughout his career, but it’s also why there’s almost always a clear path to victory for the right style of opponent. If you can get past what he’s going to throw your way in the opening few minutes of a fight, there’s a very good chance he’s going to be worn out.

As for Souza, he’s got the power striking to be just as dangerous on the feet, but his chin’s not among the best in the division, so it would be extremely risky for him to stay standing with Belfort for any considerable amount of time. If he can avoid getting knocked out and can get Belfort to the ground, this fight will be his for the taking. I think that’s what we’re going to see here, moving Souza to the top of the contender list in the division.

PREDICTION: Souza by submission in the first round

Cris “Cyborg” Justino vs. Leslie Smith (140 lb. Catchweight)

Justino finally makes her UFC debut after years of discussion, hemming, and ultimately ridiculous denial because of the UFC’s lack of a featherweight division. Smith is being presented as nothing more than the face she’ll take on, a body to get past in front of a home country crowd, and that very well may be what we see here.

Smith is an extremely tough, durable fighter, but she gets hit. A lot. That’s not a good trait to bring into a fight opposite the most dangerous female fighter we’ve ever seen. Justino attacks. Then attacks some more. Then continues attacking until her opponent can no longer fight back. We’ve almost never seen her in trouble, outside of her kickboxing loss, but Smith likely isn’t the fighter to pull it off. Could we be in for a surprise? And could the weight-cut be a more severe issue for Justino to deal with? Perhaps. But it’s hard to see that being the case here.

PREDICTION: Justino by TKO in the first round

Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Corey Anderson (Light Heavyweight)

“Shogun” is a shell of the fighter he once was, Anderson’s a talented yet flawed and green light heavyweight. This is the one down spot on the main card. The former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion has lost four of six, getting stopped in three of those losses, and though he enters this card off a decision win in his last fight, it wasn’t a good performance from either he or Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.

As for Anderson, he continues to utilize his wrestling, especially as a fall back when all else fails. He’s hittable, and he doesn’t do a ton offensively when he gets top position. However, he’s got heavy top control, and it’s hard for his opponents to get out from under him. Rua’s at a point in his career where that may wind up being what happens to him here if he can’t stop him early. He’s still got striking power enough to hurt Anderson, but it’s hard to have any optimism in him into any fight at this stage.

PREDICTION: Anderson by decision

Warlley Alves vs. Bryan Barberena (Welterweight)

Barberena’s win over Sage Northcutt got him a bigger spot, but that’s probably not a good thing for him right now. Alves is a fantastically talented 25-year-old grappler who holds six submission wins in a perfect 10-0 record. That includes his last two fights in the UFC, with his most recent appearance seeing him finish Colby Covington in the first round. Barberena is a very solid competitor at 11-3 overall on his career, and he looked good against Northcutt and in his TKO debut victory over Joe Ellenberger. However, neither of those fighters is on the level of Alves, and this is likely the fight where he runs into his ceiling.

PREDICTION: Alves by submission in the second round

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