The UFC's middleweight division has consistently been a topic of discussion among fans over the last couple of years. Specifically, the lack of depth in their talent pool has proven to be a real problem as time has passed. While the UFC has done a great job injecting talent like Chael Sonnen and Vitor Belfort into the mix, those fighters aren't getting any younger, and the inevitable rise of more youthful talent will become much more apparent. Thursday night's main card middleweight match-up between Italian boxer Alessio Sakara and two-time NCAA Division I All-American Chris Weidman will give fans the opportunity to see one of those rising stars in action.
Weidman was ranked at #2 on our 2011 World MMA Middleweight Scouting Report back in December. Not only does he possess the highly-coveted NCAA wrestling credentials that have proven time and time again to be a precursor to huge success in the UFC, but he's an evolving striker and grappler with a respectable training camp behind him. In three of his four career bouts, he finished his opponents inside the first round, one of those victories against fellow ranked prospect Uriah Hall in September. Weidman's opportunity with the UFC comes after Rafael Natal, a replacement for Maiquel Falcao, also withdrew from the bout due to injury.
Sakara nears the end of his fifth year with the promotion. Quite the feat for a man who was considered one of the most one-dimensional fighters in the division. Sakara's power has kept him in the mix as he's delivered highlight reel knockouts for the masses. His major weakness, however, has been in the grappling department, but the 29-year-old Italian-born boxer has evolved into a more well-rounded fighter in the last couple of years. Those improvements made a statement at UFC 101 as he narrowly edged out Thales Leites on the scorecards, an opponent well-known for his grappling prowess.
Unfortunately, Sakara will be facing a bull that he hasn't had the pleasure of introducing himself to inside the Octagon. A vaunted NCAA Division I wrestler who hasn't shown weak takedowns or completely useless striking. In fact, Sakara hasn't faced an aggressive, highly-credentialed wrestler throughout his entire career, mainly due to the fact that Dana White and company understand the value that Sakara brings to the table. The rash of injuries have changed those plans.
Matt Serra and Ray Longo have honed Weidman's skills brilliantly so far. He already possesses one of the key skills to success, but his striking and grappling acumen have reached competent levels. There is some concern that Weidman may have a tender rib coming into this match-up as it was mentioned during his interview with Ariel Helwani in the lead-up to the Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva card. Regardless, Weidman should be able to barrel through Sakara's takedown defense and batter him from top control to earn a first round stoppage on Thursday night.