UFC 168: Fox Sports 1 Preliminary card preview and prognostications

Photo by Esther Lin of MMA Fighting

The undercard for UFC 168 on Fox Sports 1 features veterans like Chris Leben, surging contestants like Michael Johnson, and boom or bust prospects like Uriah Hall. How will it all end at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas?

Chris Leben ( ) vs. Uriah Hall ( ) Middleweight

When we last left our heroes...Leben is finally reaching the end of his road here. It's kind of sad actually. On TUF he was a well written movie villain: unlikable, but sympathetic. He's been an anti-hero his entire career but things have turned dark for the polarizing middleweight when you consider his history of substance abuse, and his current record.

There's a grim lining to the story of Leben: the emotional fighter who won't give up yet displays all of the emotionally dark beats of a tail spin. I hope I'm overreacting. But it's a note I feel compelled to make. If he loses this will be his 4th loss in a row, and no more UFC.

Hall is in a different kind of tail spin. Nobody seems to take him seriously. He's become a bit of a punchline since his brutal wins on TUF. People think he's "too nice", too soft, and just not equipped to handle cagefighting in a serious way. At 0-2 in the UFC, like Leben, this will be his last chance to prove he's long for this world in the cage.

What both men can do: Leben popularized the 'zombie' fighting style which requires the ability to take ridiculous punishment in order to dish out his own. I can never forget his fight with Terry Martin. Right before Leben wins by KO Martin lands a comically brutal right hand that has Chris' head operate like a pez dispenser. However, as fans now know Leben is anything but one dimensional. He's surprisingly mobile from his back, as he proved against Yoshirio Akiyama.

As for Hall...all I've got to say is..."from the bottom!!" Those were Dana's words after he functionally TKO'ed Dylan Andrews with strikes from his guard. Words that would be repeated over and over, as if Dana were trying to tell every single viewer at home.

Hall is a legitimate danger on the feet though. He throws a brilliant straight right but it's his kicks that get the most play. He throws inside, low, high, and always with "precision strikes that are so precise" (to quote Joe Rogan).

What both men can't do: Leben's problem is that where he could once take punishment, now he can't. This means Hall has a very winnable fight on his hands, and would do well to remember what he's capable of. Leben can win, but he'll need to take the fight to the ground at every opportunity.

No I'm not sold on Hall. I'm just sold on Leben's very real, and very dramatic decline. I also feel like Hall is aware of the criticism and wants to make a statement. The fact that he's a talented, capable fighter will only make things easier.

X-Factor: Hall's takedown defense. I feel like it's good enough to avoid "lay and pray" or at least a decision over the course of three rounds, in part because Leben doesn't have an explosive double or anything but Leben wins this if he can keep it on the ground, and stay upright when getting punched.

Prediction: Uriah Hall by TKO, round 2.

Gleison Tibau (28-9) vs. Michael Johnson (13-8 ) Lightweight

When we last left our heroes...This is one of those bouts where the outcome won't tell you much, despite the abundance of talent. It's just the nature of their careers.

Tibau won't retire from the UFC until Google has figured out a way to give our balls internet access. And Johnson seems like he's headed towards a similar path.

Gleison is coming off two big wins, one over Jamie Varner while Johnson is fresh off an impressive victory over Joe Lauzon.

What both men can do: Tibau is well rounded, strikes well, grapples well, bla bla bla. I feel like rather than point out of what makes Tibau technically proficient since you've read this a thousand times, I need to focus on abstracts. If there's any one intangible that has kept him in the UFC it's his ability to avoid chaos. I know that sounds strange, but he keeps one of the most measured paces of any fighter I know. He doesn't waste movement. For a guy that big in a division that's so quick, I feel like this is a major asset.

Johnson seems to coming into his own. Against Lauzon he showed real poise, and maturity in lacing Joe with uppercuts, jabs, rights and lefts. He's constantly moving as well...which I think will come in handy against Tibau, who like Lauzon, strikes from a relatively stationary position.

What both men can't do: Johnson seems to have trouble with pressure. He doesn't fight well on his back foot and he's also a bit of a submission liability. Tibau's not a lights out submission grappler, however, so he shouldn't have to worry. Everytime I pick Tibau he loses, and when I pick against him he wins. If I didn't pick him at all he'd probably draw. I lean towards Johnson because I like his speed on the feet. I think it'll give Tibau trouble the entire fight and it will stay standing for the large majority of the bout.

X-Factor: The insane, somehow still employed judges.

Prediction: Michael Johnson by Decision.

Dennis Siver (21-9) vs. Manvel Gamburyan (13-7) Featherweight

When we last left our heroes...Believe it or not Manvel is on a two fight winning streak. I had to check wikipedia as well.

Manny's career has had more downs than ups, but he's relatively consistent despite a three fight losing streak in 2011. As for Siver, he's 2-1 in his last three, with the lone defeat coming at the hands of Cub Swanson in a blistering fight.

What both men can do: Manny still has solid power in his right hand. And he looks to throw at everytime. It's a fine punch if it lands so you might as well throw it. In addition, he's got some of the heaviest top control grappling in the division.

Unfortunately for Manny Siver has some solid takedown defense. In addition, Siver has one of the better chopping left hooks in the division as well as his usual array of spinning back kicks, and punches. Siver's an interesting story in that his game has stayed the same, but his record as improved dramatically. After a 1-3 UFC start, he's gone 9-3 since.

Better takedown defense, and sharper less stiff boxing (though it's still a little rigid) go a long way I guess.

What both men can't do: Siver's punches are relatively predictable. He throws a wide left and a wide right when it comes to boxing. His jab comes and goes, but those wide punches make him susceptible to getting hit. Against dynamic strikers that's precisely what tends to happen. Thankfully for Siver, Manny is not that. Siver will keep his distance and chop Manny down.

X-Factor: I felt pretty good about getting these injuries down correctly. Last time I suspect Nick Ring's blown out knees might be an element in the outcome. Probably the most Nostradamian thing I've ever done...not that there was anything scientific about it. Just the same, Manny's shoulder has traditionally been a factor so look for it.

Prediction: Dennis Siver by TKO, round 2.

John Howard (21-8) vs. Siyar Bahadurzada (21-5-1) Welterweight

When we last left our heroes...Siyar was on a tear before entering the UFC and even his debut felt like an extension of that when he KO'ed Paulo Thiago in under a minute. Nonetheless he's fresh off an emphatic loss to Dong Hyun Kim.

Howard is coming off a win over Uriah Hall after being out of the UFC for a couple of years. It was a miserable performance to be honest, but I doubt this will be anything like that fight.

What both men can do: Siyar wears his nickname well. For whatever it's worth. He goes into each fight ready for all out war throwing punches from his waist and beyond. He has strong knees and good balance during each flurry. He doesn't necessarily have one punch power but what he lacks of quality he makes up for in quantity.

Howard has good raw power, opting for the right hand but he always found ways to win by bulling forward and scoring takedowns when necessary. Lately he's shown more patience, but he doesn't have the skills of a counter puncher which is what creates...

What both men can't do: total inertia ala the Hall fight. I suspect Howard will look to get this bout to the ground. While I think Howard will be fine standing it's the clinch where this fight could take place and become a borefest. I don't think Siyar will allow that to happen but anything's possible. I think Siyar will land strikes, avoid the takedown early, and storm late for a a very close decision.

X-Factor: N/A

Prediction: Siyar Bahadurzada by Decision.

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