With a roster beefed up by a stellar cast and pivotal match ups, this Saturday's UFC 162: Silva vs. Weidman event from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas is probably the biggest and most anticipated show of 2013. A healthy portion of the widespread appeal can be attributed to near-immortal pound-for-pound overlord Anderson Silva putting his pristine legacy on the line in a title defense against Chris Weidman, who's long been surrounded by "The Next Big Thing" aura.
Beyond the blockbuster main event, a quartette of intriguing contests anchor the five-fight pay-per-view offering, which are split evenly between the Featherweight and Middleweight divisions. Middleweights Mark Munoz and Tim Boetsch battle to regain a foothold amongst the division's elite while Strikeforce migrants Tim Kennedy and Roger Gracie endeavor to make a bold first impression in their Octagon debuts.
For the duplex of featherweight match ups, in what has become a rare occurrence, former lightweight champ Frankie Edgar participates in a bout with no title implications, meeting young Brazilian juggernaut Charles Oliveira in UFC 162's co-main event. And finally, with violent and malicious intentions abound, fan-friendly scrappers Cub Swanson and Dennis Siver will lead off the featured card in a sure-to-be dogfight. Analysis on the latter follows the UFC 162 pay-per-view card lineup below.
UFC 162 Main Card (10:00 p.m. ET on Pay-Per-View)
Anderson Silva vs. Chris Weidman -- UFC middleweight championship
Frankie Edgar vs. Charles Oliveira -- Featherweight bout
Roger Gracie vs. Tim Kennedy -- Middleweight bout
Tim Boetsch vs. Mark Munoz -- Middleweight bout
Cub Swanson vs. Dennis Siver -- Featherweight bout
Perhaps to all but the rugged faithful, 29-year-old Cub Swanson might've been another face in the WEC crowd. Much of that purported mediocrity can likely be attributed to a pair of quick and definitive 1st-round defeats in Swanson's marquee WEC bouts: Jens Pulver, the adored legend and former UFC lightweight champ, forged a memorable featherweight and WEC debut by tapping Swanson out with a guillotine just a half-minute in, and transcendent 145-pound killer Jose Aldo needed just eight seconds to go airborne and finish him with a double-barreled flying knee.
Further prohibiting Swanson's intentions to breakout was a 15-minute grinder spent underneath the division's most commanding wrestler in Team Alpha Male's Chad Mendes. Despite having only fallen to top-tier competition, Swanson's 5-3 pace in the WEC and a smattering of injuries that coincided with the WEC-UFC merger took some luster off the Jackson/Winklejohn product's UFC premiere. And when Ricardo Lamas sent him packing with a 2nd-round side choke at UFC on Fox 1, most wrote Swanson off as another WEC fighter destined to fade out in the Octagon.
But ... whoa man. Hold the phones. Since the Lamas loss to close out 2011, Cub has been on an indelible tear, steamrolling his way up the featherweight ladder with four electric performances. He coldly thumped the first three -- George Roop, Ross Pearson and Charles Oliveira -- with highlight-reel-worthy knockouts, and gradually widened the gap after a close 1st round with Dustin Poirier en route to a commanding decision win. Nowadays, Cub Swanson is undoubtedly a legitimate contender and one of the most consistently exciting and dynamic fighters in MMA.
It's strange to realize that, at 5'7", 145 pounds and with a 70" reach, Swanson's proportions are identical to Russian-German Dennis Siver (21-8). Siver is a veritable brick shit-house who's shaped like a fire hydrant with a brush cut. Many, myself included, were skeptical about the concept of Siver whittling his musclebound form into 145-pound capacities, yet the former German WAKO kickboxing champion has not only made the cut consistently with no issues, but seems to be right at home as a featherweight.
After a poor UFC entrance (1-3) as a lightweight and a tune-up fight elsewhere, Siver re-emerged in the Octagon in 2009 and redefined his potential with a sizzling 7-2 run at 155 pounds. Now undergoing another resurgence as a featherweight with two decision wins under his belt (Diego Nunes, Nam Phan), the most salient aspect of Siver's change in weight is the fact that his quickness and hand-speed hasn't suffered a bit. Thus far, he's assaulted the smaller featherweights with the same venerable formula of staunch takedown defense, brutal punching power and atypical strike selection that he established successfully as a lightweight.
Lending particular appeal to this match up is the fact that Swanson generally moves forward constantly and presses the action aggressively, whereas Siver is quite content to await his opponent's advance before digging his feet in to hurl fast and massive counter-strikes. And how that theme plays out will likely have the greatest bearing on the outcome.
Culling from a vast bag of tricks, Swanson will keep the pressure on and unleash a wide arsenal of kicks from outside (Capoeira, Muay Thai/kickboxing) before bringing his devastating hands into the mix with tight and powerful punching combinations. A big key to Swanson's striking success has been his entries: he's been much busier with head movement and cuts a lot of angles on his way in, which typically allows him to shrink the gap undaunted as well as be in prime position to attack from an unexpected location.
Though Swanson handles most of his business with strikes, he's also shown diverse capabilities with traditional wrestling techniques from slightly outside (single- and double-leg takedowns from close range) and sprinkles in some solid Judo technique in the clinch. Swanson doesn't have the power to just bowl folks over with his wrestling and clinch takedowns, but he throws you so many different looks and executes each in rhythm that the surprise factor becomes an integral asset.
Siver's counter-striking routine is not traditional. His boxing is accented by the European style in that he heaves huge, bent-arm punches from his pockets rather than plunge straight and long counters. The advantage is in the momentous power he packs with each blow but the downside is that he sacrifices a little depth and length on his shots.
On the defensive side, the standard boxing style -- using a high and tight defense and snapping straight punches that are immediately retracted -- offers better defensive qualities than Siver's slightly unorthodox habit of slinging chest- or waist-level heaters. However, sailing his strikes in an arc, or always with at least some "hook" to them, have a better chance of colliding with an incoming aggressor who uses a lot of busy head movement.
Defense can be comprised of your guard, i.e. the physical position of your hands and arms, as well as footwork and the motion of the head and upper body. Swanson excels with footwork and his head movement is active and pretty solid, but he's so offensively focused that his hand/arm position can suffer from a defensive standpoint. In plain terms, you can't shell, block, dodge and parry when you're constantly squeezing the trigger with a barrage of strikes.
Siver stays on balance well throughout his combinations, which is why he's been able to implement reliable takedown defense when his opponent uses strikes to set up a level drop. Siver's balance, low center of gravity, strength and reaction times have kept him afoot consistently in the Octagon, and he's shown good defensive scrambling to escape in the rare instances when his takedown defense is compromised.
I don't envision takedowns or grappling to play a big role here anyway: Cub is more inclined to pursue takedowns but I'd give a slight wrestling edge to the German-Russian -- unless, again, Swanson catches him off-guard with his movement and unpredictability. Siver's punching power on the feet transmits cleanly when he's on top in grappling encounters, but Cub's submission grappling prowess is on another level, and he has a good chance to work sweeps or submissions whenever Siver postures up to deliver heavy strikes. I'd assess the scrambling aspect as pretty even.
Considering the obscene striking voracity and spirit of both men, this seems to be the kind of fight that's decided by milliseconds; one poor choice of an entry angle for Cub could spell doom, just like being a blink-of-an-eye too slow to react could pull the curtains on Siver's counter-striking game. Therefore, more under-pronounced elements like timing, rhythm, range and on-the-fly instincts will be imperative on both sides.
The betting lines have Swanson as a substantial favorite. I agree he has a marginal edge on paper due to his unparalleled diversity, which is a sharp contrast to Siver's tried and proven counter-kickboxing. I do see this match up as a tad closer than the bettors though: regardless of Swanson's elaborate strike selection and aggressive movement, every meaningful action must eventually bring him into Siver's wheelhouse, where, one-dimensional or not, his skull-splitting counter-strikes have fight-ending capabilities.
While one shot is all Siver needs (or all either fighter needs, for that matter), and Cub can be over-aggressive and all too willing to take risks, I think Swanson's whirlwind of motion and dynamic striking will propel him to a decision win in a bout that has fireworks and Fight of the Night potential written all over it.
My Prediction: Cub Swanson by decision.