It's finally here. The most anticipated UFC PPV of 2013 is just a few hours away, as Chris Weidman makes his first middleweight title defense against the same man he dethroned, the great Anderson Silva. Ronda Rousey defends her women's bantamweight belt against Miesha Tate in the co-main event, while Travis Browne and Josh Barnett collide in a massive heavyweight tilt.
However, we still have the matter of a great preliminary card lineup to get to before we dive into the PPV broadcast. There are four fights on Fox Sports 1 and two you'll be able to see on Bloody Elbow for free. This is the last time we'll see prelim fights on Facebook/Youtube/UFC.com, as those bouts will be moved to UFC Fight Pass subscription service next week. Plenty to discuss out of the UFC 168 prelims, including Uriah Hall's possible last stand, the return of Siyar Bahadurzada, and Gleison Tibau's attempt to close out 2013 with 3 wins in a row. The UFC 168 prelims on FS1 air at 8 PM ET/5 PM PT, with the online bouts commencing at 7 PM ET/4 PM PT.
We know what a massive disappointment Hall has been since his torrid stretch of finishes on TUF 17. He has essentially lost consecutive fights to welterweights, as Kelvin Gastelum is currently at 170 lbs and John Howard also dropped back to 170 after defeating Hall at middleweight. All of the promise he showed on the show has dissipated, and Dana White has made it clear that he is under the gun to perform (and obviously win) tonight or else he'll be out of the UFC in a flash.
Leben is one of the original "bad boys" from TUF 1, his presence in the UFC has been a memorable one not necessarily based on success relative to the top of the division, but his brawling style and incredible fights. It appears the wear and tear has more than caught up with him, as he's lost his last 3 fights, including sluggish decision defeats against Andrew Craig and Derek Brunson. Leben relies heavily on his punching power, but his only KO in the last 3 years is against Wanderlei Silva, so prospects are looking bleak for "The Crippler".
Gleison Tibau (28-9 MMA, 13-7 UFC) vs. Michael Johnson (13-8 MMA, 5-4 UFC) - Lightweights
Yes, this is Gleison Tibau's 21st fight in the UFC, and he's won 6 of his last 8. The Brazilian did well to edge out Jamie Varner at UFC 164 by split decision, putting him at 2-1 on the year. His only recent losses are against Evan Dunham and current contender Khabib Nurmagomedov. His imposing physique at lightweight combined with his smothering wrestling makes him a dangerous outing for most in the division, and if he can get past Michael Johnson then perhaps he can test the waters of the top 10 competition, where he's historically struggled.
Johnson has been incredibly inconsistent since losing to Jonathan Brookins in the TUF 12 finale, and it's greatly affected his status as a serious prospect. He strung together 3 consecutive wins in 2012, including a comeback KO win over Danny Castillo, but his progress was halted by Myles Jury at UFC 155. Johnson snatched defeat from the jaws of victory this April against Reza Madadi, failing to KO the Swede in round 1 before losing by 3rd round submission. The 27-year-old bounced back well with a surprisingly easy win over Joe Lauzon in front of his home fans in Boston in August.
Siver made the move to featherweight after a submission loss to Donald Cerrone at UFC 137. He upset Diego Nunes in his new weight class and then annihilated Nam Phan late last year to set up a pivotal showdown against the resurgent Cub Swanson. It was a Fight of the Night thriller, but Swanson put away Siver in the 3rd round for the TKO finish. The German striker now looks to rebuild his path towards a title shot at 145 lbs.
Gamburyan fought at lightweight on TUF 5, but made himself a formidable contender in the WEC as a featherweight. His KO over Mike Brown vaulted him towards a title shot, where Jose Aldo ended his night in the 2nd round. It sparked a bad run for Manny, who lost his ensuing two fights in his UFC return and was on the cusp of another release, but wins over Cole Miller and Michihiro Omigawa have given him some much needed breathing space.
Siyar Bahadurzada (21-5-1 MMA, 1-1 UFC) vs. John Howard (21-8 MMA, 5-3 UFC) - Welterweights
It's good to see the hard-hitting Bahadurzada actually healthy enough to compete again, because he's had more injuries in the UFC than actual fights. He made a big splash last year in Sweden when he KO'd Paulo Thiago, but didn't fight against until March of this year in Japan, where Dong Hyun Kim completely owned him on the ground en route to a convincing decision win. The Afghan has pulled out of fights against Thiago Alves, Erick Silva, and Robbie Lawler, but now he's ready for just his 3rd fight in the past 23 months.
"Doomsday" is back in the UFC after a monstrous stretch of wins at middleweight. He was previously cut from the promotion after losing 3 in a row at 170 lbs, including an uneventful decision against Matt Brown. The KO artist was brought in on short notice to face Uriah Hall and won by split decision, which delighted him not just because of the victory but he had his request to fight on the Boston card granted. At just 5'7" it's no surprise that Howard is returning to 170 lbs.
Voelker bravely stepped up to fight Robbie Lawler at UFC on Fox 8, but he was out of his depth and KO'd with a head kick in the 2nd round. The former Strikeforce fighter dropped to 0-2 in the UFC, although his loss to Patrick Cote can definitely be considered a contestable one. Voelker is best known for winning his trilogy with Roger Bowling, knocking him out in the last two fights. Inactivity has been an issue for Voelker, who fought just once in 2011 and not at all in 2012, but this marks his 3rd fight of 2013 and hopefully for him it'll be a win.
Macario used his striking to tear through the competition on TUF Brazil 2, winning all of his fights by TKO. The 22-year-old advanced to the finals and while he was scheduled to face Santiago Ponzinibbio, he took on Leo Santos instead following an injury to the Argentine. Santos used his superior BJJ skills and forced the arm-triangle choke stoppage late in the 2nd round. The loss was the first of Macario's young career, and now he aims for win #1 in the organization tonight.
Peralta is a dangerous striker out of California who has had a rough 2013. After winning 2 of his first 3 fights in the UFC, the most impressive of which came via KO against Jason Young in 2012, Peralta was a big favorite against Akira Corassani at UFC on Fuel 9. Corassani pulled off the upset win, but the misery for Peralta continued when he failed his drug test and was placed on suspension for six months. He has a full-time job outside of MMA and you have to wonder how much of a toll it will continue to take on his performances.
Payan went 2-0 in Strikeforce before the promotion closed its doors and the bulk of the roster went to the UFC. He debuted in the Octagon against Jeremy Stephens, who had previously dropped 3 straight at lightweight and made a switch to featherweight. Payan was no match for Stephens, who bloodied his face up and plastered him for 15 minutes for a dominant victory at UFC 160. It's likely that this is a "win or be released" scenario for him as he opens the preliminary card against Peralta.