The world of MMA is so full of hyperbole that it’s become commonplace, but UFC 198 is legitimately one of the best-looking cards the company has ever put on. A who’s who of MMA superstars are set to take to the Octagon in Curitiba, Brazil this weekend.
The show will feature Fabricio Werdum and Stipe Miocic clashing for the UFC Heavyweight Championship. The co-main event features two elite middleweight fighters who excel at different aspects as Jacare Souza will face Vitor Belfort.
Fabricio Werdum (-160) vs Stipe Miocic (+130)
Fabricio Werdum will aim to be the first Brazilian to defend the UFC Heavyweight Championship in his home country when he faces off against Stipe Miocic.
Werdum is arguably the greatest submission fighter in the history of the heavyweight division. ‘Vai Cavalo’ is a world champion in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert who has notched 50 percent of his career victories via submission — including one via guillotine to win the undisputed title against Cain Velasquez. Werdum has spent years working under Rafael Cordeiro to hone his striking game and has become an excellent practitioner of Muay Thai.
Werdum’s cardio is one of the true differentiating factors in the heavyweight division. Many big men gas early in fights, but Werdum has proven to be able to go a full 25 minutes and look pretty fresh. If there is one knock against Werdum, it’s that he can start slowly in some fights, as he tends to use the first round to feel out his opponent on occasion.
Miocic has a legitimate argument to being the best boxer in the heavyweight division. The former gold gloves Sportsbook has combined his technical brilliance and his athleticism to become one of the most feared strikers in the world. His ability to slip and rip is nearly unparalleled. The Cleveland-native was also a collegiate wrestler and uses this to either keep the fight standing or put himself into positions to enact his violent ground and pound.
Stipe is a talented fighter, but he does not want to get into a transition battle with Werdum. Miocic is not in the same league with Werdum when it comes to submissions or advanced mat work.
Miocic is an athletic boxer that uses his athleticism to take advantage of opponent’s mistakes. However, Werdum has beaten a fighter with similar characteristics already. Though they are not the exact same — Miocic and Velasquez have similar traits and if Werdum can beat Cain he can beat Stipe.
PICK: Fabricio Werdum (-160)
Jacare Souza (-310) vs Vitor Belfort (+240)
Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza and Vitor Belfort clash with huge implications in the UFC middleweight division, as the Sportsbook could be in prime position to claim a title shot sooner rather than later.
Jacare’s ground game and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is among the best in the world of MMA. Souza has picked up 16 of his 22 career victories via submission including three during his six fight run in the UFC. That’s not to say his striking game is bad — unlike early in his career — as Jacare has developed an above average, pressure-based striking game to compliment his groundwork. When the fight is on the feet, Souza will likely try to get it to the cage where he can use his grappling abilities.
Jacare is one of the most complete fighters on the UFC roster and has very little holes in his game. His last two losses against Yoel Romero and Luke Rockhold have proven that a great wrestler with good striking can keep Jacare uncomfortable.
Belfort is kill or be killed. Vitor has not made it to the judge’s scorecards in his past 12 fights and nine of those haven’t even made it through one round. Belfort’s phenomenal knockout abilities are thanks to his incredible speed and power. This has made the Brazilian a deadly counter puncher, but sometimes he can be inactive if his opponent doesn’t pressure in the striking game.
Despite Vitor being a BJJ black belt, he rarely wants anything to do with the ground game. However, Vitor may need to embrace those skills with Jacare’s ability to dominate the ground game and to his stellar cardio.
Jacare has long been the bridesmaid in the UFC. He could very well be fighting for the belt right now if he had not lost a controversial split decision to Romero. His abilities are strong all around and he has the ability to compete in every facet of the game. Though Vitor is well-rounded in every facet, he is unlikely to embrace the ground game at this point.
PICK: Jacare Souza (-310)
Cris ‘Cyborg’ Justino (-1200) vs Leslie Smith (+700)
We finally get to see the most dominant WMMA practitioner make her Octagon debut as Cris ‘Cyborg’ Justino faces off against Leslie Smith at 140 lbs.
Cyborg is The Terminator. She has won 13 of her 16 career bouts via T/KO with eight of those coming within the first round. Cyborg has expertly mixed her phenomenal Muay Thai training under Rafael Cordeiro with her aggression to become one of the most lethal finishers in MMA today. She also has magnificent balance to help defend takedowns, which is perfectly demonstrated in her last bout against Darla Ibragimova.
If there is one major knock against Cyborg — and it’s not even a fault you can blame her for — it’s that her competition has not been very good. The 145 lbs division in WMMA is fairly thin and the Brazilian has been handily defeating lesser competition.
Smith frequently trains with the Scrap Pack (Diaz brothers, Jake Shields and company) and it’s noticeable. Like her training partners, Smith is always moving forward and loves to be aggressive. It is her incredibly strong chin that allows her to do so, as Smith has never been knocked out — though she has one loss via Doctor Stoppage after she busted her cauliflower ear against Jessica Eye.
Smith doesn’t have much power in her hands; rather she wins thanks to an overwhelming attack. And she isn’t overly fast with her combinations.
This is a showcase fight for Cyborg. The UFC is feeding her an opponent who can take a beating and will keep moving forward. If somehow you don’t know who Cyborg is now, you will after UFC 198.
PICK: Cyborg (-1200)
Shogun Rua (+185) vs Corey Anderson (-235)
The old vs the new collide to open the main card of UFC 198 when former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua takes on Corey Anderson.
Shogun will be taking to the Octagon in front of his home crowd for the first time since his second professional fight back in 2003. Rua is one of the great power punchers in MMA history with 19 of his 23 career victories coming by T/KO. Shogun’s last victory came against Lil Nog, an opponent that was at a reach disadvantage and who fought southpaw. Those advantages for Shogun allowed him to land multiple kicks to the body that – I believe – ultimately won him that bout.
Some may worry that Rua’s chin is starting to go, but he survived a pretty tough barrage against Lil Nog and his recent knockout losses came against power punchers in Dan Henderson and Ovince Saint Preux.
Anderson — whose ‘Beastin’ 25/8 nickname is my choice for worst nickname in sports history — is the definition of a grinder. The TUF 19 Sportsbook uses his length to pick away at his opponents on the feet and his collegiate wrestling skills to get top control and beat up opponents. Anderson has some of the best cardio of any 205 lbs fighter in the UFC and that is a massive plus in the relatively shallow division.
Anderson still has tons of potential, but is relatively green in the grand scheme of things with this being just his 10th professional MMA fight.
As Shogun has matured, he has developed a more conservative striking style to try and avoid damage. Though this is a smart decision, Rua will be facing a very long, rangy opponent in Anderson, so the conservative approach may not be a great strategy in this bout. I expect Anderson to grind out the biggest win of his career.
PICK: Corey Anderson (-235)
Warlley Alves (-550) vs Bryan Barberena (+375)
Warlley Alves vs Bryan Barberena was prompted from the undercard to the main after Anderson Silva and Uriah Hall was cancelled.
Alves appears to be the future in the long line of deadly Brazilian submission specialists. Alves is a perfect 10-0 in his MMA career with six victories coming via submission and that doesn’t include his flawless run in TUF: Brazil 3. His finishing ability is evident with only three of his pro fights making it to the judge’s scorecards. Though he is a submission expert, Alves’ kickboxing skills are quite good and he can win a fight standing if need be.
The ceiling is limitless for Alves. He has only been a pro fighter since 2011 and at the age of 25, he has nowhere to go but up. There is little doubt that with seasoning Alves could be near the top of the stacked welterweight division.
Barberena is trying to prove he is more than the guy to beat Sage Northcutt and he certainly has the skills to do so. ‘Bam Bam’ has fantastic knockout power with eight of his 11 career victories coming via T/KO. Barberena also has better-than-most cardio — which was shown in his Jake Ellenberger fight.
Though he doesn’t have the same hype as Alves, Barberena is a criminally underrated prospect. A decisive victory for either of these guys will likely mean a step up in competition and potentially a bout against a top 15 opponent. I believe Alves is just too well rounded, as he will have a huge advantage on the ground and should hold his own on the feet. That being said, Barberena at this price is extremely hard to pass up even if it’s just a gambler's longshot.
Pick: Warlley Alves (-550)