If all you’ve seen in regards to Saturday’s UFC 162 in Las Vegas are the promotional trailers and fight poster put forth by the UFC, then you could be excused if you thought it was a special “One-Fight Only” engagement.
Personally, I don’t have any issue with the UFC focusing all their attention on the championship bout between Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman — it’s a great fight that deserves the spotlight. Then again, I’m the guy who likes to write about the fighters on the card that people aren’t necessarily talking about, and a main event-centric show is right in my wheelhouse.
Here are five fighters stepping into the cage Saturday night at UFC 162 that you should keep an eye on.
Watch four preliminary fights for Saturday’s UFC 162: Silva vs. Weidman in Las Vegas on Sportsnet 360, Canada’s new home for UFC coverage, from 5-7 p.m. PT / 8-10 p.m. ET. In addition, catch two live early prelims on sportsnet.ca Saturday starting at 4 p.m. PT / 7 p.m. ET.
FIGHTERS TO WATCH
Record: 16-3, 1 NC
Opponent: Frankie Edgar
After seven consecutive title fights (and main events) Edgar falls to the co-main here, and the attention he’s getting centers around whether or not he’ll be able to halt his three-fight losing streak.
The man looking to prolong Edgar’s extended hiatus from the win column is Oliveira, a one-time hot prospect at lightweight who looked great in his first two featherweight appearances before getting starched by Cub Swanson.
It’s easy to want to dismiss “Do Bronx” because he’s taking on a former champion whom everyone loves, but the 23-year-old Brazilian has the kind of high-energy offense and finishing instincts to be a handful in the division. While I’m still picking Edgar, it wouldn’t be alarming to me to see Oliveira have success against “The Answer” this weekend.
Opponent: Tim Kennedy
When you combine the last name Gracie with the UFC, you have to watch; it’s as simple as that. It doesn’t always pan out (cough — Rolles — cough), but the latest member of the first family of the UFC to enter the Octagon comes with an incredible grappling pedigree, and deserves a look this weekend.
There is a lot to like about Gracie, especially now that he’s down at middleweight. His size (Gracie is 6’4”) only makes is world-class jiu-jitsu that much more dangerous, and he’s not going to get completely overpowered and out-gunned like he might have at light heavyweight. His striking is still a work in progress, but we’ve seen other outstanding grapplers have immediate success by playing to their sole strength in the past, and Gracie might be able to replicate that for a time.
Opponent: Kazuki Takudome
Parke won the lightweight competition on “The Smashes,” earning a decision win over Colin Fletcher in the finals, a victory that pushed his winning streak to seven. Fighters who are successful on The Ultimate Fighter are always given ample opportunity to succeed, and Parke should be no different going forward.
Stepping into the cage for his post-TUF debut, Parke will be looking to duplicate the success of fellow Smashes winner Robert Whittaker, who defeated TUF 16 champ Colton Smith at UFC 160 back in May.
He relocated to San Diego after his victory on “The Smashes” to train at Alliance MMA, and went through a full camp before his fight with Jon Tuck fell through. Working with Eric Del Fierro and the talented group of coaches and fighters at Alliance will help continue to develop the rest of Parke’s game, and makes him a slightly more intriguing prospect going forward.
Opponent: Rafaello Oliveira
One loss and a string of opponent changes have put the one-time surging prospect Barboza in the shadows, even though he’s still an explosive and intriguing member of the deep lightweight division.
The 27-year-old Brazilian rebounded from his upset loss to Jamie Varner with a blistering performance against Lucas Martins in January, and has the potential to do something impressive again here.
Barboza is one of the quickest, most dynamic strikers in the division, and working with Ricardo Almeida and company in New Jersey is only going to help round out his skills even further. I would not be at all surprised to see Barboza in title contention inside of two years.
Opponent: David Mitchell
Pierce is the black sheep in the UFC welterweight division, banished to the opening bout of the event despite carrying a three-fight winning streak into the cage. This is what happens when your picture shows up in the Oxford English Dictionary next to the definition for the word “grinder.”
His penchant for earning decision wins aside, Pierce is a legitimate fringe contender in the 170-pound ranks, having only ever lost to title challenger Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck, and Johny Hendricks. All three of those came by way of decision, with the last two being of the split variety as well.
Pierce has power and we saw it when he knocked out Aaron Simpson, but most of the time, he’s simply going to wear opponents out. That’s not going to endear him to the UFC brass or make him many fans, but if he keeps winning, Pierce is bound to get a chance against a much bigger name, and he’s already proven in the past that he’s capable of hanging with the best the division has to offer.