Saturday marks the end of the UFC’s 2012 campaign, with UFC 155 headlined by the heavyweight title fight between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez. It is a rematch of their bout in November 2011, when dos Santos won knockout at the 64-second mark.
Here is a breakdown of the five-fight main card.
Chris Leben (22-8) vs. Derek Brunson (9-2) – middleweight
Saturday marks the return of Chris (The Crippler) Leben after over a year away from the cage due to a suspension. Leben was originally supposed to take on Karlos Vemola but will now face former Strikeforce middleweight Derek Brunson.
Leben always makes a good fight with his straightforward, brawling style and he will look to unleash bombs on Brunson right from the opening bell. Leben says that the time away was good for him and gave him a new appreciation and dedication to the sport. We have heard that song before with Leben and cage rust could definitely be a factor. He will want to make a statement in his return but must be careful to find his footing and range first. He has a large edge in experience with a 19-fight difference.
Brunson is making his UFC debut off of two tough losses to Kendall Grove and Ronald (Jacare) Souza in 2012 and he is stepping in as a late replacement for the injured Karlos Vemola. This is a great opportunity for Brunson to make a name for himself immediately in the UFC and you can be sure that the Jackson trained fighter will have a smart game plan going in. His game is fairly well rounded, but with Leben’s power, his chin may be an issue coming off a first-round knockout loss to Souza.
The winner here sets himself up with a fight with a top-10 middleweight early in 2013, while the loser may find himself on a preliminary card the next time he fights.
Yushin Okami (27-7) vs. Alan Belcher (18-6) – middleweight
Okami got a title shot in 2011 but was unable to take advantage and was clearly outclassed by the champ Anderson Silva. Okami then lost a tough battle to Tim Boetsch in Japan early in 2012. He bounced back with a dominant win over relative unknown Buddy Roberts and is looking to push himself past Belcher in the rankings with a win. Okami’s strength is always to keep the fight in tight quarters and use his wrestling to stifle his opponents. Okami has to implement this game plan quickly to avoid being tagged by Belcher.
Belcher is on the rise with a four-fight winning streak in his corner and coming off an impressive beating of Rousimar Palhares. He exposed Palhares as a one-trick pony and gained a TKO victory four minutes into the fight. Belcher has earned a seat in if not near the number one contender spot in the division and depending on the outcome of Bisping-Belfort, should get a shot with a convincing win. Belcher’s striking is much better than Okami’s and his submission game is formidable too. He must stay off his back as his key to victory.
The winner here is in the top five in the division and should be set for a number one contender fight early in 2013 with a title shot clearly on the horizon.
Tim Boetsch (16-4) vs. Costa Philippou (11-2) – middleweight
This fight will complete the showcase of the middleweights on this card and was originally billed as a No. 1 contender fight between Boetsch and rising star Chris Weidman. Weidman had to pull out with a shoulder injury and Costa Philippou gets a great opportunity to vault himself up the ladder in the division.
Boetsch is a handful for anyone at 185-pounds with is size, wrestling and brute strength. He also showed an incredible heart and punching power in his wins over Yushin Okami and Hector Lombard. Okami was winning their fight handily until Boetsch charged in the third round and knocked him out. He showed no fear against Lombard so I can’t see Philippou scaring him at all. A win for Boetsch would make it five in a row and he would have a great case as the next challenger to Anderson Silva’s title.
Philippou is a very dangerous opponent and is looking to seize an incredible opportunity to boost his stock in the UFC with a late replacement upset. He is on a four-fight streak of his own although he hasn’t faced the level of competition that Boetsch has. Philippou was set to make it five in a row against Nick Ring at UFC 154 in Montreal in November, however, Ring became ill right before the fight and it had to be called off. He is a physical specimen and may be able to use his quickness to get the edge with his hands, feet and transition game.
Joe Lauzon (22-7) vs. Jim Miller (21-4) – lightweight
This is another fight on the card that has a replacement fighter as Lauzon was supposed to face Gray Maynard. Luckily, this fight does not lose any excitement with Miller stepping in. Both of these men are top of the food chain in the division and are hungry to get to that number one contender spot in 2013.
Lauzon is always exciting in the cage no matter where the fight is and he is coming off a Fight of the Night win over Jamie Varner in August. Lauzon is as good as any lightweight out there on the ground and his lightning-fast pace and pressure are extremely hard to handle. He also has very good power in his hands and can finish the fight in the blink of an eye. Lauzon always takes on the top guys in the world and a win here would be four in his last five fights. Title contention is not far away for the Boston native.
Miller has lost a bit of his shine in recent times with two losses in his last three fights, but those losses were to champion Benson Henderosn and number two man Nate Diaz. Miller squeezed a submission win over Melvin Guillard in between those losses. Like Lauzon, Miller’s pace and ground game are his keys to victory so it is a pure battle of skill and will in this one. Lauzon does have size and reach over Miller and we saw what a problem that was for him against Diaz. He will need to get in tight and use his tenacity and strength to push Lauzon around.
Miller needs this win a little bit more than Lauzon, and if he gets it, he will jump back ahead of Lauzon in the rankings.
Junior Dos Santos (16-1) vs. Cain Velasquez (10-1) – heavyweight
The card is headlined by the much anticipated rematch between the consensus top two heavyweights in the world. Everyone knows the back story and outcome of their first meeting and Velasquez is hell bent on getting his revenge.
Dos Santos is the best boxer in the UFC and the big man floats around the cage unlike any I have ever seen before. He defended his belt in May with a dominant performance against Frank Mir using footwork, takedown defence and a lethal jab. Duplicating that performance against Velasquez will be a much tougher task, especially considering what happened in the first fight. It has been said many times with JDS that if you can put him on his back it gives you the best chance at getting the win.
Velasquez is coming off a destruction of Antonio Silva and will not make the same mistake that he made the last time these two fought. Unlike the first meeting when he tried to feel things out, he will look to implement his game plan right away in this one. Standing in front and trading hands with JDS for any period of time is a risky approach and he must use his kicks to keep the champion at bay.
Velasquez has great technical leg kicks and he can use them to keep dos Santos at his range and set up his takedowns. I think the main advantage Velasquez has is his wresting, cardio and relentless pressure. The uglier this fight gets, the better it is for the Mexican-American challenger.
Dwight Wakabayashi is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report UFC and regular contributor to Sportsnet.ca’s UFC section. Follow him on Twitter @wakafightermma.