Preview, Picks and Betting Tip: UFC 198 – Werdum vs. Miocic

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It’s back to the South American stronghold of Brazil for the Ultimate Fighting Championship this weekend as UFC 198 goes down from the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba.

On paper, the card is lining up as one of the most stacked in the history of MMA with a litany of local stars on show.

In the main event, the heavyweight championship of the world is on the line as the reigning champion Fabricio Werdum takes on American challenger Stipe Miocic.

A 26-fight veteran of MMA, Werdum has seen and done it all inside the cage. Having fought most of the early career fights between his native Brazil and PRIDE in Japan, Werdum made his Octagon debut at UFC 70 way back in 2007. That fight ended in a loss to Andrei Arlovski and even though he won his next two fights, another loss, this time against Junior Dos Santos, saw him cut from the promotion.

It was almost four years before he returned as a 3-1 stint in Strikeforce saw him back in the UFC as part of the heavyweight divisional merger. Since then Werdum has been simply imperious, wining six on the bounce the last two of which saw him beat Mark Hunt and Cain Velasquez respectively to win an interim title before then unifying it.

Stipe Miocic, as of yet, hasn’t hit those heights. A former wrestling and baseball athlete with Cleveland State University, Miocic is one of the most improved heavyweights in the UFC today.

After turning professional in 2010, it took Miocic just six fights and eighteen months to earn himself a spot in the Octagon. Six more wins from seven fights came in the three years following that as, after beating the likes of Gabriel Gonzaga and Roy Nelson, Miocic was put in against the very elite. And although he lost a decision to former champion Junior Dos Santos, Miocic gained a reputation as someone who deserved to be in the title talk which was enhanced further by subsequent wins over Mark Hunt and Andrei Arlovski.

In those three fights Miocic showed, more than anything, how good his striking now actually is. Against Dos Santos he pushed forward and did well, against Hunt he struck in the pocket with a world champion kickboxer and won while his fight with Arlovski ended in an impressive first round knockout.

Against Werdum, he’ll be looking for another stand-up fight even though, in his six fights back in the UFC, Werdum has shown his improvements too.

On the feet Werdum, despite once upon a time being very much a novice, is now a talented muay-thai practitioner who is willing to bang it out with anyone. He has dominated guys like Roy Nelson and Cain Velasquez in recent times while a big KO against Mark Hunt, even though he was losing at the time, proved how dangerous he is.

For Miocic it will be a steady gameplan from the very start. Stay light on the feet, be quicker, work the jab, land combos and stay out of the clinch.

Then, most importantly, stay off of the ground for all costs. Werdum, a former world champion jiu-jitsu player, is maybe the most dangerous, and certainly the most crafty, grappler in the history of heavyweight MMA. He will go for takedowns, jump on an ankle pick or pull guard at any time, even regularly when he has been punched to make it look like he was hurt, just to get you on the floor. Once it goes there, it’s survival mode for everyone and Miocic will know that.

Despite that, I think Miocic still has a great chance of winning this fight. If he can use his very effective wrestling to stay off of his back, avoid the big shots of Werdum and keep his gas for five rounds I think his general striking game is better. It’s not going to be easy, especially in the lion’s den, but I’m picking the upset here.

In the co-main event there’s another smashing match-up on deck as another jiu-jitsu ace, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, battles fellow Brazilian Vitor Belfort over three rounds.

Having made his MMA debut in 2003 Jacare Souza would be seen as a veteran against most people but against 1996 debutante Vitor Belfort he looks a relative newcomer!

In their careers both men have been equal parts exciting and scary. Between them they have taken out names like Luke Rockhold, Tim Kennedy, Anthony Johnson, Robbie Lawler, Michael Bisping, Rich Franklin, Gegard Mousasi and more. Of his 22 wins Jacare has 18 finishes while Vitor has 21 in 25. So this one should be really exciting.

As I mentioned above, Jacare is a renowned jiu-jitsu practitioner and that’s exactly what he’ll look to use on Saturday night. And although Belfort is also a black belt, he’s not on the same level and knows it.

Look for Vitor to be very weary of the takedown early but to also fly in with huge shots when he can. Like Werdum in the main event, Jacare has designed himself a nice muay-thai striking arsenal and will be looking to keep that on point early.

To beat Vitor Belfort, especially in the days when he was allowed to use testosterone replacement therapy which is now banned, the key is to weather the early storm and watch him fade.

Often, that’s easier said than done but with how dangerous Jacare is and how hard he is to hurt, I think he’s more than capable of doing it. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t even have to wait for this version of Vitor to fade. Either way, this one should be manic from moment one.

And that’s not all.

Outside of the big two you have Demian Maia taking on Matt Brown in a fight the Brazilian should take to the ground and win, Corey Anderson vs. Shogun Rua which should heavily favour the younger man, Rob Font against John Lineker in what looks like an awesome action fight and, maybe most importantly, the debut of arguably the greatest female fighter to ever live.

That fight comes second on the main card as Leslie Smith draws the short straw and fights the current Invicta featherweight champion Cris “Cyborg” Justino in a 140 lbs catchweight attraction.

A very talented boxer herself, Smith is a match for most women in the UFC today… but not Cyborg. The Brazilian is a scary proposition for anyone, wherever the fight goes. Usually, she ends it on the feet, and quickly. I don’t see that changing on Saturday night. This really is a showcase fight for Cyborg. Expect a quick, ruthless finish.

FIGHT PICKS

Fabrício Werdum vs. Stipe Miočić – Fancy Stipe to take the decision
Ronaldo Souza vs. Vitor Belfort – Early stoppage win for Jacare
Cris Cyborg vs. Leslie Smith – Cyborg via decimation
Maurício Rua vs. Corey Anderson – Think Anderson will get the KO

Demian Maia vs. Matt Brown – Maia
Warlley Alves vs. Bryan Barberena – Alves
Thiago Santos vs. Nate Marquardt – Santos
John Lineker vs. Rob Font – Lineker

Patrick Cummins vs. Antônio Rogério Nogueira – Cummins
Francisco Trinaldo vs. Yancy Medeiros – Yancy
Sérgio Moraes vs. Luan Chagas – Moraes
Renato Moicano vs. Zubaira Tukhugov – Moicano

BET OF THE WEEK

This week I’m going with Jacare via TKO/KO at 5/1

START TIMES

Early prelims – 11.30pm on Fight Pass

Prelims – 1am on BT Sport 2

Main card – 3am on BT Sport 2

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook Facebook.com/seansheehanmma