Anderson Silva and Nick Diaz lead the UFC’s charge into Las Vegas for UFC 183, and along with two bona fide superstars in the main event, matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby have given us a card that delivers from top to bottom. However, this is one of the rare occasions where a strong undercard is just a bonus, because all eyes are going to be on the headlining fighters as they prepare for one of the biggest bouts of the year.
For Silva, this is a chance to prove he’s still the fighter that has spent the majority of his UFC career regarded as the scariest man on the planet and the greatest of all time. For Diaz, this is an opportunity to finally put his money where his mouth is inside the Octagon and earn what would be by far the crown jewel in an already impressive collection of wins. To say that my fellow panelist Sal DeRose and I are excited for this fight would be a massive understatement, and it’s safe to say that’s an opinion shared by the rest of the MMA community as well.
Helping fill out one of the deepest cards in the last 12 months is a solid co-main event between rising welterweight star Kelvin Gastelum and top contender Tyron Woodley in a fight with major implications towards the welterweight title scene. That fight, along with exciting veterans Joe Lauzon and Thiago Alves in entertaining match-ups and a preliminary card featuring fights with heavy impact on the flyweight and women’s bantamweight divisions, make this card a can’t-miss event.
UFC 183 kicks off from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas at 7 p.m. ET with a trio of fights on UFC Fight Pass, including one of our picks for the sleeper fight of the night. The action shifts to Fox Sports 1 for a four-fight preliminary card that starts at 8p.m. ET before moving to pay-per-view for the main card at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press Writers Sal DeRose and Vince Carey preview the card in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Nick Diaz has always talked a big game, but he has yet to really put his stamp on a division within the UFC. Now, here he is against Anderson Silva, arguably one of the greatest of all time when he was in his prime. Does Silva demolish Diaz, or is this the fight where Diaz finally clears that one last hurdle?
DeRose: I’m so excited for this fight. This is like waking up on Christmas morning and finding a Nintendo 64 complete with GoldenEye 007 and Super Smash Bros. under the tree. This has potential “Fight of the Year” written all over it if Silva’s leg holds up and he performs like the typical Silva: fast, elusive and downright daunting.
There are so many moving parts to this fight, so it’s hard to give a definitive answer on what will happen. One variable is that aforementioned leg injury. UFC fans had not seen a leg break this gruesome in the UFC since Corey Hill snapped his leg in half. It’s one of those injuries that makes you question your ability to continue watching this sport. That was probably the hardest thing many of us have had to sit through while watching two men fight inside the Octagon. Cuts? Easy. Lots of blood? There are horror movies with more. But a leg break where the fighter’s shin takes on the shape of a boomerang? No thanks!
Coming back from that gruesome leg injury will be tough, especially against Diaz, who has some incredible boxing. These guys are going to play to their strong suit by standing and trading. Silva has the edge in knockout power, but Diaz has the advantage in the ability to overwhelm his opponent with countless strikes. It comes down to striking defense, which, if Silva’s confidence hasn’t been shaken by his two fights with champion Chris Weidman, provides the Brazilian with the advantage just from the sheer fluidity of his head movement and impeccable footwork.
I don’t expect domination from Silva in his return from a career-threatening injury. Psychologically, he may not be quite as together as he once was. It might come down to who is a better at taunting, and that is a straight tie. Who wins this fight? The fans, that’s who. I’ll pick Silva just based off of how good he has been sans the Weidman fights. Even at 80 percent of his full health, he is still better than a significant chunk of the UFC’s roster. This fight might be better than Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Bloodsport.
Carey: This fight is less than a week away and I can still barely convince myself that it’s actually happening. I’m afraid I’m going to wake up in my Penguin pajama bottoms and realize it was all a dream. When Diaz first started calling for this fight a few years ago, I just shook my head and called it another one of the Stockton native’s “pipe” dreams. Suddenly, though, all of the dominoes have fallen perfectly into place. I can’t remember a non-title fight that has made me this excited.
Just having these two guys standing across the cage from each other is a dream come true for many fight fans. However, as Sal suggested, the circumstances behind this one make it even more intriguing. If Silva is the Silva we all love and remember, I can honestly see him stopping this fight within the first five minutes and making a huge statement to the rest of the division. If he’s not… Well, let’s just say Diaz isn’t the guy you want to fight if you’re a counter striker on one leg. Diaz might be the best fighter on the planet at coming forward and landing a plethora of combinations that leave his opponent stunned. If Silva’s movement is at all limited, this fight is going to get extremely interesting.
Diaz has been in a pair of UFC title fights and even defended his own Strikeforce title multiple times back in the day, but you could easily make the argument that this is the biggest fight of his career. Between the way Weidman caught Silva clowning in their first fight and the gruesome ending to their second encounter, many fans still don’t believe that Silva has been soundly defeated in his UFC career. If Diaz can pull off the upset and leave no question as to who is the superior fighter, it will do as much for his career as any title belt.
It’s so hard to predict how this fight is going to turn out before actually seeing Silva inside the Octagon and competing on that leg, but “The Spider” is the greatest fighter of all time and I can’t help but to give him the benefit of the doubt. My initial prediction was that a healthy Silva could finish Diaz within five minutes. Even though it terrifies the hell out of me, I’m sticking with that pick. As Diaz would say, “Don’t be scared, homie.”
Kelvin Gastelum came out of nowhere to surprise fans by marching through The Ultimate Fighter house and topping clear favorite Uriah Hall in the finals to take the middleweight trophy. He then moved to welterweight, where he has won four straight, including a submission finish of Jake Ellenberger. Is Gastelum capable of continuing his impressive run against Tyron Woodley? And, if Gastelum wins, how far does it put him from a title shot?
Carey: There’s a lot to love about Gastelum at this stage of his career. He’s a strong wrestler, his striking is constantly improving and he’s tenacious as hell. He’s basically everything you want out of an up-and-coming welterweight. With wins over Rick Story and the aforementioned Ellenberger, Gastelum has even proven he can take out former top contenders. As far as prospects with a ton of upside go, Gastelum is probably the best young fighter to break into the welterweight scene since Rory MacDonald. Since Gastelum proved he could swim in the deep end against Ellenberger, the UFC has officially taken the life jacket off.
As cool as it’s been to watch Gastelum transform himself into a contender these last two years, he doesn’t feel like the type of prospect that is going to walk straight into a title fight without hitting a wall. Woodley could be that wall. Since dropping down to welterweight, Gastelum has fought a couple of strong wrestlers, plus a talented striker in Nico Musoke, but Woodley is one of the most well-rounded opponents — and by far the most athletically gifted — that Gastelum has been tasked with thus far. While Gastelum has been in the cage with some heavy hitters in Hall, Story and Ellenberger, he has never had to deal with someone with both the power and speed that Woodley has in his arsenal.
Gastelum is going to feel overwhelmed on the feet pretty quickly in this fight, and he’s going to have a harder time than he’d like in getting it to the mat. Gastelum is as tough as a two-dollar steak, as Jim Ross would say, so he won’t get finished here, but he will get beat up and lose a one-sided decision. Still, this is going to be a learning experience more than anything, and Gastelum has a seriously bright future in front of him.
DeRose: Vince made a number of great points as to why Woodley will win this fight, and I can’t really dispute anything he said. However, I’m having a difficult time settling on a pick for this bout.
Gastelum is getting another true test at a top-10 welterweight after defeating Ellenberger, who isn’t exactly the fighter he once was (a feared contender at 170 pounds) but is still a big-name win for a young up-and-comer to claim.
Vince thinks Woodley will win based on his speed and athleticism, but Gastelum has actually faced those qualities in a fighter before at a higher weight class. Remember Uriah Hall? Hall is basically a character from Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat come to life. Every time you think Gastelum will lose, he comes out and surprises with a victory. Therefore, I’m picking him here because of his strength as an underdog (even though he isn’t actually the betting underdog in this fight).
This fight is close, but Gastelum will not get overwhelmed on the feet. He proved as much with his performance against Ellenberger. Gastelum won’t win with his wrestling — Woodley is too well-rounded to allow that to happen — but if Gastelum can avoid the big shot that Woodley will try to land, he can take a very close decision.
Thiago Alves was once a title challenger and a high-profile name in the welterweight division, but a stretch of inconsistency and multiple injuries has turned him into a forgotten man. Can Alves, at just 31 years old, turn things around, starting with a win over Jordan Mein this weekend? Or is he destined to be a welterweight gatekeeper from here on out?
DeRose: Alves has indeed become the forgotten man at 170 pounds. I remember when he was the breakout fighter of the year and fought Georges St-Pierre for the welterweight crown at UFC 100. Since then, he seems to have slowly faded into the shadows. Once a deadly fighter for any man to face in the division, Alves is still young enough to where a resurgence is not out of the question. However, while I can see a sliver of hope for Alves, he is now a gatekeeper at welterweight. Anybody who wants a crack at the top 10 will have to go through him first.
In this case, the man seeking to rise to that level is Mein, and he is going to win this fight, most likely by decision. Alves has only one fight in the past two and a half years, and that contest took place last April. Mein is going to bring some heavy pressure and try to wear out Alves with strikes. Mein can’t stand in the pocket and trade with the former contender and he also must avoid the leg kicks, but by the mid-second or early third frame, he will be able to ride it out for a decision victory over a tired Alves.
A victory over Alves isn’t what it used to be. The Brazilian has certainly taken a step back, but he is a very good test for Mein to see if he can take that next step up in competition and ascend to facing a top-15 or top-10 guy in the welterweight division.
Carey: I have a lot more confidence in Alves’s future, but I’ll agree that he’s not leaving Las Vegas with a win this weekend. The fact that he’s coming off a long layoff makes it tough to pick Alves against an opponent who should be able to stick around on the feet. Mein is poised to break into the top 10, and he’ll make that evident against Alves.
I, too, expect Alves to come out strong and have a solid first round, but the cut to 170 pounds has never been all that easy for “Pitbull.” I have a hard time believing his cardio will be up to par with the younger, more active Mein. Alves will hold on and put up a tough fight for three rounds, but he will not walk away with the judges’ nod.
Still, despite a tough match-up this weekend in which he may lose, Alves isn’t done as a top-10 welterweight. There are a number of fighters on the fringe of the top 10 whom Alves could push for their spot in the rankings. With the name value that comes with being a former title challenger, Alves isn’t going to have to beg for notable opponents either. This weekend will provide us with a good idea as to where Alves is sitting at this point in his career. If he’s still the “Pitbull” that he was before the injuries, I’m not willing to count him out.
However, even if Alves looks great this weekend, his comeback isn’t going to go anywhere if he can’t stay healthy. That’s the biggest question surrounding Alves at the moment. If he falls short against Mein, as Sal and I have predicted, he’s going to have to stay active and make up for lost time these next two years in order to become relevant again.
Coming off the debacle that canceled their fight at UFC Fight Night 56, Ian McCall and John Lineker look to make their fight happen at UFC 183. What does a win mean for each fighter? Does a victory and a good weight cut give Lineker the next shot at flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson? Does a win give McCall his trilogy fight with the champ?
Carey: Both of these guys are going to be right in the thick of the flyweight title picture with a win in this one, but I’m hesitant to hand either man a title shot while John Dodson is still waiting in the wings. Regardless, both men have a lot to prove in order to stake a claim for a title shot, and a lackluster win by either man probably won’t get the job done.
There was a point where I figured the only way Lineker would make 125 pounds consistently would be to cut off a limb or commit obsessively to the Jenny Craig diet, but the Brazilian has successfully made weight for two straight fights since an embarrassing start to his UFC career. As long as he takes care of business on Friday, Lineker should make his weight-cutting problems a thing of the past for most fight fans. Then they can start to focus on whether Lineker actually has the skill set to get a title fight.
This is a big fight for both men, but McCall has looked like a really solid fighter during his last two bouts and will continue to roll here with a big win over Lineker. “Uncle Creepy” is faster on the feet and has a good enough ground game to put Lineker in trouble with submission attempts on the mat.
The only thing that casts doubt on a McCall win is Lineker’s power. However, McCall has never been knocked out in almost 20 career fights and has competed against some heavy hitters in the past, so I’m not too worried about him getting finished.
A dominant performance should be enough to get “Uncle Creepy” a title shot, while winning by the skin of his teeth will force McCall to earn another victory before fighting for the gold. I’m confident he gets the win on Saturday and moves one step closer to avenging his losses to Johnson.
DeRose: Yeah, Dodson is likely the next contender for this division, but we don’t know when exactly Dodson will be ready following his ACL surgery. Since Dodson is very dependent on his explosiveness, speed and athleticism, he may not even be the same fighter upon his return. Without knowing for sure if Dodson will return by the middle of the year, it’s conceivable that McCall gets the next title shot with a win.
McCall will win this fight, and it’s all because of a reason Vince has already touched on: Lineker’s inability to make weight successfully. He hasn’t had any issues the last couple of times, but he seems destined to fall back into old habits. On his first try, Lineker has missed weight five times out of a possible eight. His last weigh-in was called off before the McCall fight after Lineker originally missed weight and had to weigh in a second time. McCall is a dangerous fighter to begin with, and a tough weight cut will do an opponent no favors against “Uncle Creepy.”
If he wants a shot at the title, Lineker needs to make weight on the first attempt here and on the first attempt the next time he fights. He must prove that he can do it consistently. The UFC doesn’t want another Renan Barao situation, no matter how starved the flyweight division may be when it comes to new contenders.
McCall is just a better all-around fighter and can give Lineker fits wherever this fight goes. If McCall can make it hard for Demetrious Johnson to pull out the win, he can do the same against Lineker.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
DeRose: This card is filled to the brim with great fights, to the point that somewhere along the way we are going to forget somebody and overlook a fight. Prior to writing this preview, Vince and I discussed just how awesome this card is, and we both had a few picks for the evening’s sleeper fight. My pick lands on Diego Brandao and Jimy Hettes. Brandao is a fun fighter who has knockout power to couple with his crazy, forward-charging striking attack. If the Brandao who goes for the first-round finish shows up, it’ll be a really good battle. Hettes, who has 10 submission victories on his record, is another finisher. Don’t anticipate this one going to the scorecards.
Carey: On 90 percent of the UFC’s events, the fight I’m about to mention would be a featured attraction. However, since we’ve made it to this point without mentioning it, the lightweight contest between Joe Lauzon and Al Iaquinta counts as a sleeper fight.
With a million apologies to Miesha Tate and Sara McMann, who should have gotten their due somewhere in this preview, I can’t pass up an opportunity to talk about my pick to win “Fight of the Night” honors on an absolutely stacked card. Iaquinta isn’t a big name and he probably hasn’t lived up to the hype he earned himself while competing on The Ultimate Fighter, but he’s the type of fighter who isn’t afraid to charge into battle and get into a war in order to earn a victory. Fortunately for us, those are the types of fights Lauzon thrives on, so this has the potential to turn into a lot of fun in a hurry. As rare as it already is for fans to sleep on a Lauzon fight, something tells me J-Lau and Iaquinta are going to make sure it never happens again.
Pair this card with…
Carey: “No Sunshine” by DMX. If you’re not familiar with “No Sunshine,” it’s the song that plays while Anderson Silva walks to the cage. At this point, the MMA community hears that song and knows that some shit is about to go down. All it takes is the opening notes for most fight fans to get giddy with anticipation at the thought of the greatest of all time making his way to the cage. It’s been over a year since we’ve seen Silva in the Octagon, so my suggestion is to refresh your memory a few times before fight day. Listen to this song once or twice a day throughout fight week. It’s pretty much guaranteed that your anticipation levels will be off the chart by the time you hear the real thing this weekend.
DeRose: Some practice taunting and some super glue to keep you stuck to your seat. This is going to be an insane card and can very easily wrap up “Card of the Year” honors for 2015 this early in the year. From top to bottom, you have former title contenders, champions and finishers. The UFC, for all the flak it gets for having watered-down cards, clearly went the extra mile to bring this one together. It is headlined by what was essentially a dream fight at one point. Now, it is coming to fruition. I feel like I’m the UFC’s hype man for this fight, but seriously, I can’t deny how awesome this card is. You’ll need the glue so you don’t miss any part of this card.
Main Card (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
MW: Anderson Silva vs. Nick Diaz
WW: Tyron Woodley vs. Kelvin Gastelum
LW: Joe Lauzon vs. Al Iaquinta
MW: Thales Leites vs. Tim Boetsch
WW: Jordan Mein vs. Thiago Alves
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)
Women’s BW: Miesha Tate vs. Sara McMann
MW: Ed Herman vs. Derek Brunson
FlyW: Ian McCall vs. John Lineker
MW: Rafael Natal vs. Tom Watson
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 7 p.m. ET)
FW: Diego Brandao vs. Jimy Hettes
MW: Richardson Moreira vs. Ildemar Alcantara
MW: Thiago Santos vs. Andy Enz
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