Fabricio Werdum (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC 198 Preview and Predictions

The UFC makes it way back to sunny Brazil to bring MMA fans the best of up-and-coming local talent and fan-favorite veterans.

The card is headlined by a heavyweight title fight between Fabricio Werdum and Stipe Miocic. It’s an intriguing match-up between local hero Werdum and firefighter Miocic, who will be looking to steal the champ’s thunder and continue his fairy-tale career run to the belt.

In the co-main event, the potential No. 1 contender bout in the middleweight division pits Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza against Vitor Belfort. Meanwhile, the legendary Anderson Silva looks to seek redemption against rising star Uriah Hall.


The card features a slew of talent from top to bottom, including Demian Maia, John Lineker and — who could forget? — Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino. The pound-for-pound best female fighter in the world finally makes her long-awaited UFC debut in her hometown of Curitiba.

UFC 198 takes place on May 14. The card kicks off with four preliminary bouts on UFC Fight Pass at 6:15 p.m. ET. The action moves to Fox Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET for an additional four prelim contests before shifting to pay-per-view at 10 p.m. ET for the five-fight main card. Combat Press writers John Franklin and Emma Challands preview the event in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Fabricio Werdum has put together a nice run on his way to a UFC heavyweight title reign. However, his record includes losses to three fighters — Alistair Overeem, Junior dos Santos and Andrei Arlovski — who are in the title mix. Can Werdum retain his title against Miocic, and if so, should Werdum be worried about any of these three men or about his originally scheduled UFC Fight Night 82 opponent, Cain Velasquez?

Franklin: Well, I’ll answer the second question first. He should worry about all of them. However, with that being said, Werdum is probably the one of the group who is nearest his full prime. While he has losses to all those men, it must be said that those losses were a very long time ago, before the Kings MMA version of Werdum we see today came to be. Werdum’s evolution on his feet has turned him into a much different fighter. To view Werdum as the man who lost to those fighters is like viewing Rafael dos Anjos as the man who lost to Clay Guida.

Now, let’s get to Miocic. There is a part of me, as a journalist and someone who is always in search of a good story, that wants to pull for the Miocic story. However, impartiality being what it is, we have to look at this and break down the skills a little.

I’m not crazy about Werdum’s activity level. He fought twice in 2014, once in 2015 and has yet to compete this year. Miocic isn’t a substantially more active fighter, but he’s fought once since the last time Werdum fought. Miocic’s appearance resulted in a knockout of Arlovski.

Miocic may only have the edge in the wrestling, and that advantage will take him into a world he wants nothing to do with. It’s a world where he battles Werdum on the ground. While Miocic could employ a simple game plan of boxing and takedown feints and ride that to victory, it’s more likely that Werdum starts to beat Miocic’s legs, which opens everything up.

Challands: The past losses to a far less superior Werdum don’t add up to much in reality. On the flip side — I’m playing devil’s advocate here — you could argue that all of these guys have improved leaps and bounds in the last couple of years, too. The heavyweight division is a rare beast in that most fighters are only two or three fights away from a title shot at any given time. Everything can get turned on its head in the blink of an eye. This may be one of those times.

While it’s hard to pick against the champ, especially when that champ is on such a hot streak right now, I honestly believe it is going to be Miocic’s time to shine. We will see a new champion at the helm.

Miocic is coming off a stellar victory over Arlovski in which he took one of the top contenders to task. He was fast and powerful. It was beautiful to watch. Miocic’s confidence is at an all-time high. We know he has no issues going the distance should the fight go all five rounds, and he’s also five years younger, which as time goes on does became an advantage. Miocic also has great wrestling chops, which should be able to assist in staving off some of the takedown attempts from Werdum. He’s also never been submitted, and there’s no doubt he’s the superior fighter on the feet and works incredibly well in the clinch.

Miocic all the way.

The two middleweight fights on the main card, a co-headliner between Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Vitor Belfort and a featured bout between Anderson Silva and Uriah Hall, contain some big names, but each of these fighters has lost at least once within their last three outings. Is this an underwhelming supporting cast for UFC 198’s headlining title fight, or do the names alone make these fights worth it?

Challands: Both of these fights are still highly relevant in the context of producing a title contender in the near future. On that basis, I will be watching with a lot of interest.

The middleweight division has been a bit of a mess the last six months. With Chris Weidman getting a rematch with new champion Luke Rockhold, this just proves that there was no one compelling to step up and fill that slot. Yoel Romero, the likely choice, has been sidelined. This is a huge opportunity for one of these four fighters to make a statement and launch themselves into the forefront of matchmaker Joe Silva’s mind.

Souza is coming off a very close loss to Romero, but Jacare had not lost previously since early 2012. The Brazilian is a perennial finisher, only going to decision four times, two of which were losses, in his career. He’s fighting a guy in Belfort who has 17 first-round finishes and holds a victory over the current champ. If anyone thinks this isn’t going to be a fun as hell, then they are nuts. Styles make fights, and this one hell of a match-up.

Then you’ve got two of the most creative minds in the game: the master, Silva, and the apprentice, Hall. While Silva has been somewhat lackluster in the winning department since losing the belt, his last fight against Michael Bisping was his for the taking and he didn’t… take it. Expect to see Silva back with a vengeance, ready to put on a show in front of his home crowd of Brazil. Similarly, Hall is coming off a loss to Robert Whittaker, who is racing up the rankings of the division. Hall, too, will no doubt be keen to right that wrong when he faces off against a well-known competitor like Silva. It’ll also be an opportunity for Hall to show some flair against one of the best in the business. If Hall wants to get back into the mix and the top 10, then this is the perfect chance to do so. This fight will feature all kinds of fireworks from two guys who love to entertain and finish fights.

Franklin: The middleweight division, the division of note in these four match-ups, has always been a frustrating one. You never really get what you want in this division. For years, Silva ruled it and fought some regrettable and forgettable fights while racking up his title-defense record. That, coupled with the suspicion of what the top of the division has been ingesting, just leaves me a little flat. If we are being honest with ourselves, the UFC wins all the way around with these fights.

We’ll start with Jacare and the Phenom. Both have juice with Rockhold because they are previous opponents. Souza lost a decision to the middleweight champion and Belfort knocked his head off with a spinning back kick.

Belfort is a hard guy to assess. He has fought Dan Henderson twice in his last three and won both. He was also dominated by the aforementioned Weidman. Souza is closer to Weidman than Henderson, and he could be tough for Belfort, especially if it goes to the floor.

A Jacare win helps the division more in the long term, but Rockhold is destined to avenge the Belfort loss. In order for the champion to do so, Belfort has to win here.

The term enigmatic is often used to describe both Hall and Silva. It is at times apt. Ultimately, it probably better describes our expectations for them than it describes the men themselves. They have showed us such great things in the Octagon that we have come to expect it from them. Will we see those great things in this fight? It’s tough to tell.

Silva has become a devout counter striker as he has aged. Hall can sometimes be hesitant to engage. If Hall goes in there looking to press Silva and take him out, then this fight gets really interesting. I don’t see it that way, though. I will fully concede that I will sometimes let a narrative guide me, and while I don’t think Silva is anywhere near his prime, I can’t see him losing in Brazil to Hall.

What does Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino’s debut in the UFC mean for women’s MMA? With a good showing from Cyborg against Leslie Smith, can we expect to see her fight in the UFC again in the immediate future?

Franklin: I always feel like I’m getting myself into trouble when I answer an MMA question before my colleague does, but here goes nothing…

Cyborg coming to the UFC does not mean much of anything for women’s MMA. She is a couple of years too late. When Ronda Rousey was wrecking everybody, Cyborg could have showed up to give Rousey a foil. That problem has since been solved by Holly Holm and Miesha Tate. What could be interesting with Cyborg on the roster, however, is if Rousey would take a 140- or 145-pound fight now that she is no longer the champ. After all, this was the excuse Rousey used all along to not fight Cyborg. That fight would interest me, but beyond that, the bantamweight division is in good shape right now.

As far as Smith goes, I’ll keep this short. Cyborg is of no value to the UFC if she gets beat. The goal of the UFC with Cyborg is not to put her in there with a girl who can beat her, but to put her in there with someone who could conceivably beat her. That argument, while not a convincing one, can be made. Smith has enough size that Cyborg won’t bully her. Beyond that, though, she doesn’t have much of a chance.

Challands: Cyborg’s debut for the UFC is a phenomenal thing for women’s MMA.

While I do agree that it definitely comes later than it should have been, the fact that the UFC now has the best pound-for-pound female fighter on the books — and, more importantly, fighting on a pay-per-view main card — is a great thing nonetheless.

Cyborg has said she is not interested in chasing a belt. We all know she isn’t going to make 135 pounds, either, so super fights are what will be on the agenda. The question lies in who on the roster is going to be willing to step up and face the human wrecking ball. For now, that’s obviously the aforementioned Smith.

While I wholeheartedly acknowledge Smith’s ability to stand and trade, take a beating and keep going, Cyborg’s power is going to bring her undone very quickly.

If Cyborg puts on a good showing in Brazil, we will see her back in the Octagon before too long. She is a draw for any card, especially if the match-up is good. Perhaps Holly Holm can be next?

There has been some talk of this being the “Brazilian UFC 200.” It’s definitely a stacked card, but are you prepared to co-sign on such a bold statement?

Challands: I am 100 percent prepared to co-sign on this.

This is a great card stacked top to bottom with a great mix of up-and-comers and well-known veterans. It features a heavyweight title fight that is long overdue for Stipe Miocic in a division that is probably more interesting than it has been in a while. With Alistair Overeem now having defeated Andrei Arlovski to become the likely next title challenger, the main event of UFC 198 holds far more intrigue now.

There are a whole bunch of other guys on this card who are very much in the hunt for title contention in their respective divisions, too. There are Vitor Belfort and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, Corey Anderson, John Lineker and Demian Maia, to name a few. All of this adds weight to the already very exciting stylistic match-ups.

Franklin: I like this card a lot, and I can co-sign on that moniker as well.

Brazilian cards have been stacked with high-level, high-profile guys before, but this card is special because of the stature of their opponents. Uriah Hall and the aforementioned Anderson may be the future of their respective divisions. They’re taking on absolute legends, which may expedite their rise through the ranks. Ovince Saint Preux just had a title shot and Michael Bisping can certainly make a case for one, and they have beaten Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Silva respectively. If Hall can past Silva and Anderson beats Rua, then they are certainly in the fast lane through the rankings.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Franklin: Let it never be said that I’m not nuts, but I think that the main event might be the sleeper match-up of the night.

I don’t mean this in the traditional sense, where you look at a card and see the fight no one is focusing on. Instead, I mean that by the time we get to the main event, there will have been so much compelling MMA that we have already seen and we will be surprised that such a great fight is still to come.

This fight could be a great one for all the reasons mentioned earlier, but it will also hopefully serve as the exclamation point to the night. The two fighters in the main event, Werdum and Miocic, while entertaining, do not have bombastic personalities, and this has put their fight a little under the radar. However, make no mistake that these guys are skilled everywhere and prepared for the fight to go wherever it goes.

Challands: I like watching guys who are bloodthirsty. John Lineker is one of these guys.

I sat cageside and watched him pick up “Fight of the Night” honors (and a victory) against Francisco Rivera at UFC 191 in what was one of the best fights of last year. The guy is an animal that basically enforces his will on opponents in a way that is explosive, exciting and just down right fun to watch.

Lineker, 26, is in the prime of his career and has a ton of experience under his belt already, which holds him in good stead as he makes his way toward the bantamweight top-10. Since coming into the UFC in 2014, he’s only dropped one fight. He has dominated his other three outings.

Lineker’s opponent, Rob Font, has only lost once in his career and has his own set of highlight-reel finishes. Both guys are very well rounded and can handle business on the feet, throwing high volume and powerful strikes, or on the mat, where they have the ability to finish the fight with a submission.

Wherever this fight goes, it is going to be fast-paced, adrenaline-inducing fun.

Pair this card with…

Challands: BBQ, beers and friends. This is a card that is a helluva lotta fun and should be enjoyed with a group of people that like to be entertained and enjoy the spectacle that is MMA. This card literally has something for everyone.

Franklin: The Brazilian steakhouse leftovers and an old, faded “Shogun” Bad Boy t-shirt. Brazil certainly had its run as the best country for MMA in the world, but that window is closing. Fabricio Werdum and Rafael dos Anjos are the last remaining Brazilian UFC champions. It’s important to remember the old days, because if the Americans can sweep the high-profile fights, with apologies to dos Anjos, this could be the night that the lights go out in Curitiba.

Fight Picks

Fight Franklin’s Pick Challands’s Pick
Main Card (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
HW Championship: Fabricio Werdum vs. Stipe Miocic Werdum Miocic
MW: Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza vs. Vitor Belfort Belfort Souza
MW: Anderson Silva vs. Uriah Hall Silva Hall
140-pound Catchweight: Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino vs. Leslie Smith Justino Justino
LHW: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Corey Anderson Anderson Anderson
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)
WW: Demian Maia vs. Matt Brown Maia Maia
WW: Warlley Alves vs. Bryan Barberena Barberena Alves
MW: Nate Marquardt vs. Thiago Santos Marquardt Marquardt
BW: John Lineker vs. Rob Font Lineker Lineker
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6:15 p.m. ET)
LHW: Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs. Patrick Cummins Nogueira Cummins
LW: Francisco Trinaldo vs. Yancy Medeiros Medeiros Medeiros
WW: Sérgio Moraes vs. Luan Chagas Chagas Chagas
FW: Renato Carneiro vs. Zubaira Tukhugov Tukhugov Tukhugov