Technically, we’re just past the year’s midway point. But on the UFC’s event schedule, July’s pay-per-view offering is one of two big happenings when it comes to talent and prestige.
Unfortunately, the event’s luster took a bit hit when a highly anticipated grudge match between Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva – and then Silva’s replacement, Vitor Belfort – was sacked by a trio of performance-enhancing drug issues. Yet again, we’ve been reminded that MMA has a big problem with banned substances.
Now, as the smoke continues to clear from Sonnen’s troubles, the focus shifts to the two title bouts remaining as headliners on Saturday at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Events Center.
Like UFC’s end-of-year event, UFC 168, the middleweight and women’s bantamweight divisions are spotlighted. Chris Weidman takes on Lyoto Machida, while champ Ronda Rousey faces off with Alexis Davis in the respective main and co-main events.
In fact, it’s actually the third straight year the middleweight title has been front and center in the UFC’s summer blockbuster. In 2012, now-former champ Anderson Silva rematched Sonnen and issued a second-round beatdown. And one year later, Silva lost his belt to Weidman in an infamous knockout spurred by clowning.
Betting lines for Saturday’s big draws look a lot alike they did this past December. Online, Weidman is no more than a 2-to-1 favorite, while confidence in Rousey’s dominance is higher than ever. A 9-to-1 favorite against rival Miesha Tate, she’s as high as 14-to-1 against Davis – territory where a banana peel might be Davis’ best hope.
The lopsided outlook still hasn’t diminished Rousey’s star power, which appears as bright as ever from the response she’s gotten from fans and media in pre-event gatherings. Weidman, meanwhile, still struggles to move the needle despite dethroning the all-time great Silva.
It’s going to take time, of course, for that to change as the sport’s old guard continues to fade into the background. Fans need repeated exposure to adjust to the current crop of faces, and those without Rousey’s gift for promotion face a tougher road to recognition. Without the promotional heft of Sonnen and Belfort, Weidman might not get the residual effect of competing alongside the additional stars when it comes to the event’s commercial success. He won’t, however, be overshadowed by their misadventures.
Here are the 10 reasons to watch UFC 175:
1. First defense
OK, it’s technically middleweight champ Chris Weidman‘s second title defense. But it’s the first one removed from Anderson Silva’s sizable shadow. The champ doesn’t get a whole lot of respect for his second win over “The Spider,” so now is the time to earn it. You could do much worse in starting with Lyoto Machida, whose explosive unpredictability at times seems more focused at middleweight than his title-winning run at light-heavy. Machida (21-4 MMA, 13-4 UFC) might not have Weidman’s grappling chops, but he is always a knockout threat. After Weidman’s dispatch of middleweight’s all-time great knockout artist, you’d think he’d be a little bigger favorite. But it’s up to Weidman (11-0 MMA, 7-0 UFC) to prove himself once again.
2. The Rousey show
Many thought women’s bantam champ Ronda Rousey (9-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC) would be put through her paces by fellow Olympian Sara McMann, who offered a wrestler’s promise of controlling exchanges on the ground. Instead, Rousey exposed her weakness in striking and walked away with another handy victory. With an improving striking game, and a superfight with Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino looking more than more like a pie in the sky, the distance between the champ and her opposition seems to be widening. But Alexis Davis (16-5 MMA, 3-0 UFC) aims to show the world otherwise, and if she can slow Rousey down, she just might have a shot. Davis, a jiu-jitsu black belt, wears opponents down on the mat and can take a punch. She just needs the time, and the way things of gone for Rousey, she won’t get much.
3. Heart to heart
If you get a second, take a look at the pair of stories written on heavyweight Stefan Struve‘s comeback in the UFC. It’s a pretty serious thing when your heart leaks, and Struve (25-6 MMA, 9-4 UFC) might have been a walking time-bomb if doctors hadn’t discovered his condition. To come back from all that and fight even when you’re still technically recovering from the problem is pretty incredible. Chiefly, it shows Struve has no quit in him. Now fans will see if he’s still the same guy, or perhaps an improved one, when he fights Matt Mitrione (7-3 MMA, 7-3 UFC). According to doctors, Struve is getting more blood to his body. That could make him a far more spritely threat to the veteran of “The Ultimate Fighter 10,” who’s a dicey 2-3 in his past five outings. Both like to stand and slug, so in any event, this should be a fun one.
4. On the ramp up
After stumbling in the post-TUF world, middleweight Uriah Hall (8-4 MMA, 1-2 UFC) saved his UFC career with a first-round TKO of Chris Leben at this past December’s UFC 168. The highly hyped winner of “The Ultimate Fighter 17? now gets a chance to rebuild himself in the division against Brazilian Thiago Santos (9-2 MMA, 1-1 UFC), whose string of first-round finishes portends an exciting clash. In his octagon debut, Santos fell prey to another explosive striker, Cezar Ferreira, so on paper, this looks like a showcase fight for Hall.
5. Brimage moves on
A three-fight win streak is nothing to sneeze at in any UFC division, and that’s exactly what “The Ultimate Fighter 14? winner Marcus Brimage (6-2 MMA, 3-1 UFC) enjoyed before his meeting with the red-hot Conor McGregor. Whether it was an off night or the mark of his limits in the division, Brimage is now in the position to prove himself against a hungry up-and-comer in Russell Doane (13-3 MMA, 1-0 UFC). The former Tachi Palace Fights bantam champ won a “Submission of the Night” by putting Leandro Issa to sleep at UFC Fight Night 34, and a win over Brimage would be another feather in his cap. Somebody needs to make a statement.
6. Reality check
Urijah Faber (30-7 MMA, 6-3 UFC) is the poster child for second chances, but after three losses in UFC bantamweight title fights, and the title-winning turn of his Team Alpha Male teammate, T.J. Dillashaw, it appears “The California Kid” is stepping into a supporting role in the division. Faber beats just about everyone that isn’t a champion, of course, so a bout against Alex Caceres (10-5 MMA, 5-3 UFC) is, on paper, the kind of matchup that promises another piece for his highlight reel. Caceres is a talented fighter and capable of great things on his best day, so Faber’s job is to keep his place in line until the title picture changes or rival Dominick Cruz returns from injury layoff. If Cruz returns to the game, there’s no way the UFC isn’t putting the two together a third time.
All the momentum garnered by welterweight Kenny Robertson (13-3 MMA, 2-3 UFC) with his slick kneebar of Brock Jardine was dashed by a majority decision loss to Sean PIerson. Robertson, though, was able to recover with a tapout of “TUF: Brazil” vet Thiago Perpetuo, and on Saturday, he gets another Brazilian foe to test on the mat after stepping in for the injured Santiago Ponzinibbio. Ildelmar Alcantara (20-6 MMA, 3-1 UFC), the younger brother of UFC bantamweight Iuri Alcantara, has gone to the scorecards in three of four UFC performances, so this could be a drawn-out affair. On the other hand, we might get to see Robertson in rare form once again.
8. Middleweight run-off
Middleweight Chris Camozzi (19-7 MMA, 6-4 UFC) has carved out a reputation as a tough middleweight. In just over a year, he racked up four straight wins in the division. Now, the “The Ultimate Fighter 11? vet is in dire need of a win.
Camozzi reached a little too high this past year against former Strikeforce champ Ronaldo Souza, and he was out of step against Lorenz Larkin. At 0-1 in the octagon, Brazilian Bruno Santos (13-1 MMA, 0-1 UFC) is a step down the ladder. If Camozzi can’t come out ahead in this one, his UFC career could be in jeopardy.
9. Blue-collar bantamweight
Bantamweight George Roop (15-10-1 MMA, 5-6 UFC) might not be the guy that sells pay-per-views, but for a guy whose toiled on preliminary-cards, he delivers a consistent product. That is, he’s more often than not involved in fights with a finish, and it’s for that reason that he has longevity in this cutthroat sport. Newcomer Rob Font (10-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) is trained by famed coach Mark DelaGrotte and may be the next big thing the division. Roop is a measuring stick for the truth in that statement.
10. TUF second chance
Middleweights Luke Zachrich (13-3 MMA, 0-1 UFC) and Guilherme Vasconcelos (3-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) both flamed out of “The Ultimate Fighter” show, with Zachrich flaming out in the elimination round of Season 8 and Vasconcelos losing a decision in his first fight on “TUF: Brazil.” Zachrich was quickly pounded out in his first post-fight reality appearance, losing a 44-second TKO to Caio Magalhaes. Both fighters, though, need a rebound.
For more on UFC 175, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.