The UFC comes to Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio for the first time in promotional history this Saturday with UFC 203. It’s a card that features a terrific heavyweight title fight in the main event between champion and hometown hero Stipe Miocic against challenger Alistair Overeem, as well as the highly-anticipated debut of former WWE superstar CM Punk, who takes on Mickey Gall in a welterweight special attraction.
Here are the top-five things to keep your eye on during this weekend’s event in “The Land.”
1) Miocic, Overeem Fight for Heavyweight Supremacy
The main event of UFC 203 is an intriguing heavyweight title fight between champion Stipe Miocic and rival Alistair Overem. Miocic, who is from Ohio, will fight in his home state as he looks to make his first title defense since knocking out Fabricio Werdum for the belt at UFC 198 earlier this year. Miocic is currently on a three-fight win streak with all those wins coming by way of knockout, and overall he’s 9-2 in the UFC with six stoppage wins. At 34, he’s in his prime as a heavyweight fighter, but traditionally heavyweight champions have had a hard time hanging on to their belts. That makes sense when you consider how hard heavyweights hit, including Miocic’s opponent Overeem.
Overeem, the former Strikeforce champ, started his UFC career with a disappointing 2-3 record, but he’s turned the corner and is currently riding a four-fight win streak with back-to-back highlight-reel knockouts over Junior dos Santos and Andrei Arlovski. Overeem is 36 and has a chin that has let him down in the past, but there’s no doubting he has massive power in all of his limbs. This should be a fantastic heavyweight title fight and considering the power both men possess, don’t blink, because a finish could come at any time.
2) Werdum, Browne Clash in Heavyweight Rematch
Former UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum returns to the Octagon for the first time since losing his belt to Miocic at UFC 198 when he takes on Travis Browne in a rematch. Browne is a short-notice replacement for Ben Rothwell, who pulled out of the fight with an injury. As stated, this is a rematch, as Werdum and Browne previously fought at UFC on FOX 11 back in April 2014. At the time, Browne was looking like the next big thing in the heavyweight division and entered the fight as a significant favorite, but the underrated Werdum dominated the fight as the underdog, winning each of the five rounds on the scorecards and emerging as a title threat. Werdum eventually won the heavyweight belt with his upset win over Cain Velasquez, but after dropping his belt in his first title defense to Miocic, this rematch against Browne is a must-win if he ever wants to get his belt back.
As for Browne, he was recently knocked out by Velasquez so the UFC has given him a golden opportunity to get back on track by getting a win over the highly-ranked Werdum. This should be an exciting fight for however long it lasts, with the winner keeping their name relevant in the crowded heavyweight title picture.
3) CM Punk Makes UFC Debut
In one of the most-anticipated UFC debuts in some time, former WWE superstar CM Punk finally enters the Octagon when he takes on Mickey Gall in a welterweight contest. Punk’s debut has been a long time coming, as the former pro wrestler signed with the UFC in late 2014 and has been training with famed striking coach Duke Roufus ever since. After dealing with some training injuries that led to his debut being delayed, Punk finally makes his debut against Gall, who himself is green in the sport at just 2-0 as a pro. There has been training camp footage of Punk revealed in the past few weeks, and he doesn’t look like much of a fighter, but perhaps he isn’t showing all of his tricks to the public and is just trying to play mind games with Gall. We really won’t know what Punk will look like as a fighter until he gets into the cage, but we do know Gall has some solid skill. It’s an interesting match that is a bit of a wild card, but it’s definitely a fight that is going to get people to buy the pay-per-view because of Punk’s popularity.
4) Surging Rivera Gets Tough Test Against Faber
Jimmie Rivera has quietly emerged as a legitimate bantamweight contender with a perfect 3-0 record in his first three UFC fights, and now the New Jersey native gets a gigantic step up in competition against veteran Urijah Faber that will tell us whether or not Rivera is ready to fight for the title. Faber has lost all four of his UFC title fights, including a loss to champion Dominick Cruz in his last fight. While Faber will likely never be a UFC champion himself, he does remain an excellent gatekeeper to the upper-tier of the bantamweight division, and is the perfect test to see if Rivera is ready for a shot at the belt. Rivera has a very effective wrestle-boxing game while Faber remains one of the top grapplers in the division, which should lead to a very fun bout between these two in what could possibly be a “Fight of the Night” contender when it’s all said and done.
5) Women’s Strawweight Contenders Andrade, Calderwood Fight
Two of the top women’s strawweights on the UFC roster meet in a fight with potential title implications as Jessica Andrade fights Joanne Calderwood in the pay-per-view opener. Andrade recently dropped down to 115lbs for the first time in her career and looked phenomenal, taking out former title challenger Jessica Penne via second-round TKO. The Brazilian had a lot of success as a bantamweight, but as a strawweight she could very well be a future champion as she is much better-suited for her new weight class due to her small size and stature.
As for Calderwood, the Scot recently picked up a win over Valerie Letourneau at 125lbs, but is dropping back down to 115lbs for this fight. Calderwood has been inconsistent in her UFC career, but she’s always had a lot of potential and finally showed some of it against Letourneau. It remains to be seen how the weight cut back down to strawweight will affect her, though, making this fight against Andrade highly-intriguing. Both Andrade and Calderwood are willing to stand and strike, which should lead to a crowd-pleasing fight for the fans, with the winner possibly getting a title shot in their next outing.
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