If you’re not excited for UFC 146 this weekend, you’re not allowed to call yourself a fight fan.
I’m not talked about looking forward to one or two fights either. I’m talking about full-blown, counting down the minutes until the fight card starts-type of excited because from top to bottom, this is easily the best fight card of the year, and one of the best in recent memory too.
Yes, it’s that good. No, you shouldn’t miss it. Consider yourself warned.
The main card of this weekend’s event is an all-heavyweight affair: five bouts pairing heavyweight knockout artists together in what the UFC hopes will be a symphony of violence. If the division’s track record so far this year is any indication, we should be in for an explosive pay-per-view, as 10 of the 12 UFC heavyweight contests in 2012 have produced finishes, eight of them coming in the opening round.
UFC 146 Fight Card
- dos Santos (14-1) vs. Mir (16-5)
- Velasquez (9-1) vs. Silva (16-3)
- Miocic (8-0) vs. del Rosario (11-0)
- Herman (21-3) vs. Nelson (16-7)
- L. Johnson (17-5) vs. Struve (23-5)
- Brandao (14-7) vs. Elkins (13-2)
- Varner (19-6-1) vs. Barboza (10-0)
- Dollaway (11-4) vs. Miller (23-8)
- Ludwig (21-12) vs. Hardy (23-10)
- Sass (12-0) vs. Volkmann (14-2)
- Teixeira (17-2) vs. Kingsbury (11-3)
- MTB (25-8) vs. Pineda (17-7)
Headlining Saturday’s festivities at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada is the first title defense of champion Junior dos Santos (14-1), the heavy-hitting Brazilian who is all smiles outside of the cage, but all business when once the bell sounds. Unbeaten through his first eight appearances in the Octagon, “Cigano” looks to extend his winning streak and begin what he hopes is a lengthy title reign by defeating two-time former champion Frank Mir (16-5).
The Las Vegas native, who celebrated his 33rd birthday on Thursday, is looking to become the first man to hold the heavyweight title on three separate occasions. Mir was elevated to the main event when Alistair Overeem was forced from the card, and enters Saturday’s contest on a three-fight winning streak. Most recently, the dangerous Brazilian jiu-jitsu stylist earned a second career victory over dos Santos’ mentor, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, becoming the first man to submit the former Pride standout when he broke Nogueira’s arm with a kimura at UFC 140 in December.
While the main event has garnered the majority of the attention heading into the weekend, the rest of the main card offers a number of intriguing match-ups and storylines as well.
Former champion Cain Velasquez (9-1) returns for the first time since losing the belt in November. One of the most complete fighters in the heavyweight division when healthy, the American Kickboxing Academy product takes on Strikeforce veteran Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva (16-3)in the co-main event, and could earn himself a shot at the winner of dos Santos-Mir with an impressive performance on Saturday night.
The middle of the main card features a match-up between a pair of unbeaten heavyweight prospects, as Stipe Miocic (8-0) steps up on short notice to face Shane del Rosario (11-0). Miocic has earned a pair of wins inside the Octagon already, most recently needing just 43 seconds to knock out British heavyweight Phil De Fries in February.
Saturday night’s contest will likely be an emotional one for del Rosario, as the 28-year-old returns for the first time since last February after his career was nearly brought to an end when a drunk struck his car drive last May. Prior to the accident, del Rosario had collected a first-round submission win over Lavar Johnson, and established himself as one to watch in the heavyweight ranks, so it will be interesting to see if he’s able to return to form after more than a year away from the cage.
Speaking of Johnson, the swaggering heavyweight knockout artist looks for his third UFC win — and second in the month of May — this weekend, as he takes on Dutchman Stefan Struve. Johnson earned a first-round knockout of Pat Barry earlier this month, and steps in to face Struve for the injured Mark Hunt. Though he’s shown tremendous power in his hands, Johnson’s Achilles heel has always been his submission defense, and while Struve is always up for trading shots, the 6’11” “Skyscraper” is also quite adept on the ground.
Rounding out the main card is a match-up between two of the biggest characters in the heavyweight ranks, as Roy “Big Country” Nelson brings his sizeable gut, grizzly beard, and flowing mullet into the cage to face Dave “PeeWee” Herman, a care-free fighter whose been know to stroll to the cage with Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” blaring through the venue’s speakers.
The preliminary portion of the card features seven quality match-ups, with a pair of British fighters looking to have their hand raised.
Unbeaten submission artist Paul Sass (12-0) gets his toughest draw to date, standing across the cage from NCAA wrestler Jacob Volkmann (14-2), a savvy grappler who has earned five consecutive wins since moving down to the lightweight division.
Making his return for the first time in nine months, Dan “The Outlaw” Hardy (23-10) looks to bring an end to his four-fight losing streak in a welterweight contest with veteran Duane “Bang” Ludwig (21-12). After earing four consecutive victories to begin his UFC career, Hardy lost his bid to become welterweight champion, dropping a unanimous decision to Georges St-Pierre at UFC 111. It’s been all downhill since.
Three more losses followed, and while many expected the Nottingham native to get the axe, Hardy was given a stay of execution. If he’s unable to emerge with a win this weekend, he might not be so lucky this time.
You can catch UFC 146 on ESPN UK starting at 3:00am Sunday morning.