On Saturday night Madison Square Garden will play host to the UFC’s latest pay-per-view show as two-division world champion Daniel Cormier will put his heavyweight title on the line against fan favourite and knockout specialist Derrick Lewis at UFC 230.
But a glance below the main event reveals a card packed to the gills with middleweight matchups.
Four middleweight clashes, back-to-back, will form the bulk of the main card at UFC 230, setting things up perfectly for the heavyweight title fight in the main event.
But what should you be looking out for in that quartet of middleweight clashes? Here’s everything you need to know.
CHRIS WEIDMAN vs RONALDO “JACARE” SOUZA
For Chris Weidman, the bout offers a second chance to win a huge bout at Madison Square Garden.
The New York native shocked the world when he sensationally knocked out Anderson Silva in Las Vegas to win the UFC middleweight title back in 2013.
But after three straight title defences he lost the belt to Luke Rockhold at UFC 194, then was knocked out at “The Garden” by a Yoel Romero flying knee at UFC 205.
Weidman was set to face Rockhold this weekend, but injury to the Californian forced a change of opponent, with Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza moving up the card to face the New Yorker.
“Jacare” is a former Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion with some of the best grappling in the sport, but he’s far from a one-trick pony. The 38-year-old Brazilian also has notable knockout wins over Derek Brunson and Vitor Belfort on his record.
Both men faced off against rising contender Kelvin Gastelum in their most recent matchups, with differing results. Weidman finished Gastelum via arm-triangle choke in July 2017, while Souza lost a split decision to The Ultimate Fighter winner at UFC 224 in May this year.
That loss led some to cast doubts over Souza’s ability to cut it at the very top level at the age of 38.
But that thought will be a million miles from Weidman’s mind as he looks to secure a first win at “The Garden” and earn himself a chance to win back the title he lost in 2016.
Both men have heavy hands, both are excellent grapplers and both have eyes on a potential shot at the UFC middleweight title. It should be a superb matchup.
THE ODDS: Weidman 4/7, Souza 5/4
PUB AMMO: “Jacare” is Portuguese for “Alligator”, and Souza crawls, alligator style, into the cage ahead of every fight. His fans also hail their hero with huge up-and-down “alligator jaws” claps.
DAVID BRANCH vs JARED CANNONIER
You have to feel for David Branch heading into this weekend’s bout. The veteran middleweight was all set to face elite-level opposition in the form of “Jacare” Souza, only for Luke Rockhold’s injury withdrawal to cause a shakeup on the card and leave him facing a dangerous replacement with little of the star power of his original opponent.
Jared Cannonier is a heavy-handed former heavyweight, who has worked his way down through light-heavyweight to the 185-pound middleweight class, where he’ll make his divisional debut this weekend.
And while his record in the UFC is somewhat patchy (he’s won three and lost four in his UFC stint to date), he has shown his ability to take bigger men the distance, as evidenced by his recent bouts against highly-ranked light-heavyweight stars Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira.
Branch should have the edge, however.
The Brooklyn native has lost just once since November 2012, and knocked out dangerous Brazilian Thiago “Marreta” Santos inside a round in his most recent outing.
It might not be the sexiest matchup on the card, but it might just produce some of the best action.
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Shit crazy… been living in New York my whole life, I been to as many games @thegarden as I’ve competed or fought there. But I walked past this place a bunch of times watching #PRIDE at the time thinking one day do I’ll battle here. When I was a kid I used to daydream about shit like this in school which is why I didn’t do so well in class. #PressureMakeThePipeGoBoom #UFC230
THE ODDS: Branch 2/9, Cannonier 11/4
PUB AMMO: Prior to his move to the UFC, Branch held the middleweight and light-heavyweight titles in World Series of Fighting promotion (now known as the Professional Fighters League).
KARL ROBERSON vs JACK MARSHMAN
Former paratrooper Jack Marshman doesn’t know how to be in a boring fight, and there’s every chance his bout with American Karl Roberson will be another exciting contest as both men look to bounce back from recent submission defeats.
Roberson came storming into the UFC following a 15-second knockout win on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, while Welsh star Marshman earned his stripes after winning titles on the domestic scene in England.
And on Saturday night the pair will face off in search of a statement victory to move up the middleweight ladder and earn a matchup against one of the division’s bigger names.
I suspect Roberson may well look to use his wrestling and ground game to nullify Marshman’s heavy-handed boxing. But if the fight stays standing, we could well have a Fight of the Night contender on our hands.
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NOV 3 MSG NEWYORK CITY UFC230 !!! WE ARE BACK BABY!!! LETTT GOOOOO!!! @karl_babyk_roberson vs @jackmarshman19 #ufc #team #baby #k From the rumors I hear he is s banger hopefully they aren't false!!! #suckerpunch #mhpstrong #jerseyshore #Newyorkfighting #bulldogstrong #thrive #drbjj
THE ODDS: Roberson 1/3, Marshman 2/1
PUB AMMO: Marshman won titles with both of the UK’s biggest promotions – the BAMMA Lonsdale Middleweight Title and the Cage Warriors Middleweight Title – before earning his shot in the UFC.
DEREK BRUNSON vs ISRAEL ADESANYA
The opening bout on the main card offers perhaps the most intriguing matchup of the four, as former kickboxing ace Israel Adesanya looks to continue on his journey to the top of mixed martial arts against one of the hardest hitters in the UFC’s 185-pound division.
Derek Brunson is a power puncher who has finished each of his last six wins by knockout or TKO. Even more impressively, he’s taken out all six of those wins inside a round.
But, while the American is undoubtedly a threat with his power, his wild fighting style cost him dear in stoppage defeats to Robert Whittaker and “Jacare” Souza, who were able to exploit holes in his striking defence. He may find himself in similar trouble against Adesanya this weekend, too.
The Kiwi is the best pure striker in the UFC middleweight division.
“The Last Stylebender” has every strike in the book, and the ability to throw them with pinpoint accuracy. His decision win over Hawaii’s Brad Tavares in Las Vegas this summer showed that Adesanya not only has a phenomenal striking skillset, he also has a rapidly-evolving grappling game, too.
That skillset should stand him in good stead against Brunson, whose wide-open fighting style seems tailor-made for the ice-cool kickboxer from Auckland.
Adesanya looks like a UFC superstar in the making. Can he deliver on the big stage on Saturday night?
THE ODDS: Brunson 11/5, Adesanya 3/10
PUB AMMO: Before accepting a wrestling scholarship, Brunson was a competitive cheerleader in high school.