The UFC has a tradition of putting on one of the biggest cards of the year during the Fourth of July weekend, and 2014 is no exception. UFC 175 features two title fights, with middleweight champion Chris Weidman putting his belt up for grabs for the second time as he takes on former light heavyweight champ Lyoto Machida, and Ronda Rousey also back in action for the third time inside of seven months when she defends her women’s bantamweight title against Canadian grappler Alexis Davis.
Stefan Struve also makes his long-awaited return to the Octagon after missing the last year after discovering a heart condition that nearly ended his career. Former Ultimate Fighter human highlight reel Uriah Hall also fights on the card against Thiago Santos in an interesting middleweight matchup.
With so much at stake, the fantasy game for UFC 175 is going to be huge, so today we'll preview the fights on the main card to give you the tips to come out on top come Saturday night.
CHRIS WEIDMAN (-200 FAVORITE) VS. LYOTO MACHIDA (+170 UNDERDOG)
Chris Weidman will finally move past his two fights and two wins over the greatest fighter of all-time, Anderson Silva, and look to defend his middleweight title against a new contender as former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida steps up to the challenge. And it's a tall mountain to climb.
Weidman has been virtually untouchable in his UFC career. He's 7-0 thus far in the Octagon, and every single time he's had a full training camp to prepare for an opponent, the fight hasn't made it out of the second round. Weidman is the truest definition of a mixed martial artist. He has never been out struck in any of his UFC fights and he lands 3.15 significant strikes of his own per minute. In wrestling, Weidman is prolific, as he puts an opponent on the mat an average of four times per 15 minutes and he has the fourth highest takedown accuracy in UFC history. Weidman is the complete package and he's not going to be easy to topple.
Machida is no slouch, however, especially considering the championship experience he brings in from his time atop the 205-pound division. The Brazilian has landed the fourth most knockdowns in UFC history thanks to his 56 percent accuracy in the striking department. He's also more than capable of avoiding the takedown as well, considering that he stuffs 81.8 percent of his opponent's attempts, which is third best all-time in the UFC light heavyweight division. Since dropping down to middleweight, Machida has looked even better while dusting Mark Munoz in the first round before a dominant five-round decision over Gegard Mousasi in his last fight.
The real gamble in this fight might come down to conditioning, as strange as that sounds with these two highly skilled mixed martial artists. Weidman is an incredibly fast starter and Machida has rarely done the same during his career. The champion pushes a quick pace and looks to land maximum damage from the moment the referee says 'fight,' but if he can't get Machida out of there inside the first three rounds, will he fade? Despite two title fights on his record, Weidman has never gone past 15 minutes in a fight, but Machida is very capable of fighting hard for all five rounds because he's done it on several occasions.
Still, Weidman is so good early and such a prolific finisher that this fight may end up resembling Machida's bout with Jon Jones from a couple of years ago. Weidman is smart enough to respect Machida's karate-based striking style, but once he finds his range, the New Yorker drops bombs with serious power and his wrestling is virtually unstoppable. The best bet for this championship main event is Weidman putting Machida down early, hurting him with punches and elbows and finishing the fight before the fourth round ever starts.
RONDA ROUSEY (-1500 FAVORITE) VS. ALEXIS DAVIS (+700)
The odds in this fight are quite lopsided, but UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey has earned the right to be such a heavy favorite with an undefeated record and a perfect finishing rate through every one of her professional fights.
Rousey is a judo expert with all of her takedowns coming from the clinch, where she lands with 70 percent accuracy, and once she's on the ground, the champion is an absolute technician. She's got a fight-finishing armbar that's nearly impossible to escape from, and at this point in her career, Rousey already had the second most submissions via that technique in UFC/Strikeforce/PRIDE/WEC history, behind only Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira for the all-time record. Rousey has also worked tirelessly on her striking, where she's taken significant strides in the last year, as showcased in her first-round drubbing of Sara McMann in her last fight, where she dropped the former Olympic medalist with a knee to the body in the first round before finishing the fight on the ground.
What Rousey will face in Alexis Davis is by far the toughest opponent she's ever taken on since winning the title a couple of years ago. Davis is gritty and seems to only get better after she gets bloodied up in a fight. The Canadian is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt with serious skills on the ground, where she's competed in several grappling tournaments and has plenty of submissions to her credit as well. Another bonus on her side is the fact that Davis has never been submitted by any opponent and has only legitimately been finished once and that was the first fight of her career (the other finish was a doctor's stoppage in the middle of a round). Davis has an incredible heart and she won't fade away just because she goes down a round or two earlier.
The odds and history say Rousey should win and she likely will walk out still holding her title once the fight is over. If there is one upset brewing, however, it's the fact that this may be the first time she doesn't get a finish because Davis' ground skills could give Rousey problems, even with her tremendous submission game. Davis' best bet will be dragging this fight into the third, fourth and fifth rounds and see if she can test Rousey's gas tank and then looking for a ground attack with elbows and submissions.
The champ should retain here, but for some extra fantasy points, look at a decision win as the possible destination for this fight.
STEFAN STRUVE (-180 FAVORITE) VS. MATT MITRIONE (+140 UNDERDOG)
Following more than a year away from the sport, Stefan Struve returns to action looking to reclaim his spot in the heavyweight top ten and he'll try to go through former Ultimate Fighter season 10 competitor Matt Mitrione to do it.
Prior to his layoff and loss to Mark Hunt in his last fight, Struve was on a four-fight win streak that included wins over Pat Barry, Lavar Johnson and, most notably, a finish over Stipe Miocic. Struve has incredible range with his 7-foot frame, although only recently did he start to use his reach and length in fights more often. Struve has a slick submission game, especially off his back, where he uses those long legs to often wrap up an opponent in an armbar or triangle choke.
Mitrione is a powerhouse on the feet and a real athlete in the heavyweight division with solid 50.39 percent accuracy on the feet and just under 58 percent takedown defense. Mitrione is a pure stand-up fighter, but he has to be on the lookout for Struve's deceptive takedowns, where he might even pull guard to get this fight to the ground if that's where he wants it.
As much talent as Mitrione showcases in many of his fights, where this one separates dramatically is in the level of experience against top-rated opponents. While Struve certainly has a few losses on his record since coming to the UFC, the only fighters that beat him are the real cream of the crop of the heavyweight division. Outside of those bouts, Struve has been a wrecking machine against the rest of the weight class and unfortunately Mitrione falls into that category for this fight.
If Struve's recovery from a heart problem is as good as he says it is, then he should have no problem dragging this fight to the ground and slipping in a submission before the first-round horn sounds. This one may go into the second round, but either way, Struve's hand should be raised when the fight is over.
URIAH HALL (-425 FAVORITE) VS. THIAGO SANTOS (+305 UNDERDOG)
Former Ultimate Fighter runner-up Uriah Hall will walk into his fight at UFC 175 as a comfortable favorite, but the question, as always, will be where his head is at when approaching a battle inside the Octagon.
Hall is an incredibly gifted fighter with laser-sighted accuracy, where he nails opponents with 56.76 percent of his strikes and has the ability to mix in some takedowns as well when the situation calls for it. Hall averages 1.71 takedowns per 15 minutes, so he's not afraid to mix it up on the ground, although standing is where he does the most damage.
He'll have a willing dance partner this time with Thiago Santos standing across the Octagon from him. The Brazilian is a knockout artist who lands 4.2 strikes per minute and has yet to attempt a takedown in his UFC career. He's a fighter who lives and dies by the sword - either his opponent goes down or he goes down. There's no third direction.
It's for this reason why Hall stands as such a sizable favorite in this fight with his dynamic striking arsenal and huge power in both his hands and feet. Hall looked like he finally kicked the mental blocks he had coming off The Ultimate Fighter with his last fight, and hopefully that carries forward into this one as well. If Hall finds an unapologetic mean streak during this fight, Santos might wake up staring at the lights wondering if he's in the United States or back home in Brazil. Either way, Hall should get the finish, and given his tendency for the spectacular, it could be one of the highlights of the night.