The most talented fighter in MMA history, unofficially, gets the perfect platform on which to deliver potentially his greatest ever performance this weekend. It's Anderson Silva, it's the UFC middleweight title, and it's Rio, Brazil. The legendary Brazilian has already delivered enough spectacular moments to fill a documentary, but has he been saving something special for his own fans? We're about to find out...
Anderson Silva v Yushin Okami
Where the fight could be won or lost: With all due respect, the best way to summarize Yushin Okami is he's a won an incredibly impressive amount of fights in a very unimpressive way. He won't wow you, but he doesn't have holes either. He's improved on the feet and uses his reach well. Great takedown defense and he's good in the scramble. Like Anderson Silva, he's also huge for the weight class.
How does that match up in this fight? Well, the best way to beat Silva is probably to do what Chael Sonnen did, which is what Dan Henderson did for one round: take him down and force him to fight off his back. That's not really Okami's game, though. He'll try to be that man in this fight, because if he stands as much as he has in his last few fights, he's toast. Almost inevitably we'll see Silva take a loss at some point in the Octagon, but it won't be in this fight. Okami will not be able to get him to the ground with the success Sonnen did. That means Okami will have to win it on his feet - and good luck with that. It's a large price to lay down, but Silva will absolutely win this fight.
The pick: Anderson Silva - KO
Shogun Rua v Forrest Griffin
Where the fight could be won or lost: There's not a ton you can take from the first meeting in 2007. Both are different now, although not vastly. If you're Forrest Griffin, you've got to defend the takedown better this time around. He's not bad off his back, but he's a decision fighter and getting judges to side with you from the bottom is tough work. He'll look for chances to get on top throughout the fight. His success in doing so could very well determine the result.
Interesting to see how Mauricio Rua looks following the worst loss off his life against Jon Jones. He gassed badly in the 2007 fight, and even though there were contributing factors to that, it has to be a concern in this matchup. Griffin's cardio is tops in the division. You have to prepare for that as much as anything else. It's understandable to see why oddsmakers have Rua as a favourite, but that does not mean he is the winner here. He has the finishing ability that Griffin lacks, but this fight is even in most other areas. If Griffin is your pick, it's not ideal that the fight is in Brazil. But he's in a good mental place right now, and is Rua really superior enough to warrant the tag of favourite? No.
The pick: Forrest Griffin - Unanimous decision
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira v Brendan Schaub
Where the fight could be won or lost: What does Antonio Nogueira have left in the tank for what will be professional fight No. 41? Evidence suggests not much. The Brazilian will go down as a legend, but he's showing every minute of his long career - especially in knockout losses to Frank Mir and Cain Velasquez, when he couldn't let his hands go. He's slowed to the point he looks borderline confused because his opponents are moving at about twice his speed.
Brendan Schaub must know to respect Nogueira's ground game. If Nog is to pull off a submission, he's got to get a takedown because Schaub isn't going to follow him to the ground. Never say never, but it's hard to see Nogueira being explosive enough to bring down a 28-year-old former NFL player at this point in his career. Nogueira has just slowed too visibly in recent years. And we haven't even mentioned that he's coming off an 18-month layoff.
The pick: Brendan Schaub - TKO
Edson Barboza v Ross Pearson
Where the fight could be won or lost: Let's talk Edson Barboza first. He's blazing fast, which is a good start. Devastating leg kicks are his calling card. Hands are more predictable, but they're technical. It's mostly a 1-2 combination he's throwing, but it's straight and, again, the speed helps. Not sure what happens when he runs into a wrestler, but he's not in this fight, so we won't worry about it.
Ross Pearson has quietly done very well for himself since TUF 9. He's got to let his hands go in this fight and cut off the cage to work inside. He won't be as quick as the Brazilian, but his hand speed isn't slow and he'll have his opportunities. There is also evidence of the Brit working hard on his grappling in between fights, too. Barboza opens as favourite, but if Pearson can get his hands on him, he can work dominant positions. Pearson might not be able to do anything if he gets Barboza down, but we all know takedowns can win close fights.
The pick: Edson Barboza - TKO