UFC 203 Preview: Heavy hitters and a wrestling superstar

This weekend the UFC heads to Cleveland for the first time with a line-up that has something for everyone. From the colossal power of the heavyweights in the main and co-main event to the hotly anticipated, if not contentious, debut of former WWE superstar CM Punk.

In the main event heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic looks to record his first title defence against combat sports legend, Alistair Overeem. Miocic captured the heavyweight belt at UFC 198, starching Fabricio Werdum in the first round with a beautiful short right hand.

Miocic to some can appear one dimensional however the Cleveland native is far from just a heavy hitter. Miocic expertly combines his golden glove champion level boxing with his NCAA division 1 wrestling seamlessly, pounding on his opponents both on the feet and when the fight hits the canvas.

The man standing across the cage from Miocic needs no introduction. Overeem is a veteran of 55 MMA bouts and has a string of kickboxing titles to boot. If he can capture the UFC heavyweight title on Sunday Overeem will cement himself as one of the most dominant athletes in combat sports history.

As a former K1 champion Overeem brings a tantalising array of striking techniques to the octagon; from picture perfect knees to jumping switch kicks, the big man can do it all. With his kickboxing background people often forget that Overeem is more than capable if the fight hits the ground, indeed he has more submission wins than Miocic has professional fights.

Another heavyweight fight is scheduled for the co-main event as Fabricio Werdum looks to bounce back from his knockout loss to Miocic as he rematches the always-dangerous Travis Browne. The first fight between the two resulted in a one-sided decision victory to Werdum, who was able to utilise his aggressive Muay Thai style to overwhelm Browne over five rounds.

While Werdum’s striking has improved greatly under the tutelage of Rafael Cordeiro, he truly is a Brazilian jiu jitsu fighter at heart. Werdum will look for any opportunity to get the fight to the floor, often falling to his back and gesturing for his opponent to jump into his guard. For most fighters this would be a clear error, yet Werdum’s BJJ skills are so revered that it is often a death trap to engage with him on the ground.

Standing at 6’7” Travis Browne is a true behemoth of the heavyweight division, his sheer athleticism coupled with the advantages his height bring make him a challenge for anyone. The most dangerous aspect of the Hawaiian’s game is his striking, with fierce boxing and a patented front snap kick that he throws to the face. A lot is on the line for both fighters, a win would propel them within reach of the title, while a loss would put either on a 2 fight losing streak.

Perhaps the most anticipated fight on UFC 203 is between two fighters with hardly any professional experience. Former WWE superstar CM Punk takes on 2-0 Mickey Gall in a bout where no one really knows what to expect. Punk’s UFC signing was decisive in the MMA world with some hoping to see him get knocked out while others cheering for him as the underdog.

What makes Punk’s debut so intriguing is the fact that the man doesn’t need to fight. He doesn’t need a bucket load of cash from the UFC…the motivation is not so much financial as much as it is simply wanting to test himself on the biggest stage. In saying that, from all reports Mickey Gall is no joke, and with a brown belt in BJJ he may be too much for the green Punk to handle.

The fight card and scheduled times for Sunday September 11 is as follows:

Main Card PPV 12pm (AEST)

  • Stipe Miocic vs. Alistair Overeem
  • Travis Browne vs. Fabricio Werdum
  • Mickey Gall vs. CM Punk
  • Urijah Faber vs. Jimmie Rivera
  • Jessica Andrade vs. Joanne Calderwood

Preliminary Card FOX Sports 10am (AEST)

  • Bethe Correia vs. Jessica Eye
  • Michael McBride vs. Nik Lentz
  • Caio Magalhaes vs. Brad Tavares

Preliminary Card Fight Pass 8.30am (AEST)

  • Yancy Medeiros vs. Sean Spencer
  • C.B. Dollaway vs. Francimar Barroso
  • Drew Dober vs. Jason Gonzalez
Jake Crane is a Melbourne based contributor for Fight News Australia.