“One Punch” Brad Pickett (20-6) and “The Angel of Death” Damacio Page (15-6) will hit the airwaves on Fuel TV this Saturday to kick off the first UFC fight card in over a month. Shored up by fights like “The Darkness” DaMarques Johnson (15-9) vs. “The One” John Maguire (17-3) and Dennis Siver (19-8) vs. “The Gun” Diego Nunes (17-2), UFC on Fuel TV: Gustafsson vs. Silva has the perfect line up to get fans ready for the following weekend’s UFC 145 card. Paulo Thiago (14-3) will step in to welcome hardcore favorite “Siyar the Great” Siyar Bahadurzada (20-4-1) as an anchor to the event preceding a co-main event between middleweight favorites “All-American” Brian Stann (11-4) and “Legionarius” Alessio Sakara (15-8). As always, all eyes are on the main event. This time it’s a knockout fan’s dream match between Swedish powerhouse Alexander Gustafsson (13-1) and returning beleaguered light heavyweight star Thiago Silva (14-2, 1 NC). The match is an important one for both men as it represents a major turning point in their respective careers.
At First Glance: This match is do or die for Thiago Silva. He entered his UFC 125 bout with “The Truth” Brandon Vera (12-5) on the heels of his second loss in three bouts following a year-long lay-off. He completely dominated Vera, but later admitted to using a banned substance to treat a back injury prior to the fight as well as using a substance to attempt to conceal the fact from the Nevada State Athletic Commission. He served his time for the infraction, but now he will face a dangerous fighter with a ton of hype behind him not only on short notice, but with visions of defeat and dishonor coloring the memories that MMA fans have of him. However, the bout isn’t all wine and roses for Gustafsson, either. The young Swede is on a brutal tear of four straight finishes and is now at the point where a win turns the corner from blue chipper to potential title contender, but a loss in front of his hometown crowd could mean a one or two-year career setback.
In Depth: Gustafsson is on a major hot streak heading into his fight with Silva. In the time that Silva has been under NSAC suspension, the Swede has finished three opponents including TKO wins over a highly respected veteran and a top class collegiate wrestler. He is a dangerous striker with a tight submission game and strong takedown defense who has a ton of momentum behind him. Thiago Silva, however, will make sure he needs every advantage he can drum up. Silva is a very powerful striker and while he lacks the takedown abilities of Gustafsson’s prior foes, he is a far superior submission fighter to the Swede’s previous opponents. Silva also has the distinct advantage of having faced and defeated strikers who are far superior to Gustafsson. The fact that only former UFC champions have managed to defeat Silva is just another strong point in the argument against the young prospect coming out ahead in this match-up. Silva is a more powerful and experienced striker with a more advanced ground game and a healthy amount more experience than his opponent.
Wild Card: While every piece of statistical and “hard” data points clearly in favor of the Brazilian, the intangibles are just as strongly backing Gustafsson. Thiago Silva hasn’t fought in over a year and was injured to the point that illegal agents were needed to get him in fighting shape for that bout. He is also facing a hostile crowd, jet lag, and an opponent who clearly has career momentum in his favor. Any one of these factors could be enough to make Silva’s return to the Octagon a nightmare, especially against a highly skilled finisher like Alexander Gustafsson.
The Verdict: Every young rising star eventually gets to the point where he has cleared out the other prospects and the veterans he is slated to face are no longer the over-the-hill kings of yesterday. Gustafsson has reached this point. While Silva has been out of action for some time and may have lingering injuries and other concerns facing him, he is still head and shoulders above the competition that Gustafsson has faced so far in his MMA career. Unfortunately for the Swede, Silva is also better than Gustafsson at what the young prospect does best. The ring rust on Silva and the hype behind Gustafsson will even the gap and make for an exciting, if short, bout, but Silva is in a class that is just outside of the Swede’s current reach. Silva via TKO (Punches), Round 1