The UFC returns to the MGM Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada for one the most anticipated comebacks in UFC history.

Lackluster Year

The UFC is coming off a lackluster 2014 in terms of PPV buys because of the absence of big name superstars like Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva. Both former longtime champs walked away from the sport with St. Pierre vacating his welterweight title after a controversial split decision win over Johny Hendricks at UFC 167 and Silva suffering a major leg injury during his attempt to regain his belt at UFC 168. St. Pierre has decided not to return yet, but Silva has decided to give one more shot at glory.

The G.O.A.T

Silva is universally recognized as the greatest mixed martial artist of all time. The 39-year old Brazilian holds the longest title defense streak in UFC history with 10 title defenses embedded in a 16-fight winning streak that spanned over six years. But that aura of invincibility came to an end against the current UFC middleweight champion, Chris Weidman, who became the first man to defeat Silva twice and in consecutive fights. Weidman knocked out a clowning Silva during their first encounter at UFC 162 and then checked on a leg kick that led to one of the most gruesome injuries ever caught on national TV. Silva has been out of action since that incident, and while he’s claimed a full recovery, there will be more questions than answers going into Saturday night.

The Problem Child

Nick Diaz may not be as equally popular as Anderson Silva but he also boasts a rockstar status in the UFC. The former Strikeforce and WEC welterweight champion has not fought since March of 2013 when he lost a one sided contest to Georges St. Pierre in the battle for the UFC welterweight title. Diaz was a superstar in both the WEC and Strikeforce and after an impressive UFC debut where he beat BJ Penn in 2011, he dropped two straight bouts, including the St. Pierre title challenge. Diaz went into hibernation and stated that he would only come out of retirement if the UFC gave him a big and meaningful fight. A fight against Anderson Silva definitely fit his requirement and it was enough to pull him out of his cave even if he has to fight at middleweight for the first time since 2009.

Who Takes it?

Despite the questions on his health and mindset, Silva is the clear favorite here at -450 while Diaz is a heavy underdog at +350. The biggest question surrounding this bout is how Anderson Silva will react if Diaz starts to target that surgically repaired leg. More than the physical aspect of it, it’s the mental side that experts are worried about. On the other hand, the catch about Diaz is the weight class. Many are questioning how he will carry the extra pounds inside the Octagon.

Age is a factor because Silva is near his 40th birthday while Diaz is eight years younger, but Silva does have tons of octagon experience tucked under his belt, while Diaz has fought just three times in the UFC. Both men have been out of action for a long time and while dormancy brings ring rust, Diaz has been away on his terms and has been doing light training even without fighting in the UFC. On the other hand, Silva has had to undergo a long rehabilitation which started from learning how to walk again to how to use a surgically repaired leg in a fight. Both men are southpaws, thus negating the usual natural advantage they had against their previous opponents. Silva has not fought a southpaw since 2012 and Diaz since 2008, so it would be interesting how each adjust to this.

Most experts predict this fight will stay on its feet with these two dynamic strikers. Silva is known for his precise striking while Diaz lands plenty of blows because of volume. Target-wise Silva is the more diverse striker with a good mixture of head (64%), body (17%) and legs (19%). Diaz is a one-sided head hunter, targeting the opponent’s head 85% of the time. Stylistically, this fight looks like a perfect match because Silva is more of a counter striker while Diaz would be the wild aggressor. However, Silva does pack more knockout power (twice more KOs as Diaz) and more so that they are fighting at his weight class. The key here is the punching game in how Diaz will take the strikes of a full-fledged middleweight.

Title Shot Next?

Silva has been promised a title shot by the UFC if he wins. But he will need to win in spectacular fashion if he wants the fans to see him fight Weidman a third time ( if Weidman beats Belfort). Silva’s lost twice already to the stronger, heftier and younger Weidman. He needs to prove that he is still the same “Spider” who dominated the Octagon in the past. It’s a crossroad fight for Silva, whether he likes it or not. The world has been  waiting for his return. Let’s hope he doesn’t break a leg, figuratively and literally.

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