“Big” hardly begins to do justice to this Saturday’s UFC 203 pay-per-view event.
In the main event, two of the top heavyweight strikers in the world will throw leather for the UFC heavyweight championship, as Ohio-native and current heavyweight titleholder Stipe Miocic will attempt to make his first title defense against multiple-time kickboxing and mixed martial arts champion, Alistair Overeem.
Miocic enters UFC 203 on the heels of the biggest win of his professional mix martial arts career: a first round, face-plant-inducing knockout of then-champion Fabricio Werdum at UFC 198, which took place in Curitiba, Brazil, in May. The former Golden Gloves champ stunned Werdum early with crisp counter punches and landed a check right hook to the chin that sent the Brazilian crashing face-first to the canvas.
As referee Dan Miragliotta waved off the fight, Miocic ran across the octagon mat, dove over the cage fence to embrace his corner, and began screaming, “I’m the world champ!” repeatedly at the shocked and silenced Brazilian crowd.
At UFC 203, the tables have turned significantly for Miocic, who will undoubtedly have the hometown advantage in front of the live audience at the Quickens Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Additionally, while Miocic had a marked striking advantage over Werdum, he will have to utilize precision striking and impeccable defense if he plans to stand toe-to-toe with Overeem, who has more professional MMA knockout wins (18) than Miocic has total professional fights (17).
For Alistair Overeem, his shot at UFC gold is the culmination of a 56-fight professional MMA career that already included notable wins over Vitor Belfort (twice), Mark Hunt, Todd Duffee, and Fabricio Werdum in Dream, Pride, Strikeforce, and K-1: Dynamite before he finally joined the UFC in 2011.
That December, Overeem made a big statement in his debut at UFC 141, crumpling former UFC heavyweight champ and WWE star Brock Lesnar with a body kick and finishing him with punches just two-minutes into their pay-per-view headlining fight.
The win effectively put the UFC’s heavyweight division on notice and many believed a title shot was all but imminent for the Dutch kickboxer. Unfortunately for “The Reem”, the Lesnar win was followed by two consecutive knockout losses at the hands of Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Travis “Hapa” Browne.
After alternating a win over Frank Mir and a loss to Ben Rothwell in 2014, accumulating a disappointing 2-3 UFC record in the process, Overeem has since put together an impressive four-fight win streak, including a five-round decision win over Roy “Big Country” Nelson and two consecutive TKO victories over former UFC champions Junior Dos Santos and Andrei Arlovski.
He will ride that momentum into the arena Saturday night and attempt to grasp UFC gold for the first time in his career, even if it means spoiling Miocic’s homecoming.
Prior to Saturday’s heavyweight title main event, former heavyweight champ Fabricio “Vai Cavalo” will try to rebound from his loss to Miocic in a rematch with Travis “Hapa” Browne, who accepted the fight on short notice when Werdum’s original opponent Ben Rothwell was forced to withdraw due to an injury.
After the UFC announced that Miocic would be fighting Overeem at 203, Werdum campaigned for a fight on the same card and was initially granted a co-main event slot against Rothwell, who was coming off of a decision loss to Junior Dos Santos. With Rothwell out, Werdum will now look for a win over Browne to re-establish his place at the front of the heavyweight lineup.
For Browne, UFC 203 represents an opportunity to regain his footing after a staggering TKO loss to former champ Cain Velasquez at UFC 200 in July. Browne has struggled to find consistency in his recent fights, going 2-3 since 2014, dating back to his first fight with Werdum, which he lost via unanimous decision.
While the main and co-main events at UFC 203 feature some of the most physically imposing fighters on the roster, the fighter casting the biggest shadow at Saturday’s pay-per-view is, arguably, former WWE star Phil “CM Punk” Brooks, who will be making his professional mixed martial arts debut against 2-0 fighter Mickey Gall.
“Punk” signed with the world’s biggest mixed martial arts promotion in December 2014 despite having no professional or amateur fighting experience. Although early rumors pegged his debut for late 2015, injuries and subsequent rehabilitation forced several delays until the Gall fight was finalized.
Gall was originally ‘discovered’ by UFC president Dana White on the web series Lookin’ for a Fight. When Gall caught wind that White was in attendance on the same night he was scheduled to make his professional MMA debut, he made the most of the rare opportunity by finishing his opponent and then used the post-fight interview to beg the UFC’s head honcho for a shot at CM Punk.
White was impressed by the performance, but wanted to see more from Gall before putting him in the cage with Punk, so he was given a tune-up fight against Mike Jackson. Gall made good on his side of the deal when he finished Jackson by rear-naked choke in the first round at UFC Fight Night 82 this past February.
Although Gall enters the octagon for his third professional bout, a victory over a name as recognizable as Punk’s will give him a newfound level of notoriety.
UFC 203 takes place Saturday, September 10 at the Quickens Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The main card airs on pay per view, with prelims airing on Fox Sports 1 and UFC Fight Pass.
Press Box Insider will be providing live updates and results her at pressboxinsider.com and on PBI’s Twitter.
As an added bonus, check out the full results of today’s UFC 203 Weigh-ins.
Main Card (PPV, 10 p.m. ET)
Champ Stipe Miocic (246) vs. Alistair Overeem (248.5)* – for UFC Heavyweight Title
Travis Browne (241) vs. Fabricio Werdum (239.5)
Phil “CM Punk” Brooks (170) vs. Mickey Gall (170.5)
Urijah Faber (136) vs. Jimmie Rivera (135.5)
Jessica Andrade (115.5) vs. Joanne Calderwood (116)
Televised Prelims (Fox Sport 1, 8 p.m. ET)
Bethe Correia (135) vs. Jessica Eye (135)
Nik Lentz (156) vs. Michael McBride (158)**
Caio Magalhaes (185.5) vs. Brad Tavares (186)
Francimar Barroso (205.5) vs. C.B. Dollaway (205)***
Fight Pass Prelims (Fight Pass, 7:30 p.m. ET)
Yancy Medeiros (171) vs. Sean Spencer (170)
Drew Dober (155) vs. Jason Gonzalez (156)
* – Alistair Overeem was fined $500 for arriving to the weigh-ins late
** – McBride did not make the 155lbs lightweight limit and will forfeit 20% of his fight purse
***– C.B. Dollaway suffered a back injury after Friday’s weigh-ins and was forced to withdraw from UFC 203. Barroso has been removed from the card as well.