UFC returns to New Jersey -- a place the promotion hasn't been for over two years -- this Saturday for UFC 78. It's fitting that the event is being held in Newark, just off I-95, because it could easily be called "UFC 78: E-ZPass." As in, one could see casual fans easily passing on paying pay-per-view dollar for a card that is noticeably lacking in star power.
UFC 78 features no title fights, no grudge matches, and no transcendental marquee names. Instead MMA fans are presented with what amounts to a night of undercard fights and will have to wait six more weeks for UFC 79 -- a monster event that does have fans buzzing.
Still, UFC 78 offers hardcore fight fans some intriguing bouts, including a matchup of undefeated The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) alums, a fight between streaking newcomers to the UFC light heavyweight division, and an interesting matchup between experienced welterweight veterans.
The main event features fighters who would be better marketed fighting the second half of rematch fights against other opponents. Evans has unfinished business against Tito Ortiz, whom he fought to a draw at UFC 73; and Bisping should be fighting Matt Hamill, whom he defeated in a hotly debated, split decision victory at UFC 75.
While Evans and Bisping are both TUF champs and sport undefeated records coming into this fight, being undefeated in MMA typically means a fighter hasn't fought enough quality opponents. It's hard to believe either is championship material quite yet or that either deserves a title shot for winning this bout.
Evans has a strong wrestling background and showed those skills in his last fight against Ortiz, but he has worked on his standup game as well, as evidenced by his kick that knocked Sean Salmon unconscious earlier this year. Bisping is primarily a striker, and while he wasn't able to prevent Hamill from taking him down in his last fight, he did effectively neutralize Hamill when they were on the ground. In the end, Evans' all-around game will be too much for Bisping.
Prediction: Evans by second round TKO due to strikes.
Outside of division champ Quinton Jackson, Alexander may be the hottest fighter in the light heavyweight division. He roared onto the scene by pummeling Keith Jardine at UFC 71 and followed that up with a similar dismantling of Alessio Sakara at UFC 75. Alexander is a high-energy pit bull who is very confident on his feet and doesn't hesitate to attack, embracing a reckless style that has quickly endeared him to his fans.
Silva's only two UFC fights were on the same cards as Alexander's, but most fans probably didn't notice him even though he won both bouts by TKO. A member of the famed Chute Boxe MMA academy in Brazil that has produced the likes of Wanderlei Silva and Mauricio Rua, Silva favors striking but also has a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Both come into this fight with plenty of questions. Can Silva match Alexander's intensity and strength standing up or will he have to take the fight to the ground to win? And, how is Alexander's ground game and his cardio (neither of which have been thoroughly tested in his first two UFC fights)?
Prediction: Alexander by first round knockout
Chonan is a PRIDE veteran making his UFC debut, which this year may not be such a good thing. He enters a deep division that sports champ Matt Serra as well as former champs Matt Hughes and Georges St. Pierre at the top of the heap. But, Chonan has fought some of the best fighters in MMA and boasts a 2004 victory over current UFC middleweight champ Anderson Silva via a rarely executed "flying scissor heel hook."
Parisyan is a UFC veteran who has been on the cusp of breaking through for a title fight for a long time. The judo specialist is 7-2 in the UFC and is on a two-fight win streak. A win against Chonan could solidify his position as the number four fighter in the division and could warrant him a title shot after Hughes and St. Pierre get their turns at re-acquiring the belt.
Prediction: Parisyan by unanimous decision