First and foremost, let me introduce The MMA Corner’s inaugural edition of Fight of the Week, a continuous preview and prediction series penned by yours truly that highlights the week’s most exciting and intriguing match up — at least on paper. As we all know, predicting the outcome of a fight is a difficult task because the unexpected usually finds a way to upend well-calculated pre-fight wisdom.

So by no means should you risk your weekly allowance on my expertise; the main fabric that weaves this series together is the dissection of comparative skills of two fighters leading up to their match. I will attempt to illustrate a set of advantages and how each combatant comparatively sizes up with each other through a pointing system (don’t worry, I can count higher than Cecil Peoples) that tallies an overall performance total, painting us a picture of why the fight is worth watching, what to look out for and who should prevail.

Obviously, there are many variables beyond our fixed set — that come into play when guys lock horns. Maybe a fighter went into a fight with an undisclosed injury, had the munchies throughout their training camp preventing a successful weight cut or came down with a flu bug. During preparation, mixed martial arts is a very team oriented sport; but after the cage door shuts, the outcome hangs on the individual’s performance.

In an attempt to diversify our task, there will be five classic categories of analysis: striking, the clinch, wrestling, ground game, and a mysterious x-factor for each fighter (in hopes of picking one standout variable that might affect the outcome). The first four categories will be scored on a scale of 1-10, indicating which areas will be beneficial to which fighter in this particular fight and who will come away as the predicted winner. There is a total of 40 advantage points each fighter can bank. The distance from a perfect score and how close each individual’s comparative scores are will indicate how close the fighters match up. The closer a fighter gets to 40 shows how likely their chances are of executing their advantages over their opponent (as you’ll see, in our first installment, Gustafsson and Silva size up very closely with each other and neither has any huge advantages over the other).

Let’s get this show on the road.

Not all Fight of the Week selections will be from the UFC, nor be headliners. In fact, this week’s highlighted contest could easily be a runner up if not for my personal need to celebrate the end of this extended UFC dry spell with the world. The Octagon will be back in our lives this Saturday at 3 p.m. ET from Sweden. The prelims start earlier on Facebook at 12.30 p. m. ET.

This will be the UFC’s first event in Sweden, where its MMA-starved fans made a statement by making UFC on Fuel 2 the fastest selling European event to date — selling out in three hours. With that kind of strong interest and solid overall bouts, this card should be a blast to watch. I’m sure I speak for other viewers when I say this event would be a excellent one to experiment with local guest ring girls (Victoria Silvstedt comes to mind), but that’s beside the point.

As the title gives away, this week we will be focusing on the headlining bout for UFC on Fuel 2 between Sweden’s own Alexander Gustafsson and Thiago Silva. Originally, Gustaffson was slated to face MMA veteran Antonio “Lil Nog” Nogueira before an injury sidelined the Brazilian from competition, opening the doors for a fellow Brazilian to step in as a more appealing challenger for fans. It’ll be interesting to see how the light heavyweight divisional rankings will shift after Saturday’s results.

Thiago Silva has been out of action for a year due to submitting a non-human drug test sample after his last bout against Brandon Vera along with recovering from back rehabilitation. This fight is very important for the former contender to find out where he lands in the 205-pound pecking order. He’ll also be eager for redemption, trying to prove that his talent is justifiable beyond the Vera fight.

Alexander Gustafsson has many eyes directed on how he performs — if the growing hype is well-deserved — and if he is that much closer to cracking the division’s top five, chomping at the heels of current champion Jon Jones. Not to mention, the Swede is headlining a symbolic event in his own backyard as the country’s current MMA poster boy. With only one loss on a record of 14 fights, Gustafsson has only let one victory go to decision and will want to expand on his success as the next big thing at light heavyweight.

Regardless of the outcome, the conclusion of this fight will set in motion a journey down specific paths for each fighter, making the stakes high and the excitement inevitable.

Striking: Gustafsson – 7.5, Silva – 7

Gustafsson should have the edge on the feet (Sherdog)

Thiago Silva may have more impressive performances on his feet than his younger counterpart, but as we’ve seen in Gustafsson’s last two fights, his stand-up is coming along nicely. Granted, those last two opponents were wrestlers and Silva is a different animal in the striking department. Where the Swede gives ground away in power, he makes up for in a two-and-a-half inch reach advantage. And, despite being a taller fighter, he fights comfortably in his lengthy frame and has good footwork. He should be able to pick his stockier, shorter opponent apart by maintaining his range, keeping his distance and yet staying aggressive enough to push Silva’s back to the cage. Of course, there is always a chance Silva will land his power and disrupt Gustafsson’s Octagon control — but, only if the Swede gets lazy with his movement.

The Clinch: Gustafsson – 6.5, Silva – 6

Silva (L) may attack from the clinch (Sherdog)

Neither guy has proven to be that dominant in the clinch. Though, Gustafsson has displayed competence against his wrestling opponents and should have a better chance of keeping his back off the fence than Silva, who notoriously exposed positioning issues against Rashad Evans. I’m willing to bet Vera would have been able to secure better positioning in the clinch had Silva not had ape strength in that fight. If Silva is able to cut the distance, getting to close for comfort, look for Gustafsson to tie up and immediately push forward towards the cage, where he should have the positioning advantage.

Ground Game: Gustafsson – 7.5, Silva – 7

This is yet another area where Gustafsson will only have a marginal advantage, as a busier fighter with more confidence being on his back. Despite having a black-belt to Gustafsson’s purple-belt, Silva shown a lot of vulnerability off his back in his fight against Evans. He lacked real ability to scramble to his feet by moving his hips once Evans was in top position. If Gustafsson can get to top position, Silva will have a lot of trouble dealing his opponent’s superior ability to maintain advantageous positions — a real flaw in the Brazilian’s ground game. The Swede has shown he’s not afraid to be offensive on the ground either, slapping back-to-back rear-naked chokes on Cyrille Diabate and James Te-Huna for wins. Simply put: Silva is dead in the water after being put on his back and that will be something Gustafsson will be able to exploit.

 

Wrestling: Gustafsson – 8, Silva – 6

Silva (bottom) has struggled to keep fights standing (Sherdog)

Stylistically, this category can be Gustafsson’s key to victory. Again in the Evans fight, not only did Silva look second rate off his back, his takedown defense was almost non-existent. If Gustafsson can utilize his offensive wrestling, he will be able to send Silva to the mat, where the Brazilian more than likely won’t put up much of a fight. Also, unlike Silva, the Swede has displayed excellent takedown defense — statistically sporting an over 80 percent career success rate — should his opponent attempt any surprise takedowns. This general advantage will offer Gustafsson the chance to be more offensively minded, while giving him an alternative if Silva starts winning the striking aspect of the fight.

X-Factor

The Swede should come out on top (Sherdog)

Both guys will have to overcome additional obstacles than just worrying about executing game plans. This event marks the return of an absent fighter, who experienced a very long layoff and will have to deal with ring rust on some level. Clearly, this disadvantage affects fighters differently, but after having back surgery and having to travel overseas to Europe, Silva will have to be very mentally prepared to avoid succumbing to such exhausting elements.

On the other hand, there is a tremendous amount of pressure on a young fighter when headlining an event for the first time and headlining it in their home country. The UFC has never held an event in Sweden before and they are putting their faith in the 25-year-old Gustafsson, not only to attract fans, but to also perform like a highly capable professional willing to put on a good show. In this case, the mental side of the game could potentially make or break either guy.

Total: Gustafsson – 29.5, Silva – 26

Verdict: This is a close encounter between two finishers who share a lot of strengths and tend to avoid relying on the judges for win. Gustafsson should come out on top by executing better wrestling, positioning, and range. Don’t blink because it might not last very long.

Top Photo: Alexander Gustafsson (Sherdog)

This piece was authored by Joe Schafer. You can find Joe on Twitter: @joeschafer84

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