It seems that 2015 has gotten off to a reasonable and steady start. Back to back winning events see us sitting at +2.5 units as we reach the end of January. Not a huge amount but a return on investment that keeps the interest going.

The UFC returns to Las Vegas with a stellar card this week as two MMA pioneers make their long awaited return. Let’s analyse the main card with odds provided by 5Dimes to see if you agree.

Mein v Alves:

I find it extraordinary that at the young age of 25 we have a fighter who has already competed in 38 professional fights. That young man is Jordan Mein and he makes his return to the octagon after what seems like an eternity since his last fight. Mein has quick hands, a good chin and a good submission game, all of which are likely to be utilised this weekend.

While it feels like Mein has been out for a while, spare a thought for Thiago Alves who has fought just twice since the end of 2011. When the ‘Pitbull’ enters the octagon violence is assured and it remains to be seen what toll these injuries have taken on him, additionally whether the sport has evolved beyond him.

If breaking down the attributes on display then the speed and intensity will go straight to Mein. In contrast the sheer aggression and stamina goes straight to Alves. This makes it a tough fight to call. If it ends early then it’s likely to be Mein with his hand raised whereas if it goes to a decision then Alves edges it for me. All through the build-up I have leaned toward Alves and I won’t change my mind now. I don’t know how he does it, so will play safe and take the underdog to win outright.

Recommendation: Thiago Alves +120 (6/5) @ 5Dimes

Boetsch v Leites:

Thales Leites continues his resurgence inside the octagon looking to build upon his 4-0 UFC run since making his return and looking to make it eight in a row since last tasting defeat. That was back in 2010 and is impressive by any standard.

Tim Boetsch looks to maintain winning ways after a fortunate win over Brad Tavares in August. For a round and a half Boetsch was tied up by Tavares until landing a sucker punch that ended the fight. It was well timed and needed as a loss could easily have spelled the end of his tenure. The harsh reality is that Boetsch has won just two of his last five and doesn’t really appear to be progressing as a fighter.

With back to back knockouts this is new territory for a fighter who has been over reliant on his Jiu-Jitsu to win fights. For as long as he remains standing Tim Boetsch has the opportunity to end a fight, as seen against Tavares and, more famously, Yushin Okami. A Hail Mary shot remains his most likely path to victory against a fighter who is technically superior in every area. For that reason I am taking Leites to either continue his power punching resurgence or revert back to his submission game and get the job done inside the distance.

Recommendation: Leites wins inside distance +100 (1/1) @ 5Dimes

Lauzon v Iaquinta: 

The always entertaining Joe Lauzon returns to the octagon this weekend looking to make it three in a row since being soundly beaten by Michael Johnson. Wins over Mac Danzig and a contentious stoppage over Michael Chiesa have kept him moving in the right direction as he attempts to edge closer to a title shot. I was as surprised as many to discover that Lauzon has never been in title contention in the UFC. At the age of 30 with a family life ahead of him and an eye on the future it feels like a well-timed run could see that statistic blown out of the water.

Although he lost to eventual winner Michael Chiesa in the TUF house it is Iaquinta who has experienced the more impressive professional career. He ground out decisions in his opening three fights before a loss to Mitch Clarke put on the brakes. Coincidentally or not, that loss saw a more aggressive Iaquinta return to the UFC and finishing his last two opponents in a violent manner.

When Joe Lauzon fights then you are always looking for the fight to end spectacularly because that what he does; finish fights and win bonus cheques. While Iaquinta is improving as a fighter, which is natural when he is training with the likes of Chris Weidman, he has previously found submissions to be his Achilles heel. The flipside of that is that J-Lau holds this as his deadliest weapon. It’s been a tough year for Lauzon personally but I am taking the obvious action on him winning by spectacular submission.

Recommendation: Lauzon wins by submission +385 (4/1) @ 5Dimes

Gastelum v Woodley:           

For me this is probably the most interesting fight on the main card. Despite playing second fiddle to the overhyped Uriah Hall in TUF it appears that the UFC have unearthed a real gem in Kelvin Gastelum, so much so that I think he has the ability to be the best prospect ever to win the reality show. His short time in the UFC since winning has been little short of impressive and he puts his unbeaten record on the line once again.

Tyron Woodley looks to continue his climb up the rankings after a mixed 2014. Sandwiched in between impressive wins over Dong Hyun Kim and Carlos Condit was a lacklustre defeat to Rory MacDonald. That defeat was a huge setback for a Welterweight who was flying high at the time, having talked his way into matchups a little ahead of his ranked position. Woodley now gets an opportunity to break a winning streak and take a leap forward or to become another notch on the belt.

With his fighting style Gastelum poses a huge risk for Woodley as MacDonald and Shields have shown that you can take him down and grind him out for a win. Similarly, with his incredibly heavy hands Woodley is only ever a punch away from stopping Gastelum in his tracks. Despite having a poor striking defence Gastelum deals with hard hitters better than Woodley deals with technicians and while it is likely to result in a decision win for Gastelum the odds on him being the first man to submit ‘The Chosen One’ are just too tasty to ignore.

Recommendation: Gastelum wins by submission +620 (13/2) @ 5Dimes

Silva v Diaz:            

Making his return after a horrific leg break is the man still regarded as the Greatest of All Time in MMA circles, Anderson Silva. Unbeaten for six years, maintaining an air of invincibility, he finally met his nemesis in Chris Weidman. Whether taking the young pretender lightly, age catching up with him or just facing a better fighter a legacy was crushed in just two fights as Silva was finished in the first, with his body breaking down in the second. Just like that it was over and there was a real chance that this unique talent would never be seen again.

When discussing unique talent it is impossible to ignore Nick Diaz. Talent aside, Diaz himself makes it impossible to ignore him as he finds himself on the wrong end of a story more often than not. Failing to show for open workouts, avoiding reporters and generally going AWOL the media shy star polarizes MMA fans like no other. Like his opponent it will be interesting to see how nearly two years out from top level combat has dampened his skills or diminished the durability of that legendary chin.

In what feels like an MMA exhibition fight, I find myself with so many questions that I am desperate for an answer to but accept that I am unlikely to find. Can the GOAT rebound from two poor performances to make another climb up the mountain? Does Diaz have the ability to fight outside of his weight class and make it truly competitive? Have the rigours of time taken toll on two great warriors? Who knows, but for certain it will be a spectacle to behold. It has been 13 years since Diaz was properly stopped inside the cage and my gut feeling is that long record will end on Saturday night. Silva is too big, too powerful and far too special to let this go five rounds and he has dealt with far bigger and more dangerous men than this.

Recommendation: Silva wins by TKO/KO +105 (21/20) @ 5Dimes