Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is coming home.
After more than 12 years away, the UFC will return to Brazil -- arguably the birthplace of modern mixed martial arts (MMA) -- this Saturday (Aug. 27, 2011) for UFC 134: "Rio," which will take place at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro. And the company is bringing many of the country’s most talented native sons with it, including reigning middleweight sovereign Anderson Silva and former titleholders Mauricio Rua and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
It's safe to say that short of a fight that includes MMA legend and UFC Hall of Fame inductee, Royce Gracie, that company president Dana White and matchmaker Joe Silva have pulled out all the stops, creating a fantastic card from top-to-bottom.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the match ups that will be featured on the Facebook "Prelims" portion of the card after the jump:
Erick Silva vs. Luis Ramos (170 pounds)
Blue-chip prospect Erick Silva was originally slated to make his Octagon debut against struggling American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) product Mike Swick until "Quick" reminded the world that he is made of papier-mâché and Elmer’s glue, withdrawing from another fight with an injury. Immediately before joining the world’s largest fight promotion, Silva won a one-night tournament for the Jungle Fight welterweight title, submitting both of his foes. This was shortly after one of the biggest wins of his career, a technical knockout over lethal puncher Jose Gomes de Ribamar. With Team Nogueira behind him and Anderson Silva claiming that he’s contender material, Silva has a lot of expectations to live up to on fight night.
Replacing the world’s least-durable fighter on less than three weeks notice, Ramos -- the reigning Shooto 168-pound champion -- has been on a bit of a hot streak himself. The Nova Uniao fighter has won six of his last seven, with the lone loss coming to former UFC fighter Roan Carneiro. He has been in the fight game for almost 10 years, and likely won't let his shot at the big time go to waste in front of his countrymen. Silva and Swick would have practically been guaranteed to produce an exciting fight. I’m not saying this match will be boring, but Ramos has 11 decisions in his 19 wins. Sometimes we just have to take what we’re given.
Silva is a bad, bad man, with very solid kicks to complement a lethal ground game. While he seemed flustered at times by the wild power of Ribamar in their bout last year, he recovered quickly and demonstrated a phenomenal ability to get back to his feet if taken down. He’ll likely be in trouble if he runs into a tighter power-puncher like Alves or Daley, but Ramos isn’t the sort of guy to slow Silva down. Excellent as his recent run is, Ramos’ last opponent (whom he faced just over a month ago) was 2-8. Combining Silva’s momentum, the short notice, and "Indio"’s tougher schedule produces a bad night for Ramos, who is not an easy man to finish, but will still come out on the losing end of a hometown hurting.
Prediction: Silva via decision
David Mitchell vs. Paulo Thiago (170 pounds)
In an interesting turn of events, when Mitchell found himself matched up with Mike Swick at the last "Fight for the Troops," he was the one who left Swick at the proverbial altar, suffering a shoulder injury that resulted in the bout’s cancellation. Before this unfortunate incident, Mitchell lost his UFC debut to T.J. Waldburger in a grapplefest, meaning he will be aiming to avoid a repeat against the BOPE supercop this Saturday.
Thiago was brought into the UFC as a solid, unbeaten prospect who had cut his teeth in Jungle Fight. Despite these accolades, he was not expected to beat perennial contender Josh Koscheck. Something was lost in translation, however, as a lethal uppercut caught "Kos" ducking in for a jab and turned out the lights, granting Thiago the second technical knockout of his career. He has gone 2-3 since then, struggling under the top control of Jon Fitch and Diego Sanchez in addition to the crisp Muay Thai of Martin Kampmann. Great as his entrance to the mainstream was and exciting as he is, the UFC doesn’t take kindly to people losing three straight. And Thiago will be desperate to avoid this fate.
I don’t think Thiago was ever as good as we thought he was, but he’s still a very dangerous submission artist with deceptive power in his hands. The punches-to-d’arce combination that put down Mike Swick was a thing of beauty, even though he was losing that fight up to that point. His first round against Sanchez was also great, as he soundly outgrappled "The Dream" before the Screaming Slam changed the momentum.
Mitchell has had no such highlights. He was outclassed by Waldburger, who’s not even a fringe contender at 170 and who was perfectly willing to grapple with Mitchell. "Daudi" doesn’t have the wrestling prowess or technical striking that has frustrated Paulo in the past, and I’m not sure his bread-and-butter (the ground game) is as good as Thiago’s. Look for the Brazilian to control the bout from the top before securing a finish.
Prediction: Thiago via second-round technical knockout
Felipe Arantes vs. Yuri Alcantara (145 pounds)
Arantes, a Chute Boxe product stepping in for injured Canuck Antonio Carvalho, is presently the proud owner of a nine-fight unbeaten streak. In addition, he possesses a win over one of the brightest prospects in Brazil, John Lineker. Arantes is also one of the busier fighters you’ll find, as the aforementioned streak began in Oct. 2009. As the sole representative of the current Chute Boxe left in the UFC after the dismissals of Maiquel Falcao, Vinicius "Spartan," and Alexandre Ferreira, the burden of rebuilding his camp’s former glory falls to Arantes.
The man known as "Marajo" came into the WEC on a wave of hype, having won 16 of his last 17 with only one decision in the bunch. In his inaugural Zuffa bout against wrestling expert Ricardo Lamas, he more than proved his worth, landing a left hand that would give Chris Leben an inferiority complex. Dropping down of his own volition to a class more suited for his frame, Alcantara is geared up for a run at the title, and Arantes had best get out of the way if he knows what’s good for him.
I’m actually surprised Alcantara doesn’t have more hype behind him. That's because of those 25 wins, a grand total of two came by way of decision, one of the best finishing rates this side of Carlos Condit. Further, he is the only man to beat Constrictor Team prospect Francisco Drinaldo, submitting him for the Jungle Fight lightweight title. Even more impressive, he did all this at 155, which his coach claimed was above his walk-around weight.
I am eternally grateful for Chute Boxe’s strategy of aggressively destroying any and all brain cells in the vicinity as soon as the bell rings, but its heyday is over and the camp seems to be cursed at the moment. For example, of the three fighters who joined the UFC, all three were cut for different, non-loss-related reasons (Falcao for an old assault charge, "Spartan" for steroids after a loss and Ferreira for being too lazy to actually sign the contract demanding that he fight Rousimar Palhares). In addition, Alcantara is simply a frigging monster. The Lamas knockout was one of the best of last year. And while Arantes might avoid a repeat, Alcantara is going to get him to the ground with punches or a takedown and he’s not getting off of Arantes without the ref dragging him off one of his limbs.
Prediction: Alcantara via first round submission
Yves Jabouin vs. Ian "The Barn Owl" Loveland (135 pounds)
It ain’t easy being a "Tiger."
Rather than getting shot for his pelt, Jabouin has been being poached by members of the very unfriendly UFC featherweight division. He originally made waves at WEC 49 with his unbelievable two-round skirmish with Mark Hominick, but mixed success at 145 has driven him down the svelte path to 135. With his knack for finding his way to the highlight reel possibly insufficient to overcome a 1-4 record under the ZUFFA banner, Jabouin will be fighting for his UFC life this Saturday.
And he knows it.
Team Quest product Ian Loveland’s record is deceiving -- four of those losses came in his first seven fights, and two of the others were at the hands of the highly-skilled Joseph Benavidez and Waggney Fabiano. With Dominick Cruz rapidly running out of competition, Loveland should be eager to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with at bantamweight.
And Jabouin is as good an opponent as any to prove his worth.
Interestingly, this is the only fight on the card that includes no Brazilians whatsoever, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be entertaining. Jabouin’s high-octane striking is always a treat, and while Loveland’s camp has a reputation for grinding out decisions, he’s got 12 finishes to his name.
I’m a fan of Jabouin, but the weight cut makes me hesitate because it strikes me as "I’ll cut weight to fight smaller people" instead of "I’ll cut weight to fight people closer to my size." He wasn’t losing because of size issues, he was getting out-techniqued. Loveland is a legitimate bantamweight and gave Benavidez a much harder time than I expected him to. He’s got very good wrestling and solid punching skills to go along with it.
I always like seeing pure strikers succeed, but Loveland is more proven at this weight and has a larger arsenal, and I think he’ll use that wrestling whenever things get too hairy on the feet and earn himself an entertaining, if one-sided, decision win.
Prediction: Loveland via decision
With an 11-fight winstreak and the vaunted Nova Uniao camp girding him for battle, Eduardo is well-prepared for a shot at the big leagues. The Shooto South America champion has 19 finishes to his credit, including 13 submissions. He also managed to defeat future King of the Cage champion Donald Sanchez under the Bellator banner during his most recent winstreak. The 14-year veteran of the sport has been waiting a long time for a chance to take the ultimate step up, and it is finally before him this Saturday.
Assuncao, originally rumored to be facing Darren Uyenoyama, has hit a bit of a rough patch in his career. After winning 15 of his first 16 fights, including victories over Jorge Masvidal and Joe Lauzon, he has gone 1-3 in his past four. Most recently, Erik Koch turned his lights out with an evil right hand at UFC 128, leaving Assuncao on the precipice of disaster. A handful of wins can fix everything, however, and defeating Eduardo down home in Brazil would make for a great first step.
The one statistic that really stands out to me is that of Eduardo’s eight losses, seven are by submission (although, to be fair, one is to punches). For all of Assuncao’s recent troubles, it’s hard to ignore a number like that when the person in question is fighting a submissions specialist. Assuncao’s losses have been nothing to be ashamed of, dropping fights to Faber and Nunes -- two top 10 fighters -- is nothing to be ashamed of. And Erik Koch is a fighter with a boatload of potential.
As with any fighter operating mostly under the radar, Eduardo could surprise me, but when his modus operandi is going for submissions and he’s proven himself this vulnerable to them in the past, it’s difficult to pick him against someone as capable of exploiting it as Assuncao. I foresee some nice scrambles, but an early finish in favor of Assuncao.
Prediction: Assuncao via first round submission
Join us tomorrow for a look at the Spike "Prelims," which features the likes of Rousimar Palhares and Spencer Fisher, among others.
See you then!