I love the smell of mixed martial arts (MMA) violence in the morning. And Brazilian fight fans are no different.
For the second time in five months, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will make its way down to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for an entertaining night (Sat., Jan. 14, 2012) of high-octane caged aggression. It will feature the likes of 145-pound champion Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes in the main event, and the legendary Vitor Belfort colliding with colossally-powerful Anthony Johnson in the co-featured fight of the night.
And that's not even mentioning the preliminary card, which will be shown in its entirety on FX with the exception of one bout. For more on that click here.
155 lbs.: Thiago Tavares vs. Sam Stout
After struggling through a rough patch (1-3) early in his UFC career, Thiago Tavares (16-4-1) looks to have finally put everything together. After dominating the early going of his fight with Shane Roller before eating a hellacious one-two in the second round, Tavares bounced back by utterly dominating Spencer Fisher at UFC 134, stopping the rugged veteran with unopposed shots from back mount. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist will look to add another vaunted striker to his resume in Zuffa’s second trip to Rio in the past six months.
Despite his obvious technical prowess on the feet, Sam Stout (17-6-1) seemed entirely unable to live up to his nickname "Hands of Stone" under the UFC banner despite eight (technical) knockouts on the regional circuit. He simply could not put anyone away on the UFC roster. That all changed, however, when he unloaded a colossal left hook to Yves Edwards’ jaw at UFC 131, putting the tough veteran out cold. A stoppage of Tavares would go a long way toward proving that it was no fluke.
I gave Stout a lot of flak in my preview of the Edwards fight for having the gall to use Roberto Duran’s nickname with none of the results. In the end, I ate crow because of it, but I am picking against him once again. Tavares had trouble early in his UFC career, but his stand up and grappling have both looked exceptionally sharp in his last few fights, discounting the Roller incident. His draw against Nik Lentz would have been a win for him, but for a point deduction for low blows was the difference maker. Plus, incredible and nauseating as Stout’s recent knockout was, it doesn’t change the fact that he couldn’t finish anyone else.
There isn’t enough of a skill gap on the feet for me to ignore the difference between them on the ground. Stout hasn’t been submitted in five years and I don’t see that changing here, but unless he uncorks a monster punch like he landed on Edwards, he’s going to find himself controlled on the ground for a local crowd-pleasing unanimous decision loss.
Prediction: Tavares via decision
265 lbs.: Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Edinaldo Oliveira
Gabriel Gonzaga (12-6) has put together one of the most topsy-turvy UFC careers in recent memory. After putting down Mirko Cro Cop in spectacularly ironic fashion, "Napao" was beaten down by Randy Couture and Fabricio Werdum and -- after putting together a two-fight win streak -- was put away by Shane Carwin. After consecutive losses to Junior dos Santos and Brendan Schaub, he was released by the UFC and announced his retirement. Now, one year later, he is set to make his return to the sport, replacing the injured Rob Broughton, and will be out to make the best of his second chance.
A lanky striker whose nickname is the Portuguese name for Spongebob Squarepants’ artistically-inept neighbor, Squidward Tentacles, Oliveira (13-0-1, 1 NC) has made his name as a knockout artist, with eight such finishes among his 13 wins. A towering 6’7," "Lula Molusco" trains with UFC champion Junior dos Santos and has scored wins over Brazilian mainstays like Geronimo "Mondragon" dos Santos and Joaquim Ferreira. In front of his home crowd, he can make a phenomenal first impression by stopping the veteran Gonzaga this Saturday.
Gonzaga isn’t as bad of a fighter as he’s made out to be. What he is, though, is someone who completely forgets what he’s good at on a regular basis. In a weird way, the Cro Cop head kick may be the worst thing that ever happened to his career. He does have strong kicks, but he’s not nearly as good a striker as he is a submission specialist, reverting to striking far too easily and foolishly. It’s especially frustrating when he shows just how good he can be on the ground -- he finally shot on Schaub in the third round and got his back in less than five seconds.
That’s not to say Oliveira doesn’t have his own foibles. He’s taller than a majority of the division, but he’s got an awkward punching style that doesn’t seem to use that height to its full extent. He keeps his hands far too low and doesn’t have the iron chin or footwork that let Junior get away with it. His takedown defense looks solid enough, but he hasn’t faced a grappler with the size and skill of "Big Nose." He has power, sure, but he just seems so awkward, and not in the good "punch through the guard with funky angles" way.
I was all set to declare this a straightforward early knockout for Oliveira, but now I’m torn, which makes me sad because I wanted to use Squidward’s "does this look unsure to you?" face. This one is extremely close and I find myself fascinated by it, primarily because I’m looking forward to the interplay of their weaknesses. It’s hard to be sure of anything, but I say Gonzaga rocks him, takes him down, and submits Oliveira sometime in the early going, leaving "Lula Molusco" to play a sad tune on the clarinet I assume he has in his locker room.
Prediction: Gonzaga via first round submission
145 lbs.: Yuri Alcantara vs. Michihiro Omigawa
The lightweight champion of top-tier Brazilian promotion Jungle Fight, Alcantara (26-3) pulled off one of the more spectacular Zuffa debuts in recent memory, obliterating Ricardo Lamas with an enormous left hand at World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) 53 and capping off a 2010 that saw him fight a ridiculous eight times. Dropping to featherweight, "Marajo" easily defeated late replacement Felipe Arantes during the UFC’s last visit to Rio. That win marked Alcanatara’s third decision win in 29 fights, a trend he has no intention of continuing against his Japanese foe.
With perhaps the most bizarre record in the featherweight division, Omigawa (13-10-1) finally tasted vindication at UFC 138, using his vaunted judo game to smother Jason Young and put the memory of the Darren Elkins screwjob behind him. While many question his "wins" over Marlon Sandro and Hatsu Hioki, Omigawa owns definitive victories over the likes of L.C. Davis and DREAM featherweight champion Hiroyuki Takaya, not to mention the fact that he is the only man to ever submit Cole Escovedo. Against the surging Alcantara, the Yoshida Dojo banger will have to overcome a hometown crowd and colossal punching power to score his second straight.
As an enormous fan of both fighters who absolutely refuses to shut up about them under any circumstances, I’m both excited and disappointed that this fight is happening, as I’d rather neither of them take a step back in the rankings. Alcantara is one of the best finishers in MMA both on the feet and on the ground, while Omigawa has great judo and some of the most technically proficient boxing at 145 pounds.
This has the potential to be a fantastic fight, one I’m leaning toward Omigawa in. Fearsome as Alcantara’s punching and grappling are, Omigawa has dealt with the likes of it before, facing big punchers like Takaya and Sandro and staying afloat. Further, Alcantara’s swinging for the fences plays right into Omigawa’s "peek-a-boo" boxing. I can see him slipping some of those huge outside shots and doing damage on the inside or locking up a clinch.
It should be exciting wherever it goes, but Omigawa’s ability to get it to the ground as needed and his solid defense should be enough to carry the day.
Prediction: Omigawa via unanimous decision
If UFC 134 taught us anything, it's that bringing fighters of this caliber down to Brazil is an amazing recipe. See you on Saturday, Maniacs, which kicks an incredible stretch of high-caliber UFC events.
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE blow-by-blow, round-by-round coverage of UFC 141, beginning with the preliminary card bouts on Facebook scheduled for 6:50 p.m. ET and the Spike TV bouts at 9 p.m. ET. In addition, we will also provide LIVE, real-time results of the main card PPV action as it happens throughout the evening this upcoming weekend.