Two very talented young featherweights will duke it out inside the Octagon this weekend (April 6, 2013) as The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 14 winner Diego Brando takes on Pablo Garza on the UFC on FUEL TV 9 main card in Stockholme, Sweden.
Brandao has had a back-and-forth run in UFC ever since his lightning rod run on TUF, and he's coming off a fight where he was much more composed, keeping that frenetic energy conserved to help him win a decision against Joey Gambino. It'll be interesting to see which Brandao shows up this weekend.
Garza has shown in his UFC career that he's capable of incredible feats inside the cage, earning a pair of bonuses in his first two wins and then knocking off former title challenger Mark Hominick in his last fight, hanging with the top boxer on the feet and then dominating him on the ground. If he can defeat the upstart Brandao, he'll put himself in a very good position in the crowded UFC featherweight division.
Record: 16-8 overall, 2-1 in the UFC
How he got here: Diego Brandao got into MMA as a teenager and made his professional fighting debut when he was just 18 years old. Despite being a natural featherweight, Brandao has repeatedly faced men significantly bigger than him throughout his career and he even holds a first round victory over UFC veteran welterweight Brian Foster. Now that's some power.
Brandao eventually found himself training at Greg Jackson's gym where he's had his skills refined. He scored three straight stoppage victories in New Mexico before earning a spot on season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter.
He was a wrecking ball on the show, knocking out all three of his opponents in the first round, including a brutal finish of Steven Siler inside the first thirty seconds. At the finale, he survived getting hurt to finish Dennis Bermudez via armbar to win the TUF 14 featherweight crown.
Brandao lost his first post-TUF fight to Darren Elkins after having his opponent on the ropes in the opening round, but has since bounced back, defeating Joey Gambino in his native Brazil last October. Now, he's looking to keep the momentum rolling by beating Pablo Garza in his first fight back on the main card.
How he gets it done: Brandao comes out like he's been shot out of a cannon and while he fought much more composed last time around against Gambino, that fire actually works to his advantage against Garza, who will likely want to trade early on and could eat some heavy shots.
As long as Brandao isn't reckless, he clearly holds a power advantage over Garza and a wrestling advantage. If for some reason he's having difficulty dealing with "The Scarecrow's" range, he can always get inside and try to dump his opponent on his back. Garza has a crafty ground game, but it shouldn't be anything Brandao hasn't seen before.
If Brandao can have selective aggression and avoid getting clinched or being put on his back for extended periods of time, he's got a very good shot at scoring a stoppage or at least winning a decision. The earlier he can try to finish this fight, the better.
Record: 12-3 overall, 3-2 in the UFC
How he got here: Garza got into MMA after he couldn't find any amateur boxing fights, skipping an amateur MMA career entirely. His risk seemed to pay off when he won his first fight in 38 seconds and then proceeded to go 9-0 on the local North Dakota circuit.
"The Scarecrow" would earn an invite to participate in season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter but would lose a tough decision to eventual finalist Michael Johnson for a shot to get into the house. Despite the loss, he would earn an invite into the WEC to take on undefeated Chinese prospect Tie Quan Zhang on just five days' notice and succumbed to Zhang's guillotine choke.
When the UFC and WEC merged, Garza was given one more shot against former Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Fredson Paxiao in the first featherweight fight in UFC history. In less than a minute, Garza landed a brutal knee that knocked Paxiao out cold and earned him a fight night bonus.
"The Scarecrow" returned at UFC 129 in the opening bout of the night against Yves Jabouin. After a rough start, he put Jabouin in a clinch and jumped up for a flying triangle choke, eventually securing the submission and another huge fight night bonus.
Those highlight-reel moments earned Garza some very tough fights and he was dominated by Dustin Poirier and then completely outwrestled by Dennis Bermudez in consecutive bouts.He made everyone forget about his brief losing streak, however, when he earned a unanimous decision against former title challenger Mark Hominick at UFC 154 last November.
Now, he's hoping to keep the good times rolling against Brandao, another dangerous featherweight.
How he gets it done: Garza's biggest advantage is his length. It's extremely difficult to find featherweights who are over six feet tall, but he's one of them. The adequately nicknamed fighter needs to find ways to utilize that length to his advantage, whether it be with his knees, his jabs, some leg kicks or even elbows.
For Garza, it's all about being unpredictable. The North Dakota native has some awkward, clunky at times stand-up, but he's getting better and better at using his reach every time we see him step into the cage.
They key for Garza is to try to withstand that early blitz from Brandao as the Brazilian is known for being a very strong starter. As long as he doesn't get knocked out or submitted in the first round, he's got a very good shot of at least outlasting his opponent and taking over. If Brandao shoots in for a takedown, Garza needs to be on guard with his knees as a perfectly timed knee could put an end to this fight in a hurry.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight will likely be the fact that it's the first fight overseas for both men. Garza has never competed outside North America while Brandao has only ever fought in the United States and Brazil. Both men are going to be several hours behind their usual training, eating and sleeping schedule and they'll likely need a day or two to recover from the jet lag. If Brandao comes out flat, especially considering he's a fighter that really needs to get off to a strong start, it could be disastrous for him.
Bottom Line: This is a very interesting bout between two highly aggressive and very entertaining fighters. Brandao and Garza have won four fight night bonuses in just eight fights so it's highly likely that they could be bringing home the bacon here, especially if they go to war on the feet. Both men can bring the thunder, Garza with his volume attack and fight-ending knees and Brandao with his powerful fists. There's a very good chance we see a finish whether it's Brandao early or Garza at any time. Keep your eyes peeled.
Who will come out on top at UFC on Fuel TV 9? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!