Things are about to get interesting in the middleweight division.
Four of the division's premier fighters will duke it out among themselves this Saturday night (Feb. 15, 2014) at UFC Fight Night 36, which will emanate LIVE from Arena Jaragua in Santa Catarina, Brazil, on FOX Sports 1 network.
In the main event, Gegard Mousasi will return to 185 pounds for the first time since 2008, taking on former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweight kingpin Lyoto Machida, who will make just his second middleweight appearance.
In addition, one of Mousasi's fellow Strikeforce veterans will also look to earn himself a place in the top five, too, when Ronaldo Souza faces Francis Carmont in a mixed martial arts (MMA) match up of UFC unbeatens.
We examined the first four UFC Fight Night 36 "Prelims" bouts -- streamed live via "Fight Pass" digital network -- set to grace your browser of choice the other night right here. We've got three more where that came from below:
155 lbs.: Cristiano Marcello vs. Joe Proctor
Known for being the jiu-jitsu coach of the vaunted Chute Boxe squad, Cristiano Marcello (13-5) looked to make a name for himself on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 15, scoring a submission in the elimination round to become Team Urijah Faber’s second pick. Things quickly went south, however, as he was knocked out by Justin Lawrence in his subsequent bout and then by Sam Sicilia at the finale.
He has since split a pair of bouts, winning a questionable decision over Reza Madadi and losing a more clear-cut one to Kazuki Tokudome.
A pair of first-round submissions took Joe Proctor (8-2) to the quarterfinals of the same season, where he fell to James Vick via unanimous decision. Undeterred, he smashed Jeremy Larsen in less than two minutes at the finale, only to drop a decision to Ramsey Nijem his next time out.
This will be Larsen’s first fight in more than one year, injuries to both parties having scuttled a bout with Al Iaquinta in 2013.
There are two immutable truths when discussing Cristiano Marcello: First, if he can’t take his opponent down, he loses. Second, he is very bad at taking down his opponent.
The formula is that simple -- all Proctor needs to do to win this fight is keep it on the feet, which shouldn't be particularly difficult. A year-long layoff is only concerning when it’s against an opponent relatively close in ability.
Proctor is by no means an elite lightweight -- it’s just that Marcello’s complete inability to bring opponents into his wheelhouse makes him a rather easy out. Proctor sprawls-and-brawls his way to a decision.
Prediction: Proctor via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Rodrigo Damm vs. Ivan Jorge
Rodrigo Damm (11-6) entered TUF: "Brazil" seemingly on his career’s last legs, having gone 1-4 with four stoppage losses in his previous five fights. Impressively, he choked out top prospect Fabricio "Guerreiro" in the elimination round, only to be forced out of the competition after a failed weight cut.
He has since gone 2-1 in UFC at 145, but will return to lightweight for his bout against "Batman."
Ivan Jorge (25-3) -- the Jungle Fight Lightweight Champion -- made his Octagon debut at welterweight, stepping in on late notice to replace Marcelo Guimaraes against Keith Wisniewski. Though he struggled with the veteran’s size, he managed to earn a unanimous decision, extending his record to 11-1 in his last 12.
All 11 of those victories came via submission, with one because of punches and the rest by choke.
This is an annoying fight in several ways. It’s a hard one to predict since both men have very similar skill sets and it will probably come down to who has the better wrestling. Also, because of this, it has a somewhat equal chance of being an entertaining grapplefest and being a really crappy kickboxing match.
Damm going back to 155 pounds is probably the right move, considering his age and the beatings he’s taken, but it does give Jorge the size advantage, which could be decisive in a clash of top control-centered grapplers. Being the pessimist I am, I’ll say we get a clinch-heavy fight with Jorge doing enough of the grinding against the cage to earn the nod.
Prediction: Jorge via split decision
155 lbs.: Francisco Trinaldo vs. Jesse Ronson
Francisco Trinaldo (13-3) seemed close to scoring his third-straight stoppage win in Sept. 2013, buckling Piotr Hallmann with a series of vicious body kicks. Unfortunately, "Pletwal" roared back in the second, handing Trinaldo his second submission loss in the form of a Kimura.
Trinaldo, who competed at middleweight on TUF: "Brazil," entered the UFC as the Jungle Fight lightweight champion, edging out Adriano Martins for the belt.
Though not quite Mike McCallum reborn, Jesse Ronson (13-3) established himself as one of the brighter prospects in Canada, reeling off eight straight wins following a 2011 loss to Mike Ricci. Despite a late comeback, however, he fell in his UFC debut, unable to handle the grappling attack of Michel Richard dos Prazeres. He has ended 10 fights inside the distance, six via knockout.
As I've mentioned before, there’s nothing I despise quite like a prediction that hinges on one aspect of the fight. In this case, it’s Trinaldo’s cardio. Like Prazeres, he’s a bulldozer of a man with massive strength and dangerous power.
His ability to bring this to bear for the full 15 minutes is the deciding factor.
I am not terribly impressed by what I’ve seen out of Ronson, but it’s worth thinking carefully before picking a guy with a questionable gas tank over someone called "The Body Snatcher." Still, I’m going to hedge my bets and say "Massaranduba" gets enough done in the first two rounds to take a 29-28 decision on the heels of aggressive takedowns and power left hands.
Prediction: Trinaldo via unanimous decision
Four top 10-ranked middleweight standouts and a plethora of top talent from top to bottom. Plus, we're still in the free "Fight Pass" trial ... seems like a good deal to me.
See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 36 fight card on fight night (Feb. 15, 2014) right here, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" at 7 p.m. ET, right on through the FOX Sports 1-televised main card bouts at 10:30 p.m. ET.
Current UFC "Prelims" Prediction Record 2014: 16-10