The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 14 winner, Diego Brandao, is set to brawl with Irish knockout specialist, Conor McGregor, this Saturday (July 19, 2014) in the main event of UFC Fight Night 45, which will emanate from 02 Arena in Dublin, Ireland.
When Cole Miller fell out his grudge match with "Notorious," Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) needed an exciting scrapper to bring the fight to McGregor.
Luckily, "Ceara" was ready to answer the call. As a fighter with both a flare for violence and deadly ground game, the Brazilian can offer some challenges that McGregor has yet to see in his mixed martial arts (MMA) career. Of course, UFC would love to see McGregor emerge victorious in brutal fashion in front of his home crowd.
Does Brandao have the skills to throw a wrench into those plans?
Let's take a closer look:
Brandao is a wild man. Though he occasionally attempts to act like a Muay Thai fighter -- and has the skills to do so -- he usually goes back to his reckless assault on his opponent's conscious before long.
In all of his UFC fights, Brandao opens up with some hard kicks to the leg from the outside. Brandao has some seriously strong low kicks but abandons them far too early. If he committed to destroying his opponent's leg for more than the opening minute or two, he'd serious limit his opponent's movement before long.
Instead, Brandao will begin to lunge at his opponent with power punches. He loves to lead with the uppercut with either hand. Brandao mostly attacks with two and three punch combinations, never building anything more complex than alternating his left and right hand. These blitzes work especially well when Brandao sets them up with head movement and feints, but he's very inconsistent with that.
In particular, Brandao's low-high combinations work well. After going to the body with a lead uppercut or hook, Brandao will shift his weight into an overhand. Brandao throws his entire body into each strike, meaning that serious damage will be done if any land.
Once Brandao lands his lead hand to the body a couple times, he'll begin to feint with it. Then,he'll drop his level a bit and come up with a rising left hook to the face, one of his most powerful punches.
Brandao ends his flurries in one of three ways: a kick, running knee, or letting his opponent circle off. Obviously, the first two often work much better for him. The running knee works especially well as a common defense to looping punches is to duck under. Ducking directly into a furious 145 pound Brazilian's charging knee is less than fun and can often stand his foe back up to eat more punches.
Another thing Brandao will occasionally mix into his attack is stance-switch strikes. He doesn't use them to set up anything really, but they still add a bit of unpredictability to his attack. For example, Brandao will occasionally throw a switch left straight (while shooting out a jab, he'll simultaneously switches into the southpaw stance) which can be followed up nicely with a low kick. Or, he'll switch stances as he throws his overhand, which can add a bit more power if done correctly.
The final tool in Brandao's arsenal is the jumping knee. Brandao charges forward as if he's throwing punches then explodes into the air at the last second. Since many opponents are either attempting to duck his punches or change levels for a takedown, Brandao has had much success with this technique.
There is a cost to being so aggressive. When Brandao charges forward, his chin comes up a bit, and he cannot stop his forward momentum. If his opponent stands his ground and looks to counter, he doesn't need to throw a hard punch to rock Brandao. Additionally, Brandao gets much less explosive and thus easier to counter as the fight goes on.
While his gas tank is full, Brandao is a very impressive wrestler. A physically strong featherweight, Brandao's powerful hips allow him to easily shuck off even deep takedown attempts while forcing his own whenever he feels the need.
Usually, Brandao likes to blast his opponent off his feet with a strong double leg. When in the center, Brandao bursts forward in a similar motion to his flurries, making the takedown difficult to stop. In addition, he showed that he can mix the shot into his strikes quite well, as he forced Pable Garza's hands high before pinning him to the cage with a double. From there, he locked his hands and slammed "Scarecrow" to the mat with authority.
Brandao has also showed off a pretty strong clinch game. When he circled to the back clinch off of Dennis Bermudez's stand up, he was able to power through a suplex and return "The Menace" to the canvas.
As mentioned above, Brandao's takedown defense -- while his conditioning is up to par -- is stellar. I perfectly remember, despite not having seen this particular fight since it first aired, Brandao easily shucking off one of Bryan Caraway's shots despite Caraway getting in deep on his shot while Brandao had his feet planted and swung a wild punch. That's basically the easiest position to catch a fighter in a takedown, but Brandao was still strong enough to repel Caraway's shot.
Since that fight, the only fighter to have any success taking Brandao to the mat is Elkins. Even in that bout, Brandao defended 5 of Elkins' 6 shots, only succumbing to the wrestlers in pressure in the final round. Not only that, but Brandao often reversed Elkins' desperate attempts, landing in top position.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
A black belt in jiu-jitsu, Brandao is a very volatile grappler. Not only does he have a strong top game, but Brandao has showed off some very quick attacks from his back.
In the first round of his match with Elkins, Brandao was defending a double leg against the cage and grabbed a kimura. From there, he pulled full guard and continued cranking on his opponent's shoulder, forcing his opponent to roll into mount. Not only did Brandao display solid technique with the kimura, he showed some serious strength.
It's not easy to sweep a strong top player like "The Damage."
In order to defeat Bermudez, Brandao had to rely on his jiu-jitsu skills. While Bermudez was looking to do damage and potentially finish a stunned "Ceara," Brandao noticed that Bermudez left his arm by Brandao's head. Reaching an arm past the waist while on top and in full guard is a cardinal sin in submission grappling. Brandao immediately got a grip and locked his legs around arm.
Now that he had control over his opponent -- and keep in mind this all happens in a split second -- Brandao swivels his hips. With this new angle, Brandao can roll his opponent over. With Bermudez on his back, the wrestler can no longer stack Brandao up, an effective way to prevent the armbar. Instead, Brandao can freely wrench back at his opponent's arm,injuring Bermudez and earning the tap.
As impressive as this armbar was, Brandao's top game is the best part of his grappling game. On top, he's an excellent guard passer. Not only is he good at individual passes, such as the under pass, cut through, and instep half guard pass, but he transitions between them all very well.
For example, Brandao attempted an under pass. As his opponent pulled away to defend, Brandao grabbed a head and arm grip and then slid his knee across his opponent's thigh for a cut pass.
In another nice transition, Brandao was trying to pass Pablo Garza's half guard. While controlling with the head and arm grip, Brandao attempted to use his instep to push passed Garza's guard to Brandao's right. When Garza abandoned the half guard and switched to an open guard to create space and prevent the pass, Brandao switched directions, got the underhook, and cut through Garza's open guard directly into side control.
After getting around the guard, Brandao will look to advance to mount by smoothly sliding his knee across the belly. Sometimes, Brandao will just keep the knee in the belly and posture up to land strikes. As his opponent goes to defend this transitions, Brandao will look to make them pay for any mistakes in arm positioning by hunting for the head and arm choke.
For all of his wildness on the feet, Brandao is very much a composed, technical, and lethal fighter on the ground.
Best Chance For Success
Brandao, as is normally the case, has about a round or two to get a finish. Otherwise, McGregor -- who seems to be in excellent shape and has yet to gas inside to Octagon -- will take over and likely finish him with strikes. Rather than try to knockout the Irish counter striker with a violent flurry, Brandao's best chance is to submit him.
That's not to say Brandao shouldn't aggressively swing.
Timing is important to counter punchers -- that's the reason Anderson Silva usually started fights by bouncing around and throwing feints, or why Lyoto Machida is especially movement-heavy in the first round. Until McGregor starts to time Brandao's motions and get a read on him, he's not likely to commit heavily to his counter strikes, which are extremely dangerous to a fighter like Brandao.
Using this early opportunity, Brandao needs to unload with some heavy punches and then immediately transition into a double leg. Brandao has the athleticism and strength of McGregor -- at least while he's fresh -- which is an advantage the Irishman has likely grown accustomed to. If Brandao gets his hands on him, he will be able to drag "Notorious" to the mat.
From there, Brandao needs to be aggressive with his passing, get a dominant position and then choke out the home crowd favorite.
Can Brandao pull off the upset or will McGregor live up to the high expectations placed on him?