The rubber match you've all(?) been waiting for is almost here.
This Saturday evening (Nov. 7, 2015), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) makes its way down to Sao Paulo, Brazil, for UFC Fight Night 77, which features a Middleweight slugfest at the helm. In the FOX Sports 1-televised main event, Vitor Belfort faces Dan Henderson to cap off a series that's currently sitting at one win apiece.
In addition, Glover Teixeira will take on Patrick Cummins at Light Heavyweight, while top Bantamweight prospect Thomas Almeida faces one of his stiffest tests to date in Anthony Birchak.
The six-fight main card will include a seven-fight "Prelims" undercard, with three bouts featured on Fight Pass and the remaining balance on FOX Sports 1. Check out what's in store for the former:
170 lbs.: Viscardi Andrade vs. Gasan Umalatov
On The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Brazil 2," Viscardi Andrade (17-6) became the only member of Team Werdum to reach the semi-finals, where he lost to William Macario by third-round technical knockout. In UFC proper, he’s blown out Bristol Marunde and dropped a decision to Nico Musoke, though he did manage to badly hurt the latter with an overhand right.
This will be his first fight since Feb. 2014, as injuries to each side scrapped two planned meetings with Andreas Stahl.
Gasan Umalatov's (15-4-1) three-fight 2014 campaign began with a decision loss to Neil Magny, which he followed with a win over Paulo Thiago in hostile territory. That October, he fell victim to the Cathal Pendred hype train, dropping his record to 2-3 in his last five appearances.
He will be coming off a year-long layoff after an injury forced him out of an April clash with Sergio Moraes.
Andrade packs quite a bit of power in his hands, but I’m not confident in his ability to handle Umalatov on the mat. The Russian can handle himself in most areas of the game, but it’s his grappling ability that ought to carry him past Andrade.
While both are coming off major layoffs, Andrade’s seems the more deleterious. He suffered a broken tibia and fibula and has been out six months longer than Umalatov. The "Cobra" controls the fight through quality ground work, taking the decision in increasingly-dominant fashion.
Prediction: Umalatov via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Pedro Munhoz vs. Jimmie Rivera
Pedro Munhoz (12-1) stepped up on short notice to face Raphael Assuncao at UFC 170, where he suffered his first professional loss via unanimous decision. The former RFA champion’s next two fights demonstrated the reason(s) he’s still one of the division’s top prospects as he stopped Maatt Hobar and Jerrod Sanders in one round each.
At 5’7," Munhoz is three inches taller than Jimmie Rivera (17-1).
Rivera’s first bid at UFC stardom came on TUF 14, where he lost in the elimination round to Dennis Bermudez via technical knockout. Four years later, he made his official Octagon debut with an 89-second beatdown of Marcus Brimage, his third straight knockout.
He had only ever stopped one opponent with strikes prior to this streak.
Rivera’s stock may be at an all-time high now that he’s finally figured out how to hurt people with punches, but Munhoz is an absolute beast. The Brazilian packs one of the nastiest submission games in the division and mixes up his game incredibly well. Even with his newfound power, I question Rivera’s ability to keep "The Young Punisher" off of him.
I simply don’t believe Rivera can stay off his back or survive once there against Munhoz’s submission onslaught. Barring ring rust complications, the Brazilian overwhelms him before polishing him off with his killer guillotine sometime in the first frame.
Prediction: Munhoz via first-round submission
125 lbs.: Matheus Nicolau vs. Bruno Rodrigues
In the elimination round of TUF: "Brazil 4," Matheus Nicolau (10-1-1) defeated Mateus Vasco, impressing "Shogun" Mauricio Rua enough to be his first Bantamweight pick. He managed to reach the semifinals with a win over eventual tournament winner Reginaldo Vieira (it’s complicated) before dropping a decision to Dileno Lopes.
He will give up two inches of height to the 5’6" Bruno Rodrigues (4-0).
Rodrigues, nicknamed "Korea" for his Taekwondo prowess, demonstrated that skill set with a wheel kick knockout in the show’s elimination round. He submitted Leandro Higo, who has never tapped as a pro, in the quarterfinals, but lost in the semifinal round to Vieira.
He has submitted three opponents as a professional fighter.
I will readily admit to some favoritism here. I was rooting for Rodrigues on the show and think very highly of him. Higo is no joke, and "Korea" took him out in one round. He’s got a diverse, entertaining striking arsenal and some quality grappling to back it up. More important, he has a capable wrestling game that should prove the deciding factor.
Both of these men are excellent additions to the Flyweight roster, young and highly skilled. I just think Rodrigues has a bit more to offer at this time. "Korea" puts him down with a nasty kick sometime in the second stanza.
Prediction: Rodriguez via second-round technical knockout
Four UFC Fight Night 77 "Prelims" fights to preview and predict tomorrow, including a handful of solid prospects at Lightweight and Featherweight.
See you there, Maniacs!
Remember that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 77 fight card, starting with the "Prelims" matches online (and on FOX Sports 1), which are scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. ET, right on through the FOX Sports 1-televised main card at 10 p.m. ET.