Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Bantamweight prospects Thomas Almeida and Anthony Birchak will throw down this Saturday (Nov. 7, 2015) at UFC Fight Night 77 inside Ibirapuera Gymnasium in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
In less than one year, Almeida has become one of the 135-pound division's hottest talents. He's been dominant in each of his three UFC victories thus far, earning a performance bonus in each bout.
Birchak actually entered UFC with a bit of hype behind him, but his debut opponent's crafty leg lock game set him back a bit. He's returned to the win column since, but this is a big opportunity for "El Toro" to break into the top of the division.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for both men:
Key Wins: Brad Pickett (UFC 189), Yves Jabouin (UFC 186), Tim Gorman (UFC Fight Night 56)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Almeida is one of the most dangerous Muay Thai representatives in the entire UFC. The 24-year-old is a very high volume striker, breaking down his opponents with lengthy combinations full of different strikes.
On the whole, Almeida has only shown himself capable of following one game plan, and it's hard to argue with considering his success. Almeida walks his opponent down with excellent combinations and simply batters him, while defending takedowns and looking for counters when his opponent does step forward.
It's no surprise that Almeida has finished all but one of his opponents considering his offensive potency.
However, Birchak is also a fairly dangerous finisher, and Almeida has proven himself to be rather hittable. While a firefight undoubtedly favors Almeida, that's still not a great trait to have.
That's the reason this is an excellent match up for Almeida -- it's an opportunity for him to continue developing his head movement and distance control. Making Birchak miss should be a big part of his game plan, as it will help him in the long run and minimize his opponent's chance at an upset victory.
Key Wins: Joe Soto (UFC Fight Night 68)
Key Losses: Ian Entwistle (UFC on FOX 13)
Keys to Victory: Birchak is a dangerous and well-rounded athlete. A solid wrestler with heavy hands, Birchak has also finished six of his opponents via submission.
This is not an easy fight for Birchak ... or for most men in the division for that matter. Almeida is a legitimate blue-chip prospect, and he's looked simply destructive in his trio of scraps inside the Octagon.
To upset Almeida, Birchak needs to blend his offense and explode at key moments. Almeida focuses so heavily on firing off strikes that he can be caught off surprise, and Birchak needs to capitalize on those moments in violent fashion.
For example, Birchak is a solid wrestler, but that alone is probably not enough to keep Almeida on his back. It could, however, lead to Birchak slipping into back control and hunting for the rear naked choke. Or, he could punish Almeida with heavy shots as the Brazilian scrambles back to his feet.
Effectively attacking in transition like this is difficult, but it's also something "El Toro" has proven to be quite good at.
Bottom Line: These two Bantamweight studs are finishers ... and they're both on the rise.
Almeida has more eyes on him than any other Bantamweight outside of the Top 5. He's looked spectacular, and his ability to find the finish has been incredible. If he continues to find success here, it may be time for a big step up in competition.
All that said, a loss would definitely hurt. Almeida has shown some vulnerabilities in the past, but he's powered past them as great prospects that are still growing tend to do. If he's caught here, he may need a few more fights before trying to work his way into the Top 10.
As a substantial underdog, there isn't much pressure on Birchak. As a well-rounded fighter with finishing ability, Birchak is precisely the mold that's capable of pulling off such an upset. If he does manage to pull off the victory, expect to see him inside the Octagon with a highly ranked fighter before long.
Alternatively, a loss doesn't lose Birchak any standing in the public eye, but it doesn't help his job security. He's not likely to be released immediately -- UFC isn't exactly filled to the brim with Bantamweight prospects -- but he could if he loses once more.
At UFC Fight Night 77, Thomas Almeida and Anthony Birchak will fight for the finish. Which fighter will have his hand raised when the dust settles?