Vitor Belfort will fight Dan Henderson for the third time in his career, because that's what it's come to for a pair of middleweights who, at one time or another, took turns being the second-best 185-pounder on the planet. A lot has changed since then, like the ban on testosterone replacement therapy (TRT).
As a result, "Hendo" plummeted to No. 12 in the rankings, while "The Phenom" clings to the No. 4 spot on the strength of his terrifying run from Jan. to Nov. of 2013, which left three durable middleweights -- including Henderson -- looking up at the lights.
He'll try to replicate that performance (sans jet fuel) -- while Henderson looks for redemption -- in the main event of UFC Fight Night 77, which takes place on FOX Sports 1 tomorrow night (Sat., Nov. 7, 2015) inside Ibirapuera Gymnasium in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
It's a fight card that caters to Brazilian fans, but can be appreciated for its solid if not unspectacular line up of recognizable faces, some of which are still very much relevant in their respective divisions. Best of all, it costs nothing but a few hours on Saturday night.
Let's break down the six-fight main card and see who's poised to deliver the goods.
185 lbs.: Vitor "The Phenom" Belfort (24-11) vs. Dan "Hendo" Henderson (31-13)
Nostradumbass predicts: What's being billed as a contest between two middleweights trying to remain relevant in the 185-pound title hunt, in reality, is a litmus test for which fighter -- Vitor Belfort or Dan Henderson -- has suffered the most from the promotion's ban on TRT.
I'd argue they've bothered looked like shit in recent fights.
I know the counter to that claim is "Hendo's" knockout victory over the free-falling Tim Boetsch, just his second win in five years, but you can't really gauge where a fighter is at after less than 30 seconds inside the cage. Henderson can still kill a lumbering lummox with his legendary right hand, that hasn't changed and probably never will.
As for the rest of him?
Well, I think it's already been established in a handful of recent losses that his once-mighty chin was betrayed by father time, along with his formidable wrestling skills. That doesn't leave us with much to work with as "Hendo" has been reduced to a gameplan that consists walking, stalking, and swinging for the fences.
Considering he's 45 and has been competing for 18 years, I wouldn't expect much else.
The question heading into this FOX Sports 1 headliner is whether an old, broken down Henderson is still good enough to beat an old, broken down Belfort. "The Phenom" looked sad and saggy in his technical knockout loss to Chris Weidman last summer, but did prove he's still dangerous for the first couple of minutes.
I'm also not sure how much stock we put into his "All American" loss because Belfort came off an 18-month layoff right into a title fight against the best middleweight in the world, in his prime, which is a pretty tall order for any fighter of any age or skill.
When I line up their transparencies on the overhead projector, I see advantages in speed and skill for Belfort. Cardio (or lack thereof) is about even. Henderson may have heavier hands, but as the Brazilian proved at UFC Fight Night 32, accuracy can be just as deadly as power once the chin starts to erode.
Unless Belfort sticks his head out or does something stupid, I think their third fight ends similarly to their second.
Final prediction: Belfort def. Henderson via technical knockout
205 lbs.: Glover Teixeira (23-4) vs. Patrick "Durkin" Cummins (8-2)
Nostradumbass predicts: Patrick Cummins is one of those fighters who will probably need to win 10 in a row before anyone starts taking him seriously as a light heavyweight contender. That's what happens when the promotion plucks you from a Starbucks and lances you on pay-per-view (PPV).
To be fair, his only two losses since ditching the beanery were against Daniel Cormier and Ovince St. Preux. The former is the division titleholder while the latter is ranked No. 5 in the 205-pound division. It's not like he's been losing to chumps and he did register a fairly impressive knockout win over Rafael Cavalcante.
Not that I would call Cummins an accomplished striker.
His footwork looks like someone trying not to get shanked in the prison shower and while he has decent power, it serves him better on the ground. Getting there is usually a matter of when, not if, thanks to his collegiate experience as an All-American wrestler.
On paper, this looks like a very winnable fight.
Unfortunately it's not, because "Durkin" is no Phil Davis, who deftly avoided the knockout punch of Glover Teixeira and wrestle-fucked his way to a sweep on the judges' scorecards. What's worse, is that Cummins doesn't have the striking to set up his shots.
The Brazilian, meanwhile, has done some wrestling of his own.
I just can't imagine a scenario where Cummins survives 15 minutes locked inside the cage with a prolific puncher like Teixeira, who's already faced -- and finished -- much stiffer competition, including Ryan Bader and the aforementioned St. Preux.
I would be shocked if this fight sees a third round.
Final prediction: Teixeira def. Cummins via technical knockout
135 lbs.: Thomas "Thominhas" Almeida (19-0) vs. Anthony "El Toro" Birchak (12-2)
Nostradumbass predicts: A lot of fans behind the wheel of the Thomas Almeida hype train have been riding the brakes after "Thominas" was nearly felled by "One Punch" last July. I had the opposite reaction and put the pedal to the medal because a few lingering questions were finally answered.
Namely, what will happen when Almeida gets into serious trouble?
After riding through the 135-pound ranks -- in cruise control -- the Brazilian was nearly KTFO by Brad Pickett. But he was able to persevere, battle back, and finish the fight in style. That's the kind of shit champions are made of and it's hard not to like his chances in every fight moving forward.
Not that they get any easier.
Case in point is another bantamweight animal in Anthony Birchak, who must hate the judges. "El Toro" has 10 finishes in 12 wins and he's no one-trick pony, having spread them across four knockouts and six submissions. Is he good enough to win this fight?
That depends on his gameplan.
Even the most polished fighter can be upended by an aggressive, unpredictable offense. If Birchak thinks he's going to stand and bang with Almeida, he's going out in round one. But if he can close the distance and make it dirty, utilizing the cage and working his formidable clinch game, that 19-0 will soon be 19-1.
That said, I believe "Thominhas" is going to be able to make the necessary adjustments.
I would expect the Brazilian to cough up the opening frame as Birchak batters him with an early blitzkrieg. But once the dust settles and Almeida gets his bearings, he's going to be able to use speed, timing, and accuracy to shut down "El Toro."
A late finish would not surprise me.
Final prediction: Almeida def. Birchak via technical knockout
155 lbs.: Alex "Cowboy" Oliveira (12-3-1, 1 NC) vs. Piotr "Pletwal" Hallmann (15-4)
Nostradumbass predicts: The sportsbooks gave Alex Oliveira a decided advantage heading into this fight and I think that has less to do with actual skill and more to do with Piotr Hallmann's back-to-back losses, which drained the hype from his near-flawless run on the European circuit.
Welcome to the big show.
Recent hiccups notwithstanding, he's still a dangerous fighter who can usually match any competing lightweight when it comes to physicality. You don't get to finish 14 of 15 wins by dumb luck and "Pletwal" -- which Google translates into "whale" from Polish -- better hope he's the Orca who killed Captain Nolan and not that dotty beluga from those goofy deep sea memes.
Alex Oliveira is no joke.
I know it's hard to take him seriously with that flamboyant "Cowboy" routine but in his defense, he was a bona fide bull rider prior to enlisting in MMA, even if he tends to oversell the gimmick. Inside the cage he uses his considerable height and reach to counterpunch and stay out of the red zone.
So far, so good.
In order for Hallmann to make this a fight he can win, he has to get down and dirty and force the Brazilian to empty his gas tank. That said, I'm not seeing a clear-cut path to victory for the venerable Pole and I think his zeal to snap a two-fight losing streak gets him subbed.
First time for everything.
Final prediction: Oliveira def. Hallmann via submission
155 lbs.: Gilbert "Durinho" Burns (10-0) vs. Rashid "Highlander" Magomedov (18-1)
Nostradumbass predicts: We're nearing 2016 and we still have matches that are the classic "grappler vs. striker," which means we're not going to get a lot of "mixed" in our martial arts, even when we combine the considerable talents of Gilbert Burns and Rashid Magomedov.
Burns has one of those ground games that is not only technical, but exciting to watch. That makes his rudimentary striking more palatable, but let's not even pretend he's going to try to throw hands against his Dagestani opponent, though I would expect him to pay the admission fee to get inside.
"Highlander" has just one finish since 2011.
That means "Durinho" can eat a few shots to get his hands around Magomedov, though getting him to the floor is an entirely different story. Mags has terrific takedown defense and cardio doesn't appear to be an issue or he wouldn't be winning so many decisions.
Reminds me of the middleweight Magomedov, now that I think of it.
When it comes to quality of opposition, neither fighter has endured what I would classify as a quality test inside the cage. Burns probably has a better chance of getting finished on the feet than Magomedov does of getting finished on the ground, but I'm more inclined to think these two cancel each other out and deliver a sloppy, crowd-snoozing performance.
These will return the kind of (cough) "highlights" that Benny Hill music was made for.
Final prediction: Burns def. Magomedov via split decision
205 lbs.: Fabio "Iron Hillbilly" Maldonado (22-8) vs. Corey "Beastin' 25/8" Anderson (6-1)
Nostradumbass predicts: I know guys like UFC color commentator Joe Rogan get a hard-on every time Fabio Maldonado lands a BODY BLOW, but I do not enjoy watching the Brazilian fight. MMA is a sport, not a gauntlet for determining the body's threshold for pain.
I know, I know, I'm a pussy who should stick to water polo and blah, blah, blah, but is it too much to ask a 35-year-old boxer to block punches with something other than his face?
The Brazilian's success in combat sports can be attributed to his high-volume punching attack, which lacks the kind of one-punch power that would spare him return fire. Even so, the accumulation of shots to the bread basket is enough trouble any competitor by the second or third round.
Just not Corey Anderson.
I had him written off against Jan Blachowicz, but The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 19 winner -- still only 26 -- showed tremendous improvement from his fight against Gian Villante and put the rest of the division on notice. He's still a work in progress but his strength and athleticism will be enough for this main card curtain-jerker.
One or two rib roasters will be all he needs to drag this thing south.
I don't expect Maldonado to have the wherewithal to stop him, though I do think his iron chin and desire to please the hometown fans will keep him in the fight. The "Iron Hillbilly" is probably better suited for a similarly-skilled striker, but Joe Silva and Co. did him no favors here.
Final prediction: Anderson def. Maldonado via unanimous decision
There you have it.
MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 77 fight card tomorrow night (click here), starting with the UFC Fight Pass "Prelims" bouts at 6:30 p.m. ET before moving on to the FOX Sports 1 "Prelims" offering at 8 p.m. ET, followed by the FOX Sports 1 main card line up at 10 p.m. ET.
For previews and predictions of all the UFC Fight Night 77 "Prelims" bout click here and here. Odds, betting lines, and best bets for "Belfort vs. Henderson 3" go here.
You've heard my picks, now let's hear yours. Who gets it done tomorrow night in Brazil?