It has been a while, eh?
This Saturday evening (May 14, 2016), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heads down to Curitiba, Brazil for its first non-interim Heavyweight title fight since 2010 to feature neither Cain Velasquez nor Junior dos Santos. Instead, reigning division champion Fabricio Werdum and challenger Stipe Miocic will headline the UFC 198 pay-per-view (PPV) event inside Arena da Baixada.
In the co-feature, Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza looks to rebound from his narrow loss to Yoel Romero at Vitor Belfort's expense, while Anderson Silva takes on Uriah Hall and Cristiane "Cyborg" Justino makes her Octagon debut against Leslie Smith.
The orderly among you will be delighted to learn that the eight "Prelims" undercard matches are split evenly between Fight Pass and FOX Sports 1. Check out the former line up below:
205 lbs.: Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs. Patrick Cummins
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira's (21-7) surprise upset of Rashad Evans gave way not to a resurgence, but to one of the most brutal knockout losses in recent memory, a 44-second mauling from Anthony Johnson. He returned to action one year later against rival Mauricio Runa, whom Nogueira rocked early before "Shogun" took control with his wrestling.
"Minotouro" has knocked out and submitted six opponents apiece.
Patrick Cummins (8-3) put his disastrous debut loss to Daniel Cormier behind him with three straight wins, including a decision over world-class Brazilian jiu-jitsu player Antonio Carlos Jr. He's since gone 1-2, a beatdown of Rafael "Feijao" sandwiched between knockout losses to Ovince Saint Preux and Glover Teixeira.
"Durkin" scored stoppages in six of his eight victories.
He's not the physical ruin his brother is, but it's hard to deny that the game has passed by "Little Nog." Though he's still got some sneaky power in his hands and is fairly durable when not eating Johnson's bunker-busters, he's lost some speed and his bottom game has proven inadequate against the latest batch of wrestlers.
In short, he no longer has the tools to halt Cummins' relentless takedown onslaught. "Durkin's" pressure is tremendous and his ground-and-pound wilting. The American is also tougher than his three stoppage losses would suggest, limiting the possibility of Nogueira finds a one-hitter quitter. Cummins does his thing and chips away at Nogueira for either a late technical knockout or unanimous decision.
Prediction: Cummins via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Francisco Trinaldo vs. Yancy Medeiros
The hulking Francisco Trinaldo (19-4) struggled with consistency early in his UFC career, going 4-3 in his first seven fights in the promotion. He's since won five straight over the likes of Norman Parke, Chad Laprise and Ross Pearson.
"Massaranduba" will give up two inches of height to the 5'10" Medeiros, who is also nine years younger than the Brazilian.
Hawaii's Yancy Medeiros (12-3) opened his UFC career winless (0-2) with one "No Contest" because of marijuana, but put together two straight submissions over Damon Jackson and Joe Proctor to pick up some hype. A brutal knockout loss to Dustin Poirier put a damper on that, although he did manage to eke past John Makdessi in Dec. 2015.
He has knocked out six foes and submitted another three.
Now that he actually has the cardio to bully people for all three rounds, Trinaldo's become a force to be reckoned with. He's one of the largest fighters in the division and has tightened up his striking considerably. Medeiros has some power and accuracy of his own, but I'm just not sure he can stop the Brazilian bulldozer's advance.
"Massaranduba's" powerful kicks and knees ought to carry the day, just as they did against Pearson. The Brazilian walks through some heavy licks to take the decision on volume and body work.
Prediction: Trinaldo via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Sergio Moraes vs. Luan Chagas
Though he lost in his Octagon debut against Cezar Ferreira, Sergio Moraes (10-2) demonstrated his elite grappling chops with a rear-naked choke of Renee Forte and gorgeous mounted triangle of Neil Magny. He's fought just twice since 2013 due to injury, picking up wins over Peter Sobotta and Omari Akhmedov.
He has submitted seven professional opponents, six in the first round.
Luan Chagas (14-1) has yet to see the judges in his mixed martial arts (MMA) career, going past the second round just once in 15 fights. "Tarzan" is currently riding a nine-fight win streak dating back to 2013.
He replaces Kamaru Usman on approximately two weeks' notice.
Watching one of Chagas' recent fights left me less-than-impressed. The 22-year old has decidedly ugly boxing and mediocre wrestling, while he's massively outclassed on the Brazilian jiu-jitsu front. He doesn't even have the striking precision necessary to exploit Moraes' historical durability issues.
Moraes would have been utterly demolished by Usman. Instead, he gets a chance to shine. He's up there with Gunnar Nelson and possibly even Demian Maia in terms of pure jiu-jitsu, and he's up against an opponent ill-equipped to exploit the lacking aras of his game. Moraes chokes him out in a hurry.
Prediction: Moraes via first-round submission
145 lbs.: Renato Carneiro vs. Zubaira Tukhugov
Following a successful run on the Brazilian circuit, Renato Carneiro (9-0-1) joined UFC in 2014, debuting in December against Finland's Tom Niinimaki. The Brazilian turned in a dominant performance en route to a second-round submission finish, the fifth rear-naked choke victory his his career.
"Moicano" was set to face Mirsad Bektic last year before withdrawing because of injury, making this just his first fight since his debut.
Zubaira Tukhugov (18-3) opened his UFC career with a pair of solid victories, outscoring power-puncher Douglas Andrade in his debut and demolishing Ernest Chavez his next time out. Injury kept the Chechen striker out of the cage until last December, when he took a split decision over former The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) competitor Phillipe Nover.
Tukhugov has now won nine straight since a 2012 knockout loss.
This right here? This is a damn good fight. Both Carneiro and Tukhugov are young and loaded with potential -- I fully expect to see one or both of them in the Top 15 within the next two years. As far as this fight, I favor Tukhugov for his speed, takedown defense and lack of ring rust.
When he's not obsessed with finding a kill shot, Tukhugov is a whirlwind of precise power punches and fancy kicks. Carneiro has a three-inch height advantage and a very effective jab that could pay dividends, but I'm not sure he can maintain the necessary discipline in the face of Tukhugov's pressure. The Chechen steadily takes over for a competitive decision win.
Prediction: Tukhugov via unanimous decision
Four UFC 198 "Prelims" undercard fights remain to preview and predict, capped off by a pair of excellent Welterweight showdowns, Same time tomorrow, Maniacs!
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 198 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:15 p.m. ET, and then the remaining under card balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.