With Conor McGregor off doing “Notorious” things, two of the most fearsome Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight strikers are set to duke it out for the belt this Saturday evening (June 3, 2017) as Jose Aldo takes on Max Holloway for the undisputed 145-pound belt inside Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In addition to the title bout, UFC 212 will feature a clash between top-ranked women’s Strawweight contenders Claudia Gadelha (No. 1) and Karolina Kowalkiewicz (No. 2), as well as Vitor Belfort vs. Nate Marquardt and a slugfest that pits Paulo “Borrachinha” against Oluwale Bamgbose.
You’ll find UFC 212’s main card will be available for purchase on pay-per-view (PPV) this weekend. However, before that happens seven “Prelims” undercard matches — three on Fight Pass (preview here) and the remaining four on FOX Sports 1 — will set the stage. Here are the deets for the FOX Sports 1 portion:
135 lbs.: Raphael Assuncao vs. Marlon Moraes
A seven-fight win streak, including decisions over T.J. Dillashaw, Pedro Munhoz and Bryan Caraway, had Raphael Assuncao (24-5) on the verge of a title shot before injuries sapped his momentum. He returned to the cage 21 months later with a loss to Dillashaw, but bounced back with a narrow decision over Aljamain Sterling.
Ten of his 13 stoppage wins have come by decision.
Marlon Moraes (18-4-1) burst onto the world stage in 2013 with a decision over Miguel Torres on the inaugural World Series of Fighting (WSOF) show. He went on to win nine straight fights in the promotion, picking up four stoppages in his five title defenses.
His current 13-fight win streak includes six (technical) knockouts and two submissions.
If UFC wanted to show fight fans that Moraes can handle top-tier Bantamweights, Assuncao was a good choice for a first opponent. If they wanted a top-tier 135-pound fighter who Moraes could dazzle against, Assuncao is not a good choice. Assuncao’s stout takedown defense and low-output counter striking make his fights vulnerable to becoming slogs and Moraes has let opponents off the hook in the past.
Still, Moraes is faster and more diverse in his striking and has the wrestling to keep it standing. Fingers crossed for a knockout via some form of spinning nonsense, but more likely he outworks Assuncao for a decision win.
Prediction: Moraes via unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Antonio Carlos Junior vs. Eric Spicely
Antonio Carlos Junior (7-2) rolled through The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Brazil” 3, stopping all three opponents in the house before dominating Vitor Miranda at the Finale, but has struggled to find his footing in UFC proper. “Cara de Sapato” is currently 2-0 since a 1-2 (1 NC) stretch, most recently defeating Italian grappler Marvin Vettori at UFC 207.
Four of his five submission wins have come by form of choke, the fifth by armbar.
Eric Spicely (10-1) reached the semifinals of TUF 23 before suffering a knockout loss to teammate Andrew Sanchez, then got off to a rough UFC start thanks to a Sam Alvey guillotine. He has since emerged as a contender with impressive submissions of Thiago Santos and Alessio Di Chirico, the former of which earned “Performance of the Night” and numbered among 2016’s biggest upsets.
All eight of his professional stoppage wins have come in the first round.
Man, I hope we get to watch these two grapple. Carlos is legitimately world-class on the ground and Spicely — despite only getting his black belt earlier this year — looks like he has what it takes to hold his own there.
It may not matter, of course, as Carlos is the better striker and might have better wrestling. His cardio is a question mark, of course, but he handled a very game Marvin Vettori for all three rounds last time out, suggesting that we’ll not see a repeat of his meltdown against Dan Kelly. Size, power and top control carry Carlos to his third straight win.
Prediction: Carlos Junior via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Johnny Eduardo vs. Matthew Lopez
Johnny Eduardo (28-10) — striking coach for the likes of Renan Barao and Jose Aldo —has fought just three times in the last five years. After coming back from two years away to destroy Eddie Wineland, Eduardo fell to the aforementioned Sterling 19 months later and knocked out Manny Gamburyan 11 months after that.
He has won 14 of his last 16 overall, seven by knockout and four by submission.
Matthew Lopez (9-1) — another product of Dana White’s “Lookin’ for a Fight” web series — put on a hell of a fight but ultimately came up short against Rani Yahya in his Octagon debut. He faced another stiff test in Mitch Gagnon, whom Lopez overcame a heavy knockdown to defeat by decision.
He has stopped seven opponents in the first round.
In terms of entertainment, this is my early pick for best fight of the “Prelims.” Eduardo can do some real damage on the feet and Lopez is the sort of furious, scramble-happy wrestler you show to your casual friends who check Facebook anytime someone hits a takedown.
Eduardo has Nova Uniao’s standard-issue ironclad takedown defense, not to mention a more powerful and diverse striking attack, but he’s also got quite a bit of wear on him and Lopez pushes a pace that even someone who hadn’t spent half his UFC career on the “Disable List” would struggle with. Expect Eduardo to have some early success stuffing takedowns and landing potshots before Lopez’s chain wrestling overwhelms him for a decision win.
Prediction: Lopez via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Iuri Alcantara vs. Brian Kelleher
Tough losses to Frankie Saenz and Jimmie Rivera weren’t enough to dissuade Iuri Alcantara (35-7), who destroyed Brad Pickett in gorgeous fashion back in Oct. 2016. His next time out, “Marajo” traded hands with Luke Sanders and ate a worrying amount of ground-and-pound before putting away “Cool Hand Luke” with a kneebar.
He has knocked out and submitted 14 opponents apiece.
Kelleher rebounded from a 1-4 stretch to win six straight, three by submission and one via (technical) knockout. The streak included a win over Andre Soukhamthath and two wins over previously-unbeaten Julio Arce to win and defend the ROC Bantamweight title.
He will give up three inches of height to the 5’9” Brian Kelleher (16-7).
There are times — usually lasting between two and thirty seconds — where Alcantara is the best Bantamweight in the world. There are also times, usually lasting the rest of the round, where he’s a dangerous and well-rounded fighter hamstrung by poor takedown defense and strategic follies.
There aren’t many archetypes more frustrating to root for than the talent-rich fighter who suffers fits of brilliance and confusion in equal measure.
I can’t find any recent footage of Kelleher besides highlights, which suggest a strong wrestler and grappler. It’s a style with which “Marajo” has struggled before, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all by another Frankie Saenz-style upset, but I say Alcantara catches him in one of those freak transitions he’s so good at.
Prediction: Alcantara by first-round submission
Jose Aldo vs. Max Holloway for the undisputed Featherweight title is a dream fight. I can live with several substandard match ups if it means we get to see those two throw down.
See you then, Maniacs!
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 212 fight card on fight night, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.