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UFC Belem preview, predictions for ‘Machida vs Anders’

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UFC Fight Night: Ultimate Media Day Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will continue its Brazilian journey this Saturday evening (Feb. 3, 2018) as the world’s largest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion makes its debut in Belem.

In the main event, former champion Lyoto Machida looks for a much-needed win against rising star Eryk Anders, while former title contender John Dodson attempt to put his split decision loss to Marlon Moraes behind him against Pedro Munhoz one fight prior.

The card will also feature Valentina Shevchenko’s flyweight debut against power-puncher Priscila Cachoeira and an intriguing clash of styles between Michel Prazeres and Des Green.

As always, you can check out the UFC Belem “Prelim” predictions here and here, then wash them down with the odds and betting lines here.

Shall we?

185 lbs.: Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida (22-8) vs. Eryk “Ya’ Boi” Anders (10-0)

This is how I envision the thought process behind this fight coming together

UFC Exec 1 (UFCE1): You know how Machida has been crushed by athletic southpaws three times in a row?

UFC Exec 2 (UFCE2): Yeah?

UFCE1: What if we put him against another one?

UFCE2: You’re a damn genius.

UFCE1: Damn straight. Now quit hogging the coke.

That’s oversimplifying things, of course, but the anticipation of watching Machida fight has been replaced with dread. I’m legitimately worried for his physical well-being at this point. If there was anything left of the former champ, he would have smashed Derek Brunson, whose boxing acumen doesn’t extend far past “I throws the left hands that makes the peoples fall down.”

Anders’ fight with Markus Perez, who seemed more concerned with his Genki Sudo impersonation than with actually winning the fight, showed that the former Alabama standout still needs a lot of refinement to make a true run at the division elite. Even still, I just can’t pick Machida against him. “The Dragon’s” defense has left him and the intercepting counters that felled light heavyweights just aren’t there anymore. Anders catches him in a wild exchange early on and hands Lyoto his third consecutive scary knockout loss.

Prediction: Anders by first-round knockout

135 lbs.: John “The Magician” Dodson (19-9) vs. Pedro “The Young Punisher” Munhoz (15-2)

I can’t look at John Dodson and not see lost potential, even with his clear love for and dedication to the sport. His game has just never evolved from hurling left hands in new and exciting ways. He utterly lacks any kind of offense from his lead hand and his output fluctuates strangely, leading to unnecessarily close and dull fights.

See: Wineland, E.

Luckily, though I don’t see him challenging for the title with the Big Three (Cruz, Dillashaw, Garbrandt) and Marlon Moraes in the way, he’s still well-equipped to beat the majority of the division, including “The Young Punisher.”

Munhoz has an absolute bear trap of a guillotine and is tougher than a two-dollar steak in hockey pads, but his wrestling has not developed as it should, forcing him to use pressure striking to provoke opponents into ill-advised takedown attempts. While he has enough power and aggression to make this work more often than not, he can look worryingly mortal when the choke isn’t there.

Unless he can become the first person to dent Dodson’s chin, it won’t be there. Take Munhoz’s ground game out of the equation and you have a solid-but-not-spectacular bruiser, the sort that Dodson loves leading on merry, painful chases around the Octagon. Dodson’s freakish athleticism, speed, and reflexes keep him on his feet as he potshots the advancing Munhoz for three full rounds.

Prediction: Dodson by unanimous decision

125 lbs.: Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko (14-3) vs. Priscila “Pedrita” Cachoeira (6-0)

As I write this, Shevchenko is as high as a -900 favorite in places. The second-most lopsided favorite on the card is Fight Pass opener Polyana Viana at -370, whose opponent has never beaten anyone with a win on their record. Note that I said “win on their record,” not “winning record.”

Cachoeira winning this fight would flat-out astonish me. I’m talking Darren Elkins-Mirsad Bektic levels of jaw-dropping “that did not just happen.” She’s a flat-footed power-puncher with no concept of defense or pacing, the perfect opponent for Shevchenko to dissect as she sees fit.

Cachoeria was originally supposed to debut against Lauren Murphy, which would have been somewhat winnable, but she holds zero advantages over Shevchenko outside of one-shot power and a bit of height. Shevchenko basically wins this however she wants, outclassing Cachoeira on the feet and mat in a triumphant flyweight debut.

Prediction: Shevchenko by unanimous decision

155 lbs.: Michel “Trator” Prazeres (23-2) vs. Des “The Predator” Green (20-6)

Prazeres, one of the UFC’s assortment of Unreasonably Huge Brazilian Lightweights (UHBL) alongside Francisco Trinaldo and Gleison Tibau, suffered from traditional UHBL issues when he first joined the UFC, dominating the early portions of fights before gassing to death. Like Trinaldo, however, he seems to have fixed the cardio issue and emerged as a serious threat to the division.

When he’s firing on all cylinders, his relentless takedowns, suffocating top control, and surprising hand speed are a handful for almost anyone at 155. Green, though a capable wrestler and striker in his own right, will most likely struggle with Prazeres’ boxing and raw physicality.

The one caveat, of course, is that Prazeres has nuked the scale in two of his last three fights, weighing in at 158 against Gilbert Burns and 159 against featherweight late replacement Mads Burnell. Those fights also happened to be his best cardio performances to date, and while correlation is not causality, it’s worth keeping an eye on, especially since Green will make him work for every takedown.

Expect Prazeres to find most of his success on the inside, trading high-speed punches and keeping Green’s back acquainted with the fence and mat long enough to take the decision.

Prediction: Prazeres by unanimous decision

265 lbs.: Timothy Johnson (11-4) vs. Marcelo Golm (6-0)

I am of the school that believes that the onus is on opponents to keep people from being boring. If you can’t keep the guy from leaning on you for fifteen minutes, that’s your problem. People are going to fight in the way that maximizes their chances of making money, and if you don’t like it, make him stop.

That said, god damn is Johnson painful to watch. Despite his wrestling pedigree, he struggles badly to complete takedowns, turning almost all of his fights into painful slogs against the fence. He was originally set to fight fellow grind enthusiast Luis Henrique, which could have been absolutely agonizing. Instead, he gets Golm, an untested up-and-comer with quality finishing ability and serious size but little on his résumé.

Which sounds more than a little like Johnson’s last opponent, Junior Albini. And we all know how that went.

I’ll freely admit that this pick is colored by a personal distaste for Johnson’s fighting style, but I don’t think it’s too intellectually dishonest to pick a young, imposing powerhouse to beat a guy who just lost to a young, imposing powerhouse in one-sided fashion. Johnson’s win/loss/win/loss streak ends as Golm hands him the first losing streak of his career.

Prediction: Golm by first-round TKO

185 lbs.: Thiago “Marreta” Santos (16-5) vs. Anthony “Lionheart” Smith (28-12)

If you had asked me which early-2010s Strikeforce competitor would be on a three-fight knockout streak in a crowded division going into 2018, my answer probably would not have been “the guy who got knocked out by Adlan Amagov with the most telegraphed, straight-armed windmill swing I’ve ever seen.”

And yet, here we are.

Anthony Smith has gone from a finish-or-be-finished attraction to a genuine contender on an 11-1 run, finally utilizing his towering 6’4” frame to great effect and showing surprisingly resilient takedown defense. He seems to have finally hit his stride at the age of 29, ten years and more than 40 fights into his career.

Which is why it’s a shame that Santos is going to take his head off.

“Marreta” seriously impressed me in his dismantling of Gerald Meerschaert, whom I thought would dominate him on the mat. His enormous physical strength has translated into rock-solid balance and his power is as terrifying as ever. Though Smith isn’t as fragile as his six (T)KO losses would suggest, his defense is still lacking; he has the second-highest strikes absorbed per minute on the main card and gets hit by more than half the strikes that come his way. He simply cannot mix it up with Santos and expect things to go well.

I want to see Santos against a powerhouse wrestler before I hop back on the hype train, but I’m comfortable saying that he adds Smith to his highlight reel.

Prediction: Santos by first-round knockout will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 125 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET and the main card at at 10 p.m. ET.

For much more on this weekend’s UFC Fight Night 125 event, click here.