Having been spoilt in April with an event on every weekend, it has now been three weeks since the UFC graced our presence. This Saturday, Jaraguá do Sul in Brazil will play host to the Octagon and the customary symphony of violence that it encases where former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion, and promotional newcomer, Luke Rockhold will take on former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Vitor Belfort, who is back in his native country all hopped-up on TRT and raring to go. This battle of 185lbs contenders is preceded by an additional middleweight bout with contendership on the menu as (another) former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion and UFC debutant, Ronaldo ‘Jacaré’ Souza squares off with Chris Camozzi. As always though there is plenty at stake at the other end of the card and below I’ll explain what you need to look out for and why you should be settling down early for the prelims.
Hacran ‘Barnabe’ Dias (21-1-1) vs. Nik ‘The Carny’ Lentz (23-5-2) -
Topping the undercard is a featherweight tussle between Brazillian native Dias and the American Nik Lentz. Dias, who trains out of the Nova Uniao camp which houses UFC Featherweight champ José Aldo and UFC interim Bantamweight champion Renan Barao, is making just his second appearance in the Octagon having been last seen defeating Yuri Alcantara at UFC 147 back in June of 2012 via unanimous decision. Dias is currently riding a nine fight win streak and had tried out for the first season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil only to be granted a contract outright instead of a place on the show. I can see Dias looking to take this fight to the ground, control from the top and hunt for the submission.
Having found himself still in a job following a run of 0-2-0-1 NC in his final three appearances as a UFC lightweight, Nik Lentz took the sensible decision in moving down in weight to the more forgiving 145lbs division. Since the move, Lentz has begun to show the kind of talent that led him to receive sizeable recognition in his early run with the promotion, having triumphed in his only two appearances as a featherweight. Lentz was last seen this past January dispatching of the credible Diego Nunes via a one-sided unanimous decision, a victory that saw Lentz move to the #10 slot on the UFC’s official featherweight rankings. Lentz will look to impose his grinding style upon Dias and will mix in a solid striking game with effective wrestling to keep the Brazillian on the back foot.
A victory here for either man would likely see them move a lot closer to, maybe even one more victory away from joining the current logjam of contenders at the top of the featherweight division.
Paulo Thiago (14-5-0) vs. Michel ‘Trator’ Prazeres (16-0-0) -
What the hell happened to Paulo Thiago?! Having once looked like a potential force to be reckoned with in the welterweight division, Thiago, the part-time member of a special forces unit in Rio de Janeiro, is currently 1-4 in his last five contests in the UFC and is surely clinging to his job. We are now all well aware of what Thiago will bring to this fight or any fight and that is a willingness to trade punches in the pocket as well as the ability to tap you out if the contest ends up on the mat.
Having originally been scheduled to take on Lance Benoist before injury struck, Thiago now faces late replacement and undefeated Brazillian Michael Prazeres. Prazeres will be making his UFC debut this weekend and of his 16 career victories, eight have come by way of submission. Prazeres is not the most active fighter you will ever come across, having had only two fights since 2010 and competing in just the sixteen contests since his debut in 2000.
While he has been on quite the skid of late, I can’t really look past a Thiago victory here. Thiago has fought vastly superior competition over a far more frequent period than Prazeres can boast and I see this being the difference maker on Saturday.
Fabio Maldonado (18-6-0) vs. Roger ‘The Hulk’ Hollett (13-4-0) -
Former pro boxer and UFC light heavyweight, Fabio Maldonado was last seen auditioning for the next series of The Walking Dead at UFC 153 thanks to Glover Teixeira’s merciless ground’n’pound assault which left the punch drunk Brazillian staggering all over the Octagon in the brief moments his head was not bouncing off the canvas. In spite of Teixeira’s butchery, Maldonado was not finished via KO/TKO but by a doctor stoppage as try as he might, Glover could not finish the Team Nogueira product and on a couple of occasions was even wobbled by Maldonado’s fleeting attacks. This tremendous show of heart and guts likely saved Maldonado from the UFC chopping block as this was his third straight defeat for the promotion, a run that would have ended most fighters’ tenure with the promotion.
For his next opponent this weekend, the UFC have seen fit to take it a little easier with Maldonado this time around and have paired him up with one-time Bellator vet, Roger Hollett. Hollett, who signed on with the UFC in August 2012, has only made the one appearance inside the Octagon and seen his opportunities limited as a result of injuries and a contract dispute with those pesky Bellator guys. That one appearance for the UFC came against Matt Hamill at UFC 152 last September in a one sided unanimous decision defeat for ‘The Hulk’, where Hamill’s wrestling ability posed all sorts of problems. Hollett is fairly well-rounded with no real stand out qualities as a mixed martial artist but is perhaps best when standing.
Maldonado and Hollett will likely duke it out on the feet for the duration of this bout and should prove to be an entertaining, if not sloppy, striking affair. While Hollett is capable of landing that big shot to put an end to an opponent’s night, I cannot envision Maldonado’s granite chin succumbing to this outcome and likely see Maldonado’s combinations and power being enough to secure victory.
Jussier ‘Formiga’ da Silva (14-2-0) vs. Chris ‘Kamikaze’ Cariaso (14-4-0) -
With just the one loss against John Dodson in his UFC debut last October, Jussier da Silva has gone from one of the leading flyweights in the world to the Facebook portion of a UFC on FX undercard. In losing to Dodson, ‘Formiga’ was unable to get The Ultimate Fighter season 14 champ to the ground and enact a punishing jiu-jitsu game that has ensnared many an opponent in da Silva’s past. Before making his UFC bow, da Silva had compiled a 14-1 run against some of the best fighters that the 125lbs ranks have to offer, with the defeat loss coming against fellow UFC flyweight and former Tachi Palace Fights champion Ian McCall.
Cariaso will also be looking to rebound having tasted defeat last time out at the hands of current UFC Flyweight title challenger John Moraga at UFC 155 in December, in what was only his second bout as a flyweight. Cariaso debuted as a flyweight in July 2012 at UFC on Fuel TV: Munoz vs. Weidman with a unanimous decision win over Josh Ferguson and before this Cariaso had enjoyed mixed success within the bantamweight division.
Cariaso will hold the advantage on the feet here no doubt and could quite plausibly put da Silva away with strikes. I feel that the outcome of this fight will boil down to whether or not da Silva is able to drag Cariaso in to his grappling realm. In the past Cariaso has shown that he can be taken down without too much trouble and when he has found himself down there he has been submitted by fighters with less impressive BJJ chops than da Silva. A win here for either man will see their stock rise immeasurably in what is a formative division but a loss should not place their employment with the UFC in any real danger mainly due to their proven talent and the shallowness of the division.