The UFC returns to Brazil this weekend at the Paulo Sarasate Arena in Fortaleza with a solid Fuel TV card bursting at the seams with home-grown Brazillian talent. The event is headlined by opposing ‘The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil’ coaches, heavyweights Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira and Fabricio Werdum, in a rematch of their 2006 Pride Open Weight Grand Prix Quarter Final bout back in 2006, in which ‘Big Nog’ was victorious. Elsewhere on the card is a light-heavyweight tussle that is expected to produce plenty of fireworks if both men approach the fight as they have most other in their career so far. Thiago Silva, who has managed to squeeze in some fighting around his day job of serving suspensions, and former Strikeforce light-heavyweight champ Rafael ‘Feijão’ Cavalcante will lock horns and look to add their names to the myriad of contenders in the 205lbs division. Also on the main card of the event will be the return of the highly touted welterweight prospect Erik Silva as he takes on Jason High and we will see who is crowned this season’s winner of TUF: Brazil is, as welterweights William Macario and Leandro Santos go at it. But before all that I am, as ever, here to tell you why you should be looking to tune in a little early in order to catch all of the action unfolding on the undercard. Here we go…
Raphael Assunção (19-4-0) vs. Vaughan Lee (13-8-1) -
Headlining the prelims on Saturday is a bantamweight bout between Brazillian Raphael Assunção and Englishman Vaughan Lee.
Back in 2009, Assunção was considered to be amongst the world’s best featherweights when fighting in the WEC. Back-to-back losses at the hands of Urijah Faber and Diego Nunes put paid to that theory however and since that point Assunção struggled to get back any semblance of consistency as a featherweight. After losing his UFC debut to Erik Koch back at UFC 128, Assunção decided to make a change and dropped down a division to the 135lbs ranks. Assunção is now undefeated as a bantamweight and is currently on a three-fight winning run with a short-notice decision victory over Mike Easton last time out announcing Assunção’s arrival as a potential threat to those at the top of the division.
Lee has found the going tough since making his debut with at UFC 138. The Birmingham-born Brit has flip-flopped between wins and losses during his time with the UFC and it seems as though the promotion is doing him no favours in pairing him off with the #6 ranked bantamweight. We last saw Lee on his home territory dispatching of Motonobu Tezuka via unanimous decision and Lee will be looking to achieve consecutive victories for the first time since 2011.
Assunção’s bread and butter is his jiu-jitsu with the majority of his victories coming via submission and this will likely be his key to victory. Assunção may well choose to further display his striking having seen marked improvements in this area against Easton at UFC on Fox 5 but Lee will likely hold the advantage on the feet. Lee is far from predictable standing and often looks to mix in different techniques to keep his opponent on the back foot and guessing. If Lee is to have success in this fight he will likely need to demonstrate an improvement in his takedown and submission defence.
Ronny Markes (14-1-0) vs. Derek Brunson (10-2-0) -
Markes, a product of the famed Nova União camp, is starting to get a little heat behind him as a prospect in the UFC’s middleweight division. Markes has put together a seven-fight win streak with the last three of those victories coming inside the Octagon via decision against Karlos Vemola, Aaron Simpson and most recently, Andrew Craig.
Brunson, a four-time Strikeforce vet, is coming in to this bout off of the biggest win of his career. Back in December at UFC 155, Brunson used his wrestling capabilities to take home the W against the grizzled veteran Chris Leben and the Jackson’s MMA trained fighter will look to carry that momentum in to the Octagon on Saturday.
Both Markes and Brunson prefer to employ a grappling-heavy strategy of attack when they step foot in the cage and both have solid, if a little wild, striking with the slight advantage on the feet going to Markes. This fight will likely become a battle of wills with each man matching each other in almost all facets of MMA and the victor will be the one who is able to dig just that little bit deeper.
Rodrigo Damm (10-6-0) vs. Mizuto ‘Pugnus’ Hirota (14-6-1) -
Keeping your job is the name of the game in this fight. Both featherweights are dangerously short of form with Damm going 2-5 in his past seven and Hirota riding a two-fight losing streak.
Damm has appeared to have lived a charmed life in MMA so far. The Brazillian snagged a shot at the interim Strikeforce Lightweight championship, which proved unsuccessful, back in 2009 against Gilbert Melendez coming off of a loss and he somehow managed to secure a place on the first season of TUF: Brazil on the back of a 1-4 record in his previous five outings. However, on the inaugural TUF: Brazil Damm displayed the full extent of his talent advancing to the Quarter Final stages of the competition only for the shows doctor to remove him from the process due to kidney problems resulting from weight cutting.
Except for a brief sojourn to Portland, Oregon where he was defeated by Pat Healy, this Saturday will be the first time in his 21-fight MMA career that Mizuto Hirota has fought outside his native Japan. During his time fighting on the Japanese circuit, Hirota encountered notable success capturing the Cage Force, Sengoku and DEEP lightweight championships. Last time out at UFC on Fuel TV: Silva vs. Stann back in March, Hirota made the drop down to featherweight after his loss to Healy and squared off with Rani Yahya losing a decision in his UFC debut.
Damm holds a BJJ black belt and solid offensive striking but if he is unable to secure the takedown and work his ground game, the longer the fight stays standing the more Damm proves susceptible to the KO. Hirota will look to keep this fight standing and look to put Damm out as quickly as possible, as he holds a serious advantage over Damm with his superior punching power.
Caio ‘Hellboy’ Magalhaes (5-1-0) vs. Karlos ‘The Terminator’ Vemola (9-3-0) -
Magalhaes, a black belt in BJJ, will return to the Octagon and look to bounce back from defeat having been thoroughly beaten by Buddy Roberts last June at UFC on FX: Johnson vs. McCall in Florida. Before this setback Magalhaes was unbeaten in his short MMA career so far having racked up a 5-0 record fighting exclusively in Brazil and in this middleweight bout with Vemola, Magalhaes will be returning to familiar shores.
Vemola has been unable to capitalise on the small amount of hype that accompanied his arrival to the UFC back in 2010. Vemola entered the Octagon with a perfect 7-0 record, all victories coming in the 1st round and five of those within the first minute. Vemola had managed to capture the CFC Heavyweight title in his first fight, defend it on five occasions and claimed six Czech National wrestling championships before entering MMA, although this is now under suspicion. However since Vemola made the transition to the big leagues he has alternated between wins and losses compiling a 2-3 record in the UFC so far and here’s a fun fact, during his short time with the UFC Vemola has suffered defeats in the heavyweight, light-heavyweight and middleweight division.
Both men will need a victory here to stave off any potential employment issues that will likely arise with defeat. Magalhaes will enjoy fighting on home-turf and will have all the crowd support he could wish for but I can’t see how he overcomes Vemola’s serious strength advantage here. Vemola has capable wrestling that should be able to smother Magalhaes’ submission game and the Czech’s bullish, gung-ho style should result in a quick night’s work.
Antônio Braga Neto (8-1-0-1 NC) vs. Anthony ‘Lionheart’ Smith (17-9-0) -
Someone up there must really not care too much for the neck or limbs of Anthony Smith. When we last saw the Texan back in January at Strikeforce: Marquardt vs. Saffiedine, the now defunct promotions last show, he was being choked out by Roger Gracie, the most decorated Gracie to have ever competed in MMA. This time around Smith has been lined up to face Neto in his UFC debut, a four-time jiu-jitsu gold medallist in the Pan American championship and two-time jiu-jitsu gold medallist at the World Championships.
Smith possesses a competent and varied striking game that could cause Neto problems in the early going but I fully expect Neto to be able to take Smith down to his realm and lock in a fight-ending submission.
Tags: Anthony Smith, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Derek Brunson, Fabricio Werdum, Karlos Vemola, Mizuto Hirota, MMA, Rafael Cavalcante, Raphael Assuncao, Rodrigo Damm, Ronny Markes, thiago silva, UFC, UFC On FUEL TV 10, Vaughan Lee