The UFC’s domination of World MMA continues at a breathtaking pace. With the “main” UFC numbered events now being followed with UFC on FX, UFC on Fox and UFC on Fuel, as well as the first ever TUF Brazil, 2012 is set to be another huge year for the promotion. Kicking things off at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro Brazil, UFC 142 gives us the first title fight of the year with Jose Aldo taking on the undefeated Chad Mendes. Is this going to be the biggest test yet for Aldo, or just another step on his path to greatness? Will 2012 kick off with a major upset? Read on for my take on how it all goes down.
The supporting fight is another great matchup, with “the phenom” Vitor Belfort facing Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, who steps up from 170lbs. Johnson is looking like a natural middleweight and a great performance against Belfort will surely put him in the mix at the top of the division. The main card also sees another UFC appearance for ADCC silver medallist and world-renowned disrespecter of legs, Rousimar “Toquinho” Palhares. He faces Mike Massenzio, whose main concern has to be coming away from the fight with his lower limbs still in perfectly functional order.
There have been a lot of changes to this card: The Nedkov vs. Maldonado fight has been pulled due to visa issues for Nedkov (who was to be replaced by Caio Magalaes) but a late injury to Maldonado has forced the bout to be scratched. Ricardo Funch has been bought in to replace Paulo Thiago against Mike Pyle. Gabriel Gonzaga has been resigned by the UFC and faces debutant Ednaldo Oliveira instead of Rob Broughton. Finally Carlo Prater has stepped in for Siyar Bahadurzada against Erick Silva. All these changes still leave the latest UFC Brazil card looking pretty damn decent, with every match featuring at least one Brazilian fighter, a move sure to please the passionate and vocal Brazilian fans.
So then, it’s onto the fights! Let’s get it on:
Prelims (aired on facebook)
Antonio Carvalho 13-4-0 vs. Felipe Arantes13-4-0 – Featherweight
Two very similar fighters kick things off on facebook on Saturday night. Both men have a mix of TKO’s and submissions on their records but the win momentum is with Carvalho who is on a 3 fight streak. Arantes was on a big streak himself until he met Alcantara at the last UFC Rio and dropped a decision. Arantes actually stepped in for Carvalho for that match due to Carvalho getting injured in training. I’m not going to pretend I know an awful lot about either guy but this looks to be a very competitive match on paper.
Arantes is chute boxe trained and will be very comfortable fighting in front of his home crowd. Carvalho is a favourite to win and with a BJJ blackbelt he will no doubt look to take this to the mat. All Carvalho’s losses have come when he has ventured outside of his native Canada and octagon jitters, as I say so often, really are a major factor. Add in the hostile crowd who will be roaring their support for his opponent and this could be an uncomfortable evening for him. Despite these factors though I am leaning towards Carvalho. He has fought better opposition and actually, picking through Arantes recent wins, a good few of his opponents had negative records with very few fights at all. Carvalho decision
Prelims (aired on FX in the USA)
Ricardo Funch 8-2-0 vs. Mike Pyle 21-8-1 – Welterweight
Brazilian Funch is based in the USA and trains with team link alongside Gonzaga who also fights on Saturday night. He is a BJJ blackbelt, but prefers to pound and has won the majority of his fights by stoppage. His previous tenure in the UFC was cut short after 2 losses to Johnny Hendricks and Claude Patrick respectively.
Despite being around for ages, Pyle only just seems to be peaking and his UFC career has seen him go 4-3 with some excellent performances, not least his complete dismantling of John Hathaway. Pyle is a wily veteran and has pretty much been there and seen it all in MMA. He is going prove a very difficult opponent for the Brazilian and the way he links his striking, wrestling and grappling is the true sign of a man who has mastered MMA.
Funch isn’t a pushover and taking an uber-wrestler like Johnny Hendricks to a decision in his UFC debut is no mean feat. In my opinion though, Pyle just has too much for Funch. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Pyle surprise the BJJ blackbelt with his ground skills here and like Pyle for a submission stoppage. Pyle submission rd 2
Michihiro Omigawa 13-10-1 vs. Yuri Alcantara 26-3-0 – Featherweight
Highly touted Omigawa had a rough start to his UFC career but showcased his excellent Judo skills in his win against Jason Young in his last UFC match. He has been competing at a high-level for a long time and looks to be a tough opponent for Alcantara. The Brazilian did a decent job out-grappling Arantes last time out, but that was really his only high level fight. He did fight once in the WEC and brutalised Ricardo Lamas to hand him only his second ever loss with a big first round KO.
Whilst this is impressive, it isn’t enough to convince me he has what it takes to beat Omigawa. The veteran has never been submitted and only his first two matches saw him stopped by strikes way back in 2005. He is tough as they come and should prove too much of a handful and too experienced to succumb to anything Alcantara has to offer. Omigawa decision
Gabriel Gonzaga 12-6-0 vs. Edinaldo Oliveira 13-0-1 (1 NC) – Heavyweight
Gonzaga returns to the UFC and it will be interesting to see where he figures now in the resurgent Heavyweight division. With the Strikeforce heavyweights ripe to make the move over to the UFC and the apparent demise of its biggest star Brock Lesnar, the division is looking really interesting right now. Gonzaga brings high level grappling and some thunderous striking to the table, but in his previous UFC tenure he struggled to compete at the upper tier of the division. He should be a good litmus test for the newcomer Oliveira then.
Oliveira is an undefeated striker with a BJJ blackbelt and team mate of Junior Dos Santos. He is ridiculously tall and will tower over Gonzaga, outweighing him significantly too. Although I haven’t seen Oliveira fight, I have read that his standup style is quite aggressive and open, with looping punches: Very brawler-like. I think this will play into the hands of Gonzaga provided he keeps his defence tight. Gonzaga’s best chance may well be to drag this to the mat as the longer he tries to engage Oliveira, the higher the chances of him eating a huge shot. This is a toss-up as to who gets to execute their game plan best, but I am taking a punt on Gonzaga. Gonzaga submission Rd 3
Thiago Tavares 16-4-1 vs. Sam Stout 17-6-1 – Lightweight
You cannot help but be impressed by these two fighters. Both men are fight of the night magnets and despite a clutch of losses in the UFC keeping them from entering title contention, they continue to impress every time they fight – win or lose. They share common opponents in Wiman and Fisher with Wiman beating Tavares but losing to Stout and Fisher losing to Tavares with a win and a loss to Stout.
Despite the “hands of stone” moniker, Stout has gone the distance in 9 of his 12 UFC fights. He did notch an impressive KO over Yves Edwards last time out though, winning his first KO of the night bonus. Tavares is much more of a submissions guy but he too notched an impressive stoppage in his last match, against Spencer Fisher. This should be a fast-paced contest and will be decided by who can impose their will on the other. Stouts takedown defence is decent and he has been in with plenty of good wrestlers with better takedowns than the Brazilian, but anything is possible in the fight game.
Tavares has nice kicks and if Stout isn’t aware of the leg kicks then he could find himself more and more open to the takedown as they start to take effect. I think this one will be a barnstormer and it’s tough to pick a winner. It will almost certainly go the distance and I’m picking the tenacity and work rate of Stout to edge out Tavares. Stout decision
Main PPV Card
Edson Barboza 9-0-0 vs. Terry Etim 15-3-0 – Lightweight
Etim, the only Englishman to feature on the card, looks to avenge his compatriot Ross Pearson’s narrow loss to the Brazilian and continue his own surge up the lightweight ladder. That surge was hampered somewhat by a superb armbar from Rafael Dos Anjos, who snapped a 4 fight win streak for Etim. During that run he had collected 2 submission of the night awards and added another in his last fight against Faaloloto with a brutal guillotine choke. This became his 4th sub of the night award in total – tying the all-time record for sub of the night performances with Joe Lauzon and Demian Maia.
Barboza will be aware of the submission threat from the Brit and Etim, for once, will not be the one with the reach advantage. With his natural advantages nullified, Etim could be in for a tough night. He will however be encouraged by the performance of Pearson against Barboza. There were many who felt that Pearson should have gotten the nod for the win. The issue is that Etim does not fight like Pearson, preferring to throw from range rather than get in the pocket and get in his opponents face. Barboza likes to kick and Etims long wiry legs will make inviting targets for the Brazilians missile-like kicks. Barboza has stopped a couple of his fights on leg kicks alone and Etim will have been drilling his leg-checks in the gym I’m sure. Should Barboza choose to initiate a leg assault and be successful, Etims footwork will be stuffed and the night will get a hell of a lot worse for him from there on in.
That’s not to say Etim doesn’t have kicks (see the Brian Cobb fight!), but I’m not sure his have the same impact that Barboza’s seem to have. Both men have decent hands and given their propensity to strike, I don’t expect much of a feeling out process here as these two go to war from the opening bell. Whilst I have talked up Barboza’s obvious skills on the feet, this is far from a one-sided fight at that range. Taking it to the ground however, is Etims best strategy for a win, as the grappling phase favours him in a big way. The trouble is, I’m not sure his wrestling is good enough to force it there!
This leaves him relying on Barboza making a mistake or over committing to a strike and feeding him an opening. Of course if this happens, Etim will capitalize in an instant as we have seen do on multiple occasions in the past. I see this fight playing out mostly on the feet, with enough of an advantage going to Barboza to get the nod in a razor thin decision. I want Etim to win this, but if I was putting money down, it’d go on Barboza. Barboza decision
Carlo Prater 29-10-1 vs. Erick Silva 13-1-0 (1 NC) – Welterweight
Silva looks to be a great talent and is on a tear, having not lost a fight since 2006. He made a big impression in his UFC debut with a 40 second KO over Luis Ramos. No easy pickings for him this time though, as he faces the veteran Carlo Prater. Prater had a great 2011 winning 4 fights all by submission. He didn’t face particularly high-level competition but nevertheless a run like that will do wonders for a fighters confidence. He is very impressive on the ground and Silva – despite having blackbelts in BJJ and Judo will know that his best chance of victory is on the feet. Having a 5 inch reach advantage over his opponent makes this strategy all the more likely.
Prater is tough; having only been KO’d once in 40 fights and stopping this particular opponent is going to be a big ask for Silva. If his conditioning is up to 15 minutes of hard work on the feet, he should take a decision here. If this one goes to the mat, I favour Prater to end it. That being said though, I’ll still go with Silva for the win. Silva decision
Rousimar Palhares 12-3-0 vs. Mike Massenzio 13-5-0 – Middleweight
Palhares could and should be considered in the mix at the top of the weight class, he has enough skill to be up there. His problem is, his hot-headedness often gets him in trouble and loses him fights. His complaints in the middle of the fight against Marquardt and consequent lack of concentration enabled Marqaurdt to get the win. Also taking his foot of the gas to prematurely celebrate KO’ing Miller with that kick in round 1, meant he had to do 15 minutes in the Octagon, instead of stopping shy of 5. Despite this no-one can argue he is a formidable foe. Even at 5’8″, his thick muscled frame sees him comfortably make 185lbs and gave him his nickname, which literally means tree trunk. He took second place at the ADCC in 2011 after decimating the field with a savage array of leglocks, falling only to the Absolute winner, Andre Galvao. He has big power in his hands and his GnP is particularly savage.
Unfortunately for the American, I think Massenzio is overmatched here. I can’t see what he brings anything to the party that Palhares hasn’t dealt with before: He has decent enough wrestling, but that isn’t enough against a fighter like Palhares. Despite a massive size advantage, Massenzio will still be shocked by the power of the Brazilian and although he has a BJJ blackbelt himself, he did get triangled by Brian Stann – a fighter not exactly vaunted for his submission prowess. Hopefully the ref will step in on this one before Palhares takes Massenzio’s leg home. Palhares Submission round 2
Vitor Belfort 20-9-0 vs. Anthony Johnson 10-3-0 – Middleweight
A big fight for both men, and an exciting one for the fans. The expectation for fireworks in this one is immense. Belfort will be given a hero’s reception in Rio as this is his first pro MMA fight back in Brazil since 1998. Although they are a very hospitable and welcoming type of fan in Brazil, on the night Johnson is going to feel the heat from the crowd as well as the climate.
Belfort has a great submission game but has never really had to use it in MMA, relying on his dynamite power and speed to blitz his opponents early. Every time fans see Belforts name on a card the first question is usually “Which Vitor will show up?” For his sake, I hope it is the one who fires on all cylinders as his opponent is dangerous. If it is “the other guy”, then Johnson is going to have a field day. The American has decent submissions, great wrestling and blistering kicks, all of which could give Vitor real problems in this match. The big thing for me is the kicks and wrestling. Knowing what a good wrestler Rashad Evans is and seeing how Johnson handled him in a “Blackzilians” training video that my brother tipped me off about, I think Johnson is going to give Vitor a nightmare here. Johnson has a 2inch height and 4inch reach advantage and has age and athleticism on his side.
Belfort is a hero to many (me included) and can never be counted out, but I don’t see how he wins this unless he can get it on the floor. On his back, with Johnson on top, I don’t like his chances as Johnsons wrestling and strong base should see him able to do enough to control the match and do damage without opening himself up to a submission. On the feet the big punch is his best chance, but if Johnson kicks well and controls distance this will be a problem for him too.
Whilst a smart strategy and a comfortable decision win is probably the best way for Johnson to handle this fight to avoid damage, I think he might go looking for the big finish to really make a splash in the 185lb division. If that one pays off, he will go straight into contention and get a big fight against a top 3 fighter as a reward. If that fails, he is kind of in limbo and who knows if we will see him back at 170lbs or facing someone like Leben / Stann / Bisping / Maia next. I think he is more than capable of stopping Vitor but he has to be smart and avoid those hands. I’ll take a punt on the stoppage, just for shits and giggles. Johnson TKO rd 3
Jose Aldo 20-1-0 vs. Chad Mendes 11-0-0 – Featherweight Championship
Onto the big one then and the question as always, is can this be the man to stop the champ. Much like Anderson Silva at 185 and GSP at 170, Aldo has looked pretty unstoppable. Even on the rare occasion that he does look like he’s going to wobble, he still pulls the win out of the bag and is on 13 fight run that stretches back to 2006.
Mendes himself is undefeated in 11, but is yet to face striker like the champ. He is an explosive wrestler and should have more than enough in the tank to blast doubles at Aldo for 25 minutes, but does he have enough to do that whilst eating punches, kicks and knees for his trouble? The best indicator we have for how this match might play out is to look at the encounter with Mendes teammate Urijah Faber and Aldo. Faber was left with a lead leg that looked like it had been lifted straight from the window of Big Al’s kebab house and struggled to close the distance on the champ from the start. This is going to be the big problem for Mendes and he knows it. I’m sure he has been training specifically for ways to combat this, but who can he get in that can fight like Jose Aldo? It will sure be interesting to see how he attempts to deal with the problem of getting inside. If he can get inside and get it to the mat, he has high level BJJ player to deal with, but his wrestling acumen should be enough to stifle that and should he find himself in top position throughout the fight, he should be able to tire Aldo and then take this comfortably.
For Aldo the path to success is equally as clear cut, but a little less challenging and he has done it so many times before: Keep the opponent on the outside and hurt them there; punish them when they close; rinse / repeat. He doesn’t have to worry too much about the striking of Mendes save for a powerful right hand that precedes the double, if he can do what he does best and use his footwork, solid hands, savage kicking and knees then this should be another big win for the champ.
I’d like to see Aldo finish the fight after his last two stints in the Octagon went the full 25, as I’m sure he and the home fans would too. I think we could see something special on Saturday and my money for KO of the night is going on Aldo, who finds a home for a huge knee as Mendes drops for a double sometime in the 2nd – once he has started to time his opponent’s movements. Aldo TKO rd2.
******************** UPDATED WITH EVENT RESULTS *********************
Arantes vs. Carvalho – My Pick:Carvalho decision Actual: Arantes Decision
Pyle vs. Funch – My Pick: Pyle sub rd 2 Actual: Pyle KO rd 1
Alcantara vs. Omigawa – My Pick: Omigawa decision Actual: Alcantara decision
Gonzaga vs. Oliveira – My Pick: Gonzaga sub rd 3 Actual: Gonzaga sub rd 1
Tavares vs. Stout – My Pick: Stout decision Actual: Tavares decision
Barboza vs. Etim – My Pick: Barboza decision Actual: Barboza KO rd 3
Silva vs. Prater – My Pick: Silva decision Actual: Prater DQ rd 1
Palhares vs. Massenzio – My Pick:Palhares sub rd 2 Actual: Palhares Sub (heelhook) rd 1
Belfort vs. Johnson – My Pick: Johnson TKo rd 3 Actual: Belfort submission (RNC) rd 1
Aldo vs. Mendes – My Pick: Aldo KO rd 2 Actual: Aldo KO rd 1