UFC returns (way, way) south of the border this Saturday with yet another fight card from the friendly (or incredibly psychotic and passionate, depending on your point of view) confines of Brazil. The main event for this particular card features two legends who meet for the third – and perhaps final – time: Vitor Belfort and Dan Henderson.
While having two MMA institutions square off in the main event is the main appeal for this particular card, the undercard is no slouch either. Glover Teixeira looks to solidify his claim to another light heavyweight title shot in the main event, Thomas Almeida will try to keep his sparkling record intact against Anthony Birchak and Fabio Maldonado will likely bleed for our enjoyment yet again, this time against Corey Anderson.
Fabio Maldonado (22-7) vs. Corey Anderson (7-1) (Light Heavyweight – 205 lbs.)
Anderson is a late replacement for Tom Lawlor, who had to withdraw from the fight due to injury. Which is somewhat of a shame, since a brawl between Maldonado and Lawlor would have been all kinds of fun.
But Anderson is no slouch either. He won season 19 of The Ultimate Fighter and already owns four career wins by way of knockout. So if you’re expecting some wicked jiu-jitsu in this fight, you probably shouldn’t hold your breath.
I expect both guys to do absolutely nothing but stand and bang the entire time. Maldonado has a lot of mileage and while I originally expected him to take advantage of Anderson stepping up on short notice, I’ve since changed my mind. I think the more athletic Anderson will land a big shot that pushes Maldonado one step closer to hanging up the gloves.
Prediction: Anderson by second-round TKO
Gilbert Burns (10-0) vs. Rashid Magomedov (18-1) (Lightweight – 155 lbs.)
Both guys are undefeated in their UFC careers, with Burns boasting two submission finishes in his last two fights to boot. Many of Magomedov’s wins have come via decision, but he has a few knockout and submission victories his credit as well. I expect a pretty ground-based fight here, but I think the stronger striking of Magomedov (50.63 percent strike accuracy to Burns’ 34.52 – thanks UFC!) will end up being the difference.
Prediction: Magomedov by unanimous decision
Alex Oliveira (12-2-1) vs. Piotr Hallman (15-4) (Lightweight – 155 lbs.)
Hallman has lose three of five since coming to the UFC, albeit against a murderer’s row of fighters like Al Iaquinta, Yves Edwards (who he was actually victorious over) and Gleison Tibau. Conversely, Oliveira has won two in a row, including a first-round submission victory over K.J. Noons.
Hallman seems to be the more dangerous striker, while Oliveira likes to be more active on the ground. It could be another striker vs grappler matchup here, which is always interesting to watch. I think Oliveira will get Hallman to the mat and crank his way to another submission victory.
Prediction: Oliveira by second-round submission
Thomas Almeida (20-0) vs. Anthony Birchak (12-2) (Bantamweight – 135 lbs.)
Almeida is the next (big?) star in UFC’s bantamweight division. An undefeated record and 15 victories by knockout/TKO? Yes please. But Birchak knocked out former title contender Joe Soto in the first round in his las fight, so don’t be too quick to dismiss “El Toro.”
That said, Almeida is still a star on the rise. The UFC desperately needs a new contender to step up at 135 to go against the winner of the upcoming T.J. Dillashaw/Dominick Cruz fight. A lethal striker like Almeida could be just what the doctor ordered, and I think he will state his case rather emphatically here.
Prediction: Almeida by first-round TKO
Glover Teixeira (23-4) vs. Patrick Cummins (8-2) (Light Heavyweight – 205 lbs.)
I think the image that still resonates with many people when it comes to Patrick Cummins is him getting ragdolled by Daniel Cormier last year. But to be fair, Cummins took that fight on two days notice after working at a coffee shop beforehand. So I think he deserves just a bit of a pass.
Cummins has been rather impressive since then, going 4-1 in the UFC with his only loss coming to fellow rising star Ovince St. Preux. However, Teixeira defeated that same OSP by submission in his last fight. His bread and butter is still his knockout power though, so if I’m Cummins I try to take Teixieira to the ground or it will be lights out for him rather early.
All that said, Teixeira seems to be on a mission back to the light heavyweight title. I think he takes care of business here.
Prediction: Teixeira by unanimous decision
Vitor Belfort (24-11) vs. Dan Henderson (31-13) (Middleweight – 185 lbs.)
What can be said about these guys that hasn’t already been said? They’re first-ballot Hall of Famers for sure. They’re legends – two of the best ever to compete in MMA. They’re both still fighting at ages they probably shouldn’t fight anymore (especially Henderson). Quite frankly, if this fight doesn’t excite you to some degree, you shouldn’t call yourself a MMA fan.
Yes, clouds are lingering over Belfort lately, particularly after an excellent Deadspin article that alleges the UFC covered up his drug test before his fight against Jon Jones in 2012. Yes, Belfort looked like a shell of himself against Chris Weidman – which justifies many people’s belief that his recent success was directly attributed to testosterone replacement therapy (which, for the record, Henderson was also receiving).
But it’s still Belfort/Henderson. It’s a fight you should get up for. These two will give it their all and leave everything in the cage. But like I said, Belfort did not look good against Weidman while Henderson is coming off a first-round knockout victory in his last fight. Henderson has said he isn’t done fighting, and I don’t think this matchup will do anything to change that.
Prediction: Henderson by third-round TKO