By Steve Davies – mmabay.co.uk
Main Event – UFC Featherweight title
Jose Aldo (20-1, 2-0 UFC) vs. Chad Mendes (11-0, 2-0 UFC)
The Lowdown: UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo takes on the responsibility of being the Brazilian crowd’s golden boy this weekend as he aims to make it three straight title defences in the UFC after defending his WEC belt twice before making the switch.
The 25-year old Manaus resident has drawn some criticism since joining the promotion due to being unable to finish either of his challengers despite becoming a human highlight-reel in the WEC. Truth is, Aldo has fought two seriously tough contenders in Mark Hominick (at UFC 129) and Kenny Florian (at UFC 136) and while he was unable to delight us with his all-action muay thai, he still beat both handily by decision.
Since Aldo’s arrival on the big stage, many have called for him to be tested by an elite-level wrestler – well, the doubters have got their wish, as Chad ‘Money’ Mendes fits that description to a tee. The Team Alpha Male featherweight remains unbeaten since turning pro, but seven of his wins have come via decision,
Mendes has not done much to wow us since coming to the UFC, but has turned in two dominant performances with his unstoppable takedowns and top-control – strolling to victory over both Michihiro Omigawa and Rani Yahya, the latter at UFC 133 in August. The Californian is as worthy a contender as the division has right now but make no mistake, he has yet to face a creature quite like ‘Junior’.
The Verdict: Mendes’ options are limited; either he secures the takedown quickly in each of the five rounds, or he faces the possibility of being left black and blue by the devastating legkicks and flying strikes of the champion. One thing leaning in his favour, however, is that Aldo might fear the takedown enough to be tentative with his striking in which case Mendes will most likely try to wear him out along the cage and drag him down.
The problem the challenger faces though is apart from his wrestling, he has nothing to offer the champion. ‘Money’s striking is still at rudimentary level – though he does pack a hefty punch – and Aldo has shown solid takedown defence in the past, plus he’s been training with Gray Maynard. The chances of Mendes grinding out a decision victory are far from impossible – ‘Money’ is a blue-chip prospect at featherweight with bags of upside – but it’s hard to pick against a fighter like Aldo. ‘Junior’ will bring the house down this weekend, and Mendes, crashing under a barrage of strikes midway through the fight. Aldo, (T)KO, 3rd round.
Vitor Belfort (20-9, 8-6 UFC) vs. Anthony Johnson (10-3, 7-3 UFC)
The Lowdown: Brazilian bomber Vitor ‘The Phenom’ Belfort was asking for a second shot at middleweight champion Anderson Silva a few months back but instead, the knockout artist welcomes a newcomer to 185lbs for what should be a scrap to remember.
Belfort’s dalliance with Anderson Silva lasted less than one round in February as ‘The Phenom’s bright start was erased by ‘that’ front-kick to the face that left Belfort starched on the canvas. The 34-year old returned to action in brutal fashion in August though, needing just under two minutes to become the first man to knock out much-loved Japanese veteran Yoshihiro Akiyama with a torrent of punches.
‘The Phenom’ is set to coach ‘The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil’ in the coming months but his stock will take a nosedive if he drops the ball this weekend in front of his home-town fans – and hulking former welterweight Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson is more than capable of forcing the fumble. After doing well at 170lbs – but becoming disillusioned with cutting 100lbs of muscle before every fight – the dynamic Johnson now heads to the middleweight division where he hopes to cause carnage.
The 6ft 2in fighter – who trains with the fast-growing ‘Blackzilians’ – was riding back to back victories in the welterweight division in 2011 after smothering Dan Hardy to a comfortable decision and decimating wrestler Charlie Brenneman in October with a first-round headkick. A student of Cung Le, the sanshou practitioner has a mighty wrestling base also and we could see the birth of a new star at 185lbs when ‘Rumble’ brings the noise to Rio.
The Verdict: It’s not often that Belfort faces someone who is capable of physically dominating him and Johnson should have a much more reliable gas-tank with a monumental weight-cut to endure. ‘Rumble’ poses some serious problems here – he’s a beastly specimen with hard-hitting striking and an imposing wrestling game, but let’s not forget just how lethal Belfort can be himself. All the talk right now is about ‘Rumble’s arrival in the division and few are giving Belfort a shot – the bookmakers swayed towards Johnson apparently after seeing his training pictures. The Brazilian has fantastic boxing and immense knockout power, plus he’s probably going to be the quicker man on fight night. Don’t be surprised to see ‘Rumble’ switch to the takedowns once he feels Belfort’s power, but by then it’ll be too late – ‘The Phenom’s hand-speed will have taken its toll. Belfort, (T)KO, 2nd round.
Rousimar Palhares (13-3, 6-2 UFC) vs. Mike Massenzio (13-5, 2-3 UFC)
The Lowdown: Don’t blink during this middleweight clash on the main card as we might see BJJ powerhouse Rousimar Palhares tear off a limb or have another in-cage breakdown like at UFC 134 in August. ‘Toquinho’ thought he’d made Dan Miller tap to strikes that night and straddled the cage in celebration only to be ordered down to continue fighting.
Luckily for the unpredictable Brazilian, he was able to continue his dominance to take home a lopsided unanimous decision. It wasn’t the first time Palhares had succumbed to a mid-fight ‘brain fart’ but it was also the latest in several impressive showings inside the Octagon for the bone-crunching submission artist.
The master of the vicious heel-hook has submitted the likes of Tomasz Drwal and Dave Branch (a black-belt under Renzo Gracie) in his UFC career and looks to add Mike Massenzio to that list this weekend. A solid grappler himself, Massenzio is 1-1 in his latest stint with the UFC after he was recalled to face Krzystof Soszynski at UFC 131.
Massenzio lost comfortably on the scorecards that night but then cut to his natural 185lbs to stroll past former WEC champion Steve Cantwell at UFC 136 in October, the unanimous decision earning him a stay of execution in the promotion.
The Verdict: Although at 5ft 8in, Palhares will be considerably smaller than Massenzio, this will not matter one iota. ‘Toquinho’ is being set up to win here and given his granite chin, Massenzio’s chances of a hail mary knockout are pretty much zilch. Expect Palhares to hulk-smash his opponent to the mat and snatch a limb to make short work of Massenzio – we can only hope the American taps in time or face the possibility of another mangled limb inside the Octagon. Palhares, submission, 1st round.
Erick Silva (13-1, 1-0 UFC) vs. Carlo Prater (29-10-1, 0-0 UFC)
The Lowdown: Welterweight prospect Erick ‘Indio’ Silva is the latest Brazilian on the verge of stardom after racking up eight straight victories stretching back to 2007, including a stunning UFC debut last summer. The highly-rated and well-rounded ‘Indio’ took on fellow Brazilian debutant, Luis Ramos, at UFC 134 and sent the fans into frenzy by punching out his opponent in just 40-seconds.
A natural finisher, Silva has only gone the distance three times in his career and the 27-year old Team Nogueira fighter will look to add another knockout or submission to his resume this weekend by taking out Carlo ‘Neo’ Prater.
‘Neo’ is fifteen-year veteran who usually fights at 155lbs but will make his belated UFC debut at welterweight having won his last four fights. The grappler has looked good in this period, submitting all-comers including former TUF contestant Cameron Dollar and Strikeforce veteran Bryan Travers. The native of Brasilia is out to prove that experience can be decisive as he sets his sights on upsetting the fast-rising ‘Indio’.
The Verdict: A fighter as experienced as Prater can never be overlooked but the veteran is out of his prime and will be over-matched this weekend. Silva seems a legitimate prospect at 170lbs and will be confident in his chances both standing and on the ground – even if Prater can get the fight where he wants it, Silva has the BJJ to make it a stalemate or even take control himself. All the signs point towards ‘Indio’ keeping his UFC record intact, expect him to do so with a hail of punches late in round one that leaves the veteran limp. Silva, (T)KO, 1st round.
Edson Barboza (9-0, 3-0 UFC) vs. Terry Etim (15-3, 6-3 UFC)
The Lowdown: Brazilian buzz-saw Edson Barboza looks to make it four from four in the big leagues as he makes his second UFC appearance in his homeland this weekend. The destructive stand-up artist enjoyed a successful 2011 that began at UFC 128 in March with a kickboxing battle against the deadly Anthony Njokuani.
Passing the test by unanimous decision, the 25-year old Rio native was then slotted to take on British prospect Ross Pearson at UFC 134 in what proved to be a stern challenge for Barboza. The undefeated Brazilian eked out a split decision but found Pearson’s own muay thai and boxing to be a tough out.
This weekend, another Brit will step into the fiery Brazilian atmosphere and attempt to break the home-town boy as Terry Etim comes to town with his confidence sky-high. The Team Kaobon mainstay has had a torrid couple of years and was riding a four-fight win streak in his clash with Rafael Dos Anjos back at UFC 112 – eventually tapping to a second round armbar.
The Liverpudlian then spent over a year on the sidelines before returning in style in November, needing just 17-seconds to leap into a guillotine choke and tap out Eddie Faaloloto. Long considered a bright prospect, Etim has the chance to break out in 2012 and a win over Barboza would be a fine start for the Brit.
The Verdict: Barboza is not the finished article by any means but standing, is going to be very difficult to beat as the Brazilian is one of the most natural strikers in the game right now. Etim should not waste time standing in front of Barboza and trading but that’s not to say he should avoid it completely – the Brit’s stand-up is very good, and given his 6ft 1in frame could cause some problems for Barboza. But in a straight-up shoot, Etim is destined to lose so he needs to mix things up – the problem being, he doesn’t have strong enough wrestling to be the first man to test Barboza’s ground game. Another muay thai clinic lies ahead as Barboza is able to stay upright and pick away at Etim with legkicks to take another satisfactory decision. Barboza, decision.