UFC Fight Night returns to Brazil this week for the Ultimate Fighter Brazil 3 finale, as well as some showcase fights including a main event pitting Stipe Miocic against Fabio Maldonado in a heavyweight headliner.
In addition to the main card, several fighters from The Ultimate Fighter Brazil 3 cast will also appear on the undercard, as well as some notable UFC veterans looking to get wins in front of their home country crowd.
Amongst them is former welterweight title contender Paulo Thiago, who has fallen on hard times of late and looks to get back to his winning ways when he faces Russian fighter Gasan Umalatov. Also on the undercard is an interesting lightweight battle between a TUF Brazil veteran, Rodrigo Damm, as he looks for his third win in a row against Rashid Magomedov, who is making his second UFC appearance.
In today's fantasy preview, we'll examine some of these key undercard matchups to see who has the best chance to impress, as well as some of the TUF Brazil 3 cast hoping to secure a permanent spot on the UFC roster with a win on Saturday night.
RICARDO ABREU VS. WAGNER SILVA
A pair of former Team Wanderlei teammates from TUF Brazil 3 will square off in this middleweight matchup as Ricardo Abreu faces Wagner Silva.
An argument could be made that Abreu should be fighting in the finale after a razor close loss to Team Sonnen's Marcio 'Lyoto' Alexandre, but the split decision didn't go his way so his second chance will come on the same show against Silva instead. Abreu is a world-class level grappler who was once ranked in the top three in the world in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but he stopped competing when he decided to focus full-time on MMA. Abreu is a student of Wanderlei Silva, so he has worked with the PRIDE and UFC legend for several years to hone his striking skills to go along with his mat work.
On the show, Abreu was a favorite to win it all, but unfortunately he put up a couple of lackluster performances before being eliminated. It appeared cutting weight three times in the course of six weeks may have backfired on Abreu as a natural middleweight, and hopefully this time with several months to prepare, he'll be conditioned and ready to go three rounds if necessary.
His opponent, Wagner Silva, comes from a similar background in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and was another favorite to go far in the competition. He made it to the semifinals before getting caught in a nasty guillotine choke courtesy of Warlley Alves that forced him to tap and instead fight in the final against his former teammate. Silva is well versed on the ground and has also wrestled extensively in the past, which could give him one advantage over Abreu in this fight.
The downside is when it comes to overall submission skills, Abreu has him whipped in that category. Silva is still dangerous, especially if he can get Abreu down and work from top control, but if he lands on bottom, it could be a short night for him on Saturday. Abreu is aggressive and looks for the finish by either sinking in a submission or pounding out an opponent with strikes. Assuming his cardio is on point this time, look for Abreu to overwhelm Silva within the first two rounds and get a submission victory. If Abreu fades at all in the first round, however, all bets are off and Silva could certainly steal this one.
RICHARDSON 'RICK MONSTRO' MOREIRA VS. MARCOS ROGERIO 'PEZAO' DE LIMA
The heavyweights from TUF Brazil 3 will be on display as well as Richardson 'Rick Monstro' Moreira takes on Marcos Rogerio 'Pezao' de Lima in one more matchup pitting Team Wanderlei vs. Team Sonnen.
On the show, Pezao was Sonnen's early favorite to go to the finals, but he was trampled by Antonio 'Cara de Sapato' Carlos Junior in the semifinals after he picked up a unanimous decision win over Jollyson Francisco in the quarterfinal round. What Pezao had working against him on the show will also hurt him in this fight, which is the fact that he's a natural middleweight going all the way up to heavyweight. Once this fight is finished, hopefully Pezao will get another shot in the UFC at a much lower weight, where he won't be giving up as much size and power.
Pezao is a fierce kickboxer at heart with good strength in both his hands and kicks. There's no doubt he'll want to keep this fight standing giving his opponent's love of the ground game. Rick Monstro is a teammate and training partner under the Nogueira brothers in Brazil, which means he's got plenty of jiu-jitsu at his disposal. Monstro is particularly fond of leg locks, so even if he drops to his back, don't think he can't snatch an ankle lock or heel hook and do some serious damage in just a matter of seconds.
The biggest advantage Monstro has in this fight is the size and power he'll wield over Pezao. Monstro is a chiseled specimen at heavyweight and should have a bright future in the UFC after falling short of the finals when he lost to Vitor Miranda on the show. Monstro still needs to develop his striking a bit more, especially his defensive posturing, but if he gets this fight to the ground he should make quick work of Pezao and look impressive doing so.
PAULO THIAGO VS. GASAN UMALATOV
It seems like forever ago that Paulo Thiago was 3-1 in the UFC with wins over Josh Koscheck and Mike Swick while charging towards contender status in the welterweight division. Since then, the Brazilian special forces officer has fallen on hard times, going just 2-5 over his last seven fights with long stretches of inactivity, fighting no more than two times per year since 2011.
Thiago has to know heading into his bout against Russian striker Gasan Umalatov that this may be a make or break fight for him after some very sloppy and uneven performances that saw him get dusted by Brandon Thatch and Siyar Bahadurzada by knockout. Thiago remains a grappler at heart and that's very evident when you see his paltry 1.49 significant strikes per minute average coupled with just 41 percent accuracy on the feet. The key to Thiago's game comes from being able to put an opponent on the mat, and to stave off another defeat he has to do that early and often against Umalatov.
At 31 years of age, Umalatov comes from a good camp in Russia, the same one that produced current top flyweight contender Ali Bagautinov. There's no way to sugar coat his first fight in the UFC because Umalatov simply didn't show up much while facing TUF veteran Neil Magny. It was a largely forgettable showing and Umalatov needs a better second fight to make a real first impression.
Umalatov is more of a standup fighter by trade, although he has a slew of submissions to his credit, but in this fight he'll probably do everything in his power to avoid the ground with a grappler like Thiago. Throughout his career, Umalatov has shown good head movement and footwork defensively while mixing in an underrated wrestling game.
Assuming Thiago goes for broke and does everything in his power to get this fight to the ground, he should get the win. Thiago has far more Octagon experience with much higher quality opponents than anyone Umalatov has ever faced. The key for Thiago is getting the fight to the mat and ending up on top and not pulling guard or just getting stuck underneath Umalatov for three rounds and losing a decision. Thiago has one of the best D'Arce/Anaconda choke combinations in the sport and with his long arms, all he has to do is stop a takedown attempt from Umalatov with a quick sprawl and start fishing for the submission. If Thiago grabs onto his head and arm, look out because this one could be over early.
RODRIGO DAMM VS. RASHID MAGOMEDOV
There's always an interesting matchup to watch on the undercard when it comes to developing talent and for this show that name could be Rashid Magomedov. Another Russian transfer invading the UFC, Magomedov came into the Octagon with a good reputation and solid record with wins over some quality opponents, including Alexander Yakovlev, who is fighting on the main card against Demian Maia at welterweight.
Magomedov is a fierce counter striker with deceptive power in his hands. He likes to bait his opponents to come in on him and then he unleashes combinations and fast counters to pack on the damage. In his lone UFC fight, Magomedov managed a whopping 63 percent accuracy rate on the feet while defending 87 percent of the takedowns attempted against him. If there was one area of weakness for Magomedov it is his wrestling, but he's given a lot of attention to that part of his game, and so far, so good, at least in his one UFC fight.
Rodrigo Damm will be a very tough test, however, because he brings a veteran record and a ton of experience into this fight. Damm is well-rounded with a good base in his boxing and ground game as well. The best way to describe Damm is a 'jack of all trades - he's not great in any one area, but he's good in all of them. He should present Magomedov with everything he can handle over three rounds, but this should still be a coming out party for the Russian.
While there's no telling if Magomedov has even close to the same level of talent that his fellow countrymen Khabib Nurmagomedov and Rustam Khabilov possess, he's still a name to watch in the next year. If he can dominate Damm on Saturday night, that will be a big checkmark in the win column as he moves closer to a main card on a future UFC show.