UFC/WEC veteran Dan Downes talks strategy and predictions for UFC Fight Night on FOX Sports 1: Belfort vs. Henderson, taking place Saturday, November 9
That’s right boys and girls, it’s time for the first Goianian edition of the Downes Side! Founded on October 24, 1933, it’s the 11th most populous city in Brazil and has a thriving local rock music scene. Also, according to Trip Advisor, this gem is a can’t-miss eating destination.
Despite that fierce competition, the Goiania Arena is the place to be this Saturday night for UFC Fight Night: Belfort vs. Henderson. The main event of the evening features a couple of the most decorated fighters in the world as Vitor Belfort and Dan Henderson compete to earn the title of ultimate young dinosaur. After losing to Jon Jones in a light heavyweight title fight, Befort has been on a roll with two straight knockouts (over Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold, if you were wondering). Dan Henderson has lost his last two fights, but they’ve both been close split decisions (to Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida). The co-main event is the true Ultimate Fighter Brasil 1 final between Cezar Ferreira and Daniel Sarafian.
Rony Jason (14-3) vs Jeremy Stephens (21-9)
The main card begins in the featherweight division with Rony Jason and Jeremy Stephens. Originally slated for October's UFC Fight Night in Barueri, the bout had to be rescheduled when both fighters were injured. Turns out all you need to stop Jason is a lumbar hernia and an athletic commission -- think of all the lives that could have been saved. Real name Rony Mariano Bezerra, this Jason Voorhees fan has been chopping fighters up with his mix of knockout power and submission prowess. After a three-fight losing streak at lightweight, Stephens dropped down to featherweight and and found success in his 145-lb debut against Estevan Payan. Known for the knockout power in his hands, he has an underappreciated wrestling game.
Both fighters could conceivably bring this fight to the mat, but chances are they’ll keep it on the feet. Jason shows a greater variety of strikes, but his fight against Sam Sicilia showed that he’ll go shot for shot even when it’s not in his best interest. When attacking in close range, he leaves openings for counter hooks and uppercuts. Against someone with Stephens’ power, that’s a big mistake. Jason relives his trip to Manhattan and what he did to poor Julius as Stephens punches his way to a 3rd-round TKO.
Santiago Ponzinibbio (18-1) vs Ryan LaFlare (8-0)
We move to welterweight for a match with two extensive winning streaks on the line. After pulling out of the TUF Brasil 2 Finale with an injury, Santiago Ponzinibbio finally gets his chance to step into the Octagon. Nicknamed “El Rasta” (which is Spanish for “The Rasta”) he’s finished his last seven opponents with a mixture of strikes and submissions. Ryan LaFlare (whose name in French means “The Flare”) went the distance in his UFC debut and picked up the unanimous decision over Benny Alloway. The rest of his undefeated record has been earned with armbars and one-punch KOs.
Ponzinibbio’s aggressive striking style focuses on frequent kicking. It works with opponents who want to stand and trade with you, but LaFlare won’t play that game. Against Alloway he constantly pressed forward, grabbed the waist lock and brought it to the ground, and he’ll do the same here. Ponzinibbio’s kicks will allow LaFlare to power through and get the tie-up. Barring a head kick connecting in the opening of a round, LaFlare takes this by decision.
Paulo Thiago (15-5) vs Brandon Thatch (10-1)
We stay at 170 for Paulo Thiago and Brandon Thatch. After losing four of his last five, Thiago bounced back into the win column with a UD win over Michel Prazeres in May. Thatch impressed many with a first-round TKO over Justin Edwards in his UFC debut. He never stops going forward and all ten of his career wins have come in the first round.
Thatch looked incredible in his debut, but this is too much too soon for the 28-year-old. The only person to ever KO Thiago was Siyar Bahadurzada and Thatch just doesn’t have that one-punch power. His finishes normally come from overwhelming opponents with numbers, and as he rushes in, Thiago will use that aggression against him. Thatch has a bright future, but he’s outclassed on the ground against someone like Thiago. He’ll make a mistake, Thiago will capitalize and lock up an arm triangle submission in the second. If only Thatch listened to more Rufus Wainwright...
Rafael Cavalcante (11-4 1NC) vs Igor Pokrajac (25-10 1NC)
We move up to light heavyweight for Rafael Cavalcante and Igor Pokrajac. A former Strikeforce champion, Calvalcante looks to rebound from a first round TKO loss at the hands of Thiago Silva. Croatian Top Team’s Igor Pokrajac is winless in his last three fights. “The Duke” may not have a lot of success as of late, but his tenacity and boxing always keeps him in the fight.
The R$ 1,000,000 question here is, “Does Calvalcante show up in shape?” If so, his power advantage should make a KO likely. If not, Pokrajac’s chin and grit will give him the unanimous decision. Well, you don’t win friends with salad and you don’t make all those prediction reals with balanced neutrality. Even if Calvalcante doesn’t have a lot of gas in the tank, Pokrajac’s “lead with your face” strategy will fail before Feijao’s conditioning. The Brazilian takes it with a 2nd round TKO.
Daniel Sarafian (8-3) vs Cezar Ferreira (4-2)
We head to middleweight to crown the true TUF Brasil champion. After pulling out of the TUF Finale due to injury, Daniel Sarafian lost a split decision to C.B. Dollaway, but bounced back with a first-round submission of Eddie Mendez in June. Even though his record may not show it, Cezar "Mutante" Ferreira has skills that outshine his six-fight career. Two of those bouts have come in the UFC, against Sergio Moraes and Thiago Santos, the latter taking only 47 seconds by guillotine choke at UFC 163.
Sarafian may have had the edge when they were on the show, but Ferreira has shown incredible growth in a short amount of time. He’s had Sarafian outmatched physically, and under the guidance of his training partner and mentor Vitor Belfort, he’s finally starting to add the skills to match his potential. Sarafian will be able to keep Ferreira on the outside initially, but the size and speed will eventually become too much for him to handle. Mutante scores a head-ick KO in the first.
Vitor Belfort (23-10) vs Dan Henderson (29-10)
Time for the main event of the evening! Since 2006, Vitor Belfort has only lost to Anderson Silva and Jon Jones in championship bouts. A dynamic, powerful striker, at 36 years old, his last fight against Luke Rockhold showed us that he even has spinning stuff now. Since returning to the UFC with a win over Shogun Rua at UFC 139, Dan Henderson has found himself on the losing end of a pair of controversial decisions against Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida. His right hand has collected 13 knockouts, but most of his wins have come via his Greco-Roman wrestling.
This is a rematch from PRIDE 32 back in 2006, and we all know what that means -- absolutely nothing. It was a different age. Hendo was a spry 36 years young, the H1N5 outbreak was running amok and Bob Barker was still the host of The Price is Right. While Henderson won’t struggle as much as this guy at the Showcase Showdown, he’ll have a hard time closing the distance on Belfort. He struggled to do so against Rashad and the same will happen here. Vitor will stick and move, allowing him to avoid the “H Bomb” and the takedowns. Henderson has never been knocked out in his illustrious career and the streak will continue. Maybe that will give him some solace as he drops the unanimous decision.
That wraps up another Bloomin’ Onion-caliber edition of the Downes Side. Follow me on Twitter @dannyboydownes. Also, don’t forget to leave your own thoughts, predictions and date night suggestions on the page here.