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As the UFC embarks on another trip to Brazil in 2015, the heavyweight main event features a former title contender against a legendary former champion as Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva faces off with submission specialist Frank Mir in a five-round headline bout.
Silva is trying to bounce back from a recent upset loss to Andrei Arlovski in his last trip to the Octagon after putting on one of the best heavyweight fights of all-time against Mark Hunt to close out 2013. Meanwhile, Mir has suffered the worst streak of his career with four consecutive losses, but the Las Vegas native took the last year off to allow his body time to heal.
Now Mir promises he's returning fresh in both body and spirit as he faces Silva in a pivotal matchup for both men.
Also on the card, perennial knockout artist Edson Barboza looks to build on his most recent win over Bobby Green as he takes on former Ultimate Fighter runner-up Michael Johnson as he tries to make a run at the top 10 with his first fight in 2015.
As we get ready for the UFC Fight Night card from Porto Alegre, today's fantasy preview will break down some of the key fights on the show. Who is the safest bet to pull off a win? Which fights are going to be the toughest picks? And is there an upset brewing somewhere on this 12-fight card? Let's find out.
These are the matchups on the card that are so razor close, it's a flip of the coin as to who comes away victorious so let's see if we can make heads or tails in these fights.
ANTONIO “BIGFOOT” SILVA vs. FRANK MIR
The heavyweight main event is a tough fight to pick because it's hard to know what each man is bringing into the Octagon on Saturday night.
On his best nights, Bigfoot Silva is an elite heavyweight capable of going against anyone in the top five in the world as witnessed by his victories over Alistair Overeem and Travis Browne in the UFC. Then there are mysterious performances such as his loss to Arlovski, where Silva looked a step behind and unable to eat a punch after absorbing a world of punishment in his bout with Mark Hunt just nine months earlier.
Silva is a deceptively powerful heavyweight who won't blow by anyone with his speed, but he's able to maul opponents with size and strength, especially on the inside. He rarely looks for the takedown, but with a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt on his resume, Silva is more than capable of fighting anyone on the ground.
As for Mir, the former UFC champion has suffered four straight losses with little breathing room for error in this fight. Mir - much like Silva - is a devastating finisher when he's on his game. Mir holds the UFC record for most wins, most finishes and fastest submission in heavyweight history. Mir is probably still the most feared submission artist in the entire heavyweight division with an ability to grab an arm, leg or neck from virtually anywhere and getting an opponent to tap out. But can he still pull off those big finishes at this stage of his career?
If Silva can control the pace and not allow Mir to land a takedown, he should be able to secure a victory with superior power and knockout ability in the clinch. Mir has struggled before with fighters who can trap him against the cage and unload hard, heavy shots. Silva is more than capable of implementing that game plan and if he does, Mir could be in for a long, or short, night, depending on how things play out.
Prediction: Antonio 'Bigfoot' Silva by TKO, round 3
EDSON BARBOZA VS. MICHAEL JOHNSON
Barboza vs. Johnson presents an interesting fight at 155 pounds with both fighters providing legitimate cause to believe either one could win in this co-main event bout from Brazil.
Barboza remains one of the nastiest strikers in the entire world, with an attack-heavy Muay Thai style that includes blistering leg kicks and powerful hands. Working with the same coaches as former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, Barboza has added a fundamentally sound boxing game to his repertoire as well. Barboza hits hard and hits fast and in his last fight against Bobby Green he showed much better defense as well, which had been a problem for him in the past.
Johnson comes into this fight after nearly a year away from fighting as he looks to cement himself back in the top 15 of the lightweight division. Johnson is currently riding a three-fight win streak, including wins over Joe Lauzon and Gleison Tibau in recent fights and this former Ultimate Fighter competitor only looks like he's getting better. Johnson hits like a truck and his output is similar to Barboza's so he can match him strike for strike, although he probably wouldn't do well just exchanging shots with the Brazilian if he wants to win on Sunday night.
The key in this fight is once again Barboza's ability to avoid damage. When he's on his game offensively, Barboza might be the most dangerous lightweight this side of champion Anthony Pettis. He hits hard, fast and does maximum damage with his combinations. Where Barboza has struggled in the past is taking punches if he happens to get tagged clean. Johnson is more than able to land a shot on the button and get the knockout if Barboza leaves an opening. Still, Barboza is a fighter who is one of the best in the world when he's on his game, and fighting close to home seems to be a lucky charm for this Brazilian - he's 3-0 in Brazil since joining the UFC, with two finishes by way of knockout or TKO.
Prediction: Edson Barboza by TKO, round 3
Rustam Khabilov gets back to action this weekend after a long layoff as he takes on Adriano Martins in one of the most interesting stylistic matchups on the entire card.
Khabilov is a machine when it comes to his ability to wrap up an opponent and toss them to the ground with superior strength and technique. The Dagestan native is quite adept at implementing a fundamental wrestling game along with traditional Russian Sambo, which is tough to combat by any fighter in the division. Khabilov is capable of overwhelming an opponent with his wrestling, which includes an incredible rate of over five takedowns per 15 minutes in the cage with 50-percent accuracy.
Martins is no stranger to the ground game with a proficient knowledge of the submission arts, but he's also a fierce striker with big knockout power in both hands and both feet. Martins only averages 2.18 strikes per minute, but he certainly makes those count. Martins has won seven out of his last eight fights and his only loss came to Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone last January.
Khabilov seems like the fighter with more ways to win in this matchup as long as he can avoid Martins' formidable striking from the outside. Khabilov is an expert at closing the distance and keeping his arms wrapped around an opponent to give them little to no breathing room. He has to be careful charging in with reckless abandon, however, because Martin is certainly more than capable of making him pay for a single mistake. Khabilov just needs to stick to his game plan of putting Martins down on the mat and looking for offense there and he should pull out a victory.
Prediction: Rustam Khabilov by unanimous decision
Middleweights Santiago Ponzinibbio and Sean Strickland kick off the main card on FOX Sports 1 with both fighters showing great potential in recent fights.
Ponzinibbio lost in his UFC debut to undefeated prospect Ryan LaFlare, but bounced back in a big way with a first round knockout over Wendell Oliveira last September. Meanwhile, Strickland is 2-0 in the UFC with wins over Bubba McDaniel and Luke Barnatt and carrying an undefeated record overall at 15-0.
Ponzinibbio is a very aggressive striker who likes to overwhelm opponents with his offense before they have a chance to react. He has a long list of first round finishes on his record with a mix of knockouts and submissions to his credit. Strickland is no slouch and can match him punch for punch if he chooses and the American actually has a slightly bigger output when it comes to significant strikes landed per fight.
Where this fight separates just slightly is in Strickland's defensive capabilities. He has incredible striking defense, avoiding his opponents over 75-percent of the time. That's a major factor as he faces an ultra-aggressive power puncher like Ponzinibbio.
If Strickland doesn't get sucked into a fight where he's just throwing bombs with Ponzinibbio in the center of the cage while just waiting for one of them to tumble over, he should be able to get the job done with counter shots and superior boxing. Make no mistake, Ponzinibbio is more than ready to finish Strickland in the first round, but if he is swinging hard and no one is there to hit, his offense should start to slow by the middle of round two, which should allow his opponent to gain the upper hand.
Prediction: Sean Strickland by unanimous decision
These are the fights on the card where one fighter seems to have a much greater edge over his/her opponent. Don't get lost in the details, however, because this is MMA and anything can and usually does happen!
Former Ultimate Fighter Brazil winner Cezar Ferreira suffered a setback when he lost to CB Dollaway by knockout two fights ago, but this Brazilian prospect remains a must watch name in 2015 as he looks to climb back up the ladder of the middleweight division. Ferreira is a suffocating fighter with solid striking skills and good ground work that can keep an opponent guessing from the opening bell until the final round. Ferreira has shown good defense in the past outside of his loss to Dollaway and he's well versed in both the striking arts and the submission game.
Alvey is as tough as they come and he won't go away easy. Alvey has averaged over five significant strikes landed per minute since coming to the UFC with over 50-percent accuracy. Defensively is where Alvey has struggled, often taking a punch in order to return one of his own. While that plan led him to victory in his most recent fight, Alvey is facing a much more well-rounded opponent who can hit hard and loves to take the fight to the ground as well.
If frustration sets in, Alvey could be fighting from his back an awful lot in this fight just trying to find a way to gasp for air.
Prediction: Cezar Ferreira by unanimous decision
Iuri Alcantara remains one of the most dangerous fighters in the world at 135-pounds and he'll get a chance to show off why this weekend when he faces second time UFC fighter Frankie Saenz.
Alcantara is a tough matchup for anyone at 135 pounds, with dominant power in his striking and a better than average ground game as well. Alcantara mixes things up very well with 2.36 strikes landed per minute, as well as nearly two takedowns per every 15 minutes he steps into the cage. Alcantara is particularly tough when he lands on top and he lands there often with 75-percent takedown accuracy.
Saenz loves the ground game as well and his wrestling will be key if he hopes to pull off the upset against Alcantara. His ability to put the Brazilian on his back and keep him there will go a long way towards an eventual victory, but that's going to be a tough road to travel given Alcantara's ability to hurt Saenz wherever this fight goes. Alcantara is one of the top 10 bantamweights in the world for a reason and Saenz will probably find that out the hard way in Brazil.
Prediction: Iuri Alcantara by TKO, round 2
If there's one bout on the card that could end up as Fight of the Night as well as an upset pick to watch, it's the women's bantamweight bout between Jessica Andrade and Marion Reneau.
On paper, Andrade has a wealth of Octagon experience compared to her opponent, including a current three-fight win streak with victories over Rosi Sexton and Raquel Pennington among them. Andrade is a lightning fast fighter with power in her hands and a slick submission skill set, including a fight ending guillotine choke that she's used five times in her career to put opponents away.
Where Reneau may be able to take advantage is with her size and striking prowess from the outside. Reneau has four inches in height on Andrade and she does very well when she's throwing punches and kicks from the outside. Reneau has trained under Master Rafael Cordeiro, who is the same striking coach responsible for Wanderlei Silva and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, so she's very good at landing punches in bunches and hurting her opponents with a various arsenal of strikes.
Andrade is the favorite and there's no way she should be counted out, but don't blink on Reneau's ability to keep the Brazilian at bay with superior reach and footwork over the course of three rounds.
Prediction: Marion Reneau by split decision