Nothing against the 30-somethings, or even the 40-something, who fought at the top of the UFC’s Fight Night Sao Paulo card Saturday night, but center stage clearly belonged to Thomas Almeida.
The UFC has a major young star in Almeida, who is now poised to become a significant player in the bantamweight division.
The 24-year-old from Sao Paulo was spectacular in scoring a rousing knockout of Anthony Birchak. Although veterans Vitor Belfort and Dan Henderson were the main event, and Glover Teixeira looked impressive in the co-main, Almeida leads off Talking Points because, well, he was the main star.
1. And still undefeated
Almeida continues soaring in the bantamweight division. After his riveting first-round knockout of Birchak, you’ve got to wonder how far he is from a title shot.
Almeida finished off Birchak with a dazzling right-left-right combination that turned out the lights on his opponent at the 4-minute, 24-second mark. Birchak’s hands dropped, his legs folded under him and his eyes glazed over as he fell against the cage.
It would be wrong to say Almeida’s star has arrived. He was already there. But now, with three consecutive knockouts and a 21-0 record, he can’t be ignored as a contender to the belt held by TJ Dillashaw. He’s certain to rise from his current No. 8 ranking and undoubtedly will be in line for a title fight after Dillashaw faces Dominick Cruz in January.
Brazilian fans already know him. The U.S. market awaits.
Post-fight quote: “I’ll be ready for whoever the UFC puts in front of me.” -- Almeida
2. An oldie but a goodie
Think about this: Dan Henderson and Vitor Belfort are a combined 83 years of age and have fought a total of 81 MMA bouts. But their experience and respective skill levels still make them dangerous fighters in the Octagon.
This was their third bout, but it belonged entirely to Belfort.
The Brazilian needed a big win after losing to middleweight champ Chris Weidman by first-round KO at UFC 187, and he got it. He delivered a stinging head kick and two sharp left hands that knocked the 45-year-old Henderson against the cage and to the canvas.
Belfort, 38, finished the fight on top, swinging away until referee Mario Yamasaki waved him off at 2 minutes, 7 seconds of the first round. Henderson protested briefly, but there was little question he was helpless as he absorbed strikes from Belfort.
Post-fight quote: “The game plan was going well. I just ducked into a nice head kick.” -- Henderson
3. Heavy hands
There’s still a lot of fight left in Glover Teixeira. The 36-year-old light heavyweight had lost two of his previous three fights, but he crushed Patrick Cummins with a barrage of strikes in the second round to score at TKO at the 1:12 mark.
Teixeira, ranked fourth in the division, wobbled Cummins late in the first round, landing two uppercuts and an overhand right before the horn sounded. He didn’t waste much time ending the co-main event, scoring with thundering shots that wobbled and finally cut down Cummins.
Post-fight quote: “I knew he was hurt and it was just a matter of time before I knocked him out in the second round.” -- Teixeira
RELATED CONTENT: Belfort and Henderson Octagon interview | Teixeira Octagon interview
4. Sudden Impact
It’s impossible not to love the style and presence of Brazilian Alex “Cowboy” Oliveira. The long, lanky lightweight delivered a wonderful performance that finished off Piotr Hallmann in the third with a crushing right hand to the chin.
Almost as impressive was Oliveira’s nonstop attack. He mauled Hallmann with combinations in the first round and continually pressed forward. He was on his back for most of round two, but that big right hand 51 seconds into the third knocked out Hallmann cold.
If Oliveira isn’t already on your radar, put him there.
5. Squeezing out featherweight history
UFC veteran Thiago Tavares put a sudden end to his scheduled three-rounder with 11th-ranked Clay Guida and made a little history at the same time. In the opening minute, Guida scored a solid takedown, but Tavares seemed to anticipate the move and quickly locked in a guillotine choke for the submission. At just 39 seconds into the round, it marked the fastest submission in UFC featherweight history – not bad for a guy who turns 31 years old today. Guida is 3-3 since moving to featherweight.
6. Down but not out
Did referee Keith Peterson stop the bout between Gleison Tibau and Abel Trujillo too soon? It sure looked that way, and Trujillo clearly was upset when Tibau was declared the winner by rear naked choke just 1 mintute, 45 seconds of the first round. Tibau had a firm choke on his opponent, but Trujillo didn’t tap out. Regardless, Peterson stopped the fight anyway. Our take: Eventually, Trujillo probably would have been forced to submit, but it should have been his call, not the ref’s.
7. Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Bantamweights
We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: If you don’t watch the early prelims on Fight Pass, you’re missing something. Case in point: Jimmie Rivera and Pedro Munoz engaged in three rounds of riveting action, with Rivera eking out a split decision to improve his MMA record to 18-1. He took some shots but rocked Munoz in the second round and may have won the fight with a big flurry in the third. Could a top-15 UFC ranking be next?
Michael Martinez is a longtime sports journalist and former staff writer at The New York Times, the San Jose Mercury News and FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @ByMMartinez