As the UFC embarks on a return to Brazil this weekend, a pivotal matchup in the middleweight division will headline in Sao Paulo, as noted knockout artist Derek Brunson looks to add a former champion to his resume when Lyoto Machida makes his return to action for the first time in over a year.
Brunson has been on the cusp of title contention during his UFC career but never quite reached that plateau, so he hopes a win over Machida will change all that when they clash on Saturday.
In the co-main event, Demian Maia will look to start a new win streak in the ultra-tough welterweight division as he takes on rising star Colby Covington, who is fresh off a shut out performance against Dong Hyun Kim in his last fight.
In today's fantasy preview, we'll examine these matchups and several more to see who has the edge and who might be primed for an upset at UFC Fight Night: Brunson vs. Machida.
These are the fights that are just too close to call, but a few minor differences between favorite and underdog could lead one fighter to victory and the other to defeat.
Derek Brunson vs. Lyoto Machida
Fresh off a first-round win over Dan Kelly in his last fight, Derek Brunson will look to build on that momentum when he faces Lyoto Machida. Brunson has proven to be one of the toughest outs at 185 pounds, as he packs some of the most vicious power in the entire division while also showcasing incredible wrestling skills whenever he decides to put an opponent on the mat. Brunson has adapted from starting out as a raw college wrestler and he has developed into one of the top knockout artists in the UFC thanks to an aggressive style and a left hand that is absolutely deadly.
Machida will look to counter that power with precision and timing as the former light heavyweight champion attempts to bounce back from two straight losses. Machida has always been viewed as one of the toughest matchups in the UFC thanks to his awkward karate-based style and tendency to counter strike virtually every opponent he faces. Machida has a way to lure fighters into his range and then he unleashes quick, snapping combinations that land quick and hard with stinging accuracy. Machida is at his best when he's able to settle into a rhythm before unleashing his best strikes like a cobra coiled up and waiting for the chance to unleash its venom.
The problem that Machida might face in this fight is that Brunson probably won't give him much room to breathe or get settled into that rhythm once this fight gets underway. Brunson is far from reckless, but he loves to control the center of the Octagon and pressure his opponents with power shots as he leaps in from the outside. Brunson also has deceptively good range, where he steps forward and a second later he's cracking an opponent with a straight right hand followed by a power left that usually counts for the knockout.
Now if Machida can make it out of those first couple of rounds without enduring much damage, he'll have a great chance to win this fight. The more time he can tick off the clock while draining Brunson's reserves, Machida has a better opportunity to start adding up the volume of strikes to either win a decision or put Brunson away late. That's a tough task, however, considering Brunson will be gunning for that knockout early and often, and it's impossible to ignore that Machida is coming back after his last fight was scheduled in early 2016. Look for Brunson to come after Machida from the opening bell and seek the perfect shot to ring the former champion's bell and earn another knockout victory.
Prediction: Derek Brunson by knockout, Round 2
In a classic matchup pitting highly touted grappler against dangerous striker, Pedro Munhoz faces off with Rob Font in an exciting bantamweight matchup on the main card.
Now Munhoz may come from Brazilian jiu-jitsu roots, but he's added a ton of striking to his arsenal as well over the years. In fact, Munhoz has averaged four significant strikes landed per minute in the UFC with solid accuracy during the course of his career. Of course, Munhoz is best known for his world-class submission skills, where he's wrapping up nearly two takedowns per fight and he's submitted two of his last three opponents inside the Octagon.
Font will attempt to counter that with a high pace striking attack where he's earned wins in three out of his last four fights in the UFC. Font is a volume striker with power, as he lands over five significant strikes per minute with over 47 percent accuracy. Add to that, Font also absorbs nearly two strikes less per minute than his opponent, which means he fires off a lot of strikes and doesn’t get hit nearly as much as Munhoz. That bodes well for Font, as he'll undoubtedly look to keep this on the feet, where he has a much stronger advantage.
Munhoz just needs to not get into a striking battle with Font because while he's competent on his feet, there's no need to play into his opponent's strength. Munhoz would be better served to use his striking to set up takedowns and work Font over on the mat. Munhoz doesn't have to get the submission so long as he can control Font on the ground and make him fear the takedown, which is often a potent weapon against a striker. Font will give Munhoz everything he can handle, especially if the Brazilian tries to prove something by standing and trading with his heavy-handed opponent. Still, Munhoz seems to have a style that can counter Font with just enough striking to then swoop in for the takedown, where he can either control the fight on the mat or start looking for submissions to put a stop to the contest.
Prediction: Pedro Munhoz by unanimous decision
Two highly experienced lightweight competitors will face off on the main card, as Francisco Trinaldo and Jim Miller both look to get back in the win column after recent losses.
Trinaldo had quietly put together a seven-fight win streak in arguably the UFC's toughest division until he ran into recent title challenger Kevin Lee earlier this year. Prior to that setback, Trinaldo had looked better than ever as he took out a laundry list of tough lightweight opponents, including Paul Felder and Yancy Medeiros. Trinaldo will look to get back on track while facing a tough as nails fighter in Miller, who has proven to be one of the most durable lightweights on the entire UFC roster.
Miller is the definition of “jack of all trades,” because he's proficient in all areas of the game, which makes him a tough fighter to game plan against. Miller is best known for his wrestling and grappling skills, where he's shown of his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu numerous times, but he's also spent years polishing his boxing game, which is a real weapon for him now. Miller is tenacious and won't go away over three rounds either, which makes him an even tougher opponent because he never slows down and refuses to back up during the entire three rounds.
Trinaldo will have to fight smart to beat Miller, but he has the tools to do it.
Trinaldo is a physically imposing fighter at 155 pounds with good power on his feet and a very slick ground game to boot. Trinaldo lands with better volume, more accuracy and absorbs fewer strikes than Miller on the feet. Add to that, Trinaldo is no slouch on the ground and his takedown defense has been solid, which could cause Miller some problems if he's forced to try and wrestle his way to victory. This will be a battle for all 15 minutes, but Trinaldo seems to have the arsenal to out gun Miller over the course of three rounds to earn the victory.
Prediction: Francisco Trinaldo by unanimous decision
These are the fights that appear to be a little more one-sided, but remember that this is MMA where anything can - and usually does - happen.
If you want an early pick for Fight of the Night, this could be the one, as heavy-handed Brazilian Thiago Santos takes on equally dangerous striker Jack Hermansson. Both fighters enter this contest off two straight knockout wins, so expect the leather to go flying as soon as the referee says “go” in this one.
Hermansson may not have the same highlight reel as Santos, but he's definitely put together a devastating array of knockouts during his UFC career. Hermansson hits with power and speed and he actually out lands Santos in volume and accuracy, which could be his best weapon in this matchup. Hermansson is very active on his feet and he'll need to use that movement to stay out of Santos' range. Hermansson also absorbs less than two strikes per minute, which is a huge defensive weapon to use against any fighter looking to stand and trade with him.
That being said, Santos only needs one shot to land before he's celebrating a victory.
Santos has jaw-dropping power and he's very creative inside the Octagon as well. Santos is lightning quick, but his shots land like missiles, with each doing maximum damage even when his opponents are able to defend well. Santos throws a lot of kicks, so don't be surprised if you see him head hunting for Hermansson early and often in this contest. Santos knows that Hermansson has gone for a few takedowns during his UFC career, but he's rarely shown fear of being out wrestled, which means he'll be launching those kicks to the head, body and legs from the time this fight gets underway. Unless Hermansson can find a way to knock Santos off balance, he's going to playing defense quite often in this fight.
Assuming Santos comes out with the same aggression and power that he's shown in his last two fights, it's just tough to see Hermansson surviving the barrage and not eventually getting caught with the knockout shot.
Prediction: Thiago Santos by knockout, Round 2
After suffering a broken jaw in his last fight, John Lineker makes his highly anticipated return to action against former Ultimate Fighter Latin America competitor Marlon Vera, who is coming off three straight wins in the bantamweight division.
Vera has proven to be a very tough opponent for anyone at 135 pounds, as he mixes his style up with a solid ground game and a rapidly improving striking arsenal. Vera is deceptively quick, especially when he gets engaged in a scramble with an opponent on the ground. Vera will not hesitate to take a punch if it allows him the opening to land a shot of his own or even slip inside to get the takedown. Unfortunately, it's that strategy that might backfire against someone as dangerous as Lineker.
Lineker is like a human stick of dynamite - not always lit, but definitely still dangerous. Lineker is a throwback to the old school days of Chute Boxe in Brazil, where he will plow forward and just unleash a tornado of strikes that don't typically stop until his opponent is down and out on the canvas. Lineker is not only a power striker, but he also lands with good volume with over five significant strikes landed per minute. Lineker is also very strong for the bantamweight division, despite actually moving up after spending a big part of his UFC career as a flyweight.
While Vera will definitely give everything he has to win this fight, Lineker might just be too much in the end. Lineker's explosive striking game, coupled with his aggressive pace, could give Vera a ton of headaches - including a potential knockout if he gets caught by one of the Brazilian's bombs on the feet.
Prediction: John Lineker by knockout, Round 2
Submission specialist Antonio Carlos Junior will look for his fourth straight win as he takes on British middleweight Jack Marshman on the preliminary portion of the card.
As he enters the fight in his home country of Brazil, Carlos Junior has benefitted greatly from his relocation to the United States, where he's been training with American Top Team in Florida. Carlos Junior is a world-class grappler, perhaps one of the best on the entire UFC roster, but with his team in Florida he's been able to add different weapons to his arsenal in recent performances. Carlos Junior is also a massive fighter competing in the middleweight division, but he's adapted well and his conditioning doesn’t seem to be much of a problem these days.
Marshman is a crafty veteran with a well-rounded skill set, including solid power on the feet and several submission wins on his resume. Marshman lands with good volume at just under four significant strikes per minute, but he's also struggled a bit defensively on his feet. Marshman tends to get drawn into slugfests from time to time, and that could backfire in this matchup, not so much because Carlos Junior will out strike him, but because that tendency also leaves him open for the takedown.
Look for Carlos Junior to use his size and power to get inside on Marshman early before dragging this fight to the ground. From there, it's a question of whether Carlos Junior will smother Marshman on the mat for 15 minutes or if he'll get the fight-finishing submission. With a home crowd behind him, Carlos Junior getting the finish is the best bet going into this card.
Prediction: Antonio Carlos Junior by submission, Round 2
Colby Covington vs. Demian Maia
Throughout his UFC career as a welterweight, Demian Maia has been a one trick pony and that's in no way an insult to his skill set. Actually, Maia's ability to consistently take his opponents to the ground, pass through their defense like a knife through butter and then wrap up a submission is akin to watching an artist paint a masterpiece. Maia makes no secret what he plans to do and it's on his opponents to stop him. The only person to do that in recent years is welterweight champion Tyron Woodley and that's why upstart contender Colby Covington is now a good choice to pull off an upset on Saturday night.
Covington is a former All-American wrestler who averages seven takedowns per 15 minutes in the cage. That's an incredible number, but Covington's wrestling also gives him the best kind of weapon to use as a defensive tactic against someone like Maia.
Maia has to get inside for his takedowns, and while he's more than capable of latching on to a leg or just pulling guard to get the fight to the mat, his best attempts have come from the body lock, where he just mauls the opposition before getting them down. Maia has used his Brazilian jiu-jitsu to put away a laundry list of top fighters over the years, but his last two opponents - Woodley and Jorge Masvidal - have both figured out a way to stay out of his submissions. That's helpful for Covington because he's also a top-notch wrestler like Woodley with the same coaches in the gym as Masvidal.
If Covington can stay away from Maia early by using his wrestling as a defensive tactic while also showcasing some of the power he's developed in his hands, he could give the former title challenger real problems in this matchup. Covington has worked long and hard to start developing his striking ,and he'll attempt to use that boxing to keep Maia on the outside and then punish the Brazilian whenever he attempts to get inside his punching range. Look for Covington to stuff Maia's takedowns early and then start to turn on the aggression in the second and third rounds.
Maia has slowed down a bit in the past after over exerting himself in the opening round while trying to get the submission, and if he can't put Covington away, he may start to see his gas tank fade against a young, hungry welterweight looking to make a name for himself. If Covington can survive those initial two or three situations where Maia attempts to latch on to him for the takedown or submission attempt, then he could crank up the punishment during those final 10 minutes en route to the biggest win of his career.
Prediction: Colby Covington by unanimous decision