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The UFC returns to Brazil this weekend with a card that will feature the return of arguably the top women's fighter on the planet, when Cris "Cyborg" makes her second appearance inside the Octagon.
"Cyborg" has been one of the best fighters in the women's division for the better part of the last decade, and she made a rousing debut in May with a first round TKO over the always-tough Leslie Smith. This time around, "Cyborg" will face noted Muay Thai striker Lina Lansberg, who makes her UFC debut against the fearsome Brazilian.
Also on the card, former UFC champion Renan Barao looks to bounce back from a loss in his first fight at featherweight as he takes on former Ultimate Fighter finalist Phillipe Nover, while noted knockout artists Roy Nelson and Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva meet in a heavyweight showdown on the main card.
In today's fantasy preview, we're going to examine some of these key fights to see who has the advantage going into Saturday night and if there might be an upset brewing on this latest card headed to Brazil.
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.
Renan Barao (-400 favorite) vs. Phillipe Nover (+280 favorite)
Renan Barao came up just short in his featherweight debut earlier this year when he took on heavy-handed striker Jeremy Stephens, but he'll look for redemption this Saturday night when he takes on another tough standup fighter in Phillipe Nover. Nover made his return to the UFC last year and has gone 1-1 in those two fights with a pair of split decisions tacked on to his record. Now Nover will look to add the biggest name yet to his resume when he faces Barao.
Nover has been an explosive finisher throughout his entire career, as he has put away an astounding 92 percent of his past opponents with an almost even split between knockouts and submissions. Nover will also enjoy a slight size advantage over the former bantamweight with three inches in height and two inches in reach. Nover will need to use that during every exchange as he looks to stave off Barao's fast-paced attacks on the feet. Nover is no slouch when it comes to striking, but he can't afford to get into wild exchanges or he could easily get caught by Barao's power hand.
Barao didn’t look bad in his featherweight debut by any means, but he faced a very tough challenge against someone as powerful and durable as Jeremy Stephens. Barao won't need to change his game plan all that much in this fight as he looks to land with volume on the feet and then take advantage of any scrambles on the mat. Considering Barao has a ridiculous 97 percent takedown defense, it's hard to imagine Nover will find a way to drag this to the floor, so it will give the Brazilian the advantage to pick where this fight takes place.
Barao may be giving up a little bit of size, but he'll make up for that with his speed and power. Barao packs a serious punch and he's explosive whenever he unleashes a big combination. Nover is extremely durable so he won't go away just because he gets tagged a couple of times and he's more than capable of returning fire in the pocket. It's just tough to imagine Nover will ultimately out land Barao over three rounds and that's what will likely lead to his defeat at the end of the night. Barao will put together a high paced, high volume attack, and over 15 minutes that should be enough for the former champion to get the nod on the scorecards or possibly find an opening to blitz Nover for the finish.
Prediction: Renan Barao by unanimous decision
Quite possibly the toughest fight to pick on the entire card happens in this lightweight matchup between underrated Brazilian fighter Francisco Trinaldo and always exciting American Paul Felder. Trinaldo has put together an extremely impressive six-fight win streak recently while taking out a long list of veterans, including former Ultimate Fighter winners Chad Laprise and Ross Pearson, as well as noted finisher Yancy Medeiros in his last trip to the Octagon. Felder is an extremely entertaining lightweight prospect, who has no problem taking changes at every turn while showing off a very well rounded skill set on the feet and on the ground.
On paper, Trinaldo and Felder are nearly identical statistically when it comes to striking and groundwork. Trinaldo averages 3.42 strikes landed per minute while Felder counters with 3.43 strikes per minute. Neither fighter is known for a tremendous wrestling attack, but both have plenty of submissions tucked away in the arsenal if the fight hits the ground. It could be argued that Felder is the more creative, explosive striker and ground tactician, but Trinaldo is definitely the more technically sound fighter when it comes to his overall MMA game.
So who has the advantage?
If this fight ends with a spectacular finish, chances are Felder will be the one with his hand raised at the end of the night. Felder has the unique ability to uncork any number of flashy moves that can surprise an opponent, whether that means a flying knee or a spinning back fist. On the flipside, Trinaldo is just a monster when it comes to frustrating his opponents with a versatile striking attack and great defense. Trinaldo also has a lot of confidence coming into this fight after taking out a laundry list of top lightweights in recent months, and over the course of 15 minutes, it's going to be awfully hard to pick against him.
Prediction: Francisco Trinaldo by unanimous decision
Gilbert Burns is arguably one of the best submission specialists in mixed martial arts right now and there's not a lightweight on the planet he can't submit. That being said, Michel Prazeres has to be one of the most underrated prospects at 155 pounds right now after putting together a very impressive 4-2 record in the UFC including a hard fought victory over Mairbek Taisumov just a few fights ago.
While it may not seem like a compliment, Prazeres has the uncanny knack to keep his fights close no matter who he's facing. Now that might come back to bite him when it comes to a decision but that also means Prazeres is not the kind of fighter who typically gets dominated by any of his opposition. Prazeres lands with over 47 percent accuracy on the feet while also mixing in more than four takedowns per 15 minutes in the Octagon. Now those takedowns might seem like a very risky proposition against a submission specialist like Burns, but as long as Prazeres can use his wrestling as an offensive weapon to wear down and damage his opponent, that could play to his advantage. Prazeres just has to know taking Burns down in the center of the Octagon could be disastrous, but planting him on the mat and pressing his head into the cage could be a great way to put together some damaging combinations on the ground.
That being said, Burns will enjoy a four-inch reach advantage, and his Brazilian jiu-jitsu game is absolutely world class. Burns is a very aggressive fighter on the ground and he typically works for so many submissions that his opponents spend most of their time just trying not to get wrapped up like a pretzel with him on the ground. Considering Prazeres' tendency to fall back on his wrestling game, it only takes one bad move for Burns to lock up any number of submissions to put a stop to this fight. Even if Burns doesn’t get the finish, he can put Prazeres on the defensive so much that the judges should have no problem deciding the victor in this one.
Prediction: Gilbert Burns by submission, Round 3
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.
Cris "Cyborg" (-1300 favorite) vs. Lina Lansberg (+700 underdog)
Cris "Cyborg" is not only one of the best women's fighters of all time, but she's also one of the most feared strikers in all of MMA. Cyborg hasn't gone to a decision since 2008, as she's laid waste to every single opponent she's faced since that time with a highlight reel packed full of knockouts, with most of her fights not even making it past the first round. Yet Cyborg is not only a noted knockout artist, but she's a very skilled Muay Thai specialist on the feet, with an incredibly technical striking attack that's not simply built on power or overwhelming her opponent - although she does both of those things very well.
Lansberg will present an interesting test for Cyborg, considering her long history in Muay Thai bouts. What Lansberg lacks in MMA experience, she makes up for it with her dozens of kickboxing bouts, where she's faced a lot of top fighters including current UFC bantamweight contender Valentina Shevchenko. Lansberg is known as "The Elbow Queen" so it's easy to figure out that she loves to slice and dice her opponents on the inside whenever she can grab on to the clinch. Lansberg is the kind of fighter who will show no fear in striking exchanges, but that could be her demise against someone as powerful as Cyborg.
Cyborg is so freakishly strong and powerful that it's hard to imagine she won't eventually find an opening for a combination that will put Lansberg down and out. Cyborg didn't stay undefeated for the past 11 years by accident and it's hard to imagine that she's headed for an upset in this one either. Expect Cyborg to move forward, attack and eventually find an opening where she will unleash her unreal power to put Lansberg away.
Prediction: Cris Cyborg by TKO, Round 2
Roy Nelson (-430 favorite) vs. Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva (+310 underdog)
There's no doubt that both Roy Nelson and Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva are desperately in need of a win this weekend. The two heavyweights have combined for a 2-8 record over their last 10 fights, so getting a win this weekend is paramount to remaining on the UFC roster.
While Nelson has shown a few cracks in his previously unbreakable chin, he still packs a huge punch and has the ability to weather a storm if his opponent puts him in a bad position. Nelson can absorb damage like few fighters in UFC history, but his ability to return fire with a deadly overhand right always seems like the ultimate equalizer. Of course, Silva has a world-class ground game and has earned more than his fair share of knockouts, but it's hard to pick him in this fight considering the struggles he's had with power punchers lately.
Silva has just endured too much punishment in recent fights to feel comfortable picking him against someone with the kind of power Nelson generates. Nelson should probably avoid the clinch game with a massive fighter like Silva, but if he stays on the outside for more than just a few minutes in this fight, he should be able to uncork one of his signature haymakers that will bring this one to a spectacular close.
Thiago Santos found out the hard way that stepping into the top 10 at middleweight is a dicey situation after he suffered a bruising defeat to perennial contender Gegard Mousasi at UFC 200. Prior to that loss, Santos had put together a very impressive streak of wins, including a dominant performance over highly touted Canadian prospect Elias Theodorou and a knockout over former title contender Nate Marquardt. This time around, Santos faces former Ultimate Fighter competitor Eric Spicely, who has a noted ground game but lacks a lot of skill when it comes to his striking attack.
That’s where Santos lives and breathes and he'll look to pick apart and finish Spicely before the American can even sniff a takedown. Santos is a punishing force at 185 pounds and while he may have fallen in his first real test to crack the top 10, he will still pick apart nearly anybody outside the rankings with his powerful striking attack. Santos is dangerous anywhere and everywhere on the feet and it's hard to imagine Spicely surviving the onslaught past the first round with the kind of attacks he'll be weathering from the powerful Brazilian.
Prediction: Thiago Santos by TKO, Round 1
Dustin Ortiz always seems like he's one fight away from making a serious push into the top 10 at flyweight and he'll have another chance this weekend as he takes on tough Brazilian competitor Jussier Formiga.
Ortiz is a very well rounded fighter who has plenty of skills to get the job done against Formiga and that's why he's a solid upset pick this weekend. Ortiz lands more than double the amount of strikes per minute over Formiga with incredible 47 percent accuracy. Formiga is a tough customer when it comes to his defense, so Ortiz has to be careful not to get caught swinging and missing, but the American keeps a high pace that typically starts in the first minute and doesn't stop until the final horn.
Of course, Formiga is a serious veteran with solid striking and a world-class ground game that is nearly unmatched at 125 pounds. Formiga has proven himself to be a very capable top five bantamweight who has taken out any number of top fighters in his weight class since joining the UFC roster. Formiga attacks with a very aggressive ground game where he averages more than two takedowns per fight, and his control on the mat is very tough to deal with. Still, Ortiz has a lot of pop behind his punches and the ability to scramble out of takedowns, which could frustrate Formiga over the course of three rounds.
It's not a sure thing by any means, but Ortiz has the skills to give Formiga trouble on the feet, and if he can stay off the mat, he should have a great chance to pull off the upset win this weekend.
Prediction: Dustin Ortiz by split decision