The UFC heads to Fortaleza, Brazil this Saturday in hopes of washing the stink off of their UFC 209 PPV dud that had fans looking for refunds after the lackluster card. The good news for fans is this fight card is free on FS1 for cable subscribers. The Fight Night card contains 5 fights with top 15 ranked opponents facing each other, and a total of 12 top 15 ranked fighters on the card. This card is loaded compared to UFC 208; and has the potential to top UFC 209 easily from a pure action and competitive fight measurement. While there are no titles or number one contender slots on the line, these matchups could produce some fireworks while also having lasting implications in multiple divisions. I think fans will see at a minimum 3 if not 4 fight stoppages on the main card alone. I will breakdown the fights on this card that I find the most interesting, along with some fight predictions to hopefully help your bank accounts. Let’s get to the fights:
Notable Main Card Fights:
Edson “Junior” Barboza (9th) vs Beneil Dariush (9th) (Lightweight 155lbs)
Preview: This fight may fly under some casual fans radar but it is absolutely a great matchup between two super talented Lightweights. Edson Barboza is trying to climb the Lightweight ladder once again but to do so he’ll have to beat a talented young top 10 fighter Beneil Dariush, who is looking to catapult himself into the top 5 in the division with a career defining win. Dariush has won 7 of his last 8 fights only losing to Michael Chiesa via submission despite dominating the first round of that fight. Dariush knows a win against Barboza can start to get him into the conversation of a legitimate top 5 fight; so I anticipate we will see him sharp and aggressive early in this fight. He is a little smaller than Barboza, but should hold a speed advantage allowing him to get in and out of the pocket before he gets hit. However, this is a dangerous game plan against an explosive striker like Barboza. Dariush could fight a perfect 14 minutes, and one slip up could mean he gets his lights turned out with a man like Barboza’s brutal striking. Barboza is coming off two unanimous decision victories against good competition, but Dariush will pose an interesting challenge for him due to the speed disparity & his phenomenal ground game. Barboza typically likes to push the pace and make it a war, where he trusts his power to deliver. However, if he can’t time or hit Dariush early, he will need to try to counter him which will require some patience to get his timing down. Barboza’s success in this fight will likely get determined by whether or not he cannot punch himself out looking for an early stoppage. Dariush could frustrate him if he tries to go for a quick victory, and he could find himself gassed out in the 3rd if he is not careful; allowing Dariush to ground and pound Barboza late. I think the first round of this fight will feel like a chess match as both men try to determine whose game plan is going to get forced on the other. The one who can can find a pace that fits their skill set best, will almost certainly come away with the victory.
Odds: Barboza (-156) vs Dariush (+136)
Prediction: Barboza is just so dang explosive it’s tough to pick against him. However, I really like Dariush’s skill-set. I think he’s in a perfect spot to spring an upset in Barboza’s homeland. Dariush’s speed I think will frustrate Barboza, and he will eventually attempt to throw a big wild shot opening him up for a takedown. The ground is Dariush’s comfort zone, and from there Barboza is in a world of trouble. I like a late upset stoppage by Dariush either by ref or submission.
(Dariush +136 via TKO)
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (6th) vs Gian Villante (12th) (Light heavyweight 205lbs)
Preview: Any minor fan of MMA knows who Mauricio “Shogun” Rua is; the man is an unquestionable legend. Despite already achieving legend status he continues to fight on at age 35. He enters his fight against Gian Villante riding a two fight win streak, albeit a controversial as those two wins came via razor-thin & questionable split-decisions. Shogun will give up the size and speed advantage in this fight which could make things difficult if he tries to engage in his normal ‘slobber-knocker’ fashion of brawling. At this point in his career, I do not think it’s possible we will see a more patient and counter-striking Shogun. He’s going to come forward, he’s going to look to destroy Villante by any means necessary. Villante knows what he is in for when game planning against Rua. Shogun will unleash a tidal wave of strikes upon Villante, and it’s his task to weather that storm, while also making Rua respect his skills. I expect Villante to let the fight come to him, and pick his spots early. Villante has been stopped in his career, but Shogun hasn’t gotten a legit stoppage in over four years now. It’s fair to wonder how much of his world-class power remains, and whether or not he can still stop a top 15 fighter with his striking. Villante is incredibly tough to take down, as demonstrated by his 85% takedown defense. Rua has a nasty jiu-jitsu game that many fans are not as familiar with but if he cannot get Villante to the mat, he cannot rely on that skill set to win.
Odds: Villante (+122) vs Rua (-142)
Prediction: This fight is likely ending in a stoppage. Both men are capable of putting the others lights out. However, I do not think Rua is capable of winning a non-controversial decision against a young top 15 fighter at Light heavy weight. He’s a legend, but he’s a legend at the very end of his career. I can see Viallante winning either by stoppage or a wide decision as Rua tires late but won’t quit. I’ll take the plus odds on the guy I think can win multiple ways.
(Villante +122 via KO)
Main Event: Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort (9th) vs Kelvin Gastelum (10th) (Middleweight 185lbs)
Preview: Four years ago losing a decision to Vitor Belfort was an amazing accomplishment for a fighter and a testament to how tough they were because no one went the distance with him. Vitor would destroy his opponents like a Tsunami and everyone feared him; no matter if you were in his division or not. Present day Vitor Belfort is still a scary man, but he no longer carries that aura of invincibility. When Kelvin Gastelum enters the octagon to fight Belfort for one of the biggest fights of his career; he’s expecting to not just survive but to beat him. Odds makers have Gastelum as a 3-1 favorite. The odds are even more surprising considering they are fighting in Belfort’s home country where he’s proven even more formidable. Gastelum is riding high after dismantling Tim Kennedy as he settles into his new division at 185lbs. Gone are the severe weight cuts to 170lbs, allowing him to trust his cardio and speed to carry him at the new weight. He will give up considerable size and reach against Belfort, and will likely have to eat a big shot or two in that first round. However, as long as Gastelum’s iron-chin holds up he should start to dominate as the fight gets out of the first round. Belfort has had notorious cardio issues if his opponents can withstand his early on-slaught. Gastelum has gone the 5 round distance once already in his career, so he should have no problems if this fight reaches the 4th or 5th round. Many fans don’t realize that Gastelum is two super close & controversial split decision losses against the current welterweight champion Tyron Woodley and the super-tough Neil Magny from being undefeated. Gastelum may not have a singular elite skill set, but he also has no holes in his game. Gastelum is the epitome of a well-rounded and polished mixed martial artist. This fight will get decided in the first round. There is no secret to Belfort’s gameplan; destroy Gastelum in the 1st, or lose the fight.
Odds: Belfort (+300) vs Gastelum (-295)
Prediction: Gastelum has never been stopped before in his career and that appears to be the only way he can lose to someone like Belfort. Everything points to a career defining win for Gastelum. I spent a whole preview detailing how good Gastelum is and how he’s never been stopped. However, I’m looking for value when I make my predictions. It is highly likely Gastelum cruises in this fight, but I cannot pass up getting Belfort in Brazil at 3-1 odds. Gastelum is still a small middleweight, who hasn’t fought a legit 185lbs guy with power, Vitor has power. Brazilian fighters also have a funny way of finding their groove when they fight in Brazil, so I’m hoping the trend continues for Belfort. I may kick myself later for the pick but give me Belfort in Brazil, as he tries to capture his knockout magic one last time vs a smaller opponent still finding his way into the division. As slight hedge take the over 1.5 rounds at +odds, in case Gastelum makes it out of the 1st this will let you free roll with Belfort.
(Belfort via KO +300)/Bonus Play (Over 1.5 Rounds +120)
Prediction Record since 2016 to Date (33-27-0) ($37.50)
-Record & predictions based on Win vs Loss predictions only. Unless specified otherwise I use increments of $100 (for + odds predictions) & $110 (for – odds bets) as hypothetical wagers for each prediction.
-Predictions & Records are for entertainment value only
*Stats via www.UFC.com
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