The UFC returns to Barueri, Brazil for just the second time with a Fight Night card stacked with Brazilian MMA action. At the top we have our featured bout of the night between Lyoto Machida and CB Dollaway as a highly-respected karate-styled fighter in Machida looks get back into the title mix by knocking down rising middleweight CB Dollaway, who has had a bit of a career resurgence as of late. Let’s take a look at the main card, which will be shown on Fox Sports 1.
Renato Carneiro vs. Tom Niinimaki
Starting the action off is a featherweight contest between two exciting grapplers in Carneiro and Niinimaki. The Brazilian, Carneiro, his making his long-awaited UFC debut after spending his entire professional career in Jungle Fight and racking up an 8-0 record. His opponent, the Finn, is desperate to get a win here against Carneiro as he has dropped his last two bouts since his UFC debut where he picked up a split decision over Rani Yahya. Like I said, both guys are excellent grapplers, and I think we’re going to have a very exciting contest on our hands full of what should be some entertaining grappling exchanges.
On the feet, neither fighter really holds much of an advantage. Carneiro has shown some sharp striking, primarily his kicks, but his output is mediocre to say the least. He has looked hesitant on the feet in the past, and he’s going to have to get to work on the feet if he has any hopes in being the one on top. In terms of takedowns, Carneiro likes to just shoot without much set-up; this is where his lack of offense on the feet can put him in trouble. With that said, Carneiro is a very physically strong fighter and has great wrestling skills. He knows how to finish standard single and double leg takedowns, but has shown some good dumping technique and trips as well. Once Carneiro is on top he is like a boulder; very heavy hips, and it’s just a matter of time before he wraps something up.
Niinimaki on the other hand has shown some decent power with his hands even though he is primarily a grappler too. His technique could definitely use some work as he tends to get a little sloppy – this is where Carneiro’s patience on the feet can turn into a good thing. Niinimaki does probably have the better takedowns and wrestling technique, but he has been caught once he goes to the ground as his same tendencies on the feet translate to his grappling. Look for Niinimaki to try and push the pace on the feet and probably try to keep the fight standing as long as possible. Eventually though I’m expecting Carneiro to get the fight to the mat and dominate from there. I think Niinimaki will survive, even though he is coming off of two submission losses, I think Carneiro is going to be very patient and in turn probably not get the finish, but he will get the decision.
Erick Silva vs. Mike Rhodes
When Erick Silva made his first few appearances in the UFC it seemed as if it was just a matter of time before he put the welterweight strap around his chest. He was a wild striker with great submission skills and also a never-ending arsenal of techniques, the one thing that has plagued him however is his over-aggression and quickly depleting cardio – Silva in many ways has been a first-round fighter. Silva’s entire offense results around his trademarked reckless attacks. Whether it’s quick blitzes of punches, kicks, takedowns, or submission attempts, Silva does everything violently and with one-hundred percent effort. His opponent, Mike Rhodes, is still fairly inexperienced in the MMA game with just 9 fights compared to Silva’s 21, but make no mistake, both guys are elite young fighters who are ever-developing.
Mike Rhodes is a very slick and well-rounded fighter in addition to being very physically strong and athletic. Rhodes is going to be the longer of the two, and uses his length very well on the feet. He likes to stick on the outside and batter his opponents with long punches and brutal kicks, but has a pretty solid wrestling game as well. His strength allows him to secure takedowns pretty much at will, and the flip-side he is also very hard to take down because of how he sticks on the outside and has good wrestling.
There some really big x-factors coming into this fight. The first of which is Rhodes’s learning curve. Stylistically he is a tough match for Erick Silva. He has the wrestling to contain Silva and wear him down like Jon Fitch did, but then he has the long rangy striking that both Matt Brown and Dong Hyun Kim used to blast Silva on the outside. I think stylistically this is a much closer contest than many realize. With that said, it’s really hard to pick against Erick Silva when he’s not fighting top 10 competition. Even though I think Silva will have his work cut for him, and Rhodes will deliver an admirable performance, I think Silva is going to show up looking like a different Erick Silva than we’re used to seeing. The second x-factor I wanted to touch on is Silva’s cardio and whether or not that has improved. If Silva can pace himself a little more and improve his cardio then I think Silva can easily dispatch Rhodes. However, if Silva blows his wad in the first round like he usually does and doesn’t have anything to show for it, then Rhodes could easily spark the upset. My gut is telling me to go with Silva as I think his timed blitzes will just be too much for Rhodes, I think Silva can get a submission win late in the first, maybe second round in what should be an absolute war.
Elias Silverio vs. Rashid Magomedov
One of these fighters will leave the Octagon with their first loss inside the UFC, which makes this bout one that I am extremely excited for. Both lightweights here have true potential, and whoever wins this bout could very easily become one of the stacked division’s most promising dark horses. Elias Silverio, 3-0 in the UFC, is a long and scrappy striker who likes to jump into the fire, and as of so far, hasn’t been burnt. Silverio, while he gets sloppy and reckless at times, has very good instinct as he always finds a way out of whatever bad positions his over-aggression might get him into. On the feet, Silverio likes to bull rush his opponents with punches and find a way into the clinch where he uses his lankiness to land punishment from all angles. As he showed in his last fight against Eddie Chavez, he also has a skilled ground game too that he might be planning on using in this bout against Magomedov.
Among the many promising Russian talents that are making their way over to the UFC, Rashid Magomedov is probably the biggest dark horse of them all. He is currently 2-0 in the UFC and out of what he has shown, I have been very impressed with. Magomedov represents one of the most technical strikers in the lightweight division. His punches are thrown crisply and with great mechanics, and his defense is very sound as well. He’s one of the few fighters that uses his footwork to not just set up his offense, but also keep him out of range and at angles to defend too. Even though Magomedov is primarily a striker, and a solid one at that, he does like to tie up with his opponents as well. Magomedov has a sambo style so ground-and-pound is one of his biggest weapons, but he has shown good takedowns and top control too. I wouldn’t expect either of these fighters to be going for any submissions, or if they do, it’ll be Silverio.
I’m expecting Magomedov’s technique to shine very brightly in this contest. I think he’ll be able to light Silverio up on the feet and exploit his reckless style and abandonment of technique. Look for sharp counter straights, kicks, and lead hooks from Magomedov all while cutting angles and getting out of the way of Silverio’s freight-train flurries. Even though Magomedov isn’t known for finishing guys, I think he’ll catch Silverio clean in the first round and finish him. I can see these two battling a lot in the clinch and on the ground, and pretty much everywhere, but nevertheless I see Rashid getting the W no matter what.
Patrick Cummins vs. Antonio Carlos Jr.
205’ers are set to take the stage in this bout between the rising light-heavyweight contender, Patrick Cummins, who has proved a lot of doubters wrong after his inaugural entrance to the UFC by racking up two straight victories. He faces off against the Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 3 heavyweight winner, Antonio Carlos Jr., who now drops down to 205. Both guys have a lot to prove in this division, and with ever-developing skill sets, they both show a lot of promise.
Cummins is obviously known for his heavy reliance on his wrestling skills. Cummins has some of the best wrestling in the division, and is a guy who really uses his athleticism to his advantage. A lot of guys have him painted as a total amateur after being dismantled by Daniel Cormier in the first round, but he stepped up on very short notice, and has really shown great promise when he has time to prepare. Cummins has solid boxing skills; although he has a limited arsenal, he throws good combinations moving forward and has some fluid movement as well. Of course Cummins is going to want to tie up and get this fight to the ground. He has displayed excellent chain-wrestling technique as he goes from one opportunity to the other until his opponent is on the mat. From there, Cummins has dangerous ground and pound and stellar control.
His opponent, Antonio Carlos Jr., is a hard-hitting, aggressive guy who can finish the fight at any moment. On the feet, he likes to blitz his opponents with punches and push them against the cage. At his core, Antonio Carlos Jr. is a stellar grappling who can snatch a choke out of thin air, but his rapidly improving striking skills make him a potential knockout artist on the feet too. The real notch against Carlos Jr. is his cardio which has failed him in the past which have led to some so-so-performances. In the early going though, Carlos Jr., is a freight train who packs a lot of power; very few can take his assault head on and survive.
This fight is very interesting because both fighters are going to be looking to do the same thing – drive forward with punches and take each other down. I really doubt Carlos Jr. is going to be able to take Cummins down because of the vast difference in wrestling technique, but that doesn’t mean he can’t knock him down, or at the least push him against the cage. Carlos Jr. also has the power to knock Cummins out on the feet, but I really like how much Cummins’ boxing as improved, and I think he’ll be defensively sound enough to not that happen. I see this fight taking place in the clinch throughout much of the first half – look for Carlos Jr. to get busy and starting dishing out damage right away. However, it’ll be Cummins’s takedowns that thwart Carlos Jr.’s offense, and ultimately wear him down. It’ll be Carlos Jr. in the beginning, but all Patrick Cummins and his wrestling in the end. Look for Cummins to get a third round TKO as he ground-and-pounds a fatigued Carlos Jr., but not after eating some shots first.
Renan Barao vs. Mitch Gagnon
Returning to the Octagon after having his belt smashed and grabbed by TJ Dillashaw is the former UFC bantamweight champion, Renan Barao. He’s stepping in after taking some much needed rest against a huge underdog in Mitch Gagnon, who brings a 4-fight win streak into the cage after losing his UFC debut. Gagnon is an absolute finisher as he has submitted 11 of his 12 victory opponents, but at the same time his UFC debut was a loss to Bryan Carraway by submission – we can chalk that up to a tough first test and Octagon jitters.
While Barao is a wild and flashy fighter, Gagnon is about as meat-and-potatoes as you can get. On the feet, his offense almost solely originates out of his boxing combinations. He likes to step into the pocket, unleash quick, tight, combos to the body and head, then circle off. It’s not particularly impressive, but it gets the job done – his hooks to the body could be really key in this contest.
The big questions coming into this fight has to do with TJ Dillashaw’s standout performance against Barao: did TJ set the blueprint to defeating him? Has Barao fixed the issues he had against Dillashaw? Will Gagnon try to implement the same approach?
These are all big x-factors coming into this fight, but one thing is for sure that is that Barao wants his title back. I think now that he has finally taken the time to get a much-needed break, heal up, and figure some things out that he should be able to put on a showcase performance. I think Gagnon has the skills to spark the upset, especially what he presents on the feet, but Barao is just too slick and too dynamic. Even though Gagnon’s best weapons on the ground, I see Barao’s size, length, and own grappling abilities completely neutralizing everything Gagnon hopes to achieve on the mat. Look for Gagnon to try implementing TJ’s game plan by using lots of head movement, foot work, and countering Barao’s long, straight shots by hooks over the top and to the body. However, I think Barao will be ready for this and rather than planting his feet and going toe-to-toe, he’ll look to take the fight to the ground. On the mat, there isn’t a whole lot you can do against Barao. Not only is he huge for the weight class, but he moves like a flyweight and sinks in submissions in the blink of an eye.
Expect Gagnon to have some early success boxing with Barao. He’ll be eating some jabs and the steady stream of kicks that Barao dishes out, but Gagnon should open some people’s eyes with his improved hands, but in the end it’ll be a matter of time before Barao gets the fight to the ground and suppresses Gagnon into giving up his back, and the choke. I’m predicting a second round submission for Barao.
Lyoto Machida vs. CB Dollaway
Whether you expected CB Dollaway to find himself sharing the Octagon with a top-ranked UFC perennial like Lyoto Machida or not, he’s going to tomorrow and will be looking to pull off the upset. Dollaway brings two big victories with him into the Octagon; a decision over Francis Carmont, and a KO over Cezar Ferreira. Both of these victories showcased Dollaway’s two-sided MMA game between his wrestling and his striking. With that said, a controversial split decision loss to Tim Boetsch split up another two-fight win streak he had, so it’s safe to say that CB Dollaway is very much in the prime of his fighting career, both physically and technically speaking too.
But it doesn’t matter who you are, Machida is a tough test no matter if you’re in your prime or not. Machida was last seen in the Octagon tugging at Chris Weidman’s UFC Middleweight belt, but failed to do so in the attempt. With that said, Machida showed that the middleweight version of “The Dragon” is probably the best we’ve ever seen, and a rematch between Machida and Weidman is almost guaranteed in the future.
On the feet, Machida brings a much more complete game. In terms of hiding techniques, feinting, feeling opponent’s movement and flow of fighting, Machida is about the very best. The unpredictability of Machida’s striking game is what makes him one of the most dangerous strikers in MMA. With that said, Machida is known for his well-timed blitzes of aggression. He isn’t a high-volume striker, but when he chooses to throw something it almost always makes a big impact. The one thing Machida is going to have to watch out for though is CB’s counters. Dollaway packs some strong punches, and even though Machida has a good chin, the force of Machida running into a hard shot can be enough to take him out of the fight. Machida’s use of feints, angles, and head movement should be able to keep him safe.
CB’s real strength lies in his wrestling game though. Dollaway has powerful takedowns and excellent top control. When he’s on top, he is suffocating and makes it very hard to do anything offensive. Luckily for Machida though, he has some of the best takedown defense in the business. I really don’t see CB being able to take Machida down. Weidman had trouble with it, the much larger and more athletic Phil Davis even had to resort to striking to earn his controversial nod against Machida. Look for this fight to be primarily contested on the feet.
All in all I just see this fight going very well for Machida and very poorly for Dollaway in the end. We might see Dollaway land some good counters and catch Machida coming in, but Machida has a solid chin and his instincts aren’t going to fail him. Really the only way I see Dollaway coming away with a win is if he stalemates Machida like Phil Davis did, and out-points him. Something tells me Machida has more than learned from that experience however, and we’re not going to see a gunshy Machida. He knows that he needs a big performance here to get back into title contention, so look for Machida’s versatile striking skill set to just be too much Dollaway. I’m predicting a body kick TKO for Machida in the second round.