This Saturday the UFC travels back to Brazil for another Fight Night on ESPN+. The main event is light heavyweight's ever present, nearly there contender Jan Blachowicz (24-8) welcoming Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza (26-7) to the division. In the co-main we see Brazilian legend Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua (26-11) take on Scotland's 'Bearjew' Paul Craig (12-4). The rest of the main card is fleshed out with Charles Oliveira (27-8) taking on Jared Gordon (15-3), Antonio Arroyo (9-2) vs Andre Muniz (18-4) and Markus Perez (11-2) vs Wellington Turman (15-3).
Jan Blachowicz vs Ronaldo Souza
In the main event, we see a Brazilian legend being welcomed to his new heavier division by a perennial contender. Not much makes sense about this fight. Souza is 4-4 in his last 8 at middleweight and has not looked the same fighter in recent outings. A move to this weight class appears to be a last ditch effort to keep his career alive. At 39 years old, this does not seem a smart move.
'Jacare' appears to be trying to follow in the footsteps of colleagues Thiago Santos and Anthony Smith, who both moved up from middleweight and got quick title shots against Jon Jones. Both attempts did not fare well for either fighter. The problem is, I see Souza's move up going more like Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman's attempts. By that, I mean, it most likely won't go well. 'Jacare' was not a particularly big middleweight and is facing Blachowicz who is much bigger than 'Jacare'. I mean huge compared to him.
Blachowicz has won 5 out of his last 6 against top level opponents and has only lost to the aforementioned Thiago Santos in a title shot eliminator fight during that time. Blachowicz was also the man to welcome Luke Rockhold in his dalliance with light heavyweight. Rockhold left with a broken jaw and his career in tatters. 'Jacare' will do well to avoid a similar fate.
Yes, 'Jacare' could grip up Blachowicz, get a sneaky takedown and sink in a kimura or arm triangle choke, but I highly doubt it. The strength difference will just be too much and Jan is most certainly no slouch on the ground, with 9 submission victories on his resume. Can 'Jacare' strike with Blachowicz though? Yea, he can, but it won't go well. Jan has shown impressive improvements in his striking ability and will use his reach to keep Souza out of his range.
Nothing about this fight makes sense. 'Jacare' is making the move at the wrong time and for what appears the wrong reasons. His prime passed him by without winning a title and it's a shame, but it is time to smell the roses and get out the game while he can. Yes, if he wins 'Jacare' gets thrown into the fire of the light heavyweight top 5. If he loses, he has nowhere to go, if he wins, he extends his luck until a showdown with another much larger light heavyweight opponent.
Blachowicz on the other hand has everything to lose and nothing to gain. He looked phenomenal when starching Rockhold and should be looking for a fight with Corey Anderson or Anthony Smith, to once again inch closer to a title shot. Instead he is betting it all in a fight that will make zero moves for his career.
I'm sure it will be an entertaining fight, but career wise, for both men, this is pointless.
Prediction: Blachowicz 2nd round TKO.
Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua vs Paul 'Bearjew' Craig
Speaking of pointless fights, here we go again. Paul Craig has never beaten a top calibre fighter. Don't get me wrong, I love the scrappy, hard nosed and extremely hard working Scot. His fights always entertain. He just, in my opinion, does not have the ability to be up in the upper echelon of the MMA world. Craig has a great smothering ground game, but his striking ability is less than to be desired. He is currently 4-4 in the UFC and all his losses have come against opponents with much higher calibre striking including Khalil Rountree, Tyson Pedro and Alonso Menifield.
Rua on the flip side is an elite level MMA striker and he is by no means a slouch on the ground. Rua has 21 tko/ko finishes to his name during his career, meaning he's only won by decision 5 times. An amazing stat for a fighter who has been in the game for such a long time. 5 years ago, it appeared Rua was done. He had lost 5 in 8 since losing his title to Jon Jones, and the knee surgeries and countless injuries were adding up. Fast forward 5 years and 'Shogun' has learnt to take care of himself better, taking less fights and training smarter. He has gone 4-1 in his 5 fights since 2014, with his only loss coming up against surging contender Anthony Smith last year. Since then 'Shogun' bounced back with an outstanding TKO victory vs Tyson Pedro.
I'm not one to go along with MMA math, but Pedro dominated Craig and 'Shogun' took out Pedro, can you see where I think this is going? Yep. I think 'Shogun' wins this fight hands down and gets the TKO victory late in the first round or middle of the second round. Rua is a crafty veteran who is used to larger sized opponents. Craig will be nothing he hasn't seen before.
Another fight in which the divisional needle does nothing, the point escapes me again.
Prediction: Rua via TKO in 1st or 2nd Round
Charles Oliveira vs Jared Gordon
This fight, should and most likely will be an absolute corker. However the disparity in skill will show in the later rounds, and we will most likely see an Oliveira win here.
Jared Gordon has a great story. He is a former drug addict, who overcame his problems to join the elite level of MMA, in the biggest organisation in the world, the UFC. Gordon has an array of skills and like to mix up his attacks, usually using his striking to get on the inside and try and get you to the ground, where he will ground and pound you. That being said, Gordon is more a jack of all trades than he is a specialist in one skill. For his lack of skill, he more than makes up in toughness though and his never say die attitude rings true in his fighting style. You either have to put him away, or he will chip away until he gets the victory.
Oliveira however is the ying to Gordon's yang. Whereas Gordon is an all rounder, Oliveira is a specialist in BJJ. Don't get me wrong, Oliveira can throw down with anyone, however when he does that, it doesn't usually end up going well for him. If you look at his losses throughout the 9 year UFC tenure Oliveira has, he generally loses to great stand up fighters such as Max Holloway, Anthony Pettis, Paul Felder, Donald Cerrone, Cub Swanson and Frankie Edgar.
Since losing to Felder, Oliveira is on a 5 fight win streak and at 30 years old, looks to finally be putting his career together. His striking is looking better each time we see him and he is sticking to good game plans to set up his takedowns in order to get you down and submit you. All five of those victories have been finishes and Oliveira is no longer looking to be the guy that almost made it to the top. He is gunning for it.
So why give him Jared Gordon? No one knows. As much as I love Gordon as a man and character, he is not at the elite level right now. Oliveira should be aiming for a Pettis rematch, or Barboza, or Iaquinta or anyone who will elevate him in the rankings. Instead if he loses this fight, he drops out of the rankings and into gatekeeper status again.
Gordon seems to have struck gold however, and if he wins this fight, he propels himself into the top 15 and sets up the aforementioned fights that Oliveira should be going after. However I see the more experienced and sneaky Oliveira coming out on top.
Prediction: Oliveira via Submission round 2.
Antonio Arroyo vs Andre Muniz
This is your classic UFC matchmaking these days. Two former Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series alum going at it on a main card fight. Neither are ranked, neither have any standing in the division, but here they are, swinging it out on the main card. All while Sergio Moraes, James Krause, Renan Barao and Warlley Alves slug it out on the undercard.
I'm sure we'll see a great fight here, both guys like to finish fights and both have an array of TKO's or Submission victories on their records, but what does this do for the fans and the business alike? Nothing.
I can't particularly make a prediction here. There isn't much footage of either of these guys but from the limited footage and stats I can see, I believe Arroyo will take this. Both are similar in the fact they like to trade hands, mix it up with takedowns and try and get the victory wherever the fight goes, however Arroyo is just a little busier, lands a little more, has slightly better takedown defence and will make this a really tough night for Muniz.
Prediction: Arroyo via Split Decision
Markus Perez vs Wellington Turman
The first fight of the main card is a middleweight bout pitting two well rounded fighters against one another. Perez is a 4 fight veteran of the UFC, going 2-2 so far, whilst Turman is making only his second appearance after a split decision loss to Karl Roberson in his debut for the promotion.
This fight is intriguing in a few senses. Both fighters prefer to finish with submissions, but both fighters also have a couple of TKO and Decision wins in their columns too. I expect that we will see this fight on the feet though. Perez will want to take it to the ground for sure, with his two wins in the UFC coming via subs, but Turman will be looking to avoid losing at all costs. Turman will look to stuff the takedowns, maybe get one of his own, but will mainly try and keep it standing.
Perez has shown indifference in this striking game so far and was dominated by Eryk Anders and Andrew Sanchez on the feet. It should be noted that Sanchez is predominantly a ground fighter too. I will look to see Turman use similar tactics to Sanchez and be more active standing up, whilst stuffing takedown attempts. If Turman can hold off Perez, he will win this fight.
However Turman does love to take it to the ground and attempted it many times against Roberson, in what many could say was a dubious loss for Turman. Roberson however doesn't have the ground smarts of Perez and if Turman is wise, he will keep it standing this time.
Prediction: Turman via Unanimous Decision