The prestigious Team Nogueira camp has a strong presence on Saturday's UFC 153 fight card: TUF Brazil winner Rony "Jason" Mariano Bezerra competes on the prelims along with Renee Forte, middleweight champion Anderson Silva holds down the main event while Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Erick Silva and Fabio Maldonado share space on the pay-per-view card. The 7th and final Team Nogueira rep is Brazilian Wagner Prado (8-0), who will settle some unfinished business with Alliance MMA's Phil Davis (9-1) in a light-heavyweight rematch.
The pair initially squared off at UFC on Fox 4 in what was Prado's Octagon debut but, just a minute and a half deep, he was blinded by an accidental finger to the eye. The fight was waved off and deemed a No Contest, much to the chagrin of Prado, who was animated in protesting the stoppage. Regardless, the officious Thai practitioner retained his undefeated record and was afforded a little more time to beef up his wrestling acumen.
Prado was assessed as the #1 light-heavyweight prospect in 2012 on the freakishly prescient Bloody Elbow Scouting Report. Though "Caldeirão" has a pile of Muay Thai bouts and various titles from smaller promotions under his belt, he's only been training MMA for 6 years and fighting professionally since 2009. Due to his inexperience, Prado's mastery of kickboxing stands as the brightest in his arsenal. He's a hulking physical specimen with a blue belt in BJJ but has trained vigorously under Eric Albarracin, Team Nogueira's highly credentialed wrestling coach, on his offensive and defensive wrestling.
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Davis, a national champion wrestler and 4-time All-American at the NCAA Division 1 level, also cuts an imposing stature and holds a BJJ blue belt. He's sharpened up his striking and submission grappling under the tutelage of the great Lloyd Irvin but, even though his submission game is considerably more threatening than your average blue belt, his elite wrestling is by far his true bread and butter. Rashad Evans has been the first and only opponent to stifle his overwhelming takedowns, so Prado has his work cut out for him if he hopes to stay afoot long enough to employ his volatile Thai striking.
Continued in the full entry.
This encounter has all the makings of a classic striker vs. grappler affair. Davis has molded his striking into a functional array of boxing and roundhouse kicks, but he hasn't come along far enough to challenge a killer like Prado in a straight kickboxing match. Obviously, the same applies for wrestling with Prado, who could never catch up to a 4-time All-American at this stage of his career. Prado, who's won 7 of 8 by TKO, has serious one-shot KO power. He has the type of striking venom to end the fight at any time, so Davis won't want to play around and test the waters here.
Even though their last bout was less than 2 minutes long, there were still a few shreds of definitive evidence to analyze. The most noticeable aspect was how Prado adjusted his stance and striking: he was crouched low, he held a strong, wide base with his feet, he circled out into open space at every opportunity and kept Davis on the fringe with intelligent range weapons.
Prado is typically big on sailing out heavy roundhouse kicks, both high and to the legs, which present some risks against opponents looking to launch takedowns. He wisely exchanged his wide-arcing kicks for teeps and front kicks; their reciprocating trajectory (straight line in and out) make them a lot tougher to catch in mid-flight and/or turn into a takedown, plus they're quicker to release. Prado employed them like a jab and plunged them into Davis' midsection when he got too close for comfort.
Another change Prado made for Davis was slinging straight-punch combinations toward his upper-chest. The imperative concern for a striker facing a wrestler is the latter's level drop to initiate a takedown, especially when the striker's feet are planted and he's committed to throwing punches or kicks. By staying in a crouched stance and firing at a lower target, Prado sent the message to Davis that he was quite wary of and prepared for the level drop.
Finally, I was impressed with Prado's patient and judicious selection -- he managed to chamber off attention-grabbing punches and stay light on his feet while maintaining good balance and not embedding himself too deep in the pocket. He also knew just when to turn it on. After leading with a series of straight lefts while Davis walked him down, Prado uncorked a massive right hook that put Davis on the defensive. He began to backpedal immediately and Prado had him on the fence just before the eye poke took place.
Davis' M.O. is much more straightforward. He'll look to engage Prado just enough on the feet to disguise his takedown attempts and ground the fight A.S.A.P. without being desperate or predictable. Davis is at an enormous disadvantage standing but should grow in confidence the closer in proximity he gets to Prado. While he's not out of danger in the clinch, he'll find somewhat of a respite from Prado's extensive power there and will fully nullify it entirely if he can put Prado on his back. Once there, the Brazilian's best route is to escape any way possible or ride out the round without being finished.
The standard outlook for an inexperienced striker tackling one of the most decorated wrestlers in his first big-league fight is usually a confident nod for the wrestler. However, the results of the brief action that transpired was extremely encouraging for Prado. I expected him to get steam-rolled before their first match but liked what I saw and now give him a legitimate chance to pull off the upset. Excluding Stephan Bonnar against Anderson Silva, Prado is the biggest underdog on the card with odds in the range of +300.
While I don't feel strongly enough to pick him outright, I'd say he's an appealing option for hazarding a few bones on the upset. If he gets taken down, Davis has phenomenal instincts, a heavy base and the submission savvy to catch Prado in a transition. Even when Davis is doggedly pursuing takedowns in the clinch, pounding away from the top or simply controlling Prado, he'll edge ahead on the score cards. To do so, he has to close the distance and get his hands on him -- which seems a bit likelier than Prado lighting him up.
My Prediction: Phil Davis by submission.