The UFC returns to Sao Paulo, Brazil, this Saturday for UFC on FX 7: Belfort vs. Bisping. The card's namesake is a middleweight bout that pits Vitor Belfort vs. Michael Bisping, and is one of four matches slated for the FX main card. A six-fight preliminary card on Fuel TV will ease us into the night's fist-fighting festivities, with a single match beforehand on Facebook.
This is the full lineup for the FX 7 card, followed by the preliminary card analysis for Fuel TV and Facebook.
Godofredo Pepey (8-1) vs. Milton Vieira (13-7-2) -- Featherweight bout
Accredited as the inventor of the Anaconda choke, Vieira, a 34-year-old Brazilian Top Team rep, is a heartily experienced veteran with a rare grappling background. Though not with the confidence that he'd wreck shop, I've always felt he deserved a spot in the UFC. "Miltinho" started out as a Luta Livre practitioner, the art that once heatedly opposed Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), and earned his black belt under Mestre Jefferson. He later made the switch to BTT and has become a staple of Murilo Bustamante's prestigious fight team.
Forced into an erratic schedule because of his sport grappling endeavors, Vieira made his MMA debut in 2001 and has tackled a hefty list of competition throughout his 12-year tenure. He's never been finished and his losses were dealt by reputable names, such as legend Hayato Sakurai, UFC welter/middleweight Jake Shields, and the Chute Boxe duo of Luiz Azeredo and Jean Silva.
Vieira's finished 9 fights by submissions and is a virtual master of head-and-arm chokes. In his Octagon debut at UFC 147, Vieira fought to a rare draw result with Felipe Arantes, which stemmed from one judge awarding him a 10-8 score in the 1st round.
Godofredo Castro, aka "Pepey," was a contestant on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) Brazil. The submission specialist tore through a trio of opponents (2 submissions and a decision) to advance to the finals, though he was challenged by Marcos Vinicius, who'd previously lost to Hugo Viana, in the semi-final bout when the doctors didn't clear Rodrigo Damm, his initial opponent.
Pepey dropped a decision to Rony Mariano Bezerra in the TUF Brazil finals match on the UFC 147 card, and his frequent guard-pulls and overall performance was not acclaimed by fans. That loss was the first of his career. Pepey's clear strength is on the mat -- he's finished every win with 6 subs and 2 TKOs -- but, in an effort to sharpen his striking, Pepey prepared for this match by training with the likes of Mauricio Rua and Sergio Moraes. Considering Rua's Chute Boxe roots, it's interesting that Vieira trained with Sergio Cunha for this clash, who also has ties to Chute Boxe.
The betting lines for the prelims have yet to surface, but most of the buzz I've heard for this pairing surrounds Pepey. I can't help but consider Miltinho a very adverse opponent: his grappling is at least as formidable, if not better, his wrestling and striking are a notch above (though not by much), he'll have a 5" edge in height and his experience advantage is off the charts.
My Prediction: Milton Vieira by decision.
Markes is a recent UFC debutante from Nova Uniao's Kimura branch who dropped down from light-heavyweight for his sophomore effort despite handling Karlos Vemola in his Octagon premiere. BE readers were introduced to him when he scored the #10 spot on the 2010 World MMA Scouting Report.
In his opening trial as a middleweight, Markes drew the staunch Aaron Simpson and eked out a split-decision in a closely contested battle. The once-beaten Brazilian is a monster-sized 185er with the type of high-level grappling you'd expect from a Nova Uniao product, but his style is distinguished by startlingly capable wrestling and an aggressive, Thai-based striking acumen.
Markes got the call to face Vemola as a late-notice replacement and, coincidentally, Craig was brought in against Kyle Noke under the same circumstances, yet both new entries were victorious in their debuts. Craig battered his Australian adversary on the feet for a commanding decision win in front of Noke's hometown crowd on the UFC on FX 2 card.
While the BJJ brown belt under Travis Tooke unveiled some sharp Muay Thai skills against Noke, Craig absorbed shots on the feet at will against Rafael Natal, who is not known as a striker, in his follow-up fight, but managed to pull off a Hail mary, come-from-behind TKO via head kick in the 2nd frame. While the outcome was impressive for Craig, the moments beforehand were not, and it clouded my opinion on his true striking prowess.
Regardless, Markes will put Craig's takedown and submission defense to the test; elements which looked sound against Noke, only Markes is an entirely different animal in those categories. Not many Brazilians come to the UFC equipped with top-notch wrestling, but Markes is the exception, and he's a positional domineer on top. Depending on which Craig shows up, he might stir up some trouble for Markes on the feet, but I envision the physicality and tenacity of Markes as the difference maker here.
My Prediction: Ronny Markes by decision.
Career-long lightweight Nik Lentz ignited his featherweight stint with a memorable 1st-round shellacking of Eiji Mitsuoka on the UFC 150 undercard. The destruction was noteworthy, as Mitsuoka's a tough cookie with solid experience who's only been stopped via strikes by John Alessio (cut) and Takanori Gomi; even more resounding considering that Lentz has been criticized for his control-oriented strategy. Out of his 10 UFC outings, Lentz's only other finish is a 3rd-round guillotine over Waylon Lowe.
Nunes, who brawled with Kenny Florian in a #1 contender bout at UFC 131 in June of 2011, also waves the Nova Uniao flag. "The Gun" is an explosive kickboxer with blinding speed, and feisty as can be in all aspects of MMA. In contrast with the army of grappling champions and black belts under Andre Pederneiras, Nunes is just a purple belt, yet he's cemented that taking him to the mat and keeping him there are complicated challenges.
I'd imagine that Nunes will come in as the heavy favorite, but I'm leery about Lentz's size and wrestling advantages. While Lentz is far from polished on the feet and quite susceptible to counter-fire while closing range, his in-fighting is adept enough to nullify Nunes' striking with clinch control and D1-level takedowns. Nunes' quickness, in both his footwork and striking, will be an integral tool to avoid Lentz's stifling embrace.
In the 7-3 record Nunes has posted since signing with the WEC and transferring to the Octagon, he's gone to a decision every time, indicating that he supplants striking power with speed. Without the striking power of an Evan Dunham or Charles Oliveira, who TKO'd Lentz in the UFC, I don't think Nunes' superior kickboxing and movement will overcome the suffocating control and pestering dirty boxing that Lentz will impose.
My Prediction: Nik Lentz by decision.
Once arguably the hottest prospect in the game, Edson Barboza, fresh off a momentum-sucking TKO loss to Jamie Varner, draws fellow countrymen, UFC debutante and undefeated Chute Boxe product Lucas Martins. Martins has terrorized the Brazilian circuit but has yet to tackle any big names on his flawless 12-fight record (8 TKOs, 3 subs).
Barboza set the combat sports community ablaze with 3-straight wins in the Octagon, culminating with an unforgettable highlight-reel KO of Terry Etim with a spinning wheel kick. Beyond his striking, Barboza has displayed sound fundamentals with wrestling, takedown defense and grappling, and will enjoy a few inches of height and reach on Martins.
Based on the jumping switch kick Martins lands above, we should be in for a treat here. I wouldn't be surprised to see Barboza flaunt some of his under-rated wrestling and submission grappling, but also wouldn't be disappointed if he takes the risk of challenging Martins in his specialty, which should be a fan-friendly slug-fest.
My Prediction: Edson Barboza by submission.
Alcantara just saw a 13-fight win streak, that included momentous wins over Ricardo Lamas (TKO), Felipe Arantes and Michihiro Omigawa (both decisions), snapped by Hacran Dias (decision) at UFC 147. Keeping with the underlying theme for the Brazilian trio at the bottom of the Fuel TV prelims, "Marajo" has been paired with a UFC newcomer in Pedro Nobre.
Approaching blasphemy by adopting Pedro Rizzo's nickname, "The Rock" typically fights as a flyweight (125 pounds) and is apparently down to accept the 20-pound handicap by taking on Alcantara at 145. Nobre, another BTT representative on this card, fought 4 times under the Bitteti Combat banner recently, winning 3 but also incurring his first career loss (Sheymon da Silva Moraes by TKO). He boasts a strong finishing rate with a single decision, 9 TKOs and 4 submissions.
It's too hard not to side with Alcantara here, who has the better resume and more experience along with a marginal size advantage.
My Prediction: Yuri Alcantara by TKO.
Alcantara shares the last name, the nickname "Marajo" and training space with Yuri Alcantara. He makes his Octagon debut on a 7-fight surge against Prado, the Team Nogueira fighter who premiered against Phil Davis. Prado suffered an unintentional eye poke in his first meeting with Davis, and the glimmer of hope he showed on the feet was quickly diminished after Davis took him down at will in the rematch and sealed it off with a 2nd-round Anaconda choke.
Prado is a devastating Thai striker who, from the southpaw stance, delivers crushing head kicks and a blistering straight left. Of his 8 wins, Prado's finished 7 by TKO, 6 of which were handled in the opening stanza. In addition to the generally rugged test Prado presents for a UFC first-timer, Alcantara typically fights at 185 pounds.
My Prediction: Wagner Prado by TKO.
Keith received a less than friendly welcome to the UFC courtesy of Ramsey Nijem, who blasted him out by 1st-round TKO. Keith is a striking specialist who joined the army right out of high school, and has a lanky and volatile Muay Thai arsenal that he applies ferociously.
"Massaranduba" Trinaldo defeated Adriano Martins, who just beat Jorge Gurgel at Strikeforce, to secure the Jungle Fight lightweight strap before signing up for TUF Brazil. On the show, Trinaldo competed in his former 185-pound weight class, winning his intro match but falling to Thiago Perpetuo, and dropped back down to lightweight for a post-TUF loss to Gleison Tibau. Trinaldo trains with the Constrictor Team alongside Paulo Thiago and Rani Yahya.
Keith is facing a serious dilemma here: if he digs in to unload bombs like he normally does, it will only open him up to Trinaldo's takedowns and grappling game, yet, if he's hesitant on the feet, Trinaldo is capable enough to win it there as well. Despite his brief debut, Keith does have some thunder in his hands and shouldn't be overlooked here.
My Prediction: Francisco Trinaldo by submission.