The UFC finally held a show in Sao Paulo, a city that has been in the UFC's sights since before their failed attempted to host Anderson Silva vs Chael Sonnen II there. All in all the card was entertaining, despite a slow stretch in the prelims and some horrific refereeing. And Vitor Belfort's head kick knockout of Michael Bisping made sure all the Brazilian fans went home happy, but the next time the UFC comes to Sao Paulo they are going to have to come with something a bit stronger than this card.
Sao Paulo is Brazil's cultural hub, akin to New York in many ways. With fantastic food, great music, excellent sports, and no shortage of fights, there is quite a bit for residents to do on a Saturday night. The UFC's scramble to sell tickets in the week leading up to this show is a good indicator that it takes some serious star power to be the biggest show in that town.
On to the thoughts about the fights:
- Michael Bisping's biggest flaw continues to be defensive details. He famously circled right into Dan Henderson's right hand, and in the face of Wanderlei Silva's bull rushes he went straight back, and in this fight he bobbed right into that head kick. And Vitor did an excellent job of setting that kick up by throwing a few to the body to drop Bisping's hands and really set Bisping up to lean right into that kick. At 33-years-old it seems doubtful Bisping will ever get a title shot but he has the skills and name to remain a UFC Middleweight for years to come.
- Vitor, what to do with you? There is zero interest outside of Brazil for him to fight either Anderson Silva or Jon Jones again. I expect Vitor to bounce between Light Heavyweight and Middleweight getting interesting fights. Ever wondering what Vitor vs Hector Lombard would look like? Or him fighting Chael Sonnen? Or Cung Le? We might just get to find out.
- C.B. Dollaway's game plan did not make sense. He was getting lit up on the feet for the entire first round by Daniel Sarafian and seemed to completely forget that he was a wrestler. Now that said, Dollaway hurt Sarafian bad at the end of the second round and the fight likely should have stopped there. But Mario Yamasaki wanted to be able to leave the arena with out fearing for his safety, so fans were treated to a third round, in which Dollaway did use his wrestling to ice this fight. It was a win for Dollaway at the end of the day, but not one that builds a ton of confidence in his approach to fights.
- Sarafian actually looked very good in this fight. His clinch game is very strong and he hits like a ton of bricks. Cardio issues will plague his as long as he carries that much muscle mass, but he certainly belongs in the UFC.
- Gabriel Gonzaga got one of the biggest wins of his career over Ben Rothwell. This fight was pretty standard late 2000s heavyweight fare. Both of them gassed after about 4 minutes and the fighter with more overall skills won. Gonzaga did a good job realizing that Rothwell had zero defense for any sort of right handed strike, and was landing at will with no set up whatsoever. Gonzaga also checked to see if he guillotine choke was in on the big screen before committing to it, a very veteran move. Gonzaga is an ideal gate keeper for the Heavyweight division, and can stick around and collect a few paychecks. Rothwell also has a role to play in the UFC as the Heavyweight division isn't getting any deeper any time soon.
- Sambo ain't easy. Khabib Nurmagomedov got a resounding win with, frankly, a pretty fugly strike. The Russian keeps winning and keeps improving, but I think at some point his defensive flaws, like circling towards Tavares' power hand a few times tonight will catch up with him. Dan Miraglotta dropped the ball in a big way for the second time last night by letting Tavares eat some nasty strikes. Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Jim Miller, I want it right now, that would be a fantastic fight.
- Milton Vieira and Godofredo "Pepey" Castro had the fight of the under-card, and had it ruined by the judges. It was close but Vieira seemed to control the first and third round rather clearly, but the judges disagreed. Pepey did show some nice jiu jitsu skills, getting an excellent kimura sweep and showing strong back control, and Vieira showed off his slick grappling as well. Pepey also doesn't seem to mind playing the villain as he mocking waved the crowd louder as they booed the decision.
- Ronny Markes, until further notice, is no longer a quality Middleweight prospect. He has showed zero growth in his game. Markes just kept driving Andrew Craig into the fence and looking for takedowns. This seemed the ideal fight for Markes to work his stand up as Craig is wild on the feet, but he opted for fairly passive grappling. A Pyrrhic Victory of the highest order, Markes will have to impress quite a bit to get back the title of prospect.
- I dug the Nik Lentz fight. Lentz has taken a big step forward as a fighter in that he has really opened himself up to unleashing ground-and-pound from everywhere. His attack was diverse and relentless. One thing for me personally that separates upper-tier fighters is their ability to continually attack with strikes during grappling, be it standing clinch work or on the ground. That kind of never ending attack is what causes fighters to look so helpless against the likes of a Georges St. Pierre or Chael Sonnen on the ground, and Nik Lentz had that last night. He also used some nifty rides against the cage to keep Nunes down and throw some punches under the arm pit.
- Edson Barboza looked very sharp after moving out to NYC to train at Renzo's gym. His boxing looked excellent and his hands really made the difference against Lucas Martins. One point of interest is how active Martins has been recently, 7 pro fights in the last three months. Muay Thai guys tend to be aggressive in getting fights, but that is plain unsafe and calls into question if he really should have been fighting.
- Yuri Alcantara didn't deserve to that win taken from him. I'm all for refs being more active in stopping fouls, but fouls need to actually occur for it be a good thing. I don't care if you are a follower of the "Mohawk theory" or the "headphones theory" of strikes to the back of the head, that elbow was legal. There were a few little punches that were behind the ear, but nothing out the ordinary for an MMA fight. I don't think Pedro Nobre was acting too much, I think he really was about that hurt, it was just a legal blow that did the damage.
- Wagner Prado isn't at a UFC level. His grappling just isn't there, even if he went down to Middleweight you need a certain level of grappling to survive in the UFC. Striking ability is great and is often the x-factor when elite fighters meet, but there is a base line of grappling ability required to reach the upper levels of this sport and if a fighter doesn't have that, it will be exposed eventually. Getting tapped by Phil Davis is excusable, but looking totally lost in a kneebar by Ildemar Alcantara is a problem.