Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante (11-4) vs. Igor Pokrajac (29-10) -- Light Heavyweight bout
Team Nogueira/X-Gym rep Rafael Cavalcante's breakout fight was an upset-TKO over Muhammed Lawal for the 205-pound strap in Strikeforce. Beyond the standard "wow factor" of a victorious underdog in a title fight, the Thai-based clinch tactics "Feijao" used to both repel the stifling wrestler's takedowns and trigger the strike stoppage was one of the most beautifully technical displays of elite clinching. Cavalcante relied on stellar application of underhooks to match Lawal's explosive level changes and then, once his balance stabilized, gradually adjusted to the Thai plum grip and poured on the violence.
Unfortunately, the glory was ephemeral. In his first title defense, Cavalcante drew multi-weight-class bruiser and champion Dan Henderson. Despite being wobbled by Feijao in the opening stanza, Henderson introduced Cavalcante to the vaunted "H-Bomb" en route to a 3rd-round TKO (and went on to notch an unforgettable TKO over legendary heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko).
In his final stints under the Strikeforce banner, Feijao dispatched current UFC middleweight and Olympic freestyle wrestling silver medalist Yoel Romero by TKO, then avenged his first career loss by quickly choking out Mike Kyle. Redemption turned bittersweet when it was revealed that Cavalcante whizzed hot for a banned substance, and the win was overturned to a No Contest.
In his long awaited Octagon debut, Feijao encountered the most impressive and dastardly version of Thiago Silva that we've ever seen. Silva beamed an unsettling level of confidence whilst trudging forward behind a veritable wood-chipper of cracking low kicks and tight, powerful boxing, which earned him a demonstrative 1st-round KO.
Hailing from Croatia, Igor "The Duke" Pokrajac was brought in by Mirko Filipovic to improve his wrestling, and the union turned out to be Pokrajac's springboard into MMA. It may come as a surprise that the 34-year-old's background is in wrestling, as Pokrajac's fights typically consist of hard-nosed, no-bullshit boxing that's not too far astray from a good ol' brawl.
I honestly don't think I'm oversimplifying here: Pokrajac puts his hands up, his chin down and wades into his opponent's personal space with both fists flying. While I wouldn't deem his boxing as sloppy, let's just say "The Duke" is more intent on inflicting massive blunt-force trauma with alternating right and left jack-hammers. In other words, his style is comprised of unadulterated ferocity and dauntless aggression rather than finesse or fundamentals.
This "Wild West Gunslinger" approach has rendered mixed results but, then again, we've never seen a boring Igor Pokrajac fight. He's had a see-saw rhythm in the UFC overall and is currently plagued by a three-fight skid (Vinny Magalhaes by submission, Joey Beltran and Ryan Jimmo by decision) though the Beltran loss was overturned due to "The Mexicutioner" failing a post-fight drug test.
And fighting for your job against a consummately underrated and complex opponent like Feijao is quite a tall order. In what is MMA's most proven and reliable formula for pure excitement, Feijao wields a highly aggressive medley of Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (black belt) and, though only an inch taller than Pokrajac, imposes a rangy striking onslaught to complement his voracious clinch game. Feijao can uncork a long, loopy right hand and a variety of lengthy roundhouse kicks from out on the fringe. In fact, wrestling was assumed to be the only potential hole in Feijao's arsenal until his sturdy performance against Lawal.
As of now, the best ways to unhinge Cavalcante are to either knife inside and plant a bomb on his chin -- a task made even more Herculean by Feijao's footwork, angles and agility -- or merely pray he fails another drug test after the fight. There is no question that Pokrajac has the punching power and mentality to achieve the former, but I fear his entry angles (which consist of one repetitive straight line) will make him a predictable target for Cavalcante.
Pokrajac is also an effective wrestler even though we don't see it often, but I don't think his takedowns are up to par in this match up. Even if they are, Feijao has the type of crafty guard that makes him tough to hold down, and his chokes from the front headlock present a risk to any aspiring takedown artist.
This fist-fight should be a knee-slapper. Feijao has never won by decision (10 TKO's, 1 submission) -- or even fought to a decision in his career, for that matter -- and Pokrajac has never taken a step backwards, so serious fireworks are in the forecast.
My Prediction: Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante by TKO.