Brandao entered TUF with a mediocre 14-7 record but had encountered some reputable competition in the past: former UFCers Matt Veach and Ronys Torres defeated him by TKO while Brian Foster fell by 1st-round KO. Post-TUF, Brandao is even with a loss to wrestling juggernaut Darren Elkins and a win over Joey Gambino (both by decision).
Pablo "The Scarecrow" Garza (12-3) actually appeared on TUF 12 as a lightweight but lost to eventual finalist Michael Johnson in the opening elimination round. He took on Tiequan Zhang as a late replacement in the WEC and lost by 1st-round guillotine, but that's precisely when Garza went gangbusters by notching what was among the most memorable and exciting stoppages of the year in 2010 and 2011. It started with Fredson Paixao, who was bombarded by a flying knee with so much force that he was carried out of the Octagon on a stretcher. Next up was Yves Jabouin, who found himself entangled and then tapping to a beautiful flying triangle from Garza.
Soaring on those highlight-reel wins, Garza's stock would plummet in back-to-back defeats (Dustin Poirier by submission, Bermudez by decision), but then regain some luster with a commanding performance against his most prestigious opponent to date in Mark Hominick.
- Size: Garza is a long and lanky 145er who stands 6'1" tall with a 73" reach; a sharp contrast to the 5'8" tall and 69" reach of Brandao.
- Range: the point above would strengthen Garza's chances from outside, yet he's typically embraced the phone-booth range, where Brandao does his best work.
- Garza's on/off-ness: He's shown shades of brilliance and spells of disappointment, and still seems to be carving out the mold he fits best as a fighter.
- Submission grappling: Garza is billed with a low rank in the gi but has exhibited a level of skill much higher. I'm just not sure how any prolonged grappling exchanges will unfold.
- Wrestling: both were manhandled by Bermudez despite the different outcomes; Garza seemed much weaker in the wrestling department but relied on seriously improved offensive wrestling to earn the nod over Hominick.
Standing, we kind of know what to expect from Brandao: intermittent surges of ferocious haymakers with a few high and low kicks mixed in. He really only has one tool from outside, which is his outside low kick, as his size still requires him to be close to land his high kicks. Garza constantly cycles through a wide range of attacks -- including high kicks, low kicks, front push kicks, flying knees, charges into the clinch and basic boxing -- and also switched up his stance often against Hominick. Of those techniques, Garza's probably weakest with his hands and strongest with his short-range Thai game in the clinch.
Brandao hasn't been much of a clincher, generally preferring to punch his way out of trouble, shoot a takedown or eject entirely. Garza likes standing tie-ups and applies his height and leverage well with strong head control and devastating knees.
As mentioned above, the grappling comparison is a question mark for me. Garza strikes me as a still-maturing prospect with a wealth of talent and potential who's a tad unsure on where, when or how to apply it. Brandao carries himself like a veteran, staying composed at all times and usually relying on his submission arsenal when forced to the ground and as a means to escape.
The biggest unknown for me is Garza's progression, as he's almost been two different fighters throughout his career at the top level. If the Hominick victory is any indication, Garza could come out and side-step Brandao's violent blitzes and pick him apart with methodical range strikes and calculated clinch attacks. On the other hand, Garza's striking defense is far from impenetrable and Diego has the kind of unforgiving power that only takes a shot or two to seal the deal. Brandao, for as wildly aggressive and offensive as he is, has shown a solid chin and decent defensive fundamentals.
The betting lines favor Brandao here, which is hard to dispute based on consistency and reliability alone. That's the safe pick, though I have a strange feeling that Garza is a serious lurker who still hasn't shown his true potential, and just might against Brandao. He's worth a look for those interested in underdog bets.
My Prediction: Diego Brandao by decision.