The Ultimate Fighting Championship has conjured up another conglomeration of professional fist-fights for the insatiable appetite of fight fans 'round the globe. "UFC on FX 8: Belfort vs. Rockhold" goes off this Saturday night from Santa Catarina, Brazil, with a middleweight clash pitting Vitor Belfort vs. Luke Rockhold atop the card. In what has become the standard format, Facebook will launch the event with a few preliminary card matches before we jump over to Fuel TV for the remainder of the undercard at 6:00 p.m. ET, and the 4-piece main card is slated for 10:00 p.m. ET on the FX channel.
The entire UFC on FX 8 lineup is listed below and followed by analysis and predictions for the Facebook preliminary card stream.
Fuel TV Preliminary Card (6:00 p.m. ET)
Hacran Dias vs. Nik Lentz
Mike Rio vs. Francisco Trinaldo
John Cholish vs. Gleison Tibau
Paulo Thiago vs. Michel Richard dos Prazeres
Yuri Alcantara vs. Iliarde Santos
Fabio Maldonado vs. Roger Hollett
Gashimov is another in the long line of Combat Sambo champions who've migrated to the UFC and spend time training with the AMA Fight Club under Mike Constantino and the Jackson-Winklejohn team. The 23-year-old Russian drew a tall order for his Octagon debut in the battle-hardened Ivan Menjivar, who required just half-a-round to score a tapout via armbar from his guard. Interestingly enough, the only other loss on Gashimov's record is to Alexander Keshtov (1-0) in his only known pro-MMA bout.
Despite being finished quickly in his UFC premiere, Gashimov showed some promise: he had active head movement, he seemed to be a comfortable and dynamic striker, and the takedown he hit on Menjivar was exceptionally executed. That's all in addition, of course, to the assumed diversity of his skill-set as an "International Master of Sambo," the leeway he deserves for tangling with such a crafty veteran in his first go and the fact that he's dropping from 135 to 125 for this encounter. In other words: we've yet to see the best that Azamat Gashimov has to offer.
Brazilian John Lineker is a trigger happy gunslinger with loads of experience (26 fights) for age 23. Calling his pace frenetic wouldn't do it justice, as Lineker's bloodthirsty striking blitz is eerily akin to the Looney Tunes' version of the Tazmanian Devil. From start to finish, the Wolverine-bearded banger becomes the epicenter of a cyclonic barrage of streaking leather: Lineker charges forward and heaves rapid-fire haymakers with both hands, and repeats this process of boxing violence as necessary until his opponent falls over and/or is parted from consciousness.
Based on my perception of Lineker thus far, common elements of combat such as defense and strategy are largely amiss, as every ounce of energy and effort are solely dedicated to his blistering striking offense. For reference, Lineker uncorked a monumental 212 strikes in the 1st round of his UFC debut against Louis Gaudinot, which means that, if you're squaring off with him in the cage, you should be prepared to deal with over 42 nasty punches per minute sailing directly at your face.
Having picked off a widely respected flyweight in Yasuhiro Urushitani last time out, Lineker comes in as a narrow favorite over Gashimov on the betting lines. While I assess this match up similarly, Gashimov's wrestling and clinch-game could serve as the perfect counter to Lineker's endless savagery, which is not conducive to takedown defense. The best way to slow down a striking berserker like Lineker is to use their forward momentum against them and lower levels for takedown attempts as they barge in -- one simply cannot be in the position to hurl volatile strikes and defend takedowns adequately at the same time.
This means that Lineker -- if he doesn't just mow Gashimov down -- will probably have to either ease off the trigger to stay afoot or risk fighting off his back. While Lineker is comfortable and adept off his back, his chances, as compared to when he's standing, are drastically reduced. I wouldn't be surprised to see Gashimov steal a decision with wrestling and clinch control, or even score a late submission.
My Prediction: John Lineker by TKO.
In another battle of top flyweight talent, perennial top-10er Jussier Formiga and former bantamweight Chris Cariaso look to rebound from losses. In their last outings, Formiga fell to TUF winner and recent title contender John Dodson by TKO in the 2nd round and Cariaso suffered the same fate at the hands of John Moraga in the 3rd.
On the surface, this is reminiscent of a striker vs. grappler bout, as Formiga is a stellar submission grappler (7 submissions and decisions apiece) and Cariaso, who's worked in a Muay Thai gym since age 16 and currently owns one of his own, has an impressive striking background as a former ISKF US Sanshou champion. However, Cariaso has demonstrated that he's far from one-dimensional and quite savvy in the wrestling and grappling departments. In fact, when aligned with a stand-up brawler in Takeya Mizugaki, Carioso relied on shooting well-timed takedowns and surfing on top of Mizugaki while shutting down sub attempts to notch a controversial decision.
Formiga's key to unlocking his ravenous grappling game will be his takedowns from outside, how well he sets them up, and his Judo acumen in clinch entanglements. When he's connected, Formiga is a suffocating submissionist with a unique knack for taking his opponent's back in scrambling exchanges, yet he struggles when he's forced to rely solely on his striking to win a fight.
And that's exactly what Cariaso what endeavor to do: avoid Formiga's heated onslaught of strikes -- knowing they're merely camouflage for the takedown attempt that's sure to follow -- and circle heavily in order to remain in open space and capitalize on his significant striking advantage. Formiga is similar to Lineker in that he'll constantly explode forward with a series of wide-looping fireballs, only Formiga's intent is to get his hands on his opponent and work his ground game rather than do damage with strikes.
Formiga comes in as a narrow favorite but, since I think both of the Facebook flyweight fights could go either way, I'm leaning toward Cariaso's intelligence and diversity to shut down the larger portion of Formiga's takedown attempts and get the better end of the striking exchanges.
My Prediction: Chris Cariaso by decision.
Larsen was a TUF: Live contestant who was defeated by Mike Chiesa, the eventual winner of the season, in his first match on the show, even though Chiesa was docked a point for an illegal (but unintentional) knee. At the live finale, Joe Proctor put it on Larsen and finished him in the 1st round with a knee and follow-up punches.
Lucas Martins reps the vaunted Chute Boxe team as well as Jorge Patino's Macaco Gold Team. When Justin Salas withdrew from the UFC on FX 7 card, which was the UFC's last visit to Brazil, Martins had a little more than 2 weeks to train for his Octagon premiere against fellow Brazilian Edson Barboza. Barboza alone is a steep test for a UFC newcomer, so it's understandable that Martins ended up accruing his first career loss (submission via punches in the 1st round) with such limited prep time.
Though Martins has a prettier record, much of that was contested on the Brazilian circuit and -- barring a No Contest -- Larsen's only other official loss besides Proctor was to former WEC/UFC fighter Edgar Garcia.
As you'd expect from any Chute Boxe product, "Mineiro" is a volatile striker with an exceptional finishing rate (8 TKO's, 3 subs, 1 decision). Though aggressive kickboxing is his forte', Martins has serviceable sub-grappling and holds his own in scrambles. Because I think Larsen will have his hands full in a stand-up shootout, wrestling will be his best weapon to counter and disrupt Martins' lengthy Muay Thai assault.
While Larsen has definitely faced the better list of competition, I think Martins' potent kickboxing will be too much, and that he'll stay composed and on-balance enough to shuck off takedowns and capitalize on his superior striking.
My Prediction: Lucas Martins by TKO.