Brazilian Yuri Alcantara (28-4) is a little fella with some big wins -- both literally and figuratively.
The recently turned bantamweight boasts a sturdy split-decision win over Viscardi Andrade, the welterweight from TUF Brazil 2 who just slaughtered Bristol Marunde by 1st-round TKO. It gets better. He also holds an ultra-impressive win via armbar over Francisco Trinaldo, aka "Massanduraba" from the inaugural TUF Brazil show, who made his UFC debut as a middleweight before dropping down to lightweight and choking out C.J. Keith and TUF 16 victor Mike Rio. Still not sold? Alcantara's ten-fight streak and 27-3 record caught the eye of the WEC's Sean Shelby, and "Marajo" debuted in the promotion with a voracious knockout of current featherweight contender Ricardo Lamas in the 1st round.
Not bad for a 5'6" tall kid weighing a buck-thirty-five.
After the WEC was absorbed the UFC, the former Jungle Fight lightweight champ scored decisions over Felipe Arantes and Michihiro Omigawa before encountering a hulking submission grappler in Hacran Dias, who handed Alcantara his first loss in three years and inspired a drop to bantamweight. Despite more creepy inconsistencies with the protocol for handling illegal blows, which rendered a No Contest for Alcantara against Pedro Nobre for errant elbows to the back of the head, the 33-year-old returned to form with a 1st-round knockout of Iliarde Santos at the UFC on FX 8 show in Brazil.
Alcantara's gameness, durability against larger fighters, heavy (24 stoppages in 28 wins) and balanced (12 subs/TKO's apiece) finishing ratio makes him a prime candidate for a marquee opponent. And that's exactly what he's getting tomorrow night on the main card of UFC Fight Night: Shogun vs. Sonnen in former longtime WEC champ and ever-present contender Urijah Faber (28-6).
"The California Kid" was the king of the 145-pound block for many years, scoring the WEC featherweight strap early in 2006, blowing through nine consecutive opponents and eventually relinquishing the title to Mike Brown late in 2008. Though his championship run fizzled out, his championship endeavors did not.
When accounting for King of the Cage, which had a relevant presence in early MMA, an unfathomable 17 of Faber's 28 career outings consisted of either fighting for or defending championship gold. I'm unsure whether that's some kind of obscure record in MMA, but I am 100% sure that it's no random coincidence and an infallible testament to Faber's perma-elite status. (I was going to say "a testament to Faber having the heart of a champion" but it sounded like a 80's Wheaties commercial.)
Faber was also the type of champion -- and still is the kind of fighter -- who's always seeking out ways to improve. He started off his career relying mostly on his quickness, frenetic pace, athleticism and wrestling. And it speaks volumes that he accomplished what he did as such a raw martial artist. As his grappling started advance into more of a submission grappling mold, Faber also began to develop his striking and wield it in conjunction with his takedowns, and do so with atypical fluidity. Towards the end of his title reign, Faber's striking morphed from functional and basic into a rather threatening boxing arsenal that's still not quite traditional, but his own flavor and highly effective.
Nowadays he's pretty much a complete mixed martial artist. His core competency of wrestling and scrambling not only remains his best asset, but it's among the best in the sport. There are simply not many fighters who can virtually teleport to back control and wreak havoc in grappling transitions like Urijah Faber.
This incessant style has earned Faber a resounding 23 finishes in 28 outings (16 subs, 7 TKO's) and only rendered losses to contemporary champions (Jose Aldo, Dominick Cruz, interim champ Renan Barao) or former champions (Mike Brown) with the exception of Tyson Griffin in 2005.
This means it's not insane to conclude that Alcantara has to be somewhere close to championship level to beat him.
Alcantara is a high-paced fighter as well, but he doesn't stay on the throttle nonstop like Faber. Similarly, "Marajo" throws tight, technical and on-balance combinations, but also sprinkles in the occasional ill-intended looper or a charging meat-hook, like the one he crushed Lamas with in the WEC. His strengths boil down to the classic and crowd-pleasing medley of Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu -- I was fairly impressed with his wrestling against mid-tier opposition, but the way Hacran Dias handled Alcantara left some questions about his wrestling prowess.
Power and strength play largely into Dias' wrestling whereas Faber is quickness based in that and all other aspects. Generally, speed is something that anyone might struggle with when dropping a weight class, and, specifically, something that anyone fighting Faber should expect to struggle with. Faber's athleticism and agility allows him to uphold a light-speed pace without being all sloppy and disheveled about it; he's still on balance, he's still calculating, and he's still composed. And he's never laid back and waited for opponents of a lower status to come after him -- regardless of who's standing across from him, Faber will tear into them from bell to bell.
Any one of Faber's signature traits is a tall order, but tackling one of the best phase shifters, one of the best scramblers, and one of the most athletic, experienced and speediest fighters in the division, all in one corn-rowed package, just seems like a little too much for Alcantara.
I see Alcantara's ability to read and anticipate Faber's blinding onslaught as the biggest key for him. He's experienced and well rounded too, so there's a chance he could time an explosive punch or a surprise takedown to gain some momentum. He's also a solid scrambler but, again, there's a huge difference between Faber and guys like Omigawa and Arantes.
Overall, this should be Urijah's fight to lose. Rather than Alcantara straight-up taking it to him, it seems more likely that Faber might get careless working his mojo, ala the bravely uncorked spinning back elbow that Brown dodged and countered with a straight right to steal his belt. Faber's speed, motion and diversity usually put him in the driver's seat and allow him to dictate the pace, location and flow of the action -- takedowns are generally the best tool to negate that control, and that seems like the area in which Faber has the biggest edge.
My Prediction: Urijah Faber by submission.