When we last left our heroes...Leo Santos is one of those veterans the UFC wisely picked up for one of their TUF: Brazil seasons. The beginning of his career was seemingly innocuous: a loss to Takanori Gomi in his debut after Gomi just won the Shooto welterweight title from Rumina Sato (yes if you're scratching your head at that matchmaking, you're doing precisely what you're supposed to), another defeat at the hands of Jean Silva (who was a solid fighter at the time), and DEEP veteran, Kazunori Yokota (very underrated).
Despite a 12-3 record, he's not a prospect given his age. Still, his skills, particularly in the grappling department, bode well for his success.
As for the 19-2 product from Drysdale Jiu Jitsu, there's surprisingly a lot to say. Parke comes off as an unassuming 'Brit' for most fans, but his actual heritage was the source of 'consternation' between himself and Conor McGregor. Parke's response is incredibly lucid.
While he hasn't set the world ablaze, he's 3-0 in the UFC with wins over Colin Fletcher, Kazuki Tokudome, and Jon Tuck. This fight may not win any 'Just Bang Stand and Bleed Samurai Spirit' awards, but it promises to be fairly technical.
What both men can do: Santos is a kind of throwback. Even his frame is very Royce-like. He doesn't want a fight. He wants a grappling contest. And he's very very good at it. He's also very traditional. His sub game isn't flashy; takedown, pass guard, and mount makes up his arsenal, and he loves looking for the arm triangle choke. Comparing him to Royce Gracie makes Santos seem like an anachronism, and he kind of is, but his fundamentals are as good as anyone in the grappling department.
Still, it'd be silly to write him off as devoid of any other talent. Santos is not a striker by trade by any means, but he seems to possess a self awareness in what he can and can't do. He doesn't strike to knock out his opponent; he strikes to defend himself from those who don't respect his boxing.
He also moves well in general. A few punches and he's constantly shifting from side to side. It's a trait I think is important for fighters who are grappling centric; sometimes you don't have to be feared in the cage...sometimes it's enough to be a moving target.
As for Parke, despite the gaudy 12 submission wins to his name, he's a striker by trade. He's not especially fast, but he's very good technically. He keeps his right hand jab active, and his left hand from his southpaw stance chambered. With his experience working with Robert Drysdale, he's getting increasingly confident in his grappling. He'll mix in his strikes with takedowns when the need arises.
What both men can't do: I lean towards Parke in this one. At 34 years of age, Santos isn't some prospect who will suddenly burst onto the scene with consecutive flying armbar wins. While he's fairly versatile in the way he attempts to get fights to the ground, it's nothing special. He's like a poor man's version of Demian Maia, and even Maia has some bad losses.
While I didn't like what I saw against Macario, Parke isn't even close to having the same power. So it's a competitive fight; just not one that favors Santos.
Parke will be able to pick Santos apart standing. Santos does have a pretty sneaky single leg that he times well. But Parke doesn't over commit on his strikes, which is what I think will be the difference; Parke's ability to keep it on the feet and pick his shots wisely.
Prediction: Norman Parke by Decision.