When Junior dos Santos dropped out of the Ultimate Fighter Brazil 3 Finale headlining slot, I really did wonder exactly how the UFC was going to replace his presence. Several names were bandied about: Andrei Arlovski, Josh Barnett, Matt Mitrione, but none made particular sense for this situation. Not just because it would be more difficult to sell two non-Brazilian fighters as the main event of a card meant to showcase Brazilian fighters (as a TUF Finale) but because it would be incredibly difficult for a fighter to get a short notice travel visa to fight internationally. That kind of difficulty is one of the reasons we got Ilir Latifi vs. Gegard Mousasi, sometimes there's just not enough time to bring in a fighter who can't already work in the country where you're holding an event.
Thus, the UFC needed a Brazilian heavyweight and it just so happened that there were none to be found, at least not until Fabio Maldonado stepped up and said that he would be willing to take the short notice opportunity and get a crack at a top heavyweight contender. That's right, the same Fabio Maldonado who's been at a pretty distinct strength disadvantage in almost all of his LHW fights, will be fighting Stipe Miocic in the main event of the TUF Brazil Finale. Ten out of ten for style, but minus several million for good thinking, huh? The UFC announced the match up on their website, Tuesday afternoon.
For Maldonado's part, The opportunity comes on the heels of a three fight win streak with action heavy, fan friendly performances over Roger Hollett, Joey Beltran, and Gian Villante. His win over Gian Villante was especially one sided in the later rounds, as Villante flagged and Maldonado used his surprising endurance to drub him for the last ten minutes of the bout. He may not be anyone's top pick for future title contention, but at a time when the UFC needs a fighter the fans will show up for, and one who is ready to fight in Brazil, Maldonado is about as much as the promotion could hope to ask for.
Unfortunately for Miocic, this may end up being a bit of a sidestep bout. Obviously, if he'd been able to beat dos Santos, he would have cemented himself as one of the very elite at 265 lbs. Maldonado is a fun fighter, who will bring the fans with him, but a victory for Miocic won't have much substance beyond an opportunity to stay busy and keep his name in the public sphere. A loss for Miocic, and it could be the kind of career set back that takes a long time to recover from. He'll be the obvious favorite here, and anything less than a dominant performance will be something of a letdown.
The Ultimate Fighter Brazil 3 Finale takes place on May 31st in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Here's a look at the card:
Fabio Maldonado vs. Stipe Miocic
Ultimate Fighter Middleweight Finale
Ultimate Fighter Heavyweight Finale
Demian Maia vs. Alexander Yakovlev
Rony Jason vs. Robbie Peralta
Diego Brandao vs. Brian Ortega
Elias Silverio vs. Ernest Chavez
Paulo Thiago vs. Gasan Umalatov
Edimilson Souza vs. Mark Eddiva
Rodrigo Damm vs. Rashid Magomedov
Pedro Munhoz vs. Matt Hobar