The UFC returns to Brazil for the 2nd time this year, and once again Vitor Belfort is in the main event. Belfort will fight Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold in a five round middleweight bout tonight on FX. The main card airs live at 9 PM ET/6 PM PT, but before that we have a full slate of preliminary card action to get to. Perhaps the biggest and most important fight on the prelims is a battle between featherweight talents Hacran Dias and Nik Lentz. It's one of nine fights on the preliminary card, which starts on Facebook at 4:30 PM ET/1:30 PM PT and continues on Fuel TV at 6:00 PM ET/3:00 PM PT.
Nova Uniao is already home to UFC champions Renan Barao and Jose Aldo, and 29 year old Hacran Dias is looking to enter his name into the hat of featherweight contenders. Dias debuted on the UFC 147 main card against Yuri Alcantara, easily controlling the veteran for 3 rounds to earn a unanimous decision. His next fight was due to be against Chad Mendes last December, but a last minute injury put him on the shelf for the rest of 2012 and well into 2013. Lentz is arguably the best wrestler Hacran has faced, so if Dias can exhibit some of that excellent takedown defense consistent with Nova Uniao’s top guys, he could very well be inching towards the top of the division.
Lentz has literally never fought on a UFC main card, and this continues his streak. After losing consecutive bouts at lightweight, the Minnesota native moved to 145 lbs, where he found immediate success against Eiji Mitsuoka at UFC 150, winning by 1st round TKO. Lentz then went to Brazil this past January to take on Diego Nunes, and used his wrestling and ground-and-pound to earn a dominant unanimous decision win. Maybe by beating a well regarded Nova Uniao prospect will get Nik on a main card at last, firmly erasing all the memories of the dreadful fight with Andre Winner.
Trinaldo is a big lightweight who fought at middleweight for TUF Brazil. After competing on TUF and winning his UFC debut against Delson Heleno, "Massarunduba" dropped to his familiar 155 lbs to take on fellow enormous LW Gleison Tibau. While Tibau won the fight, Trinaldo had Tibau in trouble in the 2nd round with big exchanges near the fence. Trinaldo got back in the win column with a submission win over C.J. Keith at UFC on FX 7.
Rio was a TUF 15 competitor under "Team Cruz" back in the spring of 2012. His run on the show was cut short by Andy Ogle, who submitted him in the 2nd round of their bout. He would’ve been able to fight on the season finale if not for injuries sustained during the show, which for that season only was taped "live". He made his official UFC debut on the prelims of the TUF 16 Finale against fellow TUF 15 alum John Cofer and won with a late 3rd round armbar. The former junior college wrestler has only gone the distance twice in his MMA career, and has failed to finish his opponent merely once.
I’ve written this line quite often, but it needs repeating: Gleison Tibau is not 30 years old? Yes that is true, he is aged just 29 but has been a long time staple of the lightweight division. Tonight marks Tibau’s 19th UFC fight in 7 years with the organization. The hulking lightweight has lost 2 of his last 3, but his last win did come in Brazil against Francisco Trinaldo. Tibau prefers to use his size advantage and wrestling to overwhelm his opponents, but in recent fights he has shown improved striking, something that has historically been one of his weak points.
Cholish has not fought for more than a year, when he lost to Danny Castillo at UFC on Fox 3 on May 5th, 2012. The Cornell graduate successfully debuted in the UFC in December 2011, stopping Mitch Clarke with punches from back mount at UFC 140. The primary reason for Cholish’s inactivity was a groin injury, which put him out of a scheduled December 2012 fight against Yves Edwards. He’s healthy enough to fight tonight, but much like the Castillo bout, Cholish will have to take on a superior wrestler.
It’s been a fairly steep drop for Paulo Thiago, who was once a legitimate welterweight contender as recently as 2010. Thiago famously knocked out Josh Koscheck in his UFC debut, and later added Jacob Volkmann and Mike Swick to his victory list. Since the Swick win, Thiago has lost 4 of his last 5, and his 2012 was nothing short of disastrous, as he lost by KO to Siyar Bahadurzada and by lopsided unanimous decision to Dong Hyun Kim. It is true that his losses have primarily come against top 10-15 fighters, something Prazeres is not, but if he loses tonight against a newcomer it’ll likely be the end of Paulo Thiago in the UFC.
Prazeres is making his debut in place of the injured Lance Benoist, and has yet to lose in his MMA career. He’s fought exclusively in Brazil against relatively unknown competition. Six of his eight submission wins have come from a chokehold, and his style is (obviously) tailored towards the ground game. Unsurprisingly, he’s listed as the underdog against Thiago, but who is to say he isn’t capable of pulling off an upset much like Paulo in his UFC debut?
Alcantara made the move to bantamweight following a decision loss to Hacran Dias. He fought Pedro Nobre (who replaced the injured George Roop) at UFC on FX 7, but he was controversially not awarded a TKO victory but instead a no contest. Yuri had taken Nobre’s back and landed strikes to the side of his head, but Dan Miragliotta deemed the strikes to be to the back of the head, prompting a stoppage. Nobre was released for what looked to be an attempt to get a DQ win, while Alcantara was paid his win bonus. Tonight he’s up against another UFC debutant, as he looks to go 2-0 in the UFC.
Santos replaces the injured Marcos Vinicius, having won his last 6 fights, with 4 of them coming by way of KO/TKO or submission. His opponent list isn’t exactly filled with notable Brazilian talent, although he did fight John Lineker in Jungle Fights last year (a split decision loss). Santos possesses good striking and knockout power, and he’ll look to make the most of an unexpected opportunity against Yuri Alcantara.
Maldonado has lost his last 3 fights, but he was perhaps unfortunate to be on the wrong end of the scorecards against Kyle Kingsbury and Igor Pokrajac. The Brazilian boxer, known for his bruising body shots, was a last minute replacement for Quinton Jackson versus Glover Teixeira at UFC 153. Maldonado was dominated, but showed incredible heart, a tremendous chin, and even though he had to be stopped for his own good at the end of the 2nd round, he certainly earned one more chance in the UFC.
Hollett’s UFC debut was … unpleasant to watch (to say the least). He fought Matt Hamill at UFC 152 in Toronto and lost an ugly and lopsided unanimous decision. The Canadian was given a second crack against Wagner Prado, but a torn bicep forced him off the card. There’s no doubt that the loser of this one is getting released, and Hollett will have to handle Maldonado’s superior boxing (among other things) to make sure he’s not the one losing his job.
Lineker may have lost his UFC debut to Louis Gaudinot last May, but he took home FOTN honors while throwing over 200 strikes just in the opening round. Even for a flyweight he sets an incredible pace and favors offense over defense practically to a fault. He did notch his first UFC win last November by defeating Yasuhiro Urushitani by unanimous decision. The Brazilian is a winner of 14 of his last 15 fights, but the bulk of that run took place at bantamweight, so it’ll be interesting (and hopefully entertaining) to see the 23-year-old progress at 125 lbs.
Gashimov came into the UFC with a 7-1 record, but drew a tough opponent in Ivan Menjivar at UFC 154 in Montreal. Menjivar submitted Gashimov with a slick armbar early in the 1st round. The loss prompted a drop to flyweight, where he is once again faced with fighting in his opponent’s home country. The primary path to victory for Azamat will surely be to use his takedowns and avoid trading wild shots with Lineker.
Formiga was once considered the best flyweight in the world, and was expected to be a contender in the UFC when he was signed last year. The Brazilian grappling specialist was outmatched on the feet against John Dodson, and lost by 2nd round TKO in his debut last October. His only career losses have come to Dodson and Ian McCall, and he is favored to win against Cariaso, but an 0-2 start to his UFC career would really spring into doubt whether or not he can contend for the title.
Cariaso was a veteran bantamweight whose only defeats in the WEC and UFC came against Renan Barao and Michael McDonald. He dropped to flyweight after a controversial decision win over Takeya Mizugaki, and won his debut against Josh Ferguson. Cariaso closed out 2012 with a fight against John Moraga at UFC 155, losing by 3rd round submission to the current #1 contender. The Californian has never lost consecutive fights in his career, and he’ll have a tall task at hand to avoid a two fight skid.
Larsen was Team Cruz’s final pick on season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter. He was quickly eliminated by eventual tournament winner Michael Chiesa by unanimous decision, but he was still granted a spot on the season finale. Unfortunately, his official debut abruptly ended at the hands and knees of Joe Proctor, who scored a 1st round KO inside of 2 minutes. This is undoubtedly his last chance at a UFC win, and he’ll have to do it in enemy territory.
Martins had a difficult draw for his UFC debut last January. The Brazilian came in as a late replacement for Justin Salas to fight fellow countryman and dangerous striker Edson Barboza at UFC on FX 7 in Sao Paulo. As expected, Martins was completely overmatched and tapped out to ground strikes after getting dropped in the 1st round. It was a first pro defeat for the 24-year-old, but understandable given the timeframe and the significant step up in competition. He opens up tonight’s card against an opponent also coming off a 1st round loss, and the loser will almost certainly be bounced from the UFC.