UFC Belem wasn’t a horrible event, but it’s going to be remembered for all the wrong reasons: poor judging and brutal beatdowns. Valentina Shevchenko successfully debuted at flyweight with one of the most lopsided contests anyone has seen, while a few Brazilian fighters were able to walk away with a win they didn’t really deserve. Is that the only things that happened on the card? Of course not…
Here’s my thoughts on the UFC Belem, with every fight and fighter involved broken down. The format is simple. The first bullet covers what was expected to happen and an attempt at a brief summary of what did happen. The next two bullets cover my thoughts on each fighter, how they did, and where they might be headed from here with the winner being covered first.
Deiveson Figueiredo defeated Joseph Morales via TKO at 9:34 of RD2
- Expectations/Result: Given that Morales had a dominant performance over Roberto Sanchez in his UFC debut, I believed he’d be able to use the endless stamina produced by Team Alpha Male fighters to wear out Figueiredo, whose own gas tank has been called into question. I was dead wrong. Figueiredo dominated Morales in every phase of the fight, securing takedowns and scoring punching combinations at will. An uppercut-hook combo spelled the end of the night for Morales, securing Figueiredo his second finish in the UFC.
- Figueiredo: It’s been three months since we last saw Figueiredo. The progress he’s made in that time is astonishing. Perhaps it was fighting in Belem, where he’s from. Regardless of what it was, Figueiredo needs to find out what it is and hold onto whatever motivated him to perform like he did. His energy level wasn’t a problem as he pushed a hard pace the whole fight. His boxing has never looked sharper. And his double-leg had an extra level of oomph to it not seen before. He’ll be a contender in no time if he continues to improve at this rate.
- Morales: I knew Figueiredo was a better athlete than Morales going into the contest. I didn’t think the difference was as extensive as it turned out to be. Morales couldn’t get anything going. His guillotine attempt early in the second? Figueiredo just shook it off. As soon as it appeared Morales was getting some offense going, Figueiredo landed the combination to end the fight. Morales is young enough that this should serve as a learning experience. But he’d better be learning in a hurry as there are only so many lower level flyweights he can beat up on to remain in the UFC’s employ.
Iuri Alcantara defeated Joe Soto via TKO at 1:06 of RD1
- Expectations/Result: Alcantara had looked flat in his recent contests. For instance, he allowed Alejandro Perez to outpace him in a lackluster contest in December. Thus, many figured age had finally caught up with the Brazilian and Soto was going to use his deep level of knowledge to outmaneuver him. Nope. The 37-year old Alcantara hurt Soto with a kick to the body before unleashing a bevy of elbows and punches to floor Soto. Soto was active enough to convince the referee to allow the assault to continue, but it probably should have been stopped sooner.
- Alcantara: How long have we been predicting Alcantara is at the end of his rope? Apparently not long enough. Granted, Alcantara didn’t overwhelm Soto with an explosive burst as had been his calling card in the past. Instead, it was a well-placed kick that marked the beginning of the end. Perhaps Alcantara is finally making the adjustments he needs to make as age eventually catches up to everyone. I suppose we can continue to call him a quality gatekeeper… though at some point Father Time will assure us that no longer applies.
- Soto: Soto could not have picked a worse time to turn in two lackluster performances as his contract has now expired. He was finished in 30 seconds in the fight previous to this and barely went over a minute this time. Yes, getting caught happens. But getting caught in two consecutive fights indicates there is more issues than just getting caught. At 30, Soto shouldn’t be so old that a decline should be hitting him hard. However, he has been fighting professionally for over 11 years. That’s a lot of wear and tear on his body. I struggle to see the UFC bringing him back.
Polyana Viana defeated Maia Stevenson via submission at 3:50 of RD1
- Expectations/Result: Stevenson didn’t exactly impress in her lone fight on the past season of TUF. Plus, she didn’t own a single victory over an opponent with a win. Granted, Viana hadn’t faced great competition in Brazil, but she has faced better competition than that. From the beginning, it was clear Viana was the more experienced – and better -- fighter. Countering a Stevenson takedown attempt with a judo throw seconds into the contest, that set the tone for the fight early. The rest of the contest was largely spent on the mat with Viana searching for submission. After she couldn’t get the armbar, she finally found the RNC for the win.
- Viana: A lot to like in this contest, but also some reason to give pause. Viana’s submissions were latched on quite quickly with a degree of surprise that Stevenson didn’t tap from the armbar. However, she also appeared to be too comfortable to operate off her back for my liking. Then again, it’s plausible she did her homework on Stevenson and realized her opponent was vulnerable to being submitted. I would have liked to have seen more of her standup. Regardless, it was a great performance from the youngster.
- Stevenson: Can someone please tell me why Stevenson was looking for the takedown? Viana is a submission specialist and Stevenson’s background is in boxing. It makes zero sense for her to look for that outside of a desperation takedown. Given what I’ve seen out of Stevenson’s other contests, her fight IQ is the thing that is holding her back the most. Given the lack of meaningful offense she scored in this contest, I don’t see the UFC bringing her back for another cup of coffee.
Alan Patrick defeated Damir Hadzovic via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Result: Patrick has been recognized as one of the athletically superior lightweights for quite some time, even if he has been unable to connect all the pieces together. More than that, it was really Patrick’s strong takedowns and Hadzovic’s inability to stop them that tilted the contest in favor of the Brazilian in the eyes for prognosticators. It played out exactly as expected. Patrick spent most of the contest controlling Hadzovic on the mat, showing greater activity in dealing out ground-and-pound than he had in recent contests. Good showing from the Brazilian.
- Patrick: While no one is ready to declare Patrick an emerging contender in the lightweight division, the improvements in his performance were easy to see. The timing on his takedowns was probably the most noticeable leap of improvement, but Patrick didn’t lay-and-prey his way to victory either as most expected him to. He focused on doing some damage to Hadzovic with strikes and even improved his position from time to time by passing guard. Those may not seem to be very big deals, but it could end up being the difference for how long Patrick hangs around the UFC to allow him to have enough money for a house.
- Hadzovic: I know the Hadzovic train was very small to begin with, but there’s nobody on it after that performance. Given how badly Marcin Held exposed the lack of takedown defense for Hadzovic, it would have made sense to see the Bosnian vastly improved for this contest with the expectation Hadzovic drilled it as much as he could. That didn’t seem to happen. The armbar attempt from off his back was a nice little surprise, but no one is going to call that a sound alternative to a poor sprawl. It’s safe to assume most are expecting Hadzovic to wash out relatively quickly.
Sergio Moraes defeated Tim Means split decision
- Expectations/Result: One of the most consistent volume strikers in the sport, most were picking Means to secure a win one way or another. Though Moraes is a BJJ specialist, he opted to keep the fight standing for the most part after an attempt to pull guard early proved ineffective. Nonetheless, he found a home for his overhand early while Means struggled to find his rhythm. By the time the second round rolled around, Means found his timing, outlanding Moraes by a significant margin over the final two frames to seemingly taking the rounds. Well… that’s what we all thought. Two judges inexplicably gave Moraes the decision, allowing the Brazilian to steal a win in his home country.
- Moraes: While Moraes didn’t deserve the decision, it doesn’t mean he didn’t look improved. Somehow, he regularly found a home for his overhand despite it’s ugly appearance. He even put together some combinations, something he’s struggled to do. Perhaps most encouraging was Moraes wasn’t completely exhausted by the time the final frame rolled around. Given his issues with his gas tank, that’s huge for him. However, his defensive movement was nonexistent, allowing Means to land almost at will. Moraes landed at will himself, but he was also throwing less than Means.
- Means: Even though Means looked better against Moraes than he did against Belal Muhammad, I still feel like we’re witnessing his decline. Yes, his volume was there, landing numerous short combinations and assaulting Moraes’ legs in the second round. Means deserved the win. However, there he used to have an edge of viciousness that has been missing since his first contest with Alex Oliveira. Remember how angry he was with the media when he set out to prove a point in submitting George Sullivan? That guy appears to be gone. Has a long career with little regard for defense catching up to him? It’s plausible. Means still has a few victories in the tank, but he’s not the same fighter he was a few years ago.
Thiago Santos defeated Anthony Smith via TKO at 1:03 of RD2
- Expectations/Result: One of the hardest hitters in the sport, Santos may have been the favorite, but Smith had his own sizeable contingency believing in him. In what turned out to be the easy case for FOTN, Santos and Smith went to war. Spinning back kicks, knees, body kicks – all thrown at full power – landed and neither backed down through the first round. However, Santos’ edge in the technical side of things appeared to give him slight edge despite some control grappling from Smith. Santos’ technique continued to pay off in the second as a hard kick to the body caught Smith square. Smith’s body couldn’t take anymore and he wilted, with Santos swarming to finish him off with punches.
- Santos: There isn’t anything more Santos could have done to erase the memory of his embarrassing loss to Eric Spicely 17 months ago. Four fights, four finishes with none of them going past the second round. He’s been improving his boxing which has been the primary source of destruction in his previous two contests. However, it was a return to his roots – a variety of kicks – that got him this win in combination with his ground-and-pound. However, the most encouraging development: bucking and sweeping Smith from the mount position. Santos’ grappling is coming along.
- Smith: Even though Smith came out on the short end of the stick, it’s safe to say his performance here is still indicative of progress in his overall game. He may not have paid much attention to defense, but Smith seemed to still have plenty in the gas tank before eating the kick to the midsection in the second round, an issue he has regularly dealt with. I do worry about his grappling mechanics as it’s never a good sign when you’re swept from the mount position, even if it was a fluke. Another thing I would have like to have seen: a greater strike selection as Smith never bothered attacking the legs or body of Santos.
Douglas Silva de Andrade defeated Marlon Vera via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Result: Vera has slowly made himself into a threat to win a fight at any moment given his deadly kicks and sneaky submissions. Then again, de Andrade had made massive strides once he began training at a real camp rather than drilling with buddies in his backyard. De Andrade was the aggressor in the first two rounds, pressing Vera while mixing his punches to the head and body. He matched Vera with the kicks to the legs too. Vera ramped up his volume steadily as the match wore on, even becoming the aggressor in the final round. De Andrade responded by fighting fire with fire, upping his output to overwhelm Vera is a fun scrap.
- De Andrade: I don’t know where de Andrade is currently training, but they deserve kudos for the work they’ve put in with the mini-powerhouse. His boxing looks fluid at this point, smoothing out a lot of the clunkiness that he exhibited early in his UFC tenure. De Andrade even showed some improved wrestling chops, scoring on a suplex at the end of the first round. Who in the hell would have guessed that would come from de Andrade? However, de Andrade is already 32-years old with a decade’s worth of time in the sport. How much more can he improve? One thing working in his favor is that most of his contests in Brazil ended in the first round, so the wear and tear on his body shouldn’t be too bad. He won’t ever be a contender, but he could break into the official UFC rankings before the year is out.
- Vera: While I strongly believe Vera could have performed better in the contest, I also believe that his steady progression has continued with this performance. He didn’t back himself into the cage very often. He didn’t settle for being taken down and operating off his back. He even upped his volume and pushed the pace at times. And yet… I feel like something was missing. Part of it was seeing him lose his cool near the end of the contest, but I also believe he has more potential as a combination striker. The UFC seems to believe in him, so don’t expect him to be cut loose quite yet.
Timothy Johnson defeated Marcelo Golm via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Result: Golm had torn through every one of his opponents in his young career in less than a round, including his UFC debut against Christian Colombo. Thus, many were excited about the immediate future for the young prospect. Unfortunately, Golm had yet to face a quality opponent. Enter Johnson. The massive former collegiate wrestler did what he does best: mashing Golm against the cage and wearing the 25-year old down over the course of 15 minutes. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective as Golm struggled to shrug him off or land any effective offense. It was an easy call to award the American the decision victory.
- Johnson: Given Johnson’s loss to Junior Albini in his prior contest, there were questions whether opponents had figured out how to deal with Johnson’s wall-and-maul style. Apparently not. Then again, Johnson wasn’t dealing with an opponent about as big as he is, finding more success in bullying Golm than he did against Albini. Aside from pinning Golm against the cage, a lot of Johnson’s success came from simply being the busier fighter. He worked his jab anytime he had space and flashed a few boxing combinations. And that spinning elbow at the end of the second… no one saw that coming!
- Golm: The loss may have been a mild upset, but it shouldn’t be damaging for the youngster’s career. He had yet to face a durable big man with some semblance of a wrestling game. Even if Johnson never took Golm to the mat, he manhandled him against the cage. These are the type of fights prospects learn and grow from. Look for him to work on his footwork and developing a jab as he struggled to keep distance between himself and Johnson. Worth noting is Marcin Tybura lost to Johnson in his UFC debut. Tybura has since turned himself into a top ten heavyweight. There is plenty of hope for Golm yet.
Michel Prazeres defeated Desmond Green via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Result: Prazeres missed weight badly, resulting in Green asking him to weigh below a certain amount on fight day. Prazeres agreed… but didn’t follow through. At that point, no one cared how incredible Prazeres looked. He could have ragdolled Green and no one would have given this contest any credence. Prazeres didn’t ragdoll Green, but he did outmuscle him in the grappling department several times and maintained top control with the help of his unfair advantage. A couple of occurrences of Prazeres punching the back of Green’s head wasn’t enough to prompt the live audience into turning on their countrymen, but the television viewers weren’t pleased with Prazeres’ victory in any way, shape, or form.
- Prazeres: This win does nothing for Prazeres’ standing. He missed weight by a large margin, his third time doing so in his last four contests. I chose to ignore that fact when doing the preview, giving him the benefit of the doubt and declaring he deserved a step up in competition. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It wasn’t his boring style holding him back. It was his inability to fight on a level playing field. The UFC indicated they will force him to move up to welterweight, a more than fair consequence for his continued missing of weight. Given Prazeres was unable to get past a shot Paulo Thiago in his lone UFC contest at 170, there is a grave concern Prazeres’ six-fight winning streak is going to come to an end very soon.
- Green: Green stated he took the fight because he wanted to be a good company man. I’m more inclined to believe he needed the money as the UFC has very little consideration for when their fighters do them any sort of favors in this day and age. Overall though, it was a poor performance from Green. There were moments where Green appeared to give up, such as in the first round when Prazeres was punching the back of his head. To clarify, it wasn’t because Prazeres was punching the back of his head Green wasn’t moving. Most distressing though was his abandonment of the low kicks which helped him find early success. Green is better than what he showed here, but he’s only going to get so many chances to show it.
Valentina Shevchenko defeated Priscila Cachoiera via submission at 4:25 of RD2
- Expectations/Result: Coming off a close loss to women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes, Shevchenko was completely expected to overwhelm a debuting Cachoeira. It didn’t play out that way… it was much worse. Shevchenko outstruck Cachoeira by a margin of 230-3, getting the striker to the ground right away and punishing her for the entirety of the contest. Cachoeira showed tons of heart by refusing to give up despite tearing her ACL in the first round, but she had no business being in the cage with Shevchenko. The primary thing everyone will remember this contest for: Mario Yamasaki’s incompetence by not stopping the contest long before he should have.
- Shevchenko: Some believe Shevchenko could have ended the contest much sooner if she had kept the fight on the feet, but she can’t be blamed for Yamasaki’s idiocy. Cachoeira is best known as a striker and Shevchenko took the fight where she best felt she could avoid damage and win. If anything, Shevchenko should be seen as merciful as she went for the submission when it was obvious Yamasaki wasn’t stopping the contest due to strikes. The dominant performance sets Shevchenko up to challenge for the flyweight title as soon as Nicco Montano gets healthy.
- Cachoeira: There is nothing positive to say about this performance. Sure, you could compliment Cachoeira’s toughness, but that only made the beating she received that much worse as she refused to give up. She was outmatched and outclassed to the point that whatever athletic commission sanctioned the contest should be severely reprimanded. What may be the worst thing to come out of this is that the results of this contest will follow Cachoeira around for the rest of her career. She’ll always be known as the woman Shevchenko thrashed mercilessly. Plus, this type of beating can often create a mental block that can be difficult to overcome. I fear for Cachoeira’s future.
Lyoto Machida defeated Eryk Anders via split decision
- Expectations/Result: Given Anders hits hard and Machida no longer has a chin, this contest felt pretty academic despite Machida’s legendary status. However, we were all pleasantly surprised when Machida’s chin held up better than expected, lasting all five rounds. Granted, Machida played it safe, picking apart Anders with low kicks and the occasional counter, but Anders did find his chin a few times. The biggest scare for Machida came in the third round when Anders scored a takedown and landed a brutal – and perfectly timed – knee to Machida as he attempted to get back to his feet. Machida recovered, stubbornly stuck to his plan, and eventually picked up the decision.
- Machida: While it’s nice to see the former light heavyweight champion pick up his first win since 2014, it isn’t like this performance got anyone excited about Machida’s prospects for the future. He never stepped into his strikes for fear of getting KO’d – a valid fear – and many of the MMA media believed Anders was the appropriate winner. Yes, Machida landed more strikes by a wide margin. However, he never hurt Anders at any point. I don’t mind seeing Machida continuing to fight, provided he’s used appropriately. No more contests against the divisional elite. Hell, I really don’t want to see him playing gatekeeper for up-and-comers either. I’d rather see him duke it out with fellow fighting geriatrics such as Vitor Belfort or Michael Bisping. Here’s hoping the UFC feels the same way.
- Anders: Even though I believed Anders won, I was largely disappointed with his showing. He was far too content to sit back and let Machida pick him apart. I understand Anders’ trust in his power led him to believe he’d be able to put Machida to sleep provided he gets just the right opening. Those opening appeared, but Anders couldn’t put away Machida. Anders was fighting solely for the finish rather than working on a contingency if he couldn’t put Machida to sleep. Fortunately, Anders does appear to be a quick learner. His stock hasn’t been hurt by this performance at all, even if he could have shown more.
Well, those are my thoughts. Until next time....