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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Sao Paulo: Santos vs. Anders - FS2 prelims preview

Get the scoop on the televised prelims of UFC Sao Paulo, featuring Evan Dunham’s retirement contest with Francisco Trinaldo and the debut of a pair of promising prospects.

As I mentioned in the Fight Pass preview for UFC Sao Paulo, the theme to this card is beginnings and endings. Keep in mind I said the card, not a particular portion of the card. The televised prelims feature Ryan Spann and Augusto Sakai making their UFC debuts while longtime lightweight stalwart Evan Dunham announced ahead of time his contest with Francisco Trinaldo would be his last. Unlike many fighters who retire, it feels like Dunham still has something left in the tank to offer. However, I can’t say I’d rather see him stay beyond his welcome and taking needless punishment. In other words, he’s probably stepping away at the right time.

The FS2 prelims begin at 8:30 PM ET/5:30 PM PT on Saturday.

Charles Oliveira (23-8, 1 NC) vs. Cristos Giagos (15-6), Lightweight

It looks like someone finally got through to Oliveira that he should stay at 155 as he hasn’t been touting a return to featherweight for a little while. He doesn’t appear to suffer from a lack of strength at lightweight – at least early on in his contests – as the trend has been him taking his opponent to the ground as Oliveira searches for a submission. Given Oliveira is one of the best submission artists in the sport, that’s a pretty good strategy. However, Oliveira tends to go all out going for the sub, resulting in his having little to nothing left in the tank by the end of the first round.

Giagos is making his return to the UFC after a few years away. He has added a little bit more polish to his boxing in the pocket in addition to a more active game in the clinch, but still largely looks like the same wrestle-boxer he was before. Granted, Giagos got a bit of a raw deal when he was let go in 2015 and he’s still just 28. But is there any reason to believe much will have changed from usual strategy of lots of takedown attempts supplemented with a lot of heavy hooks? Not really.

I am glad to see Giagos back in the UFC as he appears to be an ideal action-fighting gatekeeper on the lower ends of the rankings. Against Oliveira? It looks like the UFC is looking to get the Brazilian a victory in front of his countrymen. Giagos has improved his submission defense immensely from his early years as a pro, though he hasn’t faced anyone near the caliber of Oliveira in that regard. Oliveira via submission of RD1

Francisco Trinaldo (22-6) vs. Evan Dunham (18-7-1), Lightweight

Dunham and Trianldo have been in the same position the last few years, flitting in and out of the official UFC rankings while providing a tough test for the up-and-coming talent at 155. It’s appropriate these two duke it out before Dunham calls it a career.

Even though Dunham is the one retiring, Trinaldo is actually the older of the two, having turned 40 last month. Despite his age, Trinaldo has continued to improve as he was only able to begin training full time upon his inception into the UFC. He’s still a good athlete too, and I don’t just mean for his age. Trianldo’s strength has always been his most defining feature – he’s massive for 155 – but his unusual timing and rhythm in his striking has been what really allowed him to turn the corner a few years ago. Even if that isn’t working as expected, he can still use his girth in the clinch and from the top when the fight hits the ground.

Dunham has always been one of the slowest lightweights on the roster, even when he was in his physical prime. Despite that hindrance, there may not be a slicker pocket boxer in the division. His propensity for staying in that range assures he eats plenty of damage, though it is rare that in comes close to the amount he dishes out as he strings together lengthy combinations that few can hope to match. Dunham has always had a sound wrestling base to fall back on too, though he’s been selective about when he looks to use it.

Knowing Dunham is calling it a career upon the completion of this contest, it’ll be a shock if he doesn’t look to go all-out in putting on a show. Three of his last four victories saw him rack up well over 100 significant strikes in the process. Trinaldo should be more than willing to oblige. I’ll admit sentimentality is affecting my pick as Dunham has always been a joy to watch, but this contest was largely a coin flip anyway. Dunham via decision

Luis Henrique (10-4, 1 NC) vs. Ryan Spann (14-5), Light Heavyweight

After mixed results at heavyweight, Henrique is dropping down to 205, his home prior to making his way to the UFC. A Brazilian wrestling champion, Henrique struggled to secure takedowns against big men who had a modicum of takedown defense. Henrique shows rare grappling skills for a big man when the fight hits the mat, but those occasions came about too few and far between. Henrique’s standup remains a work in progress, it’s primary purpose being to cover ground as he looks to clinch up.

Spann may be one of the few 205ers who can hang with Henrique on the ground. The Contender Series alum is a slick choke artist, the guillotine being his specialty. However, he has run into some of the same problems as Henrique when it comes to getting the fight to the ground. Spann does show a unique ability to snag submissions standing, but that’s hardly a skill that can be relied upon on a consistent basis. At 6’5” with an 81” reach, Spann offers a lot of potential on the feet – and he’s shown improvement – but he’s still got a way to go.

Henrique’s weight cut could prove problematic. He was fighting around the 245 lb. range and carrying the weight fairly well. It gets harder to cut weight the older you get, even if he’s still young at 25. He often exhausted himself even when he didn’t need to cut weight. Throw in the slight advantage Spann has on the feet and I’m favoring the American to squeeze out a decision. Spann via decision

Augusto Sakai (11-1-1) vs. Chase Sherman (11-5), Heavyweight

Don’t let Sakai’s flabby frame fool you; the kid can move for a big man. Pushing the scales at the heavyweight limit, Sakai could stand to drop a few pounds. Despite that, he doesn’t tire easy, managing to throw with power late into contests. No one will ever call Sakai’s punching combinations sophisticated, though he doesn’t really need them to be. He’s a monster in the clinch too, delivering a high volume of knees and can surprise with a head kick if he’s given the space to get his leg up.

Sherman has a couple of unique characteristics for a big man going for him. He can push a hard pace, possesses above average athleticism (for the weight class), and has proven very difficult to take down. What hasn’t proven difficult is his opponent’s ability to put some leather on his chin. Sherman has worked hard to avoid getting into brawls and being more selective with his striking, though the results have been mixed thus far.

If Sakai and Sherman push the type of pace that they usually do, this could be the rare heavyweight contest that proves entertaining from bell to bell as both can take a shot. Sakai’s power has been more consistently visible and he appears to have learned some lessons from his time in Bellator. I like the Brazilian to score a win in front of his countrymen. Sakai via TKO of RD1