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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Brasilia: Lee vs. Oliveira - Main card preview

Get all the essentials from the main card of UFC Brasilia, featuring grappling ace Demian Maia looking to tie the all-time UFC record for wins against fellow BJJ champion Gilbert Burns.

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Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

There’s no denying Dana White is hoping to capitalize on a lack of sports programming over the next little while as coronavirus holds the world in trepidation. With the NBA, NCAA, and NHL all suspending or canceling their seasons, the UFC appears to be the only major sports organization to take place this weekend. It’s likely many will be willing to tune in, perhaps looking for some sort of sense of normalcy.

Should many extra viewers choose to tune into the UFC action in Brasilia this weekend, it’s a fantastic opportunity for the fighters on the card to boost their profile. While this is a situation no one would prefer – it’ll be weird not hearing or seeing the crowd’s reaction – the combatants would be foolish to not see this as an opportunity. Then again, perhaps the lack of energy crowds can provide will be deflating. For better or worse, UFC Brasilia is going to be a very interesting experience.

The main card of UFC Brasilia begins on ESPN+ at 6:00 PM ET/3:00 PM PT on Saturday.

Demian Maia (28-9) vs. Gilbert Burns (17-3), Welterweight

Any time a discussion about the greatest pure grapplers in the history of MMA begins, Maia should be one of the first names brought up. Even at 42, Maia is still one of the best grapplers in the sport, as evidenced by his submission of Ben Askren last fall. He isn’t flashy, nor is he explosive, but his knowledge of positioning and small tricks to advance position are second to none - thus why he’s known among many as the human backpack. Throughout his career, he hasn’t gotten the credit he deserves as a wrestler either. Maia’s opponent’s #1 objective is always to avoid going to the mat with him. Who has been able to do that? Since his move to welterweight, only Tyron Woodley, Colby Covington, and Kamaru Usman, arguably not just the best fighters at 170, but also the best wrestlers. Maia is the rare example of aging gracefully in MMA.

Though the recipe for beating Maia has been to keep the fight standing, it isn’t like he’s an incapable kickboxer. Y’all remember K-1 Maia in the middle of his middleweight run? He won several contests on the strength of his point fighting on the feet. Sure, the threat of the takedown opens up his offense and he’s not quite as spry as he was when he was fighting at 185. That’s where Burns will have a chance. An accomplished grappler in his own right in addition to being a superior athlete, Burns has taken to the tutelage of Henri Hooft, developing into a power threat on the feet. He hasn’t fully adjusted to being the smaller man since moving up from lightweight, but his energy level has been significantly improved.

The most notable thing about Burns in his current four-fight win streak is the increases confidence level. He goes into every fight with a set strategy and knows he can pull it off. Plus, he may very well be the most accomplished BJJ grappler Maia has faced in MMA. I don’t expect Burns to win the fight on the mat, but I also think he can avoid losing it there too. Maia could mix in enough mat control with selective striking, but a finish doesn’t seem likely on either side. Still, I like Burns’ superior striking to make the difference. Burns via decision

Renato Moicano (13-3-1) vs. Damir Hadzovic (13-5), Lightweight

Moicano’s move to lightweight isn’t a major surprise. The athletic Brazilian always sported a massive frame at featherweight and is now 30 years old. Metabolism doesn’t function the same way at that age as it does in the early-to-mid 20’s when Moicano made his UFC debut. Regardless of where he fights, there’s no reason to believe his jab will lose its effectiveness despite facing bigger and longer opponents. The Brazilian has utilized it to great effect, both on the attack and to counter. Most would consider his grappling skills to be his greatest strength, but Moicano’s lack of emphasis on getting fights to the mat somewhat negates that ability. The funny thing is, Moicano’s wrestling has looked fine, both hitting and stuffing takedowns.

Perhaps he might look to go to the ground with Hadzovic as the hard-hitting Bosnian’s massive Achilles heel has been stuffing takedowns. Opponents Christos Giagos and Alan Patrick combined to take him down a combined 15 times in two of Hadzovic’s losses under the UFC banner. It isn’t just the takedowns either as Hadzovic has struggled to escape from his opponent’s control when they get him down. If Hadzovic can keep the fight standing, he has a good shot as he’s a plus boxer with serious power.

Outside of a flash KO from Hadzovic, this should be Moicano’s fight all the way. He has more ways to win, plus he doesn’t have to worry about the same travel worries as Hadzovic, though he won’t have the home crowd on his side thanks to the empty arena. Regardless, I’d be shocked if Hadzovic walked out of Brazil with a W. Moicano via submission of RD2

Johnny Walker (17-4) vs. Nikita Krylov (26-7), Light Heavyweight

Walker has had four UFC contests and has yet to fight a full round of action. I’m not just saying he hasn’t left the first round yet, though that’s completely true. I’m saying if you combine the fight time of all his contests, it doesn’t add up to five minutes. For all that we think we know about Walker, do we really know that much about Walker?

What we do know is Walker is one of the better athletes in the division, a division whose top players are all fantastic athletes. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say Walker is the best of them all. His 6’6” frame is the tallest in the division and his 82” reach is only behind the champion, Jon Jones. He knows how to explode from the outside with a powerful attack – one doesn’t have three sub-two minute wins without it – but signs of a steady outside attack over the course of a 15-minute battle doesn’t appear to be present. Then again, he might not need it. What he does have that has worked over the course of longer fights is a devastating clinch, using his height to leverage his knees into his opponent’s head or body.

In many ways, Walker is the new and improved version of his opponent, Krylov. While Krylov is a big and athletic light heavyweight himself with a creative and aggressive arsenal, he isn’t as big as Walker, nor is he quite as explosive. That doesn’t mean Krylov is up a river without a paddle. The Ukranian is one of the better submission artists in the division, possibly even the most aggressive. Krylov is tricky in the clinch with his trips and he’s made a greater effort to institute his ground attack as of late. However, he isn’t all that disciplined from there as he is the classic submission-over-position grappler. In other words, he isn’t going to try to control Walker on his way to a decision. Krylov will be looking for the finish, one way or another.

This feels like the FOTN in my eyes. In a combined 16 UFC fights between the two of them, they’ve gone to decision just once. Krylov is the better all-around fighter and has shown more maturity since returning to the UFC after a brief voluntary hiatus. It should be less surprising should Krylov escape with a win than it was when Corey Anderson put an end to Walker’s hype train. Nonetheless, Walker is the favorite based on his advantages in the striking department. Walker via TKO of RD1

Francisco Trinaldo (24-7) vs. John Makdessi (17-6), Lightweight

In the opening paragraph, I didn’t even bother to offer the combined records of Trinaldo and Makdessi, the featured preliminary. It clocks in at 24-12. While that’s indicative of successful UFC careers, it’s also indicative of a pair of fighters on their last legs. Makdessi is 34. Trinaldo is 41. The funny thing: Trinaldo appears to have more left in the tank.

Despite his advanced age, Trinaldo is still an impressive athlete. As soon as he begins to show signs of slipping physically, he’ll be in a world of hurt as he isn’t the cleanest technical fighter. That makes projecting his fights a risky proposition as he could begin declining at any moment. Nonetheless, Trinaldo still projects a difficult opponent for anyone as his winging punches come from odd angles that have proven to be surprisingly accurate. He’s also got plenty of power and knows how to use his massive frame to fight effectively in the clinch or from the top position.

Just because Makdessi appears to be more physically broken down, it doesn’t mean he’s up a creek without a paddle. The former kickboxer is one of the top striking technicians in the history of the lightweight division. The Canadian probably would have found more success if his short frame and lack of reach weren’t such an issue. Regardless, his technique has made him a viable competitor in the organization for close to a decade. One of the more overlooked part of his success has been his sprawl, as he’s only been taken down once in the last six years.

If Trinaldo has slipped at all since his November contest, Makdessi isn’t the underdog the odds would indicate. Makdessi’s decline hasn’t been due to a lip in skills, he just can’t take the shots he used to. It’s hard to believe Trinaldo won’t land a bomb that forces Makdessi to do the stanky leg at the very least. Plus, Trinaldo is such a physical force, I have a hard time believing Makdessi will be successful in pushing off Trinaldo’s attempts to fight against the cage. Trinaldo either secures a close decision or secures a stoppage. Trinaldo via TKO of RD2