The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns on Saturday night for the latest Fight Night event which will be headlined by UFC middleweights Victor Belfort and Kelvin Gastelum. Also featured is a light heavyweight contest between Mauricio Rua and Gian Villante.
We take a look at the six-fight main card in Fortaleza, Brazil…
185lbs – Victor Belfort (25-13) vs. Kelvin Gastelum (13-2)Embed from Getty Images
Main eventing the event is Brazil’s own Belfort. ‘The Phenom’ is coming off a two fight loss streak – suffering knockout defeats to Jacare Souza at UFC 198 and Gegard Mousasi at UFC 204. Whilst he may be a shadow of his former self, Belfort is still one of the deadliest strikers in the middleweight division and a win in Brazil would get his career back on track. The former champ needs to bounce back with a big performance.
He faces a tough test in Gastelum, who moved up to middleweight due to missing weight numerous times at welterweight. The American made his debut at 185lbs against Tim Kennedy at UFC 206, winning the fight by TKO in the third round – an extremely impressive performance. The Ultimate Fighter winner will be a tough test for Belfort and is the favourite to pick up the win in Fortaleza.
Prediction: Gastelum by KO
205lbs – Mauricio Rua (24-10) vs. Gian Villante (15-7)Embed from Getty Images
The next bout on the card pits former light heavyweight champion, ‘Shogun’ against Villante. ‘Shogun’ is enjoying a renaissance of late, picking up back-to-backs wins for the first time in eight years after suffering defeat to the likes of Dan Henderson and Ovince St. Preux. Rua defeated Antonio Rogerio Nogueira before pinching a split decision against Corey Anderson.
His opponent, Gian Villante, signs for his first fight of the year after knocking out Saparbek Safarov at UFC Fight Night 102 in December 2016. He will have the speed advantage over his opponent but needs to move his head more and not plant his feet. Rua is likely to lean on his wrestling meaning his takedown defence needs to be on sharp.
Whoever lands the big shot first will likely take this contest.
Prediction: Villante by KO
155lbs – Edson Barboza (18-4) vs. Beneil Dariush (14-2)Embed from Getty Images
Next up is a potential fight of the night contender between two lightweights looking to stake their claim for a title shot. Edson Barboza has some of the best kicks in the UFC, a solid jab and his movement has developed since his UFC journey began. The Brazilian fought twice in 2016; picking up unanimous decision victories over Gilbert Melendez and former champion Anthony Pettis.
Also looking to move into title contention is Beneil Dariush. The Iranian-born star has picked up seven wins in his last eight bouts and will give Barboza a tough fight on Saturday night. A strong grappler, who also excels in the clinch, will have to be at his best as Barboza has only been taken down twice in the last three years which could make this fight a stand-up battle. Dariush’s best bet is to keep the pressure on and look to engage the clinch.
There could be fireworks if this one if both men look to stand and trade.
Prediction: Barboza by decision
125lbs: Ray Borg (10-2) vs. Jussier da Silva (19-4)Embed from Getty Images
Moving down to the flyweight division, we have an exciting contest between Ray Borg and Jussier da Silva. It is likely that the winner of this contest could be next in line to face undisputed champion, Demetrious Johnson if he manages to beat Wilson Reis. da Silva could feel hard done by that he hasn’t received a title shot already but a win over Borg would put his name into the fray. ‘Formiga’ is the highest ranked fighter in the flyweight division who is yet to fight for the title.
He will be looking to take the fight to the ground but that is somewhere Ray Borg is extremely comfortable with. ‘The Tazmexican Devil’ bounced back after a loss to Justin Scoggins with a dominant win over Louis Smolka at UFC 207; where he missed weight. Borg is still developing as a fighter and switched to the famed Jackson-Wink gym to improve his boxing meaning his strikes are much improved.
The majority of the fight could be spent on the ground but it should be an intriguing battle.
Prediction: da Silva by decision
135lbs: Bethe Correia (10-2) vs. Marion Reneau (7-3)Embed from Getty Images
The only women’s fight on the card sees Brazil’s Bethe Correia square off against Mario Reneau. Correia earned a title shot in 2015 but was easily beaten by Ronda Rousey which also took place in Brazil. ‘Pitbull’ also lost to Raquel Pennington but responded with a split-decision win over Jessica Eye at UFC 203.
The 33-year-old will face a tough test in Marion Reneau – who will be the superior athlete despite being 39 years of age. Reneau has an identical record over the last three fights, coming off losses against Holly Holm and Ashlee Evans-Smith before beating Milana Dudieva in November 2016. A black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, her skills on the ground could cause problems for Correia, who has never been submitted.
Both fighters will be aggressive and this one could go either way.
Prediction: Reneau by decision
170lbs: Alex Oliveira (15-3-1) vs. Tim Means (26-7-1)Embed from Getty Images
Opening the main card is a rematch between Alex Oliveira and Tim Means. The two fighters fought at UFC 207 after weeks of bad blood. There was little time to settle the ‘feud’ as the fight ended in the first round as Means landed an illegal knee in the first round and Oliveira couldn’t continue. The stoppage was protested but officials confirmed the strike was illegal and the rematch was scheduled.
Means is a more complete striker and was dominating the first contest in the early stages. ‘The Dirty Bird’ has a deadly muay Thai attack but Oliveira could hold the advantage if the fight goes to the ground. ‘Cowboy’ will need to increase the amount of strikes he throws if he is find success against Means.
Prediction: Means by KO
Let me know your predictions in the comments below!
Follow me on Twitter – @MarcusBanks7 – Visit my blog The Beautiful Game