Ahead of tonight’s UFC Brasilia, here are my predictions for some of the event’s standout matchups, including the headlining matchup between in-form lightweights Kevin Lee and Charles Oliveira.
It will likely come as a surprise to most fans that the UFC are still moving forward with their latest trip to Brazilian capital, despite the numerous sporting bodies that have elected to postpone all events in the face of the world’s ongoing battle against the coronavirus.
Yesterday, Bellator president Scott Coker elected to cancel his promotion’s Conneticutt outing, Bellator 241, and for the most part, his decision was one that was hailed by the MMA community as a necessary move, all things considered.
And while UFC president Dana White has done something of a u-turn from the more dismissive stance on the coronavirus he had taken in recent times, with the competition out of the way, the UFC are moving ahead with an event that will take place behind closed doors.
It’s a potentially dangerous choice, no doubt, but as things stand, we still have ourselves a fight-card and with that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the standout matchups that will make what is a pretty fantastic UFC Fight Night event.
Jussier Formiga vs. Brandon Moreno
The flyweight division has experienced something of a rebirth following the doubts that began to spring up over its long-term future within the UFC.
Despite losing a lot of talent during the merciless roster cuts that took place last year, now, it does appear as though the promotion are taking note of this new wave of talent that is emerging at 125lbs.
Brandon Moreno, who is now in his second UFC stint – despite him being just 26, established himself within the divisional top-5 with a decision victory over the highly-rated Kai Kara-France and could well find himself within touching distance of a title-shot if he can overcome the perennial contender Jussier Formiga.
Formiga is a veteran of the flyweight division and a true litmus test for those looking to hold their ground within the top-5.
Losing only to the very best of the best in the past, the question does now surround his advancing years and the potential effects that his most recent loss – a second-round finish at the hands of Joseph Benavidez – will have on his form.
I’m siding with the youth on this one. I was impressed with Moreno in his last outing and even since his very earliest days on The Ultimate Fighter, his uncoachable knack for upsetting the odds has been the difference between his current status and a career that could well have been doomed to obscurity.
Prediction: Brandon Moreno via decision
Francisco Trinaldo vs. John Makdessi
Veteran lightweights collide in the night’s main-card opener as Fransisco Trinaldo takes on John Makdessi for what I assume will result in the opportunity to take on a ranked test next time around.
Trinaldo was very much an underrated fighter at 155lbs during the seven-fight win-streak that saw him make a very quiet climb through some of the trickiest athletes the division had to offer at the time.
Of course, his run would come to a halt upon facing tonight’s headliner Kevin Lee but for what it’s worth, Trinaldo, in his day, was a much better fighter than most give him credit for.
Now, though, at 41, the questions over his inevitable decline will be the main talking point going into this one.
In John Makdessi, we have a fighter who now, in his tenth year within the UFC, does appear to be in the best form of his life – notching up three wins in a row to place him in a spot that could well leave him in sight of the top-15 if he can take home the victory.
Makdessi brings an interesting style to the table against Trinaldo and will likely have the striking advantage as long as this one stays on the feet.
Had this matchup happened about two years ago, I would have taken Trinaldo to be honest but now, looking at their recent form and trajectories that each man’s respective career has followed, I’m going to side with Makdessi to get it done in a tense affair.
Prediction: John Makdessi via decision
Johnny Walker vs. Nikita Krylov
Now here’s where the fun begins. The return of Johnny Walker is the fight that quite a lot of fans are looking forward to more than anything else this card has to offer.
Four UFC fights. Four first-round finishes. Three that went in his favour and, of course, the brutal end he met at the hands of top-5 205lb-r Corey Anderson last time out.
Walker is electric, explosive, and completely unpredictable – a set of attributes that come together to create both his greatest strengths and the weaknesses we saw in play last time around.
Johnny made it clear that turbulence behind the scenes during fight-day had a major effect on his mindset going in – a claim that I’m in no way denying, but if one thing is for sure, it’s that we will learn a lot about his character this time around.
Nikita Krylov is one of the most underrated finishers at 205lbs right now and at 28, he is very much still on the cusp of making another step up in ability.
Now entering his seventh year in the promotion with a record of 11-4 – with all fights but one (his most recent loss to Glover Teixeira) involving a finish, a victory over Johnny Walker would be the type of marquee name needed to push his own into the top-10 of the division.
I have no doubt that Krylov has it in him to submit Johnny Walker if the fight hits the mat but if I’m being completely honest, I’ve seen enough from both men to suggest that the Brazilian is going to rebound in emphatic fashion.
I like Nikita Krylov as an underdog, of course, and it’s this fight does not have a clearcut pick, but Walker has that x-factor that should be enough to see him through this one unscathed.
Prediction: Johnny Walker via first-round KO.
Renato Moicano vs. Damir Hadzovic
Renato Moicano has endured a very rough time of late – having been finished by both José Aldo and Chan Sung Jung in his last two outings.
A large and long featherweight, Moicano has thankfully decided to forgo the cut down to 145lbs in favour of a move into the stacked lightweight division and win, lose, or draw, I’m happy to see him making the step up and getting in there with a guy like Damir Hadzovic.
The Bosnian Bomber, on the other hand, is in a critical spot as far as his hopes of crashing into the divisional elite in the near future are concerned.
He has done some decent work in recent times – in particular, his wins over Marcin Held and the always-game Marco Polo-Reyes and given his opponent Moicano’s status as a former elite featherweight, he has to know that a win here could be a massive boost as he looks to move on from his last outing, a decision loss to Christos Giagos.
I think Moicano has too much for him no matter where the fight takes place, though, and despite the punishment taken by the Brazilian over the course of the last few years, I am a big believer in the healing powers of jumping up in weight so with that in mind, I expect Moicano to shine and eventually score the submission victory.
Prediction: Renato Moicano via second-round submission
Demian Maia vs. Gilbert Burns
Two of the finest grapplers in the sport today will collide in a showdown that will likely single out the victor for an elite test in his next outing.
Upon revisiting Demian Maia’s run at 170lbs ahead of this fight, it became pretty apparent that the narrative has become somewhat skewed as far as his standing within the division is concerned.
Time has been kind to my thoughts on his losses to Tyron Woodley, Kamaru Usman, and Colby Covington – the results that stand as the only blemishes on his record since 2014.
Maia is one of the trickiest and most unique opponents in the sport. A legendary grappler who can only truly be stifled by the elite of the elite, he really doesn’t get enough credit for his longevity within this division.
A three-fight win-streak with impressive wins over Ben Askren, Lyman Good, and Anthony Rocco Martin leaves him as the #5 welterweight on the planet and yet, I almost feel as though he is disrespected to a certain degree as a result of the somewhat uneventful clash that saw him lose out to Tyron Woodley for the belt back at UFC 214.
In a matchup against Gilbert Burns, however, he has all of the tools to make this his type of fight. Burns, who is a competent striker, can certainly get the better of Maia on the feet but to be honest, I believe that a lot in this fight will come down to the approach that Durinho takes.
As a decorated grappler himself, entering into the BJJ exchanges with Maia may stand as a route to victory that appeals to the competitor in him but looking at this fight now, I feel comfortable in predicting Burns’ downfall if he chooses to engage with the bigger and more technically advanced Demian Maia.
Maia has miles on the tank, no doubt. But his style is one that lends itself to longevity. His relentless takedown assault allows him to dictate where the fight goes more often than not and in a fight against a fellow grappler, I do think that Burns’ comfort on the mat could well be his downfall.
I think Maia’s going to take his back and tap him before the judges have a chance to get involved. I am certainly looking forward to this contest quite a bit, though.
Prediction: Demian Maia via third-round submission
Kevin Lee vs. Charles Oliveira
Considering the strength of the card as a whole, it’s fitting that we will be ending proceedings with a lightweight matchup of real significance to the divisional title-picture.
Kevin Lee came in heavy on the scales yesterday – once again calling into question his suitability for 155lbs but a potential second attempt at 170lbs aside, he looked nothing short of spectacular in his last outing.
Gregor Gillespie is someone who could well stand as one of the future challengers to the lightweight throne and yet, despite the odds weighing against him, Lee managed to score one of last year’s finest knockouts – blasting through The Gift with a stunning first-round head-kick KO.
We all know what Lee brings to the table at this point.
Incredible athleticism, powerful and technical wrestling, and a perfectly proportioned body for the division – with him boasting a frankly gargantuan reach of 77″.
In Charles Oliveira, however, not only are we looking at one of the most underrated in-form talents at 155lbs right now, but it has also become clear that Oliveira is one of the most naturally lethal finishers in the sport.
As the record holder for submission wins inside the octagon, you’d be forgiven for assuming that his bag of tricks contains little in the way of helping him to get the job done on the feet.
However, Oliveira has matured into a very dangerous striker and despite his tendency – on both the ground and on the feet – to get himself into trouble as a result of his recklessness, the finishes do not lie and knowing what we know about Kevin Lee, you’d have to feel that he understands that there is a route to victory for him.
Lee is certainly a dangerous fighter in his own right and up until this point, has tested himself against the better lightweight talents of the two.
But we’ve seen him rocked in the past and we’ve watched him succumb to submissions and despite his experience at the highest level, I do think that Do Bronx is an especially difficult matchup for him.
So how do I see it playing out?
To be honest, as much as I felt it necessary to highlight the dangers that Oliveira can pose, I really do see a lot in Kevin Lee’s future.
He’s an astonishingly impressive athlete and his overall MMA game is still very much a work in progress. I think his last outing against Gregor Gillespie showed another element to his approach and despite Oliveira possessing the tools necessary to put him away, I think Lee is going to find a way to get it done.
It’ll be fun, it’ll be fast-paced, but I think ultimately Lee’s experience and growing MMA pedigree will be enough to see him over the line for another massive victory on his resumé.
Prediction: Kevin Lee via third-round TKO.
Coincidentally, both headliners featured in the opening episode of my new YouTube series – which pits the current crop of lightweights against each other using a system based on form while taking influence from the traditional league tables of football.