When fight fans are ignited at the weigh-ins, and only a quarter of the stadium is occupied, one can only imagine how deafening a full house will be.
The UFC will wish its fans a Happy New Year this Saturday, in the form of UFC on FX 7. The event will emanate out of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s Ibirapuera Arena. The main card, which starts at 6pm Eastern time, is four fights deep; each consisting of a Brazilian returning home. Although their journeys differ, they all hope to share the same fate…a victorious homecoming.
Who are these men? What must they encounter in UFC’s opening fight night of 2013? Here’s a look into what’s at hand and how I think things will play out…
Thiago Tavares vs. Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov (Lightweight Division Bout)
Truth be told, the only thing I know about Nurmagomedov is his wrestling is heavily endorsed by UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez and Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Champion Daniel Cormier. While recognition from modern-day greats in the sport are nothing to sneeze at, wrestling won’t be enough overcome a veteran of Tavares’ ilk. Tavares’ strengths are his muay thai and his submissions. Should Nurmagomedov shoot for a takedown attempt, the perfectly timed muay thai strike will bring that to a screeching halt. If for some reason Nurmagodemov lands a takedown, he then is vulnerable to a ground submission. Any way you slice it, wrestling alone won’t be enough to help “The Eagle” soar out of Brazil with a win. I’ll give the opening bout to Tavares by way of submission.
Gabriel “Napao” Gonzaga vs. Ben Rothwell (Heavyweight Division Bout)
If you scoff at the importance of having a nutritionist, you might want to look at the wonders one did for Ben Rothwell. It is because of his nutritionist that Rothwell appears to be in the best shape of his life. He never looked more chiseled than he did at the January 18th weigh-in. Has the loss of weight taken away from Rothwell’s strength? That remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Gonzaga looks to extend his winning streak to three. I’ll take former champion, with a knockout as the method of victory.
Daniel Sarafian vs. CB “The Doberman” Dolloway (Middleweight Division Bout)
Is there another way for a fighter to make his UFC debut than on home soil…in the Co-Main Event? You can’t tell Sarafian otherwise. In all the excitement of fighting in front of his fellow Brazilians, he cannot over look the wrestling prowess of Dolloway. Like Nurmagomedov before him, even if Dolloway executes a takedown, something will be there, waiting in return. In this case, it’s Sarafian’s ground and pound. My call is for Sarafian to take a bite out of “The Doberman” in the form of a ground and pound TKO, which will send the Ibirapuera Arena into a frenzy.
Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort vs. Michael “The Count” Bisping (Middleweight Division Bout)
The buzz in the MMA world is a victory over Belfort can put Bisping in line for the next shot at Anderson Silva’s title. Personally, I can’t think of anyone who deserves it more. He’s won his last four out of five fights. He is only behind Anderson Silva when it comes to diverse striking. His cardio gives him the endurance needed to go the distance. With all those things stacked in his favor, and the long wait he’s endured to get a title shot, here’s something greater that counts against him, that’ll ultimately cost him this fight. When Bisping is under serious duress/pressure, things don’t go well for him. The one fight he loss, a little over a year ago, was to Chael Sonnen. Sonnen was relentless with his pressure, which proved to overwhelm the Brit. Vitor Belfort’s pace is comparable to Sonnen’s. In addition, Belfort is the only fighter to truly take Light Heavyweight Champion Jon “Bones” Jones into the danger zone; almost submitting him. With Belfort’s lightning speed punches, pressure, a restored submission game and fighting in his native land, it looks like Bisping’s wait for a title shot will be further extended. “The Phenom” stops “The Count”, with a knockout, in the main event.
Yes, I have given the Brazilians a clean sweep in their homecoming. Enjoy fight night and please get through the weekend safely so you can get a full recap of this event.
By Antoine Hoffman