I’ll go on record and say that I enjoyed that event. It had a few ups and downs, felt a bit like a Bellator crowd and no fight really made any difference to the overall standings but it played out ok.
It was a good opening for the column at least with Michael Chiesa taking home the submission win at 15/8 and Khabilov taking the decision at 2/1. The last three fights went against us, but those opening two generated enough returns to make it a slightly profitable night. The accountants out there will now know that we move to £38.84 on the year if you followed each and every tip I gave.
We return to Brazil for what seems like the umpteenth time this year and once again I issue my kryptonite warning. Brazil cards don’t like me and I don’t like them, that being said I feel quietly confident about my picks this week so let’s go through the main card and let me know if you agree.
Jason v Stephens:
In the main card opener we have two fighters who could not have more contrasting records of late. In Rony Jason we have the Brazilian riding an eight fight winning streak, with the last three coming in the UFC. The quality of these opponents is mixed to say the least, but you have to have the ability to win three in the UFC to actually achieve it.
In the opposite corner is Jeremy Stephens who has lost three of his last four, and four of his last seven. A year ago he was due to face Yves Edwards but got himself arrested on the day and spent a few days in jail. That fight eventually took place but Stephens lost due to a first round knockout.
Jason brings a well-rounded game and a demonstrable record of putting away opponents via various methods. Stephens brings a split decision against the current Lightweight champion with a unanimous decision loss against Cowboy Cerrone. I am prepared to overlook the Edwards knockout as we all have our bad days and suggest that his record doesn’t exactly tell the full story. That being said, I’ll be siding with Jason as I now have a fundamental rule that if I cannot pick a way for a fighter to beat a Brazilian in Brazil, then I am just going to go for the Brazilian by decision.
Recommendation: Method of Victory: Rony Jason by Decision – 23/10 (+230) @ Ladbrokes
Ponzinibbio v LaFlare:
Rather a strange fight to make the main card since neither fighter is Brazilian and only one of them has any real history in the UFC. Ryan LaFlare makes his second appearance in the octagon after five years of fighting for Ring of Combat on the regional circuit. In his sole appearance he managed to outwork Ben Alloway on the way to a unanimous decision in Sweden.
Standing opposite is the debutant, and impossibly named, Santiago Ponzinibbio. Ponzinibbio has been out of the cage for almost 16 months while competing in TUF Brazil 2 and he really couldn’t be stepping into a hotter environment. Given an opportunity after a hand injury prevented him from taking place in the final he will know that this is the time to step up. Even for a debutant, huge things are expected when going to the UFC’s current fan favourite country and someone somewhere, clearly has big ideas for him.
The bookies have LaFlare as the favourite, probably due to knowing less than I do about his opponent (which I admit, isn’t a huge amount) but I smell an upset. One fight in the UFC doesn’t justify this type of favouritism, and opportunities should always be seized upon. I’ll be taking the ‘dog by any means on this one.
Recommendation: To Win the Fight: Santiago Ponzinibbio – 13/10 (+130) @ Stan James
Thiago v Thatch:
Clearly there are some very big things expected of Brandon Thatch. Fresh from a debut win over Justin Edwards he is given a significant step up in class by being matched with Paolo Thiago.
Thiago is probably more frightening physically, and on paper, than he is inside the octagon. A veteran of the UFC for just over four years he has been in with some of the toughest in the business in Koscheck, Sanchez, Fitch, Bahadurzada and Dong Hyun Kim; incidentally losing to all of them barring Koscheck. Wins during that time have come against a far lower grade of opposition and you wonder whether he has enough skills to reach the next level. At the age of 32 one would suspect his time, and potential is starting to erode.
If there is an opportunity for Thatch to announce his arrival then it cannot get any better than beating a big name, and Thiago carries that name recognition if nothing else. He enters the octagon, quite rightly, as the hot favourite. If his advisors have said nothing else to him it will be to finish the fight inside the distance as judging is speculative at best when in Brazil and he won’t want to take his chances there.
Thatch has a record of knockouts, with 70% of his wins coming by this method. Although Thiago has only been knocked out once in his UFC career he is probably overdue, and Thatch should be the man to do it.
Recommendation: Method of Victory: Brandon Thatch by KO, TKO or Disqualification – 5/6 (-120) @ Ladbrokes
Cavalcante v Pokrajac:
It would be very easy to write off Rafael Cavalcante, certainly after a No Contest with Mike Kyle and a stunning knockout loss to Thiago Silva in June this year. The truth is that Feijao looked a little out of sorts against Silva, who was clearly fighting for his career, and didn’t have a lot of time to adjust. The UFC debut has seen worse than Cavalcante fall by the wayside.
Igor Pokrajac makes the journey to Brazil knowing that a loss will most likely be his last. After going 3-0 he has gone 0-2 with one No Contest, and his UFC record stands at 4-5-0-1 which is nothing to shout home about. If Joey Beltran hadn’t failed a drug test then it is arguable whether this fight would have ever taken place, and if Pokrajac wouldn’t already have been given the dreaded pink slip.
When Cavalcante wins then it’s by knockout, and I can say that with a 91% accuracy. I see no reason why that record will not improve here by the same method. The only surprise will be if Pokrajac lasts further that the first round and Cavalcante doesn’t pick up the Knockout of the Night award.
Recommendation: Method of Victory: Rafael Cavalcante by KO, TKO or Disqualification – 5/6 (-120) @ Ladbrokes
Ferreira v Sarafian:
In the co-main event we have another TUF matchup as Daniel Sarafian faces off against Cezar Ferreira. A fight originally scheduled for the final of the original TUF Brazil finale, sadly rearranged due to injury, we get a belated opportunity to see what might have been.
Ferreira was the eventual winner of that series, making a successful reappearance at UFC 163. In the finale he beat Sergio Moraes who was originally knocked out by Daniel Sarafian, winning comfortably by unanimous decision.
Daniel Sarafian came out of the series with more credit than any other fighter, despite not winning. His reputation grew and grew and, despite losing to CB Dollaway via split decision, saw his stock rise eventually taking his first official UFC win over Eddie Mendez.
Although Ferreira won the tournament, and is the favourite to win this fight, it is Sarafian who many feel has the longer term viability in the company. With little to choose between either fighter I am not really best equipped to call the winner. What I am capable of is choosing the method of victory. Both fighters are keen proponents of the submission arts and BetVictor puts up an arm-breaking line of either to win by submission to tempt me to part with some cash.
Recommendation: Method of Victory: Either by Submission – 11/10 (+110) @ BetVictor
Belfort v Henderson:
I am so torn on this fight I don’t know where to start. It isn’t often that two true MMA legends collide in the octagon and this should be treated as something special.
Many will argue that both are past their respective prime, while this is most likely true of Dan Henderson the way that Vitor Belfort has gone about his last five fights suggests that there is a lot more in the tank of the ‘Phenom’.
Dan Henderson simply must go into the MMA Hall of Fame as one of the true greats, even if it hasn’t really clicked with him in the UFC. Much like Wanderlei Silva he has been there and done it all and should get maximum respect. At the age of 42 we will most likely never see another cut from the same cloth.
Vitor Belfort is another who has done it all from a very young age, but actually seems to be a more rounded fighter at 36 than he was at 26. Losses to Jon Jones and Anderson Silva aside, Dan Henderson was the last man to beat him back in Pride in 2006 and he will be itching to right that wrong.
Belfort arguably has more ways to win, but both fighters suffer from the same weakness which is a distinct lack of cardio. Belfort hasn’t been five rounds in his entire career, while Henderson showed against Shogun that although he can put on a fight of the year candidate, three rounds is probably his maximum.
Henderson doesn’t get knocked out, but Belfort has been finishing fighters for fun. I don’t know which way this goes, only that over 2.5 rounds feels like an absolute steal. If it goes under, then Henderson has landed a bomb flush on Belfort but it doesn’t feel likely.
Recommendation: Over/Under 2.5 Rounds: Over 2.5 Rounds – 17/10 (+170) @ Ladbrokes