-185 Sergio “The Panther” Moraes (10-3-1) vs. +145 Zak “The Barbarian” Ottow (14-3)
Sergio Moraes: Alliance Jiu-Jitsu stand-out Sergio Moraes climbed his way through the Brazilian mma circuit (with one victory in Bellator) before being tagged to participate in The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil. Moraes lost to Daniel Sarafian in the semi-finals via a flying knee KO, but would step in to replace him in the finals after Sarafian was injured. Since losing his UFC debut, Sergio has amassed a string of four victories including a submission of the night win over #7 ranked Neil Magny.
A bjj black belt, “The Panther” is an accomplished competition grappler, having won four golds, three silvers, and one bronze in the BJJ World Championships. This has translated well in the cage as 7 out of his 10 victories have come by way of submission. His TKO victory over Omari Akhmedov proved that he is willing to throw leather and even though he may lack grace, he can pack a wallop.
Zak Ottow: Milwuakee native Zak “the Barbarian” Ottow made a big splash last month by beating veteran figher Josh Burkman despite being a late replacement and a 3:1 underdog. Ottow put on a clinic, beating Burkman to the punch and chopping him up with body and leg kicks on his way to a unanimous decision.
Coach and part-owner of Pura Vida gym in Milwuakee, “the Barbarian” has his roots in bjj. Ten of his 14 wins have been on the mat and is a bjj brown belt. His UFC debut, however, porved that his is both comfortable and capable on his feet.
The Fight: Both fighters are primarily grapplers, but Moraes is significantly more skilled and decorated in that department. Look for Ottow to try to keep the fight standing and pick Moraes apart. Unless he has been training specifically for this, “the Panther” has a less than stellar (nonexistent?) takedown record, so expect him to get frustrated with striking and fail to get Ottow to the mat for any significant amount of time. Ottow UD
+165 Warlley Alves (11-1) vs. -205 Kamaru “Nigerian Nightmare” Usman (8-1)
Warlley Alves: Winner of the TUF: Brazil 3 middleweight tournament, Brazil’s Warlley Alves is looking to get back on solid ground after suffering the first loss of his career to Brian Barberena at UFC 198 in May. Alves dominated Jungle Fight before being called up to fight on TUF, and racked up four wins before his fateful bout with “Bam Bam” Barberena.
Alves is a highly decorated kickboxer, having won 12 championships in addition to his status as 3x Brazilian kickboxing champ. More than half of his victories have come by way of submission, and only one via TKO and that seems to be a testament to the danger of trading with the man. He is unafraid of throwing leather and has proven that he an handle himself on the mat with great success.
Kamaru Usman: Riding a seven fight win streak, Nigerian born wrestler Kamaru Usman hopes to continue his rise in the UFC. Another TUF alum, and a Blackzilian team member, Usman tore through the smaller circuit before being picked up to fight on TUF: ATT vs. Blackzilian. Usman ate up the competition before choking out ATT sting standout Hayder Hassan to win the TUF gold. “The Nigerian Nightmare has been wrestling since he was a young man, going 53-3 in high school and in college was a 3x Div 2 All-American as well as the Div 2 national champion his senior year.
Usman fights exactly as you would expect someone of his pedigree to, with utterly relentless clinch, takedown, and ground and pound. He is unafraid to strike and uses it to (mostly successfully) set up the clinch or takedown. Aside from his lone loss three years ago, Kamaru’s wrestling and offensive striking on the ground have been unstoppable.
The Fight: On paper this is a classic striker vs. grappler match-up, but Alves has shown that he is happy to fight on the ground if that’s where the fight goes. And that is certainly where this fight is going to go. Expect Usman to eat some strikes early on trying to find his range and timing but once he does the fight will turn into a classic grind. Alves won’t be able to mount much of an offense on the ground and will absorb a lot of damage. In the end, it will be another victory ground out by the Nigerian’s superior wrestling. Usman UD
-170 #11 Thales Leites (26-6) vs. +140 #15 Krzysztof Jotko (18-1)
Thales Lietes: A professional fighter since 2003, Brazilian grappling standout Thales Leites has run the gamut from title contender to journeyman spanning two stints on the UFC roster. Thales started his career by winning nine straight fights, eight by submission, before dropping a decision to Danish striker Martin Kampmann on the TUF 4 finale. Leites would bounce back, taking five more victories before losing a title bout to the legendary Anderson Silva in what is widely held to be among the worst fights in the sport’s history. A subsequent snoozefest saw him cut from the UFC roster.
Now back in the UFC, Thales has shown that he still has the goods, only losing to top dog Gegard Mousasi and current champ Michael Bisping, both fights going the distance.
Few fighters have the history or skill on the mat that comes with Thales Leites. He has only been finished once (a loss he later avenged) and 15 of his 26 victories were by submission. His second UFC stint has showcased his renewed vigor as he fights to get back and stay in the top ten.
Krzysztof Jotko: Polish striker Krzysztof Jotko is looking to break into the top ten rankings and prove he isn’t just another Polish striker. Jotko came into the UFC riding a 13 fight win streak mowing through the consonant heavy polish mma circuit with fury. His first fight continued his success story before he was steamrolled and choked out by fellow newcomer, Swedish fighter Magnus Cedenblad. Jotko is now on a 4 fight winning streak, picking up three decisions before brutally knocking out the “Barncat” Tamdan McCrory picking up a performance of the night bonus for his efforts.
I hesitate to call Krzysztof “King of the decisions”, but with two thirds of his victories coming that way, he can hardly be called a finisher. It’s not for a lack of trying though. Even before he delivered his glorious right hook to McCrory, he spent his career punching, kicking, and attempting takedowns. A win here would set him up for a top ten opponent, and give him a chance to ascend the ranks.
The Fight: This is deep, deep water for the Polish fighter and frankly, he is not ready to take off his floaties. At 27, Jotko is just coming into his mma prime, but he hasn’t faced anything near the depths of competition he is up against this weekend. Look to see Jotko dance in and out before catching a hard hit from the Brazilian and either dropping to the mat, or being drug there. Once it hits the ground it’ll be a grappling clinic. Lather, rinse, repeat until Thales catches Jotko. Leites RNC 2nd
-450 #1 Cláudia Gadelha (13-2) vs. +325 Cortney “Cast Iron” Casey (6-3)
Cláudia Gadelha: Few fighters come with the history and pedigree that Gadelha brings to the table. 11-0 coming into her UFC debut with 8 finishes, she was originally slated to star in TUF 20 but was instead given a contract directly into the UFC. The Brazilian met her first defeat at the hands of the soon to be crowned strawweight champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk, but the fight was far from a clean victory as many saw Gadelha as the victor. After beating Belator and WSOF star Jessica Aguilar, Cláudia would get her shot at redemption. Unfortunately she once again fell victim to Polish domination but this time convincingly and via unanimous decision.
Gadelha is the complete package as a fighter, her incredible phyiscal strength and tenacious buzzsaw striking tend to take the spotlight and belie her prowess on the mat. She has a black belt in bjj, and is a seven time national, and three time world bjj champion. There isn’t anywhere in a fight that she doesn’t excel, her last fight proving she has the mettle to fight into championship rounds, and you can expect her gameplan to be flawless.
Cortney Casey: Journey(wo)man fighter Cortney “Cast Iron” Casey had a fairly successful career early on, going 4-1 before getting called to the big show. Her success in the octagon has been intermittent, earning a 2-2 record including a hard-fought decision loss to Scottish hammer Joanne Calderwood. Although she has a purple belt in bjj, Casey has as many victories via strikes as submissions.
The Fight: This is another case of a fighter jumping into deep water, but this one might not be as bad. Casey has a four inch reach advantage, a higher average volume of strikes, and a slightly higher accuracy rating. That being said, she hasn’t faced anyone with the level of skill or determination that Gadelha brings to the table. Casey will land some clean shots at a distance but Gadelha will bulldog her way into range and though Casey is good in the clinch, Claudia will drag her down to the mat where she can really go to work. Gadelha UD.
-305 #11 Thomas Almeida (21-1) vs +235 Albert “the Warrior” Morales (6-0-1)
Thomas Almeida: Thomas Almeida stormed into the mma world like a tornado of fist, on a 17 fight win streak before he came to the UFC with only one fight (his professional debut) going the distance. The Chute Box prodigy tore through his opponents with hard, well-polished strikes, with the occasional submission thrown in for good measure. His first fight in the octagon cemented the fact that he belonged and earned a fight of the night bonus and highlighted the newcomer’s skills and heart as he survived being put in danger early in the fight only to come back and completely dominate Tim Gorman for three rounds. Three more Kos and three more performance boneses followed, including a win over veteran fighter Brad Pickett via flying knee. The Almeida train came to a screaching halt earlier this year in less than three minutes at the hand of title contender Cody Garbrandt. The Brazilian had no answer to Garbrandt’s handspeed or power and got his lights turned out by a hard right hook.
Almeida has all of the physical tools necessary to win any fight but at 25 he is only now becoming mature enough to really get himself together. He had never tasted defeat before so who knows what we will see from him Saturday night. Some fighters take losses to heart and work hard to learn from their mistakes and shore up those weaknesses, but some fighters rely on the momentum and come back timid and gun-shy.
Albert Morales: Morales began training a short three years ago and made his professional debut early last year, racking up two wins in Belator. A few more fights around his home of California led him to a 20 second knockut victory over Jungle Fight veteran Mario Isreal. That in turn led him to be a short-notice replacement for Manny Gamburyan at UFC Fight Night in September where he earned a majority draw decision with Alejandro Perez. On Saturday he is looking to capitalize on the oppurtunity to use Almeida as a springboard to a career in the big show.
The Fight: I can’t help but notice a pattern here, perhaps the event should have been titled “Sandbag Saturday”. Morales has a purple belt in bjj and trains out of a Carlson Gracie gym, and he has proven that he has enough power to end a fight quickly and violently, but from the outside it looks like he is being fed to the sharks. Almeida has more than triple the amount of fights and, on paper at least, far outstrips Morales in every facet of the game. Perhaps I’m wrong and the matchmakers saw something that I’ve missed, or maybe they just gave him a shot at a huge upset in gratitude for fighting on such short notice, who knows. I suspect we will see Almeida put on a striking clinic and work out his anger from the loss on the head and body of “the Warrior”. Almeida TKO 2nd.
-370 #4 Ryan “Darth” Bader (22-5) vs. +280 #9 Antonio “Minotouro” Nogueira (22-7)
Light Heavyweight (205)
Ryan Bader: Collegiate wrestling stand-out Ryan Bader has enjoyed considerable success in his mma career. Before his switch to fighting, Bader was a two time Division 1 All-American and a three time Pac-10 champion at Arizona State. After tearing through the Southwest mma circuit, Bader was picked up for TUF 8 beating all three of his in-show opponents before demolishing fellow finalist Vinny Magalhaes in just over two minutes of the first round. Bader continued to elevate his competition and continued to win until he met and fell victim to rising star Jon Jones. Since that loss he’s fought a veritable who’s who of the 205lb division and has only lost to the best fighters at the top of their game…and Tito Ortiz, but we’ll chalk that one up to the aforementioned post-first loss mental hang up…or…we’ll just try to forget it ever happened.
Ryan Bader brings with him one of the strongest wrestling credentials in the game and tops it off with a purple belt in bjj. He hits hard and knows how to use his strikes to set up his takedowns. Bader will be strong and comfortable anywhere the fight goes, and has an additional mental ace in the hole in that he has already soundly beaten his opponent in the past.
Antonio Nogueira: One of the last of the “Old Guard”, Antonio Nogueira has a long and storied history in mma. Twin brother to former Pride heavyweight and former UFC interim heavyweight champion Antonio “Minotauro” Nogueira, “Minotouro” first fought tor Japananese based DEEP in 2001 but the following year he debuted in the UFC’s only real competitor Pride FC. While fighting in Japan he faced such legendary Pride fighters as Kazushi Sakuraba, Alistair Overeem, Dan Henderson, and fought in what many feel is the greatest fight in mma history vs Mauricio Rua at Critical Countdown 2005. Since coming to the UFC in 2009, Nogueira has continued to face top competition with losses only to top tier fighters ( he actually beat Tito PHEW!).
Nogueira too is a highly decorated combat sport champion, holding a black belt in bjj with championships in both bjj and boxing, having won a gold medal in the South American Games and a bronze in the Pan-Ams. “Minotouro” trains with Team Blackhouse, with is rife with powerhouses, former champions, and olympic athletes that span the spectrum of combat sports.
The Fight: This fight has the makings of something epic, both fighters are highly skilled and highly decorated veterans. Both men are fighting to stay relevant in a division heavy with talent. Both men have faced many of the same fighters since their last bout. And both have the ability to end the fight quickly. I forsee an Hollywood style remake of their last fight. It will look similar, it will feel similar, and you’ll not be quite sure why it’s happening again, even if it’s entertaining.
Both fighters will start off tentatively, distinctly aware what the other is capable of. Bader will use his strikes to set up takedowns, many of which will be stuffed by Nog who will feed Bader some leather for his trouble. Eventually The takedown will suceed and we will see both fighters engage with strikes, with Bader being more effective. Bader has only been past the third round once, and Nogueira naver has, and he hasn’t fought in the old Pride syle rounds in a decade. “Minotouro’s” age might be a factor here, but I expect both fighters will come prepared, even if they start to slow in the later rounds. In the end, it will be a repeat of their last bout. Bader UD