+157 Alex Oliveira (14-3-1) vs. -182 Tim Means (26-7-1)
Alex Oliveira: Former bull rider Alex “Cowboy” Oliveira’s first fight with Time Means came to a very confusing end when referee Dan Miragliotta stopped the fight due to illegal knees that rocked Oliveira leaving him unable to continue. Miragliotta deemed the knees unintentional (which they were clearly not) and called the fight a no contest. Prior to the knees Oliveira was darting in and landing a few hard shots but was losing the fight for the most part.
Now back in his more suited welterweight division, the grizzled 28 year old Brazilian will look to start a new title run in this controversial rematch. Oliveira possesses many of the same weapons as his American Cowboy counterpart and continues to train at ATT despite his recent feud with fellow ATT fighter Will Brooks. His natural fighting abilities combined with some of the best coaches in the game may create a scary contender in the years to come.
Tim Means: Savvy southpaw striker Tim “The Dirty Bird” Means was taking it to Oliveira in their first fight. Many including myself assumed the take down would be there for Oliveira, but Mean’s take down defense was holding up and he even landed a few take downs of his own. He was also getting the better of the Brazilian in the stand up, stalking him around the cage and bloodying his nose with hard elbows.
This is the New Mexican fighters second stint in the UFC and he is making the most of the opportunity. Since his return to the octagon Means has gone 6-2-1 and is one or two wins away from being ranked. His fan friendly, strike first style will help him book big fights and named opponents in the future.
The Fight: These two are nearly mirror images of each other stylistically and physically. Means will have the slight advantage on the feet with Oliveira will be the better grappler. I leaned towards Cowboy in their first fight and assumed he would be able to score take downs, however Means take down defense was solid. The first fight’s had a lighting fast pace that favored Means, this one should be a bit more calculated and end with Means getting his hand raised. Means TKO 2nd
+103 #9 Bethe Correia (10-2) vs. -123 #13 Marion Reneau (7-2)
Bethe Correia: Former Bantamweight title contender Bethe “Pitbull Correia ended her two fight skid with a razor thin split decision victory over Jessica Eye. The win came in front of Eye’s hometown Cleveland crowd at UFC 203 and was considered somewhat controversial.
Now 4-2 in the UFC the 33 year old Correia is slowly climbing back up the rankings with her aggressive striking and strong take down defense. Correia’s reputation as a devastating striker is somewhat unwarranted, in her ten professional wins only two have been finishes. If she ever hopes to get back in to the title picture Corriea will need to start winning her bouts more decisively.
Marion Reneau: “Belizean Bruiser” Marion Reneau also corrected her course after suffering back to back losses. Reneau scored a TKO over Russian Judo practitioner Milana Dudeiva in the the third round of their November meeting. The win raised her UFC record back over .500 at 3-2 and returned her back in to the top Bantamweight 15.
Reneau is one of the more well rounded ladies in the bantamweight division, she submitted Jessica Andarde on the mat and held her own with Holly Holm on the feet. She was late to the world of mma not taking her first pro bout until she was 33 and now 38 she will have zero room for setbacks if she has championship aspirations
The Fight: Reneau is lighter on her feet and will have more weapons in her attack throwing an array of knees and kicks, where as Correia is mainly a Boxer. This one will be another close one on the cards but Reneau will do enough to pick up the win. That is assuming the judges are not swayed by Correia’s post-fight, pre-decision excessive celebrating, a tactic pioneered by Wanderlei Silva in his PRIDE days. Reneau Split Decision
-110 #3 Jussier Formiga (19-4) vs. -110 #8 Ray Borg (10-2)
Jussier Formiga: Nova Uniao BJJ black belt Jussier Formiga used his high level Jiujitsu and outstanding back taking abilities to neutralize Dustin Ortiz’s power wrestling game and pick up his fifth octagon victory last September. Formiga added Ortiz to an already impressive resume that includes wins over Wilson Reis, Zach Makovsky and Alexandre Pantoja.
The ex Shooto South America champ could easily be the man challenging Demetrious Johnson next month, but pivotal losses to Henry Cejudo and Joe Benavidez have prevented him from getting his crack at Mighty Mouse. If Formiga can get by the young upstart Borg he will be the only remaining legitimate contender for the Flyweight belt.
Ray Borg: New Mexico native “The Tazmexican Devil” Ray Borg looked like a man possessed in his one sided beating of Hawaiian Louis Smolka last December. Borg was chomping at the bit to get back in the octagon after having two bouts canceled due to injuries. However Borg’s biggest win to date was tarnished when he weighed in three and a half pounds above the 126 pound limit of Flyweight.
The top five opponent is a bit of a shocker considering Borg’s weight issue, but nonetheless he now has the opportunity to vault himself on to a short list of title challengers. Only 23 years old Borg has a bright future in the fight game regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s fight.
The Fight: Borg is a greater all around threat, however he does his best work landing ground strikes from the top. This bout will get fun once it hits the floor, Formiga will once again implement his superior grappling techniques to out point Borg in a clear cut decision. Formiga Unanimous Decision
-145 #5 Edson Barboza (18-4) vs. +125 #9 Beneil Dariush (14-2)
Edson Barboza: Muay thai phenom Edson Barboza is coming off the biggest win of his career to date, a decisive decision victory over former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez. Barboza destroyed Melendez’s legs while stuffing all of his take down attempts and actually landing a take down of his own on the dominant wrestler.
It appears that Barboza has crossed the threshold of elite fighters in his last two bouts deftly defeating former champions Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez respectively. Barboza’s improved take down defense can be greatly attributed to his long term training partner Frankie Edgar and coach Ricardo Almeida. If Barboza has learned how to wrestle, he may be unbeatable, because there is not a single fighter in his division that will get the better of him on the feet.
Beneil Dariush: Iranian born Lightweight contender Beniel Dariush scored his second consecutive octagon victory over Rashid Magomedov this past November. Dariush out struck the master of sport in hand to hand combat with hard leg kicks and outstanding footwork evading the Russian’s counter strikes.
Once considered mainly a submission threat, under the guidance of Kings MMA’s Rafael Cordeiro Dariush has evolved into one of the more proficient strikers in the lightweight division. With black belts in BJJ and Muay Thai Dariush has very few flaws in his game and at only 27 it appears that he is going to be a mainstay in the lightweight division for many years to come.
The Fight: As previously mentioned few men will willingly stand and trade with Barboza and Dariush is no exception. Dariush will have a massive advantage on the mat if he can get it there. However getting Barboza to the ground has proven to be a monumental task as of late. Barzboza will eat up Dariush’s legs and body en route to a one sided decision. Barboza Unanimous Decision
-142 #6 Shogun Rua (24-10) vs. +122 #12 Gian Villante (15-7)
Light Heavyweight (205)
Shogun Rua: PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua picked up his second consecutive win at UFC 198 when he eked out a split decision over TUF 19 winner Corey Anderson. The Anderson win evened up Shogun’s UFC record at 8-8 a mark unfitting of the MMA legend.
Shogun followed Chute Boxe head trainer Rafael Cordeiro to California’s Kings MMA where he trains with many of his same partners from the PRIDE glory days. This UFC incarnation of Shogun doesn’t strike fear in the hearts of his opponents like the PRIDE version did, but this more calculated, mature Rua is still getting it done at 35 and if he pass this stiff test a fight with the loser of May’s Gustafsson vs. Teixeira match up would make sense.
Gian Villante: Long Islander Gian Villante’s most recent octagon outing was a victory over the previously unbeaten Russian Saparbek Safarov. The fight was an all out slug fest that saw Villante getting the TKO after he unloaded multiple shots to Saparbek who was turttled up against the cage.
Villante has boulders for fists and a granite chin which enable him to exchange in punch for punch wars. However the 31 year old has legit wrestling credentials and trains with Chris Weidman everyday, if he would mix in a take down every now and then it would keep his opponents guessing and not allow them to sit down on their shots. This will be Villante’s first ranked opponent and a huge opportunity for the Serra/Longo fighter.
The Fight: Villante is the bigger stronger guy but his tendency to engage in fire fights will hurt him in this match up. If Villante implemented a varied attack on Shogun similar to what OSP did, he would have a good chance against the Brazilian legend. However he will most likely stand and trade with Shogun and get out pointed by Shogun’s superior Kickboxing technique. Shogun Unanimous Decision
+295 #9 Vitor Belfort(25-12) vs. -360 #10 Kelvin Gastelum (14-2)
Vitor Belfort: “Vitor is back!” are the three most exciting words in MMA, just when your ready to count Vitor Belfort out, he comes roaring back fueled by Jesus (and possibly something else a little more scientific, allegedly). But the prospect of hearing these glorious words uttered again seem to be getting less likely with every performance. His last two losses to Jacare and Mousasi have been hard to watch and a sad reminder of the brutal effects of father time.
It has been twenty plus years since Vitor made his professional debut and in that two decades he has done and seen it all in the MMA world and now many question whether the 39 year old future hall of famer can succeeded in a USADA monitored sport that notes every substance that enters your body. Win or lose there is a good chance Vitor will be leaving his gloves in the ring after Saturday night’s fight.
Kelvin Gastelum: It appears as though the mandated move up to Middleweight for TUF 17 winner Kelvin Gastelum is right one. In his first fight back at Middleweight he fought Army Ranger Tim Kennedy. It looked like the size was going to be a huge factor early, Kennedy was manhandling the smaller Gastelum, but as the fight progressed Kennedy gassed and Gastelum’s smaller frame proved to be a cardio asset. By the third round Kennedy was a sitting duck for Gastelum to dismantle.
Gastelum is still holding out hope that the UFC will let him drop back down to Welterweight, but if the Kennedy fight is any indication of what he is capable of at Middleweight he may have found his home. If Gastelum can get by Vitor an intriguing match up with Luke Rockhold would reveal his potential at Middleweight.
The Fight: This is an awful match up for Vitor, despite being the smaller man Gastelum can eat punches with the best of them. Not that the one punch KO is not on the table, it just seems very unlikely. Gastelum will control this fight in every position, but he lacks the fire power of a Jacare or Mousasi, which means it will take him a little bit longer to get Vitor out of there. Gastelum TKO 3rd