The UFC returns to Sao Paulo, Brazil on Saturday night once the festivities in Belfast end with a card headlined by Ryan Bader and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and featuring well known Brazilian fighters such as Claudia Gadelha, Thomas Almeida and Thales Leites. Let’s get straight into the action.
The main event between Bader and Nogueira is a rematch after Bader won a decision way back in 2010 at UFC 119 but a lot has changed since then for both men with many ups and downs along the way. Bader put together the best run of his career and looked to be on the verge of a title shot before being knocked out by Rumble Johnson at the beginning of the year. He got back on track with a victory over Ilir Latifi and at 33 now is the perfect time for him to make another run if he can get past Nogueira.
Nogueira has also suffered a brutal loss to Rumble Johnson, and many people thought that would be the end for him at the highest level. After that he was competitive with Shogun Rua but eventually lost a decision but he scored a huge victory at UFC 198 in Curitiba, Brazil by stopping Patrick Cummins late in the first round to let people know that he wasn’t finished just yet.
Bader is an exceptional wrestler, which he proved in his victories over Phil Davis and Rashad Evans and that will be his main advantage in this fight. Bader has steadily improved his striking throughout his career, he will never be confused for a kickboxing champion, but it is serviceable.Bader has been incorporating the jab into his game recently which sets up his powerful right hand and the latest development in his game has been kicks and he has been slamming the left leg into his opponents with authority in his last couple of fights. Bader is one of the fighters in MMA who is constantly making small incremental improvements in his game, even as he entered his 30s.
Lil Nog is the better boxer of the Nogueira brothers with two Brazilian championships to his name and even though he is now 40 years old his technique is still sharp. There isn’t anything fancy about how he goes about his business, staying behind his jab and preferring to throw his power left hand down the middle. While his speed is diminished, and he has never been an especially powerful puncher, his timing is brilliant. Nogueira is a good grappler, even if he may not have quite the same level of jiu-jitsu as his brother. Look for Nogueira to try and work in the clinch in this fight if Bader initiates grappling exchanges. He will create just enough space to fire in knees and look for punches on the break.
While Bader has added the tools to his game over the last couple of years so he can compete on the feet with Nogueira he will surely look to take this fight to the ground where he has a clear advantage. Nogueira has good takedown defence but it is not impenetrable. To get a takedown Bader will first have to close the distance on Nogueira without eating punches which could be tricky against a savvy veteran such as Nogueira but once he manages to get him to the ground it is hard to see Bader giving up top control easily. Another factor to consider is that Nogueira has aged more of the two while Bader has improved, it is his fight to lose.
In the co-main event Thomas Almeida will look to bounce back from the first defeat of his career when he takes on Albert Morales. Almeida compiled an incredible 20-0 record with 19 finishes to begin his career and he looked to be on his way to a shot at the title before being knocked out in the first round by Cody Garbrandt. Almeida is a Muay Thai stylist who pressures his opponents with a huge volume of strikes, and not only that but with a huge variety of strikes. Punches, knees, kicks and elbows, you name it he has it in his arsenal. The defensive frailties of his game, which were first exposed by Brad Pickett, were really driven home by his defeat to Garbrandt, especially his tendency to start slow. You can never be sure how a prospect will take their first loss, especially their first knockout loss so it will be interesting to see whether it has adversely affected the young Brazilian or if he has learned from it and made improvements.
His opponent Morales comes into the bout with an undefeated record of six wins and one draw. He began his career with a couple of bouts on Bellator preliminary cards and also competed for WSOF and RFA before getting an opportunity in the UFC. He impressed in his debut which was a draw with Alejandro Perez. While there are some similarities between his game and Garbrandt’s in that they are aggressive power punchers Morales is of course far less polished at this point his his career. He might give Almeida a little scare, but Almeida must be considered the heavy favourite.
Finally we will look at Claudia Gadelha against Cortney Casey. Gadelha is looking to bounce back from her unsuccessful title challenge, she won two rounds against Joanna Jedrzejczyk before the gruelling pace took its toll and she faded considerably. She is an excellent grappler with a crushing top game and she showed in the Jessica Aguilar fight that her striking has come a long way.
Casey showed huge promise in her UFC debut against Joanne Calderwood even though she was defeated and after another setback at the hands of Seo Hee Ham she turned things around and is now on a two fight winning streak. Her last contest against Randa Markos showed a huge improvement in her game and made people really take notice that she could be a threat in this division in the near future, unfortunately it feels like this fight is coming a little too soon in her development.
Ryan Bader vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira – Bader. He will use kicks and takedowns to wear down Lil Nog before a late finish
Thomas Almeida vs. Albert Morales – Almeida. May have an early score but will pour on the volume as the fight progresses.
Claudia Gadelha vs. Cortney Casey – Gadelha DEC
Thales Leites vs. Krzysztof Jotko – Jotko. He can frustrate Leites and upset the Brazilian crowd.
Warlley Alves vs. Kamaru Usman – Usman. Alves is always dangerous early, but I expect Usman to grind him out.
Sergio Moraes vs. Zak Ottow – Ottow
Cezar Ferreira vs. Jack Hermansson – Hermansson
Gadzhimurad Antigulov vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima – Lima
Johnny Eduardo vs. Manny Gamburyan – Eduardo
Christian Colombo vs. Luis Henrique – Henrique
Pedro Munhoz vs. Justin Scoggins – Scoggins
Francimar Barroso vs. Darren Stewart – Barroso
Jotko on points 3/1
Early Prelims: 11pm – Fight Pass
Prelims: Midnight – BT Sport
Main Card: 2am – BT Sport