The catchy named Centro de Formação Olímpica do Nordeste in Fortaleza, Brazil plays host to the biggest mixed martial arts events of the weekend as UFC fight night 106 rolls into town.
Unlike many similar cards this one is actually quietly impressive and hosts a couple of very interesting fights to whet the appetite of any MMA fan.
The main event is the obvious focal point though as local favourite Vitor Belfort takes on surging American Kelvin Gastelum over five rounds in the middleweight division.
A former UFC light-heavyweight champion, Belfort is now in the twilight of what was undoubtedly a hall of fame career. “The Phenom” debuted in 2006 and just months later won the heavyweight tournament at UFC 12 with two first round knockout wins.
Although Belfort started in the wild west early days of MMA, he became comparable with today’s athletes as he moved with the times around the turn of the millennium with both PRIDE and the UFC.
In 2004 he controversially won the 205 lbs UFC title but lost it immediately to the man he had defeated, Randy Couture. Fights with the likes of Tito Ortiz, Alistair Overeem and Dan Henderson followed that before Belfort moved to middleweight. A loss to Anderson Silva scuppered his plans to become champion there but, thanks in some part to the legal use of testosterone replacement therapy, he still remained around the top of the division.
A quick sojourn back to light-heavyweight saw him almost armbar Jon Jones in a fight which he ended up losing badly. Following that, though, was one of the most hellacious runs in UFC history as Belfort head-kick-knocked-out Luke Rockhold, Michael Bisping and Dan Henderson in the space of eleven months.
Unfortunately for Belfort, TRT was deemed illegal after that and he has looked a showed of himself since. A loss to Chris Weidman for the middleweight title came in quick fashion before Vitor defeated Henderson via head kick once again. Although that return to winning ways was short lived as Belfort lost to Ronaldo Souza and Gegard Mousasi in 2016.
His opponent on Saturday night, Kelvin Gastelum, is in a much earlier stage of his career but has nonetheless impressed for the most part. Hailing from Yuma, Arizona Gastelum made his way into MMA following a successful amateur wrestling career.
Following a 2010 debut, Gastelum earned himself a 5-0 record in the space of 18 months without bothering the judges along the way. That run earned him a spot on Team Sonnen in a middleweight season of “The Ultimate Fighter” where he impressed hugely and eventually won the show with a underdog victory over dangerous striker Uriah Hall.
Gastelum immediately dropped to welterweight due to his smaller stature after that and initially he was very successful with four wins in a row. Unfortunately, weight issues dogged the next part of his career as he missed 170 lbs multiple times and was eventually forced up to 185 lbs by UFC president Dana White.
Along with that Gastelum lost fights against Neil Magny and Tyron Woodley but looked like a new man in his last fight against Tim Kennedy when fighting at middleweight.
With all Vitor Belfort fights this one is almost certain to be decided in the first two rounds.
Over his whole career, Vitor has been known to go for broke early; with plenty of success. As a southpaw he is an awkward, intelligent and patient hitter who strikes like a python when given half an inch. He likes to fight outside of his opponent’s range before entering with bad intentions. Belfort will leap in with vicious head kicks, counter any move his opponent makes forward and chase him down with quick, powerful combinations. All of which can finish the fight in a blink of an eye.
Gastelum on the other hand, is less explosive and more methodical. Also a southpaw, Gastelum has a fantastic jab and will follow it with his stinging left hand. That usually comes as he walks his opponent down and forces them against the fence. Like so few fighters, that ability to cut of the cage is something Gastelum has mastered and which is a precursor to all of his victories. Along with his hands Gastelum throws great kicks, has really good defence and can wrestler extremely well against the fence, while his body work is second to none in the division.
That, for me, could be a key factor in this one. If Gastelum can avoid the big early onslaught of Belfort, that ability to attack the body will drain the oft questioned gas tank of the Brazilian.
Pressuring Belfort and getting inside is a huge plus point also for Gastelum too but can also be very risky against a man who can lay you out at a moment’s notice. And that basically is the crux of the argument here. Avoid the knockout early, get inside and win. Sounds pretty easy. And in all honest it probably should be for Gastelum against a badly faded Belfort.
Also on the card are interesting fights like Francisco Trinaldo vs. Kevin Lee, Shogun Rua vs. Gian Villante and Jussier Formiga vs. Ray Borg but the pick of the lot – main event included – is the lightweight match-up between Edson Barboza and Beneil Dariush.
In that one, the rapid, monstrous, muay-Thai hitting of Barboza goes up against the slick, powerful striking and reptilian grappling of Dariush. On the ground Barboza will be hard to finish but Dariush will have the advantage, while standing up it’s anyone’s guess with two exciting, attacking knock out artists going head-to-head.
Over their last few fights both men have showed big improvements but Dariush is at a much earlier stage of his career and should be even further along in his progression here. So much of this will be down to who is quicker to win the exchanges and whether Dariush can get Barboza to the floor with his trips and wrestling. I think we’ll be looking at a close decision here with Dariush just nicking it.
Vitor Belfort vs. Kelvin Gastelum – Gastelum gets the finish early
Maurício Rua vs. Gian Villante – Shogun gets the KO
Edson Barboza vs. Beneil Dariush – Dariush
Jussier Formiga vs. Ray Borg – Borg via grappling
Bethe Correia vs. Marion Reneau – Reneau
Alex Oliveira vs. Tim Means – Means
Francisco Trinaldo vs. Kevin Lee – Lee
Sérgio Moraes vs. Davi Ramos – Moraes
Rani Yahya vs. Joe Soto – Soto
Michel Prazeres vs. Josh Burkman – Prazeres
Rony Jason vs. Jeremy Kennedy – Jason
Garreth McLellan vs. Paulo Henrique Costa – Costa
I’m going for a 5/1 American accumulator of Gastelum, Borg, Lee and Means
Early Prelims – 12am on Fight Pass
Prelims – 1am on Fight Pass and BT Sport
Main Card – 3am on BT Sport