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Thiago Santos faces off with Eryk Anders ahead of their light heavyweight main event bout on Saturday in Sao Paulo
Guilherme Cruz, MMA Fighting

It’s hard to argue with the notion that UFC Sao Paulo is cursed.

No less than seven bouts on the card — including two variations of the main event — were altered by withdrawals. Originally, light heavyweight contenders Glover Teixeira and Jimi Manuwa were originally scheduled to headline Saturday’s card. That was changed to Manuwa vs. Thiago Santos after Teixeira withdrew due to a shoulder injury, and then changed again to Santos vs. Eryk Anders just six days ago.

This is the second time that Anders will be closing a show in Brazil and he’ll be looking for a better outcome than the split decision loss he took against Lyoto Machida in February. Santos, meanwhile, makes his debut at 205 pounds after establishing himself as feared middleweight knockout artist.

In the co-main event, Alex Oliveira also saw an opponent change after Neil Magny was rescheduled for a show in Argentina. “Cowboy” will instead face Carlo Pedersoli Jr., a Rome-based fighter who has won his last eight fights including his UFC debut this past May.

The rest of the main card sees three other fighters defending home court. Veteran Brazilian light heavyweight Antonio Rogerio Nogueira takes on Sam Alvey, former UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao fights Octagon newcomer Andre Ewell, and undefeated Brazilian strawweight Marina Rodriguez makes her UFC debut against Randa Markos.

What: UFC Sao Paulo

Where: Ginasio do Ibirapuera in Sao Paulo, Brazil

When: Saturday, Sept. 22. The five-fight UFC Fight Pass preliminary card begins at 6:30 p.m. ET, the four-fight FOX Sports 2 preliminary card begins at 8:30 p.m. ET, and the five-fight FOX Sports 1 main card begins at 10:30 p.m. ET.

Thiago Santos vs. Eryk Anders

Don’t read too much into Eryk Anders having less than a week to properly prepare for Thiago Santos. While it will certainly be a factor, it’s not as if there’s any secret to the game plan of “Marreta”: he’s going in there to take Anders’s head off and he has a lot of ways to do it.

Santos is a classic Muay Thai kickboxer with power in both hands, feet, elbows, and knees. He’ll throw a spinning technique at the drop of a hat, typically with frightening accuracy. And he’s just as likely to drive his heel into his opponent’s mid-section as he is to go headhunting.

All of that puts a lot of pressure on Anders to keep moving, which happens to be one of his strengths. The question is whether he can muster up his own offense while avoiding Santos’s, something he struggled to do in a recent low-volume loss to Lyoto Machida. Anders also boasts a legitimate jiu-jitsu game, something he hasn’t had to use much in the UFC.

If this one stays on the feet, the advantage has to go to Santos, who just has a greater striking vocabulary. At 205 pounds, he should have more energy to avoid getting taken down in scrambles or work to get back to his feet should Anders force him to grapple. This could be a highlight-reel light heavyweight debut for “Marreta”.

Pick: Santos

Alex Oliveira vs. Carlo Pedersoli Jr.

Carlo Pedersoli Jr. is ready for his close-up, but he might not like how this co-main event spot ends.

The grandson of Italian movie star Bud Spencer, Pedersoli is facing a huge step-up in competition in just his second UFC fight. Alex Oliveira comes to finish fights and in front of his home crowd, he’s going to be particularly fired up. A first-round finish is a strong possibility if “Cowboy” comes out guns blazing.

As tough and as versatile as Pedersoli is, the biggest weakness he’s shown in his last few fights is his defense. He has no issue standing and banging with his opponents and is comfortable fighting off of his back, but neither of these situations are optimal when facing the dangerous Oliveira. With respect to Brad Scott and Nicolas Dalby, they can’t match the all-out aggression of Oliveira (few welterweights can) when he smells blood.

Even if Oliveira can’t hand Pedersoli his first loss by knockout or submission, he’s likely to do enough damage to win over the judges in a slugfest.

Pick: Oliveira

Sam Alvey vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira

This could be a rough one.

Sam Alvey and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira aren’t exactly known for their high-octane performances so Saturday’s meeting has all the makings of a methodical battle between two fighters with a combined 74 bouts between them. That’s not to take away from their accomplishments or their technical acumen, but if this one goes the distance it’s not likely to be a barnburner.

The good news is that both veterans have avenues to a finish, with Alvey relying on his heavy left and Nogueira having a little more versatility with an almost 50-50 split in his 13 wins by knockout or submission. However, “Minotouru” hasn’t submitted anyone in over nine years, so if he gets a dominant position on the mat, look for him to emphasize control and ground-and-pound as opposed to searching for a hold.

It’s difficult to imagine either man taking any big risks, so Alvey’s knack for squeaking out decisions should get him the nod here.

Pick: Alvey

Renan Barao vs. Andre Ewell

Renan Barao’s championship days feel like they were a decade ago at this point and he badly missed weight on Friday, raising questions as to how motivated he is heading into the 42nd fight of his career.

Then again, heavy fighters have had a solid success rate in the past couple of years, so Barao’s failure at the scale may not be to his detriment. What will be an obstacle is the unorthodox striking of Andre Ewell. Fighting in the UFC for the first time, Ewell will be looking to impress and his hands-down, perpetual-movement style is going to be a headache for the shorter Barao.

Ewell’s speed one of his greatest attributes and while Barao has never been a slouch in that department, he has clearly lost a step ever since his first loss to T.J. Dillashaw and he won’t be able to keep up with Ewell’s pace on Saturday. Dillashaw is the only man to put Barao away inside the distance, but don’t be surprised if Ewell matches that feat with a well-timed series of strikes.

Pick: Ewell

Randa Markos vs. Marina Rodriguez

Randa Markos is a grinder of the first order, which makes her well suited to take on relatively unknown properties like Marina Rodriguez. Worst comes to worst, Markos always has the option of closing the distance, clinching up, and bullying Rodriguez against the fence or tripping her to the canvas.

That’s going to be a huge problem for Rodriguez, an Octagon newcomer who will want to keep this fight as close to her Muay Thai roots as possible. The 31-year-old is blessed with a wiry body and long limbs, which gives her the advantage from distance on the feet and at least makes her somewhat of a submission threat should she end up on her back. She also has a mean Thai clinch, so Markos has to be careful unless the Canadian wants to be kneed into oblivion.

Rodriguez could end up on her back early and often once Markos figures out how to close the distance. It feels like this is too tough of a style matchup for the debutante and is destined to end in a decision win for Markos or a TKO via ground-and-pound.

Pick: Markos


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