We made it.
UFC Sao Paulo marks the end of 12 consecutive weekends with a UFC event. Pat yourselves on the back, everyone, and look fondly upon the friends we made along the way. Or don’t and just get ready for one more evening of face-punching in the Octagon before the promotion heads to D.C. in a few weeks.
One major storyline that was addressed (if not necessarily advanced) during this three-month stretch was the search for Jon Jones’s next challenger. The light heavyweight contenders mix saw some serious shuffling, with Corey Anderson, Dominick Reyes, and previous title challenger Glover Teixeira making cases for themselves, while Johnny Walker’s hype train was temporarily derailed and former middleweight champion Chris Weidman’s hopes were snuffed out before they even had a chance to flicker.
In Saturday’s main event, Jan Blachowicz gets his chance to establish himself as the No. 1 contender at 205 pounds—a designation for which he’s already been considered—if he can score a decisive win over longtime middleweight contender Ronaldo Souza. Blachowicz has already made short work of one 185-pound star, taking out Luke Rockhold in emphatic fashion this past July.
This will be the light heavyweight debut of “Jacare” and if he can avoid the same fate as Rockhold, he has the resume and name value to use a win over Blachowicz to leap frog his way to the front of the division. Don’t be surprised if Jones jumps at the chance to add the legendary Brazilian fighter to his resume, if only to snub Anderson.
In other main card action, light heavyweight legend Mauricio “Shogun” Rua looks to build on his recent 4-1 stretch when he takes on comeback king Paul Craig, lightweight Charles Oliveira goes for his sixth straight finish against Jared Gordon, middleweight Contender Series signees Antonio Arroyo and Andre Muniz face off, and Markus Perez fights Wellington Turman in a middleweight bout.
What: UFC Sao Paulo
Where: Ibirapuera Gymnasium in Sao Paulo, Brazil
When: Saturday, Nov. 16. The entire card will air on ESPN+, with the seven-fight preliminary card beginning at 5 p.m. ET and the five-fight main card starting at 8 p.m. ET.
It’s time to start putting some respect on Jan Blachowicz’s name.
Believe it or not, some foolish pundits actually thought that Luke Rockhold was too skilled for the Polish veteran, despite the fact that Blachowicz had more than proven he was a legitimate contender with impressive performances against Nikita Krylov, Jimi Manuwa, and Jared Cannonier. Blachowicz’s grappling credentials are no secret, but his newfound propensity for fun brawls been a real treat. This is the kind of matchup where you hope neither man can score a takedown because Ronaldo Souza has also been in some enjoyable standup wars in recent years.
Should this go to the ground, Souza is expected to have the advantage given that he’s among the best to implement his jiu-jitsu in the UFC, matched only by names like Demian Maia and Fabricio Werdum. However, Blachowicz’s black belt is no joke and it’s possible he makes judicious use of takedowns to put “Jacare” on his back and score points with ground-and-pound. He probably doesn’t want to mess with Souza’s guard though.
Size matters too and I like Blachowicz to take advantage of his reach to outwork the occasionally wild Jacare. It won’t be easy and I don’t think Blachowicz has the pop to put down the hard-headed Souza, but he’ll get the win on the scorecards.
The key to Paul Craig’s last-second heroics lies in him making it to the closing minutes of a fight in the first place. That’s going to be an issue against Mauricio Rua.
As far removed as “Shogun” from his prime berserker days, he’s still one of the best strikers in the light heavyweight division and he’s going to hit Craig early and often. It’s a lot to ask of “Bearjew” to weather that storm and he’s not exactly known for his crisp counter-striking either. There are certainly questions to be asked of Rua’s aged, battle-worn chin, of course, so if Craig comes in with a gameplan of throwing caution to the wind in the standup it might actually work for him as crazy as that sounds.
Could Shogun fall victim to one of Craig’s trademark miracle submissions? You can’t rule anything out when it comes to the savvy Scotsman. I just don’t like his chances of avoiding a Rua finishing flurry at some point in the first two rounds.
Shogun by KO.
Every finish Charles Oliveira racks up seems to move him further and further from the top of the rankings somehow. With respect to Jared Gordon, Oliveira should be facing a top-10 opponent now and that’s a fact. One has to wonder if Oliveira’s past reluctance to commit to 155 pounds has affected the matchmakers willingness to book him against a contender or perhaps he’s just the odd man out in the UFC’s most stacked division.
Whatever the reason is for his arrested development, he can’t look past Gordon. The New Yorker is resilient and has never been submitted. He’s sharp in the clinch and he’ll punish “Do Bronx” with punches in close if the taller Brazilian is undisciplined with his takedowns and trips. Oliveira is one of the biggest favorites on Saturday’s card, which gives this matchup a “trap game” feel.
Oliveira’s submission game is just so overwhelming and though Gordon has never tapped out, there’s a first time for everything. Once the longer, lankier Oliveira takes this fight to the mat, it will spell doom for Gordon.
For anyone who missed Antonio Arroyo’s two appearances on the Contender Series, he’s going to quickly endear himself to fans with his free-flowing striking style and nose for the finish. He thrives on confidence, so it will be up to Andre Muniz to take the wind out of his sails early.
Muniz, also a two-time Contender Series contestant, is an incredible threat off of his back, so Arroyo will have to think twice about following Muniz to the mat even if he scores a knockdown early. Arroyo will also want to be careful with his kicking game as all it will take is for Muniz to catch a leg once to drag Arroyo into calamity. It’s imperative that Arroyo scramble at the slightest sign of trouble to keep this one on the feet.
This outcome will likely come down to who can implement their style first: Arroyo’s unorthodox movement and striking vs. Muniz’s deadly guard and quicksand ground game. I’ve provided a strong case for how difficult it will be to deal with Muniz’s grappling superiority, so in classic AK Lee fashion, I’m picking Arroyo.
Markus Perez entered the UFC with the reputation of being a strong grappler with enough striking to compliment his ground game. In his last outing against Anthony Hernandez, he showed he could do some serious damage on the feet, which only gives him more options to set up his submissions.
There’s nothing fancy about Wellington Turman’s approach. He has a chin that would make Aaron Judge jealous and it’s as hard as it looks. He likes to come forward and swing, so this will be a major test of his takedown defense. If he tries to walk Perez down, then “Maluko” is going to get low, shoot in, and look to put Turman on his butt. Turman could surprise with his own submission skills, but the edge should go to Perez in the jiu-jitsu department.
Perez should be the choice here given that he has more UFC experience than Turman, but Turman has enormous upside and I’m picking him to get the upset here.
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