Jailton Almeida has a tough opponent and a world of possibilities ahead of him.
First things first, Almeida has the tough task of overcoming thunder-fisted heavyweight Jairzinho Rozenstruik in Saturday’s UFC Charlotte main event. Rozenstruik presents a massive step up in competition for Almeida, who has run through his UFC opposition so far. Should Almeida do the same to Rozenstruik, the Brazilian’s UFC title dreams could become a reality sooner rather than later.
Current heavyweight champion Jon Jones is poised to have his first title defense against Stipe Miocic, but “Bones” has already mentioned the possibility of retirement once that matter is resolved. In that case, a vacant title would be up for grabs — and you can bet a streaking Almeida would be front and center for one of the challenger spots.
Or perhaps Jones sticks around to try and break the consecutive heavyweight title defenses record (it’s only three, currently held by Miocic). He’ll need to line up some warm bodies and Almeida could make the guest list. Plus, Jones would surely enjoy being the man to shut down the Almeida hype train.
And then there’s always the possibility of Jones beating Miocic and chilling on the sidelines for a while, necessitating the creation of an interim belt that Almeida could compete for, but that’s the most blah option.
The UFC is shining the spotlight brightly on Almeida and Rozenstruik, going as far as to bump a light heavyweight contenders’ bout between Anthony Smith and Johnny Walker from the main to the co-main event. Add in the fact that this card is being broadcast on ABC and it’s fair to say that this will be a turning point in Almeida’ s career, win or lose.
In other main card action, undefeated welterweight Ian Machado Garry faces a stiff test in Daniel Rodriguez, up-and-coming light heavyweights Carlos Ulberg and Ihor Potieria square off, and Alex Morono and Tim Means look to open the show with a welterweight brawl.
What: UFC Charlotte
Where: Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C.
When: Saturday, May 13. The six-fight preliminary card begins at 12 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN+, followed by a five-fight main card at 3 p.m. ET on ABC and ESPN+.
(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings)
Jairzinho Rozenstruik (13) vs. Jailton Almeida (9)
Though the stage is set for Jailton Almeida to show out here, Jairzinho Rozenstruik provides some necessary challenges to the rampaging Brazilian.
For one, Rozenstruik throws bombs in there. Of his seven UFC knockouts, three have come in under 30 seconds. If he’s able to lay his hands on you, you’re done, plain and simple. His power is on another level than Almeida’s faced so far in the UFC, with respect to Shamil Abdurakhimov, Anton Turkalj, and Parker Porter.
Almeida rarely gets hit, but remember, there’s a major difference between taking your opponents down before they can throw a punch and having actual, sustainable striking defense. If Almeida has any trouble at all taking Rozenstruik down, he’s going to have to show some standup acumen or it will be lights out for him.
Fortunately for Almeida, it’s unlikely that his defense or cardio are tested Saturday. He’s such an explosive grappler and Rozenstruik isn’t exactly the most nimble heavyweight out there, so once Almeida finds an opening to take him down, he will. Rozenstruik can survive on the ground, but just as Almeida has never faced someone with Rozenstruik’s punching power, Rozenstruik has never faced someone with the submission game of Almeida.
Rozenstruik will do his best to work out of trouble, but eventually Almeida will crank up the offense and finish with a choke or ground-and-pound. I’ll say that Almeida hands Rozenstruik his first submission loss, just for extra style points.
Anthony Smith (8) vs. Johnny Walker (11)
It’s taken a few fights, but I’m convinced now that the Johnny Walker-SBG Ireland combo is a winning one. The early returns weren’t promising as the lively WWalker looked uninspired in losses to Thiago Santos and Jamahal Hill, but first-round finishes of Paul Craig and Ion Cutelaba indicate that the squad is figuring things out. It could just be Walker’s natural talent shining through again, but I choose to believe that coach John Kavanagh has helped him take his game to the next level.
Will it be enough to overcome the battle-tested Anthony Smith? “Lionheart” is a superbly well-rounded fighter and we’ve seen Walker struggle with opponents in the past who have multiple ways of taking him out of his game. While Smith enjoys brawling, he could also frustrate Walker with a takedown-heavy approach. This is where we’ll see if Walker has truly matured or if his past inconsistency continues to plague him.
I have Walker knocking Smith out in the second round, but if you’re a fan of Smith, you should love that prediction. I’ve picked Smith to lose his past four fights and he’s 3-1 in those outings, with all three wins coming by way of first-round finish. Prove me wrong again!
Daniel Rodriguez vs. Ian Machado Garry
I love this test for Ian Machado Garry. I’m definitely surprised that he’s such a big favorite (hovering around -300 on DraftKings), but that has a lot to do with his enormous promise and Daniel Rodriguez coming off of an unsightly loss and a controversial split decision win over Li Jingliang.
Just 25 years old, Machado Garry has lived up to his considerable hype so far, showing excellent range striking, durability, and good finishing instincts. He had his chin tested in his most recent fight against Song Kenan, which should be an important lesson for him as he has a tendency to leave his chin up high. He can get away with it because of his athleticism, but it’s a mistake that veterans like Rodriguez can and will capitalize on.
The sharp timing and heavier hands of Rodriguez are why I’m leaning in his direction in this matchup. In his most recent loss, Rodriguez stepped in on short notice, which can’t have been good for him, so with a full camp expect him to be far more prepared for the elusive Garry.
It won’t be an easy fight for either man, but I have Rodriguez walking out with a close decision win on his record.
Carlos Ulberg vs. Ihor Potieria
Speaking of favorites, Carlos Ulberg is one of the biggest on this card, clocking in at around -400 on DraftKings. After a disappointing UFC debut, the City Kickboxing product has impressed with three straight wins, including a surgical knockout of Nicolae Negumereanu. Next up, the unpredictable Ihor Potieria.
There should be plenty of fun exchanges between Ulberg and Potieria, with Ulberg working to control the distance and Potieria maneuvering to goad Ulberg into making a mistake. I’m curious if Potieria will be willing to eat some shots to close the distance or if he’ll try to beat Ulberg at his own game. Up close, Potieria can open up options for himself, including testing the grappling of the strong but untested Ulberg.
I sense another upset here with Potieria taking Ulberg down and cracking open his defenses with ground strikes to set up a fight-ending submission.
Tim Means vs. Alex Morono
On the UFC Charlotte preview show, we were asked if it’s possible we might see any retirements on Saturday with several veteran names in action, including Tim Means, Matt Brown, Court McGee, Douglas Silva de Andrade, and Jessica-Rose Clark. While I don’t expect any of these fighters to hang it up just yet, Means recently turned 39 and welterweight is not a division where fighters tend to age like wine. Throwing Means in there with a younger, high-paced opponent like Morono might not go his way.
Morono can be a bully when he gets going and I’m predicting this will be an awesome opener with both guys getting their licks in before it’s all said and done. I just get the sense that Morono has more in the tank, and when it comes down to it, he’ll be the one dishing out more punishment over three rounds.
The easy part is picking this one to win Fight of the Night. The winner, not so much. But I’ll go Morono by decision.
Matt Brown def. Court McGee
Karl Williams def. Chase Sherman
Cody Stamann def. Douglas Silva de Andrade
Ji Yeon Kim def. Mandy Bohm
Gabe Green def. Bryan Battle
Tainara Lisboa def. Jessica-Rose Clark