The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday returns to Fortaleza, Brazil, with an intriguing card stacked with prospects and borderline contenders in need of breakthrough wins. At the top of the show, hometown hero Vitor Belfort looks to regain his status as a middleweight contender by taking out Kelvin Gastelum, whose weight cutting issues forced him to the 185-pound division. Light heavyweights Mauricio Rua and Gian Villante square off in the co-main event, their respective careers headed in opposite directions. Meanwhile, lightweight show-stealers Edson Barboza and Beneil Dariush clash on the main card -- a fight which could easily vault either man into title contention.
Further down the lineup, Francisco Trinaldo and Michel Prazeres are both competing on the undercard -- not against one another, of course, for such a matchup would finally reveal that the UFC employs only one middle-aged Brazilian lightweight with the body of a slightly melted 1980s action figure, and he is forced to lead two separate lives with two separate families -- and even two separate training camps -- in order to satiate his lust for combat. As for Prazeres, this muscle-bound veteran looks to add a fourth name to his three-fight winning streak, whereas the Trinaldo character stands to make Kevin Lee his eighth victim in a row. Whatever happens, one of them should probably get a shot at the top 10 after this event.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC Fight Night 106 matchup, with analysis and picks:
MiddleweightsVitor Belfort (25-13) vs. Kelvin Gastelum (13-2)
THE MATCHUP: Belfort has been fighting since 1996. Let that sink in. Despite a truly heroic amount of time spent in the MMA trenches, Belfort is not done yet. Yes, the renaissance aided by his use of testosterone replacement therapy is gone, but much of the physicality he showed during that time is still present. In fact, it is worth considering that perhaps physical strength was not the most effective reward granted by his use of testosterone but rather confidence, aggression and a willingness to take risks. Belfort has always had a habit of wilting under pressure and fading late; maybe TRT made him look so good simply because it allowed him to set aside his trepidation. In any case, Belfort is still surprisingly fast, devastatingly powerful and more than capable of stealing a first-round win against an overconfident Gastelum.
Pressure will be paramount to Gastelum’s success in this matchup. He threw 110 significant strikes against Tim Kennedy, and that number will likely be much higher absent the threat of Kennedy’s wrestling. In fact, Gastelum’s own wrestling should come in handy, especially as Belfort begins to fade. Walking into the pocket, however, will be risky. Gastelum tends to march into the pocket with his chin high. He rarely moves his head. Per FightMetric, he defends just 63 percent of his opponent’s significant strikes. That is not a terrible number, and it is certainly better than Belfort’s 51 percent, but in this matchup, the Brazilian carries the power and the speed. Gegard Mousasi may have tuned up Belfort, but he also ate a trio of vicious left hands in the process. Can Gastelum withstand the same kind of punishment?
With that said, banking on Belfort to get a quick finish is risky at this point. It would need to be the perfect shot, and recent fights have shown that Belfort tends to wilt when those first few attempts do not result in a knockout. Even on a good night, Belfort does not typically land upwards of 20 strikes, and Gastelum will have no qualms about pouring on the volume. If Gastelum can drag Belfort to the ground, which he probably will if the fight goes longer than four or five minutes, then his aggressive scrambling game will be yet another advantage in his corner.
THE ODDS: Gastelum (-385), Belfort (+315)
THE PICK: Gastelum has been hurt before and a full-sized middleweight could hurt him badly, but we must remember that he has never been knocked out, despite fighting such killers as Tyron Woodley, Johny Hendricks and Neil Magny. In fact, Gastelum is one of the only fighters on record to have outlasted Magny and taken over in the later rounds. His stamina and will to fight are unquestionable, so unless Belfort lands the Hail Mary in the opening minutes, this is Gastelum’s fight to lose. The pick is Gastelum by second-round TKO.
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