Gabriel Gonzaga (left), once a star on the rise, returns at UFC 142. | Photo: Sherdog.com
When Gabriel Gonzaga leveled Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic with a head kick in April 2007, it felt as if a star had been born. Reality has a way of tempering expectations.
Gonzaga fought Randy Couture for the UFC heavyweight championship four months later, absorbed a savage beating from a hall of famer and never reached the heights some had forecasted for him. Consecutive defeats to current heavyweight king Junior dos Santos and “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 10 finalist Brendan Schaub resulted in his release in October 2010. Gonzaga spent a year away from the sport, weighing his options and pondering potential retirement. At 31, he was a man without direction.
Fast forward to 2012, and Gonzaga has landed a spot at a UFC event in his homeland. An injury replacement for Rob Broughton, the 6-foot-2 Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt will lock horns with the undefeated Edinaldo Oliveira at UFC 142 “Aldo vs. Mendes” on Saturday at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Gonzaga’s Octagon return is but on reason to tune into the prelims, the bulk of which will air on the FX network at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT. Here are four more.
On June 6, Sam Stout knocked out Yves Edwards at UFC 131, with head trainer and brother-in-law Shawn Tompkins in his corner. A little more than two months later, he was attending Tompkins’ funeral, the respected MMA coach having died in his sleep at age 37.
Stout will enter the cage for the first time since his mentor’s death, when he squares off with talented but enigmatic Brazilian Thiago Tavares. One of the lightweight division’s more accomplished and polished kickboxers, Stout has shown improved takedown defense and even more refined striking in recent outings. The 27-year-old has rattled off four wins in five fights, including a one-sided unanimous decision over “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 5 semifinalist Joe Lauzon.
Tavares will be no easy out. A three-time “Fight of the Night” award winner -- all of them, interestingly enough, in defeat -- the 27-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt looked to be in prime form in August, when he dispatched Spencer Fisher on second-round punches at UFC 134. However, Tavares has not posted consecutive wins in more than four years.
Real Deal, Real Test
Yuri Alcantara has won 12 fights in a row. Among the fighters on the UFC 142 roster, only headliner and featherweight champion Jose Aldo (13) has a longer streak.
Alcantara made his promotional debut at UFC 134 in August, but his victory over fellow Octagon rookie Felipe Arantes did not reveal much about his potential in a top-heavy division that could use another legitimate contender or two. His gaudy record, high finishing rate and victories over Ricardo Lamas and Francisco Drinalda provide plenty of intrigue. Alcantara needs a test from a durable veteran, and he figures to get one here.
Michihiro Omigawa will oppose the Brazilian. The 2009 Sengoku Raiden Championship featherweight grand prix finalist has not been finished since he opened his professional MMA career with consecutive knockout losses to Aaron Riley and Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante in 2005; a judo black belt under 1992 Olympic gold medalist Hidehiko Yoshida, Omigawa has never been submitted in 24 career fights. The 36-year-old will be a
handful for Alcantara.
Before he ran into the Canadian buzz saw that is Rory MacDonald, Mike Pyle was on quite a tear.
The 36-year-old Xtreme Couture Mixed Martial Arts product emerged in the welterweight division with wins over the previously undefeated John Hathaway and former middleweight King of Pancrase Ricardo Almeida. The latter subsequently retired from MMA competition. That momentum ended in a second-round technical knockout loss to McDonald at UFC 133. The man they call “Quicksand” has vanquished a number of well-known foes during his 12 years in the sport, most notably Jon Fitch and Dan Hornbuckle.
Pyle got what some viewed as a break when his original opponent, the tough and cagy Paulo Thiago, withdrew from the event with an injury. In his place stepped Ricardo Funch. The 31-year-old Brazilian came up short in his first tour in the UFC, as he dropped a unanimous decision to Johny Hendricks and submitted to a guillotine choke from Claude Patrick. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Marco Alvan, Funch righted himself with a unanimous verdict over Bellator Fighting Championships veteran Ryan Quinn last month. Now, opportunity knocks for a second time.
Antonio Carvalho carved out a nice career in Japan, with wins over the world-ranked Hatsu Hioki, Shooto icon Rumina Sato and former Shooto lightweight champion Takeshi Inoue.
After nearly a decade of toiling on the regional and Japanese MMA circuits, Carvalho finally gets his crack at UFC acclaim. A black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Shotokan karate, the 32-year-old Canadian featherweight will put his three-fight winning streak on the line when he battles Arantes, a dangerous muay Thai practitioner eager to pick up his first UFC victory and secure his spot within the promotion. Carvalho last fought in June, when he defeated UFC veteran Douglas Evans under the Score Fighting Series banner. It was his first appearance in nearly a year.