Raphael Assuncao will carry a three-fight winning streak into the cage. | Photo: Sherdog.com
The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to Brazil for the second time in three weeks on Saturday, when UFC on Fuel TV 10 goes down from Paulo Sarasate Gymnasium in Fortaleza, Ceara.
Topping the festivities will be a rematch of Brazilian heavyweights, as Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira locks horns with Fabricio Werdum. The show’s Fuel TV-broadcast main draw will also see Thiago Silva do battle with ex-Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Rafael Cavalcante, while Erick Silva squares off with Jason High at 170 pounds.
Prior to the main card telecast, the preliminary offering streams live on Facebook and YouTube. Here are five reasons to fire up your Internet and scope those fights:
Sherdog Fantasy MMA: UFC on Fuel TV 10 Free Fan Pick’Em
The bantamweight division is so much fun right now it ought to be illegal.
While I believe there is a clear gap in talent between the division’s top four fighters and the rest of the UFC field, I think that the bottom half of the top 10 is truly up for grabs. Raphael Assuncao may be ranked seventh in the world while Vaughan Lee is not even on the radar, but do not let such a gap fool you into thinking this fight will be a blowout. On the contrary, do not be surprised if this turns into a seriously fun and competitive match.
In my book, this could be a dangerous fight for Assuncao, who is riding high on a three-fight winning streak capped by a December decision victory over Mike Easton. Though Lee holds just a 2-2 UFC record, do not hold that against him. His defeat to Chris Cariaso was a narrow one, and he was simply dominated by a superior athlete in T.J. Dillashaw -- a problem I do not think Assuncao can create for him.
Can the native Brazilian navigate this test? If he can, I think a fight with a top contender could be in his future.
There is a lot to like about Antonio Braga Neto as the submission ace makes his UFC debut, even if he has not competed in 15 months.
At the top of that list obviously lies his submission skill. The two-time world jiu-jitsu champion should be able to dominate most of the UFC middleweight division on the mat, save the likes of Ronaldo Souza and Roger Gracie. His size is another serious factor. At 6-foot-3, the Brazilian began his MMA career as a heavyweight and has gradually whittled himself down to 185 pounds, a fact that should pay dividends when he finds himself grabbing middleweights instead of some of the monsters who fight at 205.
Finally, I think his toughness and grit set him apart from many elite ground specialists. Current Bellator MMA talent Jose Maiquel Falcao Goncalves absolutely beat the stuffing out of Neto for most of their 2011 clash and even swept the jiu-jitsu ace twice as Neto looked to pass guard. Despite having his head used as target practice, Neto nevertheless persevered, scoring a trip and finishing his foe from side control in round two.
The Brazilian’s slick finish of Brock Larson last year should serve as a warning to anyone who would dare play in his guard, including Anthony Smith, who was last seen tapping out to a Gracie arm-triangle choke on Jan. 12. Can Braga replicate those results and take step forward in his Octagon debut?
There is nothing like a battle of athletic prospects, and Derek Brunson and Ronny Markes are both brimming with potential.
Brunson has plenty of tools at his disposal, the greatest of which is likely his wrestling ability when he chooses to use it effectively. Less encouraging are his cardio troubles, which have affected his performances more than once, as they did in his most recent outing against Chris Leben in December.
In Markes, he faces a once-beaten Brazilian who has not lost since 2010. The 25-year-old has earned three UFC victories and, like Brunson, brings a great deal of athleticism to the table. I would give Markes the edge in the standup, however, especially in the power-punching category.
If Markes can get past Brunson, it should not be long before he starts receiving some higher-profile bookings. Can he get the job done or will Brunson steal his thunder and make his own run toward the top half of the division?
Ildemar Alcantara and Leandro Silva are likely flying under the radar for most fans, but I think that could change soon.
Much like his brother Iuri Alcantara, “Marajo” has pared down his frame in an effort to maximize his effectiveness. The Brazilian debuted in the UFC in January, taking a short-notice opportunity against light heavyweight Wagner Prado that netted him “Submission of the Night” honors and his eighth straight win.
Now cutting down to 170 pounds for the first time, Alcantara will square off with unbeaten countryman Silva, who most recently took a split decision from UFC and International Fight League vet Chris Wilson on March 9. Whereas Alcantara has used strikes to dispose of most of his opponents, “Buscape” has strangled seven of his 11 career victims. Which Brazilian will seize the opportunity in this battle of finishers?
Mizuto Hirota is a samurai. If you beat him, fine, but it is not going to be easy.
As much as anyone in the UFC, Hirota is willing to go out on his shield. I probably do not need to remind you that the Japanese talent allowed Shinya Aoki to snap his arm with a hammerlock rather than admit defeat, even if all hope was lost. I also should not have to jog your memory too hard to recall his hard-fought losses to Pat Healy and Rani Yahya, both of which could have gone Hirota’s way under slightly different circumstances.
Rodrigo Damm will look to hand Hirota his third straight setback while avoiding his fourth defeat in five fights. Neither of these featherweights is known for his expertise in moderation, and I foresee a seriously entertaining battle that is certainly worth watching, especially considering that either man could receive a pink slip in the event of another loss.