Few cards in recent memory have been hit as hard as this one. When the Ultimate Fighting Championship pulled Neil Magny from his co-main event slot against Alex Oliveira in favor of a headlining bout in Buenos Aires, this was a deep enough card to take that blow, but within a week, Tonya Evinger-Ketlen Vieira and Antonio Carlos Jr.-Elias Theodorou both fell through due to injury; and the main event had to be shuffled, not once but twice; the initial offering between Jimi Manuwa and Glover Teixeira was an uninspiring veteran bout that improved once Thiago Santos replaced Teixeira, but Manuwa got injured during fight week, leaving Santos to face Eryk Anders in an ersatz headliner on Saturday at Geraldo Jose de Almeida Gymnasium in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Thankfully, the UFC threw together a bunch of fun fights that, if nothing else, make a lot of this card entertaining on paper. However, as far as relevancy goes, this is another one where you may have to look elsewhere. Let us get to the breakdown of UFC Fight Night 137:
Light HeavyweightsThiago Santos (18-6) vs. Eryk Anders (11-1)
ODDS: Santos (-150), Anders (+130)
Since Anthony Smith has gone on his run up the light heavyweight ranks, the obvious question was when Santos would also see fit to move up to 205. After all, Smith’s last fight at middleweight was a knockout loss to Santos, and given Smith’s success as a younger, quicker knockout artist in an aging light heavyweight division, Santos seemed like an obvious candidate to follow the same path. After two subsequent fights at 185, Santos finally decided to move up in weight here, stepping in as a late replacement for Glover Teixeira. Santos’s game isn’t particularly complex, mostly based around the fact that he kicks really, really hard, but he’s enough of an athletic monster that he’s managed to reel off two separate four-fight win streaks in the UFC. However, Santos always seems to be walking a tightrope; his losses show that he can be caught and knocked out in quick and brutal fashion, even if, like Smith, there’s a good chance he can knock out a lot of light heavyweights before they can finish him first.
Santos was initially slated to face Jimi Manuwa in an excellent opportunity to make the Brazilian a light heavyweight contender, but with Manuwa injured, Santos instead draws a younger athlete in Anders. The UFC obviously -- and rightfully -- sees Anders as a potential star, given that this marks his second main event slot in five UFC fights, but as is the promotion’s wont, they might be rushing him. Anders is a clear talent, as he’s a former star linebacker at the University of Alabama who’s also shown a natural feel for fighting, but he’s young enough in his career this his toolbox still isn’t all that deep. In his pre-UFC fights and in his debut against Rafael Natal, Anders was enough of a powerhouse to run over his opposition, but against more athletic and craftier fighters, the margins have gotten narrower. Anders was forced to grind out a decision win over Markus Perez, and in his win last month against Tim Williams, Anders had a bunch of trouble winning a narrow fight before putting Williams away with a soccer kick. The tools are there, and Anders is a prospect worth giving the exposure, but it still feels a way away from the payoff where Anders’ game clicks and he becomes a top-tier middleweight.
This is a fine fight in a vacuum, even if it’s a stretch as a main-event, given that a win doesn’t do a huge amount to move either guy forward. If nothing else, this fight should tell us a lot about Anders’ durability, which seems like it’s the crux of this fight; Anders is often patient to a fault and at his best wading in to try and outmuscle his opponents, which should give Santos opportunities to crack him. If Anders can take those shots, he can probably take advantage of Santos’ questionable defensive grappling and earn the victory, and if he can’t, well, it’ll probably be a quick night. It’s a raw deal for Santos to face an athletic prospect rather than the shopworn veterans that light heavyweight is known for, but I still like him to get things done against an interesting opponent; the pick is Santos via second-round knockout.
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