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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday will pitch its tent in Sao Paulo, Brazil, for UFC Fight Night 164 -- an event headlined by a light heavyweight battle between Jan Blachowicz and Ronaldo Souza. Stakes are high across the board.
WHO HAS THE MOST TO GAIN?
Ronaldo Souza: After more than 15 years of MMA competition, the career middleweight elected to move to the 205-pound weight class at the age of 39, still in search of an elusive UFC title shot. A winning streak has evaded “Jacare” since 2017, but without the added difficulties of a harsh weight cut, he hopes to bring the best version of himself to the Octagon for his light heavyweight debut. With a win, Souza puts himself in prime position in a division begging for new and noteworthy contenders. Opponent Jan Blachowicz is 5-1 across his last six contests and has his eyes on a title shot with another victory. If Souza can come out, impose his will and force grappling exchanges, we may just see “Jacare” steal the thunder Blachowicz earned after knocking out Luke Rockhold.
Paul Craig: Scotland’s Craig has had a difficult time navigating the choppy waters of the light heavyweight division, but after amassing a 4-4 record inside the Octagon he has earned himself the most significant opportunity of his career against Mauricio Rua. If Craig can come out on top in enemy territory, he will have posted the first winning streak of his UFC career and managed to generate a bit of consistency and staying power on the heels of a marquee victory. In order to do so, Craig must push grappling exchanges early and often, refusing to allow Rua to get into a rhythm with his striking attack. If Craig remains aggressive from bell to bell, he will improve his chances of surprising the Pride Fighting Championships and UFC great while inching closer to the Top 15.
Randy Brown: After being signed to the UFC through his appearance on Dana White’s “Lookin’ for a Fight,” Brown has grown up in front of our eyes inside the Octagon. However, after eight appearances with the promotion, he has admittedly had trouble finding his footing in the big leagues. Against Warlley Alves, he has the chance to change the narrative and punch his own ticket to a new level of competition. Coming off the biggest win of his career against Bryan Barberena over the summer, Brown’s striking has never looked better. Utilizing a stiff, crisp jab to go along with a lightning-quick body kick, it seems “Rude Boy” is finally starting to hit his stride as he enters the prime years of his career. It will be interesting to monitor whether his latest outing signals a new chapter in Brown’s journey, as he looks to springboard himself into a run toward the top of the division.
WHO HAS THE MOST TO LOSE?
Jan Blachowicz: Following a brutal knockout of former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold, it seemed to be title shot or bust for Blachowicz. However, after those talks cooled, Blachowicz reluctantly settled for a dangerous fight in enemy territory against Souza in hopes that a second consecutive win would serve as the cherry on top in finally sealing the deal on his run at the title. This bout is undeniably perilous for Blachowicz. “Jacare” grapples on the level few others have ever reached and has finishing ability wherever the fight goes. In order for Blachowicz to keep his spot among the best at 205 pounds, he will need to strike with Souza and drag the fight into the later rounds, where his opponent’s suspect cardio can be exploited.
Charles Oliveira: “Do Bronx” comes into this bout on a five-fight winning streak, the longest such tear of his UFC career. Even so, Oliveria still finds himself fighting for respect inside a division filled with killers. Currently sitting at No. 13 in the UFC’s lightweight rankings, Oliveira will need to pull off a spectacular win over the unranked Jared Gordon if he hopes to break into the division’s Top 10. Consistency has been Oliveira’s issue in the past, but once he re-committed himself to the lightweight division after a brief move to 145 pounds, the grappling ace seemed to finally hit his stride. Oliveira’s best bet in this fight is to be his typical aggressive self out of the gate. His best defense is his opponent’s fear of his grappling attack. If he can get Gordon on his back foot early and worrying about submission attempts, he may find an opening for his striking, much like he did in his latest victory over Nik Lentz.
Renan Barao: Past achievements may be the only factor keeping Barao from free agency, as he enters his latest outing against Douglas Silva de Andrade on a four-fight losing streak and 1-6 in his last seven bouts. Barao has become a shell of his former championship-caliber self and has had a difficult time getting practically anything going inside the cage. A recent move to American Top Team has reignited Barao’s hopes to return to championship form, and he needs every advantage he can get if he hopes to put on a career-saving performance. Silva de Andrade is a relentless striker, and while Barao can sometimes hold his own on the feet, his clearest path to victory revolves around his grappling. If he can dictate the pace of the fight, he has a much better chance of coming out on top for the first time in over two years.