UFC Belfast/UFC Sao Paulo: Five Fighters to Watch
Once in awhile the UFC forgets that they have an event on a particular weekend and they double book the entire day. The fans end up winning.
Whether or not that’s the actual case isn’t really important. With 25 fights in the UFC set for this Saturday you might find it difficult to watch every single one of them.
The first card comes to you from Belfast, Northern Ireland, on UFC Fight Pass. Headlined by a middleweight rematch between Gegard Mousasi and Uriah Hall this card has a little bit of everything.
Ross Pearson taking on Stevie Ray. Can Pearson continue his long run in the UFC by avoiding a third consecutive loss? How will Ray handle a jump in competition by taking on the very experienced Ross?
Kevin Lee takes on the very dangerous Magomed Mustafaev in a very tough fight for Lee. Ian McCall kept his trend going of having his bout removed on fight week after he fell ill.
If that doesn’t give you your MMA fix you also have UFC Sao Paulo, headlined by a rematch between light heavyweight contender Ryan Bader and MMA legend Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Can Bader put on an impressive performance that will force matchmakers to move him up the title contention ladder? How much does Little Nog have left?
Thomas Almeida takes on Albert Morales in his first fight since getting knocked out by title challenger Cody Garbrandt. How will the young Almeida respond to adversity?
Claudia Gadelha looks to get back in the Octagon against the UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk but must first get past Cortney Casey.
With about 16 hours of UFC action, 26 fights, 52 fighters, and here are the top five fighters to watch on a packed UFC Saturday.
#5: Thomas Almeida
Thomas Almeida looked like a sure bet to challenge for the UFC bantamweight championship as he hit the ground running in the UFC, winning three of his first four bouts via knockout. That is until he ran into hard-hitting Cody Garbrandt.
Almeida began to impress in his second fight in the UFC where he knocked out veteran Yves Jabouin at the end of the first round. Almeida landed a solid left hook that stunned Jabouin and then swarmed until the ref was forced to save Jabouin’s life.
He then took on UFC veteran Brad Pickett who is also known as a hard hitter in the bantamweight division. After being hurt by Pickett early not once but twice, he weathered the storm and survived the round. In the second round, he landed a missile of a left knee on Pickett that turned the lights out and ended the fight.
We cannot go on without mentioning one of his more impressive knockouts, when he finished Anthony Birchak. After avoiding a takedown he was able to rock Birchak with a serious left hand that put him on skates and finished the fight with a bomb of a right to the chin of Birchak.
Now that he’s tasted defeat, the first of his professional MMA career, he looks to get back into contention against Albert Morales. We’ll get to see one of the UFC’s youngest up-and-comers respond to adversity for the first time in Brazil.
#4: Anna Elmose
If you’re a fighter, when the UFC calls, you answer. Short notice fights are a solid way to get your foot in the door in the biggest MMA promotion on the planet.
Anna Elmose took that call and ran with it. Booked for a short-notice fight against one of the best strikers at women’s bantamweight, Germaine de Randamie, Elmose was thrown to the wolves in a weight class 20-pounds heavier than what she should have been fighting at.
Elmose is a very solid striker that loves to use the overhand right. Her combinations almost always end with a power shot from the right hand. Look Elmose up on YouTube and you’ll find plenty of highlight videos showing her power.
Elmose also likes to clinch with her opponents driving them into the cage and setting up for some monster knees.
Elmose is in the very early stages of her career, with just a 3-1 record. There was no secret to her drop to strawweight, simply, “don’t eat so much.”
Her UFC debut was at 135-pounds, but now at strawweight, she’ll have the speed and power to be very competitive. A fight against TUF finalist Amanda Cooper is just what she needs to show her striking skills.
#3: Claudia Gadelha
Claudia Gadelha is one of those fighters who can dominate an entire division except for the champion. She could be the strawweight version of Urijah Faber in that she wins most of her fights but loses the ones that matter the most.
Gadelha came into the UFC with an undefeated record straight out of Invicta FC where she had been scheduled to fight for the title twice. Neither fight materialized because of injury and illness to Gadelha.
Since coming into the UFC Gadelha has gone 2-2. Wins against Tina Lahdemaki and Jessica Aguilar via decision were solid but not really big wins. The first loss to champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk was a very close decision loss (not for the title), but the second was quite clear with the belt on the line. That leaves fans wanting to give Gadelha one more chance at the belt wondering if she can muster a performance worthy of a championship.
She’ll have to get past Cortney Casey who is also 2-2 in the UFC, but her wins were finishes over Cristina Stanciu and Randa Markos.
Look for Gadelha to put together a very strong performance with the urgency that a fighter looking for a second shot at the belt needs.
#2: Uriah Hall
Uriah Hall is a guy who came into the UFC with as much potential and hype as a TUF fighter could have. Hall dominated TUF 17 until he ran into Kelvin Gastelum in the final which he lost by split decision.
Since then Hall has failed to live up to the high expectations placed on him by UFC brass and MMA fans alike. Hall was compared to Anderson Silva, which really was unfair to do.
A three fight win-streak set him up for a fight against Rafael Natal which he dropped via split decision. The killer instinct he showed on TUF was clearly not there against Natal.
Wins over Oluwale Bamgbose and Gegard Mousasi, both TKO finishes, were exactly what he needed to get himself back into the conversation at middleweight.
Hall was a replacement against Mousasi when he caught the contender with a spinning kick and a flying knee, then finished him with strikes on the ground. Fans and analysts alike called it a big upset, but Mousasi himself has referred to it as a fluke.
Hall went on to lose two consecutive fights including being finished via TKO by Derek Brunson.
This rematch against Mousasi is his chance to prove that the first fight was not a fluke and will score him another fight against a top-five middleweight.
#1: Gegard Mousasi
Gegard Mousasi has quietly put together one of the best resumes in the UFC. With wins over guys like Mark Muñoz, Dan Henderson, Thales Leites, and Vitor Belfort you would think that Mousasi would have already fought for the UFC middleweight belt.
Mousasi has plenty to gain with a win over Uriah Hall.
Mousasi is looking for revenge from a fight that he feels was a fluke. Losing to Hall slowed Mousasi’s momentum towards a title shot and he didn’t do himself many favors by playing it safe against Thales Leites.
Then came UFC 200 and and dominant TKO win over Thiago Santos when everyone expected Mousasi to take him down and grind him out for a safe decision win.
Then with a win over Belfort at UFC 204 he solidified his place as a legit title challenger. Unfortunately for him the middleweight title picture was jammed with contenders who all had a spot in line ahead of him.
So what’s the next best thing? Revenge.
A win over Hall proves that he is in fact the better fighter of the two, it proves that the first fight was a fluke, and with injuries to Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman (post UFC 205 60-day suspension) he could sneak into the middleweight title picture very soon.
With two UFC cards on the same Saturday there are plenty of fights to watch that will shape the future of the UFC, but those were five fighters who you can look forward to having impressive performances with a lot on the line.
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