Following a stretch of just one event over the last four weeks, the UFC kicks off a run of four straight weekends of events in a row on Saturday night. UFC Fight Night 77 brings them back to Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Fox Sports 1, with a headlining rubber match between Dan Henderson and Vitor Belfort. Outside of the main event, which in all honesty is among the least interesting on the card, there are several other fights that hold some intrigue, including what should be an excellent bantamweight matchup between the undefeated Thomas Almeida and Anthony Birchak.
Here’s what’s on tap for Saturday’s Fox Sports 1 main card:
Vitor Belfort vs. Dan Henderson (Middleweight): Their first fight was just over nine years ago, with Henderson taking a decision victory at Pride 32 and Belfort failing a drug test for elevated testosterone. Seven years later, they would meet again, this time inside the Octagon. Under fire over his allowed use of testosterone replacement therapy given a past history of drug use already, Belfort closed out one of the most destructive years of his career with a third straight head kick KO.
Henderson still believes that loss to have been stopped early, and even though he’s suffered two more losses since then, he’s picked up two victories as well to keep his career alive at 45-years-old.
It’s fairly clear how this fight can play out. Belfort is going to be looking for the quick finish, and if he fails to pull it off, he’s going to be vulnerable in the later rounds. Henderson’s chin could be a potential concern, though it’s managed to hold up intermittently. It depends on how many early strikes Belfort can land, and how much damage Henderson can do later in the fight if it gets there. There’s not a lot of in between given their respective styles and histories. If Belfort lands flush early, Henderson’s done; if he doesn’t, Henderson will have a chance to finish himself, but can out-point Belfort down the stretch as well. I just don’t think post-TRT Belfort has much to offer here. Henderson via TKO in the third round.
Glover Teixeira vs. Patrick Cummins (Light Heavyweight): After a somewhat surprising loss to Phil Davis, Glover Teixeira was in need of a big win in his return to action this summer, and he came through with one in a submission victory over Ovince St. Preux. Cummins, who himself lost to OSP, has been competitive matchup for most he’s faced in the UFC thus far, and outside of the OSP loss he’s only been defeated by current Champ Daniel Cormier on a week’s notice. The problem Cummins has with this matchup is that what he does best is going to be negated by the skill set brought by Teixeira. Cummins is a pressuring grappler who is most effective in utilizing his top game, something he’s going to have a hard time doing against the Brazilian.
Conversely, while Teixeira’s got significant wrestling skills of his own, it’s his striking game that gives him the edge in this particular matchup. He’s got the gas tank to go 15 minutes without trouble, and as Cummins isn’t nearly the type of striker who has had success against Teixeira, nor the type of stifling wrestler who can shut him down, this is one of those “just a matter of time” type fights. Just look at how much damage Cummins absorbed in his last fight with “Feijao” Cavalcante. He took tons of damage in that one, and Teixeira’s a much better fighter in 2015 than is Cavalcante. Cummins may be competitive for a bit, but I’d be surprised if this doesn’t end with Teixeira winning by TKO, likely by the second round.
Thomas Almeida vs. Anthony Birchak (Bantamweight): This is the fight most will be anticipating. Birchak looked great in knocking out Joe Soto his last time out, but while he looked impressive, Almeida’s the prospect most are following. The Brazilian is perfect on his MMA career at 20-0, and though he had a rough opening round against Brad Pickett in his last fight out, he came back in the second with one of the best highlights of the year, a flying knee KO that put Pickett out cold.
Birchak’s clearly got talent, but he’s the one who’s been beaten in the past here. Almeida may be the future of the field, and as he’s just 24-years-old, he only continues to improve. I think he’s got a striking edge, and he’s got enough of a ground game to make that a non-factor against Birchak. For as good as Birchak looked against Soto, this is a showcase fight opportunity for Almeida, and I expect him to follow up on the promise shown thus far. Almeida by TKO in the second round
Alex Oliveira vs. Piotr Hallmann (Lightweight): Oliveira made a short notice debut in March, and was putting forth a very good effort under the circumstances before getting submitted in the third round. After that, he made a quick turnaround to fight in May, and he submitted K.J. Noons in an impressive performance. Less impressive was his decision win over Joe Merritt in June, which also came on short notice.
Oliveira’s got a lot of really good skills at this point in his career, and with a full camp under him for this one, he’s likely to be the best version of himself we’ve yet seen in the Octagon. As for Hallmann, it’s entirely possible for him to catch Oliveira in a sub. He’s got the ground ability to do so if he can get it there, which is certainly easier said than done.
Now, Hallmann’s susceptible to taking damage, and that brought an end to his last fight when a bad cut was opened up against Magomed Mustafaev. That could play a factor in this one as well, and I think Oliveira at his best is the better fighter with a higher upside. Those skills come into play here, and Oliveira walks away with a win in a hard fought bout. Oliveira by decision.
Gilbert Burns vs. Rashid Magomedov (Lightweight): Burns kept himself undefeated earlier this year with a come from behind win over Alex Oliveira, but the first ten minutes of that bout certainly exposed some flaws in the 29-year-old’s game. However, he remains an excellent talent, and his jiu jitsu game is as good as it gets in the lightweight division.
Standing across from him is Magomedov, who himself has lost just once in his 20-fight career. That came by split decision in 2010, and the 31-year-old Dagestani competitor has won 11 straight since then. That includes all three of his UFC appearances, culminating in a TKO win over Elias Silverio in his last fight in December of 2014.
This isn’t solely a striker vs. grappler matchup, though there’s a significant element of that to the bout. Burns absolutely has the edge on the ground, but he’s got sneaky power on the feet and wouldn’t be entirely uncomfortable there with Magomedov. On the other side of that, while Magomedov would like to keep this standing to utilize his own striking game, he’s not averse to the ground given his own sambo background. Still, the edge for each of them is clear, and they’re playing with fire going into their opponent’s domain. I think we’re in for a close, competitive fight, and it’s going to be dependent on which of them can control where and how things play out. Given Burns’ last bout, I think Magomedov can have enough success through a three round fight, and isn’t as susceptible to gassing or getting submitted. Magomedov by decision.
Fabio Maldonado vs. Corey Anderson (Light Heavyweight): Anderson’s coming into this one on short notice after Tom Lawlor was forced out with a concussion, and it’s a very different dynamic for Maldonado to deal with here. Anderson’s a superior wrestler who is going to try to slow things down, make this ugly against the cage and on the ground, and not give Maldonado any space to strike. The Brazilian is a good brawler with a good chin, but he takes a lot of damage, and loses to better fighters. Anderson got stopped a couple of fights ago, and has left himself open at times to significant damage, so if he lets Maldonado get his strikes off this could be a rough fight for him. Still, Maldonado can be worn down, and in a three round fight, I’d guess Anderson does enough to win a couple of rounds. Anderson by decision.