UFC Fight Night Primer: Vitor Belfort vs. Kelvin Gastelum headlines Saturday night’s event in Brazil on FS1

By Mathew Ecochard, MMATorch contributor

The UFC returns to Brazil with a Fox Sports 1 card headlined by Vitor Belfort facing Kelvin Gastelum. The main card has some exciting fights with the return of Mauricio Rua, Edson Barboza fighting Beneil Dariush and ranked fighters Bethe Correia and Marion Reneau doing battle among other well put together bouts. Let us get into some previews for the entire card, beginning with the UFC Fight Pass preliminary bouts.

UFC Fight Pass Early Prelim (6:30 PM EST / 3:30 PM PST)

Garreth McLellan (13-5) vs. Paulo Borrachinha (8-0) – Middleweight Bout

Garreth McLellan is 1-3 in his four UFC bouts so far and is getting one last chance here, but it is against a dangerous undefeated fighter in Paulo Borrachinha. The background of BJJ and Karate is a good combination that has led to McLellan finishing the majority of his wins via submissions. McLellan is susceptible to being finished himself though and that isn’t a good sign when he faces off against Borrachinha. Going 8-0 and finishing every single bout, Borrachinha is as dangerous as they come. Seven wins by knockout and one via submission, all of Borrachinha’s wins have come in the first round, so it is hard to know what kind of cardio he has. The record of Borrachinha isn’t padded either, beating fighters with some decent records. Besides overall experience, there isn’t much to favor McLellan with here, so look for a fun and impressive debut for Borrachinha.

Prediction: Paulo Borrachinha via KO Round 1

(#13) Rani Yahya (23-8, 1NC) vs. Joe Soto (17-5) – Bantamweight Bout

Two bantamweight fighters are trying to push themselves further into the mix by continuing their win streaks. Rani Yahya is well known for his BJJ skills placing multiple times in the ADCC submission wrestling championship and CBJJ world championship, even winning both in various years.  If Yahya fails to find the finish or keep consistent takedowns, that is where he struggles to find success. Joe Soto struggled in his first three UFC bouts but was given another chance and has won two in a row. Soto has solid boxing and can also submit his opponents creatively on the ground. Soto needs to be able to stop the takedowns of Yahya and outwork him in the clinch in order to get a win here. Yahya is durable and can make good fighters look fairly average.  This type of match up should be good for Soto as he can excel in scrappy bouts, where Yahya might get drawn into a stand-up match up.

Prediction: Joe Soto via Unanimous Decision

Rony Jason (15-6, 1NC) vs. Jeremy Kennedy (9-0) – Featherweight Bout

Undefeated Canadian fighter Jeremy Kennedy drops down to his natural weight class and will look to take on TUF winner Rony Jason. Jason hasn’t lived up to the hype after winning “The Ultimate Fighter” going 3-3, 1 NC since, and he is 0-2, 1NC in his last three, so he might be fighting for his job on Saturday night. Jason’s BJJ is  strong, but lately he has been more than happy to stand and trade. Kennedy is young, hungry and undefeated and will look to make a name for himself at Jason’s expense. Kennedy is comfortable on the feet, ground or anywhere the fight takes place. Being 5’11” is a huge advantage at featherweight and Kennedy should have enough success here in his second UFC fight and continue to a bright future ahead of him.

Prediction: Jeremy Kennedy via Unanimous Decision

Fox Sports 1 Prelims (8 PM EST / 5 PM PST)

Michel Prazeres (21-2) vs. Joshua Burkman (29-14, 1NC) – Lightweight Bout

Josh Burkman somehow is getting another UFC fight. He is 1-4, 1 NC so far in multiple weight classes and he is still getting one more chance. Burkman is a tough man, but just doesn’t seem to have what it takes to keep up with younger and fresher fighters. Burkman is a wrestler, but has really enjoyed to box or clinch with his opponents. Michel Prazeres has looked good recently on a three fight win streak, most recently defeating hot prospect Gilbert Burns. Prazeres isn’t much of a finisher but is extremely good at stifling his opponents and making them fight his fight. Prazeres has much more in the tank here and the better skill set. There is little hope for Burkman here and he will likely be released after this loss.

Prediction: Michel Prazeres via Unanimous Decision

Davi Ramos (6-1) vs. Sergio Moraes (11-3-1) – Welterweight Bout

Late replacement Davi Ramos a BJJ and former Bellator fighter takes the fight against Sergio Moraes for a short notice UFC debut. Davi Ramos is a high level BJJ practitioner that trains with Team Nogueira. Ramos has a chance to do pretty well, but he is moving up a weight class on short notice against a really consistent fighter in Moraes. While Ramos is a BJJ black belt, Moraes is another level of black belt winning four different gold medals in World, European and Brazillian BJJ championships. Moraes will be the physically larger man here with a bigger skill set and much more experience against high level fighters. While there is always a chance, it seems unlikely Ramos has much success against Moraes.

Prediction: Sergio Moraes via Unanimous Decision

Godofredo Pepey (14-4) vs. Kyle Bochniak (7-1) – Featherweight Bout

Three fights in a row Godofredo Pepey took his opponents out  in spectacular fashion, with a flying knee KO, triangle armbar and a flying triangle choke. Pepey uses his unique frame and aggression to put fighters in sloppy positions and they sometimes fall apart from it. The boxing and BJJ of Pepey compliment each other well and he is still coming into his own in terms of talent and hitting his ceiling. Kyle Bochniak hasn’t shown anything too special yet to think he will be someone to watch for. He is decent in most facets of the sport, but isn’t very exciting in any one area. A loss to Charles Rosa in his UFC debut was followed up with a razor thin victory against Enrique Barzola. Bochniak will have trouble with the pressure of Pepey and will be backed up until a finish comes from the crafty UFC veteran.

Prediction: Godofredo Pepey via Submission Round 2

(#11) Francisco Trinaldo (21-4) vs. Kevin Lee (14-2) – Lightweight Bout

Riding an impressive seven fight win streak into this fight, Francisco Trinaldo is taking on an impressive young prospect in Kevin Lee who is starting to put it all together. At 24 years old, Lee is already 7-2 in the UFC. The wrestling of Lee is his go to, but his striking is improving tremendously and he has gotten better with pulling of submissions using his strength. Lee’s biggest enemy is himself at this point by getting over confident and making mistakes. Trinaldo hit is stride at age 36 and is still going strong now beating some solid names in the packed lightweight division. While he used to be primarily a BJJ fighter in mma Trinaldo has started to show off that black belt in kickboxing. While Trinaldo is a tough out and has a good win streak going, Lee is just finally coming into his own and he should be able to take Trinaldo into deep waters.

Prediction: Kevin Lee via Unanimous Decision

Fox Sports 1 Main Card (10 PM EST / 7 PM PST)

Alex Oliveira (15-3-1, 2NC) vs. Tim Means (26-7-1, 1NC) – Welterweight Bout

This is a rematch of their bout at UFC 207 in December that ended in a no contest due to Tim Means landing multiple knees to the head of Alex Oliveira while he was on the ground. We only got to see a little bit of action in their first bout, but at that point Tim Means was winning before he landed those knees. I predicted Means winning their last bout and I’m going to be sticking with it here. Means has looked really good since returning to the UFC only losing to Matt Brown and Neil Magny while winning six other bouts. Means has the mean streak needed to take out Oliveira. Oliveira is durable and has great striking and grappling, but he doesn’t fair well against a bigger opponent. Watch for Means to push the pace and bully Oliveira into a finish.

Prediction: Tim Means via Submission Round 2

(#9) Bethe Correia (10-2) vs. (#13) Marion Reneau (7-2) – Women’s Bantamweight Bout

Bethe Correia rebounded from her two fight losing streak against Ronda Rousey and Raquel Pennington with a close decision over Jessica Eye. The stand up of Correia complements her decent ground game, but she definitely prefers to stand and trade. Correia struggles against opponents who come forward first and leave her trying to counter-strike. Marion Reneau has ever increasing striking skills under the master Rafael Cordeiro and a solid BJJ game. A tough and really controversial loss came to Ashlee Evans-Smith where almost everybody had her winning the fight except the judges. Reneau has a really good overall skill set and should pose a good  threat to Correia with her physical assets. Correia is tough, but could likely get KO’d here.

Prediction: Marion Reneau via TKO Round 1

(#3) Jussier Formiga (19-4) vs. (#8) Ray Borg (10-2) – Flyweight Bout

The Judo, striking and BJJ of Formiga keep him in a constant contention for a title opportunity. Fomiga’s only UFC losses have come against John Dodson, Joseph Benavidez and Henry Cejudo. Ray Borg is a strong wrestler and solid striker that is having trouble making the weight cut for the division on two separate occasions. At 23 years old Borg is already a phenomenal athlete with a high ceiling in front of him, if he can continue to improve and get his weight cut under control he can be a really dangerous fighter someday. Formiga will be way too much too soon for Borg however and there just isn’t enough of a threat from Borg to make Formiga nervous or take him out of his element. Look for Formiga to control the pace and fairly easily take a clean sweep in the eyes of the judges.

Prediction: Jussier Formiga via Unanimous Decision

(#5) Edson Barboza (18-4) vs. (#9) Beneil Dariush (14-2) – Lightweight Bout

With a win here Edson Barboza is certainly only a fight or two away from a title shot after beating Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez in succession and losing a close “Fight of the Night” bout against Tony Ferguson. Barboza has some of the best striking in the lightweight division and by far has among the best leg kicks in the entire UFC holding the record for leg kick TKOs. Barboza’s chin isn’t the strongest, but he can stick and move well enough that he doesn’t get hit all that often. Beneil Dariush has always looked really strong, only losing to Michael Chiesa in the last three or so years. Dariush excels in Muay Thai training at Kings MMA with Rafael Cordeiro and has a strong BJJ game as well. Physically Dairush will be the shorter man with a smaller reach and those factors will definitely hurt him against a man that kicks as much as Barboza. Look for Barboza to go to his kicks often here and keep his distance.

Prediction: Edson Barboza via Unanimous Decision

(#6) Mauricio Rua (24-10) vs. (#12) Gian Villante (15-7) – Light Heavyweight Bout

The legend Mauricio “Shogun” Rua will look to continue his win streak and prove he still has more left in the tank when he takes on the dangerous Gian Villante. Rua has struggled against high end competition as of late, but can beat others when they aren’t as polished. While Rua is highly ranked he is susceptible to being knocked out and he can get a little reckless. Gian Villante will absolutely capitalize on that is Rua isn’t cautious enough. Villante has good wrestling and can likely bully around the older, battle-worn Rua. This fight could end up being a war as both men love to push the pace. I trust Villante’s chin more than Rua’s even though both men have been put to sleep a few times. The younger, stronger Villante is the pick here and could definitely finish off Rua.

Prediction: Gian Villante via KO Round 2

(#8) Vitor Belfort (25-12) vs. (#10) Kelvin Gastelum (14-2) – Middleweight Main Event (5 Rounds)

Kelvin Gastelum is looking to make a big name for himself at middleweight taking on the veteran striker in Vitor Belfort. Gastelum was a big name at welterweight but he was struggling too often to make the weight cute and has finally decided to move back up a weight class. The two middleweight bouts Gastelum fought recently were against Nate Marquardt and Tim Kennedy, winning both fights via TKO. Belfort hasn’t looked the same since his loss to Chris Weidman with his opponents realizing they need to take him down and end the fight with ground and pound as that works out pretty well. Belfort will always be dangerous on the feet, but he is not man he was while he was on TRT.

Vitor Belfort’s striking is versatile and he has some good explosive power, especially in the first round. After the first round he significantly falls off as a threat and his opponents can usually come back and take control. Belfort has become fairly one dimensional as a fighter and it is sad to see. Beating any unranked or low ranked opponent is definitely possible for Belfort, but any dangerous opponent like Gastelum spells trouble for him. Belfort needs to keep the fight standing and flurry in early in hopes of getting a fast knockout of Gastelum, otherwise he doesn’t have much a chance.

Kelvin Gastelum is still only 25 years young as he looks to take over the middleweight division. Wrestling is surprisingly his best tool, yet he appears to love to stand and box with most of his opponents. While Gastelum could likely deal with Belfort on the feet, the best and safest scenario would be to take him down and ground and pound him out of the fight. This weight class will leave Gastelum as the shorter man in most match ups, but his style is to get into boxing range and mix in takedowns so it should actually help him to be the smaller man. Gastelum should take down his opponent Saturday and grind out the victory, but realistically should win the bout no matter where it takes place.

Prediction: Kelvin Gastelum via TKO Round 1

NOW CHECK OUT THIS RECENT ARTICLE: UFC 209 PREVIEW: Grocke’s Preview & Predictions including Woodley vs. Thompson, Overeem vs. Hunt, Evans vs. Kelly, more

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