Get the scoop on UFC Belem’s main card, featuring recent title challenger Valentina Shevchenko and a middleweight showdown between Thiago Santos and Anthony Smith.
For all the criticism that has been leveled at the quality of recent UFC cards – and it has been deserved – the main card for UFC Fight Night: Machida vs. Anders has some potential gems. Valentina Shevchenko headlined the last three cards she appeared on, including a razor thin decision loss to Amanda Nunes for the women’s bantamweight championship. For whatever reason, she is fighting a UFC debutant with less than two years experience… but at least she’s on the card. The opener between Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos appears unlikely to go 15 minutes as both tend to put away their opposition in entertaining fashion. Plus, you may not know who Michel Prazeres is, but he is riding a five-fight win streak. There is some quality here, even if fans feel as though they are being shortchanged.
The main card begins on FS1 at 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT on Saturday.
Valentina Shevchenko (14-3) vs. Priscila Cachoeira (8-0), Women’s Flyweight
From a contentious bout with Amanda Nunes for the bantamweight title to facing an unheralded debutant… what in the hell were the matchmakers thinking?
Perhaps I’m selling Cachoeira short. A hard hitter from the Brazilian circuit, Cachoeira has proven to be a hell of a bully with her constant pressure and active hands. She doesn’t have freakish power by any means, but she throws at a high enough clip that she has been able to secure finishes in half of her professional contests thus far. For women’s MMA, that’s a high clip. However, she hasn’t faced any notable competition and her technique is about as raw as it gets for a UFC fighter. Given her professional debut came just 20 months ago, she is bound to improve as gains more experience.
Regardless of how much she improves her footwork, Cachoeira’s best chance may come by way of drawing Shevchenko into a brawl. Easier said than done. The native of Kyrgyzstan has proven to be one of the most disciplined fighters on the entire roster. Once she can calculate her opponent’s range and tendencies, Shevchenko methodically picks apart the opposition with low kicks, jabs, and the occasional power left. She hasn’t ever been known for her power, but it could translate better now that she’s fighting women closer to her size. Even if it doesn’t, she should benefit from the drop to flyweight by being able to better stuff takedowns, something she was already pretty damned good at.
I maintain this was poor matchmaking by Sean Shelby and/or Mick Maynard. I don’t know if they couldn’t find someone willing to fight Shevchenko or if Shevchenko asked for a tune up, but it feels cruel to feed Cachoeira to the former title challenger. I’ll eat a big slice of humble pie if Cachoeira pulls off the upset, but I feel very confident in picking Shevchenko. Given Cachoeira’s tendency to wear herself out behind her fast pace, I’ll say Shevchenko picks up a late stoppage. Shevchenko via TKO of RD3
Michel Prazeres (22-2) vs. Desmond Green (20-5), Lightweight
What does Prazeres have to do to get a notable opponent? No disrespect to Green, but the last man to beat Prazeres – Kevin Lee — got a title shot after five wins in a row. After his own five-fight win streak, Prazeres gets a guy in his third UFC contest coming off a loss. What gives?
Granted, Prazeres has faced a lower level of competition than Lee did during his run, but you’d think he’d get an opportunity against a ranked opponent or on the fringes of the rankings. We all know what is really holding Prazeres back is his grinding style isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing visual for fans. Despite that, Prazeres’ win streak does prove its effective even if it isn’t entertaining. Aside from the frequent takedown attempts from the clinch, Prazeres flicks a surprisingly effective jab – given his stout 5’6” frame – with frequency to stay busy on the feet. He’s shown some flashes the power department as of late, but no one is about to declare him a regular finisher on the feet.
Green is much more versatile striker, offering far more options to attack on the feet. Much of that has to do with his plus athleticism as he can dance in and out of the pocket with sudden bursts. Typically, he stays on the outside attacking with low kicks and a stinging jab of his own. Against the right opponent, he’s more than willing to mix things up on the ground as he’s a sound wrestler. However, despite his improved combination punching, Green isn’t much of a threat to finish a fight. On the flip side, he’s never been KO’d in his career, proving himself very durable.
Despite coming off a loss to Rustam Khabilov, Green is a tougher opponent than the majority of Prazeres opponents he has faced thus far by a wide margin, making this a tougher contest to project than I led on in the intro paragraph. However, Green was also stifled by Andre Harrison. Given Prazeres no-nonsense style has a lot of similarities to the PFL featherweight champion, I’m leaning towards the Brazilian in this one. Prazeres via decision
Timothy Johnson (11-4) vs. Marcelo Golm (6-0), Heavyweight
Golm presents a very similar problem that analysts encountered with Francis Ngannou: What do we really know about him? The 25-year old looked dominant in his contest with Christian Colombo, taking down the lumbering Dane with ease and pounding him out until he was able to sink in a RNC. Sure, he showed a little bit of everything in the performance… but it was Christian Colombo, perhaps the slowest and least athletic fighter on the entire roster. Golm’s fights on the regional scene don’t answer any questions either as he trucked over a bunch of tomato cans. The physical skills are there, but how will he react when he faces some actual adversity?
Johnson is far from the best heavyweight on the roster, but he is easily the biggest challenge Golm has faced thus far. Not blessed with great speed or athletic ability, Johnson is very strong with an NCAA All-American wrestling pedigree on the Division II level. He’s difficult to move, making it a difficult proposition to get away from him should he end up pressing his opponent up against the cage rather than securing the takedown. He also has the makings of a functional striking game in his back pocket. His jab is nothing special, but he also compliments it with the occasional power shot that keep opponents honest.
It’s obvious Golm possesses the advantage in terms of physical tools. He’s a more natural striker with greater speed, athleticism, and explosion. However, Stipe Miocic reminded us just how much experience matters. Golm is being given a huge step up in competition from Colombo. He’ll be a clear favorite over the likes of Johnson some day. The question is whether that day has already arrived. It’s hard to say for sure, but my guess is that day hasn’t arrived quite yet and this turns out to be a great learning experience for the youngster. Johnson via decision
Thiago Santos (16-5) vs. Anthony Smith (28-12), Middleweight
Smith seemed to come out of nowhere last year when he pulled off a pair of upsets over Andrew Sanchez and Hector Lombard. Those in the know recognize that Smith has been around for a long time, showing steady improvement returning to the UFC two years ago. Long employing a brawling style that typically resulted in him securing an early finish or Smith gassing in a hurry, he has made just enough adjustments to maintain his aggressive streak while having enough gas to remain a threat down the stretch. Emphasizing his long reach has been one of the key factors, emphasizing a jab and throwing a wide variety of kicks.
Smith may want to consider his brawling ways as Santos operates best in space himself. Given his single strikes are about as lethal as it gets in the UFC, the last thing Smith will want to do is give Santos time to find holes in his defense. Clinching up with Santos may not be the answer either as Santos has developed some nasty dirty boxing in short distances. Santos is still a weak grappler and wrestler on the offensive side, but has developed an effective sprawl and is generally quick to get the fight back to the standing position.
It boils down to whether you trust Santos’ technique and power over Smith’s volume and pressure. It isn’t difficult to see the fight going either way, especially given Smith’s advantage on the ground should he find a way to get Santos to the mat. However, Santos’ accuracy usually comes into play with lethal consequences and Smith has never been a defensive savant. Regardless of who wins, expect this to be fun while it lasts. Santos via KO of RD2