While the prelims for UFC Sao Paulo provide an above average offering – and the main event is solid – the rest of the main card should leave you wanting more. Shogun Rua still has name value, but he’s a far cry from the wrecking machine he was in Pride. Charles Oliveira – the all-time UFC leader in submission victories – is on the card too, but his opposition feels… underwhelming.
The other two contests feel more appropriate as prelims. I said on the prelims preview, I wouldn’t blame anyone for passing on this offering of fights. Taking a closer look at the main card solidifies that assertion.
The main card begins on ESPN+ at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Saturday.
Shogun Rua (26-11) vs. Paul Craig (12-4), Light Heavyweight
For fight fans of yesteryear, it’s a bit of a depressing matter to know that Shogun is still plying his trade in the fight game. It’s not that he’s deteriorated in a similar manner to another star from his era in Takanori Gomi. Shogun can still win fights. However, his wins come against the likes of Gian Villante and Tyson Pedro, a far cry from the days of destroying Rampage Jackson and Alistair Overeem. However, more telling of where he is at this stage of his career is when he loses, falling in less than 90 seconds in each of his last two losses to Anthony Smith and Ovince Saint Preux. While the ravages of Father Time are to be expected, it doesn’t make it any less painful to see his effects on our favorite legends.
Regardless of what Shogun is now and what he once was, he’s still capable of unleashing his wrath onto the opposition. His power hasn’t abandoned him, only his ability to remain in Tasmanian Devil mode for long stints. Still, that was what made him such a special and beloved figure, so there’s obviously a decline. Nonetheless, he’s grown more intelligent and aware of his limitations in his older years, allowing him to remain successful in what is now the twilight of his career.
Craig opted to step in on late notice when Sam Alvey was forced out due to injury. The Scotsman is lanky and tough as nails, but he’s also a limited athlete. He’s not afraid to mix it up on the feet, but knows where his bread is buttered, making every attempt to get the fight to the ground. In an era where fighters rarely operate with regularity from their guard, Craig has established his guard as one of the most dangerous in the game, securing a pair of literal last minute submissions of his back in contests he was clearly losing. It’s also worth mentioning that all of Craig’s UFC victories have come by submission.
Shogun has been submitted before in the past, but those occurred after he had been sufficiently worn down. Craig is more likely to catch an opponent by surprise than he is to grind away, leading me to believe Shogun is likely to avoid danger. While no one will debate Craig’s toughness, his durability can be questioned. When opponents unleash a flurry of violence, Craig is likely to succumb. Shogun isn’t the whirling dervish of violence he was in his youth, but he still has moments where he reminds us what he used to be. Craig’s willingness to engage will be his downfall. Shogun via TKO of RD2
Charles Oliveira (27-8, 1 NC) vs. Jared Gordon (15-3), Lightweight
At first glance of this contest being made, my initial thought was why won’t the UFC give Oliveira a deserved ranked opponent? He’s won five in a row, all of them coming to a close before the second round is up, much less going to decision. While I still believe Oliveira is deserving of a more reputable opponent, I also came to the realization that Gordon’s chances for victory are greater than I initially thought.
We all know what Oliveira is at this point: one of the best submission artists in the history of the sport – he holds the record for submission victories in the UFC – who cracks mentally when pushed. Oliveira has more keen to let the fight come to him. Not that he wasn’t aggressive, but he’s turned upped it to eleven the last few years, leaving him open to depleting his energy reserves before the first round is up. His loss to Paul Felder is a great example of that as Oliveira had nothing left after dominating the opening round. Felder proved to be resilient and broke Oliveira physically and mentally.
Gordon has the style that could do the same thing to Oliveira. A wrestler who overcame a drug addiction to get where he is today, Gordon pushes a nonstop pace and can do for over the course of 15 minutes. His aggression can get him in trouble and his grinding style will either put him in the clinch or on the mat. Oliveira’s clinch game doesn’t get the credit it deserves as he is slick at slipping onto his opponent’s back or securing a trip. On the mat… well, he’s a savant on the mat. If Gordon can remain calm in those situations, he’ll probably survive. If he panics, he’ll be another victim. Though I like this contest better than I did before I started looking into it, I’m still favoring Oliveira to secure the finish. Oliveira via submission of RD1
- There are quite a few similarities between Andre Muniz and Antonio Arroyo, but they have nothing to do with how they approach fights. Muniz is extremely aggressive, particularly in his pursuit of submissions with two-thirds of his victories ending with the opposition tapping. Muniz takedowns consist of him overwhelming his opponents physically as opposed to good technique, so there’s a good chance he runs into a wall as he enters the UFC. Arroyo could be facing a similar situation, just on the feet. There’s no doubt the lanky middleweight has the striking skills to go far, but his lack of attention to defense looks like it will cost him sooner rather than later. It’s hard to get a feel for this contest. Despite getting the feeling Arroyo is the more talented fighter, Muniz has a better feel for the game at this juncture. Muniz via submission of RD1
- Wellington Turman entered the UFC with a reputation as a noted grappler. In his debut, he spent significant time on the mat with Karl Roberson – not exactly known for his grappling prowess – but was unable to submit him. Whether that’s an indication of Roberson’s improvements or Turman’s grappling skills not translating to the big leagues is up for debate. To his credit, he did show better striking than expected, but it’s not going to be enough to regularly win in the big leagues. It doesn’t appear things are going to be any easier in his sophomore effort as Markus Perez is a savvy grappler himself with toughness and durability to spare. He struggles to take decisions since he tends to be stingy with his volume, but I think he’ll be crafty enough to catch the youthful Turman. Perez via submission of RD2