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UFC 301: Pantoja vs Erceg - May 4 🇧🇷


wandshogun09

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Posted (edited)

Back to Brazil and it’s a main/co-main combo right out of left field…

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PPV MAIN CARD
Alexandre Pantoja©️vs Steve Erceg - Flyweight Title

Jonathan Martinez vs Jose Aldo  

Anthony Smith vs Vitor Petrino 

Michel Pereira vs Ihor Potieria

Paul Craig vs Caio Borralho

ESPN PRELIMS 
Joanderson Brito vs Jack Shore

Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs Iasmin Lucindo 

Elves Brener vs Myktybek Orolbai

Joaquim Silva vs Drakkar Klose 

ESPN+/FIGHT PASS PRELIMS 
Mauricio Ruffy vs Jamie Mullarkey

Dione Barbosa vs Ernesta Kareckaite

Ismael Bonfim vs Vinc Pichel

Alessandro Costa vs Kevin Borjas 

 

 

It’s gonna get shat on but after loading up on 298, 299 and 300, they were never gonna keep that run of ridiculously stacked PPVs going indefinitely. This card obviously pales in comparison to that lot but I actually quite like this. There’s enough there to sink the teeth into, the undercard actually has some darkhorse bangers and the Brazilian crowd is gonna be into it, which always adds to it.

 

 

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Alexandre Pantoja vs Steve Erceg is your Rio headliner. Yeah, not a fight I saw coming, much less main eventing a PPV! But I don’t have a problem with it. There’s been crying and criticism about this booking on social media but I think it’s clear that the original plan was for Alex Pereira vs Jamahal Hill to headline this card, with a Pantoja title defence as co-main. But all the bellyaching from fans about UFC 300 not being stacked enough, plus fights like DDP-Izzy being delayed, meant they had to rob Peter to pay Paul and here we are. The fight itself kind of came a bit out of left field. Erceg challenging for the title this early into his UFC career feels a bit weird. It’s got a hint of Rocky vibes about it for me, the champ giving a relative unknown a shot at the gold etc. But I don’t mind this. Should be an entertaining fight whatever happens.

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It’s been satisfying seeing Pantoja reach the pinnacle of the Flyweight division. There were times when I thought he’d never get there. Not for lack of skill or anything like that. It just seemed like he was destined to never get his opportunity while he was still young enough and in his physical prime. Especially when we were in the middle of that endless Moreno vs Figgy series. It really felt like we were gonna end up seeing an old school pro wrestling Best Of 7 Series between those two and Pantoja might just age out waiting for his chance. But thankfully he got the shot last summer and became King Of 125 in a blood and guts FOTY contender win over Moreno.

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“I fought with all the division. I fought with the No. 1 (Royval) two times, the No. 2 (Moreno) three times, No. 3 right now is Amir Albazi, who has an injury. I fought Kai Kara-France before, Manel Kape, Alex Perez, Matt Schnell. I fought everyone.”

“I think Erceg is so lucky because all of these things happened. He’s coming fresh for this fight because he didn’t fight the No. 8 or No. 6 or No. 4 like me. I needed to fight with all these guys and I had a lot of wars with Kape, Moreno, Royval. I lost a couple of years of my life in those fights and this guy Steve comes so fresh. He didn’t fight the guys at the top of the division but all the fighters in the Flyweight division are very good. He has good boxing, good Jiu-Jitsu. It’s going to be very interesting for me.” - Alexandre Pantoja

It’ll be cool to see him get this moment. He defended the belt successfully in December with a solid win over Brandon Royval. But the fight itself was, surprisingly, a little bit of a letdown. In Pantoja’s defence though, it was a letdown because he dominated. He did nothing wrong. Royval just wasn’t able to make it competitive enough for it to really catch fire. This is gonna be a career highlight for Pantoja though. Getting to return to Brazil as the UFC champion of the world, defending his title on home soil. It’s gonna be pretty special for him. He turns 34 just before this fight. Not old by any normal measure but, as a lighter weight class fighter, mid 30s is typically when a fighter’s peak starts to fade a bit. Pantoja’s still going strong. He’s shown no signs of slowing down just yet. But there’s an expiry date on every fighter’s prime, no matter how good they are. Every single one of them. So Pantoja’s gotta max out whatever he can get out of this title run. The paydays, the moments, the legacy builders, all of it. It’s a shame this card is probably gonna do about 4 buys. Pantoja’s gonna be lucky if his PPV cut is enough to get him a chippy tea and a pint.

The challenger…

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Deal with it. 

‘Astro Boy’ Steve got the call, he answered. He’s Australian, 28 years old and has a record of 12-1 with 8 of his wins coming inside the distance. He signed with the UFC just last year and has gone 3-0 in the Octagon since. He’s coming into this fight on an 11 fight winning streak. Certainly a good start to his career but it does feel like this title shot came out of nowhere. When a new fighter shows up in the UFC, I think it’s quite common that a lot of fans don’t get really familiar with them until they’re 3 or 4 fights in. Just because there’s so many cards these days, people tend to cherry pick what fights to watch, and a lot of these new guys start on the prelims. There are obviously some examples where a fighter comes in and instantly makes a splash but, in general, they come in with little to zero fanfare and either work their way up or fizzle out. There’s probably a decent sized chunk of the MMA fanbase that hasn’t even seen Erceg fight yet. So I can understand why there was a puzzled reaction to this fight being announced. Even me, I have seen Erceg fight, I am familiar with him and I was surprised myself, so I get it. But at the same time, fans have been moaning about the Flyweight title picture being endless rematches for the longest time now, at least this is a completely fresh matchup.

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That’s how Erceg’s last fight ended. He brutally sparked Matt Schnell on the Rozenstruik vs Gaziev card at the Apex back in March. That’ll be the main thing that’s earned him this title shot. The two most realistic options were Erceg or Muhammad Mokaev. I hear all the arguments for why Mokaev should’ve got the shot and I get it. He’s ranked higher and if he’d been put in this spot against Pantoja I’d have been absolutely fine with that too. But I don’t think there’s some grand conspiracy against Mokaev or anything. I think it’s a simple case of the matchmakers looking at both options, Erceg was coming off that highlight reel knockout over Schnell whereas Mokaev fought on the same card and won a fairly unconvincing decision in a boring fight against Alex Perez. That’s it. Mokaev’s time will come. He’ll probably get a big fight on this Manchester card everyone’s talking about and, if he wins that, he could well challenge the winner of Pantoja/Erceg by the end of the year. Mokaev’s 23, what’s the rush? Erceg actually called out Brandon Moreno after that Schnell KO and I remember thinking that seemed a bit too optimistic at the time. Who would’ve guessed he’d be going one better than that?

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I like it.

On paper it looks like a tick over title defence just to keep Pantoja busy. It looks maybe like a nice run of the mill homecoming defence for him to send the Brazilian fans home happy. But, is it? I actually think the kind of unknown element of Erceg adds to the intrigue here. We really don’t know how good he is yet. Just because a lot of fans aren’t familiar with him doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t belong at this level. The fights of his I’ve seen so far, he’s looked good. He’s barely put a foot wrong in his career so far, so who are we to doubt El Dandy?

“I think Pantoja has had a couple of wars but nothing crazy. It’s not like he’s going out there and fighting like Justin Gaethje every fight or anything. He’s grappling a little bit and I don’t think his chin has looked to wear out in any way. I think this is gonna be the best of him versus the best of me.”

“The Brazilian fans will want to kill me. That’s how this is gonna go. I’m coming to beat the champion in his hometown, the crowd will be telling me that I’m gonna die. Same as afterwards. When I have that belt, security will have to usher me away because they’re gonna be throwing bottles at me. I’ll have to get on a plane and get out of there fast!” - Steve Erceg

He’s been fun to watch so far, good boxing. Although, despite that brutal Schnell KO, he’s not typically a massive puncher from what I’ve seen and that was only the second knockout win of his career. Obviously if Pantoja can turn it into a grappling match he’s gonna have the advantage over pretty much anyone in the division. But he’s also been known to get dragged into wild standup battles as well. You’ve got to favour Pantoja just based on their track records, Pantoja’s experience and him seemingly having a more well rounded overall game. But Erceg might be a live underdog. This is a massive opportunity for him with relatively little to lose. I don’t think anyone’s really expecting much from him so he’s free to just let loose and do his thing. And even if he loses, he’s early enough in his career that he’s got time to work his way back. If Pantoja loses, that could be it for him. The risk is all on Pantoja really here. Fair play to him for taking a fight like this and giving a guy like Erceg a shot. Because, although Erceg is a lower ranked guy, there’s not that much known about him, he’s on good form, he’s younger and it’s definitely a risk.

 

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Jonathan Martinez vs Jose Aldo then. Yeah, I said the main event came out of the blue, who the fuck saw this one coming?! Not only did I not expect to see Aldo back in the UFC, if he was going to return then Martinez certainly isn’t the fight I would’ve guessed he’d be coming back for. But here we are. In March it was announced. The King Of Rio returns!

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Let’s be honest, Aldo never fully retired in the first place. We last saw him in the Octagon back in August 2022 at UFC 278. The same night Leon Edwards shocked the world. Aldo got shut down by Merab Dvalishvili that night en route to a lacklustre decision loss. Merab did his thing and he had a strong performance but it was one of the worst fights of Aldo’s career to watch. I was saying it constantly at the time but I really wasn’t a fan of that booking in the first place. Aldo was coming off 3 straight wins over Chito Vera, Pedro Munhoz and Rob Font at the time and they had a PPV coming up in Brazil. To me, it was an absolute no brainer to do an Aljo vs Aldo title fight in Rio. But the UFC went with a less deserving, inactive and broken down TJ Dillashaw instead. Still baffles me. So Aldo lost to Merab instead and retired shortly after. Talk about going out with a whimper. It was far from a fitting end to such a legendary career. Looking back, it was probably a hasty decision. Maybe a combination of Aldo becoming disillusioned with being passed over for the title shot, plus his wife gave birth to their son around the same time. I think he just wanted to get away for a bit. But if you look back at those fights before he lost to Merab, he was still looking really good. Now it’s undeniable he’s lost a step from the absolute prime. But a Jose Aldo who’s lost a step is still a few steps ahead of most of the roster. It’s not like he was embarrassing himself out there by any stretch. And like I said, he never completely retired from combat sports…

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He actually fought 3 times in 2023, albeit in the Boxing ring rather than the Octagon. He won an exhibition in February, went to a draw with Jeremy Stephens in April, then won a decision in July. So while he’s been gone from the UFC almost 2 years, it’s not like he’s been sat around doing nothing and getting out of shape. Actually, despite being ‘retired’, in 2023 he was more active than he’d been in a few years. The last time he’d fought 3 times in a year prior to that was 2019. So he’s been keeping himself in shape and staying sharp. Probably never really left the gym for a significant length of time since the Merab loss. He turns 38 in September. I’m under no illusions that it’s coming to an end and any fight now could well be his last. But while I was conflicted on his return when it was first announced, I’ve warmed to the idea the more I’ve thought about it.

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His legacy is already set. He’s a Hall Of Famer, a true pioneer and a real legend. The word ‘legend’ gets thrown around willy nilly these days but Aldo is absolutely one of them. Maybe the Featherweight GOAT. It can’t be stated enough how much he raised the bar in the Featherweight division, and the lighter weight classes in general, when he burst on the scene in WEC and started wrecking shop. I’m actually happy he’s back now. Leaving MMA on a dull loss to Merab would’ve been shite. I like Merab but that just wasn’t a crowd pleasing fight and, even if he still goes out on a loss, Aldo deserves to at least finish up with a fun fight. Even if this is it, he loses to Martinez and he’s one and done in his return, getting to fight in Brazil against a striker is a better way to go out than getting stifled to a UD loss by Merab in fucking Utah of all places.

Martinez sounds bang up for this fight as you’d expect. Massive opportunity for him…

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“I think it was after sparring one day, my manager called me and he was like, ‘Do you want to fight Jose Aldo?’ I didn’t hesitate at all, I said ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’ It was pretty crazy. I had to let it sink in a little bit. It’s a huge name. I know he’s been boxing and stuff. I feel like he’s gotten better. He’s been looking good. I’m excited to see that version.”

“I was a fan, I used to watch him. My parents used to watch him when he was in the WEC. But it doesn’t faze me, I don’t get excited like that. It’s just another guy in there. I’ve gotta go in there and show him that I’m better than him. To me, I think they like this matchup because it’s the two kickers in the division. Out of all the Bantamweights, I kick a lot and he used to, maybe he’ll bring it back this time.”

“Boo me or cheer for me, it doesn’t bother me. Them booing isn’t gonna get in my head or nothing like that. I’m actually gonna have some noise, which is way better than fighting in the quiet Apex.” - Jonathan Martinez

Love the little dig at the Apex at the end there! 🤣

Looking back over his record, 6 of his last 7 fights have been at the Apex. No wonder he’s craving some noise! Even deafening boos and death threats are gonna sound like music to his ears compared to the crickets and tumbleweed he usually experiences at the UFC warehouse. Kind of feel bad for Martinez. There’s not gonna be a soul in the arena, barring his corner, who isn’t baying for his blood here. And pretty much every single person watching at home (not named Martinez) is gonna be rooting for Aldo as well. I actually like Martinez but I’m gonna be the same. It’s not the fight I’d have chosen for Aldo’s return, I think Aldo’s just at that stage now where he should be fighting exclusively against more established names and/or fellow legends. I saw some reports that Dominick Cruz was the original plan as Aldo’s opponent here and that would’ve been more my thinking too. But purely as a matchup of styles, I can’t see how Martinez doesn’t make for an exciting fight with Aldo. And he’s on a 6 fight winning streak so, from his point of view, he absolutely deserves a big fight. He’s coming into this fight off wins over Cub Swanson, Said Nurmagomedov and Adrian Yanez. And he dismantled both Cub and Yanez with crippling leg kicks. So he’s a fighter cut from the same cloth as Aldo in that respect. Yeah, they could’ve put together a more suitable and juicier fight for Aldo’s return, I’m in total agreement there, but just enjoy it for what it is. It should be a hell of a fight for however long it lasts.

 

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Anthony Smith vs Vitor Petrino is a decent fight. Not setting the world alight but what is at 205 these days? This is alright. Gotta give Smith his credit where it’s due. He’ll literally fight any fucker, won’t he? He’s 35 years old, coming off a bad knockout loss and this’ll be his 57th pro fight. And he’s currently ranked #10 in the Light Heavyweight division. You could forgive a guy like that for wanting to sit on his ranking and look for favourable matchups but he genuinely seems to just accept every fight that’s offered. I see fans shit on him a fair bit these days for whatever reason but you can never accuse him of ducking tough fights. There was a time a few years back when he was legitimately in the title picture as well. He was never gonna actually become champion but he was in that mix of top contenders. He actually beat and finished Alexander Gustafsson, in Sweden, in 2019. A win I think a lot of people have forgotten about. Of course he battered washed up versions of Shogun Rua and Rashad Evans along the way, subbed Volkan Oezdemir, knocked out Hector Lombard etc. But it seems like the peak of his career is always gonna be that he went 5 rounds in a losing effort in his title shot against Jon Jones. In the last few years the best it’s gotten for him has been a couple of wins over Ryan Spann and a doctor stoppage TKO over Jimmy Crute. We last saw him getting wiped out by Khalil Rountree in December. Now he’s straight back in there with another heavy hitter…

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Vitor Petrino is undefeated at 11-0, with 8 of those wins not requiring judges. He’s only 26 years old, he’s built like a WWF Hasbro and he’ll have the support of the crowd here being at home in Brazil. He got a TKO finish on DWCS back in 2022 and that got him in the door of the UFC, where he’s gone 4-0 since. He hasn’t been properly tested yet, in my opinion. There’s positives to take from what we’ve seen so far. He’s finished fights early and late. So he’s not necessarily just one of those musclebound freaks who fades after a round or so. But his UFC run so far has gone - Anton Turkalj, Marcin Prachnio, Modestas Bukauskas, Tyson Pedro. Not exactly a murderer’s row, is it? Although it’s still relatively early in Petrino’s career so it’s fine. I had fairly high hopes at one point but I’m not so sure now. Maybe he can still go on to be a force but I didn’t think he looked too good against Pedro last time out, and that was a Pedro who retired straight after. I just felt like Petrino should’ve won that fight more convincingly and impressively than he did. This fight with Smith should be a good barometer because, while Smith’s clearly slowing down, he’s mixed with enough established names, at various levels, that we should learn something about Petrino here. I think it’s clear what the matchmakers had in mind when they booked this. To see a veteran who’s coming off a rough stoppage loss immediately get matched up with an undefeated fighter 10 years his junior…you know what it’s about. Feels like they’re trying to push Smith into that analyst role permanently with matchmaking like this. But you never know. If Petrino’s gonna become something though, he really can’t afford to be losing a fight like this.

 

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Michel Pereira vs Ihor Potieria sounds like all kinds of fun! This was supposed to be Pereira against Makhmud Muradov, which was a pretty cool pairing in its own right. Muradov dropped out, Potieria has stepped in. I think this is actually a better fight! Pereira is can’t miss viewing and, since moving up to Middleweight especially, has looked a right handful recently. I always get the feeling he’s about to hit his ceiling but, for all the criticism he received early in his UFC run, in fairness I think he’s done a good job of finding the balance between keeping elements of that wacky style that brought him to the dance, but keeping it in check just enough so that it compliments his performance rather than hinders it. I think cutting down to 170 played a big part in holding him back, to be fair. He finally moved up to 185 last year and has since breezed through Andre Petroski and Michal Oleksiejczuk in about 2 minutes combined. He’s on a 7 fight winning streak now. I don’t see him making waves in the title picture but who the fuck knows? It’s not like Middleweight is loaded with talent. Potieria jumping in here was a bit of a surprise actually. It had been announced that he’d be fighting Shara Bullet on the Saudi card in June so you wouldn’t have thought he’d be an option but here we are. And according to Marcel Dorff, as I type this Potieria vs Shara is still on for Saudi! Of course it’s gonna depend on how banged up Potieria is coming out of this fight though. Potieria’s Ukrainian, 20-5 with 15 finishes and, win or lose, hasn’t had a dull moment yet in the UFC. He looked good beating Robert Bryczek in February and lost a barmy back and forth battle with Rodolfo Bellato before that in December. This has potential to be a really crazy fight.

 

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Paul Craig vs Caio Borralho is currently scheduled to kick off the PPV. Funny one this. Not a bad fight and Craig fights always have the potential for something goofy happening. But I don’t know, I’m not really feeling it and I’m blaming most of that on Borralho. Just find him so frustrating to watch. He’s one of those fighters who seems to have all the physical attributes and he’s definitely got some skills, but I always feel underwhelmed by his performances. It always feels like he could do more but just doesn’t. He’s 15-1-0-1 now, is on a long unbeaten streak and that lone loss was all the way back in 2015. But at 4-0 in the UFC, he’s yet to have one real standout performance. Maybe there’s better to come and other gears he can tap into but so far, every time I’ve watched him it’s left me feeling cold. Hopefully Craig can drag something more watchable out of him and give us a different look. He’s kind of floundering now though. He’s 36 years old and has lost 3 of his last 4. He’s got those wins over Jamahal Hill and Magomed Ankalaev up at 205 that have obviously aged well. But he’s just so inconsistent. We last saw him getting submitted by Brendan Allen in their main event back in November.

 

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Joanderson Brito vs Jack Shore is a cracking fight. It might not be the most stacked card names-wise but there are some cracking fights and this one stands out to me as one of the front runners to bag that FOTN bonus. Happy to see them get a main card spot as well. Both have spent the majority of their UFC careers on the prelims for some reason. Both deserve better than that. This should be the perfect way to start the PPV. A lighter weight class fight between a couple of exciting fighters, and a Brazilian is involved so you know the crowd is gonna be red hot for it. Brito’s been entertaining to watch every time I’ve seen him. He’s a Chute Boxe guy, what do you expect? He’s 16-3-1 with 14 finishes and coming off a sweet ninja choke submission over Jonathan Pearce in November. Before that he rattled off 3 straight first round finishes over Andre Fili, Lucas Alexander and Westin Wilson. You dig further back in his career and he also beat Diego Lopes on DWCS and knocked Chepe Mariscal out in 44 seconds on a LFA card. He’s ace. One of the more under-appreciated guys in the 145 division for me, and I think that’s mostly because he’s been put on cards that no-one really pays attention to. Good to see him getting some shine here.

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Wales’ Jack Shore in the unlikely role as villain here. I’ve become a fan of ‘Tank’. Seems a top lad and I’ve enjoyed his podcast ‘Tank’d Up’ the few times I’ve caught it on YouTube. I remember there being a decent amount of buzz around him when he signed with the UFC a few years ago. He came in undefeated and still in his early 20s but he’d already got off to a really strong start and had a good run in Cage Warriors, winning and defending their Bantamweight title. He made his UFC debut in 2019 and won his first 5 fights but, oddly, couldn’t get off the prelims for love nor money. It was weird. He was clearly a real prospect and they do usually push the UK/European prospects a bit, especially when they’re young and unbeaten, if for no other reason than they can use them on the European Fight Nights in prominent positions. But Shore just wasn’t climbing for whatever reason. Then he suffered his first defeat against Ricky Simon in July 2022 and that was that. The perfect shiny undefeated record gone. He moved back up to Featherweight for his last fight on the Edwards vs Usman 3 undercard last March, and he looked great subbing Makwan Amirkhani. Now he’s finally getting that main card treatment! I think that’s mostly because they wanted to feature Brito but whatever. This is a good opportunity for Shore to make a statement. Going into hostile territory and taking a Brazilian fighter out on a PPV main card would be a significant step in the right direction. Really looking forward to this fight.

 

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Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs Iasmin Lucindo is OK. Not amazing or anything but should be a decent enough watch. It’s another one of them though, where the matchmakers are clearly trying to feed the veteran to the young up and comer. I get it and it’s the way combat sports have always been. Just sucks that it’s someone like Kowalkiewicz being used as cannon fodder. That’s likely the plan anyway. Whether it goes down like that remains to be seen. And to be fair, Kowalkiewicz has done a hell of a job resurrecting her career over the last couple of years. She went from beating Rose Namajunas and going 5 rounds with prime Joanna Jedrzejczyk at MSG, to going on a horrendous 5 fight losing streak, to now somehow turning things around to where she’s coming into this fight off 4 consecutive wins. Granted those 4 wins have been against low level opposition but it was looking like she was completely finished not too long ago. She’s done well to recover. She’s 38 now though and can’t have many more fights left in her. And here she is up against a 22 year old Lucindo! I’ve quite liked the little I’ve seen of Lucindo so far. She’s 15-5, which isn’t an amazing start, but she made an instant fan of me in her UFC debut with that banger against Yazmin Jauregui. She came up short in that one but has since bounced back with wins over Brogan Walker and Polyana Viana. Sadly I think Karolina’s little win streak is coming to an end here. Just a feeling but maybe I’m wrong.

 

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Elves Brener vs Myktybek Orolbai is ***WAND’S ONE TO WATCH*** for Rio. Might seem a bit of an odd choice but it immediately jumped out to me off the undercard and I wanted to highlight it. It’s not even like I’ve seen a great deal of either yet but that’s kind of the point. These days the UFC roster is such a revolving door that it’s rare newcomers really stand out. These two have for me though.

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Brazil’s Brener is obviously gonna be the crowd favourite. He’s 26 years old, a Chute Boxe fighter and has a record of 16-3 with 14 inside the distance. He made his Octagon debut at UFC 284 in Perth last February. The undercard of the first Makhachev vs Volkanovski fight. Brener took a split decision off Zubaira Tukhugov that night and I barely noticed him. When he was matched up against Guram Kutateladze in July I honestly thought he was a sacrificial lamb. I really rated Kutateladze (still think he could have a future) and fully expected him to bulldoze Brener. And for a bit he was bulldozing him. He was battering him, split his head wide open with elbows (see the pic above) and looked well on his way to victory. Brener just refused to go away though and scored a crazy come from behind knockout late in the fight. Then on the São Paulo card in November…

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He had Kaynan Kruschewsky literally do the Flair Flop! I remember we talked about it at the time but it was a weird looking shot that ended it. Didn’t even look like Brener put that much power behind it but it just caught Kruschewsky in that sweet spot around the temple/ear area and that was that. He completely faceplanted. It’s mad but, after a really forgettable debut, in just two fights Brener has completely changed my opinion on him. He showed insane toughness and heart in the Kutateladze fight and fight ending, game changing power in both fights. He’s a ‘must see’ fighter for me now and speaking of ‘must see’…

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Myktybek Orolbai is from Kyrgyzstan, 26 years old and is 12-1-1 with 11 finishes. He trains with Team Alpha Male and is currently on a 7 fight winning streak. I’d never seen or heard of him before his UFC debut in November. And even then, he just seemed to pop up out of nowhere and jumped in on short notice as a last minute replacement. I remember doing a little bit of digging at the time and seeing a brutal uppercut KO from him just a few weeks earlier on a LFA card. I was instantly on board and looking forward to seeing what he could do in the UFC. His debut didn’t disappoint…

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Just fucking brutal. Almost twisted Uros Medic’s head right off his neck. To come in on less than a week’s notice and do that was impressive. Of course it helped that he fought not long before that so he was still in shape. But he just came in and dealt with Medic in such a calm and matter of fact way. He looks like someone worth keeping an eye on and I love this matchup for both. Orolbai has shown he has knockout power and a dangerous ground game. And Brener is an absolute dog with KO power himself and zero quit in him. My initial feeling is that Orolbai’s wrestling might tip the odds in his favour but fuck knows really. Feels like it could be a barmy one.

 

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Joaquim Silva vs Drakkar Klose is just filler really but could be decent. Silva’s 35 years old now, has a record of 13-4 and he’s gone 2-3 in his last 5 fights. Pretty much just a journeyman but he’s not bad. He’s definitely had his moments. Even in defeat, he had Arman Tsarukyan badly rocked for a minute in their fight last June. He got back in the win column in December with a decision over Clay Guida. Klose fought on the same card in December and scored maybe the most spectacular knockout of 2023…

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Poor Joe Solecki got powerbombed into oblivion. Temple first off the canvas. Shades of Rampage Jackson in the Pride days. Klose is alright. Like Silva, at 36 he’s never gonna climb the ranks or really amount to much but he’s not bad to watch. I remember him having a cracking forgotten gem of a fight with Christos Giagos years ago and of course he got knocked out by Beneil Dariush in their slobberknocker. He’s also got a win over Bobby Green and is coming into this fight on a 3 fight win streak. These two are far from scrubs, they’ve just kind of found themselves lost in the shuffle in a loaded Lightweight division.

 

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Mauricio Ruffy vs Jamie Mullarkey jerks the curtain. Never seen Ruffy, this’ll be his UFC debut, but he’s Brazilian, 27 years old and 9-1 with all 9 wins coming by KO/TKO. He won his fight on DWCS in October and was talking a big game after, saying he’s gonna be UFC champion one day etc. Everyone has to start somewhere though and Mullarkey is the first hurdle. He’s somehow still only 29 but fuck me he’s got some miles on him. He’s 17-7 now and has been on the wrong end of some vicious stoppages. He got done in 2 minutes by Nasrat Haqparast last time out. He’s a scrappy fucker and game to throw hands with anyone but it seems like he already found his level a long time ago and this is it for him now. He’ll win a fight here or there then get clobbered, rinse and repeat. If Ruffy is as good as he’s talking himself up as, he really should be winning a fight like this in spectacular fashion. If he loses at this level, that ‘future champ’ talk is gonna look absolutely hilarious in hindsight.

 

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Dione Barbosa vs Ernesta Kareckaite is a complete mystery to me. Never seen either but - surprise, surprise - they’re both off DWCS. Both early into their MMA careers as well and this’ll be both their UFC debut. Barbosa is Brazilian, 31 years old but only 6-2 in MMA. So a pretty late starter. She trains out of Kings MMA and I’ve seen Cris Cyborg tweeted about her, giving her the stamp of approval. Kareckaite is Lithuanian, 25 years old and undefeated at 5-0-1. She won her fight on DWCS against Carli Judice in September by split decision and I’ve read a few times that it was a bit of a corker. I’ll give this a chance.

 

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Ismael Bonfim vs Vinc Pichel could be a slugfest actually. They were originally booked against each other on the São Paulo card in November but Bonfim came in well over the 155lb limit and the fight got binned at the eleventh hour. Hopefully none of that this time. It’s a shame how fast Bonfim has kind of fizzled out. He had such a fantastic debut on the last Rio PPV in January 2023. If you remember his flying knee KO over Terrance McKinney, you’ll know what I mean. One of the best knockouts of last year easy. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to build on that momentum because he ran into Benoit Saint-Denis in July and got overwhelmed and choked. Bonfim’s still only 28 and has a solid record of 19-4 with 13 finishes. It’s not all doom and gloom. I hope he gets back to winning ways here anyway, because Pichel seems a bit of a bellend.

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That was part of his little outburst after his last fight. Mark Madsen played to his strengths and outwrestled him and he cried about it. 30+ years into the UFC being a thing and fighters who can’t wrestle are still bitching when wrestlers wrestle. Not sure what we’re getting here. That Madsen loss was over 2 years ago, Pichel hasn’t fought since and he’s 41 years old now. Bit of a scrapper as I recall and he did beat Jim Miller a few years ago. But with his age, the layoff and his limited skillset, it feels like a fight that’s been designed to get Bonfim back in the win column.

 

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Alessandro Costa vs Kevin Borjas. Actually think this might be a bit of a sleeper. Haven’t seen enough of either to be confident about it but if their last fights are typical of them, it should be good. Costa’s Brazilian, 28 years old and 13-4 with 10 finishes. He’s gone 1-2 in the UFC so far but he lost a really good fight against Steve Erceg last time out. That loss could age beautifully if Erceg pulls off the upset on this card. Before that, Costa stopped Jimmy Flick. And Borjas is Peruvian, 26 years old and 9-2 with 8 knockouts. He made his UFC debut on the MSG card in November and lost a decision to Joshua Van but it was an absolute belter that would’ve got FOTN on almost any other card. Looking forward to seeing both of them back in there.

 

RIO 🇧🇷👊

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Edited by wandshogun09
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Great work Wand. Actually really like this, different kind of feel and Pantoja/Erceg is the kind of wild card title fight we very rarely see these days, i'm in.

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Going to be honest this one is a drop from the last and that was obviously going to happen but I'm having a night off not having the boys round for this one because it's not a card worth spending the money we all spend on UFC ppv night's but we're getting back together a normal for UFC 302

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Yeah he looked like shit. Not sure what happened there. Usually a bad weight cut sees the fighter miss or barely scrape the weight. Gomis came in a couple of pounds under the weight limit with a shirt on. Must have an illness of some sort. Fully expecting his fight to get cancelled at the last minute now. If not, I can’t see it going well for him against a heavy hitter like Silva.

While I’m here, look at this for a stable. The likability scale just exploded. The Mexzilians? The Brazexicans?

🇧🇷🇲🇽

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Gonna sound harsh and obviously I hope it’s nothing too serious. But this card losing Gomis actually improves it for me. Bloke’s been zero fun to watch in his UFC fights so far. 

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I don’t think it’s fair to keep comparing this to 300. They stacked that one up to such a degree that pretty much any card would be a comedown trying to follow it. This isn’t the strongest PPV but it’s not even a bad card.

No press conference is weird but it’s not like there was no talking points here. Jose Aldo’s return alone would’ve made a presser worthwhile, especially in Rio. The main event could’ve benefited from a presser as well and I actually think Erceg has came across well in bits I’ve seen and could’ve been entertaining in that setting. Then you’ve got Michel Pereira who’s an interesting character, Anthony Smith is never short of something to say, Petrino is an up and coming Brazilian prospect who you’d think they’d wanna shine a light on. Even Paul Craig and Caio Borralho could’ve been a fun little clash of personalities. 

But we’ll never know because they just didn’t even bother with a press conference. It’s not the fighters faults and there is some good stuff scattered throughout this card if you can get past it not being 300. But when it comes to lack of promotion, blame the UFC for being lazy cunts. 

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4 hours ago, wandshogun09 said:

I don’t think it’s fair to keep comparing this to 300. They stacked that one up to such a degree that pretty much any card would be a comedown trying to follow it. This isn’t the strongest PPV but it’s not even a bad card.

No press conference is weird but it’s not like there was no talking points here. Jose Aldo’s return alone would’ve made a presser worthwhile, especially in Rio. The main event could’ve benefited from a presser as well and I actually think Erceg has came across well in bits I’ve seen and could’ve been entertaining in that setting. Then you’ve got Michel Pereira who’s an interesting character, Anthony Smith is never short of something to say, Petrino is an up and coming Brazilian prospect who you’d think they’d wanna shine a light on. Even Paul Craig and Caio Borralho could’ve been a fun little clash of personalities. 

But we’ll never know because they just didn’t even bother with a press conference. It’s not the fighters faults and there is some good stuff scattered throughout this card if you can get past it not being 300. But when it comes to lack of promotion, blame the UFC for being lazy cunts. 

That's what I mean. This ppv is fucking desperate for hype and build, there are fights on here I'm excited for but you wouldn't fucking guess it's the day of a pay per view it's completely dead. With a company obsessed with records and numbers they have shat the bed in getting eyes and attention including the media they also haven't done their bit. It's a shame and not how it should be ran and handed 301 ppvs in 

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Paul Craig upto his usual tricks. I like the bloke but its a shame all the intensity disappears the moment the bell goes.

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