Fight fans may not be getting the fight they want. Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino may not be getting the weight class she probably deserves. However, here she is, set to enter the Octagon for the second time this weekend as the main attraction of UFC Fight Night 95.
Cyborg is still a woman without a division in the UFC. Her potential fight with Ronda Rousey still feels like little more than a pipe dream, too. But regardless, the UFC’s most dominant fighter without a belt is looking to make it two straight in the organization. After smashing Leslie Smith in just 81 seconds in her promotional debut a few months ago, Cyborg turns her attention to the next victim on her hit list: 6-1 knockout artist Lina Länsberg. The Swede has won six in a row since dropping her MMA debut a few years back, but she’s facing what is by far the toughest fight of her young career in the form of the scariest female fighter the sport has ever seen.
The rest of the card fills out quite nicely.
Former bantamweight champion Renan Barão seeks to get things back on track and avoid enduring three straight losses for the first time in his career. He has a golden opportunity to do so against former The Ultimate Fighter finalist Phillipe Nover in the co-main event.
Throw in a war between “Big Country” Roy Nelson and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, two of the largest men on the roster, and while this card might not feel like the most competitive on paper, at the very least we’re looking at some guaranteed brutality.
UFC Fight Night 95 kicks off from Cyborg’s native Brazil this Saturday, and as usual the UFC has a few bouts to offer on UFC Fight Pass to start things off. Headlined by an intriguing fight between Stevie Ray and Alan Patrick, the three-bout Fight Pass prelims start at 6:30 p.m. ET. Then the card will head to Fox Sports 1 for the remainder of the prelims at 8 p.m. ET. Fox Sports 1 is also the broadcast home for the six-fight main card, which begins at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Sal DeRose and Vince Carey break down the card in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Lina Länsberg is the latest opponent for Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino in her catchweight run in the UFC. Cyborg destroyed Leslie Smith in her Octagon debut and hasn’t been out of the first round in her last four fights. Of course, Länsberg is a longshot to win, but can she outlast Cyborg’s previous four opponents and make it to round two?
DeRose: I want to say yes, but I just can’t. It would be nice for Cyborg to have some sort of competition above 135 pounds, but there just isn’t anyone that can stand and trade with her. Round two doesn’t sound like a longshot under most circumstances. It should be easily achievable. However, Cyborg is on another level from anybody who competes above the bantamweight division.
I just don’t know how the UFC can really justify this fight, or justify Justino fighting in the promotion at all in a non-existent weight class. We need to finally see Cyborg make the cut down to bantamweight. We’re going to lose all care for these meaningless novelty fights, and then what happens? There is no divisional progression. There’s not a belt on the line. All we have is a really dominant fighter in a weight class that doesn’t have the talent to justify a full division in the UFC.
I’m normally hesitant to say no fighter has a chance. I have an “any given Sunday” mentality when it comes to fighting. Anybody could beat anyone on any given day. Yet, Justino has looked so dominant against the best above 135 pounds that there just isn’t any compelling fight left to see. It would be a massive upset if Justino were to lose this contest — it would be on par with some of the biggest upsets in UFC history. Even a second round would be a monumental accomplishment for Länsberg.
Carey: It’s almost comical that Cyborg is so good at her job that no one is willing to pick an opponent to make it out of the first round with her, but she really is that much better than the rest of her division. A case could easily be made that Justino is the most dominant fighter that MMA has seen, period. When a fighter of that caliber is thrown into the cage with a relative unknown like Länsberg, things are likely to get ugly in a hurry.
We’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff over the past year. Upsets have been more common than ever in big-time fights. Rousey, Holly Holm, Conor McGregor, Luke Rockhold, Robbie Lawler and plenty of others have gone down in fights they were all but guaranteed to win. I’m a lot like my colleague in the sense that I hardly ever walk into a fight with a “there’s no chance in hell” attitude. I’ve been around this sport long enough to have seen some ridiculous things. Yet, I’ll say it here: there’s no chance in hell Länsberg is able to pull off a win this weekend. I have a really hard time seeing her getting out of the first round as well.
There’s a chance that maybe Länsberg can stick and move long enough to stay out of range for the first five minutes and possibly make it to the second frame, but Cyborg is scary and ruthless and just about every adjective you can think of when it comes to dominant fighters. Justino takes this within the first couple of minutes.
The co-headliner of this card is a rebound fight for former bantamweight kingpin Renan Barão, who has now lost two in a row. Is the UFC tossing him a softball in the form of The Ultimate Fighter alum Phillipe Nover?
Carey: I honestly can’t remember the last time Cyborg was on a card where she wasn’t a part of the biggest mismatch of the night, but the UFC seems to have set up a pair of genuine WWE-style squash matches to end the evening at UFC Fight Night 95.
No disrespect to Nover, who to his credit has battled back from a lot of adversity and likely never thought he’d even be in another high-profile UFC bout after his hype from TUF wore off, but throwing him in there with Barão seems almost cruel.
After infamously being compared to Georges St-Pierre by UFC President Dana White while competing on the TUF reality show, Nover flamed out of the UFC with three straight defeats. It took him over five years before he climbed back into the Octagon. Now, after going 1-1 in his two fights since his return (with both bouts going to a split decision), Nover has been selected by the UFC to take part in a co-main event fight against a guy who’s desperate for a win and was considered one of the five best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport barely two years ago. Don’t hurt yourself trying to figure this one out, because it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
It’s hard to fault the UFC for giving Cyborg what seemingly amounts to a walk in the park, because there truly feels like there’s no one in the world at her weight that can hang at the moment. That’s not the case in this co-headliner, though. Despite Barão’s recent struggles, it’s impossible to make a case for Nover to be in this spot opposite of the former champ.
Barão isn’t even getting a softball. The UFC’s lobbing a freaking beach ball toward the strike zone.
Barão was once the bantamweight champion of the world while riding an unbelievably long winning streak. He may be on a two-fight skid here, but his losses came against T.J. Dillashaw and Jeremy Stephens. It isn’t like he lost to a bunch of no-name fighters.
Barão seems to have the “yips.” He overthinks a lot of his game. The Brazilian used to be a killer tearing through the bantamweight division with reckless abandon, but he has seemed timid since his first loss to Dillashaw. You can even say he played it safe against Mitch Gagnon in what was a very unconvincing win to get another crack at Dillashaw.
Barão needs to use this fight to break the free fall and once again demonstrate to the world the type of killer he can be inside the cage. Nover is a good start. The TUF alum isn’t a bad fighter, but he isn’t a top-10 guy either. He will give Barão a run for his money. However, Nover is still a softball, and one that Barão needs to hit out of the park for the sake of his future.
Roy Nelson and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva have struggled mightily over the past few years. Both of these big men come into this fight having gone 1-4 in their last five bouts while suffering a ton of punishment in the process. With both men on the wrong side of 35 and having taken ridiculous amounts of head trauma over the years, is now the time for the UFC to finally part ways with the loser of this one?
These are two good heavyweights who just haven’t performed well lately. A 1-4 mark isn’t exactly the record the UFC wants out of its aging heavyweights. In Silva’s case, we’re talking about nine career losses by knockout, too.
In each of his last seven losses, Silva has ended up unconscious. It is a scary thought to entertain the idea of what happens if Silva were to suffer another knockout loss here, which is entirely possible considering Nelson’s preferred style of winging in power shots. Nelson has made a career of that famous knockout delivery method. He has even resorted to just trying to land that one specific type of strike in his recent fights. If Silva goes down again, the UFC should send Bigfoot packing.
It’s more difficult to provide a clear-cut answer for Silva’s opponent. Nelson has taken a lot of punishment lately as well, but his chin seems to be still there, outside of a Mark Hunt knockout. Hunt seemingly could knock out a giant black bear in one punch if he truly had to, so there’s no shame to be had in that loss. Nelson is a more recognizable name, though, and if he were to get cut, he could be scooped up by another promotion to either bolster the roster or to provide a legitimate opponent for a heavyweight prospect on the rise.
At a certain point, health should become a major issue. It would be wrong if the UFC were to condone a situation that results in the worsening health of one of these fighters. I’m not clamoring to see either guy fight anymore after the amount of punishment they have both taken, but heavyweight is thin and they could be useful to the UFC. They could also turn things around — heavyweights have tended to fare better in their late 30s — but their health should remain the top priority.
Carey: I don’t really think either of these guys should be fighting too much longer. In Bigfoot’s case especially, I hope this is the last time we see him in the Octagon if he suffers another loss this weekend. The former title challenger has been knocked out a ridiculous five times in the last three years, and a few of those losses have come against guys that aren’t exactly known for their punching power.
True, these are heavyweights, so everyone in the division has knockout power. However, Frank Mir and Stefan Struve usually aren’t guys that come to mind as knockout artists in the division, but they both put Silva away in under two minutes. Bigfoot has only had one fight in his UFC career go past the first round. That was a five-round war with Mark Hunt in which Silva took a ton of damage. Honestly, I’m starting to feel uncomfortable watching Bigfoot compete.
Nelson is in a slightly different spot thanks to his granite chin. Even so, the man has taken some serious punishment over the years. It has to have added up by this point. Nelson is still able to take out the majority of unranked heavyweight talent in the division, but the beatings he has suffered at the hands of some of the division’s elite have been brutal. In his last fight with Derrick Lewis, Nelson ate a few right hands that would have put about 99.9 percent of the population away. While he’s not getting knocked out, “Big Country” is getting rocked more often than he ever had in the past.
If Nelson loses, I’m cool with him sticking around for another fight or two. Meanwhile, Silva’s time in the Octagon should be just about up if he goes home with a loss. Neither of these guys is heading back into title contention at this point, but Nelson is still a decent enough draw and has a good enough chin that he can stick around and having a few more entertaining scraps. Bigfoot doesn’t have that same appeal. His entire career has come down to whether he can land a big shot before he’s looking at the lights. I’m over it.
After a down year in 2015, Paul Felder has pulled together two straight victories this year over Daron Cruickshank and Josh Burkman. Does Felder continue his winning ways against Francisco Trinaldo, or does Trinaldo make his winning streak seven straight?
Carey: I’ve done quite a few of these previews, and I don’t think I’ve been burned as consistently by a fighter as I have by Trinaldo. During his current six-fight winning streak, I bet I’ve picked against him at least four times. So, even though I really like Felder’s chances, I can’t deny Trinaldo any longer.
Trinaldo is such a well-rounded guy. Whether he’s fighting a veteran like Ross Pearson or an up-and-comer like Chad Laprise, it doesn’t matter. Trinaldo knows that he can hang in just about any area. He’s done really well for himself over the past few years by fighting smart and keeping himself out of danger. He may get into the occasional brawl, as evidenced by his last bout against Yancy Medeiros, but the Brazilian makes sure things are competitive and does enough to earn a decision. That’s not a bad strategy to have, and it should work out pretty well for him against an aggressive striker like Felder.
Outside of a loss to top contender Edson Barboza last year, Felder has been pretty damn solid in the UFC thus far. However, given the way Trinaldo fights, it is going to be tough for Felder to land one of the finishing blows he’s so fond of delivering. And the Philly native is going to need to land one to earn the win.
It’s never easy picking against a Brazilian in Brazil anyway, but when the guy is Trinaldo, a fighter who’s been gifted a fight or two in South America, I just can’t bring myself to do it. Trinaldo by controversial decision.
DeRose: I haven’t been nearly as burned by Trinaldo, but I can’t say he hasn’t proven me wrong on a few occasions.
Trinaldo is a very well-rounded fighter who has looked really good lately, but Felder is a hard guy to pick against. Felder has righted the ship in his last two fights after dropping back-to-back decisions against the aforementioned Pearson and Barboza. If Felder can perform like he did against, say, Danny Castillo, in a fight where he won the stand-up, or as he did against Cruickshank in a submission victory, then he should be in really good shape.
Felder can’t let this go to a decision. He needs to keep it on the feet and try for the finish. If this goes to the judges in Brazil, then he will have an extremely tough time winning a decision. Felder has what it takes, though. Felder couldn’t get it done against Burkman, but he will against Trinaldo. Felder wins the fight on the feet and eventually scores a TKO to finish Trinaldo.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
DeRose: Erick Silva and Luan Chagas. Silva, who fights on the undercard, came into the UFC as a huge prospect in the welterweight division. He scored a thrilling TKO victory, but he hasn’t been very consistent in his subsequent fights. Silva has been unable to put together a meaningful winning streak, but this fight against Chagas gives him the potential to snap his current two-fight skid. A third loss could send Silva packing from the UFC, but that alone should awaken something inside him that we once saw in his UFC debut.
Carey: I almost always choose a flyweight fight for this spot, but despite a shout out to Jussier “Formiga” da Silva and Dustin Ortiz, I’m going to go with the Fight Pass headliner between Stevie Ray and Alan Patrick. Ray is 3-0 in the UFC with a couple of impressive knockouts on his resume. Ray has looked extremely good in every one of his fights thus far. He’ll be facing his toughest test by far when he clashes with Patrick, who’s posted a solid 3-1 record with his only loss coming to the ridiculously talented Mairbek Taisumov. This one is really interesting, and the winner might be in line for a fight with a ranked opponent if they can impress.
Pair this card with…
Carey: A good night’s sleep. I’m not saying don’t have fun on your Saturday night, but if you end up staying in and watching the fights, then you might be able to grab some shut eye a little earlier than usual. These six-fight main cards that start at 10 p.m. usually run pretty late, but the glorified squash matches in the top two fights on the card could lead to an earlier end on Saturday. Might as well get an hour or so of extra sleep if that’s the case.
DeRose: I’m a big video-game guy and one of my favorites, Destiny, releases a DLC on Tuesday. That’s what I’ll be pairing this with card. It will be nice to have some background noise while I play. That’s right, this event, which doesn’t exactly have any standout fights, will be relegated to the background while I play video games.
|Fight||DeRose’s Pick||Carey’s Pick|
|Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 10 p.m. ET)|
|140-pound Catchweight: Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino vs. Lina Länsberg||Justino||Justino|
|FW: Renan Barão vs. Phillipe Nover||Barao||Barao|
|HW: Roy Nelson vs. Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva||Nelson||Nelson|
|LW: Paul Felder vs. Francisco Trinaldo||Felder||Trinaldo|
|MW: Thiago Santos vs. Eric Spicely||Santos||Santos|
|FW: Mike De La Torre vs. Godofredo Pepey||Pepey||Pepey|
|Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)|
|LW: Michel Prazeres vs. Gilbert Burns||Burns||Burns|
|BW: Rani Yahya vs. Michinori Tanaka||Yahya||Yahya|
|FlyW: Jussier “Formiga” da Silva vs. Dustin Ortiz||da Silva||da Silva|
|WW: Erick Silva vs. Luan Chagas||Silva||Silva|
|Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6:30 p.m. ET)|
|LW: Stevie Ray vs. Alan Patrick||Ray||Ray|
|WW: Vicente Luque vs. Hector Urbina||Luque||Luque|
|LW: Gregor Gillespie vs. Glaico França||Franca||Gillespie|