Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC Fight Night 51 Preview and Predictions

Quick: Name the capital of Brazil. Nope, it’s not Rio de Janeiro. It’s not Sao Paolo, either. Give up?

The correct answer is Brasilia, and the UFC visits Brazil’s fourth most populous city for the first time on Sept. 13 for its latest Fight Night card. Like most of its Brazilian events, UFC Fight Night: Silva vs. Arlovski features a packed slate of fighters from the host country. In the night’s main event, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, who ranks fourth in the UFC’s heavyweight standings, faces former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski, who made a successful return to the Octagon in June with a win over Brendan Schaub.

That heavyweight rematch is just one of six main-card fights airing Saturday night on UFC Fight Pass, and Combat Press writers Bryan Henderson and Eric Reinert will break down the event in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.


The last time Andrei Arlovski and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva met, Bigfoot emerged with the decision victory. But that was during the biggest slide of Arlovski’s career. Now that the Belarusian has climbed back into the UFC, can he avenge that loss? And if he can’t, is this the end of his stay in the Octagon?

Reinert: Can I be honest with you, Bryan? This is one of the worst fights the UFC has ever chosen to place at the top of a card. Say what you want about T.J. Dillashaw vs. Joe Soto, at least there was a belt on the line. This Bigfoot vs. Arlovski business didn’t elicit much more than a shrug from me, and I’m guessing I’m not alone.

Bigfoot doesn’t have a win on his ledger since February 2013, when he knocked out a man who claimed to be Alistair Overeem. After taking a one-sided loss to heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, then fighting to a draw with Mark Hunt before getting popped for performance-enhancing drugs, Silva is probably the least-regarded top-five heavyweight in UFC history.

Equally confusing to me is Arlovski’s placement in this main event. Since when does a controversial split-decision victory over Schaub suddenly warrant such a bright spotlight? I remain far from convinced that Arlovski can truly compete with the UFC’s top heavyweights, and would not at all be surprised if one of Silva’s cinder-block fists finds its fight-ending mark early in this contest.

Clearly, Bigfoot vs. Arlovski is at the top of this bill because there are literally no other notable fighters on the main card. For a Fight Pass event in Brazil, I suppose that’s not such a big deal, but I like my main events to have some substance to them. Sure, the two headlining heavyweights fought once before, but that was in 2010, and its not like they have this long-burning rivalry that needs closure.

Here’s my point: Neither of these fighters have much to gain in victory. A win for Bigfoot would just prove what many already assume: Arlovski’s UFC career should have ended after he fought Jake O’Brien in 2008. If, however, Arlovski somehow emerges victorious, it doesn’t exactly rocket him to title contention. He’ll have beaten a guy whose own UFC career has been merely so-so, and will then be put in the path of folks like Junior dos Santos or Travis Browne; in other words, guys who will almost surely knock him out if Bigfoot doesn’t do it on Saturday.

I don’t think it’ll get that far, though, as Bigfoot should have the necessary power to put Arlovski away and probably hasten his exit from the Octagon.

Henderson: I’m not complaining so much about this fight’s placement atop the card. Bigfoot is getting a chance to headline in his native Brazil against a fighter that even many casual fans will recognize. To me, this is exactly how Fight Pass events should be utilized—one big fight headlining a card full of developing fighters. The UFC should structure more of its Fight Pass and Fox television offerings like this and save the real star power to build epic-quality pay-per-views.

As for the fight itself, well, let’s just say I doubt there are many people scrambling for this rematch based on the quality of the first fight or the two fighters’ recent performances. These men didn’t put on a great show in their first meeting, which came during Arlovski’s four-fight skid and in the aftermath of a Bigfoot loss to Fabricio Werdum. Both men needed a victory and didn’t want to take big risks to get it. Now, Bigfoot is on a 2-2-1 stretch inside the Octagon and Arlovski is coming off his UFC return, in which he again had to fight conservatively if he wanted to win and stay in the promotion. Would it be much of a surprise to see a similarly tedious fight in this go-around?

Arlovski has salvaged his career since his four-fight skid from 2009 to 2011, but he barely eked past Schaub and dropped a decision to Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. He has a couple more quality wins in that span, in fights against Andreas Kraniotakes and Mike Kyle, but we’re not talking about top-tier competition there. The Belarusian was the UFC heavyweight champion, but that was in an era when Tim Sylvia was a perennial top contender. Those days are long gone.

Both men do have a lot to gain here, Eric. Arlovski needs this win to firmly claim his roster spot and prove that he can beat a top-10 heavyweight in the present era. Meanwhile, Bigfoot needs the opportunity to right his own ship. The Brazilian hasn’t been able to do so against the best competition out there, so the UFC seems to be throwing him a bone here. These are two men essentially fighting for their UFC careers.

Fortunately for fans, Bigfoot has become a more aggressive fighter since the first meeting. He might be hesitant to put forth a full-on assault under the circumstances, but he’s mostly been a win-or-get-knocked-out-trying guy since joining the UFC. Arlovski doesn’t have a strong chin, and that will be his undoing in the rematch.

Piotr Hallmann has gotten off to a 2-1 start inside the Octagon, but now he’s meeting Gleison Tibau, a fighter with a 14-8 mark through 22 UFC outings. Hallmann is a finisher with seven wins by way of knockout or TKO and seven via submission, but Tibau has only been finished four times in his career. Can the Polish fighter emerge from this contest with a stoppage victory?

Henderson: Those eight losses on Tibau’s UFC record can be deceiving. They’ve been stretched out over eight years and include a number of fights where he pushed quality opponents such as Tyson Griffin, Melvin Guillard, Jim Miller, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Evan Dunham the distance. Furthermore, he’s worked to victories over the likes of Pat Healy, Jamie Varner, Francisco Trinaldo and Rafael dos Anjos. Tibau doesn’t always win his fights, but he’s an extremely tough fight for anyone.

Hallmann isn’t getting the easy path through the crowded UFC lightweight division. The 27-year-old Polish fighter was a stud of the European circuit, but he’s been faced with the task of taking on the aforementioned Trinaldo, Al Iaquinta and seasoned veteran Yves Edwards. Hallmann managed to submit Trinaldo and Edwards, but he fell on the scorecards to Iaquinta. Tibau is more patient in his approach and more well-rounded than the two UFC opponents Hallmann has finished. He’s also a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu who won’t be taken down easily.

Hallmann didn’t perform well against Trinaldo until the Brazilian tired, and that may be his best hope in this contest. The Polish fighter relies on a ground-and-pound attack to either score a TKO or set up the rear-naked choke finish, but he’s going to struggle to get Tibau to the mat and work that strategy unless the veteran lightweight depletes his gas tank. However, Tibau can’t be expected to fade in the same manner as Trinaldo. This is, after all, a guy who has seen 20 decisions in his career and 14 of those inside the Octagon.

Not only will Hallmann fail to get a stoppage victory, but he’ll fail to get the win at all. Tibau will get the better of him on the feet while avoiding takedowns. This is another decision-bound fight for the Brazilian, and it’s one where he’ll emerge with his hand raised.

Reinert: I think you’ve got this one nailed, Bryan.

Because of Hallmann’s impressive record of 14 stoppages in 15 pro wins, along with Tibau’s longevity in the sport, it might be tempting to predict a Hallmann victory here. There are, however, a few things to consider.

First, Tibau is only 31 years old despite having a pro record dating back to 1999, so it’s not as if he’s over-the-hill. Second, he’s fought in the UFC, and against its top-flight roster, since 2006, so you know the quality of his competition has been vastly higher than Hallmann’s. Finally, as is noted in the question above, Tibau has been finished a total of four times in 39 pro fights. I don’t think Hallmann is going to have as easy a time against Tibau as he did against the men he fought en route to his arrival in the UFC.

Many of Tibau’s losses have come to guys who are now or were at the time considered to be among the best in the lightweight division. The only one of those losses that gives me pause is the knockout he suffered at the hands of Michael Johnson in December. It was Tibau’s first loss by KO/TKO since 2006 (when he fought Nick Diaz as a welterweight in his UFC debut), but anytime a fighter begins to look susceptible to having his lights punched out, I wonder how much longer their MMA career can last (see: Andrei Arlovski).

If Hallmann is able to land some solid strikes against Tibau, it will be interesting to see how the Brazilian’s chin holds up. Hallmann will almost certainly give that a try, since it’s pretty much impossible to take the stout Tibau to the mat. That said, I have to side with my colleague, Mr. Henderson, here in predicting a decision victory in front of a friendly crowd for Tibau. Hallmann’s UFC career won’t come to an end with a loss on Saturday, but it will show that he’s got a long way to go before he’ll truly contend at 155 pounds.

Paulo Thiago was looking like a UFC contender after wins over Josh Koscheck and Mike Swick, but times have certainly changed. Now, he’s buried on the preliminary card and struggling to find wins. Are Thiago’s days in the UFC numbered, or can the Brazilian turn things around?

Reinert: Lemme fix the wording of the question: Paulo Thiago was looking like a UFC contender four years ago before going 2-6. His last two fights both ended in losses to unranked Brandon Thatch and Gasan Umalatov (who doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page) and his only wins since 2010 are against David Mitchell (no longer in the UFC) and non-contender Michel Prazeres. On Saturday, Thiago finds himself on the preliminary portion of UFN 51 taking on Sean Spencer, owner of a 2-2 record in the UFC.

Are Thiago’s days in the UFC numbered? You better believe it. I have to think the only reason he’s still able to maintain employment with the UFC is so the company can trot out a respected member of Brazil’s elite BOPE police unit to get a little extra cheer from his hometown fans, and that gimmick will likely expire if Thiago loses to Spencer.

Even with a win, it would seem that Thiago has passed the point of no return in MMA. Every time he’s tried to fight someone even approaching the top of the UFC’s welterweight division in the last several years, he’s come up short. His two most recent losses should have put the nail in his UFC coffin, but for whatever reason he’s been given one more shot to keep at it in the Octagon.

Saturday night will likely be the last we see of Paulo Thiago in the UFC, as I expect Spencer to hand him his third straight loss.

Henderson: Thiago’s extended stay in the UFC is perplexing. He looked like a promising welterweight when he toppled Koscheck and scored three wins in his first four UFC outings, with the only loss coming to Jon Fitch, who was dominating everyone not named Georges St-Pierre at the time. But since back-to-back decision losses to Martin Kampmann and Diego Sanchez, he has struggled to find any level of success. The wins over Mitchell and Prazeres have been gasps of air in an otherwise horrible stretch of fights. Nobody would have batted an eye if the UFC had released Thiago when he was 1-4 over his last five heading into his bout with Prazeres, and the company had another opportunity to dismiss the Brazilian when he again reached a 1-4 mark over his last five with the losses to Thatch and Umalatov. So, why is he still here?

Eric has to be on to something with the promotional opportunity Thiago affords the UFC. It’s either related to the Brazilian’s day job or to a case of UFC nostalgia based on those big wins over Koscheck and Swick. Whatever the case, Thiago has been given quite a long leash. If he loses this fight and the UFC still keeps him around, I’d be shocked. This isn’t a Leonard Garcia we’re talking about, and the added publicity surrounding Thiago’s association with BOPE can only go so far.

However, Thiago seems to get just the right fights thrown his way at just the right time. Spencer is entering this contest with a middling 2-2 mark inside the Octagon. His losses have come against Rafael Natal and Alex Garcia, not exactly the top of the food chain. Thiago could present a big threat to Spencer if the fight hits the mat. Spencer has two previous submission losses, and Thiago is quite accomplished at snagging submission victories.

Spencer’s athleticism should allow him to keep this fight standing, though. Thiago doesn’t have strong takedowns, and he’ll lose the striking exchanges. Spencer is the type of opponent who gives Thiago a glimmer of hope for victory, but has the right skill set to slam the door on those hopes. Thiago is headed for a decision loss and a pink slip.

Jessica Andrade has had a decent start to her UFC career. After dropping her Octagon debut to Liz Carmouche, she’s rattled off two straight wins over Rosi Sexton and Raquel Pennington, respectively. On Saturday, Andrade faces the undefeated Larissa Pacheco, who makes her UFC debut after beginning her professional career with 10 stoppage wins in as many fights. If Andrade is victorious on Saturday night, where could she expect to find herself with respect to the women’s bantamweight title picture, especially given the dominance champion Ronda Rousey has demonstrated over many of the women ranked between the two? How about Pacheco?

Henderson: This is the highlight of the event in my eyes, but it’s far from a title eliminator. Andrade is going to need to defeat bigger names than Pennington, Sexton and Pacheco to insert her name in the title hunt, and Pacheco is making her big league debut, so the chances that she vaults into the contender mix, even with an impressive and decisive finish, are slim to none, with the emphasis on none.

Andrade has those two Octagon wins, but the loss to Carmouche puts her in a spot where she’ll need to build her argument for a title bid. The win over Sexton was a dominant showing, but Sexton is a flyweight who was seriously outgunned in that fight. Pennington was a more solidly matched opponent for Andrade, and the 22-year-old Brazilian barely squeaked by with the win. She’s no guarantee to beat Pacheco either, but she has a good grappling base and a more patient and technical stand-up game which will give her a strong chance against the UFC newcomer.

Any fans out there wondering what this fight might look like would be well served to head over to YouTube and watch the showdown between Pacheco and Irene Aldana. Pacheco brings the same intensity and fearlessness to each and every one of her bouts. It might not be pretty, but Pacheco’s striking is wild enough to throw off even more technical fighters. The 20-year-old isn’t just a force when she’s winging punches, though. She also has six wins via submission, so Andrade won’t be out of harm’s way simply by taking the fight to the ground.

This isn’t a discussion about a soon-to-be contender emerging from this fight. It’s really about the future of the women’s bantamweight division. It’s a 20-year-old versus a 22-year-old, and both of these ladies will be around for years to come. I like Andrade’s style in the long run, but she’s drawing a bad match-up in this affair. Pacheco is wildly active and aggressive, and she’s coming into this fight with approximately a five-inch height advantage. Pacheco is also sure to enjoy a reach advantage. She’s going to press forward and connect with punches that rattle Andrade. Andrade will fire back with counters, but it probably isn’t going to be enough. Pacheco will take a TKO win in this affair, which will be a frontrunner for “Fight of the Night” honors. However, it’ll be another year or two before either of these ladies is discussed as a possible title challenger.

Reinert: I guess when it comes to the women’s bantamweight division, I’m of the mindset that any top-10 fighter is just a victory or two away from title contention, given that Ronda Rousey has beaten five of the 10 women ranked immediately underneath her. While I will admit that it will take more than a win on Saturday for Andrade to earn a title shot, I’m not sure she’s as far away from that spot as Bryan thinks.

That said, a win over Pacheco is far from guaranteed. In fact, this one could very well end up being a showcase for the debuting Brazilian. Pacheco is not only undefeated, she’s never even been to a decision. She’s obviously being given a stiff test in Andrade in her first UFC fight, and if she’s able to defeat her in highlight-worthy fashion, she could insert herself into title contention strictly by virtue of her ferocity. Again, I’m not saying she should meet Rousey immediately after a win on Saturday, but the women’s bantamweight division is in need of additional stars, not to mention new fighters to build en route to a showdown with Rousey, so Pacheco could do her career a huge favor with a victory over Andrade.

Obviously, Cat Zingano still holds the keys to the next title shot, and if she’s successful against eighth-ranked Amanda Nunes at UFC 178, she’ll likely be meeting Rousey next. The same is probably also true for Nunes if she emerges victorious on Sept. 27. Anytime a top-10 women’s bantamweight fighter is in the mix, though, the result of the fight will have very real title-picture implications. Pacheco and Andrade might still need to wait a bit to contend for that belt, but a convincing win for either on Saturday night will put the victor’s name on the short list.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Reinert: Tucked away early in the main-card portion of UFN 51 is a bantamweight contest with real title-picture implications between two very exciting 135-pounders. Iuri Alcantara is ranked seventh among the UFC’s bantamweights, and has amassed an impressive 3-1 UFC record (along with one no-contest) since moving to 135 pounds. He’s won his last two in a row, including a 25-second knockout of Vaughan Lee in his most recent bout, and his only loss in his current weight class is to longtime multi-division standout (and current second-ranked UFC bantamweight) Urijah Faber.

Across the cage from Alcantara stands Russell Doane, a man who has put together his own two-win UFC run since his promotional debut in January. He faces a significant step up in competition on Saturday night, and a win over someone as well regarded as Alcantara could catapult Doane into a spot in the top 10.

Aside from the various rankings-related motivations these two have, what makes this fight exciting for me is the incredibly high percentage of their fights that have ended before the final bell. Alcantara has notched 25 of his 30 pro wins by some form of stoppage, as has Doane in 11 of his 14. This one is incredibly tough to call, and it’s a great fight to get fans excited early in the main card.

Henderson: My first choice for the sleeper fight would be the contest between Andrade and Pacheco. Since we’ve already discussed that bout in great detail, I’ll look further down the lineup and single out the fight between Francisco Trinaldo and Leandro Silva.

This fight gives Silva an opportunity to redeem himself after his previous one-and-done UFC stint. Silva dropped a decision to Ildemar Alcantara in his lone UFC appearance, but that still represents the only loss on his 18-fight professional record. “Buscape” rebounded from the loss with five consecutive victories to earn another shot inside the Octagon. To make things even more interesting, he steps in on just two weeks’ notice to meet Trinaldo, who was gearing up for a fight against Efrain Escudero.

Trinaldo can be a beast, but he is certainly an inconsistent one. He comes to fight, but he makes mistakes and has a questionable gas tank. He has suffered losses to Michael Chiesa, Piotr Hallmann and Gleison Tibau, but defeated the likes of Jesse Ronson, Mike Rio, C.J. Keith and Delson Heleno.

This might not have the immediate implications of Alcantara’s fight with Doane, but it has the potential to be an entertaining bout that pits a highly successful fighter from outside the organization against an entertaining, albeit inconsistent, fighter who has established himself as a fixture on the UFC’s roster. If Silva can get past Trinaldo, he’s joining a list of fighters who have found a fair amount of success in the UFC. If he can’t get the win, he may be destined to roam the regional circuit once again.

Pair this card with…

Henderson: A notepad. Okay, most fans probably won’t sit and attentively take notes on each and every fight, but there are a lot of noteworthy names on this card who don’t immediately ring a bell with the average fan. The aforementioned Hallmann, Andrade and Pacheco are young fighters with a lot of potential, and they’re joined by standouts like Doane and Alcantara, as well as fighters like “Buscape” and Santiago Ponzinibbio, who are looking for redemption after losses in their UFC debuts. Yes, veterans Bigfoot and Arlovski are in the headlining spots, but this a card full of prospects worth scouting.

Reinert: A group of friends, some beers and a side activity of some sort. Sure, this card has some intriguing prospect match-ups, but it clearly pales in comparison to the upcoming UFC 178 (and even to last weekend’s Fight Night card from Connecticut). Clean up your house or apartment, figure out a way to broadcast Fight Pass on your television, put out the pretzels and break out the cards. Bryan can take his notes. You should pay attention too, but use this an excuse to have some folks over.

Fight Picks

Fight Reinert’s Pick Henderson’s Pick
Main Card (UFC Fight Pass, 8 p.m. ET)
HW: Andrei Arlovski vs. Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva Silva Silva
LW: Piotr Hallmann vs. Gleison Tibau Tibau Tibau
LW: Leonardo Santos vs. Efrain Escudero Santos Santos
WW: Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Wendell Oliveira Marques Marques Ponzinibbio
BW: Iuri Alcantara vs. Russell Doane Doane Alcantara
Women’s BW: Jessica Andrade vs. Larissa Moreira Pacheco Pacheco Pacheco
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 5:45 p.m. ET)
FW: Godofredo Pepey vs. Dashon Johnson Johnson Pepey
WW: Igor Araujo vs. George Sullivan Araujo Araujo
LW: Francisco Trinaldo vs. Leandro Silva Silva Trinaldo
WW: Paulo Thiago vs. Sean Spencer Spencer Spencer
BW: Rani Yahya vs. Johnny Bedford Yahya Yahya