Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC Fight Night 61 Preview and Predictions

It’s not often that you get a UFC main event between two fighters possibly fighting for their future in the promotion, but that’s exactly what’s happening when the UFC returns to Brazil on Sunday night.

Originally set to feature an epic light heavyweight scrap between Rashad Evans and Glover Teixeira, the UFC Fight Night 61 card was left in limbo after the UFC’s insanely persistent injury bug struck again. The UFC responded by taking former heavyweight contenders Frank Mir and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva from the UFC 184 main card and inserting them as the main event in Brazil. But while Evans and Teixeira were set to fight in a bout with major title implications, Mir and Silva have both struggled so badly recently that they’re fighting for their UFC lives in this one.

Mir and Bigfoot have some help on this card, though, mostly in the form of No. 6-ranked lightweight Edson Barboza in the co-headliner. Barboza is one of the most exciting strikers on the UFC roster and is quickly working his way toward a bout with a top-five lightweight if he can continue his winning ways. He has a solid test in front of him in fellow ranked fighter Michael Johnson, who has a lot to gain by pulling off the upset over a top-10 fighter.


UFC Fight Night 61 kicks off from Porto Alegre, Brazil on Sunday, Feb. 22. The card will begin on UFC Fight Pass with a pair of bouts, the first starting at 4 p.m. ET, before the prelims move over to Fox Sports 1 at 6 p.m. ET for four additional fights. That’s where the broadcast will remain for the rest of the night, with the main card getting started at 8 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Sal DeRose and Vince Carey break down the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Frank Mir has lost his last four fights. Mir’s opponent, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, is 0-2-1 over his last three fights. Does either man have a chance at returning to relevancy in the heavyweight division? Furthermore, if Mir loses, will this be the last time we see him in action?

DeRose: I’ll answer this one with a quick reference to “Closing Time,” the ’90s hit song by Semisonic, as I think this is the perfect walkout song for this point in Mir’s career. If Mir is to lose, I do not foresee him competing inside the Octagon, but I could still see him in action outside of the UFC. If he does lose, I wouldn’t want to see him fight anymore, either. It’s time for him to start gathering up his jackets and heading for the exit.

With that said, the heavyweight division is as thin as it gets in the men’s weight classes. Relevancy is pretty easily obtained in this division. However, I don’t really see either of these guys getting back into contention. As easy as it is, the top is still filled with killers. Mir is 3-5 in the last five years and Bigfoot can’t do much to erase his losses to Cain Velasquez, not to mention his recent loss to Andrei Arlovski.

Both guys are 35 years old, which, granted, isn’t too old for a heavyweight. The higher weight classes tend to be more favorable to the older men. But for either guy, a victory in this fight doesn’t mean what it once did.

Silva should win this fight if he can avoid taking it to the ground. Mir’s grappling skills require little review, as we have all seen what he can do on the ground. Mir is as deadly as they come when the fight hits the mat. He is probably still one of the best grapplers at heavyweight. Silva has some heavy hands, though, and should take this on the feet. He’ll need to pick his shots and land the knockout blast.

Carey: My colleague says Semisonic, but I say “Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba. Why? Well, because at this point I’m not sure we’re ever going to keep Mir down. It’s been over three years since he earned his last win by snapping Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira’s arm in half. Since that night, the former UFC champion has struggled to get any sort of offense going inside the cage. Now, coming off a pretty lopsided decision loss to Alistair Overeem over a year ago, Mir needs this one against Bigfoot badly if he wants to keep his career alive.

Even though Bigfoot’s losing streak isn’t quite as significant as Mir’s skid at the moment, he needs the win just as badly. The Brazilian hasn’t won a fight since he scored one of the bigger upsets in recent memory by knocking out the aforementioned Overeem back at UFC 156. He’s more vulnerable than ever after being knocked out in two of his last three bouts. Even Silva’s lone bright spot over the past couple of years, a three-round Rock’em Sock’em Robots-style war with Mark Hunt, was extinguished by a failed drug test from Bigfoot. To top it all off, Silva doesn’t have the long history with the UFC in the same way Mir does, so while Mir may have been able to get away with losing four in a row and not lose his job, Bigfoot can’t be quite as confident.

Even though there’s absolutely no reason that these two should be fighting in a main event slot in 2015, it’s somehow happening. You better believe the winner is going to be in a high-profile spot their next time out as well. I don’t see either man actually becoming relevant in the title picture again, but the winner will get a solid fight and a chance to earn a little bit of spotlight after this one. As for the loser, if it’s Bigfoot, I can see him getting one more shot against another struggling heavyweight in order to keep his spot. If it’s Mir, I truly believe this should be enough to force the UFC to release the former champ and end his in-cage career for good. Mir’s proven to be a solid voice on the microphone during his Zuffa tenure, doing good work in the WEC in the past, so it would be easy for the UFC to effectively kill one of Mir’s careers in order to start another one. To quote Sal’s beloved Semisonic, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

Co-headliner Michael Johnson has put up a respectable 6-2 mark over his last eight fights. Now, he’s set to meet Edson Barboza, a fighter with a 9-2 UFC mark and a recent impressive win over Bobby Green. Is Barboza fighting for a chance at a No. 1 contender’s pairing in his next outing? Will he fly through this fight with ease, or can Johnson present him with any difficulties?

Carey: While none of the guys Johnson has bested over his current three-fight winning streak are sitting in the UFC rankings, Joe Lauzon, Gleison Tibau and Melvin Guillard are all extremely solid MMA veterans, and Johnson made them look completely ineffective during his wins. That’s definitely enough to earn some sort of opportunity to fight a top-ranked guy. After an injury setback pushed Johnson out of a planned fight last summer, the UFC did him a solid and allowed him a second opportunity against the sixth-ranked Barboza.

Unfortunately for Johnson, Barboza is going to be an extremely tough test to pass. The Brazilian knockout artist is going to push “The Menace’s” improved striking to its limits on Saturday. Johnson’s hands have improved dramatically since his days on The Ultimate Fighter — his performance on the feet against a solid striker and heavy hitter in Guillard helped prove as much. But Barboza’s Muay Thai attack is on a completely different level than anyone Johnson has fought before. From just a single technique like Barboza’s devastating leg kicks to his overall speed and precision with all four limbs, “Junior” is a scary, scary fighter on the feet. Johnson seems to be in over his head against such a dangerous opponent.

This may end up being a fairly easy night of work for Barboza. But even if he wins this fight in under two minutes, he’s going to have a hard time getting into a No. 1 contender’s bout. With Donald Cerrone (the last man to beat Barboza) and Khabib Nurmagomedov currently duking it out on Twitter and likely preparing to fight for a title shot soon, Barboza doesn’t have an obvious opponent to meet in a fight for contender status. Gilbert Melendez is coming off his second title loss and needs a few victories, and Benson Henderson has lost his last two at 155 pounds. Since those are the only guys sitting ahead of Barboza in the division without a title or contender’s fight all but locked up, Barboza may be out of luck. He’ll likely need one more win before he gets the opportunity.

DeRose: There is such a logjam at 155 pounds that if either guy wins they’re still a couple of fights away from a No. 1 contender spot. Barboza is certainly closer because of his fight style, but lightweight might be the most stacked division the UFC has to offer.

Both guys are a good test for each other to see where they’re really at. Barboza might have to wait a while to get another top contender in the Octagon, but I don’t see the Brazilian as the kind of guy who enjoys long layoffs. So, we will probably see Barboza in there on a relatively short turnaround against maybe a fringe top-10 or top-15 guy.

My colleague touched on the biggest part of this fight: the leg kicks. Barboza has heavy leg kicks and those could end up bringing on the brutal downfall of Johnson. If Johnson wants to win this fight, he will have to check the leg kicks and continue to press forward. Johnson’s biggest chance relies on his ability to land the knockout blow.

If Barboza shows up like he did against Green, the knockout blow won’t come for Johnson. The Brazilian certainly tightened up his defense in that fight and looked really good in the victory. Johnson needs to hope the old Barboza shows up instead. That version of Barboza tends to get a little wild. Yet, Barboza’s last fight featured a very sound defense that we can expect to see again in this contest.

It won’t be a highlight-reel knockout from Barboza, but it will be a very easy decision where the Brazilian scores points from leg kicks and avoids Johnson’s power.

Josh Shockley, Douglas Andrade, Wendell Oliveira, Matt Dwyer and Mike De La Torre are still looking for their first UFC win after dropping their first fight in the organization. Which guy, if any, has the best chance at surviving the chopping block this weekend?

DeRose: A victory certainly gives any of these guys a quick fix to their pink-slip woes. However, out of these five guys, the only one I see winning is Dwyer. Even if he were to lose, he could stick around just due to his fighting style.

The UFC tends to hold on to fighters with his ability. He is a finisher who is willing to sacrifice the “W” in his hunt for the knockout. Dwyer, like many other finishers, lives and dies by the knockout. His style is certainly fan-friendly, and that will keep him around. Despite being the underdog in this fight, Dwyer will score his eighth knockout. If it goes to the judges, I don’t think he survives Brazil unscathed, but on severely thin ice.

As for the rest of the fighters, they have all tough match-ups in front of them. For example, Oliveira takes on T.J. Waldburger, who is a crafty veteran. Waldburger has faced much better competition. Oliveira probably won’t even be able to overcome Waldburger with the favorable Brazilian judging in his corner that has helped his countrymen before.

Speaking of that favorable judging, it is very hard for any non-Brazilian fighter to go into Brazil and actually win a fight. Between the hostile crowd and the judging, there are few fighters who can do it. Dwyer and Waldburger are just two on this card, but Shockley is another guy with a tough match-up ahead of him in native favorite Ivan Jorge. Shockley, who has also competed in Bellator, has amassed a 2-3 record across the two top promotions and has been finished three times. Two of those losses came by submission, and I’ll buy into the trending pattern continuing for him here.

Carey: Dwyer is probably the most exciting fighter of the bunch. If he can get into a slugfest with Macario, he can hold on to his job even in a losing effort. Marcario should be more than willing to stand and trade with the fellow slugger, and as long as Dwyer doesn’t get caught early and suffer a short night, I do like his chances to earn another fight. Therefore, I’ll second my colleague’s assessment that Dwyer has the best chance at holding onto his roster spot following this weekend.

However, I don’t think Dwyer, out of the guys listed above, has the best chance to win. De La Torre may not have a victory in the Octagon — and he would actually have a pair of losses if his last defeat to Brian Ortega wasn’t overturned — but he’s shown some skills. I like him to possibly score the win here. De La Torre drew a legit UFC veteran in his promotional debut against Mark Bocek, and “El Cucuy” pushed the Canadian to a close split decision loss in a game effort. While he didn’t look quite as good in his second fight against Ortega, he can rebound reasonably well in his third chance at a UFC win.

On the preliminary card, we have another fight in a shallow division, this time in the women’s 135-pound weight class, where Jessica Andrade meets Marion Reneau. Does a win help give Andrade another shot at a top-five bantamweight? Does a win for Reneau help get her a step up in competition at age 37?

Carey: I know Reneau showed some talent in her Octagon debut and should make this a decent match-up, but this really feels like a showcase fight for Andrade.

The young Brazilian was thrown to the wolves when she drew a short-notice fight against Liz Carmouche for her UFC debut, but Andrade put up a scrappy effort against the former title challenger. In her sophomore UFC outing, Andrade put up a win over Rosi Sexton that was so dominant it was kind of frightening. Fans started to take Andrade a bit more seriously, and she cemented her standing as a fighter to watch with wins over Rocky Pennington and Larissa Pacheco.

Even though Reneau looked awfully impressive in her UFC debut late last year, a lot of what happened can be attributed to her opponent, Alexis Dufresne, looking absolutely awful. It was actually tough to get a gauge on how good “The Bruiser” really is due to the nature of that fight, and that’s more than enough of a reason to doubt how Reneau will fare against a proven UFC fighter like Andrade.

For that reason, I’m picking Andrade to win big. I expect some legit Kill Bill-style female destruction by the Brazilian. She has a lot of talent with her hands and a solid ground game she’s shown off in her last two performances, and that’s going to be too much for the 37-year-old Reneau to handle. Andrade should earn herself an opponent somewhere in the top 10, and possibly the top five, due to her four-fight winning streak after this weekend. I’m guessing the women sitting above her in the top 10 aren’t exactly going to be clamoring to fight her.

DeRose: Reneau is taking a short turnover here after she battered Dufresne at UFC 182 in January. Contrary to Vince’s beliefs, this is actually a showcase fight for both women. Reneau looked amazing against Dufresne en route to posting a 30-26 and two 30-25 scores from the judges. I don’t know how much of that has to do with Reneau being great or Dufresne putting forth one of the worst displays in recent memory, but I’m willing to give Reneau the benefit of the doubt.

Andrade is a tough match-up and is looking to get a step back up in competition that will almost definitely follow this fight. The 23-year-old already encountered top competition when she made her UFC debut against Carmouche. Carmouche handed Andrade a late second-round TKO stoppage, but Andrade has piled up three straight victories.

Given Reneau’s age, it’s difficult to say how much she has in the tank to really contend in the women’s bantamweight division. But a loss here puts a huge dent in her title aspirations. Reneau does benefit greatly from a shortage of challengers for champion Ronda Rousey, so I don’t want to fully commit to the idea that Reneau’s title hopes are non-existent. There is still hope but it’s a sliver, if anything.

I’ll agree with my colleague in regard to the method of victory here. Andrade is a good, well-rounded fighter and will give Reneau her toughest test to date. I don’t expect a stoppage, but the short turnaround will be a hard mountain to climb and it will play a part in a decision loss for Reneau.

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

DeRose: Picking a sleeper fight is going to be tough on this card, considering half of the fighters are coming off a loss — 11 of the 22, to be exact. I really do like one of the main card fights, though. The lightweight battle between Rustam Khabilov and Adriano Martins could be interesting. Khabilov is one of the UFC’s Russian fighters, and they are always entertaining. His suplex skills, which were on display against Vinc Pichel, are something else. Martins is coming off his fifth career knockout victory from last July against Juan Manuel Puig at the TUF 19 Finale. These two guys are made to fight and they go for the finish.

Carey: I’m actually going to stick with the main card as well and go with a fun welterweight battle between undefeated Sean Strickland and TUF Brazil veteran Santiago Ponzinibbio. Strickland is making his 170-pound debut following two UFC wins in the middleweight division. After struggling to get through a larger Luke Barnatt in his last fight, Strickland will benefit from this drop in weight. Ponzinibbio is no joke, though. He looked extremely good in his time in the TUF Brazil house and even better in his recent win over Wendell Oliveira. This will be a fast-paced fight that takes place everywhere, and a “Fight of Night” bonus doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility.

Pair this card with…

Carey: For those of us that treat MMA like a religion a lot of the time, do something awesome on Saturday night. Last weekend was Valentine’s Day and a free fight card. Next week is UFC 184. So, take the rare free Saturday night in the middle of a heavy stretch of fights and go out and have some fun. I know actually going out and doing things is exhausting, but with the main card not kicking off until late on Sunday night, you’ll regret it if you spend yet another Saturday evening at home. Make an effort to go out and use your weekend to the fullest on Saturday night, and if you don’t, feel free to hit me up on Twitter. I’ll be on my couch, not following my own advice.

DeRose: I’m a fan of the “I’ll be a hermit” idea. I enjoy a nice couch and some FIFA 15, but I’ll say to pair this with anything that helps you relax. A beer. Maybe some food. Or, perhaps you can pull up some picture-in-picture and play some video games while you have the fights going. I’ll be watching the fights while trying not to think about the mountains of work I’ll have to do during the week for school, so this is a welcome departure. Pull up a chair, relax a little bit — perhaps with some hit ’90s songs that you haven’t heard in a while — and enjoy the last day of the weekend before it’s back off to another work week.

Fight Picks

Fight DeRose’s Pick Carey’s Pick
Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)
HW: Frank Mir vs. Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva Silva Silva
LW: Edson Barboza vs. Michael Johnson Barboza Barboza
MW: Cezar “Mutante” Ferreira vs. Sam Alvey Alvey Ferreira
LW: Rustam Khabilov vs. Adriano Martins Khabilov Khabilov
BW: Iuri Alcantara vs. Frankie Saenz Alcantara Alcantara
WW: Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Sean Strickland Strickland Strickland
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 6 p.m. ET)
Women’s BW: Jessica Andrade vs. Marion Reneau Andrade Andrade
WW: William Macario vs. Matt Dwyer Dwyer Macario
FW: Tiago Trator vs. Mike De La Torre Trator De La Torre
WW: Wendell Oliveira vs. T.J. Waldburger Waldburger Waldburger
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 5 p.m. ET)
BW: Douglas Silva vs. Cody Gibson Gibson Gibson
LW: Ivan Jorge vs. Josh Shockley Jorge Jorge