On Saturday, the UFC lands back in Fortaleza, Brazil, for the first time since June 2013. The event, UFC Fight Night 106, features one of the longest running active veterans, Vitor Belfort, facing the winner of season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter, Kelvin Gastelum.
The main event is truly a battle between the old guard and the next generation. Gastelum won TUF 17 as a middleweight, but subsequently dropped to welterweight, where he went 5-2 and missed weight on multiple occasions. After bouncing back and forth between the two weight classes over the last few years, the 25-year-old made his permanent return to 185 pounds in December with a dominant win over Tim Kennedy. He is now focused on a title run. Meanwhile, Belfort had a rough 2016. He suffered two knockouts — one at the hands of Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and the other by Gegard Mousasi — and he is badly in need of a win to remain relevant in the division.
The co-headliner is a light heavyweight showdown between veteran Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and New York’s Gian Villante. A win for the New Yorker should vault him into the top 10, whereas a win for Rua could get him in line for another title run.
A host of potential up-and-comers round out the main card. These fighters — including Edson Barboza, Ray Borg, Marion Reneau and Alex Oliveira taking on the respective likes of Beneil Dariush, Jussier “Formiga” da Silva, Bethe Correia and Tim Means — are out to stake their claims in their respective divisions,.
UFC Fight Night 106 kicks off from the Centro de Formação Olímpica do Nordeste at 7 p.m. ET on UFC Fight Pass before the action moves to Fox Sports 1 with the preliminary card starting at 8 p.m. ET and the main card at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Dan Kuhl and Chris Huntemann are here to get you ready for the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Kelvin Gastelum has been forced back up to middleweight. At 185 pounds, The Ultimate Fighter winner is undefeated with victories over Uriah Hall, Nate Marquardt and Tim Kennedy — plus exhibition wins over Kito Andrews, Bubba McDaniel, Collin Hart and the late Josh Samman. If Gastelum can get past veteran contender Vitor Belfort, who is just 1-3 over his last four fights, can he vault into immediate title consideration at middleweight?
Huntemann: Hopefully the Great Weight (Mis)Adventures of Kelvin Gastelum are finally over and he’s finally decided to make his home at middleweight. This weight class seems to suit him just fine, and that was proven rather emphatically with his last win over Kennedy. Why Gastelum continued to kill himself to make 170 pounds when it was rather obvious that he just couldn’t do it is one of life’s great mysteries.
Gastelum will beat Belfort. It’s more obvious than ever that Belfort’s best days are long behind him. Since he no longer has Dan Henderson around to indulge him in mindless brawls where Belfort can just land a lucky shot, the Brazilian has shown in his last two fights against Gegard Mousasi and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza that he just isn’t the “Phenom” of old anymore. Simply put, MMA is mostly a young man’s game. Belfort is 39 years old, and while that isn’t necessarily old in overall terms, it is borderline ancient in a field as tough and brutal as mixed martial arts.
Gastelum’s best days are still ahead. Gastelum, competing at middleweight, can unleash some devastating punching power — it was on full display against Kennedy. While trading strikes with Belfort is always risky even despite his advanced age, Gastelum has the striking and toughness to exchange with “The Phenom” without much fear. Furthermore, Gastelum can take Belfort down and use some effective ground-and-pound, just to make sure Belfort doesn’t unveil one last trick from up his sleeve.
If Gastelum defeats Belfort (which I think he will), there’s still too much of a logjam at the top of the middleweight division for Gastelum to receive title consideration. However, the win over Belfort would put Gastelum in line for a fight with a top contender, and if he were to emerge triumphan again, then he definitely has a case.
Kuhl: Gastelum is 5-foot-9 with a 71-inch reach. He should make 170 pounds fairly easily, so I would hardly call that “killing himself.” It’s not the same as 6-foot-2 Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, with his 78-inch wingspan, trying to hit the welterweight mark. Johnson was killing himself; Gastelum was not. You either be a professional and make weight, or you don’t. I don’t feel Gastelum put enough heart into that concept (and that goes for Johny Hendricks, too). Now, I’ll step down from my soapbox.
It’s hard to ignore that Gastelum is a fantastic wrestler with a ton of power — he’s a younger Hendricks minus the NCAA pedigree. Not to mention, he is also an Eddie Bravo purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. His only two losses were split decisions to likely welterweight title contender Neil Magny and current welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, and he recently retired Kennedy in a nearly three-round drubbing. Middleweight, for better or worse, is just as suitable a home for the TUF champ, and he is still undefeated in the division. So, here we are, discussing Gastelum when his opponent is a future Hall of Famer.
Belfort’s best days are far behind him and have been for a long time. The USADA only amplified this. With no testosterone-replacement therapy exemptions and constant pop-in testing, Belfort’s miles have finally caught up with him. It’s apparent not only in his fights, but also in a noticeable difference in his appearance. With his 40th birthday coming exactly three weeks after this fight, I expect him to come in using everything he has left to try to stop Gastelum. However, he’ll potentially follow up with a retirement announcement.
As far as Gastelum goes, I agree with my colleague’s assessment that he will win the fight. Belfort is the old and Gastelum is the new, and with the current sea of change in the last couple years, it’s hard not to bet on the young fighter. With middleweight wins over Hall, Kennedy and Marquardt, it’s difficult not to place him in line for a title shot. The problem for most is that the line is long. For Gastelum, it’s not as big a deal, because he’s only 25 and has time to wait. Either way, Belfort’s career comes to a close after this fight.
This card also features lightweight Edson Barboza. The Brazilian is on a nice run after wins over Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez. However, he always seems to falter after a few big fights. Can he break this trend when he meets Beneil Dariush, who is 8-2 through 10 Octagon appearances?
Kuhl: Rewind five years and people were still reeling after an undefeated Barboza put Terry Etim’s lights out with the most beautiful spin kick in MMA history. I still have that level of faith in Barboza’s fight game. Since then, his four losses were to upper-echelon UFC guys, including Tony Ferguson and Donald Cerrone, and he’s stayed really active. Barboza is a Muay Thai champion, and his biggest missing component was always his grappling. However, Ricardo Almeida has definitely helped improve those skills tremendously.
Dariush is a black belt in BJJ, as well as a Rafael Cordeiro black belt in Muay Thai. However, his striking skills, while quick and powerful, are nowhere near the level of Barboza. What little he lacks in striking, he makes up for tenfold on the mat. Dariush is a decorated grappler, and he has showcased these abilities in his three UFC submission wins.
This is a tough one to call. Barboza is currently ranked fifth and Dariush sits at nine. Both guys can win anywhere, and both can ruin anyone’s day with one-punch knockout power. Dariush has a big advantage on the ground, and, while Barboza’s takedown defense is good, the Brazilian’s biggest weakness is still the mat. He was able to take expert grappler Melendez the distance, and he did the same against top striker Pettis. While this could be a breakout opportunity for Dariush, I see Barboza frustrating him to the point of making mistakes, before turning out the lights.
Huntemann: I am in complete and total agreement with my esteemed colleague. I have a soft spot for Barboza after seeing his knockout of Etim and his performance against Paul Felder. I still have nightmares about the welts that littered Felder’s body after Barboza finished battering it with kicks.
Dariush has also been really impressive ever since his controversial victory over Michael Johnson a couple years ago. Dariush was submitted by Michael Chiesa, but Barboza will be his toughest challenge yet — even tougher than his fights against Johnson and Jim Miller.
Even with a fight card that boasts Vitor Belfort and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, this fight can steal the show. It will be an exciting, mostly stand-up exchange with some extra hard hits. Barboza is gearing up for another run at the top of the lightweight division after being derailed by the aforementioned Ferguson. He starts off on the right foot and edges the tough, solid Dariush in a close, exciting bout.
Paulo “Borrachinha” Henrique Costa — do we need to know this name?
Huntemann: Well, let’s see. Borrachinha has eight pro fights in his MMA career, and he’s won all eight. None of them lasted longer than the first round. They all ended in a finish for Borrachinha, with seven of them by knockout. He’s making his UFC debut on this card against a 35-year-old Garreth McLellan, who has lost two in a row. Yeah, I think we should probably familiarize ourselves with this gentleman, don’t you? I reckon we will be talking about him come Monday.
Kuhl: Let’s just say that if I was McLellan, I would not not want my Brazilian debut to be against a 25-year-old wood chipper like Borrachinha. This kid is a young wrecking machine and a Jungle Fight middleweight champ. Granted, he is largely untested at the highest levels of the sport, but the little video available on him shows a nasty striker with a ton of power. As my fellow writer said, if you don’t know now, you definitely will by Sunday morning.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Kuhl: I’m really digging the match-up between Rony Jason and Jeremy Kennedy.
Kennedy needs a breakout fight — most people probably don’t even know he’s in the UFC. Jason is coming off two losses and an overturned win, and he needs a win to prevent getting cut. That’s the perfect combination for a stellar undercard battle.
Kennedy might be the less experienced of the two, but he’s 24 years old, trains all over the world, and has finished opponents everywhere. Jason popped positive for a diuretic two fights ago, and it’s hard for me to get behind a guy who apparently doesn’t have a lot of faith in his skills without enhancement.
This will be one to watch.
Huntemann: The bout between Francisco Trinaldo and Kevin Lee should be on the main card.
If you haven’t see Trinaldo compete yet, man, are you in for a show. Trinaldo has won seven in a row. He’s coming off a TKO of Paul Felder that had to be stopped by the doctor. This only portends good things, in a way.
Lee has won four of five, with three of those victories coming via finish. He campaigned for a tough fight, which the UFC definitely obliged here.
You’re not going to want to miss this one.
Pair this card with…
Huntemann: A lounge chair. This card is sandwiched between UFC 209, which didn’t turn out to be that bad, and St. Patrick’s Day, which I know many of you will indulge in like the godless heathens you are. So, just take it easy with this card. Kick back on your futon or La-Z-Boy of choice and just veg, man.
Kuhl: This is one of those free cards that is likely to be much better than the recent pay-per-view cards, so I’m coming prepared for action. I’m going to set up a punching bag in the living room to take my stress out between action-packed finishes and long TV breaks.
Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 10 p.m. ET)
MW: Vitor Belfort vs. Kelvin Gastelum
LHW: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Gian Villante
LW: Edson Barboza vs. Beneil Dariush
FlyW: Jussier “Formiga” da Silva vs. Ray Borg
Women’s BW: Bethe Correia vs. Marion Reneau
WW: Tim Means vs. Alex Oliveira
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)
LW: Francisco Trinaldo vs. Kevin Lee
WW: Sergio Moraes vs. Davi Ramos
BW: Joe Soto vs. Rani Yahya
LW: Josh Burkman vs. Michel Prazeres
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 7 p.m. ET)
FW: Rony Jason vs. Jeremy Kennedy
MW: Garreth McLellan vs. Paulo “Borrachinha” Henrique Costa
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