Belem, Para, Brazil will host its first-ever UFC event this Saturday night when UFC Fight Night 125 takes place at the Arena Guilherme Paraense. It only makes sense that former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida headlines the stacked card in his hometown.
Machida is currently on a three-fight skid, capping off a rather lackluster run since dropping to middleweight, where he is now 3-4. Once considered one of the greatest and most feared fighters, Machida has been passed up by the new breed of talent that has found ways to get the job done against a guy who was 16-0 at one point in his career. After shuffling through a few options, the promotion landed on rising star Eryk Anders as Machida’s latest opponent.
Anders is a former NCAA Division I college football champion who made a dazzling play in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game to help the Alabama Crimson Tide win the title. After school, Anders dabbled in the “real world” before following his heart into MMA. The former linebacker is now 10-0 as a professional fighter, and he’s 2-0 in the UFC.
This fight is big for both men. Machida strives for relevance in front of his hometown crowd, while Anders is out to stake his claim as a top middleweight.
A battle between top-10 bantamweights John Dodson and Pedro Munhoz coheadlines the show. Dodson is coming off a loss to Marlon Moraes. Meanwhile, Munhoz is riding a four-fight winning streak. Both guys have a chance to get into the division’s title hunt with a big win.
Four additional bouts round out the main card. There’s a women’s flyweight contest where former bantamweight title contender Valentina Shevchenko drops down to meet undefeated promotional newcomer Priscila Cachoeira. Veteran lightweights Michel Prazeres and Desmond Green meet, big men Timothy Johnson and Marcelo Golm square off, and a much-anticipated showdown between middleweights Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos, who are both on the brink of getting a top-15 ranking, completes the lineup.
The UFC Fight Pass preliminary card begins at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday, Feb. 3, followed by the Fox Sports 1 prelims at 8 p.m. ET. The action stays on Fox Sports 1 with the main card at 8 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Dan Kuhl and Chris Huntemann get you ready for the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
After a brief stint as the Legacy Fighting Alliance middleweight champion and two impressive victories under the UFC banner, Eryk Anders gets his crack at one of the staples of the UFC’s middleweight upper echelon, Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida. Can Anders make quick work out of the Brazilian, who has lost four of his last five fights? Is Machida, whose four recent losses all came to fellow top-tier fighters, still game enough to play gatekeeper to Anders?
Huntemann: I feel like if you look up the definition of “gatekeeper” in the dictionary right now, you would see a picture of Machida’s face. This isn’t a slight against the Brazilian, for the record. The fight game is an unforgiving, merciless bastard. But to be fair to Machida, his last four losses have come to absolute monsters Chris Weidman, Luke Rockhold, Yoel Romero and Derek Brunson. Those guys are the cream of the crop at 185 pounds, and Machida was in his mid-to-late 30s when he faced them. So the outcomes of those fights shouldn’t entirely be a surprise.
Machida’s fall from grace has been compounded by how great he was, once upon a time. We all can still remember hearing UFC commentator Joe Rogan say, “Welcome to the Machida era,” when Machida knocked out Rashad Evans to win the light heavyweight title in 2009, right? Machida looked like the next big thing and the next dominant fighter. I think ol’ Joe’s words will forever live in infamy, as they are a textbook example of the hyperbole that Rogan often finds himself engaging in.
I do think Anders wins this fight, though. He seems to have taken to MMA pretty well after switching over from football. He looked like the next big thing himself with his first-round knockout of Rafael Natal that basically sent Natal into retirement. Anders overcame a scrappy and game opponent in Markus Perez in his next fight, which showed Anders’ maturity in learning how to grind out wins and not expect every fight to end in an early finish.
This is a fight between two guys whose careers are going in opposite directions. Anders is undefeated and has all the tools to be a contender and a future champion. Machida had his time, but the scars of the unforgiving fight game are making themselves more apparent. Machida fulfills his gatekeeper duties, but only in so much as allowing Anders to enter the upper echelon of UFC middleweights.
Kuhl: It saddens me to say this, but Machida is all but done. I was there live for the knockout win for the title that my colleague referenced. However, his downhill slide started well before the Weidman loss. When Machida all but lost his first fight against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua — yes, the record says it was a decision win, but that was not the case — a chink in his armor was seriously exposed.
Prior to the first fight with Rua, opponents knew they had to pressure Machida to get any kind of traction, but they didn’t know how. Rua brought in a ton of striking pressure, but also followed it up with a superior wrestling game, which the then-champ couldn’t handle. Fast-forward to today, and Machida now has eight losses. All of these losses came from somebody with a combination of high-pressure striking and a wrestling background. So, where does Anders fall into this mix?
Well, Anders is an absolute beast, but Machida isn’t too worried about beast alone. Machida is a tactical counter striker. Did you see what Machida did to uber-athlete Ryan Bader or the aforementioned Evans? Anders is a hard-charging, super-athletic fighter who has a bright future, but Machida is exactly the gate he needs to run through like a raging bull.
Machida has been able to stop anyone at any time, but lately it takes him a long time to get going. Anders is a quick starter who has shown he can be patient, so he doesn’t get caught. Anders is the future. Machida is the past. I have to go with my colleague on this one and predict Machida will drop the fight, likely by a nasty knockout.
Down in the bantamweight division, John Dodson is in a similar position to Machida. He’s an elite veteran who has lost three of his last five and now welcomes Pedro Munhoz to the upper levels of the 135-pound weight class. Does Munhoz pick up another huge victory here to extend his winning streak to five fights? Or can Dodson regain his momentum following a split-decision loss to Marlon Moraes and send Munhoz back to the drawing board?
Kuhl: I have never been fully sold on Dodson as a title contender. The only reason he was able to challenge Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson twice for the flyweight belt was because of the lack of depth in the division at that time. At bantamweight, Dodson is sub-.500 through his last three fights, and that’s even worse. It makes you wonder how he even got to the No. 8 spot in the official rankings.
Munhoz, on the other hand, has streaked his way into the 10th spot. The Brazilian may not have one-punch knockout power, but he will do the damage he needs to do. He has proven time and time again that his submission game is fantastic, leading to four tapouts in five UFC victories and one no-contest. However, he may have some striking issues in this one.
Dodson’s biggest physical advantage over his opponents is that he has an unusually long reach for his height. This is one reason he has been able to land so many damaging blows on the feet. His reach is very misleading, and he has nine knockout wins to back it up. The other stat that lands in Dodson’s favor is his 83 percent takedown defense.
Dodson won’t score a knockout in this one, but it will be hard for Munhoz to get Dodson to the ground. Even though Munhoz lands a higher output of strikes, he also absorbs a high volume of strikes. If both of the above predictions hold true, then Dodson takes this one by decision.
Huntemann: My esteemed colleague nails it.
To Dodson’s credit, he looked better against Johnson than most guys have looked. Yet, going the distance with the champ twice is likely going to be the peak of Dodson’s career. From there, welp, it’s a long way down. Dodson has alternated wins and losses since his rematch with Johnson. Now, he faces a dangerous fighter who has posted three submissions in his last four victories.
I have to break with my compatriot when it comes to picking the winner, though. Munhoz takes this contest. I’m a big believer in trends in MMA, and Munhoz is definitely trending up. If he faced the Dodson from a few years ago, when Dodson was hanging with the champion, then I might like Dodson’s chances a little more. The move back up to 135 pounds might help Dodson’s chances a bit also. But against a guy who has tapped three guys in his last four fights? That says a lot, and part of what it says is that Munhoz starts to enter the contender conversation in an increasingly deep bantamweight division.
Priscila Cachoeira, Polyana Viana and Maia Kahaunaele-Stevenson — do we need to know these names?
Huntemann: We may want to pay attention to Ms. Viana. Cachoeira will get most of the attention, since she’s fighting Valentina Shevchenko in a probable No. 1 contender bout at flyweight, but Viana’s lone loss came all the way back in 2014, and it was the only fight of hers to go the distance. The other ones? Nine wins, all by knockout or submission. So yeah, we need to pay her just a wee bit of mind, don’t you think?
Kuhl: I agree that it would be natural to pick Cachoeira as the one to watch solely because she is undefeated and running up against the woodchipper that is Shevchenko in a very unlikely UFC debut. However, that’s not the only one of these ladies worth knowing.
While Kahaunaele-Stevenson didn’t exactly get the chance to impress anyone on The Ultimate Fighter 26, she was on a nasty five-fight stoppage streak prior to the show. Now, she is chomping at the bit to prove her place in the UFC. Sure, she is veteran Joe “Daddy” Stevenson’s wife, but she has no intention of living in his shadow. She’s ready to make a name for herself. At 35 years old, her time is limited, so keep an eye on her. This fight could potentially make or break her as a top-level fighter.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Kuhl: Iuri Alcantara and Joe Soto. Both of these guys are finishers who have recently been finished. They are seeking to get back in the win column, but both men are also on the cusp of a potential release from the promotion. When backs are against the wall, fans are more likely to get an exciting fight.
Huntemann: Whenever you have a match-up between two undefeated fighters, I reckon it’s worth your attention. This brings us to the Fight Pass prelim bout between Deiveson Figueiredo and Joseph Morales. Both guys are fairly new to the UFC, with a combined three fights in the Octagon between them, but two out of those three combined fights ended in a finish. Both guys have demonstrated proclivities for finishes throughout their MMA careers, inside and outside the UFC, so hopefully this fight starts what could possibly be another entertaining card in Brazil.
Pair this card with…
Huntemann: Subdued expectations. Even though previous Fight Night cards in Brazil have ended up being surprisingly fun, I would keep your expectations in check. The first few UFC fight cards to begin 2018 have not been very good, and it seems like the promotion is just muddling through these long winter months until warmer weather arrives.
Kuhl: Why so negative on these free-to-view cards? This is set up to be a fantastic card with a good mix of promotional newcomers, current and future title contenders, veterans, up-and-comers, and a very exciting match-up between Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos. This card is stacked, and I will pair it with a stacked veggie salad, because I’m cutting weight. We’ll start with mixed baby greens, grape tomatoes, sweet onions, walnuts, apples, avocado, lean chicken, and I’ll splurge it up with a light dusting of turkey bacon.
Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 10 p.m. ET)
MW: Lyoto Machida vs. Eryk Anders
BW: John Dodson vs. Pedro Munhoz
Women’s FlyW: Valentina Shevchenko vs. Priscila Cachoeira
LW: Michel Prazeres vs. Des Green
HW: Timothy Johnson vs. Marcelo Golm
MW: Thiago Santos vs. Anthony Smith
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)
WW: Tim Means vs. Sergio Moraes
LW: Alan Patrick vs. Damir Hadžović
BW: Marlon Vera vs. Douglas Andrade
BW: Iuri Alcantara vs. Joe Soto
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 7 p.m. ET)
FlyW: Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Joseph Morales
Women’s StrawW: Polyana Viana vs. Maia Kahaunaele-Stevenson
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