On Saturday, the UFC returns to Brazil for UFC Fight Night 137. The event will take place in Sao Paulo, Brazil, at the Ibirapuera Gymnasium, where a pair of middleweights make the move up to 205 pounds and square off at light heavyweight. With Glover Teixeira and Jimi Manuwa both scratched from the card with injuries, Eryk Anders steps in with less than a week’s notice to face Thiago Santos.
The former University of Alabama linebacker Anders returns to action less than a month after a vicious third-round knockout of Tim Williams. Santos, who spent time as a paratrooper in the Brazilian army, fought just three weeks prior, grinding out a victory over Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series prospect Kevin Holland. With Teixeira’s replacement by another Brazilian in Santos, we’re ensured the Brazilian crowd is raucous through the entire fight card.
The main card also includes a pair of legendary Brazilian fighters looking to rebound off tough losses. Renan Barão, who lost a unanimous decision to Brian Kelleher in February, takes on Andre Ewell. Meanwhile, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira returns following a near two-year layoff from his TKO loss to current Bellator light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader. The layoff was caused by injury and a positive test for a banned substance under the UFC’s USADA testing program. Nogueira clashes with Sam Alvey.
The fight card kicks off with the early prelims on UFC Fight Pass at 6:30 p.m. ET, followed by the televised prelims on Fox Sports 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET. From there, it’s off to Fox Sports 1 for the main card at 10:30 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Bryan Henderson and Matt Petela preview the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
With Jimi Manuwa a late scratch for the main event, middleweight fighter Eryk Anders steps in and makes the move up to 205 pounds. Anders meets Thiago Santos, another middleweight-turned-light-heavyweight. Can Anders take advantage of this opportunity and score the biggest win of his career?
Henderson: It really has been a case of musical chairs for this main event, hasn’t it? First, it was set to be Manuwa and Glover Teixeira. Teixeira bowed out with an injury and was replaced by Santos. Now, Manuwa has reportedly torn his hamstring while running in Brazil, necessitating another change to the fight. This brings us to Anders, who moves up from the middleweight division to fight another guy making his light heavyweight debut.
Anders has been a solid member of the middleweight roster since arriving inside the Octagon in July 2017. He wasn’t intimidated by veteran Rafael Natal, whom Anders decimated with strikes in the first round for a stoppage win. He went on to decision the formerly undefeated Markus Perez in his next fight. Anders finally stumbled against former light heavyweight champ Lyoto Machida, but even that loss was only via split decision. The 31-year-old recently bounced back with a head-kick knockout of Tim Williams. The question is whether Anders’ power will translate to the 205-pound ranks.
Fortunately for Anders, he’s essentially fighting another middleweight here. Santos, 34, also has suffered some losses, including three knockouts, during his 24-fight career. “Marreta” has won five of his last six to rise to headliner status, but his resume is quite telling. The Brazilian only has a few big names on his list of victims. He was trounced recently by Dave Branch, and he’s also fallen at the hands of Gegard Mousasi and Vicente Luque. Of even greater concern, he’s been on the losing end in fights against the mediocre Eric Spicely and the extremely inconsistent Uriah Hall.
Santos has the advantage of fighting on home turf, but short-notice opponents have a way of spoiling the night for a fighter who has undergone a full camp in preparation for a completely different fight. Santos was ready for Manuwa, a fighter primarily known for his striking ability, but now must deal with Anders, a more well-rounded threat. Anders is certainly capable of taking advantage of this opportunity and stealing the thunder right out from under Santos.
Petela: I love when fighters move up in weight class, especially on short notice. This fight is no exception. The other question here is how Anders will manage his gas tank after signing for this fight only six days prior to the contest. Will he fight cautiously and try to conserve his energy? Or will he come marching forward and try to end the fight quickly? The latter could give him a large boost in the eyes of fans.
Santos’ career has been a tale of winning fights he should win but not being able to capitalize against the upper echelon. If Anders wants to prove he can be a contender, then he needs to make a statement against Santos. I believe he will do so and then call out a top-10 fighter at middleweight before exiting a hostile Brazil as quickly as possible.
After just one UFC win — a split decision, even — Carlo Pedersoli is now a co-headliner as he goes up against Alex Oliveira. Has Pedersoli earned this giant leap up the card? Will he add to his win total against his Brazilian counterpart?
Petela: The UFC seems to be rewarding Pedersoli for taking his last fight against Brad Scott on short notice by putting him in the co-main event. The fight against Scott was an entertaining scrap, and Pedersoli showed a well-rounded striking game, repeatedly landing his overhand left, attempting several spinning techniques and even pushing off the cage to land a Superman punch. That being said, his grappling left much to be desired. He landed one takedown in the waning seconds of the second round that did more to secure the round in the eyes of the judges than it did to inflict any actual damage on Scott. The same can be said for the third round, where Pedersoli’s first takedown attempt was thwarted and he nearly got caught in a guillotine. His second takedown attempt of the round was unsuccessful as well, and while his third and final takedown attempt probably secured him the round, he failed to land any ground-and-pound or attempt any viable submissions.
Pedersoli’s performance surely didn’t look impressive enough to secure a co-headlining spot. This will indeed be a giant step up in competition for him as well. He takes on hometown star Alex “Cowboy” Oliveira, an Octagon veteran whose last three fights have all resulted in post-fight bonuses — “Performance of the Night” honors for his submission of former interim title holder Carlos Condit and knockout of Ryan LaFlare, as well as a “Fight of the Night” in his back-and-forth slobberknocker with Yancy Medeiros.
Between the high-profile position on the fight card and his toughest opponent to date, this should be too much, too fast for Pedersoli. Oliveira will rack up another bonus in this fight, which he will end with either a flashy knockout or a guillotine choke in the first round off a poorly attempted takedown from Pedersoli.
Henderson: Usually, I get frustrated at how slowly a prospect gets brought along in the UFC. They could win four or five straight and still land on the preliminary card. The UFC is definitely taking the opposite approach with Pedersoli. The 25-year-old hardly holds a major reputation on the regional scene, although he did narrowly edge UFC castoff Nicolas Dalby on a Cage Warriors card, and he only managed a razor-thin verdict over the aforementioned Scott in his lone UFC fight. Seriously, this kid is getting a co-headliner in his second Octagon appearance?
This looks like a showcase fight for Oliveira. Pedersoli would have to put his Brazilian counterpart on the canvas and utilize his grappling to wear down Oliveira. The “Cowboy” won’t go easily, though. Plus, Pedersoli’s difficulties in taking down Scott would suggest that he’s not going to be very effective against Oliveira.
Oliveira has only lost to Gilbert Burns, Donald Cerrone and the aforementioned Medeiros. Meanwhile, the Brazilian has defeated the likes of Condit, LaFlare, Will Brooks and Tim Means. Pedersoli has his work cut out for him in this one. It should be a one-sided affair that proves just how much Pedersoli does not belong this high up on a UFC card.
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira’s return to action — will it be a letdown?
Henderson: Lil Nog’s whole UFC tenure has been a letdown, really. He won his Octagon debut decisively, but then barely squeaked by Jason Brilz. From there, it’s been a lackluster 3-5 run that included losses to Ryan Bader (twice), Phil Davis, Anthony “Rumble” Johnson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. He dispatched both Tito Ortiz and Patrick Cummins in the first round, and he decisioned former champ Rashad Evans, but he’s hardly turned any heads since his arrival.
With that in mind, it’s hard to get very excited about Nogueira’s return. He’s coming off a USADA suspension and holds just one win in his last four fights. Eyes should really be on his opponent, Sam Alvey. While “Smilin’” Sam occasionally has an off night, he’s looked pretty darned good since moving up to 205 pounds.
Alvey has one-punch knockout power, and we’ve already seen him destroy one light heavyweight opponent with strikes. However, Nogueira won’t be an easy out. Alvey will have to outpoint the Brazilian over three rounds and avoid getting frustrated in the clinch. It won’t be the easiest win of his career, but Alvey should spoil Nogueira’s return.
Petela: After the beating Nogueira took from Bader in 2016, I was hoping that we had seen the end of Lil Nog in the UFC. This fight with Alvey should be his final fight, and going out with a win at home would be an excellent end to a great combat-sports career, even if it didn’t include a great UFC run.
Alvey might be the perfect opponent for Nogueira. We have seen “Smilin’” Sam fail to let punches flow. If that remains true, Nogueira could walk away — hopefully for good — with a decision in a fight that won’t be anywhere near a contender for “Fight of the Night.”
Andre Ewell, Marina Rodriguez, Ryan Spann, Augusto Sakai, Mayra Bueno Silva and Luigi Vendramini — do we need to know these names?
Petela: Ewell is the guy to watch. He makes his first walk to the Octagon against former pound-for-pound great Renan Barão, who has lost five of his last seven fights. Barão has also struggled against the scale — the California State Athletic Commission forced his bout against rising star Aljamain Sterling to be at a catchweight of 140 pounds due to health concerns over Barão cutting down to 135 pounds.
Ewell is on a three-fight winning streak, and he ended all three affairs before the scorecards were necessary. His first UFC fight being on the main card in Brazil against a legend of the division is no easy task, but he will be able to get the job done against what’s left of Barão. This should set him up nicely for a showdown with a top-10 opponent in his next fight.
Henderson: Ewell has a wonderful opportunity in front of him, but this is an amazing leap up in competition from his days under the Gladiator Challenge and King of the Cage banners. Ewell’s last two fights took place inside the more heralded Legacy Fighting Alliance and CES MMA organizations, but this is still a fighter with a lot to prove. He’s essentially defeated mid-card regional fighters in his last two efforts, and his previous set of victories includes wins over talent who held respective records of 1-18, 0-13, 1-11 and 0-12. When Willie Gates is the most notable name on your resume, you still have a long way to go. If Ewell wins, I’ll be impressed. Don’t count on it, though.
The remaining fighters on this list are a mixed bag. Spann has been a star for the LFA and made his way here through Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, but it took him two fights, including a loss, on DWTNCS to earn a contract offer, and he also has a recent 2-4 stretch on his resume against the toughest competition he’s seen. The 27-year-old Sakai has the benefit of competing in the shallow heavyweight division, but he failed to get past Cheick Kongo in a Bellator appearance. The 22-year-old Vendramini has a perfect record, but he enters on extremely short notice against a very experienced UFC veteran. These three fighters could stick around on the UFC roster, but it’s unlikely that we’ll see any of them join the top tier of their respective division.
The two debuting ladies are another story. Both women have unblemished marks and winnable fights.
Rodriguez, who stands at 11-0, tore through her regional competition and scored notable wins over the likes of Silvania Monteiro, Samara Santos and Maria Oliveira. The 31-year-old Rodriguez draws the wildly inconsistent Randa Markos as her first UFC foe. Markos could dominate this affair, but Rodriguez would gain a lot of respect if she can win on one of Markos’ off nights.
Silva, who is 5-0, gets a more favorable Octagon debut against Gillian Robertson. Silva has collected four first-round finishes, and Robertson, while possibly underrated, has proven vulnerable to strikes during her bout with Barb Honchak on The Ultimate Fighter 26 and to submissions during her amateur run. It’s another fight that could tilt either way, but Silva could stamp out a spot for herself in the women’s flyweight division if she can overcome her first Octagon challenge.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Henderson: Livia Renata Souza’s UFC debut against Alex Chambers.
Souza, the former Invicta strawweight champion, was set to make her promotional debut earlier this year against Jessica Aguilar, but she broke her hand and was forced to sit that one out. Now, the Brazilian is finally healthy and ready to make her impression on UFC fans. Souza’s only loss came against Angela Hill. She holds victories over the likes of Janaisa Morandin, Ayaka Hamasaki and DeAnna Bennett. Chambers is likely to serve as a sacrificial lamb to Souza, and this fight could announce the arrival of a new contender in the women’s strawweight division. If that’s not worthy of sleeper status, then what is?
Petela: How about Evan Dunham’s final walk to the Octagon against Francisco Trinaldo? Dunham is four years younger than his Brazilian counterpart in this fight, but both men have put a lot of miles on their respective engines. Since this is Dunham’s last fight, he might throw caution to the wind against a dangerous kickboxer. This one has highlight reel written all over it, and it would be a surprise if it’s not a “Fight of the Night” contender with one of these two walking away with a “Performance of the Night” bonus.
Pair this card with…
Petela: Luckily, this fight card takes place in the evening here on the East Coast, so I won’t have to hide my adult beverage the way I did while watching UFC Fight Night 136. With legends like Barão and Nogueira trying to turn back the hands of time, I’ll try to do the same and put on my fraternity t-shirt that once fit but is now just a bit snug, fire up a keg of Natty Light, and drink out of a Red Solo cup. Unfortunately for all parties involved, it could be a harsh realization the next day that the glory days are long gone.
Henderson: A medic — not for my fellow writer’s inevitable hangover, but for the victims of injury in the build-up to this show. The lineup for this event lost both of its intended headliners, plus Ketlen Vieira, Antonio Carlos Junior, Belal Muhammad and Mark Godbeer to injury. That’s enough names to fill a whole hospital ward. The injury bug hit this one hard, but the UFC matchmakers have done an admirable job of patching together an interesting lineup.
Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 10:30 p.m. ET)
LHW: Eryk Anders vs. Thiago Santos
WW: Alex Oliveira vs. Carlo Pedersoli
LHW: Sam Alvey vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
BW: Renan Barão vs. Andre Ewell
Women’s StrawW: Randa Markos vs. Marina Rodriguez
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 2, 8:30 p.m. ET)
LW: Charles Oliveira vs. Christos Giagos
LW: Evan Dunham vs. Francisco Trinaldo
LHW: Luis Henrique vs. Ryan Spann
HW: Chase Sherman vs. Augusto Sakai
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6:30 p.m. ET)
WW: Ben Saunders vs. Sergio Moraes
Women’s FlyW: Mayra Bueno Silva vs. Gillian Robertson
MW: Thales Leites vs. Hector Lombard
WW: Luigi Vendramini vs. Elizeu Zaleski
Women’s StrawW: Alex Chambers vs. Livia Renata Souza
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