How appropriate that on the evening when people across North America prepare to return to standard time, Anderson Silva will look to turn back the clock and recapture the brilliance one last time as he is set to take on Uriah Hall in the main event of UFC on ESPN+ 39.
The 45-year-old Brazilian has reached the end of his UFC contract and has been vocal that this fight will be the final time he takes the walk to the Octagon. The longest reigning champion in UFC history has fallen on hard times since losing his belt to Chris Weidman in 2013 at UFC 162. He’s officially won only one fight since then. After a leg injury caused by a well-placed Jared Cannonier kick forced a halt to Silva’s last outing, “The Spider” has been out of action for 18 months leading up to this last hoorah against Hall.
Hall stormed onto UFC fans’ radar during his time on season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter. His spinning hook kick knockout of Adam Cella was called the most vicious in the show’s history by UFC President Dana White, and Hall’s coach on the show, Chael Sonnen, proclaimed that Hall could immediately be a contender at middleweight. His momentum was halted in the season’s finale, though, when he dropped a split decision to Kelvin Gastelum. Hall’s time with the organization has been plagued by mixed results. He sports both a three-fight winning streak and a three-fight skid as part of his 8-7 UFC record. Hall comes into this main event against Silva on the heels of back-to-back victories that have placed him at No. 10 in the UFC’s middleweight rankings. A victory over the legendary Silva could be a major stepping stone toward title contention for Hall, who at 36 years old is also closer to the end of his career than the beginning. If he is going to make a run to the top, then the time for that to happen is now.
The co-headliner on this Halloween fight card sees rising star Bryce Mitchell square off against Andre “Touchy” Fili. Mitchell got his start with the UFC on the “Undefeated” season of TUF. His popularity soared after he submitted Matt Sayles via a twister, only the second time the move has been pulled off in UFC history. Fili will be the most accomplished UFC opponent that Mitchell has faced. The longtime cornerstone of Team Alpha Male has been fighting inside the organization since 2013, nearly a year and a half before Mitchell began his professional MMA career. Fili has won three out of his last four fights and will be looking to show that, at 30 years old, he is better than ever and far more than a promotional journeyman. Bouncing Mitchell from the ranks of the unbeaten would go a long way in proving Fili’s case.
The main card also features a middleweight fight between Makhmud Muradov and Kevin Holland. Holland steps in on short notice to replace Muradov’s original opponent, Krzysztof Jotko. Jotko was injured in sparring with less than two weeks left in his training camp. Muradov extended his winning streak to 13 with a third-round knockout victory in his last outing. Holland fights for the fourth time this year after winning all three of his previous 2020 bouts. These two men enter this contest with a great deal of momentum, and a win for either fighter will go a long way toward moving them into the official rankings.
A heavyweight match-up on the main card features Maurice Greene, who is coming off a befuddling submission win over Gian Villante. Greene is set to meet domestic-abuse perpetrator Greg Hardy. Rounding out the main card, lightweight competitor Bobby Green looks for a fourth straight win, but Thiago Moisés stands in his way.
Now that the UFC has once again said goodbye to Fight Island, the UFC Apex in Las Vegas serves as the host venue for UFC on ESPN+ 39. The entire event can be seen on the ESPN+ streaming platform, with preliminary action getting underway at 4 p.m. ET and the main card kicking off at 7 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Anderson Silva has said he’s retiring after his headlining fight with Uriah Hall. Does Silva go out on a high note? Will this really be the last time we see him in action?
Sumian: If this bout had taken place three to four years ago, then it would have been far more compelling to make a case for the legend. Besides a controversial split-decision victory against Derek Brunson which should have absolutely gone in Brunson’s favor, Silva has not had an official UFC victory since a 2012 win over Stephan Bonnar. The former middleweight champ never returned to his former glory after suffering a grueling injury against Chris Weidman in their second title bout. In his most recent outing, Silva suffered a TKO via leg injury against Jared Cannonier. Before that, he endured a unanimous-decision loss to current middleweight kingpin Israel Adesanya in a bout that resembled a practice sparring match for the kickboxer Adesanya.
Hall is, for a lack of a better word, an enigma. He took the MMA world by storm when he rattled off three straight devastating finishes on TUF before dropping a surprising decision to teammate Kelvin Gastelum at the show’s finale event. Since then, Hall has had the definition of an up-and-down career, consisting of several winning streaks and losing skids throughout his seven-year stint with the organization. The Jamaica native has had several memorable moments in the Octagon though, including a flying-knee finish of Gegard Mousasi and a recent knockout of Bevon Lewis. Hall possesses some of the most diverse, creative and crafty striking currently on the UFC roster, but he has failed to display any form of consistency in his career.
As much as the MMA world would desire to see Silva ride off into retirement with a final victory, it will not happen. Hall will come out motivated and focused. He’ll use his speed and power to pepper Silva with lightning-quick jabs and snapping leg kicks. Silva will be visibly slower in his ability to react swiftly to Hall’s quicker and more efficient strikes, which will lead to Silva marching forward as Hall continues to maintain distance and fire off strikes en route to a unanimous-decision victory.
We can only hope this is Silva’s final fight. He has nothing left to prove in his MMA career. He remains forever one of the most loved, memorable and dominant champions in MMA history, and his career will forever be cherished by fans after his emotional yet warranted retirement.
Petela: On the contrary, we will see Silva go out on a high note.
On paper, this fight should go Hall’s way. However, there’s something telling me that “The Spider” captures a bit of that old magic and rides off into the sunset. It’s tough to see Silva sporting a 1-4 record since his loss in the Weidman rematch, but it’s plain to see that he doesn’t have the same physical abilities that made him the greatest middleweight in the world for nearly a decade. Yet, Silva does still have the same mental acumen and fight IQ, which will allow him to avoid taking too much damage from Hall.
It’s also worth noting that two of the three TKO losses on Silva’s resume came via leg injury. To call them flukes would be a disservice to the aforementioned victors Weidman and Cannonier, but they weren’t exactly routine fight-ending injuries. The other TKO was, of course, in the first fight with Weidman, where Silva got caught while clowning in an attempt to goad his opponent into making a mistake. It’s also not as if these losses have mounted up against subpar competition. With the exception of Cannonier, every fighter Silva has lost to is also a fighter who has a UFC championship belt on their mantel. While it’s clear that Silva has fallen from his place atop the elite, it is difficult to measure just how far he has fallen.
Hall has indeed shown flashes of brilliance throughout his career, but his resume lacks marquee names in the win column outside of the TKO in his first meeting with Mousasi. Silva is actually the third opponent Hall has been scheduled to face since his last appearance in the cage. Fights with both Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Yoel Romero were on the books before Hall’s opponents were forced to withdraw. It is possible that back-to-back-to-back training camps could take a physical toll on Hall. It is also a possibility that we see the same type of demeanor from “Prime Time” that we saw in the TUF Finale bout against Gastelum. Post-fight, Hall admitted that his emotional side had gotten the best of him because he had trained with Gastelum and grew to like him. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that an empathetic Hall is overcome by the moment, knowing that he is facing an all-time great in a retirement fight.
In all likelihood, Hall is coming into this fight in great health both physically and mentally. He should win, but he won’t. I can’t pinpoint exactly why or how, but Silva will capitalize on a miniscule opening given to him by Hall and close the show with one last jaw-dropping performance for the highlight reel.
Bryce Mitchell remains undefeated heading into this weekend’s co-headlining featherweight clash with Andre Fili. How do you rate Fili’s chances of becoming the first man to hand Mitchell an official loss?
Petela: Oof, not good.
Mitchell, who has just cracked into the division’s top 15, is rapidly developing from a prospect into a contender. His incredible performance against Matt Sayles in which he secured only the second twister submission in UFC history is just the tip of the iceberg for “Thug Nasty.” The 26-year-old is a rising star who is just entering his athletic prime. A definitive win over someone like Fili will be a nice feather in his cap.
Fili may find himself unranked at the moment, but the Team Alpha Male product is an accomplished UFC veteran with 15 fights inside the organization. He has taken out notable names like Myles Jury and Dennis Bermudez. Unfortunately, when Fili has found himself standing opposite the truly elite at featherweight — guys like Calvin Kattar, Yair Rodriguez and former champion Max Holloway — he has not had success. “Touchy” has become the quintessential gatekeeper at 145 pounds. This will continue to be the case this weekend.
Sumian: That’s on the dot. Fili has become the primary gatekeeper at featherweight, and any prospect who is able to defeat him has certainly proven that they are ready for the next step up in competition. Fili boasts phenomenal movement, fluid striking, and an underrated grappling game. However, he has yet to prove he is worthy of a top ranking in the division after juggling wins and losses.
Mitchell will look to get into clinch range and work for the takedown before securing favorable positions from the top. Fili, who tends to get wild and throw looping punches that leave him open for counters and takedowns, is certainly susceptible to the finish. Mitchell will find a rear-naked choke for the win. What follows is a top-10 opponent for “Thug Nasty.”
Kevin Natividad, Adrian Yanez and Victor Rodriguez — do we need to know these names?
Sumian: Yanez is a bantamweight newcomer who has compiled an 11-3 record. His most recent win came on Dana White’s Contender Series when he knocked out Brady Huang in under 40 seconds to visibly impress the UFC boss. The organization had matched him up with Aaron Phillips, but Phillips pulled out due to an injury and was replaced by the UFC newcomer Rodriguez.
Credit to Rodriguez for taking the short-notice bout, but he will face distinct disadvantages in height, reach and experience. Yanez will make quick work of him and earn a step up in competition for his sophomore UFC appearance.
Petela: Natividad is coming out of the Legacy Fighting Alliance, which has become one of the premier regional promotions and a major source of talent for the UFC. He is riding a five-fight winning streak and has scored knockout or TKO finishes in three of those five victories. Natividad’s professional record stands at 9-1 overall, and the 27-year-old bantamweight has shown massive improvements over the past few years. This will be a case where all things line up properly. He is getting his big shot at just the right time in his career. He will continue to improve while also picking up wins as he builds himself toward the top of the division.
Yanez is also an LFA veteran. His opponent, Rodriguez, comes out of the Alaska Fighting Championship promotion. AFC, while a reputable organization, does not have the same level of talent as the LFA. Rodriguez took four years off between fights from 2014 to 2018, but he has fought four times since then. Taking this fight on short notice is a calculated risk by Rodriguez. No matter the outcome, he should have earned enough clout with the promotion to get a second chance. He won’t be able to defeat Yanez, but don’t be surprised if Rodriguez rebounds nicely from a loss in his debut to carve out his place inside the UFC.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Petela: Justin Ledet. He began his UFC tenure rattling off three consecutive wins, but that momentum got derailed when Ledet moved back down to light heavyweight. He has lost three straight, and a fourth loss will bring his overall record with the promotion to 3-4. Ledet has a tough stylistic match-up against Dustin Jacoby, whose striking should be several notches ahead of Ledet. Jacoby, who has made numerous appearances with GLORY Kickboxing, amassed a professional kickboxing record of 10-8. In a fight with someone who prefers to stand and trade, the Factory X stalwart gets his hand raised in what will mark the final fight in the UFC for Ledet.
Sumian: Alexander Hernandez is certainly not in any danger of being cut. However, any hype remaining around the lightweight will go out the window with a loss against a relatively unknown name like Chris Gruetzemacher. The 28-year-old desperately needs a victory to stay relevant in the division, but a loss against Gruetzemacher will effectively erase what buzz Hernandez had carried after he surprisingly knocked out Beneil Dariush in 2018.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Sumian: Bobby Green and Thiago Moisés will engage in a fight that steals the show on Halloween. The two lightweights combine for 26 total finishes and boast well-rounded skill sets that will mix to create a fast-paced and exciting fight.
Green has revitalized his career this year by rattling off victories over Clay Guida, Lando Vannata and Alan Patrick. He could earn a UFC ranking if he is able to defeat Moisés, who was equally impressive in his last UFC outing when he submitted Michael Johnson via achilles hook. The Brazilian earned this bout with the surging Green as a reward. Expect a fun and competitive bout between these two exciting lightweights.
Petela: Cole Williams and Jason Witt. Both of these fighters are coming off a loss in their respective promotional debuts and will be looking to make a statement in their sophomore outing.
Before he was submitted by promotional veteran Claudio Silva, Williams had been perfect since 2009. Witt made his UFC debut on only 48 hours’ notice, which should come as no surprise for someone who has James Krause as his coach. Unfortunately, Witt didn’t make it out of the first round against Takashi Sato. With each man getting their first UFC loss out of the way early and having more than a couple days to prepare this time around, the Octagon jitters should greatly subside and these guys will be able to put on an entertaining and closely contested bout.
Pair this card with…
Petela: Jameson. It’s the end of the road for Anderson Silva. Regardless of the outcome this weekend, his retirement will leave fans with mixed emotions. That’s where Jameson comes in. I can’t be alone in feeling that as soon as Jameson comes out (usually shortly after the Jagermeister), it means the night is over and it’s one more for the road. Is Jameson the perfect nightcap, or will the repercussions the next day outweigh the joy? Yes. Always. It’s the perfect metaphor for Silva’s career. There’s been absolute greatness, but ultimately not knowing when enough is enough will taint the memories.
Sumian: Nostalgia. Compared to other recent fight nights, this card does boast some notable names, including Uriah Hall, Bryce Mitchell, Greg Hardy and Bobby Green. However, the highlight of the night is certainly the conclusion to Silva’s incredible career. The legendary middleweight made his UFC debut almost 15 years ago. How many unforgettable memories has he provided fans throughout his storied career in the UFC? In celebration, open up a bottle of 15-year aged Macallan and sip on some history as the GOAT of the middleweight division finally hangs it up.
Main Card (ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET)
MW: Uriah Hall vs. Anderson Silva
FW: Bryce Mitchell vs. Andre Fili
MW: Makhmud Muradov vs. Kevin Holland
HW: Greg Hardy vs. Maurice Greene
LW: Bobby Green vs. Thiago Moisés
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET)
LW: Alexander Hernandez vs. Chris Gruetzemacher
BW: Adrian Yanez vs. Victor Rodriguez
MW: Sean Strickland vs. Jack Marshman
WW: Jason Witt vs. Cole Williams
LHW: Dustin Jacoby vs. Justin Ledet
Women’s FlyW: Cortney Casey vs. Priscila Cachoeira
BW: Miles Johns vs. Kevin Natividad
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