Thiago Santos (Gleidson Venga/Sherdog)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC on ESPN+ 40 Preview and Predictions

Matthew Petela Staff Writer

At UFC on ESPN+ 40, a pair of former UFC light-heavyweight title challengers meet in the main event. It’s a fight that could likely lead to the winner earning himself another crack at the belt.

Glover Teixeira is on a four-fight winning streak, which included a “Performance of the Night” in his last outing when he scored a fifth-round TKO of Anthony Smith. Thiago “Marreta” Santos had won four straight himself until he came up short at UFC 239 against Jon Jones. This fight was originally slated for the Sept. 12 fight card, but Teixeira tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19). The date was moved to Oct. 4, but then it was Santos whose test came back positive. This caused the fight to be rescheduled for a second time. Now, it looks like the third time’s the charm, as fans will finally see these two square off inside the Octagon.

In the co-headliner, former heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski steps in for his 51st professional fight. He meets Canadian Tanner Boser. Arlovski bounced back from a first-round TKO loss to Jairzinho Rozenstruik with a unanimous-decision win over Philipe Lins and will be on the hunt to post back-to-back victories for the first time since 2018. Boser is 3-1 in the UFC with his only loss coming at the hands of Ciryl Gane. Boser’s last outing was a second-round TKO finish of Raphael Pessoa in July that earned him “Performance of the Night” honors. Neither man is ranked at this point, but this clash is sure to deliver fireworks.


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The main card also includes a middleweight fight between Ian Heinisch and Brendan Allen. Heinisch last fought in June and picked up a first-round TKO over Gerald Meerschaert. Allen is undefeated in his three UFC fights and his last seven bouts overall.

UFC on ESPN+ 40 takes place on Saturday, Nov. 7, inside the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The prelims begin at 7 p.m. ET and the main card follows at 10 p.m. ET. All fights can be seen on the ESPN+ streaming platform. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Glover Teixeira may be 41 years old, but he proved in May that he’s still capable of toppling light-heavyweight contenders. Can he deliver a repeat performance when he meets Thiago Santos on Saturday?

Sumian: As “Cinderella Man”-esque as that would be, Teixeira will not defeat his fellow Brazilian colleague in their pivotal match-up this weekend. His win against Anthony Smith was straight out of a Rocky movie and undoubtedly revived any chance of the former title challenger earning a second shot at UFC gold.

Smith controlled the first round as he looked to establish his jab and cripple Teixera’s movement with heavy leg kicks. Round two was highlighted by a vintage Teixeira flurry as he backed up Smith with a barrage of punches and kicks while establishing himself as the primary aggressor. What followed was utter domination. Teixeira hurt Smith several times and allowed little to no time for Smith to recover. The performance has earned him this possible title-eliminator bout with Santos, who has not fought since losing a closely contested split decision to former UFC champ Jon Jones in July 2019.

Santos suffered a variety of leg injuries in his bout with Jones, and he has taken over a year to undergo various surgeries in an effort to recover and compete at his maximum potential. Despite not being a major name in the MMA world, Santos has quietly compiled an 8-2 UFC record since 2017 and established himself as one of the most powerful strikers in the organization. He is averaging an approximate 77 percent finishing rate, 4.44 significant strikes per minute, and a 1.25 knockdown ratio per 15 minutes.

It is hard to find an advantage that Teixeira holds over his counterpart. Expect both fighters to trade a variety of shots in what will be an entertaining affair before Santos is able to hurt Teixeira in round two or three and follow up with an impressive finish. Then, perhaps Santos will be rewarded with a rematch against recently crowned champ Jan Błachowicz.

Petela: If there is an area where Teixeira has an advantage, it is in the grappling department. He is a world-class submission artist, something Santos can’t say. However, with the thunderous power both men have in their hands, this one won’t come down to a grappling contest.

The long layoff for Santos is the big question mark heading into this contest. It has been over a year since his title loss to the aforementioned Jones. The knee surgeries followed, not to mention a positive COVID test for Santos. If he comes back the same or better than he was as the first man to take a judges’ scorecard against Jones, then this fight with Teixeira will be another dominant performance for “Marreta.” If the layoff has gotten to him or the knees haven’t healed quite right, then it will be a much more competitive affair.

That said, we’ll see a top-notch Santos this weekend. The rest and relaxation that the time off has given him will bring him to the cage as the best version we have seen in the UFC. This will be a one-sided fight where Santos doles out all the punishment. It will be more than enough to allow Santos to earn another title shot.

Xiaonan Yan has now won five straight UFC fights. Will she extend her winning streak when she clashes with Claudia Gadelha?

Petela: Yes.

Yan hasn’t lost a fight since 2010. She has shown that she is the cream of the crop of the new wave of MMA talent coming out of Asia. She has fought increasingly tough talent in the UFC, most recently former title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz, and looked better in each outing. A win here over Gadelha will be a nice stepping stone for Yan as she makes her way toward a title shot.

Gadelha is a tough out for anyone, though. She had two very close contests with former champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk that really set the bar at a new level for the women’s strawweight division. She made the move to New Jersey to work with Nick Catone and Mark Henry to improve her striking and round out her game. While there have been minor improvements, Gadelha hasn’t quite advanced to the level needed in order for her to get a win over Yan.

Sumian: Agreed. Yan is easily one of the most significant up-and-coming contenders to pay attention to as we enter the final two months of the calendar year. Gadelha is far removed from being the No. 1 contender in the strawweight division and will find herself struggling to keep up with Yan’s pace, excellent striking, and validated game plan. Yan will claim a unanimous decision and earn a top-five opponent for her next appearance.

Ramiz Brahimaj — do we need to know this name?

Sumian: The fact that he is making his UFC debut against Max Griffin certainly says something. Brahimaj is a Bronx native who has compiled an 8-2 record outside the UFC, including a 4-2 mark with the Legacy Fighting Alliance. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Brahimaj’s resume is the fact that he has seven first-round submissions. This likely indicates what his game plan will be upon making his UFC debut. His counterpart in this bout will want to keep the fight on the feet and use his boxing to dictate the pace and distance of the bout. Brahimaj’s success in his UFC debut will come down to his ability to get this fight to the ground, where he will likely hold a distinct advantage.

Petela: Nearly every fighter who makes their UFC debut after a run in the LFA is worth watching. Brahimaj is no exception. In addition to his seven first-round submissions, his other win also came via tapout, just in the second round rather than the first. The UFC is the perfect place to see whether he is a one-trick pony or if the other aspects of his skill set are on par with the best in the world. Keep an eye out for this guy.

What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?

Petela: Darren Elkins. “The Damage” will always be known as a fighter you can’t count out until the referee has officially waved off the fight. Fans will remember this trait from his fights with Mirsad Bektic and Michael Johnson. Recently, however, Elkins has fallen on hard times that he hasn’t been able to overcome. He has lost four straight and most recently stumbled against a relative unknown in Nate Landwehr. Like Dan Hardy several years ago, Elkins is probably on a longer leash than most fighters because he delivers show-stealing performances even in defeat. Yet, whenever a fighter drops five consecutive fights, the promotion has to seriously consider whether or not it makes sense to save a roster spot for someone highly likely to come up short.

Sumian: Max Griffin. This is only because of the circumstance surrounding his fight. His opponent, Ramiz Brahimaj, is a submission guru who is making his UFC debut. Brahimaj has finished all eight of his wins via first- or second-round submission. Griffin is already on a two-fight skid. If he drops a quick submission loss to a UFC newcomer, then he might find himself on the chopping block.

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

Sumian: Trevin Giles and Bevon Lewis. This is going to be fireworks, plain and simple. Both combatants are power punchers who like to dance on the feet and exchange heavy blows. Giles is coming off an epic war with James Krause, and Lewis will certainly oblige him in exchanging powerful shots for as long as this fight lasts. This is a “Fight of the Night” candidate.

Petela: Darren Elkins and Eduardo Garagorri. While Elkins hasn’t had much success lately, nobody can accuse him of being boring. Garagorri will have no choice but to engage Elkins in his frenetic style. These two men will put on a barn-burner early in the evening.


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Pair this card with…

Petela: Fireball. It hits hard, just like both of the men in this weekend’s headlining bout. Plus, the distinct cinnamon aftertaste is something you won’t forget, just like you won’t forget the return of Thiago Santos.

Sumian: Setting up for the future. This card boasts pivotal match-ups for important fights to make in a number of UFC divisions. The victor in the main event likely earns a title shot, while the middleweight clash between Ian Heinisch and Brendan Allen could lead to the winner facing a top-10 opponent in their next go-around. Tune in for an entertaining and fan-friendly fight night made up of high-caliber fights. As for the drink of choice? Something reliable and easy, like a good old rum and coke or vodka ginger ale.

Fight Picks

Fight Sumian’s Pick Petela’s Pick
Main Card (ESPN+, 10 p.m. ET)
LHW: Thiago Santos vs. Glover Teixeira Santos Santos
HW: Andrei Arlovski vs. Tanner Boser Boser Boser
MW: Ian Heinisch vs. Brendan Allen Heinisch Allen
BW: Raoni Barcelos vs. Khalid Taha Taha Barcelos
Women’s StrawW: Claudia Gadelha vs. Xiaonan Yan Yan Yan
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET)
MW: Trevin Giles vs. Bevon Lewis Giles Giles
FW: Giga Chikadze vs. Jamey Simmons Chikadze Chikadze
HW: Marcos Rogério de Lima vs. Alexander Romanov de Lima de Lima
FW: Darren Elkins vs. Eduardo Garagorri Elkins Elkins
WW: Max Griffin vs. Ramiz Brahimaj Brahimaj Griffin