The UFC heads to São Paulo this Saturday (October 28th) for an exciting Fight Night, and the main card is tailor-made for the Brazilian crowd. Local favorite Demian Maia re-enters the octagon after a failed title shot, and the long-awaited return of Lyoto Machida is finally upon us.
Both Maia and Machida will enter the cage as underdogs despite fighting in front of friendly fans. Can the aging MMA legends do Brazil proud? Are they better value for bettors?
Let’s take a look.
Lyoto Machida (22-7) returns to the octagon after an 18-month doping suspension. He’s diving straight back into the deep end, taking on the eighth-ranked middleweight Derek Brunson (17-5). It’s an interesting stylistic match-up: Brunson likes to explode out of the gate but gasses quickly, while Machida is a very measured fighter with a cautious and cerebral approach.
Brunson lost a bit of momentum after he suffered back-to-back losses against now-interim champ Robert Whittaker and an aging Anderson Silva, but he won his most recent fight very convincingly, knocking out Dan Kelly in the first round. He’s got a vicious ground-and-pound and is especially dangerous in the opening minutes.
Coming from a karate background, Machida fights with an unorthodox style that can baffle his opponents. Able to exploit angles most fighters cannot, he has used his striking to defeat MMA greats like Gegard Mousasi, Shogun Rua, Tito Ortiz, and BJ Penn. But all those wins came long, long ago. Recently, his record has taken quite a dip. Before his suspension, he had lost three of his last four fights, one by unanimous decision (Chris Weidman), one by submission (Luke Rockhold), and one by knockout (Yoel Romero).
Post-USADA suspension, Machida may not be the fighter we remember so fondly. In addition to the 18-month layoff, he’s not 39 years old and suffered a brutal knockout in his last fight. That’s not a solid foundation for a successful comeback. Brunson has some blatant flaws in his game which will be exploited when he takes on other top-ranked middleweights. But, against Machida, he’ll be alright.
Pick: Derek Brunson (-155)
It’s no secret that the UFC is desperate to find someone to oust welterweight champ Tyron Woodley. The current title holder is ruthlessly efficient, but also mind-numbingly boring, both inside and outside of the octagon. Fans don’t want to see him fight, and the UFC’s pay-per-view business suffers because of it.
To remedy the situation, Dana White and the UFC have booked a flurry of high-profile welterweight fights. Darren Till faced Donald Cerrone last weekend; Stephen Thompson takes on Jorge Masvidal at UFC 217; Robbie Lawler and Rafael dos Anjos will meet in December for a title eliminator; and this weekend, Colby Covington (12-1) and Demian Maia (25-7) will throw down in São Paulo.
Covington is a highly decorated collegiate wrestler and shines when his fights go to ground. But he’s also able to stand and bang if the fight remains upright. He’s on a four-fight win streak and won all four convincingly, though Dong Hyun Kim was the toughest of his opponents. His striking is not polished — he tends to swing wildly and moves forward too recklessly — but it’s been effective so far.
Demian Maia is a jiu-jitsu purist. His opponents know exactly what his game plan is, but they’re rarely able to stop him. He’s adept at closing the distance, getting his foe on the ground, and then overwhelming them with unparalleled grappling. He only does the one thing well, but he’s a true savant.
Woodley was able to neutralize Maia with his takedown defense but don’t expect Covington to do the same — at least, not as effectively. At 39 years old, Maia is nearing the end of his career and his best years are well behind him, but he has enough to put Covington away. At worst, I see this as a toss-up fight, so at +140, the Brazilian is much better value, especially fighting at home.
Pick: Demian Maia (+140)
Featured photo: Lyoto Machida (By Marcos Joel Reis (Flickr) [CC License])
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