The UFC heads back to Fortaleza, Brazil with a card packed with local favourites in each of the 13 booked bouts, which should ensure a rabid reception from the fans. Top to bottom the card isnâ€™t the strongest so I've focused on the main and co-main event for betting purposes. My thoughts are below, along with odds provided by 5DimesLines.com.
Edson Barboza vs. Beniel Dariush
Barboza gets another opportunity to continue his rise back up the ranks of the 155lb division here. Sidelined for a few months after his win over perennial challenger Gil Melendez, which followed a win over former divisional kingpin Anthony Pettis, the Muay Thai specialist will be looking for opportunities to unleash those trademark devastating leg kicks.
Since recording a series of high profile finishes, Barboza has allowed his game to develop, and is far more patient in his approach these days. The result has been a series of clear decision victories, although interspersed amongst a couple of losses, albeit against legitimate contenders. This is the blueprint of a fighter getting ready to reach his prime and uncovering his fight IQ.
Dariush is a fighter who's flirted with the top 10, but never quite cemented his place or gave the impression he really belonged there. This was demonstrated when he took a highly contentious split decision from Michael Johnson.
Although clearly undeserving of the 'W', Dariush was unable to capitalise on his good fortune and was submitted by Michael Chiesa next time out. His stock rose slightly with a convincing performance against James Vick, and an underdog victory against Rashid Magomedov, but a win over Barboza would see his stock rise exponentially.
Although I heavily favour Barboza in this matchup Dariush does carry a submission game that could give the Brazilian nightmares. Barboza has been relatively easy to submit when getting hit in the face, a glaring chink in an otherwise solid armour, meaning this could be another chance for Dariush to cause the upset.
If Barboza has truly matured, as I feel he has, then he should be able to use his kicks to keep Dariush at range and take a comfortable and clear decision. That fight IQ is always suspect though and itâ€™s the one thing that stops me pulling the trigger on him for a bigger stake.
Recommendation: Edson Barboza â€“ 3 units at -170 (3/5) @5Dimes
Vitor Belfort vs. Kelvin Gastelum
Belfort is a fighter who requires no introduction. A certainty for the UFC Hall of Fame, a legend of Pride and a man who made his promotional debut almost 200 PPVâ€™s ago at UFC 12. He's faced the very best MMA has had to offer and beaten a large portion of them. That was then, however, and this is a man on a decline, only three weeks away from his 40th birthday.
Since 2013 Vitor has fought sparingly, making just four appearances with a single victory. His defeats have been relatively early finishes, all of which ended in brutal fashion. After UFC 204 in Manchester, England, there was a sense we'd seen the last of Belfort. But with a home date fast approaching this could well be â€˜The Phenomâ€™s big sign-off from competition.
Gastelum made his name by defeating one of the most hyped fighters ever to appear on The Ultimate Fighter, Uriah Hall. In the finale Gastelum was a 5/2 (+250) underdog, winning by split decision for his first official UFC bout. Other than a pair of contentious split decisions, one to the reigning welterweight champion, his only professional defeats have come via the scales.
With a little more development he could be the best prospect to ever graduate from the TUF house. The manner with which he dismantled Tim Kennedy, putting the US Army Ranger into retirement no less, was as impressive as it was brutal and it has showed the world that the 185lb Gastelum is even more destructive than his rarely seen 170lb alter ego.
This is very much a case of the new breed meeting the old. Gone are the troubling weight cuts of Gastelum's past, and it doesnâ€™t take a lot of foresight to see him as a legitimate contender â€“ he's top 10 at 185lb for sure. As for Belfort, he hasnâ€™t looked anywhere near the athlete he did while on TRT and his time must surely be almost up.
Belfort can still deliver a first round flurry, but all Gastelum needs to do here is weather that storm and then comfortably run away with the fight. There's not a chance this goes the distance.
Recommendation: Gastelum inside the distance â€“ 4 units at -350 (2/7) @5Dimes
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