The UFC heads to Curitiba, Brazil for one of the most eagerly anticipated cards of the year, and the start of an exceptional run leading up to UFC 200. The late loss of Anderson Silva deprived me of one of my biggest bets of the night but there are opportunities that remain in place. Read my thoughts below with the odds provided by 5Dimes.

Maia vs. Brown

Demian Maia is one of the few fighters who has no nickname, he should get one and it should resemble something like ‘Fine Wine’ because the older he gets the more impressive he looks. Maia at 185lbs was decent, but Maia at 170lbs is borderline exceptional. While I’ve never been a huge fan of his style, the way in which he manhandled Gunnar Nelson was a thing of beauty, particularly given how good Nelson is off his back. It was a masterclass in BJJ and one that should be watched again and again, especially after watching Nelson dismantle Tumenov as he did at the weekend, it makes the performance all the more impressive.

Matt Brown is a fighter who has been written off time and time again. A horrible run of 1-3 early on in his UFC career left many wondering whether a pink slip was on the way; but he turned it around in some style. Seven consecutive wins put him into not one, but two title eliminators. Firstly against Robbie Lawler, secondly against Johny Hendricks, sadly for Brown he came up short against the now-current champion and the former champion. He rebounded well when an underdog against Tim Means – I know, I couldn’t believe it either – and remains relevant inside the top five. A win over Maia and he may well be the standby fighter should either Tyron Woodley or Lawler pull out of their scheduled fight at UFC 201.

I was a little on the fence about who I thought would win this. If Maia has a path to victory then it is his supreme BJJ, coupled with the fact that Brown has had serious difficulty in this area previously. For Brown, it would be to catch Maia cold early on and finish him against the fence. Then I saw the line that 5Dimes were offering on this to go the distance and at odds against (plus money) it almost feels like stealing. If, and it’s a big if, Brown can stay out of the spaghetti-like arms and legs of the Brazilian then it goes the distance. If not, then Maia will become the first man to tap Brown in five years.

Recommendation: Brown / Maia goes 3 round distance – 2 units at +125 (9/4) @ 5Dimes

Cyborg vs. Smith

Outside of Ronda Rousey, Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Justino is the most talked about and recognisable fighter in WMMA. Cyborg has been lauded as the most aggressive, most devastating and dominant Women’s champion of all time. That it has taken until 2016, with her reaching the age of 30 is unfathomable. And the reason? A simple 5-10lbs, tops. Cyborg has never fought at lower than 140lbs in her career; a weight that this weekend’s catch weight has been agreed upon. Once considered to be the only legitimate fighter to potentially dethrone Rousey her debut has been somewhat muted with the former champions loss to Holly Holm and extended absence from the octagon.

Leslie Smith, if the UFC rumour mill will have you believe, actively lobbied for this fight against Cyborg. Smith is arguably known to most fans due to her exploding ear stoppage against Jessica Eye; she wanted to continue but the cage side Dr disagreed. Her record isn’t stellar, she thinks that this will work to her advantage and she will shock the world, I am less convinced.

I could sum this up in two words; ‘Cyborg Smash’ and leave it at that. With the wheels coming off the Rousey train, with Holm losing her belt in her first defence there is no way that the UFC will match a debuting Justino against someone who has more than a 10% chance of beating her, and those are roughly the same chances that the bookies give. Cyborg smashed Gina Carano into retirement and she’ll do similar to Smith and it will be in the blink of an eye. There is almost no bet with value here except Justino in round one.

Recommendation: Justino wins in round 1 – 2 units at -200 (1/2) @ 5Dimes

Souza vs. Belfort

But for a contentious split decision loss to Yoel Romero it could have been Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza challenging Luke Rockhold for his 185lb belt at UFC 199 and someone else would have been facing Vitor Belfort in Curitiba. Even when Romero fell afoul of the USADA testing programme Souza didn’t get the call and this is a shame because he clearly deserves the title shot more than most, including the former champion and current challenger, Chris Weidman. Souza is a submission machine, forcing the tap in 16 of his 22 career wins. Ignoring the reverse to Romero the last man to beat him was current champion, Luke Rockhold, for the Strikeforce belt in a wrong that he is striving to make right.

What a difference three years and three little letters have made to the career of Vitor Belfort. His position in the UFC Hall of Fame is secure as is the legacy that he has created over 19 years in the sport. However, the ban on TRT ago had a huge effect on Vitor’s performances as well as his physicality. Consecutive head kick knockouts of top contenders, including the current champion, Luke Rockhold, put him in with Chris Weidman. While he came out all guns blazing he was soon on the bottom, mounted and finished. He entered the octagon sans the muscle definition and mass that was on display against Rockhold and Bisping, displaying more of a ‘dad bod’ than a ‘god bod’.

On any other card in Brazil and this is a main event. Scrap that, on any non PPV card worldwide and this is a main event. Sure, Belfort is on a slow decline and Souza has never been a true household name outside of Brazil but this could be an extremely fun fight to watch. If the fight were made 3 years ago when TRT Vitor was tearing up the division then I’d be leaning towards The Phenom but Jacare is younger, equally as experienced and far less battle worn than his opponent. He also possesses the nastiest submission game in the 185lb division. That’s where I see him taking the win.

Recommendation: Souza wins by submission – 2 units at +100 (1/1) @ 5Dimes

Werdum vs. Miocic

In beating Cain Velasquez by third round submission in Mexico City, Fabricio Werdum accomplished two things. Firstly, he ensured that the third defence Heavyweight title curse continued. Secondly, he staked his claim of being the best Heavyweight in MMA history as the only man to tap out the legendary Fedor Emelianenko, Big Nog and Velasquez. In fact, he holds a win against the majority of the top 265lb’ers who have graced the UFC in the last 10 years. Despite this record, he just doesn’t ‘feel’ like the greatest and if he is kept standing for 25 minutes you get the impression that he could be picked apart.

Stipe Miocic has been on a monstrous run since entering the UFC back in 2011. In that time he has amassed a record of 8-2 with losses coming to Stefan Struve and a slightly contentious decision to Junior dos Santos. Against JDS he clearly won the opening two rounds and, according to some, probably did enough to nick a third. But it wasn’t to be and he tasted defeat for just a second time. Miocic has been booked against Rothwell in what should have been a contender match, but injury led to him getting a title shot for real. With this shot he could break the fabled ‘Cleveland curse’ and bring home a championship for the first time in 50 years.

Werdum is the bookmakers favourite and rightly so, but Miocic shouldn’t be discounted. It is a stylistic matchup that could play out very well for Miocic if he can keep it standing, less so if he is put on his back. Mark Hunt is known for having one of the strongest chins in MMA, and while Werdum ended him inside two rounds, the manner in which Miocic beat him over five rounds lingers far longer in the memory banks. I like Miocic for this one, he matches stylistically with JDS who finished Werdum in round one, if he gets those hands going then a finish is on the cards.

Recommendation: Stipe Miocic – 2 units at +140 (7/5) @ 5Dimes