Jailton Almeida faces his toughest test yet, though it wasn’t the one he expected.
In the main event of UFC Sao Paulo, Almeida was originally scheduled to fight wrestling specialist Curtis Blaydes. However, with Blaydes out due to an ankle injury, two-time heavyweight title challenger Derrick Lewis has stepped up to the plate on barely a month’s notice.
A win over Lewis will still boost Almeida’s profile, but it’s hard not to be disappointed in this new matchup, as Blaydes was the perfect gauge to see if Almeida’s highly vaunted grappling game is truly effective against any opponent. As it stands, Almeida has a lot more to lose than to gain now, because when you’re dealing with the always dangerous Lewis — the UFC’s all-time leader in knockouts — anything can happen.
In other main card action, undefeated welterweight Gabriel Bonfim looks to defeat Brazil’s worst enemy Nicolas Dalby, Rodrigo Nascimento and Don’Tale Mayes meet in a heavyweight rematch that … someone somewhere was asking for, middleweight contenders Caio Borralho and Abus Magomedov face off, and grappling specialist takes on striker Armen Petrosyan in a middleweight contest.
What: UFC Sao Paulo
Where: Ginásio do Ibirapuera in Sao Paulo, Brazil
(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting Global Rankings)
Table of Contents
Jailton Almeida (6) vs. Derrick Lewis (14)
If Derrick Lewis’ plan is to Just Get Up™ against Jailton Almeida, he’s going to be sorely disappointed.
You never want to completely count out “The Black Beast,” especially since it’s easy to picture a scenario where Lewis catches Almeida early and puts him away, never even having to worry about Almeida’s ground game. He’s bested grapplers before and nothing would be more Lewis than randomly flying to Brazil, knocking off a top contender, and somehow finding himself in the title picture once again.
I’ve been all-in on the Almeida hype train for a while, so I don’t see that scenario unfolding. The safe bet is that Almeida is the one who strikes first, dragging Lewis to the mat and then making his life miserable for as long as it takes to work into position for a submission. Lewis might be able to fight it off, he might even manage to stand, but eventually Almeida will wear him down and find his neck or snatch a limb.
Lewis fans have often joked that the fighter has proven time and time again that jiu-jitsu isn’t real. He’ll definitely be a believer after this weekend.
Gabriel Bonfim vs. Nicolas Dalby
Nicolas Dalby is an enormously difficult challenge for Gabriel Bonfim, and I have to admit, I’m a little surprised they’d put him in this position given Dalby’s penchant for beating Brazilian fighters. On the other hand, if Bonfim is the man to end Dalby’s reign of terror, it could make him a household name in his native country overnight.
I applaud the matchmakers for this one because if Bonfim can make short work of Dalby as he has his past few opponents, we have a future top-10 welterweight on our hands. Outside of a shocking first-round submission loss to Jesse Ronson that was later overturned when Ronson tested positive for a banned substance, Dalby has never been finished in almost 30 career fights. Bonfim has never gone to a decision. Something has got to give.
Bonfim’s explosiveness is hard to ignore, but he’ll have to be careful to avoid potentially gassing himself out chasing a finish early. I’d like to see him show patience here as he has a tendency to just go full berserker in Round 1 and rely on his athleticism to overwhelm his opponents. Dalby won’t panic if he gets off to a slow start, he’s done this dance before. And his ground defense is high-level.
One aspect of this fight I can’t shake is the age difference. Dalby’s recent success has primarily come against fellow veterans, including a couple that were actually older than him. He turns 39 in two weeks, making him about 13 years older than Bonfim, and while he’s in great shape, it won’t be easy for him to go 15 minutes with the up-and-coming set. Especially given how much pressure Bonfim puts on his opponents.
The bad news for Bonfim is I see him going to the cards for the first time in his career; the good news is I have him outlasting Dalby and winning a decision.
Rodrigo Nascimento vs. Don’Tale Mayes 2
We’ve been scratching our heads here at MMAF HQ trying to figure out why this particular heavyweight matchup is being run back, with Rodrigo Nascimento having picked up a definitive submission win over Don’Tale Mayes back in 2020.
It’s not as there was any controversy surrounding the bout. As far as we can tell, there isn’t any lingering bad blood between the two. And it’s not like they’ve been soaring up the rankings and are battling for a top 15 spot. This rematch is just kind of … happening.
Oh, right, the pick.
These guys both like to go in there and throw swinging punches to close the distance, which worked out well for Nascimento the first time as he eventually found an opening to take Mayes down and choke him out. This time, I have Mayes catching Nascimento with a spinning strike out of nowhere and scoring a KO.
You know what that means: It’s trilogy time!
Caio Borralho vs. Abus Magomedov
Figuring out where Abus Magomedov belongs in the middleweight hierarchy is tricky. His highlight reel consists of fast finishes where his opponents barely had a chance to get out of the gate; on the other hand, he was beaten handily by Sean Strickland. On the other, other hand (the dreaded third hand), losing to Strickland shouldn’t tarnish his reputation too badly given that Strickland might be one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
So pairing him up with the promising Caio Borralho sounds about right. Borralho has been built up the right way, given prominent spots on cards and an escalating series of opponents, capped off by a pair of impressive wins over Michal Oleksiejczuk and Makhmud Muradov. He’s 4-0 in the UFC and knocking on the rankings door with another win.
Borralho’s in-and-out striking style is well-suited to dealing with the slightly longer Magomedov, so expect this to be more of a chess match in the first few minutes. Eventually, Borralho should go to his ground game to change the complexion of this fight and take some air out of Magomedov’s attack. This will pay off big time in the second and third rounds.
Magomedov is dangerous at the opening bell, but I like Borralho to weather that storm and take over as the action progresses. A submission is likely, but I’ll say Borralho on points.
Rodolfo Vieira vs. Armen Petrosyan
Armen Petrosyan has made a strong case to be at the forefront of the next generation of middleweighty middleweights as he’s compiled a solid 3-1 UFC record almost devoid of any memorable moments. That’s not easy to do.
That’s in contrast to Rodolfo Vieira, whose octagon run has been almost too memorable, with Vieira on the right end of some exhilarating submission wins and the wrong end of some exhausting losses.
It’s entirely possible that Petrosyan’s methodical striking style befuddles Vieira and prevents him from even coming close to scoring a takedown, but I’m the Prince of Positivity and that means it’s my duty to predict, nay, manifest a more entertaining outcome. Let’s say Petrosyan gets careless with his footwork, allows Vieira to close the distance, and suddenly finds himself fighting for dear life as a bellowing crowd calls for Vieira to rip him to shreds.
That sounds much more fun, doesn’t it? Vieira by submission.
Rinat Fakhretdinov def. Elizeu Zaleski
Angela Hill (12) def. Denise Gomes