The UFC makes their first trip to Sao Paulo this year over the weekend, their third and final event in Brazil in 2018. Although the card has been ravaged by injuries, there are several fighters with plenty to fight for at UFC Sao Paulo.
The UFC returns to Sao Paulo for the first time since October of 2017, bringing a slew of exciting prospects with them. While the main event features two different fighters than the initial announcement, UFC Sao Paulo features more than a few fighters capable of getting fans out of their seats.
The final event before UFC 229, featuring Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov, Sao Paulo’s card is being understandably overlooked. Add several injuries to the event, and it’s easy to see why UFC Sao Paulo could be ignored. That’d be a mistake. The match-ups may not feature many household names, but Sao Paulo is getting a close look at some top-tier, young talent ready to make their way into MMA’s premier promotion.
Whether you’re a title-contender or an unranked fighter, every bout matters. But, fights at certain points in a fighter’s career can mean more than others, based on the circumstances. Great match-ups are always fun. With a little more on the line, fights are even better for those of us at home.
Impressive performances and victories are the quickest way for a fighter to move up the ranks, and these fighters have opportunities to do just that in Brazil this weekend. Whether fighting on short notice, taking on a former champion, or making their promotional debut, four fighters have more to gain than the rest at UFC Sao Paulo.
Accepting the main event bout against Thiago Santos on less than a week’s notice, former University of Alabama linebacker Eryk Anders has the chance to earn the biggest win of his career on Saturday night. Anders and Santos will be making their light heavyweight debuts, and are replacing Jimi Manuwa and Glover Teixeira, respectively, in UFC Sao Paulo’s main event.
Anders is a slight underdog, but has the skills to pull off the upset in Brazil. Given the fact that he’s fighting on short-notice, against a monster like Santos, it’s surprising the odds aren’t worse. A big reason that’s the case is Anders’ resume’. He’s 11-1 (3-1 in UFC), and doesn’t have much to lose in Sao Paulo.
A win gives Anders plenty of options at 185 and 205-pounds, something not many fighters in the promotion have. A loss would be understandable, and he’d gain the experience of standing toe-to-toe with one of the best strikers he’s ever faced. Either way, UFC Sao Paulo is Anders’ for the taking.
Whenver a fighter makes their UFC debut, it’s a big deal. Doing so against a former champion in their home country? That’s even bigger. Andre Ewell will be faced with such a matchup in Sao Paulo when he fights the slumping Renan Barao.
Ewell is only a slight underdog against the former 135-pound title-holder. He’s won four consecutive bouts, and eight of his last nine. He doesn’t like to waste time, either. Ewell has earned finishes in 11 of his 13 career victories, with eight of those finishes coming in the first round. Tallying wins in both CES and LFA in 2018, it’s clear Ewell is ready to be tested in the UFC.
It won’t be an easy test, though. Despite Barao’s recent struggles, he’s still one of the best bantamweights in promotion history. There’s no denying his resume, but it’s clear Barao is headed toward the twilight of his career. Being used as a metric for prospects like Ewell is part of the fight game. That doesn’t mean he’ll be lacking in motivation once the bell rings.
Barao may be the known name in this bout, but it’s Ewell who has the chance to impress us most in Sao Paulo. Going into “enemy territory” against a former champ in his promotional debut is quite a challenge for Ewell. If he can overcome that, the rest of the loaded bantamweight division will need to take note.
Featuring on both the first and second seasons of the Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series, six-foot-five light heavyweight Ryan Spann has undoubtedly earned his shot at competing in the UFC. He’ll get that chance this weekend. Although he lost his bout in season one, getting finished in 15 seconds, Spann has been on a roll ever since.
Following that quick loss, Spann made the move to LFA. Fighting three times in four months for the promotion, Spann tallied three consecutive first-round finishes. He then made his return to DWTNCS in 2018, securing his fourth straight win and first-round finish with a guillotine choke in 26 seconds.
Although Spann is the favorite against Luis Henrique, he’d be smart to not overlook his Brazilian opponent. Henrique has lost back-to-back bouts, but is 2-3 in his UFC career. That’s not too bad, considering Henrique is just 25-years-old.
The UFC’s light heavyweight division is begging for fresh contenders, and has been for a while now. Spann obviously has the promotion’s attention, and if he can continue his impressive run, there’s little doubt he’d get a solid push from Dana White and Co. The first step on that road begins at UFC Sao Paulo, where Spann has more to gain than many fighters competing this weekend.
Yet another young fighter will be making their UFC debut in Sao Paulo this weekend. Brazilian Marina Rodriguez will be wading into the stacked strawweight division when she takes on veteran Randa Markos in her first appearance in the promotion.
Rodriguez is undefeated in her 11-fight career. Most recently she earned a first-round finish on the first season of Brazil’s Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series in August. It was her first finish in five fights, but there’s no denying her talent. Well versed in both jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai, Rodriguez is the kind of well-rounded fighter that can compete with the best in the UFC at 115-pounds.
She’ll be faced with #13-ranked Markos in her debut, a tough task for a promotional newcomer. Markos has alternated wins and losses since joining the UFC in 2014, with victories over the likes of Carla Esparza and Juliana Lima. She’s 1-1 in 2018, and like Barao, doesn’t want to be the strawweight gatekeeper for prospects like Rodriguez.
The odds for the UFC Sao Paulo main card opening fight are essentially even, with Markos as the very small favorite. With a win, Rodriguez would earn the respect of the 115-pound weight class and another ranked opponent in her next bout. It won’t get any easier, especially in the strawweight division. But a good start for Rodriguez would get her on the right track, and garner attention from other contenders in the loaded weight class.
We’re ready for a fun UFC event this weekend. Sao Paulo looks like it has a solid card to enjoy. From the main event to the Fight Pass prelims, plenty of fighters have a lot on the line on Saturday night. But, with a win, these four fighters have more to gain than the rest. Let us know who you think has the most to gain at UFC Sao Paulo, and which fight you’re looking forward to most! Comment below, on Facebook, or reply on Twitter!