What the hell happened at UFC Fight Night Sao Paulo?

Greetings, fight fans! The UFC returned to Sao Paulo, Brazil for a decent night of fights that was eventually marred by dull main event and a controversial co-main. Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza continues the trend of top middleweights who move up to light heavyweight enjoying less than stellar results, while Blachowicz now moves to 3-1 over former or current middleweights over the course of just under two years. The event overall wasn't much to write home about, so let's just get down to what the hell happened!

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The Main Card

Blachowicz edges Jacare in razor-thin, tepid bout

#6 Jan Blachowicz def. #8(MW) Ronaldo Souza by split decision (48-47, 47-48, 48-47)

Because it's just as exciting as any footage of the actual fight.

It was a real bummer of a fight to have to watch for 25 minutes, but ultimately it being a five-round affair was what netted Blachowicz the win. Souza came into the fight defending the honor of his fellow former top middleweights and past opponents Chris Weidman and Luke Rockhold, who each suffered devastating 205 lb debuts, and while he likewise didn't get the win, he put on the most competitive performance of the three by a mile and arguably deserved the decision. I thought the chances of him getting the nod in Brazil were pretty high, but the combination of the UFC using their own judges and Brazilian judges just generally appearing a bit less biased toward their countrymen and women these days led to the hometown crowd going home unhappy.

As mentioned, the fight was far from exciting to partake in, and generally followed the same formula for 25 minutes. The two were relatively measured at distance and rarely committed to exchanging in the pocket, Souza would gradually pressure until he had Blachowicz close to the cage, at which point he would launch an overhand right and barrel his way into the clinch for a takedown attempt. Blachowicz was sterling in his takedown defense, staying upright through all five of Souza's attempts, but he frequently found himself being pushed against the cage for extended periods of time. For all the time he spent controlling the positioning against the fence, Souza did little else while in the clinch, as he only landed a measly two strikes at the position while Blachowicz stayed busy with knees and elbows, landing twelve clinch strikes. The story was similar at distance, as Souza did quite a bit of feinting and teasing big shots, but threw and landed less than a third of the strikes Blachowicz did. All in all the fight seemed to come down to whether judges favored Blachowicz's striking volume or Souza's control, and they went with the former. Despite the closeness of the fight, Blachowicz did appear to come on stronger and take the championship rounds while Souza's control went further in the opening three rounds, but it appears the opening round may have been he swing, as neither man really had a defining moment in the period.

I actually scored the fight a draw after a 10-10 first round, but I do feel for Souza here. He exasperatedly claimed that he never gets the close decisions, and he's pretty on point with that. In razor-thin bouts with Yoel Romero, Kelvin Gastelum, and now Blachowicz he arguably deserved the nod in all three fights, only to lose split decisions. I guess it's no wonder he's finished all but one of his wins in the UFC.

As mentioned, Souza is now the third former top middleweight to have an unsuccessful light heavyweight debut following mid-tier 185ers Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos having great success with the transition and earning title shots. It might seem like an odd turn of events, but it makes quite a bit of sense for a couple of reasons. I think the main reason is that the elite middleweights essentially make the move too late. Souza, Weidman, and Rockhold all decided to move up when they were past their primes and finished as middleweight contenders. Meanwhile, Smith and Santos were still showing improvements as fighters when they made the switch, and did it not because of bad showings at middleweight, but just because they felt the division suited them better for their development. They simply weren't as broken down by injuries and the wear of constantly fighting the cream of the crop when they moved up. That dovetails into the second reason: when top fighters change divisions they will be fast tracked. More middling fighters like Smith and Santos were allowed softer entries into the division against faded veterans or raw opponents rather than debuting against top talent. Even with fast tracking, you have to figure that the Weidman, Rockhold, or Souza of a few years ago probably would have fared better at 205 lbs than what they've shown in 2019.

There wasn't much of the fight I care to break down, and neither man really looked particularly good, but Blachowicz has not won two straight, and six of his last seven. While he's definitely not primed for a title shot, a win over Anthony Smith would push him right into the title picture. It's tough to forecast what is next for Souza. Assuming this move is permanent, he should fight someone considerably further down the totem pole like Ilir Latifi. Either way, I hope both their next fights are more exciting than this one. It was probably the most boring fight I've seen in a long time.

Edit: Latifi appears to be moving up to heavyweight, where Derrick Lewis will (probably roughly) welcome him to the division. Nikita Krylov could work for Jacare as well. 

Shogun's top control not enough, fight ends in a draw

#14 Mauricio Rua fought Paul Craig to a split draw (29-28, 28-29, 28-28)

Those familiar with me should be well aware of my affinity for Rua, but I don't think I'm off-base in claiming that he should have gotten the nod at the end of this fight. However, I also don't think I'm off base in saying that this fight was pretty rough to watch as a fan of his. Thankfully he wasn't taken out quickly as he'd been in his last couple losses, but all that really did was give us a lot more time to see just how diminished he truly is. Rua has been past his prime for much of his UFC career, but I can't recall him looking more sluggish and gun shy than he did here. While some credit should definitely go to Craig since his stand up looked much improved overall, it's hard not to attribute much of his success on the feet to Rua being a plodding, at times stationary target who struggled mightily to find Craig's chin despite it being up in the air for many of the exchanges. Rua's entries over time had gotten a bit predictable, but are exponentially more so when combined with how much speed and explosiveness he has lost over the years, as well as his potent kicking game being all but gone from his arsenal (no doubt due to his history of knee injuries). All of this lead to a pretty one-sided first round that saw him get outworked on the feet, and at one point he even shelled up against the cage while Craig let loose with punches; something pretty out of character for someone whose boxing is historically as shoddy as Craig's.

Craig had a big first round.

This was apparently enough for a judge to award Craig a 10-8 round, but although the strike totals were lopsided, I think Rua landed enough significant shots to stay in 10-9 territory. The tide turned in round two and honestly Craig had himself to blame for it, as he accepted bottom position probably thinking he could score another big submission off his back despite the first round showing that he was having much better success at distance. In round two Rua caught a kick and tripped Craig to the ground, and landed some hard hammerfists that appeared to rock Craig for a short time. The rest of the round saw Rua neutralizing Craig's ground game and standing up to dive into the guard with punches. With the fight up for grabs in the final round, Craig shot an ill-advised takedown and ended up on the bottom where things mostly played out the same way they did in the previous stanza, until Craig managed to get to his feet with seconds left. He then turned up his aggression in search of the finish, but Shogun caught him coming in with a hard right and left hook before Craig grabbed a hold of a body lock and tripped him to the ground into side control before the horn.

From where I sat it was a clear 29-28 Rua decision, but even if you feel so inclined to give Craig a 10-8 first round, I don't see any excuse for one judge giving Craig round three. What is more surprising is that this came from the lone Brazilian judge on assignment for the fight. Rua was essentially hosed by one of his own. He said coming ito the fight that he felt he had two more fights left in his career, and it's a shame that one of them is a draw that he deserved to win. However, in some twisted way this could have been the best result. As great as a win might have been, it also probably would have reignited some talk of Rua going on another big run, while a loss would have been just another depressing one. As confusing and annoying as the draw is, it didn't change his status much, which is probably a good thing.

I don't think I'm alone in wanting retirement to be next for Rua, but if he has at least another fight left I think it should be against the person I lobbied for before Craig took this one: Patrick Cummins. Of course this is also me just wanting the easiest path to a Rua win. As for Craig, I'd like to see him take on Nikita Krylov, which I'm sure would make for some fun grappling exchanges while it lasts.

Oliveira melts Gordon in a flash

#13 Charles Oliveira def. Jared Gordon by KO via strikes (1:26, R1)

Gordon is the type to win or go out on his shield, and unfortunately for him the latter has been happening more often than not lately. This time he became the latest victim of Oliviera's ever-evolving tool set. After a record-setting run of submission wins, "do Bronx" has really started to show how formidable he can be on the feet in a big way with his second-straight knockout victory. Gordon came into the fight the biggest underdog on the card and fought like he had something to prove, immediately walking Oliveira down and initiating the wrestling, which saw him almost reversed and thrown to the ground himself. The fight didn't last too much longer, as Gordon again pressured with a double jab only to be countered as he sought to follow up with a straight right by a hard right hook that wobbled him and caused him to stumble to a knee. Oliveira grabbed a single collar tie and pivoted around to his his back, and as Gordon spun around to face him and stood up he was blasted with a right uppercut on the button that crumpled him to the ground against the cage, where his lights were briefly put out by another right.

Oliveira extended his win and finish streak to six, and now holds the record for longest active finishing streak in the division. He really appears to have put his game together, but the main thing holding him back is that he hasn't exactly been facing top competition, and it's about time that change. He's dropped some of the top names in the division, but he hasn't earned that just yet. Thankfully he has options, and I'd love to see him take on Kevin Lee, Dan Hooker, or even a rematch with Paul Felder; all three of whom don't have their next fight scheduled yet and would be very interesting matchups for him. Gordon has lost three of his last four and would probably match up well with Alex White or Alexander Yakovlev, who have had similar recent runs.

Muniz grinds past Arroyo on the strength of his grappling

Andre Muniz def. Antonio Arroyo by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)

Two decision announcement clips in one recap? Definitely a firecracker of an event!

We've reached that time, ladies and gentlemen. That time where we have a fight between two guys I know practically nothing about on the main card of a UFC event without it being a final from an Ultimate Fighter show I didn't bother to watch. I knew very little about either of these guys besides them both being on Dana White's Contender Series, being big middleweights, and Muniz being more of a grappler while Arroyo is a striker. Muniz didn't waste much too much time striking, but when he did he was a willing participant that gave as much as he got. On the ground there was a clear difference in skill, as Muniz came close on an armbar in round one and a neck crank in round two, and just generally broke up a relatively even kickboxing match with a takedown in each round to seal the deal. It was one of those 30-27s that was closer than the score indicates, but still a clear Muniz win.

As mentioned, I really don't know these guys and I don't know where they stand in the division, so I'll just suggest Muniz fight Wellington Turman who (spoiler alert!) picked up a victory over Markus Perez just a fight prior. Speaking of Perez, I guess he can fight Arroyo. It'd be a fun striking battle if anything.

Turman also grinds his way past Perez

Wellington Turman def. Markus Perez by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)

Another closer-than-it-seems 30-27 fight, this one played out mostly on the feet, but again it was the grappling that seemed to edge things out for Turman, as he spent extended periods controlling Perez in the clinch while trying to get his back. In breaking down the matchup I thought Perez would have a clear grappling advantage if Turman managed to bully him to the ground, but it turned out that his pressure was enough to stifle anything Perez tried. All in all it was much like Muniz vs Arroyo: it had its moments, but was mostly a grinding fight that didn't really provide anything to stand out from the crowd outside of some wild exchanges sprinkled in here and there. Turman is still an interesting prospect at just 23 years old, and hopefully Perez gets a fight against a striker (like Arroyo, as suggested) that will allow him to let loose more on the feet.

Let Perez bang, bro!

The Prelims

James Krause def. Sergio Moraes by KO via punch (4:19, R3)

It's always nice to see Krause take a break from his coaching career to get a fight in now and then, and once again he looked very sharp; it seems his coaching other fighters has had a positive effect on his own abilities. Moraes surprised Krause (and anyone else who had been paying attention to him recently in the UFC) by immediately dumping him to the ground with a single leg, but Krause stayed composed in the face of Moraes' pressure and eventually reversed his way into the Brazilian's guard before getting back to his feet. From there the fight was essentially all his, and he spent the next 10 minutes or so until the finish beating Moraes up with volume boxing, hard calf kicks, and sporadic shots to the body. Krause earned two knockdowns in the second round, though you have to wonder how much of that was also attributed to Moraes being tired and desperate to take the fight to the ground. Late in the third a well-placed straight right collapsed Moraes in the center of the cage, and Krause managed a couple more hammerfists before the referee stepped in.

The downfall of Moraes continues, and it's not just because his wild style of striking and the threat of his grappling has been figured out; he also just seems easily broken mentally. As soon as Krause managed to deal well with being taken down and get back up to his feet, it looked like Moraes was discouraged and no longer wanted to be in the fight, and this was far from an isolated incident. It's become a trend that when his opponent starts getting the upper hand, he just shuts down and it almost looks like he stops caring about winning the fight, opening himself up to shots that eventually put him away. It's pretty off-putting to watch someone basically pouting and throwing a fit in the cage because they're not getting their way in the style matchup, and it's in stark contrast to his usual bubbly demeanor. I imagine there's a solid chance he's cut after three lackluster losses. Krause mostly seems to fight about once a year these days, so it's tough to forecast what's next for him, but if he gets back in there soon enough I'd like to see him in there with Tim Means (should he get past Thiago Alves), just because they seem like twins who were separated at birth but Means grew up in a much rougher neighborhood. It even shows in their fight styles.

Ricardo Ramos def. Eduardo Garagorri by submission via rear naked choke (3:57, R1)

Aside from a significant misstep against Said Nurmagomedov, Ramos has looked pretty solid in the UFC thus far, running up a 5-1 record. He looked very loose and comfortable on the feet here, but once he got a hold of a rear waist lock it was all business. He wasted no time picking up Garagorri, dropping him to the mat, hopping on his back, and working for the rear-naked choke. Garagorri managed to stand up with Ramos still on his back, but just then the choke became fully cinched in and he fell backward before having no choice but to concede.

Francisco Trinaldo def. Bobby Green by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)

In a pretty typical Bobby Green affair, he mostly stuck and moved on the outside, rolled and mean-mugged at shots, outstruck his opponent by a notable margin, and lost a close fight that he could have, and probably should have won. Also typical is the fact that he felt robbed after the decision was announced. With Jorge Masvidal finally having learned that he can win if he stops fighting so close and actually goes after it even if his opponent isn't hurting him, Green is one of the foremost "young veterans" in the game, and it's time he have a similar "come to Street Jesus" moment. He has the physical tools to do, he just needs to work on the mental part, namely actually countering opponents back when they miss or hit him with something that doesn't faze him rather than making faces and talking to them. He also needs to realize that even in this day and age, judges just can't be relied on to be smart enough to recognize the difference between someone getting their head whipped around by a big shot and them just rolling with it.

Trinaldo had issues getting inside of Green's range and dealing with his speed, but he fought his ass off and pushed the pace, and that resonates with judges when the other fighter isn't really landing back with anything significant. Green clearly outstruck him and got the better of wrestling and grappling exchanges, but on the feet nothing he did seemed as impactful as the big shots Trinaldo landed; most of which didn't even land cleanly because, as mentioned, Green is good at rolling with shots. Despite scoring the fight for Green it's hard for me to feel too bad for him because he had more control over how close the fight was than he was willing to take advantage of. On the flip side, it's great seeing Trinaldo still looking sharp at the age of 41, and he would be on a three-fight win streak if not for some pretty horrendous judging in his fight with Alexander Hernandez. He also records for most UFC victories in Brazil (12) and most Octagon appearances in the country (15), which I wouldn't have guessed.

The fight was admittedly a lot more fun than I thought it might be.

Randy Brown def. Warlley Alves by submission via triangle choke (1:22, R2)

Brown was my pick for upset of the night, and he came through in a big way. After showing against Bryan Barbarena that he's finally learning to make good use of his rangy frame, he looked to be in big trouble early when Alves caught a kick and shoved him to the ground. Brown stayed composed on the ground and got to his feet, but after being hip tossed back down, having his back taken, and being locked in a nasty-looking neck crank and then a rear-naked choke, it looked like he was about to have a short night. However, he was able to calmly fight the hands and turn into Alves' guard before getting back to his feet and ending the round by throwing Alves to the ground himself.

Brown started off the second round with a front kick to the thigh the tripped Alves to the ground, followed by a flying knee that he somehow just ate. He then just eats a flush head kick (quite the chin on display here) but caught Brown's leg and threw him down once again. Brown immediately locked in a triangle choke, readjusted it, and despite Alves looking to get to a better angle to relieve the pressure, he was forced to tap. It's good to see Brown continually showing wrinkles in his game, and after the fight he called out Michael Chiesa, which I'd love to see. It would definitely test his grappling in a big way.

Douglas Silva De Andrade def. Renan Barao by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26)

Has there been a more precipitous fall than that of Renan Barao? The man was literally being propped up as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world ahead of his shocking upset title loss to TJ Dillashaw more than five years ago. Including that loss he's been on a disappointing 2-8 run, and even in those two wins he didn't look like the same fighter. This was pretty much a bad matchup for him from the jump, as he just moved from one power puncher to the next, though fortunately for him he managed to survive Andrade's onslaught for three rounds (actually, is that fortunate?). He had a solid round two where he turned up the pace and arguably won, but after that he was walloped for most of round three, and at times looked close to going down. Andrade's lead left hook was landing at will, and Barao just wouldn't adjust to it and stop dropping his right hand when Andrade advanced on him, which was constantly since Andrade is a ball of muscle that always moves forward.

By the end of the contest Barao was a battered mess, a sight we've become depressingly accustomed to in the past several years. He has now dropped five-straight fights and shown on more than one occasion that he can't even get passed mid-tier bantamweights these days. He's only 32 so it's hard to really suggest retirement, but he's got some things to think about. I'm not sure what the UFC does with him, but if they cut him I'm not even sure how he would fare in promotions like Bellator or PFL because even though he always shows flashes here and there of his old self, it's far too sporadic and he just looks diminished out there.

Ariane Lipski def. Isabella de Padua by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 29-27)

Finally, the violence queen has a UFC win! It was in interesting road getting there, as she was first scheduled in a softball matchup against notable punching back Priscila Cachoeira who was pulled due to failing a drug test, then replaced on short notice by fellow object of MMA fans' desire Veronica Macedo, who pulled out due to severe headaches just a day out from the fight (good, because I didn't want either of them to lose). Then in stepped last-minute replacement de Padua to save the day. Lipski lived up to her nickname right off the bat, rushing in with punches and dropping de Padua with a big right hand. After some time on top they returned to their feet only for de Padua to land a takedown and control the rest of the round. Round two started with Lipski once again landing big shots, and de Padua shot but was reversed and pushed down to her back. She landed an illegal up kick which resulted in a point deduction, but spent most of the round on the bottom eating short shots until she managed to lock in a tight reverse triangle and armbar before the horn. The final round saw de Padua get another takedown under a Lipski kick and put on some heavy top pressure before Lipski escaped out the backdoor and made her way to top position, where de Padua latched onto a guillotine that wasn't quite tight enough. Once Lipski escaped she'd spend the rest of the round on top.

I'm glad to see Lipski get her first UFC win and show a bit more urgency, which was lacking in her previous two fights. Her takedown defense is still a hole in her game, and it's something should definitely be looking to shore up if she wants to get anywhere near contendership. Major props to de Padua for stepping up on a day's notice and putting in 15 minutes of hard work. Mostly just grateful she could serve as fodder for Lipski to get back on the winning track though!

Tracy Cortez def. Vanessa Melo by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 30-27)

The event opened up with yet another fighter often Insta-stalked by MMA fans getting a win in Cortez, who definitely looked raw in a lot of areas, but continued to show improvements in her overall game and pushed a solid pace. She leaves her chin up quite a bit when throwing combinations, but luckily wasn't facing an opponent who could make her pay too dearly for that. As Melo began getting her timing down and having success on the feet, Cortez did well to make it a grinding affair and incorporate more wrestling, but overall it was a decent fight that I'm sure was designed with the thought of pushing Cortez's star higher in mind. She's got a ways to go before she's anyone for ranked fighters at 135 to worry about, but she's got a good story and it'll be interesting to see how she develops.

And that does it for UFC Fight Night Sao Paulo! All in all it wasn't a great card, but it was oddly appropriate in the sense that it made me even more ready for the three UFC-less weeks we're about to experience until Alistair Overeem and Jairzinho Rozenstruik clash at UFC on ESPN 7 in December. Until then enjoy this break, and Sado, out!

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