UFC FIGHT NIGHT – BELFORT v GASTELUM PREVIEW

The UFC lands in Fortaleza, Brazil, as Kelvin Gastelum makes his second outing since returning to middleweight against mixed martial arts veteran and former light-heavyweight champion Vitor Belfort in his home nation.

Every fight on the card features a Brazilian, including the likes of Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua and Edson Barboza, as the promotion looks to feed off the country’s infamous passion for mixed martial arts action.

Vitor Belfort (25-12-0) vs Kelvin Gastelum (14-2-0)

MMA legend Belfort had it rough in 2016 with back-to-back knockout losses to top contenders Jacare Souza and Gegard Mousasi but ‘The Phenom’ is looking to bounce back on home soil.

The 39-year-old, still ranked at No 9 in the division, is in desperate need of a victory if he is to remain relevant with his best years seemingly behind him.

Still, he remains a fierce test for anyone when competing in Brazil and Ultimate Fighter season 17 winner Gastelum would be foolish to underestimate the man who was once considered the most dangerous in the sport.

This main event is a classic battle between the old guard and the next generation with 25-year-old Gastelum looking to climb into the upper echelons of the 185-pound weight class.

The American’s UFC career has been plagued by failure to make weight at 170 pounds, forcing him to step back up to middleweight in December.

And he did so in emphatic fashion, securing a dominant TKO win over Tim Kennedy at UFC 206 in what would turn out to be the veteran’s final appearance inside the octagon.

Gastelum, an impressive boxer and wrestler, is the favourite here but Belfort remains a ferocious striker that can knock anybody out on his day.

Mauricio Rua (24-10-0) vs Gian Villante (15-7-0)

Another former 205-pound Brazilian champ competes in the night’s co-main as ‘Shogun’ Rua bids to add to his legacy against former college football player Gian Villante.

This is a likely Fight of the Night contender with both men renowned for their ability on their feet.

Shogun has a ton of fights under his belt but has shown he still has more left in the tank with victories over Antonio Nogueira and Corey Anderson in his last two bouts.

The 35-year-old, who is fighting exclusively in Brazil at this stage of his career, is extremely tough and has the chin to deal with the power of Villante.

Villante is the younger, quicker and more versatile of the two but Shogun’s experience and hometown advantage could play a key role.

Edson Barboza (18-4-0) vs Beneil Dariush (14-2-0)

Next up is a tasty clash in the lightweight division as highly-rated Brazilian Barboza aims to stake his claim for a title shot against up-and-comer Dariush.

With Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson’s interim title bout called off, there is potential for a new competitor to enter the fray.

No 5 ranked Barboza is a legitimate threat to anyone in the top 10 and the muay Thai specialist arrives in Brazil off the back of high-profile scalps of former belt holders Gilbert Melendez and Anthony Pettis.

The 31-year-old, who possesses some of the fiercest kicks in the sport, holds the advantage on the feet whilst his opponent will have the edge should the fight hit the floor.

Dariush is viewed as a serious prospect with seven wins in his last eight and this promises to be the tightest affair of the evening.

Jussier Formiga (19-4-0) vs Ray Borg (10-2-0)

In what is another significant contest on an extremely strong Fight Night card, flyweight duo Formiga and Borg go head-to-head.

Brazil’s Formiga has been considered one of the better 125-pounders in the world yet a shot at the strap has eluded him.

However, in a division seriously lacking in challengers to imperious kingpin Demetrious Johnson, this could be his chance.

A black belt in both Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Formiga is the highest ranked fighter in the division yet to fight for the title.

A win over Borg, a very talented but very young opponent, could get him there.

Bethe Correia (10-2-0) vs Marion Reneau (7-2-0)

The only female clash of the night sees Correia get the chance to shine in front of her home support.

The ‘Pitbull’ will be hoping things go better than the last time she made the walk in her home nation, having been defeated in just 34 seconds by Ronda Rousey in 2015.

A loss to Raquel Pennington followed but the 33-year-old returned to form with a win over Jessica Eye to retain her top 10 status.

Reneau has an identical record in her last five fights and has the size and grappling prowess to silence the Centro de Formacao Olímpica do Nordeste.

Alex Oliveira (15-3-1) vs Tim Means (26-7-1)

A case of unfinished business kicks off the main card as Oliveira and Mean run it back after a controversial finish to their first meeting at UFC 207 in December.

Means accidentally dealt Oliveira an illegal blow with a knee to a downed opponent that left ‘Cowboy’ unable to continue.

The two have had plenty to say about each other in the months since and can’t wait to get their hands on one another.

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