Saturday, March 11th, 2017 in Fortaleza, Brazil for UFC Fight Night 106: “Belfort vs Gastelum” by Daniel Tom

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Vitor Belfort (25-13)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’0″ Age: 39 Weight: 185 lbs Reach: 74″
  • Last Fight: TKO loss / Gegard Mousasi (10-8-16)
  • Camp: Team Belfort (Florida)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Southpaw / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Former UFC LHW Champion
+   UFC Heavyweight Tournament Winner
+   Black Belt BJJ
+   18 KO victories
+   3 Submission wins
+   19 first round finishes
+   KO power
+   Accurate left hand
^   Often sets up left kick
+   Superb killer instinct
+/-Improved wrestling
^   Still struggles w/grappling pressure
+/-20+ years fighting experience
+/-2-1 against UFC southpaws

Kelvin Gastelum (13-2)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’9″ Age: 25 Weight: 185 lbs Reach: 72″
  • Last Fight: KO win / Tim Kennedy (12-10-16)
  • Camp: Kings MMA (California)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Southpaw / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   TUF 17 Winner
+   Wrestling State Champ
+   Purple Belt BJJ
+   6 KO victories
+   4 Submission wins
+   5 first round finishes
+   KO power
+   High pressure approach
^   Good volume & combinations
+   Improved boxing
^   Accurate R. hook—L. cross
+   Solid scrambling ability
^   Always looks for back
+/-2-0 against UFC southpaws


The main event for UFC Fortaleza is a middleweight affair between Vitor Belfort and Kelvin Gastelum.

With over twenty years of combat under his official record, Vitor Belfort is amongst the last of many classes to still be competing inside the cage, as I have lost track of all the iterations we have seen throughout his career. Nevertheless, the legend will attempt another ride to glory as he takes on one of the division’s young lions.

At least for now, it looks like Kelvin Gastelum will be staying at middleweight, the division in which he originally debuted. Past shortcomings on the scale aside, Gastelum has always shown the skills and potential to compete in the Top-10 of welterweight or middleweight. Now with his biggest name to date in front of him, Gastelum will have his chance to cement his status and make a statement.

Starting off on the feet, we have a matchup between two southpaws, which can always make things fun. Though I am usually the first to throw this flag as someone who preaches the changes and comfortability that this matchup presents, I do not feel it will be a key factor here as both fighters records against southpaws would suggest.

From their preferred arsenal of punches to their natural kicking abilities, both men have a striking style that translates well to this type of fight. The obvious question that will be at play when these two meet is––how much will the differences on paper translate to what we see in the fight?

Even though it can be easy to discount a fighter for his age, the truth is that even a younger Belfort could have trouble on paper being that his skills have typically been subject to his comfortability inside the cage. For that reason, I feel that Belfort will be emphasizing on an early start in hopes of gaining respect for what is likely coming his way.

An inherent pressure-fighter, we have recently started to see Gastelum’s skills come to fruition under the tutelage of Rafael Cordeiro at Kings MMA. Having a history of transforming southpaw grapplers into dangerous pressure-fighting strikers, Cordeiro has seemingly imparted the same knowledge onto Kelvin as he now incorporates crushing kicks to his already potent punches.

Staying in the Southern California scene, we have also watched Kelvin make measurable improvements to his boxing and footwork. In recent outings, we have seen Gastelum pivot more off of his right hand, which allowed him to take superior angles and get the jump on opponents. In fact, I feel Kelvin’s right hand will be a key factor in this fight.

Like many southpaws, Belfort tends to keep heavy toward his left side so that he can lean defensively and load offensively. Despite reading strikes and or slipping to the outside well, the tradeoff here is that leaning heavily to his left side accentuates the power of anything coming from his right side.

Considering that the lead right-hook is one of Gastelum’s go-to shots, we could see the Belfort get caught biting on a feint and paying the price. With a cannon of a left cross amongst his many follow-ups, Gastelum will need to be careful and not stay and play too long.

Though it may sound like I am counting out Belfort, he still has the counter abilities to turn the tide quickly. Even though he lost three of his last four fight by way of TKO, Belfort still had small moments in all of those fights that put his opponents in some form of check.

Despite Belfort eventually succumbing in those matches, he demonstrated that he can still counter with power when real heat is coming his way. The Brazilian is particularly crafty when it comes to throwing his check hooks and left uppercuts in conjunction, as I see those being live counter threats to Gastelum.

That said, this fight’s trajectory starts to become even more evident when looking at a potential ground fight. Even though the clear wrestling edge goes to Gastelum, this fight may be more likely to hit to floor from a knockdown or guard-pull(from Belfort), which is troubling in itself.

Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine a scenario where Gastelum is not either in a dominant position or in the process of establishing one. Even in the worst-case-scenario spot of having a sizeable specialist like Tim Kennedy on his back, Gastelum stayed calm and aware as he intelligently fought hands and tripoded to stand.

Even with Belfort diligently working on his wrestling(more recently in his career), the Brazilian has still struggled to stifle his opposition within this realm. And though Belfort also has a black belt under Carlos Gracie, it was earned over twenty years ago in the Gi as the former champion has not shown much evolution since.

Against Chris Weidman, we saw the lack of hip awareness and urgency from Belfort as his opponent was able to adjust and strike his way to victory with little resistance. We would see a repeat of this pressure in his fight with Jacare Souza at UFC 198, and glimpses again against Gegard Mousasi as the Brazilian would strangely opt for a guard-pull before getting pounded out.

With the obvious observation above being that this all came to top-level competition, it is still hard to deny the core of the problems both situationally, technically, and possibly psychologically. If Belfort cannot crack an eager Gastelum early and capitalize, then I see him eventually succumbing to the pressure. And though I may give the potency of Belfort’s counters more credence than many, I see these brief moments for the Brazilian only bringing about the end faster.

Official Pick: Gastelum – Inside the distannce

Official Outcome: Gastelum – TKO (round 1)

Shogun Rua (24-10)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’1″ Age: 35 Weight: 205 lbs Reach: 76″
  • Last Fight: Decision win / Corey Anderson (5-14-16)
  • Camp: Universidade Da Luta (Brazil)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Former UFC LHW Champion
+   Pride Grand Prix Winner (2005)
+   Black Belt BJJ
+   19 KO victories
+   1 Submission win
+   17 first round finishes
+   KO power
+   Heavy right hand
+   Hard leg kicks
+   Underrated takedown ability
+   Devastating ground striker
–    Often struggles in scrambles
^   Favors turtle-dives & guard rolls
+/-Aggressive by nature
^   Dropped or stopped in last 6/9 fights

Gian Villante (15-7)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’2″ Age: 31 Weight: 205 lbs Reach: 76″
  • Last Fight: TKO win / Saparbek Saparov (12-9-16)
  • Camp:Bellmore Kickboxing Academy (New York)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Regional MMA Titles
+   NY State Wrestling Champ
+   Collegiate Wrestling Experience
+   10 KO victories
+   2 Submission wins
+   8 first round finishes
+   KO power
+   Dangerous right hand
^   Variates well to uppercuts
+   Hard right leg kicks
+   Accurate check left hook
+/-Willingness to exchange
^   Counter availabilities
+   Underrated wrestling
^   84% takedown defense


The co-main event in Fortaleza features a banger in the light-heavyweight division as Mauricio “Shogun” Rua meets Gian Villante.

A legend who needs no introduction, Mauricio Rua has been battling amongst the best who are above 200lbs for quite some time. Though his best days may be behind him, the Brazilian warrior finds himself amidst a two-fight win streak that could lead to bigger things should he come through at home.

Seeking to spoil the party is Gian Villante, a light-heavyweight who can be as memorable outside of the cage as he is inside of it. A natural athlete turned fighter, Villante has struggled to find consistency. Now tasked with the most notable name of his career, the Long Islander is looking to take things to the next level and score big in Brazil.

In a matchup where the only certainty is two-way violence on the feet(and lots of it), it can be hard to blame you for siding with the underdog as the younger man was also my initial pick. Not only the does Gian Villante have youth and athleticism on his side, but there is genuinely a lot to like about his game.

The Bellmore Kickboxing Academy protege throws a nice variety of strikes as he maintains a high-output for an athlete of his size. Deceptively accurate with his check hook, Villante’s right-hand wields bad intentions through the form of uppercuts and crosses. The Long Islander also has an underrated leg kick game, although I am not sure how heavily he will lean upon it given Shogun’s looming counters.

Despite Villante’s improvements to his striking and takedown defense, he tends to leave his kicks out there for a beat too long as we saw Ilir Latifi capitalize on this during multiple occasions in their contest. That said, Villante shows a consistent ability to recover and get back to throwing punches. But as impressive as the volume is that Villante brings to the table, it does not come without a price.

Willing to exchanges no matter the weather, Villante’s attitude, though heroic at times, has cost him in both fights he was winning and losing. With a tendency to keep and retract his left-hand low, right crosses and uppercuts have often been the common culprit for Villante. Considering that those are Shogun’s best punches, then I suspect they will be worth watching for here.

Even though Shogun Rua may be well past his prime, he, like many aging fighters, have made slight adjustments to his game so that he can continue to stay competitive amongst his contemporaries. Shying away from the free-forming dynamo that stormed the Japanese scene in 2005, Rua has since reeled back toward a more measured approach as he relies on feints, reads, and counters.

The Brazilian legend would also dust off his underrated takedown game later on in his career. Though his back-to-back wars with Dan Henderson and Brandon Vera were arguably career-changers for Shogun, the Chute Boxe standout would mix in his wrestling ability to help outlast and wear down each man.

I am not sure I see Shogun having takedown success here given Villante’s underrated defense, but I do see the Brazilian’s counter game coming into play. With Villante’s previously mentioned strike retractions, we have seen him timed with right hands in the past(i.e. Tom Lawlor loss). And since Shogun has had a knack for timing opposition coming in during this later part of his career, we could see a similar scene to Rua-Te Huna playout.

However, if Shogun Rua is the one who overstays his welcome, Villante has more ways to make him pay besides work rate. Parlaying missed left hooks into loose collar-ties, Villante is quick to force-feed uppercuts which could come into play considering Shogun has fallen from them before. That said, those same collar-ties not only allow for two-way traffic, but they also leave his hips open for a body lock(Shogun’s best takedown position).

Though I am sure late-round takedowns are a part of at least one man’s game plan, I do not see either fighter scoring much in that regard. Both men have also demonstrated resilient get-up ability in recent fights against superior wrestlers as I do not see ground stanzas lasting long for either man.

In a fight I will be avoiding plays on, I suggest you do the same. This match could catch fire early or burn slow into the later rounds, getting sloppier every step of the way. Regardless of what path this thing takes, the outcome attached is highly flammable as I recommend stepping back and watching it burn in all its glory.

Official Pick: Rua – Inside the distance

Official Outcome: Rua – TKO (round 3)

Edson Barboza (18-4)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’11” Age: 31 Weight: 155 lbs Reach: 75″
  • Last Fight: Decision win / Gilbert Melendez (7-23-16)
  • Camp: Ricardo Almeida BJJ (New Jersey)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Good

Supplemental info:
+   Regional MMA Titles
+   Multiple Muay Thai Titles
^   Record of 25-3 (22 by KO)
+   10 KO victories
+   7 first round finishes
+   1 Submission win
+   KO power
+   Explosive fast-twitch striker
+   Improved boxing technique
^   Good check hook/counter right
+   Devastating leg kicks
^   Inside & out
+   Accurate spin kicks
+   Lightning left switch-kick
+   Underrated counter grappler
^   86% takedown defense
+   Solid butterfly guard/get-ups
+/-Requires space to operate
^   Struggles when pressure fought
+/-1-1 against UFC southpaws

Beneil Dariush (14-2)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’10” Age: 27 Weight: 155 lbs Reach: 72″
  • Last Fight: Decision win / Rashid Magomedov (11-5-16)
  • Camp: Kings MMA (California)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Southpaw / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Good

Supplemental info:
+   Black Belt BJJ
+   Multiple Grappling Accolades
+   Black Belt Muay Thai
+   2 KO victories
+   6 Submission wins
+   6 first round finishes
+   Improved striking
+   Accurate left-hand
^   Going forward & off the counter
+   Heavy left Thai kick
^   Typically targets legs & body
+   Competent takedown ability
^   Favors attempts from clinch
+   Superb top game
^   Positional awareness & passing
+   Excellent back taker
^   Dangerous submission acumen
–    Will sometimes retract strikes low
^   Counter availabilities
+   Solid chin & superb composure


In a matchup of Top-10 lightweights, Edson Barboza does battle with Beneil Dariush.

With both men looking to build off of two-fight win streaks, expect stakes to be high in what his the UFC’s deepest division on paper. In what I feel will be a technical chess match on the feet, should have many surprises in store as each fighter continues to demonstrate new folds to their game.

Although Beneil Dariush came into MMA as an accomplished grappler, he has steadily rounded out his game under the tutelage of Rafael Cordeiro. Initially more of a stick-and-move stylist, Dariush has developed a taste for pressure-fighting as he has gotten more and more comfortable moving forward.

Prodding with right-handed jabs to measure his target, Dariush usually favors unleashing a left cross or kick to follow. Although the Iranian has shown the ability to land his baseball bat for a left leg as his opposition tries to exit, I suspect the fleet-of-foot kick specialist may not be as easy to catch as Dariush’s other opponents.

Despite going 3-2 in his last five fights, Edson Barboza is arguably showing an upswing in his overall career trajectory. Making the permanent move to New Jersey, The Brazilian is now training full-time with Mark Henry & company as he attempts to take his career to the next level.

Storming onto the scene with thunderous leg kicks, Barboza became renown for his initial impressions as he has only added to his arsenal in subsequent years. However, since doing his training camps with Mark Henry, we have steadily seen the Brazilian’s boxing game come to life.

Barboza has always possessed an underrated counter right-hand(seen early in his Cerrone fight) but has since developed his left hand. Throwing his jab with much more efficiency, it is the improvements of his check left-hook that may serve him well in this fight. Using the check hook to punch out of exchanges or catch opponents coming in, I suspect it may come in handy against an engaging Beneil Dariush.

That said, Barboza will need to be careful not to over-commit to his checks as it could cost him considering Dariush’s style of pressure. Incorporating a heavy-dose of feints, Dariush draws out his opponents reactions so that he can exploit their openings.

We saw this on full display against James Vick as Dariush did not waste any of his opportunities to counter. In facing a fighter like Edson Barboza, Dariush will need to apply the same sense of urgency as that has still been his Brazilian counterpart’s Achille’s heel(despite his improvements).

Even in looking impressive in his last outing, we saw Barboza bite hard on a few of Gilbert Melendez’s feints as his checks were audited by shots over-the-top. Nevertheless, I still see Barboza as the superior striker as he should have the overall edge in this fight.

Despite Barboza likely holding the high ground in regards to standing on the feet, Dariush will certainly have the advantage on the ground. A jiu-jitsu player who’s game converts well to MMA, Dariush’s rock solid composure translates seamlessly to his grappling.

Displaying an excellent pressure from topside, Dariush will use his shoulder to pin down his opponent’s head. From here, the Iranian will look to threaten with an arm triangle choke, but usually only uses it as a smokescreen to disguise a pass. Should Barboza find himself on the floor, he will likely have these tricks and more thrown at him.

The problem for Dariush is that I am not so sure he will be able to take this fight to the floor. Averaging only one takedown per round, Dariush does not need much in regards to opportunities to find a finish. That said, a lot of the ground stanzas that he has capitalized on has come more from his opponent’s mistakes than his successful takedowns.

Against a fighter who possesses superb takedown defense and movement, these opportunities may become fewer as the fight moves forward. However, if Dariush can ground Barboza early, it will likely be a good sign for him, though not a certainty as the Brazilian is hard to hold down.

Barboza wields an underrated butterfly guard that he utilizes well to get back to his feet. Whether he is against the fence or working from a modified guard, I imagine Barboza has only continued to fill in these holes working with Frankie Edgar and company.

In a high-paced fight that I expect to stay competitive in all facets, I believe the battle’s victor will hinge upon Dariush’s ability to get Barboza to the floor.

Although I would like to think that Dariush’s improved striking could play out a scene similar to Barboza’s fight with Michael Johnson, the Brazilian has improved upon his defensive boxing and footwork, particularly in the way in which he pivots his feet and moves his head with strikes.

With this new and improved version of Edson Barboza, I see him making a hard target for Dariush to hit, much less pin down. And despite the upgrades inside the clinch that Dariush displayed in his last fight, I feel that he will need to show a new fold in regards to explosions and transitions if he means to gain ground in these small spaces.

Ultimately, I suggest you keep your plays light no matter who you favor as I expect each man’s craft and resolve to steer this fight to the scorecards where see the Brazilian getting the nod.

Official Pick: Barboza – Decision

Official Outcome: Barboza – KO (round 2)

Alex Oliveira (15-4-1)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’11” Age: 29 Weight: 170 lbs Reach: 77″
  • Last Fight: No Contest / Tim Means (12-30-16)
  • Camp: TATA Fight Team (Brazil)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Pro Muay Thai Experience
+   Blue Belt BJJ
+   9 KO victories
+   2 Submission wins
+   9 first round finishes
+   KO power
+   Manages distance well
+/-Heavily reliant on head movement
^   Slips & rolls well
+   Dangerous L. hook—R. hand
+   Physically strong in clinch
^   Favors body locks
+   Good chin / never stopped

Tim Means (26-71)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’2″ Age: 33 Weight: 170 lbs Reach: 75″
  • Last Fight: No Contest / Alex Oliveira (12-30-16)
  • Camp: Fit NHB (New Mexico)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Switch-stance / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Regional MMA Titles
+   17 KO victories
+   4 Submission wins
+   13 first round finishes
+   Superb technical striker
^   Good footwork, angles & diversity
+   Strong volume & pressure
+   Accurate left hand
+   Deadly elbow acumen
+   Underrated grappler
+   Improved wrestling
^   Active get-up urgency
+   Good chin / never stopped


Kicking off the main card is a potential welterweight war as Alex “Cowboy” Oliveira takes on Tim “The Dirty Bird” Means.

In a rematch of their controversial UFC 207 bout that ultimately resulted in a “no contest,” Oliveira and Means will look to make this one decisive in a matchup that has violence written all over it.

From his fan friendly style to his unmistakable smile, there is a lot to like about the former bull riding Brazilian, Alex Oliveira. A long and physical presence, Oliveira moves deceptively well as his fast feet have a knack for finding angles or moving laterally.

Although he keeps his hands low, Oliveira does a good job of slipping or rolling with punches. Despite his shown senses and comfortability inside the pocket, the Brazilian can be a bit too reliant on his head movement as Means is more than capable of making him pay.

With the striking sample-size from their first fight being limited, it can be difficult to condemn an argument for either man. That said, I do feel that Means is the more technical striker by a longshot. Proficient from both stances, Means primarily operates out of southpaw as I suspect he will do so again here.

Not only does Means have a deeper arsenal to pull from, but the angles in which he creates makes it difficult for opponents to get a beat on the oncoming waves of pressure. Though he does have the chin to back up his aggression, the New Mexican native has made subtle improvements to his head movement as he rolls well with shots and returns.

As predicted, and inevitably projected in their first meeting, the clinch space is where this gunfight gets especially gritty. For Means, we saw his forecasted short-elbows shine through in the small spaces as Oliveira quickly looked to close the distance. Despite most discounting Means’ wrestling, we saw this underrated ability on full display as he reversed his Brazilian foe, who was already deep on his hips.

Though his wrestling chops may not necessarily jump off the paper, Means displays an understanding of fundamentals like hip positioning and levers(which are crucial to know as a long-framed fighter). That said, Oliveira is a deceptively strong clinch fighter himself as he does not allow for lulls in the action.

In a borderline head-butting fashion, Oliveira will drive his forehead into and underneath the chin of his opponent(ala Randy Couture). From here, the Brazilian will use a mix of collar ties, throat grabs, and wrist pins to open up unrelenting elbows, knees, and uppercuts. But with Means potentially shutting him down in these small clinch spaces(again), Oliveira will likely need to continue onto the next phase of his plan by taking him down.

Should either fighter find success is getting this battle to the floor, I expect the action to remain high as both men have increased their urgency on top and bottom as of late.

Although Means would show to struggle with succeeding to his back early on in his career, he has made marked improvements to get-up ability. Even when Olveira was able to muscle Means down in their last outing, “The Dirty Bird” demonstrated excellent awareness when tripoding up to stand as he fought hands and used the cage to protect his back from being taken.

When Tim Means is on top, he is a terror as the Fit NHB fighter shows superb catch-like controls. From his top pressure, submissions setups and strike activity, Tim Means is all offense all the time.

Despite Oliveira also wielding offensive threats from topside, the Brazilian has shown a measurable skills gap in his bottom game. Not only has Oliveira displayed fundamental errors in his hip positioning and under-hooks, but he also demonstrates a lack of technique and urgency in regards to his get-up ability.

Again, it can be hard to definitively count out either man based on their last time out. However, I did feel that Tim Means was the better fighter going into that fight as I still feel the same going into this one. Ultimately, if Oliveira cannot come up with a better answer to stifle Means, then I see the Brazilian Cowboy getting out-gunned in a blazing shootout.

Official Pick: Means – Inside the distance

Official Outcome: Oliveira – Submission (round 1)

Main Card Predictions:

  • Gastelum def. Belfort
  • Rua def. Villante
  • Barboza def. Dariush
  • Formiga def. Borg
  • Reneau def. Correia
  • Means def. Oliveira

Preliminary Card Predictions:

  • *Lee def. Trinaldo(*=stated bias)
  • Moraes def. Ramos
  • Soto def. Yahya
  • Prazeres def. Burkman
  • Kennedy def. Jason
  • Borrachinha def. McLellan

Recommended Plays:

Props worth looking at(

-Means – Inside the distance: -108 (1 Unit)
-Gastelum – round 1: +170 (0.5 Unit)

Playable pieces for your parlays:

-Tim Means -230
-Kelvin Gastelum -425
-Burkman/Prazeres over 2 1/2: -235

Fights to avoid:

-Moraes vs Ramos
-Jason vs Kennedy
-McLellan vs Borrachinha

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