The UFC's return to Brazil marks yet another opportunity to discover some of the best young talent coming out of the South American country, not to mention the mix of veterans also competing on the undercard who are either looking to bounce back from a recent loss or fight their way onto a main card in the future.
Former Ultimate Fighter winner Diego Brandao is one of those veterans who doesn't hide behind a bad performance in his last outing, but certainly wants to improve upon his mistakes when he faces Will Chope this weekend in his home country. Also on the card, Ronny Markes looks to get back to his winning ways as he faces fellow countryman Thiago Santos, and two top 15 ranked flyweights go to battle when Jussier Formiga faces American wrestler Scott Jorgensen.
It's an action-packed undercard so let's take a look at some of the key matchups for the upcoming UFC Fantasy game and see who has the upper hand to walk out of Brazil victorious.
DIEGO BRANDAO VS. WILL CHOPE
It's aggressiveness vs. reach in the featured bout on the undercard when former Ultimate Fighter winner Diego Brandao takes on 6'4" featherweight Will Chope. When these two square off on weigh-in day it will almost look like a mismatch given Chope's size and range. He will own a nearly nine-inch height and reach advantage over Brandao, which is a huge factor for his longevity in this fight.
Brandao loves to blitz opponents with powerful shots, and he gets inside quickly no matter how tall the fighter he's facing may be, but it will be a key to his performance this time around. Brandao lands strikes at 45 percent accuracy while defending 61 percent of the time, which is a good curve for stand-up in the UFC. When you mix in his three-plus takedowns per fight that land at 76 percent accuracy, Brandao is dangerous everywhere, and sometimes you never see him coming.
Brandao's ability to swing heavy to get inside on an opponent bodes well for him against Chope, who has a natural skill at using his range but nowhere near the power of the Brazilian. Expect Brandao to come out very aggressively to start this fight, get inside and start chopping down the tree from the midsection up. Watch for the Brazilian to trap Chope against the cage and start unloading heavy punches until Chope falls down or drops to the ground, where Brandao can start fishing for submissions.
The end is the same with Brandao's hand raised, but it's a guess whether it comes by knockout or submission. Odds are on the side of a knockout, but don't blink either way.
RONNY MARKES VS. THIAGO SANTOS
Ronny Markes returns to action this weekend after suffering the first knockout loss of his career when he fell to former Olympic silver medalist Yoel Romero last November. Up to that point in his UFC career, Markes was unbeaten with a perfect 3-0 record against some tough competition, but when he couldn't get Romero to the ground or stuck in the clinch, he suffered a serious setback.
That shouldn't be the case in his upcoming fight against Thiago Santos, who is a well-versed striker and submission fighter, but doesn't have near the wrestling that Romero possesses. Santos needs to keep on the outside against Markes and avoid the pressure he presents no matter how much he's tempted to test his strength against the massive middleweight. Santos has to be quick on his feet and move side-to-side, not front-to-back, or this is going to be a long night for him.
Markes is great at closing the distance, trapping an opponent against the cage and working from there for the takedown or just beating them up on the inside. Markes is huge for 185 pounds, and while that much muscle can certainly zap a fighter in a high-intensity fight, the Brazilian has built his style around grinding an opponent down and breaking them as the fight progresses. Exepct Markes to do the same against Santos.
He will look for the clinch, look for the takedown and wear Santos out until he either punches him out on the ground, or pulls off a lopsided decision win.
JUSSIER FORMIGA VS. SCOTT JORGENSEN
Possibly the most intriguing matchup on the entire undercard pits former top-ranked flyweight Jussier Formiga against Scott Jorgensen, who is seeking his first win at 125 pounds. Formiga is coming off a loss of his own in devastating fashion when he fell to Joseph Benavidez last September, while Jorgensen looks to bounce back after losing to Zach Makovsky in his last bout.
Formiga is a great ground technician with good striking, but it's been his inability to get fights to the mat that's haunted him so far in his UFC career. He's landed with just 30.77 percent accuracy thus far in his three UFC fights and it won't get any easier facing a former college wrestling standout in Jorgensen.
The former WEC title contender is listed as having just under 57 percent takedown defense, but Jorgensen has faced a who's who list of top wrestlers during his career, so it's not surprising that his average is a little lower in this category. What facing those kinds of wrestlers has done for him, however, is condition Jorgensen to anticipate the takedown and fire back with heavy shots of his own.
Jorgensen lands just over three and a half strikes per minute with 40 percent accuracy, while defending almost 66 percent of strikes against him. It's this work rate that will give Formiga trouble round after round, especially if he struggles to get the fight to the mat, which is likely in this matchup. Look for Jorgensen to sit back and wait for Formiga to get aggressive and then launch a counter attack to light up the Brazilian flyweight.
It's no secret that Formiga has suffered two tough knockouts since coming to the UFC, and Jorgensen is more than capable of handing him his third. Look for the former WEC fighter to vary his attacks and maybe even take Formiga down to keep him guessing before unleashing his strikes to possibly get a TKO finish before the final bell sounds.
GODOFREDO PEPEY VS. NOAD LAHAT
There's always one prospect to keep an eye on during an undercard - for the last show it was Justin Scoggins and that paid off with a stellar performance from the newcomer at UFC 171. This time around it's Israeli-born featherweight Noad Lahat, who makes his debut on the early prelims for the upcoming UFC Fight Night card.
Lahat has been studying and training at the world-famous American Kickboxing Academy for the last five years, working under famous UFC names of the past and present, including heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier, Jon Fitch, and many others. Lahat is a student of jiu-jitsu who earned his nickname 'Neo' because his moves were so fluid and quick that it reminded people of Keanu Reeves’ character in 'The Matrix'.
Lahat is a deadly combination of true mixed martial arts. He's a slick submission specialist with fast hands, and after working with fighters like Velasquez and Cormier, you know his wrestling is on point as well. Godofredo Pepey will be a tough test for him given his veteran experience and good ground game, but expect a coming out party for Lahat in this undercard bout.
Lahat's biggest enemy could be nerves, which have shut down more than a few fighters over the years. Assuming he overcomes that, look for Lahat to keep this one standing and punish Pepey on the feet, and if it hits the ground, he will be fishing for submissions immediately. This one may go to a decision just given that it's Lahat's first UFC fight, but he's a prospect to watch and a potential star on the rise given the time to develop in the featherweight division.