After a run of largely lackluster cards, the UFC is finally delivering a solid card for UFC Brasilia. Especially for a fight night, there are a number of very promising bouts. As this card might well have been cancelled completely due to Coronavirus concerns, we should count ourselves lucky.
More importantly the main card is headed by a couple of bouts which should deliver some great action in the grappling department.
Kevin Lee vs Charles Oliveira
Kevin Lee’s career is a fairly polarizing issue. As a young, successful athlete he was gaining positive public attention until he lost to Tony Ferguson for the interim Lightweight title. Since then his record has been spotty, possibly in part due to the death of his coach, Robert Follis. People began speculating that his career was in decline.
In an effort to turn things around he has begun training at Tristar gym. And so far he has had success, winning his latest fight with Gregor Gillespie by headkick KO. This has lead to another 180 degree reversal of public opinion about Lee. Comparisons to GSP abound with the clean jab he displayed in the fight along with his pre-existing wrestling ability.
In truth, there isn’t much to be said yet. Lee hasn’t been in the cage for three minutes since he changed camps. Although he looked good, it is very hard to accurately assess his overall level based on this brief appearance. It isn’t really ever fair to make sweeping judgements about the trajectory of a fighter’s career based on a single fight. Least of all one with as much potential as Lee.
Charles Olivera, on the other hand, has had a somewhat more gradual rise. Although he is not one of the best known names, he has the distinction of holding the record for most wins by submission in the UFC (thirteen). Of late, his performances have been looking more impressive, and he is riding a six fight streak.
This fight will be an interesting proving ground for both fighters. Can Olivera cement himself in the top ten? Is Lee still at contender level?
The stylistic matchup is interesting as well. Both men have solid grappling, but have no problem staying on the feet. Lee is a controlling wrestler, almost all of his submission wins chokes from the back. Olivera is more of an opportunistic submission artist, often using openings he creates with his strikes to latch onto something. He is also very good with front headlock chokes, which might make Lee think twice about shooting in.
Demian Maia vs. Gilbert Burns
For the grappling nerds out there, this looks promising. Gilbert Burns, like Maia, is a veteran MMA fighter who’s base comes from being an elite-level BJJ competitor. He has won a number of BJJ titles over the years and taken bronze in the ADCC World Championships.
Demain Maia of course is a man who needs no introduction. Although the 43 year old has spoken in the past about being near the end of his career, that hasn’t stopped him from showcasing his unrivaled grappling skills of late, including becoming the first man to submit Ben Askren.
The only thing that has ever really stopped Maia from putting on a stellar performance is an opponent with great takedown defense. He famously could not get Tyron Woodley down in his title fight, resulting in a profoundly boring decision loss. However, Woodley is a high level wrestler who’s game in MMA is built around wrestling defensively. His takedown defense is 92%, whereas Burns’ is only 50%.
Often times when two great grapplers fight, they are reluctant to engage each others’ games and end up striking. Maia has certainly been guilty of falling in love with his striking in the past. However, of late he has been not only grappling, but showing sides of his game that he has not had on display in years (see the Ben Askren fight). And Gilbert Burns claims that he will be looking to submit Maia. So get ready for some of the best BJJ that MMA has to offer.
UFC Brasilia: Other Interesting Fights
Another recent Tristar convert, Johnny Walker, will be fighting Nikita Krylov. Walker was also on a meteoric rise with a series of fast, flashy knockouts until he got stopped by Corey Anderson. Hopefully Firas Zahabi has managed to give direction to all that raw talent and athleticism.
Meanwhile Rani Yaha, 2019 Nogi Worlds gold medalist will be fighting Enrique Barzola and if his Yahya is able to impose his will and take the fight where he wants it to be, expect to see yet another fight full of high-level grappling action.