The UFC returns to pay-per-view on Saturday night for UFC 212, live from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Fittingly, the main event will feature one of the best fighters to ever emerge from Brazil, with Jose Aldo returning to action for the first time since last summer, where he will take on interim featherweight champ Max Holloway. Of course, many fans still consider Conor McGregor the true featherweight champ, even if the UFC did yank the belt off him when he won the lightweight title too.
The co-main event was supposed to feature Anderson Silva, another Brazilian legend of the sport. However, his scheduled opponent Kevin Gastelum was flagged by USADA for a potential doping violation and pulled from the card. Despite their best efforts, the UFC and Silva couldn’t agree on a replacement opponent, which ultimately left the former middleweight kingpin off the card in his home country. Instead, a female Brazilian will get a chance to shine in the co-main event, with top women’s strawweight contender Claudia Gadelha taking on Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
Here’s our official fight breakdowns and predictions, with all betting odds supplied by Bodog. We’re skipping the UFC Fight Pass prelims, because it’s filled with a bunch of no-namers. Let’s jump right into the free undercard fights on Fox Sports 1.
Fox Sports 1 Prelims
There aren’t many recognizable names on the undercard, so here’s some quick predictions for the prelims.
Iuri Alcantara (-315) vs Brian Kelleher (+245) – Alcantara, an MMA veteran with 43 total fights so far, is a heavy favorite for this bout. One of the reasons for that, other than Alcantara’s vast experience, is that his opponent took the fight on just three weeks notice. Between that, and the fact that Kelleher is making his UFC debut on Saturday, it’s pretty to pick Alcantara to win.
Matthew Lopez (-210) vs Johnny Eduardo (+170) – Like usual, the UFC has stacked this international card with as many “hometown” fighters as possible. Eduardo (28-10) is a 36-year-old Brazilian veteran of the sport, but we think the younger American Matt Lopez (9-1) will ultimately prevail and put a damper on the celebrations of the home crowd.
Antonio Carlos Junior (-235) vs Eric Spicely (+185) – Surprise, surprise! It’s another Brazil vs. U.S.A. fight. This time, it’s two fighters relatively early in their careers, as they only have 10 and 11 total fights, respectively. Both of them are somewhat of a submission specialist, as Carlos Junior has five wins via submission and Spicely has six. Interestingly, Carlos Junior competed on The Ultimate Fighter Brazil as a heavyweight, but his bout at UFC 212 will be at 185-pounds. Although he’s made that weight before, we’re taking the underdog Spicely in this one.
Marlon Moraes (-175) vs Raphael Assuncao (+145) – Bucking the trend, this fight actually features two different Brazilian fighters. Assuncao is a longtime UFC vet by now, first competing in the WEC in 2009 and exclusively with the UFC since 2011. Moraes might not have the same longevity, since this will be his UFC debut. But he does bring in a 13-fight win streak, most of it from his recent time in the World Series of Fighting. We’re going to stick with the UFC experience for this one, and pick Assuncao to win.
Yancy Medeiros (-140) vs Erick Silva (+110)
On to the main PPV card! If nothing else, this fight should be incredibly entertaining. Erick Silva and Yancy Medeiros aren’t exactly racking up consecutive wins. Silva has actually lost two of his last three fights, and Medeiros has only gone 2-2 in his last four. Neither fighter even cracks the top 15 in welterweight rankings. But they are both known for putting on entertaining stand-up contests, which is why they get to appear on the main card.
The odds for this fight are pretty close, given that each fighter has a solid puncher’s chance of ending it via knock out. We’ll go with the hometown guy, though, just for the slightly better payout.
Prediction: Erick Silva via Decision.
Paulo Borrachinha (-300) vs Oluwale Bamgbose (+230)
This fight features two men who are looking to really make a name for themselves. Like the previous bout, you won’t the names of either fighter on the top 15 UFC rankings. In fact, both are relatively early in their career. Bamgbose, a Bronx native, only has eight professional fights so far, going 6-2. Meanwhile Borrachinha has only fought nine times, but sports a sparkling 9-0 record. Even more remarkable is that eight of those nine wins have come via knockout, which likely played a big part in bookies making him a pretty big favorite. And we can’t argue with that.
Prediction: Borrachinha via Knockout.
Vitor Belfort (-160) vs Nate Marquardt (+130)
It’s actually surprising that these two have never fought before, considering the longevity of their respective careers. Unfortunately for fans, the fight would have been much more interesting 8-to-10 years ago when both guys were still in their prime. As it stands today, we’re getting a 40-year-old Vitor Belfort and a 38-year-old Nate Marquardt.
We’re not really sure why Belfort is the favorite here, except he probably still have knock out power. But he’s lost three fights in a row (and four of his last five), and honestly hasn’t looked the same since the UFC ramped up their drug testing policies and banned testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). Then again, Marquardt has only won three of his last 10 bouts, so he’s not exactly worthy of being a favorite here either. There’s no real value betting on Belfort, so…
Prediction: Marquardt via Decision.
Claudia Gadelha (-350) vs Karolina Kowalkiewicz (+265)
This fight has some real teeth, as it features the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked contenders in the strawweight division. Unfortunately for both of them, Joanna Jedrzejczyk is the champ and neither of them have been able to beat her. Gadelha has lost to Joanna twice already (the only two losses of her career, in fact), while Kowalkiewicz suffered her first career loss at the hands of Jedrzejczyk back in November 2016 (to go along with an amateur loss to the current UFC strawweight champ before either of them turned pro). This fight may as well come with the subtitle, “Winner Will Be Crowned the Best Female Strawweight in the World Not Named Joanna Jedrzejczyk.”
As for the odds, they are heavily in favor of the Brazillian Gadelha. Kowalkiewicz may be 10-1, but some of those decisions were split decisions, showing how close she was to actually losing. We don’t think Gadelha will allow it to be a close fight.
Prediction: Gadelha via Decision.
Jose Aldo (-150) vs. Max Holloway (+120)
For a decade, Jose Aldo was the best small (read: welterweight and under) fighter on the planet. That crown may now belong to Demetrious Johnson, but Aldo is hardly over the hill. Still just 30-years-old, Aldo’s loss to Conor McGregor was his first since 2005. With the cocky Irishman now moved up to lightweight, Aldo was the interim title and was later promoted to undisputed champ.
In the meantime, Max Holloway also won an interim featherweight belt (it’s complicated, don’t ask how). The bottom line, though, is that the titles will be unified Saturday night in Rio de Janeiro. Holloway has won ten fights in a row, but he’s never fought someone quite like Aldo before. We’re still holding out hope for a McGregor vs. Aldo rematch, and the only way that happens is if Aldo retains the featherweight title. And quite frankly, he should be able to do that with relative ease. No disrespect to Holloway, but Aldo is simply a better fighter.
Prediction: Aldo via Knockout.