The UFC's return to Brazil is a far cry from their standard offering.
While putting local fighters in especially winnable fights is a common matchmaking tactic, many of UFC Fight Night 106's bouts feel competitive, if not outright favoring foreign opponents.
In the first of what will be a recurring future segment, I'll be offering a synopsis of each fight on the main card, along with a prediction. Without further ado, let's start from the bottom up.
Alex Oliveira vs. Tim Means
In what is a rematch for the two, welterweight wild men Oliveira and Means will face off in a high-octane bout of finishers. Back in December, the two fought for the first time, with Means seeming to get the better of Oliveira before an illegal knee resulted in a "No Contest."
Means is a Thai-style specialist with some of the division's best knees and elbows, but he'll find no easy task in the ultra-athletic "Cowboy," who has repeatedly made exceptional athletes look unremarkable.
Oliveira seemed to have little answer for Means' superior clinch work and sharper kickboxing, and while my gut tells me that Oliveira adjusts and gets the win, my brain makes the clear case for Means.
Bethe Correia vs. Marion Reneau
Correia, former title challenger, has had a rough time since her devastating KO loss to Ronda Rousey, dropping a split decision to #RaquelPennington and narrowly receiving a split decision over Jessica Eye. Reneau, meanwhile, rebounded from an egregious split decision loss to Ashlee Evans-Smith with a TKO win over Miliana Dudieva.
The two are primarily strikers, with Correia more of a boxing stylist, in contrast to Reneau's sharp low kicks and light lead foot, indicative of her Thai approach.
Correia, while not the division's best athlete, is one of its most confident punchers. Her greatest strength is her consistent application of volume, but I'm not sure if that will be enough against a faster, stronger, and perhaps more versatile opponent.
Reneau may not throw quite as much, but she should be more impactful, and the big moments of offense will most likely be on her side.
Jussier Formiga vs. Ray Borg
Of all of the night's contests, #RayBorg's opportunity to face long-time divisional elite Jussier Formiga may have the most immediate championship impact.
Borg followed a disappointing loss to Justin Scoggins by utterly dominating the surging Louis Smolka, reinvigorating some of the talk of Borg as a future title challenger. Formiga, meanwhile, is 3-1 in his last four, with wins over Wilson Reis, Dustin Ortiz, and Zach Makovsky cushioning a split decision loss to Henry Cejudo.
Scrambling should be the major theme of this fight, both in initiating and avoiding them. Each is an incredibly gifted scrambler, with Formiga's back takes and positional grappling being among the best ever in MMA, though he does not possess the speed or explosion of Borg.
Formiga's striking has developed steadily since a diminishing 2013 loss to Joseph Benavidez, but Borg is quicker and more active, along with showing greater fight-to-fight development at this stage of their careers.
If Borg is insistent on initiating and winning the grappling exchanges, this could be quite a difficult night for him, but I'm inclined to think that he mixes his tools together, never allowing Formiga to get overly comfortable in any one phase, and pulls out a close decision.
Edson Barboza vs. Beneil Dariush
This is an interesting fight to me. On paper, Barboza struggles with pressure, and Dariush has most certainly reinvented himself as a pressure striker during his time at #KingsMMA. However, neither man is particularly durable, and Dariush's ability to take away Barboza's space in order to perpetuate his offense will be key to his success.
Frankly, I don't see Dariush doing it. I think that Barboza will land the more significant offense in each phase, and his underrated counter-punching will present many issues for the smaller Dariush as he attempts to push forward.
Barboza is not the same fighter who lost to Jamie Varner, and pressure in itself is simply no guarantee of success against him.
The Brazilian lands low kicks consistently on the way in while dissuading Dariush with tight counters and pivots. Perhaps there will be a few scares, but Barboza probably gets it done by decision, or even a late stoppage in a tactial affair.
Shogun Rua vs. Gian Villante
Can a 2017 version of "Shogun" Rua possibly beat #GianVillante? Yes. At least, to my mind. As worrisome as his durability has seemed following two brutal KO losses, he's still undoubtedly the quicker fighter in this match up, the more dangerous finisher, and a superior technician on the feet, as rarely as he shows it.
Villante is slow and tires quickly, but he's the bigger man, and always willing to engage. He rarely falls back on his wrestling, which is probably good for Rua, who himself developed into something of a takedown stylist in recent years.
Rua's striking arsenal is undoubtedly wider, and he may even be the more likely of the two to initiate a takedown, but this fight seems destined to be won and lost in the pocket.
Whichever man is the first to capitalize on his opponent's mistakes in the in-fight should hold a decisive advantage, and find himself with many opportunities for fight-changing offense.
I'm never confident picking Shogun, but I'm never confident picking Villante, either. I think that the two feel each other out for the first few minutes, before a couple of wild exchanges result in Villante being separated from his consciousness.
Vitor Belfort vs. Kelvin Gastelum
ikewise, can a 2017 version of #VitorBelfort possibly beat #KelvinGastelum? No. Well, okay, there's enough variance inherent to MMA that it's not outside the realm of possibility, but this feels pretty close to a sure thing.
Gastelum is not only the younger, quicker man, but far more durable, and, modern day, likely the more dangerous striker of the two.
The Vitor playbook has been public knowledge for years now; first-round flurries lead directly to a stoppage, or he fades and is quickly finished down the stretch.
Consecutive losses to #JacareSouza and #GegardMousasi, undeniable elites, may not in themselves show the extent of Belfort's decline, but every tangible and intangible factor seems to be working against him here.
In his return to middleweight, the former The Ultimate Fighter winner utterly destroyed a returning Tim Kennedy, showcasing the best and sharpest striking form of his career as Gastelum battered Kennedy around the Octagon.
Belfort's last win came during an 2015 rematch with Dan Henderson, who he stopped in minutes. Bursts of lethal offense combined with dangerous guard work have not been enough for the Brazilian legend in recent times, especially as his power and quickness deteriorate.
Gastelum is the more dangerous puncher at this point, and holds every physical (and, perhaps, psychological) advantage imaginable. This fight shouldn't leave the second round.