By Dwight Wakabayashi
The UFC will kick off their 2013 schedule from Brazil this weekend with UFC on FX 7, where Michael Bisping will face Vitor Belfort to try and punch his ticket to a long-awaited title fight later this year.
Including Belfort, the main card has four Brazilians set to face off in big fights with Daniel Sarafian, Gabriel Gonzaga and Thiago Tavares joining the legend to the delight of the home country fans.
Watch five hours of live fights on Saturday as UFC on Sportsnet: Belfort vs. Bisping coverage begins with three hours of preliminary bouts on Sportsnet ONE starting at 6 p.m. ET / 3 p.m. PT, followed by the main card at 9 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. PT. Also, one early preliminary bout will stream on Sportsnet.ca at 5:30 p.m. ET / 2:30 p.m. PT.
Here is a complete main card breakdown.
Thiago Tavares (17-4) vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov (18-0) – lightweight
Thiago Tavares gets a great opportunity to stop the Khabib train this weekend and he performs his best on his home soil. Back-to-back wins over Spencer Fisher and Sam Stout have him back on track in his career after a tough loss to Shane Roller had stalled it. Tavares is efficient at all aspects of the game and has improved each time out. He beat Stout to the punch in every way in his last fight, but that fight was a year ago and Tavares may suffer some cage rust in this one. He better not take long to warm up in this one as Khabib is aggressive out of the gate.
Nurmagomedov is on an incredible 18-0 undefeated streak in his career, made all the more impressive by his two tilts in the UFC. He has gotten no freebies since he joined the promotion as his debut was against tough fighter Kamal Shalorus. Khabib got a submission finish and then followed it up with a grinding decision win over Gleison Tibau. The Russian who now trains in America is equally dangerous on the feet and on the mat and has 13 finishes in his 18 wins.
Raw aggression and a feel of invincibility should carry Nurmagomedov to a win here and a continued climb up the division rankings in 2013.
Gabriel Gonzaga (13-6) vs. Ben Rothwell (32-8) – heavyweight
Both Rothwell and Gonzaga are coming off big wins and trying to get themselves into the contender ranks of the heavyweight division with a win here. Rothwell took on young star Brendan Schaub in April of last year and pulled out a surprising Knockout of the Night win. He always has a puncher’s chance and needs this win to string a streak together to make any type of movement up. Rothwell has always had some issues with his gas tank, and will look to put Gonzaga away as soon as possible to avoid a decision.
After hinting at retirement from MMA after his loss to Schaub, Gonzaga got his career back on track with a win over Ednaldo Oliviera a year ago in Brazil. He is another fighter who seems to be pegged for the home shows, whenever they may be scheduled. He always prefers to take the fight to his world which is down on the mat rolling, but he does possess knockout power in his strikes as well. I think he has a large advantage over Rothwell if he does get it to the floor, so he should try to dictate the fight down as soon as he can.
Daniel Sarafian (7-2) vs. C.B. Dollaway (12-4) – welterweight
In a battle between two Ultimate Fighter alumni, Dollaway will welcome Brazilian newcomer Sarafian into the UFC. Sarafian earned his chance to win it all on TUF Brazil as he made the finals with some very good performances but an untimely injury forced him out of that fight with Cezar Ferreira. He will jump right into the mix when he takes on the tough American wrestling specialist.
Dollaway has had an up and down time of it since being a finalist on the seventh season of TUF, but he got an important win over Jason Miller in May to stop a two-fight losing streak. Dollaway likes to bully in the cage and use his wrestling and strength to dictate where the fight plays out. His striking is improving, but I think his best chance to dominate here is to get it to the mat right away and take advantage of the fact that Sarafian is a debut fighter coming off an injury.
The winner here gets another fight in the UFC soon.
Vitor Belfort (21-10) vs. Michael Bisping (23-4) – middleweight
Bisping is looking to secure his long awaited shot at the middleweight title with a win over the Brazilian legend. His only loss in six fights was a controversial one to Chael Sonnen in January of last year. He got another solid decision win over Brian Stann at UFC 152 in September and many feel that he is already the No. 1 contender to Anderson Silva’s gold. Bisping will try to weather Belfort’s storm early, and then take over with his technical boxing and his well rounded game.
Belfort is in the enviable position of spoiler in this one, and can derail Bisping’s master plan with a mild upset win. Many are confused at Belfort getting this fight off a light-heavyweight title loss to Jon Jones, but the fight is intriguing and works for the fans in Brazil. Belfort will come out with his hands early and look to put Bisping’s lights out, and from listening to Belfort at the weigh-ins yesterday he is more than ready.
The longer this fight goes the better for Michael Bisping and I see him finally securing a fight for the title later this year.
Dwight Wakabayashi is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report UFC and regular contributor to Sportsnet.ca’s UFC section. Follow him on Twitter @wakafightermma.