UFC on FUEL TV 10 will house the entrance of yet another Team Nogueira assassin in former Strikeforce light-heavyweight champ Rafael Cavalcante, who draws fellow Brazilian Thiago Silva. The duo will collide on the Fuel TV main card, which begins at 8:00 p.m. ET and centered around the main attraction that pits heavyweights Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Fabricio Werdum.
32-year-old Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante (11-3) has seen his share of ups and downs. He steam-rolled his first trio of opponents via malicious striking on the Brazilian fight circuit before a double-stint in the IFL, where Feijao toppled Devin Cole, who’d go on to hold his own in Strikeforce, by TKO and incur his first loss after landing an illegal knee on future UFCer Marcio Cruz.
After the quasi-defeat, Feijao set up shop in EliteXC and the massacre continued: John Doyle, Wayne Cole, and Travis Galbraith all fell under the wrath of Feijao’s savage knee strikes, which are among the best in MMA. The unassuming light-heavyweight was on the brink of stardom, especially for a non-UFC fighter, when the rugged Mike Kyle upset him by TKO with a 2nd-round blitz of punches in Strikeforce.
The dark times would quickly brighten, as Feijao soldiered on with another pair of strike stoppages (Aaron Rosa, Antwain Britt) to earn a crack at newly anointed Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion Muhammed Lawal, who’d out-battled fellow overseas crossover Gegard Mousasi to earn the strap. Few gave Feijao a legit chance to dethrone the king but, propelled by phenomenal use of the Thai clinch to ward off takedowns and eventually turn the tables, that’s exactly what he did, bombing a perfectly timed knee on Lawal’s chin and chasing him down to finish with punches.
The glory was short-lived, as multi-weight-class veteran Dan Henderson migrated over from the UFC and, though he was wobbled by Feijao’s Thai venom in the opening round, the Strikeforce 205-pound crown changed hands again. Cavalcante’s last two outings were, as usual, commanding finishes under the Strikeforce banner: a 2nd-round thumping of current UFC middleweight Yoel Romero and a vengeful submission of Mike Kyle, though the latter was overturned to a No Contest when Feijao whizzed hot for stanozolol.
Thiago Silva (14-3) vaulted off to a sizzling 9-0 start to get an invite from the UFC, where he maintained his immaculate record with 3-straight TKO’s (James Irvin, Tomasz Drwal, Houston Alexander). Silva was fast-tracked to a title shot against the inimitable Lyoto Machida, a training partner of Feijao’s, who defended successfully by blasting Silva with his signature straight left for a TKO in the 1st.
Silva, whose personality and combat demeanor always remind me of an angry Sith Lord, got back to his throat-slashing celebrations with a merciless beating of Keith Jardine (1st-round KO), but found himself in the L-column again courtesy of former champ Rashad Evans (despite an unforgettable outburst of offense in the 3rd that put Evans on roller-skates). The see-saw would keep rocking, as Silva put on a career-defining performance against Brandon Vera, man-handling the former heavyweight en route to a dominant decision … that was later overturned due to a falsified urine sample.
Silva rode out his suspension and returned against top light-heavyweight contender Alexander Gustafsson, but just couldn’t get inside of the lanky Swede’s striking range and dropped a decision. Many fans lost hope when Silva, after he arm-triangled Stanislov Nedkov in a so-so showing, was once again stymied by a failed drug test, this time for wacky tobackey.
Beyond all the ups and downs of their past, Feijao and Silva are some of the most pleasingly violent brawlers to watch. Silva has finished 13 of his 14 wins (11 TKO’s, 2 subs) while Feijao has finished all 11 of his and never once gone to a decision. Additionally, both competitors wield a dual-pronged attack of Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (both black belts), and also share the rare combination of being extraordinarily aggressive but doing so with exemplary technique.
On the feet, Silva is a bit of a wildman and does most of his work with his hands, rarely throwing kicks. While he’s proven to be a wrecking ball in the pocket, this format leaves Thiago without a distance weapon, which was a pivotal flaw in his loss to Gustafsson. Wrestling wise, onlookers were astonished when Silva rag-dolled Vera, who was an ultra-feisty test for wrestling and MMA legend Randy Couture and stuffed a shocking 9 of his 10 takedowns.
Silva’s domination of Vera, like much of Thiago’s wrestling mentality, was more of a case of Silva’s knack for keeping the fight at toe-to-toe range than going into full-on wrestling mode. His cardinal directive is always to get or stay in contact range where his tight hooks, uppercuts and his Thai knees can wreak maximum havoc. Though he generally darts into range with straight-line movement, Silva does have a good grasp of head movement and an iron chin for a back-up plan. Rather than smooth and coaxing guard play, Silva’s BJJ is applied more through gaining the best possible positions on top or after a scramble, where he’s just as content to tenderize foes with heavy ground-and-pound as he is to submit them.
Feijao’s aggression is more tempered in all aspects. Whereas Thiago likes to stay in his opponent’s face and on the trigger, Cavalcante is very methodical offensively. He’s a judicious striker who gets a read on his adversary and carefully (not patiently) finds an opening to drill a fist or knee through. He’s also more inclined to back-pedal and counterstrike, and swings nasty roundhouse kicks — generally low to the lead leg — during any lulls or when his opponent is finding a way to shrink the gap.
As mentioned above, Feijao’s Muay Thai arsenal is one of the most functional and effective in the game, both offensively and defensively. His exceptional balance and footwork afford a strong semblance of balance at all times, which puts Feijao in the ideal position to dig in underhooks and/or control the head to defend takedowns, and his track record testifies to the potency of his offensive striking game. Feijao pursued takedowns earlier in his career, but has been happy to let his striking decide his fate in the latter part of his career.
I imagine that the distance game will be pivotal here: though they’re similarly sized and styled, Feijao has crushing capabilities in all striking ranges while Silva’s sweet spot is in the phone booth. This will task Silva with the additional burden of knifing in close to transmit the power in his hands, which is a dangerous chore against a skilled counter-striker like Feijao.
I’m really unsure how these two compare under a microscope in the wrestling and BJJ fields — I’m calling it about even. I do think Silva, given the aforementioned range issue, would be wise to pursue takedowns when he’s in range to do so, even if just to give Feijao something else to worry about. I don’t expect either to submit the other barring a circumstantial opportunity after strikes land or in a scramble, but one can never really go wrong with hitting a takedown. Perhaps on account of facing more wrestlers, we’ve seen Feijao on his back more often and he’s highly adept at booting foes off him from butterfly guard in order to create space and stand back up.
I’m in line with the betting odds, which have Feijao as a narrow favorite. Since Thiago is tough to finish (Machida was the first and only), Feijao might persevere to the score cards for the first time in his career. They both have good chins and have only been KO’d by heavy hitters (Kyle and Hendo for Feijao), yet, as heavy hitters themselves, either could slump over if the other lands clean on the chin. Along with the way Feijao dictates range, his stellar clinch game will be a suitable bulwark if and when Thiago is able to close distance on the feet.
My Prediction: Rafael ‘Feijao’ Cavalcante by decision.
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