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Live from Rio – UFC 142: Aldo vs Mendes Preview

MMA Insider Alex Donno takes a look at tonights UFC return to Rio for UFC 142. Follow him on Twitter @AlexDonno790 for a updates leading up to and during the fight.

The UFC returns to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil tonight for UFC 142: Aldo vs. Mendes. It’s their second trip to the “cradle of MMA” in six months, and once again, the fight card is stacked with Brazilian talent. Featherweight champion Jose Aldo may not possess the same caliber of star power as Anderson Silva (who headlined the UFC’s previous Rio event), but he’s earned the status of consensus top five pound-for-pound fighter. The Manuas, Brazil native, who now resides in Rio, will be fighting in his home country for the first time since 2007. The man looking to spoil his homecoming is undefeated (11-0) Chad Mendes. Mendes is widely considered to be the best wrestler in the UFC’s featherweight division. Aldo, a striker and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt, has defended wrestlers well in the past. But he’s never faced one like Mendes.

Mendes, a former NCAA All American and Pac-10 wrestler of the year, admits he often daydreams and fantasizes about taking home UFC gold. “My goal is to get that belt, and Jose Aldo is in my way.” He’s keenly aware of the challenge that stands in front of him. In April of 2010, Mendes’ training partner and close friend Urijah Faber challenged Aldo for the title. Over five rounds, Aldo picked Faber apart with his striking, battering his legs with a brutal barrage of low kicks. Like Mendes, Faber has a wrestling base, but was never able to impose his will against the talented champion.

The key for Mendes will be to work a feverish pace. For him to have any success, he needs to initiate the clinch with Aldo early on and try to turn it into a wrestling match. When Kenny Florian challenged Aldo for the belt last October, he found great success early on with a similar game plan. However, Florian didn’t have the wrestling ability or the cardio to keep up such a grind beyond the first two rounds. He wound up losing a 5-round decision, but may have laid out the blue print for Mendes in the process. Mendes is a far more gifted wrestler, and appears to have among the best cardio in the UFC. He’s never gone five rounds before, but his reputation from his home gym of Team Alpha Male leads most analysts to believe that he will hold an endurance advantage over the champion. When Aldo decisioned Mark Hominick last April, he appeared completely gassed out in the 5th round. If Mendes can implement his wrestling-heavy game plan, he could tire out Aldo considerably. But of course, he’ll have to avoid being knocked out in the early rounds. When you stand with Jose Aldo and give him space, that’s when he finds his timing, and when he starts launching leg kicks. Technically speaking, his kicks look flawless. He sets up his kicks with punching combinations and throws them so smoothly that it’s nearly impossible to telegraph. It’s fair to say that Mendes has improved his striking considerably since his WEC days, but he still won’t be in Aldo’s league. At the very least, he will have to use some strikes to set up his takedowns. Every fight starts standing up, and that’s a big advantage for Aldo.

Here is “Countdown to UFC RIO” which debuted on Fuel TV looking at the build up to the fight.

UFC 142’s co-main event has become the biggest hot button topic of the weekend. Brazilian MMA legend Vitor Belfort meets American Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. Unfortunately, Johnson’s weight issues have taken headlines away from the fight itself. Johnson is a former welterweight, who often had trouble making the 170lb welterweight limit. He stands 6’2’ and loaded with muscle. His fight tonight with Belfort was supposed to be his middleweight debut. The middleweight limit is 185lbs, so one would assume that a former welterweight would have an easy time making the cut, right? Wrong. At weigh in time, UFC President Dana White announced that Johnson was way over weight, and would have no chance at hitting 186 (you’re allowed an extra pound in non-title fights). Turns out, Johnson weighed 197 at weigh in time. For those not familiar with weight cutting in combat sports, to be 11lbs over the limit is virtually unheard of, especially for a major promotion like the UFC. Needless to say, Dana White was not amused. “Complete and absolute unprofessionalism, that’s what happened,” White said. “There’s no other way it can be explained.” Johnson’s manager Glenn Robinson did have another explanation, though. Robinson told Yahoo! Sports that Johnson had cut to 187 with three hours until the weigh in, but fell ill and was instructed by the UFC doctor to rehydrate. Regardless of any explanation, White says Johnson’s job in the UFC is “absolutely on the line, win or lose.”

With Johnson being so far over the limit, the fight was immediately in jeopardy. His opponent, Vitor Belfort, agreed to fight him as scheduled, but only if Johnson weighs under 205lbs on fight day. According to the UFC’s twitter, Johnson weighed in today at 204.2, so the fight is on. Keep in mind that Johnson had planned to weigh at least 215lbs in the Octagon after rehydrating. This new stipulation could have serious negative repercussions on how effectively he was able to rehydrate. For a man who was apparently cutting a massive amount of weight to begin with, I question whether it’s even safe for the UFC to allow him to fight tonight. In addition to the 205lb stipulation, Johnson has to forfeit 20% of his fight purse to Belfort.

As for the fight itself, this one could be truly electric if the two men decide to stand and trade. Belfort is among the most feared strikers in the sport. Johnson has displayed lethal knockout power throughout his UFC career, and holds a four inch reach advantage over Belfort. Even so, Johnson’s best option will likely be putting Vitor on his back. He’s a former Junior College National Champion, and historically, Belfort doesn’t respond well after being taken down. It’s a game plan that Johnson executed to perfection against gifted striker Dan Hardy. Although it wasn’t the most exciting route to victory, Johnson negated Hardy’s striking by keeping him grounded en route to a decision.

He’d be wise to try the same against Belfort. However, Belfort’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu background could allow him to threaten with submissions from his back. Still, avoiding the striking game appears to be Johnson’s better alternative. Belfort, a southpaw, throws blistering combinations. He closes the distance quickly, and then strikes with the speed and precision of a cobra. His left hook is especially dangerous, and his footwork will give him an overall speed advantage over “Rumble.” Despite not being the headliner, Belfort will likely receive the loudest reception of the night. He’s considered one of Brazil’s biggest celebrities (in the fight game or otherwise). This will be his first time fighting in his home country since 1998. Win or lose, he already has his next fight set in stone. “The Phenom” will coach opposite Wanderlei Silva on “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil” and then will fight Silva at the show’s June finale.

With the featherweight title on the line and the curious case of Anthony Johnson’s weight cut, UFC 142 has the makings of a memorable event. UFC 142: Aldo vs. Mendes begins at 10pm ET, live on pay per view. Due to the time difference, the local time in Rio will be 1:00am when the main card begins. We might see some sleepy fighters and fans tonight on PPV.