After a month of flying under the MMA radar, the UFC presents UFC on Fuel TV: Gustafsson vs. Silva to whet the appetite of its fans prior to UFC 145 the following weekend. Thiago Silva (14-2, 1 NC) makes his return to the Octagon against Swedish killer “The Mauler” Alexander Gustafsson (13-1) as the main event following a stellar co-main involving “All-American” Brian Stann (11-4) and “Legionarius” Alessio Sakara (15-8). “One Hit” Brad Pickett (20-6) and “The Angel of Death” Damacio Page (15-6) will open the card before “The Darkness” DaMarques Johnson (15-9) squares off with “The One” John Maguire (17-3) and Dennis Siver (19-8) goes to war with “The Gun” Diego Nunes (17-2). However, the fight that has the hardcore MMA fan base salivating is an affair between Brazilian welterweight Paulo Thiago (14-3) and Afghan phenom “Siyar the Great” Siyar Bahadurzada (20-4-1). While most casual fans have likely not heard of “Siyar the Great”, he has made quite an impression on the sport’s diehards with dominant wins over “The Eraser” Derrick Noble (26-15), “The Natural” John Alessio (34-14), and “Cyborg” Evangelista Santos (18-15). Thiago is known mainly for his dark horse obliteration of “Kos” Josh Koscheck (17-5), but is still the young Afghan’s stiffest test to date.
At First Glance: While the hardcore crowd is quick to jump to the defense of Siyar in any discussion of this bout’s outcome, he still faces quite a difficult test with Paulo Thiago. The Brazilian was overhyped due to his brutal KO of Koscheck, but has still faced far superior competition when compared to Bahadurzada, who has a pair of embarrassing 2008 losses to answer for as well. All three of Thiago’s losses have come in the UFC against fighters with significant clout within the division and he has never been finished in his career, making him far more dangerous for the young Golden Glory fighter than his 4-3 UFC mark would suggest. Thiago is in sore need of another marquee win to keep his name off of the gatekeepers list, which may cause him to get desperate and make a mistake, but Siyar will be dealing with Octagon jitters as well as his stiffest test to date.
In Depth: Siyar didn’t earn his reputation within the MMA community by luck or chance. He is a solid blue chipper with impressive submissions, Golden Glory striking, and a wealth of international experience. He also has an advantage in that he is fighting near his home base while Paulo Thiago will face serious jet lag and time zone difficulties for the first time in his career. Where Siyar falls short though is in the fact that he has faced a wealth of undersized and one-dimensional competition in the European and Japanese circuits while Thiago has spent years fighting in possibly the toughest division in all of MMA, the UFC welterweight division. The Brazilian is easily the more decorated and experienced ground fighter of the two and has shown in the past that he has the hand speed and power to level even the toughest opponents. Without a solid wrestling base of his own to counter the black belt-level Judo of Thiago, it is highly unlikely that “Siyar the Great” will be able to keep the fight standing where he will be on more even footing. He has the ground game to force the fight to the judges, but it isn’t likely he will be up on points when they arrive.
Wild Card: There are always a host of questions to answer the first time a fighter leaves his hemisphere. Thiago’s career has been spent in the Americas and despite long flights to Canada and the US, he has rarely moved more than an hour or two in terms of the time zone. Against Siyar, he will be going to a country five hours ahead of his own. This coupled with the fact that Siyar will almost definitely drag him into the later half of the fight could spell big problems for the Brazilian. A drawn and tired Paulo Thiago will be easy pickings for a dangerous fighter like “Siyar the Great”.
The Verdict: Paulo Thiago should win this fight based on the merits of his experience against superior competition alone. When presented with his superior pedigree as a submission fighter as well, the result becomes academic. However, he will still come out disappointed. Siyar is a very dangerous opponent and his ability to stall Thiago’s ground game in conjunction with the effects of the time change and travel lag should allow him to take control late in the fight and sway the judges in his favor. Bahadurzada via Split Decision