Welcome to the MMA News’ Sleeper Scrap! The relentless schedule of the MMA world means that some fans don’t have a full look at a fight card until days before the event, leaving the promoters to decide which bouts you should be paying the most attention to.
Everyone wants to tune in for main events and fights that feature popular names, but that means meaningful or potentially action-packed matchups from elsewhere on fight cards sometimes get lost in the shuffle. A Sleeper Scrap might highlight interesting style matchups, fighters with notable storylines, or bouts that simply have the chance to be a Fight of the Night contender.
Quite a few top MMA promotions haven’t even kicked off their 2023 schedules yet, but the Legacy Fighting Alliance is set to return with what is already the organization’s third event of the year at LFA 151.
Last week’s Sleeper Scrap from UFC 283 saw Brunno Ferreria score an upset victory in his promotional debut against Gregory Rodrigues, and this week we’re taking a look at another all-Brazilian matchup featuring featherweights Jonas Bilharinho and Caio Machado.
Jonas Bilharinho was a bit unlucky to not earn a UFC contract on Contender Series 2021, and since then the 32-year-old has gone 1-1 while fighting for the LFA.
“Shiva” began his career in Brazil and captured the Jungle Fight bantamweight and featherweight titles before suffering his first career loss in 2016. Bilharinho later returned from several years off with a first-round flying knee against Junior Duarte, and another two-year layoff ended when he met Canaan Kawaihae on Contender Series 2021.
The fight between Bilharino and Kawaihae ended up being fairly lackluster until “Shiva” uncorked a wheel kick late in the third round to stop the Hawaiian, but that finish unfortunately wasn’t enough for him to earn a UFC contract.
The 32-year-old suffered another setback in his next fight when he was outclassed by José Delano in a fight for LFA’s vacant featherweight title, and Bilharinho rebounded from that loss with a strong showing against Pedro Lopes last July.
Caio Machado has had a much more up-and-down career than Bilharinho, but the 29-year-old is on a two-fight winning streak and has previously shared the cage with several notable fighters.
“Lionheart” initially compiled a 5-0 record in his native Brazil before defeating future UFC bantamweight Domingo Palarte at Legacy FC 27. The Brazilian’s perfect record was shattered by stoppage losses to another pair of future UFC fighters in Thomas Almeida and Steven Peterson, which resulted in Machado returning to Brazil to begin a four-fight win streak.
The 29-year-old experienced the most difficult run of his career from 2017-2019 when he once again tried to find some success outside of his home country. During that period, “Lionheart” suffered three-straight losses, but those setbacks all came against future UFC talents in Miles Johns, Nate Maness, and Jamall Emmers.
Another return to Brazil saw Machado earn four stoppage victories, and last September the 29-year-old rejoined the LFA after nearly five years and won a unanimous decision over former UFC fighter Gabriel Silva.
Bilharino is a fighter that largely relies on singular moments to finish opponents, and a quick glance over his record indicates that approach has often been successful for him.
One drawback to that style is the 32-year-old sometimes has large periods of relative inactivity, which cost him in his fights with Delano and Kawaihae. Things ended up working out in the latter fight, but if it wasn’t for that late wheel kick “Shiva” may have ended up on the wrong end of the scorecards.
Machado may not have the same level of dynamic striking that Bilharinho does, but “Lionheart” makes up for that by constantly walking forward with hard combinations. This aggression and a tendency to drop his hands can leave him open to get countered, but the Brazilian showed against Silva that he’s a dangerous fighter when allowed to dictate the pace of a bout.
The 29-year-old will almost certainly be the aggressor in this fight, and Bilharinho has shown in previous bouts that he can be backed into the cage. “Shiva” has typically relied on his ability to quickly circle away and avoid being corned in those situations, so Machado will need to get to work with his leg kicks early in an effort to nullify that mobility.
The fact that Bilharinho is a southpaw could create some problems for Machado, and the 32-year-old showed how dangerous his body kick to the open side of orthodox opponents is when he repeatedly tagged Lopes with it in his most recent outing.
Bilharinho’s size advantage and active kicking game should also help to stifle some of Machado’s aggression, but “Shiva” will need to be wary of relying too much on single shots to make sure he doesn’t fall significantly behind on the overall striking numbers.
In some ways this bout could be a make-or-break moment for each fighter’s respective career, albeit in different ways.
Machado has clearly established himself as a solid fighter that’s going to win more than he loses, but so far, the 29-year-old has struggled to find consistent success outside of Brazil. The majority of his losses have come against fighters that went on to compete in the UFC, and this fight with a Contender Series veteran is a huge opportunity for him to score an upset and secure his place in the LFA.
For Bilharinho, this fight is a chance to continue building back from his failed LFA title bid and potentially add to an already impressive highlight reel. “Shiva” threw basically everything he had at Lopes in his last fight but wasn’t quite able to finish the 22-year-old, and that was only the second decision win on Bilharinho’s record.
“Lionheart” is capable of causing problems for Bilharinho with his volume and pressure, but the fact that Machado often keeps his hands down and has been finished several times means there should be openings for “Shiva” to pull off something impressive with his knees or kicks.
If Bilharino’s ultimate goal is still to make it to the UFC after coming up short on Contender Series, the Brazilian could take some inspiration from the career trajectory of Chris Curtis. “The Action Man” also got snubbed by the promotion after an impressive finish on Contender Series 2018, but Curtis kept working and eventually joined the UFC in 2021.
How do you think this bout between Bilharinho and Machado will turn out? Are there any other fights scheduled for this week that you feel deserve more attention?