The term “card is subject to change” protects the UFC in case of injuries and changes to their fight bookings, and in 2018 this has applied to a number of main events. We’ve seen on many occasions that headlining fights have been scrapped or changed due to injuries, drug suspensions, and the UFC moving around fights. This weekend’s UFC Fight Night 137 card in Sao Paulo, Brazil was not immune to changes, as the main event of the card changed twice in the last month.
Originally, it was supposed to be a light heavyweight matchup between Brazil’s Glover Teixeira and England’s Jimi Manuwa. That would have been a good fight between two veterans, albeit two fighters coming off of losses. When Teixeira pulled out with an injury, the UFC called upon Thiago Santos to take on Manuwa in what would have been a banger between two strikers. At the same time, it wasn’t as relevant of a fight as Manuwa is on the downside of his career. Then with just a few days to go before the event, Manuwa was the one who pulled out and the UFC called upon Eryk Anders to take the fight with Santos. In my opinion, this is an even better fight than the previously scheduled two main events.
The fact that this fight between Santos and Anders is taking place at light heavyweight is very intriguing to me. Both men are two of the biggest middleweights in the UFC and shouldn’t be too out of place at 205lbs. In fact, it’s possible both men perform even better at a higher weight class. For Santos, he was a solid middleweight who just couldn’t get the big win. Even though he swept Kevin Holland on the scorecards in his last fight, it just seemed like something was missing in his performance. It was evident the cut to 185lbs was depleting his chin and his gas tank and making the move up to 205lbs should help him out. Although he took the fight with Manuwa on short notice most people were picking him to win that fight over an aging, chinny veteran in Manuwa. This fight against Anders looks like it actually might be an even tougher test for Santos even though Anders took the fight on short notice as he’s just a more well-rounded fighter than Manuwa was, yet still possesses the same devastating KO power as we saw in his last fight against Tim Williams.
For Anders, this move up in weight wasn’t the original plan, but this could actually help fast track him to a title shot. At middleweight, Anders was a borderline top-15 fighter but still well back in the pecking order for a shot at champ Robert Whittaker’s belt. He was behind guys like Kelvin Gastelum, Chris Weidman, Luke Rockhold, Yoel Romero, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Paulo Costa, and even guys like Israel Adesanya, Derek Brunson and David Branch. He wasn’t going to be getting a title shot anytime soon. At 205lbs, though, Anders could immediately be a top-10 guy. Think about it, Misha Cirkunov is the 10th-ranked light heavyweight right now. Anders could easily pass him and take his spot if he beats Santos in this fight. So it was a smart move by Anders to move up in weight and see how it goes. If he wins, he can stick around light heavyweight and maybe become an instant contender like Anthony Smith has done, or he can choose to go back to middleweight and put himself back in the mix there. If he loses, then he has the excuse that he took the fight on short notice and up a weight class. It seems like this is a no-risk situation for Anders.
Stylistically, this fight between Anders and Santos is super intriguing. Both men possess knockout power but Anders is the superior wrestler who appears to be more durable and have the better gas tank. Again, though, that’s based on what we saw at middleweight. It’s possible this fight could look entirely different as a light heavyweight contest and that’s what intrigues me about it so much. We just don’t really know how these guys are going to perform up in weight. If I had to guess, the move up is actually going to be a smart move for both men and I have a feeling they will put on an amazing fight for the fans. No doubt it’s disappointing that the main event of UFC Sao Paulo changed twice, but at the end of the day the fans may have lucked out and received an even better fight between two fighters who are coming off of dominant wins and who are more relevant right now than Manuwa and Teixeira were. It’s now up to both men to go out there and perform, and with an impressive win, the light heavyweight division could have a brand new title contender.
Do you think Thiago Santos vs. Eryk Anders can be even better than Jimi Manuwa vs. Santos or Glover Teixeira would’ve been?