UFC: Liverpool’s Terry Etim steps into Rio crucible
As far as sporting tests go, stepping into the white heat of the Octagon in Rio to face an unbeaten Brazilian brawler is as tough as it gets. The hostile atmosphere, coupled with the raw emotion which a UFC return to the birthplace of mixed martial arts inevitably brings, visibly unsettles many opponents unable to overcome the occasion as much as their Brazilian foe. England’s own Terry Etim faces just such a test this weekend at UFC Rio 2 and I for one believe that the self effacing Team Kaobon product is ready to pass this searing test with flying colours.
Terry Etim is perhaps the UK’s most under-rated fighter. On 5 November last however, he made industry observers sit up and take notice. I had kept close tabs on the lanky former painter and decorator for some time due to his well roundedness and efficiency when climbing the arduous mountain that is the UFC 155lb division. On that chilly night in Birmingham I sat bewitched in the press box as Etim seized submission of the night honours with a breathtaking display of poise and clinical finishing. In what was his ninth fight in an already eventful UFC stint the former Cage Gladiators champ overwhelmed his game American opponent in a brief, yet no less compelling, eye catching performance.
In Edson “Junior” Barboza however Etim is facing a fighter in form who has been tipped to ascend to the upper echelons of a packed lightweight division. With crushing leg kicks, good movement and typical Brazilian flair and aggression, Barboza proved to be a step too far for another English up and comer Ross Pearson at UFC 134. Sunderland’s Pearson was able to pressurise and trouble the decorated muay thai practitioner throughout their three round war and was unfortunate to lose a razor thin split decision. Etim will have watched this fight repeatedly in his preparation for entry to the Brazilian bear pit and will look to use his length and range as effective tools against an opponent who will be under intense pressure to perform in front of a rabid home town crowd. Whilst Etim has lost before on his travels this pivotal bout may come at the right time for him in terms of his career progression. A definitive victory over such a highly touted opponent would place him on the fringes of title contention, having not yet reached his fighting peak at a mere twenty five years old.
As a nation of sports and indeed fight fans, English MMA followers have waited impatiently for one of their own to be crowned with UFC gold. Whilst Bisping and to a lesser extent Hardy currently keep the flag flying in the world’s most high profile MMA promotion, Etim appears best placed to step into the breach once the aforementioned trailblazers have inevitably hung up their gloves. I predict that Etim will stifle Barboza’s relentless attacks with leg kicks and slick footwork in an action packed first two stanza’s, seizing a marquee victory via submission in the third and final frame.
Whilst Etim’s lightweight contest will make for fascinating viewing it may well have to contend with a potential middleweight barnburner for the UFC’s customary fight of the night award (and incidentally the $75,000 cheque awarded to both fighters that comes with it). UFC stalwart and Brazilian MMA icon Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort takes on former welterweight Anthony “Rumble” Johnson in an intriguing 185lb clash. Belfort has for many years been the face (and indeed fists) of Brazilian mixed martial arts. Known for his peerless hand speed and explosive finishing, he has been pencilled for a coaching role on the upcoming “Ultimate Fighter-Brazil” reality series. First up though for the former light heavyweight champion is a perilous assignment against dangerous striker Johnson. Johnson has recently moved up to 185lbs from the welterweight division and will no longer wield the significant size and reach advantage he has held over most previous opponents. In Belfort he will face someone equally as talented in the stand up realm, used to fighting under the bright lights that a co-main event slot brings. I believe that Belfort will feed off the energy of his many fans in the HSBC Arena come fight time and will utilise his greater big fight experience en route to a first round knock-out victory.
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UFC Rio Aldo vs Mendes takes place on Sunday January 15th at 3.00am
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