Paulo Thiago gained attention from fans worldwide when he debuted at UFC 95 and stunned the world by knocking perennial contender Josh Koscheck into another dimension. The MMA world sat stunned, and Dana White had a new prospect to market as the next best thing.
Unfortunately for Paulo, plans went south in his second UFC outing, as he was grounded and outwrestled by another former title challenger: Jon Fitch.
The knockout of Koscheck was nothing short of brilliant, and his battle with Fitch was spirited, but Thiago has proven to be an inconsistent competitor who apparently only shows up motivated, healthy and fully prepared for battle approximately half of the time. As of today, the Brazilian’s promotional record stands at 4-4.
Now, the man’s record should probably not be brought into question when you consider the level of competition he’s faced since his migration to the UFC: Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch, Mike Swick, Martin Kampmann and Diego Sanchez are all profoundly tough outs who rank (sans Sanchez, who can’t seem to decide if he's best suited for welterweight or lightweight) amongst the best of the division. There’s not a shred of shame in losing to any of those men.
Regardless of opposition level, there are still quite a few questions looming over Paulo Thiago’s head.
Prior to his bout with Siyar Bahadurzada, Thiago had never been finished, let alone knocked out. Knowing such a fact only stirs more curiosity.
How will Thiago respond in his return fight? Will he exhibit any signs of trepidation? Will he be outright gun shy? These are questions we just simply don’t know the answers to, and, in my opinion they’re extremely relevant questions.
Georges St. Pierre, the divisional champion hasn’t showcased the devastating aggression he unleashed in the cage prior to his first fight with Matt Serra. Could we see the same fate for Paulo Thiago?
Being knocked unconscious is a terrible feeling. Waking up disoriented, head throbbing, vision blurry...it’s just not fun. And yes, sadly, I can personally attest to this.
I imagine that as a professional athlete, any misstep can lead to hesitance and a lack of confidence.
The fact that Siyar put Paulo to sleep in under 45 seconds, however, could actually benefit the Brazilian, believe it or not. Having your rear end handed to you for two rounds and then being knocked unconscious would certainly force a fighter to question his relevance and resilience.
Paulo could simply chalk being starched in 42 seconds up to carelessness and a fluke occurrence. Were it me in his shoes, I think I’d look at that loss as a reminder to never underestimate anyone. Paulo’s opinion may be different.
Paulo Thiago’s grappling has looked strong and effective. His wrestling is solid, his submission skills are sound and diverse, and he’s got a strong, sufficient guard. That said, he’s about to wage war with an absolute beast who (also quite large for the division) has all but mastered the discipline of judo.
Will jiu-jitsu trump judo? Can Thiago’s defensive grappling prevent him from being tossed on his head?
Of all the men Paulo has battled inside the octagon, “Stun Gun” boasts the most diverse skill set. Not only can the man wrestle, but also his submission game is highly refined, his control from the clinch is excellent and his sheer strength distances him from many.
If Paulo can keep pace, or perhaps even emerge the superior grappler, we’ll have our answer to this question: Paulo’s grappling is superb.
Stunning Josh Koscheck could easily be labeled a fluke. Not many men put Koscheck away inside the distance. A convincing finish over Mike Swick, however, lends credence to the belief that Thiago has the tools to break the barrier and emerge as a top flight contender for the welterweight belt.
In order to get back to the top, Paulo is going to have to compile some extremely high-profile wins. Since the Swick victory, Paulo’s gone 1-3, and that simply doesn’t bode well for a man looking to ascend the ranks.
A victory over Dong Hyun Kim would put Paulo right back on track for more marquee matches. If Paulo Thiago can break “Stun Gun” and keep his wits and focus about him, he could very well break the elite barrier.
Kim’s been stopped just twice in his career. Carlos Condit deposited a gnarly knee to the chin of the Korean stud, and Demian Maia forced a stoppage after a fluke rib injury put “Stun Gun’s” mobility on ice. The guy is obviously tough as nails, and it’s going to take a man of equal stoutness to add a third stoppage loss to Dong Hyun Kim’s ledger.
Paulo’s scored a few shocking finishes, but he’s not necessarily a consistent finisher when competing on the grandest stage MMA has to offer. Of his four UFC wins, he’s managed two stoppages. That said, when you’re knocking Josh Koscheck out, and submitting Mike Swick, it’s hard to deny the fact that anything is possible with this guy.
Don’t be utterly baffled to see Dong Hyun Kim taking a nap midway through this battle.
It’s time to be a realist. If Paulo Thiago loses this bout, he’ll have dropped four of his last five fights for the promotion. While there’s a measure of consistency there, it’s not the kind of consistency Paulo wants, and it’s not the kind that keeps a man employed.
However, Thiago is a big fan favorite, and visually, he’s a lot of fun to watch compete. I wouldn’t bet on seeing him released if he comes up short Saturday, but stranger things have happened under Zuffa’s watch.
This fight could potentially be the most significant bout Paulo Thiago has ever been a part of. Hopefully he realizes that and comes out with a game plan that ensures victory. With so many questions surrounding the man as he enters this contest, a logical prediction feels a bit out of reach.
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