The UFC certainly isn't making life easy for Paulo Thiago.
Not that anyone would expect or anticipate the biggest name in the sport to offer up tomato cans to Top 10 fighters, but from the moment he arrived in the UFC, the man who used to spend his days as a member of the Brazilian Special Forces has been fed to the wolves.
More specifically, Thiago has been put the through the gauntlet against the star welterweights of American Kickboxing Academy (AKA), a trilogy of fights that began with a win over Josh Koscheck, middles with a loss at UFC 100 to Jon Fitch, and culminates this weekend opposite Mike "Quick" Swick.
My partner in crime for the Creature vs. Creature series, Robert Gardner, makes the case for Swick and AKA coming away with the upper-hand in this feud, but personally, I can't see it.
Mike Swick doesn't beat Top 10 opponents.
There, I said it.
Each time the Texan has had a chance to take that next step and elevate himself into the upper levels of a division, he's fallen short. It happened at Yushin Okami at middleweight, and it happened in October against Dan Hardy.
For all the accolades, admirers, and amusing names for his submission holds Swick possesses, he has never been able to take that next step. Once is a fluke, twice is a trend. Perhaps the third time is the charm, but I don't believe it is.
But my selection of Thiago isn't only based on the potential shortcomings of Mike Swick; the skills shown by the 29-year-old Brazilian factor into the equation as well.
We've seen that he has the power to knock people out. Say what you will about Josh Koscheck leaving himself open and not playing to his strength, but Thiago still capitalized on the opportunity when it was presented and left Kos looking up at the lights.
Thiago also came close to scoring another win with his hands in his last fight against Jacob Volkmann, as he dropped the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy student only to hear the bell signal the end of the round. Thirty more seconds and we're talking about a TKO and not a decision.
Even in his loss to Jon Fitch—who there is absolutely no shame in losing to, by the way—we saw positive elements; a tight guillotine choke that would have ended many other fighter's nights and the resilience to go the full 15 with a grinder like Fitch.
Through three fights, we've yet to see the full extent of Thiago's arsenal as well, as his dual black belts in BJJ and judo have yet to make a serious appearance. Yet he still has two wins in three tries, with his lone loss coming to the second-best welterweight in the world.
Swick hasn't been submitted yet in his career, but just as the third time might be the charm for the man known as "Quick," there is a first time for everything as well.
Paulo Thiago has a tough task ahead of him on Saturday night.
When the final bell sounds and Bruce Buffer is announcing the winner, I'm of the opinion that Paulo Thiago will be coming away with the advantage in his rubber match with the AKA welterweights.
Robert Gardner feels differently, and I encourage you to find out why.
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