Moving Past UFC 131
Last night the UFC put on a card which exceeded pretty much all expectations set out for it by MMA fans. It seems like it has been quite a while since the UFC has put on a card that has done just that, despite UFC 129 being a fantastic all-around night with only a lacklustre main event.
If you are reading this and don’t know the results from last night, here’s a quick recap of the main card action:
- Junior dos Santos earned a UFC title shot… again.
- Kenny Florian squeaked by Diego Nunes, and was awarded a title shot against Jose Aldo (notice how I didn’t say “earned” this time).
- Mark Munoz announced his arrival as an elite Middleweight with a very closely contested victory over Demian Maia.
- Dave Herman and John Olav Einemo put on an entertaining fight, but it’s hard to say what to make of it beyond that.
- Donald Cerrone did what he was supposed to do, in beating an entirely overmatched opponent.
Junior dos Santos thoroughly dismantled Shane Carwin in their number one contender’s match. The Brazilian outlanded his foe a rather astonishing 104-22, with a 88-20 edge in significant strikes. “Cigano” was much faster, and much more technical than Carwin, and showed the difference between someone who has big power, and someone who is a quality striker. I’ve criticized Junior in the past for being highly predictable with his striking and badly telegraphing some of his shots (particularly the uppercut). However, he did a much better job of setting things up against Carwin, and while he didn’t get a stoppage, he impressed about as much as possible without doing so.
Next up for dos Santos is a date with Cain Velasquez, likely sometime this fall. Apparently the bookmakers are on top of this fight already, and have installed Junior as the slight favorite, -125 to Cain’s -105. Since this fight was first talked about in the lead up to Velasquez’s title run, I have thought Cain holds an advantage in this fight and that has not changed, regardless of his shoulder injury. dos Santos will struggle to finish Velasquez, and if he is unable to do so, Cain will either take a late stoppage or a decision by constantly pressing forward and taking Junior down (even if he is able to stand back up). Once Velasquez closes the distance, he is probably the most effective fighter in all of MMA, and dos Santos simply won’t have an answer for his inside game. Obviously there is significant danger that Junior poses at a distance, and this isn’t going to be an easy fight for the champion by any means, but I think he will work on angles to close the distance and be prepared to negate dos Santos’ most dangerous weapons.
In the co-main event, Diego Nunes proved a much stiffer test for Kenny Florian than nearly everyone had predicted. While Florian walked out the cage a winner, and Dana White said he is likely next in line for Jose Aldo, I can’t say Florian did much to impress me. For all the talk of how superior Lightweights are supposed to be to Featherweights, watching a top 5-10 Lightweight drop down and struggle with a fighter who is similarly ranked at Featherweight was intriguing to say the least. The only aspect of the fight that really saved Florian was his wrestling, and that is something Nunes has struggled with prior to this bout. For all the talk of how well he handled the weight cut, Kenny didn’t look any more physically imposing than he has at Lightweight, nor did he appear stronger or faster in my eyes. I expect Florian to occupy the same role at Featherweight as he did at Lightweight, where he can beat a great many of those at his weight, but struggles with the truly elite. Based on this performance, I don’t think Florian deserves a title shot over Chad Mendes, nor do I think he has much to offer Jose Aldo, whose skills are superior to Nunes in every way.
The other interesting dynamic to me, as I’ve discussed previously, is how this changes the perception of Lightweights dropping down to Featherweight. I still think that Tyson Griffin, and other quality 155ers who chose to make the transition will find success at 145, but remember that Griffin was a top 10 Lightweight prior to hitting the rough patch that saw him decide to drop a weight class. A guy like Joe Stevenson however, I don’t see having the same sort of success. It will definitely be interesting to see how the Featherweight division changes over the coming months and years, and if it does become a place for failed Lightweights, or if the current crop of Featherweights like Aldo, Mendes and Hatsu Hioki can maintain their elite status.
Mark Munoz improved his record at Middleweight to 6-1, with the only defeat coming to current Middleweight title contender Yushin Okami. Consecutive wins over Aaron Simpson, C.B. Dolloway and Demian Maia have definitely moved Munoz towards the top of the heap at 185, and one more win against a high-level Middleweight like Brian Stann, who seems to be the consensus as Mark’s next opponent, could put him in line for a title shot. Maia, for his part, showed vast improvement in his striking game, as well as nearly equaling Munoz in the wrestling department. While he came out on the short end of the decision, I was more impressed by him than I have been since the Chael Sonnen fight.
As I already mentioned, there’s not a lot to take from the Dave Herman/John Olav Einemo fight. Herman showed more resilience than he has in the past, which a good thing, but struggled greatly in the first round against his Norwegian opponent. Herman can still move up the ladder in the Heavyweight division, but for his next match he should take a step back perhaps to someone like Travis Browne or Joey Beltran. Donald Cerrone was really in a lose-lose situation against Vagner Rocha, he was supposed to win, and win impressively. He accomplished both, to an extent. Rocha was never in the fight and Cerrone showed dominance on the feet, as well as with his improved takedown defense. Although Cerrone really wants a fight with Mac Danzig or Cole Miller, neither of those bouts serves him well to advance in the division. Instead, I’ve heard a few ideas bandied about. One would pit Sam Stout (another 131 winner, with a brutal KO of Yves Edwards) against Cerrone, while the other interesting scenario would see him face the winner of Dennis Siver/Matt Wiman. Personally, I think if Siver wins, he’s a bit above Cerrone in the division, but a Wiman bout could be spectacular, as could Stout.
Moving to the undercard, we saw the aforementioned Stout/Edwards bout, where the London, Ontario native finally lived up to his moniker after nearly four KO-less years. The impressive victory should do well to vault Stout into a high-profile fight. As I mentioned, Cerrone could be a viable option, as could Anthony Pettis, in a bout that would vault one of the two back into title contention. Either would be fireworks, and it’s simply a case of who is available when. Also on the Spike portion of the card, we saw Chris Weidman continue to prove why he’s viewed as possibly the top prospect at 185, dispatching of Jesse Bongfeldt inside the first round. Weidman has already beaten a better fighter than Bongfeldt when he defeated Alessio Sakara in his UFC debut. Where he goes from here is anyone’s guess. There isn’t incredible fan demand for Weidman to get pushed along as fast as some other prospects, so I would suggest the UFC take their time and allow him to develop. That likely means Weidman gets a fighter who won’t pose him much threat. Mike Massenzio, who did the UFC a favour by taking the Soszynski fight, would make sense, as he brings a similar, albeit inferior, skill set to the cage, and Joe Silva likes to reward guys who do him favours with extra fights in the UFC.
Moving any further down the card than that is always difficult to determine who will end up facing who, as there are so many options and new signings to the UFC with each passing week. Stay tuned over the next few days for a Canadian MMA weekend recap, as well as updated Results and Rankings pages, and be sure to head over to FightLockdown.com if you want to discuss MMA with me and the most knowledgeable group of posters on the web.