Analyzing the UFC 131 fight card from top to bottom
I understand completely how some people look at this injury-ravaged event and see a flop waiting to happen. Without Brock Lesnar’s name attached to it, UFC 131 is forced to forge on with Shane Carwin and Junior dos Santos as the main draw and a host of low to middle level stars in tow.
Like I said, I can see why some people are panning this event before the first fighter has even been introduced.
Call me a perpetual optimist or perhaps even a little delusional, but I see an opportunity for those low to middle level stars to shine and a trio of fights with real championship implications.
UFC 131 may not be filled with a who’s who of the UFC elite, but even the last few cards that boasted the best pre-fight cards on paper (UFC 112 for instance) ended up underwhelming. So how come a collection of lesser known athletes can’t end up overachieving?
Michihiro Omigawa (12-9-1) vs. Darren Elkins (12-2)
While Omigawa’s plummet back to preliminary card status isn’t as bad as Scott Jorgensen’s, it’s still a pretty serious fall nonetheless.
Jorgensen lost a title fight to Dominick Cruz before facing Ken Stone on the undercard of last week’s TUF 13 Finale. For Omigawa, a loss to #1 contender Chad Mendes in his UFC return earned him a chance to face Elkins before most of the fans will have entered the arena.
Despite his placement, Omigawa is still a quality featherweight. Losing to Mendes isn’t all that bad, you know, since he’s beaten everyone he’s faced to date. The Japanese judoka was able to deal with the Team Alpha Male member’s combination of power and wrestling, but those things won’t be as big a problem here.
His 0-3 record in the UFC scares me a little, especially since no one from Japan has come over and been overly impressive since the fall of Pride, but you’ve got to give a guy who spent the better part of the last two years in the top 10 the benefit of the doubt.
Elkins doesn’t have that same cache, unfortunately, and needs this win to remain on the roster. He “won” his debut when Duane Ludwig shattered his ankle, and lasted just 41 seconds against Charles Oliveira in his follow up.
Perhaps the move to featherweight is a better fit. He’ll certainly be the bigger of the two and can look to Mendes’ success as a blueprint to victory, as he too comes from a wrestling base. But until he earns a win off his own efforts and not another man’s misfortune, it’s hard to see how Elkins comes away victorious in this fight.
Joey Beltran (12-5) vs. Aaron Rosa (16-3)
Zombies are big right now, and Beltran was described as such by Pat Barry after the California native would not stop coming forward during their January matchup.
Having lost two in a row, Beltran desperately needs a win here. He’s 2-2 in the UFC, but with consecutive defeats and wins over guys who have gone a combined 1-5 in six UFC appearances, you don’t want to mess with the “lose three straight and you’re out” theory.
Rosa makes his UFC debut as a result of the reshuffling that happened when Lesnar was forced off the card; Beltran’s original opponent, Dave Herman, took Carwin’s spot when Carwin stepped in for Lesnar.
A veteran of Strikeforce and various regional promotions, the biggest win of Rosa’s career came against TUF 10 alum Abe Wagner in March. That sentence should give you some indication of what his long-term potential (or lack thereof) looks like.
That being said, all of Beltran’s fights to date have been entertaining, save for his debut win over Rolles Gracie, but that wasn’t his fault. His zombie-like resiliency and propensity for standing in the pocket and trading with his opponent makes him a fan favorite, and we should get more of that here.
Dustin Poirier (9-1) vs. Jason Young (8-3)
Young is a British kickboxer making his UFC debut as a replacement for the injured Rani Yahya. He earned a unanimous decision victory over BJJ black belt Jorge Britto in April on the first MMA card to be held in Ontario, and has lost just once (to UFC competitor Paul Sass) in his last five fights.
That being said, Poirier is the featured attraction in this one.
Six months after announcing his presence in the featherweight division by derailing Josh Grispi‘s title hopes, the Louisiana native and one of the stars of the documentary film Fightville is back to continue his climb up the 145 pound rankings.
Poirier is a quietly charismatic kid with a world of potential. In addition to the solid hands he’s shown through three fights in Zuffa-owned organizations, he’s got solid jiu-jitsu, decent wrestling, and fighting instincts that can’t be taught. He also hits really, really hard. As he said when we spoke before this bout, he doesn’t worry so much about game plans, focusing instead on doing whatever it takes to win the fight.
He needs to make sure that Young doesn’t do to him what he did to Grispi at the start of the year. This is a no-lose situation for the Brit, while Poirier has his place as an up-and-comer on the line in a fight that won’t really move him any further up the rankings. Both guys like to stand and trade strikes more than anything, and I expect them to do just that in this one.
This is my pick for Fight of the Night.
Nick Ring (11-0) vs. James Head (7-1)
We all know that the originality level for MMA nicknames falls somewhere between MTV re-booting Teen Wolf with a Twilight twist and the 483 guys named “Pitbull,” but these two rank one-two on the “Really?” scale.
It’s bad enough that Ring goes by “The Promise,” but the fact that Head and his team held a Twitter contest to select his nickname and landed on “Mr. Potato” manages to trump the even the Canadian’s high school schlock moniker. Yep, you’re going to hear Bruce Buffer say the words, “James `Mr. Potato’ Head” on Saturday afternoon.
It should also be noted that when the first and only real meaningful thing you want to talk about is the combatants poor choice of nicknames, you’re not looking at fight that carries much weight.
Ring was gifted a win in his UFC debut in February. After Riki Fukuda edged him out in two of three rounds on just about everyone’s scorecards, the judges in Australia made Ring the victor, which gives him this second chance to make a first impression. He’s beaten some decent Canadian competition over the years, and padded his stats against some cans as well, and has to have an impressive showing here or else it’s back to the regional circuit for Ring.
Head earns his first crack at the UFC on the strength of a win over former middleweight prospect Gerald Harris back in February. It was the biggest win of his relatively young career, and one that he absolutely has to build upon here if he hopes to remain on the roster.