UFC 131 Preview & Predictions

UFC lightweight

Donald Cerrone

Donald Cerrone (14-3) vs. Vagner Rocha (6-1)

Yes, I’m disappointed that we’re not going to get to see Cerrone step into the cage with Mac Danzig. In a grudge that surfaced out of nowhere, Danzig asked for a fight with the former WEC contender, and since “Cowboy” is never one to back down, we were going to have ourselves an old fashion gunfight (not literally) here. It just wasn’t meant to be.

Danzig got hurt and has been replaced with Rocha, a skilled jiu jitsu practitioner who trains under 2009 ADCC champion Pablo Popovitch.

Much like the fight between Dustin Poirier and Jason Young, this is a serious trap fight for Cerrone, and that makes it interesting, at least to me.

When the WEC merger was announced, Cerrone headed up my list of crossover fighters who could become successful in part because of his skill, but also because of his bad boy charisma and propensity for saying things that generate heat.

So far, he’s come through on both ends, earning a second round submission over Paul Kelly in his debut and running his mouth just enough to irritate Danzig into asking for this fight in the first place.

As confident as Cerrone is on the ground, he needs to stick to his kickboxing roots in this one. He tends to get sloppy on the ground more than he does when he’s standing, and a momentarily break in concentration on the canvas against Rocha could lead to an upset loss. Just like Poirier, Cerrone doesn’t have a great deal to gain from a win here, other than the fact that you have to keep winning to keep moving forward.

For Rocha, this is his audition for a long-term spot on the UFC lightweight roster, and he needs to make the most of it. The 155 pound division is the deepest in the organization, so breaking through an securing a spot is harder than it would be in the middleweight or heavyweight divisions.

Demian Maia (14-2) vs. Mark Munoz (10-2)

Two weeks ago at UFC 130, we had a main event that featured a top 5 light heavyweight (Quinton Jackson) facing a another top 20 guy (Matt Hamill) and a bunch of people were genuinely interested in the outcome.

Now we have a clash between a top 5 middleweight (Maia) and an opponent who lands inside the top 20 (Munoz) and hardly anyone is batting an eye. Does “Rampage” really generate that much interest?

These two are 13-3 combined in the UFC with their only losses coming to the reigning champion, the current #1 contender, and the former #1 contender. That’s a far better pairing than anything we had at UFC 130, yet this fight has gotten absolutely no attention. Why is that?

Maia remains one of the best jiu-jitsu stylists in the sport today, a submission wizard who has worked hard since losing to Anderson Silva at UFC 112 to develop his hands. While he’s far from a finished product and will never be considered a knockout artist, he’s shown improvement, and adding hands to his unparalleled ground game makes him even more dangerous.

What I love about this fight is that Munoz is not only pretty darn good on the ground himself – he’s a two-time Division-I All-American and former National champion at Oklahoma State – but he’s also got fight-changing power in his hands.

With Silva set to clean out the division if he defeats Yushin Okami in August, the winner of this could be looking at a meeting with UFC 130 winner Brian Stann for place at the top of the division; TUF 14 coaches Jason “Mayhem” Miller and Michael Bisping probably factor in there somewhere too.

This fight looks like an upset waiting to happen to me, as Munoz is strong enough to not get dragged to the ground by Maia, and has the knockout power to end his night with one well-placed shot. Of course, Chael Sonnen had a tremendous collegiate wrestling background as well, and Maia still managed to finish that fight inside the first round.

Dave Herman (20-2) vs. Jon Olav Einemo (6-1)

What can I say? I like heavyweight fights. I think most people do.

There is something about two big dudes going toe-to-toe that just speaks to us. Boxing is always at its best when the heavyweight division is thriving, and the same goes for the UFC. With the division currently in a state of flux due to injuries (Cain Velasquez, Lesnar), inconsistency (Roy Nelson) or a combination of both (Rodrigo Nogueira), Herman and Einemo have a chance to earn themselves a permanent place on the roster with a good showing here.

I’m really intrigued to see what Einemo brings to the table in this one. In addition to liking heavyweight fights, I’m also partial to high level grappling, and that is Einemo’s calling card. He’s the only man to beat Roger Gracie in ADCC competition and won the heavyweight division at the illustrious grappling event back in 2003.

He hasn’t competed there since and hasn’t fought in MMA since 2006, so it is quite possible that he’s accumulated a great deal of rust while sitting on the sidelines. That being said, he should still have a huge advantage over Herman on the ground. The only question is whether he can get the fight there.

Herman has been one of the better heavyweight prospects in the sport for the last couple years, beating up a collection of has-beens and  like Don Frye and “Kiss” Nakao in various smaller promotions.

This is his first chance to step into the big leagues, and with the injury to Lesnar, he gets a more prominent spot on the card in a more favorable matchup. Herman’s striking skills play better against Einemo here on the main card than they would have against Beltran on the preliminary portion.

Yes, it is rare that we see two fighters making their UFC debuts featured so prominently on the pay-per-view portion of an event, but it’s not as if the UFC planned it out this way. In honor of the fallen TUF 13 coach who caused the retooling of the fight card, let’s just say this is their way of making chicken salad out of chicken, well, you know.


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