Kenny Florian (14-5) vs. Diego Nunes (16-1)
Glass half empty: Florian twice failed to capture the UFC lightweight title and lost a title eliminator bout to Gray Maynard, so he’s cutting to featherweight for the first time in hopes of making a run at Jose Aldo and the 145 pound title.
Glass half full: Two-time former title contender and perennial top 10 lightweight Florian makes his featherweight debut, giving the division a recognizable name that will help showcase the abundance of talent that goes relatively unnoticed in the lighter ranks.
Barman’s truth: Florian is looking for a way to stay relevant after missing his opportunities at lightweight, but he also serves as a quality name against Nunes, a fighter with a great record and absolutely zero traction with casual fans as of this point. A win over Florian changes that, of course, which is why this pairing makes perfect sense.
Florian is still a solid competitor and a popular fighter thanks to his time on The Ultimate Fighter and ESPN’s MMA Live, and it will be interesting to see how his body responds to dropping an additional ten pounds in this one. I know from speaking to him leading up to this fight that he didn’t do a practice cut, so keep on eye on the weigh-ins to see how he looks.
In terms of skills, he’s an instant contender in the featherweight division, which makes this move a smart one for him, provided the cut doesn’t take too much out of him.
Nunes has won three straight and five out of six between the UFC and WEC to climb into quietly climb into contention in the featherweight ranks. He enters this fight of a split decision victory over former champ Mike Brown, a win that has lost some of its shine with Brown having slumped badly in recent years.
Still, at 16-1, you have to recognize that Nunes is a legitimate top 10 contender and difficult test for Florian in his featherweight debut. With Aldo on the sidelines and the list of elite contenders being incredibly short (read: Chad Mendes), the winner of this could find themselves no more than one fight away from challenging for the title.
If Florian wins, don’t be surprised if he gets his wish and even ends up jumping Mendes and facing Aldo once he’s health. Fair or not, it’s a much more marketable fight, but he’s got to get through Nunes first.
Shane Carwin (12-1) vs. Junior dos Santos (12-1)
While neither man is close to being the pay-per-view draw that Lesnar is, a lot of people think this is a more entertaining fight, and it’s easy to see why.
Both Carwin and dos Santos are knockout artists who like to stand in the center of the cage and throw bombs. As much as I was curious to see how Lesnar rebounded from his loss to Velasquez and dealt with the power of dos Santos, I’m equally intrigued by the potential for an epic heavyweight slugfest where both guys have legitimate one-punch power.
I could get all super-analyst here and say that it would be a good time for Carwin to return to his Division-II National champion wrestling roots or dos Santos to break out some of that Team Nogueira jiu jitsu he’s purported to have, but let’s be realistic: it ain’t happening.
The referee will tell them to fight, they’ll walk to the center of the cage, start throwing bombs and won’t stop until one of them is looking up at the lights.
And it’s going to be awesome.