I don’t say this as a condemnation of all the fight cards we’ve had over the last few weeks, but man am I glad this is almost over.
Listen, I love watching fights more than pretty much anyone I know, and I love writing about fights just about as much, give or take a little on either side of the happy/sad scale depending on the day.
That being said, four consecutive weeks of fights has meant four consecutive weeks of interviews, previews, features, and reviews — not to mention the random news events — and I’m ready to have a couple weeks of just fight announcements and editorials.
What makes all those weeks of work even more worth it is that we’ve saved the best for last. UFC 136 looks like the best card of the year so far — in my opinion — and I’m beyond eager to see how it all plays out.
Steve Cantwell (7-4) vs. Mike Massenzio (12-5)
For that to happen, Cantwell will have to let go with his hands more. He was far too hesitant last time out, and wound up on the wrong side of a Cyrille Diabate kickboxing seminar. His frame is much better suited to fighting at 185, but everything with “The Robot” depends on the six inches between his ears.
Masseznio gets his “We Appreciate the Help” fight after taking a bout — and a loss — on 48-hours notice back in June. With a full training camp, Massenzio could find more success this time around, as he has the wrestling and grappling game to control Cantwell on the ground if he can get it there.
This one is a classic “Winner Stays, Loser Goes” scenario.
Eric Schafer (12-5-2) vs. Aaron Simpson (10-2)
Dear Aaron Simpson,
If you want to move up the ladder again, you’re going to have to do more than win fights by pressing your opponent into the cage for 15 minutes.
The UFC and all of its fans.
Dear Eric Schafer,
Welcome back. Feel free to let loose in this one; you know we’ll give you a “thanks for helping out” fight no matter the outcome.
All the best,
The UFC and all its fans.
Darren Elkins (12-2) vs. Tiequan Zhang
Has there ever been anyone with two less credible UFC victories than Darren Elkins? His first came when Duane Ludwig snapped his ankle, and his second was a very questionable decision over Michihiro Omigawa back in June.
The move to featherweight was a smart one, as he has good wrestling and can use his strength more effectively fighting at 145. If he can’t score a decisive victory in this one, however, it could be the end of the line for Elkins.
Zhang got a lay-up last time out, choking Jason Reinhardt unconscious at UFC 127 back in February. The UFC has been not-so-subtly protecting Zhang thus far, and while I understand the logic, he needs to show me more than the ability to choke out crazy 40-year-olds.
Joey Beltran (13-5) vs. Stipe Miocic (6-0)
Anyone who has read my work over the last few months even should know how I feel about unbeaten heavyweights. Short version: I love them.
It’s something about getting to see them fight for myself and figuring out if they’re actually talented or they’ve just been beating up the toughest guys in random regional shows that intrigues me. This is one of those match-ups, as Miocic has smashed his way through six consecutive anonymous opponents on his way to the Octagon.
Pairing him with the impossible-to-kill Beltran is a perfect match-up too; he’s talented enough to be a very good measuring stick, but not too far up the heavyweight ladder that you’re feeding the newcomer to the wolves.
High five, Joe Silva!
Anthony Pettis (13-2) vs. Jeremy Stephens (20-6)
It amazes me how fickle MMA fans are at times. I don’t know why it amazes me because it’s nothing new, but it still does.
The Anthony Pettis Bandwagon cleared out pretty quick following his loss to Clay Guida in June, but I still think he’s one of the top under-25 talents in the sport today. Guida was a horrible match-up for him. This, however, should give him a chance to add to his highlight reel.
At the same time, Stephens is looking to continue his climb up the 155 pound ranks with a three consecutive win. While he’s still a power puncher, Stephens has been improving as of late, tightening up his boxing, and rounding out his offensive arsenal a little more.
These guys got the Under the Radar treatment for this fight, and when they have you on the edge of your seat tomorrow night, you’ll know why.
Demian Maia (14-3) vs. Jorge Santiago (23-9)
This is a massively important bout for both fighters. While I’m not sure the loser will get let go, it’s a very real possibility, regardless of how shallow the talent pool in the middleweight division is these days.
Santiago underwhelmed in his return to the Octagon back in May. After a great run primarily in Japan, the former Sengoku champion was dominated by Brian Stann at UFC 130. Now that he’s fully settle in South Florida with The Blackzilians, Santiago must have a strong performance in this one.
The same goes for Maia.
He just looked okay in a tough back-and-forth with Mark Munoz at UFC 131 in June. In his effort to develop his hands and become more well-rounded, he’s seemingly lost sight of what brought him to the big time in the first place: his otherworldly jiu-jitsu. I’m all for rounding out your skill set, but you also have to dance with the one that brought you.
If both guys fight to their abilities, this could be a very good fight. If one or both doesn’t understand the urgency of their current career situations, it might be a good time to refill the snacks and hit the bathroom before the main card starts.
The good thing is we should know pretty early on.
Leonard Garcia (15-7-1) vs. Nam Phan (16-9)
Karma came through when Garcia had his rematch with Chan Sung Jung after being gifted a decision win in their first encounter, and while I like to stay impartial, I’m kind of hoping it happens again this time around with Nam Phan.
Garcia is a featherweight Diego Sanchez; a guy who comes forward, swinging wildly, and ends up fooling the judges into thinking that means he’s winning. Yes, I’m still angry about the Sanchez-Kampmann decision.
No matter how badly you feel for Phan about the original Garcia loss, it really is do or die for the TUF 12 alum. He’s 4-7 over his last 11 fights, and another loss could be Cutsville.
If it’s half as entertaining as the first fight, it will be an excellent start to the pay-per-view.
Melvin Guillard (29-8-2) vs. Joe Lauzon (20-6)
With all due respect to the two gentlemen headlining this card, there may not be a scary lightweight in the world right now than Melvin Guillard.
He has looked phenomenal since hooking up with Greg Jackson, Mike Winkeljohn and the team in Albuquerque that it’s frightening. He’s harnessed the potential everyone saw in him early on, found a way to use his speed and power while remaining under control, and smashed his way to the brink of a title shot as a result.
This is another one of those fights for Lauzon where it’s time to put up or shut up. There is no denying that he’s a tough kid with a very good submission game, but he’s never been able to take that next step. He makes mid-card fighters and lower look bad, but the upper level guys always give him fits.
With the depth of the division, there is no time like the present to take that next step. A win over the surging Guillard would catapult him into contention, while a loss could leave him in the middle of the pack for good.
Chael Sonnen (25-11-1) vs. Brian Stann (11-3)
This is such a great fight.
On one hand, Sonnen returns and gets a tough match-up for his first fight in 15 months. On the other, Stann gets a chance to continue building on the success he’s already had this year and prove whether he’s ready to be a title contender.
It all comes down to wrestling. If Stann can stop the takedown and force Sonnen to stand, he has the advantage; he moves better and has far more power. If Sonnen puts him into the cage and onto the canvas, it will be a long night for the former Marine.
The winner gets Anderson Silva some time next year, too.
Jose Aldo (19-1) vs. Kenny Florian (15-5)
This is the fight Florian wanted and the reason he dropped to ’45 in the first place, so he better make the most of it. At 36-years-old, there aren’t too many more of these opportunities on the horizon for him. He looked good against Diego Nunes, and should be even better here, provided the weight cut doesn’t go as poorly as it did in Vancouver.
That being said, Aldo might be the toughest champion he’s faced yet. The other two (BJ Penn and Sean Sherk) were on the other side of 30; Aldo is 25, lightning quick, and has been a dominant force since entering the WEC three years ago.
Florian has to show that he can maintain control of Aldo along the cage or on the ground to win this fight, but getting a hold of him is a tall order. On the feet and in space, Aldo is too much for Florian to handle.
Frankie Edgar (13-1-1) vs. Gray Maynard (10-0-1)
Honestly, there isn’t much I can say about this fight other than I’m so excited that it’s finally here.
The last bout at UFC 125 remains the Fight of the Year for 2011, and if this is even remotely close to being as entertaining, we’ll be very, very lucky.
Both men need to build off the successes they had in the last fight.
Maynard needs to finish when he’s got the opportunity, use his size to live up to his nickname and bully Edgar around the cage, and regulate his gas tank a little better.
As for the champion, Edgar needs to stick to the stick-and-move flow, hitting takedowns when he can, and using his superior conditioning to make this a marathon, not a sprint.