MMA Analysis: UFC 131 Has Come and Gone; Now What?

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We had a great night of fights at UFC 131, but what does it all mean?  Is Florian really ready for a title shot?  Will JDS destroy Velasquez just as he destroyed Carwin?  Let’s break down the events of last night and see where everyone is headed.

Junior Dos Santos vs. Shane Carwin:

Everyone expected a bloodbath, and that’s exactly what we got here, as JDS dominated Carwin across three rounds.  While Carwin’s power was evident throughout the fight, the much more agile Dos Santos was able to nullify Carwin’s takedown game and stay outside his strikes to bloody the former interim champ. Some questions about Dos Santos’ ground game were answered, as he was able to stuff takedowns and quickly stand up against the fence several times.  Overall, it was a strong showing by both men, but JDS simply proved to be the superior striker of the two.

For Junior Dos Santos, he’s headed to a title fight, but I’m not nearly as optimistic as some for his chances.  While JDS has beaten all comers with his power punching and athleticism, he’s facing perhaps the most athletic heavyweight the world has ever seen in Cain Velasquez.  I think this title fight looks a lot like JDS vs. Carwin but with roles reversed, as Velasquez picks JDS apart from the outside. For Shane Carwin, I think he’s done himself a disservice by shedding muscle, as his game is based on power alone.  He’ll never be as fast as the lighter heavyweights and never as powerful at the larger ones at this point, putting him into an odd position inside the division. I think his fight with Einemo may come to fruition again, and should be one he can handle.

Kenny Florian vs. Diego Nunes:

The first UFC fighter to cross over 4 divisions, Kenny Florian made his Featherweight debut, and quickly dissolved all our concerns about the weight cut.  While Nunes was certainly a fierce competitor, he found himself hustled on the mat for most of the fight and unable to avoid Florian’s ground and pound.  While the stand-up exchanges were a bit better for Nunes, Florian’s reach proved to be a boon here, landing kicks from well outside and jabbing on Nunes when he came forward.

Florian made a believer out of me in his debut, but faces a tall task in a bout with Jose Aldo. While Florian will have a size advantage against the champion, Aldo brings a superior skill set and a great deal of speed and power, leaving Florian with few realistic outs to win. Unless Florian works a masterful takedown and ground and pound game plan, I don’t see him taking the strap from Aldo. As for Nunes, he handled himself well in his first main card performance and I think earned himself another high-profile fight.  A bout with Mac Danzig would make sense, provided he cares to go back to Featherweight, or perhaps giving him first crack at Hatsu Hioki once he officially signs.

Mark Munoz vs. Demian Maia:

Munoz vs. Sonnen??

The Middleweight division is getting to be a muddy one, but Munoz may have done enough here to warrant a title shot. If not, the obvious choice would be to fight Sonnen if he can make it back into the cage, or perhaps the winner of Leben vs. Silva.  For Maia, he’ll go back to the gym and refine his trade again, and may be seeing someone like Jorge Santiago or Tim Boetsch in his future.

Dave Herman vs. John Olav Einemo:

Fight of the night for sure here, as these two made their debut in spectacular fashion.  Herman is perhaps the best natural athlete at Heavyweight besides the champion, and showed this in agile kick attacks, takedown defense, and his rapid footwork around the cage. That didn’t stop Einemo from giving Herman fits with his reach and power shots, which had Herman on the retreat more than once. In the end, Herman’s clinch attacks and relentless attack put Einemo down against the cage and gave him his first UFC win.

Herman showed both great technique and poor habits in this fight. While his clinch and mat work is all sound, he clearly doesn’t train with anyone taller than himself, as he pulls his head straight back in exchanges. While a shorter man couldn’t take him to task for that, there are far too many giants stalking the HW division, and he’ll eventually pay for that defensive flaw. Even so, a fight with Joey Beltran would still be relevant, or perhaps Herman can test a few of the Strikeforce HW’s likely to make appearances in the near future.  For Einemo, he had a much better debut than I thought and could do some damage in this division.  A fight with Aaron Rosa or Jon Madsen would be a step in the right direction, and might allow him to showcase his suffocating BJJ attack.

Donald Cerrone vs. Vagner Rocha:

This was a fight I didn’t care to see on the main card, but that proved to be worth watching. Cerrone executed the perfect striker vs. grappler game plan, using chopping leg kicks and conservative long-range punching to keep outside of Rocha’s takedown range. While Rocha tried to get this to the mat on his terms, his grappling base proved to be weak against someone unwilling to play the game, leaving him throwing wild punches for the entire fight. While Cerrone had the end in sight a few times, he didn’t squeeze the trigger, instead opting for a decision win.

While Cerrone looked good offensively here, his defense has continued to suffer since working at the Tapout Ranch. Iron sharpens iron, and working with novice fighters (and Leonard Garcia) on a daily basis has bred a contemptuous kind of defense into his game. While Rocha or Danzig wouldn’t have been able to take him to task on it, his next opponent may. Both Cerrone vs. Pettis or Cerrone vs. Stout would make for a great fight, and one that might prove to be too much for Cerrone. For Rocha, the UFC will likely pit him against a newcomer or use him to boost someone on the roster they’re looking to keep long-term.

Sam Stout vs. Yves Edwards:

I didn’t expect this fight to end before the judges were involved, but apparently Sam Stout had a different perspective. The fight looked to be an active one, with Stout and Edward’s exchanging frequently, while Edwards looked to use a bit of wrestling to keep the scorecards in his favor. The judges would never have a say though, as a vicious counter left hook by Stout put Edwards out cold in the latter half of the first round. Stout has been a consistent fighter, but despite his moniker, rarely lands KO punches at this level of competition. Edwards looked sharp as well and simply failed to replace his guard during an exchange, but showed he’s still dangerous in the division.

Stout brutally KO'd Edwards

Stout finds himself in a tricky position, as he’s faced a great deal of the current Lightweight roster. A fight with Cerrone makes the most sense, but I would also love to see him face Dennis Siver if he makes it past Matt Wiman. For Edwards, a fight with a UFC newcomer is fitting, or perhaps a bout with the loser of Lentz vs. Oliveira.

Joey Beltran vs. Aaron Rosa:

A fight I had almost zero interest in turned out to be one of the best, as Beltran and Rosa fought a gritty battle. Rosa has never impressed me as a fighter, but managed to hold his own against Beltran with snappy punch combinations and a chin that matches Beltran’s own. Beltran proved to be a bit smarter in this fight while still throwing caution to the wind when it counts, keeping it a close fight into the third round. In the final round, Beltran found himself able to dirty box Rosa and put him into a bad position, driving his fist into Rosa’s unprotected jaw line and dropping him against the fence. While the fight certainly wasn’t pretty, both guys had a good showing, with Beltran’s time in the gym being evident in his cardio and improved kickboxing.

Beltran is a fun fighter to watch, but has a fairly low ceiling at heavyweight due to his medium size and lack of real bone-crushing power. With most of the kickboxing gurus tied up in the division, a fight with original opponent Dave Herman makes the most sense. For Rosa, I don’t see him going far in the UFC, so a fight with someone like Jon Madsen or maybe Mark Hunt would be competitive and likely eliminate one of them from the company payroll.

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