Dos Santos and Carwin highlight UFC 131

Special to FOX Sports THE FIGHT NETWORK, Ariel Shnerer
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The Ultimate Fighting Championship is back at the Rogers Arena in Vancouver, Canada, as UFC 131 is set for Saturday night, an event highlighted by a heavyweight collision between top contenders Junior Dos Santos and Shane Carwin.

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The original buildup for this pay-per-view event surrounded the return of Brock Lesnar, who initially was scheduled to square off against Dos Santos before he was forced to withdraw after re-contracting diverticulitis, a digestive disorder. Carwin, however, is an equally credible opponent with his sights set on redemption and champion Cain Velasquez. Stylistically, this pairing is guaranteed to produce a fan-friendly experience.

Here's a closer look at the marquee bouts shaping UFC 131.

Main Card (On pay-per-view)

Junior Dos Santos (12-1) vs. Shane Carwin (12-1)

Two monsters with identical records top the bill at UFC 131 as Brazilian knockout artist Dos Santos clashes with American powerhouse Carwin in a heavyweight title eliminator.

Dos Santos, 26, is unbeaten in six octagon appearances. The BJJ brown belt immediately put the division on notice when he knocked out Fabricio Werdum, the conquerer of Fedor Emelianenko, in his promotional debut at UFC 90 in October 2008. Dos Santos went on to record emphatic stoppages over Stefan Struve, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Gilbert Yvel and Gabriel Gonzaga before earning a hard-fought decision win over Roy Nelson last August.

Anchored at Black House, where he's trained with MMA royalty Anderson Silva and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, the hard-hitting Brazilian has honed his skills and developed a well-rounded arsenal. Dos Santos is widely considered the most technically gifted boxer in the heavyweight division.

Carwin, 36, will be looking to rebound from his first professional loss — a second-round submission setback against Lesnar at UFC 116 in July 2010. Despite being 10 years Dos Santos' elder, Carwin has only 13 pro bouts under his belt. The gargantuan former NCAA Division II national wrestling champion has put his career as an engineer on hold to make a legitimate run at the title. Wins over Gonzaga and Frank Mir have cemented his place among the division's elite, but he has a tall order ahead of him Saturday night.

A pupil of master strategist Greg Jackson and boxing coach Trevor Wittman, Carwin had developed his ground game and earned a BJJ purple belt. His primary weakness, however, is his gas tank. Carwin was exhausted and eventually trounced the only time he ever got out of the first round, which raises some serious questions about his conditioning, or lack thereof.

Carwin, who possesses a slightly longer reach, has made no secret of his game plan to revert to his wrestling base and take Dos Santos down. We've yet to see the Brazilian fight off his back, which is likely where he'll be most vulnerable. Carwin also has devastating power in his hands. If he can close the distance and land anything significant, one good punch could lead to the end of the fight.

Conversely, Dos Santos is crisper on his feet and much sharper with his technique. If he can use his footwork and pick his shots carefully, Carwin could be worn down and eventually knocked out. The American powerhouse must have vastly improved conditioning if he hopes to emerge triumphant over the hungry Brazilian.

Carwin already had his shot at the title and failed, while Dos Santos is eager for that opportunity. As long as he can keep the fight standing, he should have an edge over Carwin, who was rocked momentarily in his fight with Gonzaga in March 2010. Dos Santos' blend of speed, fitness and boxing superiority will lead him on a path to victory.

Verdict: Dos Santos via KO, Round 2

Kenny Florian (13-5) vs. Diego Nunes (16-1)

In an intriguing featherweight encounter, Florian makes his 145-pound debut against Brazilian up-and-comer Nunes.

Florian, 35, started his UFC journey in the middleweight division, shedding pounds along the way as he competed in lighter and more physically-fit weight divisions. After two unsuccessful cracks at the UFC lightweight title, he may have found a new home.

Despite coming up short against Diego Sanchez, Sean Sherk, B.J. Penn and Gray Maynard, Florian has been a viable force in the UFC since 2005. The BJJ black belt owns submission wins over Takanori Gomi, Clay Guida, Joe Stevenson and Sam Stout, which makes him a marquee addition to the featherweight class.

Since leaving former coach Mark DellaGrotte to join Firas Zahabi's Tristar Gym in Montreal, the southpaw Florian has had an opportunity to train with world-class wrestlers while embracing new coaching methods.

Known for his ferocious elbows, effective jab and evolved ground game, Florian's wrestling was his Achilles' heel when he dropped a decision to Maynard last August. That weakness likely has been his primary area of focus since then, and it could be a useful asset if Nunes is able to punish him with his dangerous Muay Thai arsenal.

Florian was actually in talks to fight UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo in a lightweight bout last year, but Aldo reportedly turned down the matchup to remain at 145 pounds. Florian still has his eyes set on the Brazilian titleholder, but he must first vanquish his teammate Nunes, a bona fide threat in his own right.

Nunes, 28, is on a three-fight winning tear, which includes a decision win over former champion Mike Thomas Brown at UFC 125 in January. The Nova Uniao prodigy has utilized flashy kicks to punish his opposition, while also being equally capable of holding his own on the mat.

Hardly a stepping stone or showcase matchup for Florian, the Brazilian has flown under the radar for much of his career and possesses all the tools to spoil the Boston native's featherweight debut. However, Florian has had the benefit of spending several years competing against the best fighters in the world.

Florian's experience, strategy and size are his primary assets and keys to victory, but Nunes isn't an adversary he can afford to take lightly.

Verdict: Florian via split decision

Jon Olav Einemo (7-1) vs. Dave Herman (20-2)

This heavyweight battle features two UFC newcomers aiming to make a statement as they enter the world-famous octagon for the first time.

Many people were surprised when the UFC announced the signing of Einemo, a BJJ black belt and former winner of the prestigious Abu Dhabi Combat Club, primarily because his last MMA bout took place in November 2006.

The 35-year-old Norwegian competed briefly for Shooto and Pride in Japan, where his lone defeat was a unanimous decision against Fabricio Werdum. Einemo's biggest successes have come on the submission grappling mats, where he holds the accolade of being the only man to beat Roger Gracie. Ring rust and conditioning will be the major question marks surrounding the submission virtuoso's return to active competition.

Meanwhile, the 26-year-old Herman already has amassed 22 professional bouts, including wins over Yoshihiro Nakao, Michal Kita and Jim York.

Herman has stopped nearly all his opponents in the first round, but his cardio cost him his fight against Choi Mu Bae at a Sengoku event in January 2009.

This fight is an old-school clash of styles. Einemo will be shooting for takedowns as he looks to pull off a submission, while Herman will be sprawling and gunning for a knockout.

The edge must go to Herman largely because of Einemo's prolonged inactivity. Every fight starts standing, which is where the Team Quest product will do his biggest damage.

Verdict: Herman via TKO, Round 1

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

This compelling middleweight showdown will establish one of these fighters as a legitimate top-10 contender.

Maia, 33, already had his chance at dethroning champion Anderson Silva and was unsuccessful, losing an uninspired unanimous decision. The loss was only the second of his career, but he rebounded with successive decisions over Mario Miranda and Kendall Grove.

When Maia first burst into the UFC, he was submitting foes virtually every time he entered the cage. Since Nate Marquardt knocked him out in just 21 seconds, Maia hasn't been finishing fights nor winning in impressive fashion. But Maia's boxing has improved considerably as a southpaw, which is a nice compliment to the BJJ black belt's revered submission prowess.

Munoz, 33, is on a two-fight winning streak of his own since a decision loss to upcoming title challenger Yushin Okami.

Munoz has received widespread praise for his work as a trainer at Reign MMA in California, where his students include Jason Miller, Renato Sobral, Fabricio Werdum and Wanderlei Silva, but the spotlight now will be on him.

The former NCAA Division II national wrestling champion recently knocked out C.B. Dollaway, clear evidence of his improving stand-up skills.

“The Filipino Wrecking Machine” will look to dictate the pace and use his wrestling base to take this fight wherever he feels safest. But Munoz is not the best striker himself, and he could be in danger of being submitted if he ends up in Maia's guard.

These two likely will engage in a grinding 15-minute affair. If Munoz turns this fight into a clinch-fest while inflicting damage on the Brazilian, he should get the nod. If Maia can secure dominant positions on the mat and find a home for his jab, he'll be the victor.

Verdict: Maia via split decision

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

UFC 130 photos

Miss any part of UFC 130? We've got the best shots from the event right here.

After a successful UFC debut in February, Cerrone looks to make it two in a row against submission specialist Rocha, who is making his debut.

Cerrone, 28, challenged for the WEC lightweight title three times during his run in the now-defunct promotion, but he never captured the title. Riding a three-fight winning streak over Jamie Varner, Chris Horodecki and Paul Kelly, Cerrone wants to prove he belongs in the deep mix of UFC lightweight title contenders.

A student of Greg Jackson in New Mexico, Cerrone possesses dangerous kickboxing skills and a crafty ground game. Rarely involved in a dull fight, Cerrone seems equally content grappling on the mat as he is engaging in a brawl.

Rocha, 29, may not have the record or experience to justify his main-card spot, but his BJJ credentials are undeniable. The black belt under Pablo Popovitch will be desperate to get this fight down to the mat, where he'll dig deep into his bag of tricks.

Cerrone may be too stiff a test for the UFC first timer in his first appearance on the big stage. The Colorado native trains with excellent wrestlers, and he'll use his sprawl, submission defense and strikes to overwhelm Rocha en route to a convincing decision.

Verdict: Cerrone via unanimous decision

Preliminary Bouts (On Spike TV):

Sam Stout (16-6-1) vs. Yves Edwards (40-16-1)

In a possible candidate for fight of the night, these entertaining lightweights surely will put on a showcase for the Vancouver crowd.

Stout, a 27-year-old Canadian, is coming off a decision win over Paul Kelly in October. A longtime protégé of Shawn Tompkins, Stout has won bonuses in five UFC fights as he always treats fans to a display of dynamic kickboxing.

The Bahamian Edwards, 34, is coming off back-to-back UFC wins over John Gunderson and Cody McKenzie. The American Top Team member finally has some momentum back after his career plummeted in 2006 shortly after he was submitted by Stout's training partner and good friend Mark Hominick.

Edwards is a well-travelled veteran with experience competing all over the globe. His best years may be behind him, however, while Stout continues to develop as a fighter. The fan favorite will use his quickness, precision and unpredictability to wear down Edwards en route to a decisive victory.

Verdict: Stout via unanimous decision

Jesse Bongfeldt (21-7-1) vs. Chris Weidman (5-0)

In sophomore UFC efforts for these middleweight combatants, Bongfeldt and Weidman have an opportunity to leave a lasting impression on the Spike TV prelims.

The 31-year-old Bongfeldt has spent his entire career fighting on regional shows. The UFC marks a significant step up in competition for the Canadian judoka, who fought Rafael Natal to a draw at UFC 124 in December.

The 26-year-old Weidman is a two-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler, which has positioned him as one of the most highly regarded prospects in the middleweight class. Fresh off a decision win over Alessio Sakara in his UFC debut, the unbeaten Serra-Longo Fight Team member has a bright future ahead of him.

Weidman's wrestling pedigree will allow him to control the fight from beginning to end. Whether Weidman can finish remains to be seen, but he has the ability to negate any effective offense from the Canadian as he reverts to takedowns, top control and ground-and-pound.

Verdict: Weidman via unanimous decision

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