UFC 130 fight-by-fight preview
Initially expected to feature a lightweight title bout between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard, UFC 130 will now be headlined by a 205-pound encounter pitting former titleholder Quinton "Rampage" Jackson against Matt Hamill, along with a heavyweight contest between submission gurus Frank Mir and Roy Nelson.
Let's take a closer look at the full lineup set to invade the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday night:
Main bouts (on Pay-Per-View):
Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (31-8) vs. Matt Hamill (10-2)
With little to gain and everything to lose, Rampage must remain focused and motivated in order to overcome an unheralded opponent who can steal a pivotal victory with a strong game plan on Saturday night. Conversely, Hamill's stock in the UFC will instantaneously skyrocket if he can overcome the well-respected former light heavyweight champion.
Despite falling short of the main event that UFC matchmaker Joe Silva had initially envisioned, this 205-pound showdown is a compelling clash of styles that could have potential title implications.
Jackson, 32, has had an outstanding run competing for both the UFC and Pride, cementing his place in history along the way with key wins over Kevin Randleman, Chuck Liddell, Ricardo Arona, Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva, and, most recently, Lyoto Machida.
Judges have sealed Jackson's fate as of late, including his closely contested decision loss against Rashad Evans last year and highly controversial decision loss against Forrest Griffin, which cost him his title, though he did get the nod over Machida. The durable Memphis native was last stopped against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in April 2005, while putting up an impressive 9-2 run since that loss.
Often criticized for a lack of motivation, Jackson is among the most dangerous fighters when he is both mentally and physically prepared. The Wolfslair Academy product is credited with having the most memorable slams in the game, along with a strong wrestling base, while leaving behind a trail of knockout victims with his sharp boxing and overwhelming power.
For Jackson, this is a step down in competition. After all, Machida was his last opponent. Having competed in the spotlight for years and already experienced his taste of glory, he cannot afford to take this fight lightly.
Hamill, 34, is an inspirational athlete as he was born deaf and has not shied away from an elite level of competition throughout his entire career. The three-time NCAA Division III national champion found his home in the octagon, where recent triumphs over Mark Munoz, Keith Jardine and Tito Ortiz have silenced his remaining critics.
"The Hammer" excels on the mat when he relies on wrestling to control his opponents. However, he has often resorted to brawling, which could be a fatal blueprint against Jackson. When Hamill elected to go toe-to-toe with Rich Franklin in their 2008 bout, he was picked apart and ultimately broken down in the third round.
The outcome of this fight will depend on Jackson's condition and Hamill's strategy.
If Rampage is not prepared for three grueling rounds, he will be pressured and worn down as the fight progresses. However, Hamill will fall if he engages in a slugfest with the crafty veteran.
Rampage has been crushing opponents for over a decade and the possibility of a fight against champion Jon Jones has fans salivating. In the final years of his storied career, his time is now or never.
Hamill is a durable opponent with great potential, but he may simply find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time against a mentally focused Rampage.
Verdict: Jackson via unanimous decision
Frank Mir (14-5) vs. Roy Nelson (15-5)
In an evenly matched heavyweight battle, BJJ black belts and heavy-handed strikers will collide. Neither man can afford another setback in a matchup that could determine where they stand in the talent-rich heavyweight pool as a former champion and a hungry contender hope to get closer to a crack at the coveted UFC heavyweight title held by Cain Velasquez.
Mir, 32, has been competing professionally since 2001, winning the UFC heavyweight title for the first time when he submitted Tim Sylvia at UFC 48 in 2004, which is also when he was awarded with a BJJ black belt from Ricardo Pires.
The Las Vegas native Mir has enjoyed a long career in the UFC, where his highlights have included a 46-second submission of David "Tank" Abbott, a first-round submission of Brock Lesnar in the former pro wrestler's UFC debut and a stunning knockout of legendary Pride star Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
Even Mir's last performance, which earned him more criticism than praise, ended with an unexpected third-round knockout win over Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic.
The southpaw Mir is a sensational grappler, who mixes his BJJ prowess with dramatically improved kickboxing and wrestling.
Mir would like nothing more than to avenge his losses against Lesnar and Shane Carwin, and of course a shot at the kingpin Velasquez, but Nelson has his own aspirations of divisional dominance.
Nelson, 34, has a unique physique unlike any other fighter in the UFC, or any other professional athlete for that matter. Judging from his massive gut, the deceptive veteran hardly fits the blueprint of your stereotypical mixed martial artist.
However, the Renzo Gracie BJJ black belt has impressed the MMA community with a well-rounded game that includes slick submissions, crushing knockout power, along with unsurpassed toughness and durability.
Despite coming off a loss to Junior dos Santos last August, Nelson gained respect for surviving three rounds of everything the Brazilian was able to dish out.
Prior to that fight, Nelson knocked out Stefan Struve and Brendan Schaub, which won him the tenth installment of "The Ultimate Fighter."
The former IFL heavyweight champion excels in similar areas as Mir, which makes this a tough fight to call. However, Mir is a more tactical striker who relies on technique as opposed to a big knockout shot. If Mir can keep his distance and effectively utilize his kicks, he should outpoint Nelson in a hard-fought three-round affair.
Verdict: Mir via unanimous decision
Stefan Struve (21-4) vs. Travis Browne (10-0-1)
In a clash of top heavyweight prospects, the 6-foot-11 "Skyscraper" looks to improve his winning streak to three against the unbeaten powerhouse Browne.
At only 23 years old, Struve has a promising future in the UFC's heavyweight division. As he continues to grow into his massive frame, the Team Schreiber member will become an increasingly prominent threat as he already possesses a sound kickboxing base and a crafty ground game.
With youth on his side, Struve can also benefit from experience as he already has 25 professional fights under his belt.
On the other hand, the 29-year-old Browne has fought only 11 times and he is coming off a draw against Cheick Kongo last October. A BJJ purple belt, the heavy-handed Hawaiian has knocked out eight opponents and he will be gunning for a similar outcome against the lanky Dutchman.
Anchored at Alliance MMA, Browne trains with the likes of Dominick Cruz, Phil Davis and Brandon Vera. Meanwhile, Struve has continued to polish his striking overseas with the likes of K-1 standout Daniel Ghita and Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem.
Technically, Struve is a superior striker. However, Browne's track record is indicative of the power he packs in every punch, which is likely his key to emerging triumphant on Saturday night.
Verdict: Browne via KO, Round 2
Thiago Alves (18-7) vs. Rick Story (12-3)
This welterweight tilt is particularly intriguing because the fast-rising prospect Story challenged the former No. 1 contender Alves with the intention of making a firm statement that he belongs in the title mix.
Alves, 27, rebounded from back-to-back losses against Georges St. Pierre and Jon Fitch with a dominant unanimous decision win over John Howard this past December.
Both a BJJ black belt and a Muay Thai specialist, Alves came out of 2008 as the fighter of the year, according to multiple media outlets. Many observers thought his style would be the biggest threat to St. Pierre's supremacy after he recorded victories over Karo Parisyan, Matt Hughes and Josh Koscheck.
However, Alves' takedown defense was exposed in his losses against St. Pierre and Jon Fitch, something he will need to continually work on in order to re-establish himself as a viable title contender.
Story, 26, is an outstanding collegiate wrestler with powerful hands, who is riding a five-fight winning streak. The Brave Legion pupil has defeated the likes of Johny Hendricks, Dustin Hazelett, Brian Foster and Jake Ellenberger since turning pro in November 2007.
The southpaw was particularly impressive in his most recent outing against Hendricks, as he surprisingly outwrestled the four-time NCAA Division I All-American.
Story's strength appears to be Alves' weakness, which could produce a major upset. If Alves can keep his separation and tactically pick his shots, Story will be outmatched. Conversely, Story can steal a win if he maintains a relentless pace and repeatedly puts the Brazilian on his back.
With St. Pierre cleaning out virtually every top dog in the welterweight division, the door is open for a new challenger to step up against the strong-willed champion. If he can vanquish a former title challenger and established veteran the caliber of "The Pitbull," Story could wind up challenging for the title by mid-2012.
Verdict: Story via unanimous decision
Brian Stann (10-3) vs. Jorge Santiago (23-8)
Five years since he last stepped foot in the octagon, the 2007 Strikeforce grand prix winner and last-reigning Sengoku middleweight champion Santiago makes his long awaited UFC return against the hard-hitting American military hero Stann.
Stann, 30, captured the WEC light heavyweight title in 2008 while still actively serving for the U.S. military overseas. Stann was moved over to the UFC roster after the WEC dissolved its 205-pound division.
The Greg Jackson-trained banger went 2-2 before wisely opting to drop to 185 pounds, where he has since assembled a two-fight winning streak, including an emphatic first-round stoppage of Chris Leben this past January.
Stann's stand-up game is his primary strength, though he has emphasized his commitment to improve in all areas, including wrestling and submissions.
Since his back-to-back knockout losses at the hands of Chris Leben and Alan Belcher in 2006, the 30-year-old Brazilian Santiago has taken over the international middleweight scene with two marquee fifth-round stoppages of Kazuo Misaki in Japan.
Santiago is now widely considered a top 10 middleweight with a lot of hype surrounding him leading into this fight. A BJJ black belt, Santiago is also well-versed in the striking arts. He recently left American Top Teamís head academy to join Imperial Athletics along with Rashad Evans, Antonio Silva, Marcus Aurelio and other former teammates.
Santiago's improvements since his first foray in the UFC are significant, though he still tends to engage in firefights, which led to a first-round TKO loss against Mamed Khalidov in November 2009, a setback that he has since avenged.
Stann resembles a brand new fighter since his drop to middleweight and he will undoubtedly be a stiff test for the Brazilian in his promotional return. Santiago has all the tools to be successful in the UFC, but he may be in for a rude awakening when Stann's furious fists meet his questionable chin.
Verdict: Stann via KO, Round 1
Preliminary bouts (Spike TV):
Miguel Torres (39-3) vs. Demetrious Johnson (20-5)
In a bantamweight meeting between two top contenders, Torres and Johnson could earn a shot at the winner of the upcoming title bout between Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber at UFC 132.
Torres, 30, has become a strategic fighter since joining Zahabi MMA in Montreal and being taken under the wing of Georges St. Pierre's head coach Firas Zahabi.
The career shift couldn't have come at a better time for the former WEC bantamweight king, as he rebounded from losses against Brian Bowles and Joseph Benavidez with successive wins over Charlie Valencia and Antonio Banuelos.
The Mexican-American has shown improved patience and striking, which were elements the Carlson Gracie BJJ black belt needed to refine in order to round out his game.
Johnson, 24, lost his WEC debut against Brad Pickett in April 2010 before compiling three straight wins, including a submission of Damacio Page and a decision over Japanese superstar Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto. While his frame is probably better suited for 125 pounds, Johnson has put the bantamweight class on notice with his lightning quick speed, unrelenting takedowns and submission skills.
Based out of AMC Pankration in Washington, the high school wrestling standout is coming into his own as a fighter at a young age and he will likely become a fixture in the UFC for years to come.
Torres will be Johnson's toughest test thus far, but "Mighty Mouse" has the wrestling pedigree to frustrate the former champ. If he can stay clear of Torres' submission wizardry while outmuscling him in the clinch, he will likely earn the nod on judges' cards.
Verdict: Johnson via unanimous decision
Tim Boetsch (12-4) vs. Kendall Grove (12-8)
After going 3-3 in the UFC's light heavyweight division, Boetsch is dropping to middleweight to battle the Hawaiian submission specialist Grove.
Boetsch, 30, is a well-rounded fighter who does not stand out in any one particular area. But his wrestling base and knockout power are his strongest suits, which could make him susceptible to Grove's ground game.
Grove, 28, needs to rebound from a lackluster unanimous decision loss to Demian Maia this past December to prove he can still be relevant in the UFC.
His chin been his downfall in the past and it could fail him again on Saturday night. However, Grove's long limbs give him an advantage off his back, something Jake Rosholt found out the hard way when he succumbed to a triangle choke in less than four minutes back in November 2009.
If Grove can avoid a reckless exchange with Boetsch on his feet, he has the tools to submit him once the fight spills to the floor.
Verdict: Grove via Submission, Round 3
Preliminary bouts (Facebook):
Rafaello Oliveira (14-3) vs. Gleison Tibau (22-7)
Returning to the UFC as a short notice replacement for Bart Palaszewski, the 29-year-old BJJ black belt Oliveira has the unenviable task of trying to derail a fellow submission ace in a clash of Brazilian lightweights. The 27-year-old Tibau has really come into his own, mixing powerful slams into his MMA game. Unless Oliveira can secure a submission off his back, he will likely be on the receiving end of three rounds of punishment courtesy of the American Top Team prodigy.
Verdict: Tibau via unanimous decision
Michael McDonald (12-1) vs. Chris Cariaso (11-2)
The 20-year-old McDonald is a future star of the bantamweight division. Though Cariaso may be 10 years his elder, he will have a difficult time coping with McDonald's dynamic kickboxing and dangerous submissions. If McDonald can dictate the pace, he should outpoint Cariaso over three rounds.
Verdict: McDonald via unanimous decision
Renan Barao (25-1) vs. Cole Escovedo (17-6)
Five years since he held the WEC featherweight championship, Escovedo is readying to make his UFC debut as a bantamweight when he challenges the Brazilian wrecking machine Barao, who has not tasted defeat since a split decision loss in his professional debut back in 2005. Escovedo, who has eight submission wins via triangle choke, has recently come into his own competing on smaller regional shows, as well as the Japanese circuit. However, the Nova Uniao product Barao has been steamrolling through his opponents and he will be gunning for a knockout when he kicks off Saturday's preliminary card.
Verdict: Barao via KO, Round 1