You’ll find plenty of articles about Anderson Silva and Vitor Belfort, but who are the guys that will be making their octagon debut at UFC 126? There are a lot of new fighters making their move from the WEC and elsewhere on the February 5th card. Get the breakdown on each of them here.
Despite never having fought in the UFC before, Miguel Torres will be on the main card because he is a top contender in the new bantamweight class that has been imported from the discontinued World Extreme Cagefighting. He has an impressive 38-3 record, and once ruled as WEC Bantamweight Champion. After losing that title to Brian Bowles, he then lost again to top contender Joseph Benavidez. In his final WEC fight, Torres managed to beat Charlie Valencia with a Submission of the Night performance, and now hopes to carry that momentum into his UFC debut.
Torres’ opponent, Antonio Banuelos, has had a couple of stints in the WEC, but has never had the consistency to make it to the title. He has alternated winning and losing decisions in his last few fights. He beat Kenji Osawa, only to lose a rematch with Scott Jorgenson, whom he had beaten just before the Osawa bout. He then closed out 2010 with a win over Chad George. If he can get past Miguel Torres, Banuelos may be able to finally pick up some momentum to carry him to the top ranks of his new organization.
Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone is probably one of the more well-known fighters among the WEC lightweights making the move to the UFC. He has 13 wins and three losses, and may be one of the most exciting fighters to never have a knockout victory: out of his last 10 fights, half have won Fight of the Night. He started off 2010 fighting for the WEC Lightweight title in a rematch with the man who previously beat him for the interim title, Ben Henderson. Cerrone lost that fight but came back with one of those Fight of the Night performances against Jamie Varner and a submission win over Chris Horodecki. His first fight in the octagon will be against UFC veteran Paul Kelly, and will be shown on Spike TV prior to the pay-per-view.
Chad “Money” Mendes is an undefeated featherweight from the WEC. He began his career by racking up a spotless record in Palace Fighting Championships, before making the move to the WEC last year where he won four more fights in a row. Decision victories against Cub Swanson and Javier Vasquez bring Mendes into the UFC with a 9-0 record, and if he wins his fight at UFC 126 don’t be surprised to see him fighting for the belt in 2011. This important match will also be featured on Spike TV prior to the main card.
MMA trivia buffs may call foul, because Michihiro Omigawa isn’t actually making his octagon debut: he had two UFC fights in 2007 and 2008. But since then he has returned to Japan, and may have been forgotten by many American fans. After things didn’t work out in the UFC lightweight division, Omigawa dropped to featherweight and began racking up wins in Sengoku and Dream. Now he returns for a more successful stint with the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Don’t be deceived by his 12-8-1 record; if Omigawa beats Mendes, he would be set to make a run at the championship this year.
Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto is a seasoned fighter from the Japanese MMA scene. His record is currently at 18-3, with most of his wins coming by knockout. His first handful of fights were for the Shooto organization, but he soon found himself fighting in mixed martial arts events on K-1 shows. He has been with that organization ever since, including the transition of its MMA division into the Dream promotion. After winning 14 fights in a row, including the K-1 Hero’s Middleweight Grand Prix in 2005, Yamamoto was given a first round bye when Dream put together a featherweight tournament. He ended up losing a close decision to Joe Warren, now Bellator’s Featherweight Champion, and then lost another decision afterward to Masanori Kanehara at K-1’s New Year’s Eve card in 2009. Moving down a weight class, he made his bantamweight debut in Dream last year with a knockout win over Federico Lopez. Yamamoto now gets a chance to showcase his skills in the octagon against Demetrious Johnson.
Who are you most excited to see fighting in the UFC for the first time?
Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson is another bantamweight fighter making the transition from the WEC. His record is 7-1, with his sole loss coming in his WEC debut last year against Brad Pickett. He turned things around, however, by winning a decision over Nick Pace and choking out Damacio Page, making him a top contender in the UFC’s new 135 lb. division.
Middleweight fighter Kenny Robertson will be facing Mike Pierce, a fighter who has fought in the UFC several times before. Robertson himself came up through local Midwest promotions, such as Indiana’s Cage Rage (not to be confused with the now defunct British promotion of the same name) and Corral’s Combat Classic. Nine wins in a row earned him a fight at Bellator 25, where he submitted John Kolosci in the second round. That victory got him an invitation to UFC 126, where he will hope to keep his 10-0 record spotless.