All 24 fighters expected at The Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada for UFC 131 have hit their contracted weights for Saturday’s Octagon action. Here are five things to watch for come fight night—one for every finger in the fist.
1) Can Junior dos Santos maintain No. 1 contender status versus a trimmed-down Shane Carwin?
Junior dos Santos likes to stay busy. It’s why he accepted a fight after being granted a title shot while UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez healed an injured shoulder. He’ll need to stay busy to neutralize the power of Grudge Training Center product and former interim champion Shane Carwin, who returns from an 11-month layoff as an injury replacement for the last man to defeat him, former UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar.
Of their combined 11 Octagon appearances, the judges have only been called upon once—these heavyweights are power-punching finishers.
The once-beaten Brazilian aims to keep his title shot with his active and accurate hard-hitting boxing style. Carwin, weighing 254 pounds to dos Santos’ 239, is 25 pounds lighter and eager to subvert dos Santos’ aspirations for gold with his boxer-wrestler base.
The winner meets Velasquez in “four to five months” UFC President Dana White revealed at Wednesday’s pre-fight press conference. Dos Santos holding his place in the bid to challenge Velasquez first would create a title fight between two fighters undefeated in the Octagon and on seven-fight win streaks. It’s an excellent fight, so Shane Carwin’s performance must leave no doubt he’s the better option.
Dos Santos’ speed and cage time—roughly 30-minutes to Carwin’s eight—should be the definitive factor against a hungry opponent. The power Shane Carwin wields in his XXXXXL fists can never be counted out though, especially if they are infused with cardio that can stand up to “Cigano” body punches for 15 minutes.
2) Six years later and 40 pounds lighter, is Kenny Florian going to be a No. 1?
In the co-main event, two-time lightweight title challenger Kenny Florian debuts at 145 pounds versus Nova Uniao’s Diego “The Gun” Nunes. Entering the division where Jose Aldo reigns at 35 years old is a hard sell for new life for “Kenflo.” A runner-up at middleweight on inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter, Florian attempts to shake the runner-up tag that has followed him down four weight classes despite finishing 10-of-11 opponents in his UFC victories.
A composed, well-rounded and dangerous opponent like Nunes, who has only tasted defeat once in his seven-year, 17-fight career, will correctly gauge if Florian’s six years in the spotlight should get him a veteran pass past rising star Chad Mendes. The undefeated Team Alpha Male representative opted to face Rani Yahya after Jose Aldo was not immediately ready for action in August.
3) Is Mark Munoz ready for middleweight contender status this time?
Current UFC No. 1 middleweight contender Yushin Okami stuffed Mark Munoz’s takedowns last August en route to a split decision win. Munoz was an NCAA national champion wrestler from Oklahoma State University, nine years removed from that title win and three years into the sport that dubbed him “The Filipino Wrecking Machine.” The performance proved he wasn’t ready for the upper echelon of the division yet.
Munoz improved his overall game as a result of the loss, picking up wins against teammates Aaron Simpson and C.B. Dolloway. Meeting former 185-pound title challenger Demian Maia, a competent boxer and ADCC Champion, the 33-year-old Munoz has a stern style clash ahead of him in the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace.
The winners of Munoz-Maia, Michael Bisping-Jason Miller and Wanderlei Silva-Chris Leben will be in the middleweight title mix along with Brian Stann. The advantage Munoz enjoys over Maia is he’s a fresh contender in division. Maia requires a long and rigorous road back to another shot at the belt, so notches like Munoz are a must. It’s a toss-up bout pitting two-fight win streaks against each other that should find the winner in at least one more competitive contender match before a shot at gold is a reality.
4) How are those Octagon jitters?
John Olav Einemo and Dave Herman are heavyweights to watch in their first Octagon appearance for entirely different reasons. Herman is an Indiana brawler that has self-trained for the majority of his career and still managed to score 19-of-20 finishes in victory, while the Norwegian is an ADCC Champion grappler who works his MMA game at Golden Glory. His last fight was a month before Herman’s pro debut back in 2006.
Lightweight adds another ADCC Champion to the card as Vagner Roacha attempts to capitalize on perennial 155-pound contender Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone’s popularity by putting on a show on late notice in his promotional debut.
In preliminary action, another heavyweight newcomer arrives when Strikeforce veteran Aaron Rosa makes his promotional debut versus Alliance MMA’s resident tough guy heavyweight Joey Beltran.
Middleweight action asks if Serra-Longo prospect Chris Weidman’s gutsy two-time All-American wrestling and jiu-jitsu purple belt blend that overcame Alessio Sakara in his promotional debut in March can do the same against another seasoned opponent, Jesse Bongfeldt, in front of the Canadian’s fellow countrymen.
5) How Will Japan Carry On?
Michihiro Omigawa came up short against Chad Mendes in his first go in the Octagon at 145-pounds at UFC in February. The Yoshida Dojo judoka is the first Japanese fighter to compete in the UFC since the tragic March 11 tsunami and earthquake devastated the Land of the Rising Sun when he meets another lightweight-turned-featherweight in Darren Elkins.
Omigawa remains top 10 in the division. His reputation for hard-fought performances will carry on Japanese MMA regardless of outcomes as Elkins aims to break into the ranks by upsetting the Sengoku veteran. With Zuffa contracting most of Japan’s top talent outside of Hatsu Hioki, MMA’s future in the country rests partially on how its UFC competitors perform abroad until the UFC returns to Japan.
UFC 131 “Dos Santos vs. Carwin”
Saturday, June 11
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
UFC 131 Main Card (Pay-Per-View):
Junior dos Santos (239) vs. Shane Carwin (254)
Kenny Florian (146) vs. Diego Nunes (145)
Jon Olav Einemo (261) vs. Dave Herman (233)
Demian Maia (186) vs. Mark Munoz (186)
Donald Cerrone (155) vs. Vagner Rocha (155)
Preliminary Bouts (on Spike TV):
Yves Edwards (155) vs. Sam Stout (155)
Chris Weidman (186) vs. Jesse Bongfeldt (185)
Preliminary Bouts (streaming on Facebook and YouTube):
Dustin Poirier (146) vs. Jason Young (145)
Nick Ring (185) vs. James Head (186)
Darren Elkins (145) vs. Michihiro Omigawa (145)
Krzysztof Soszynski (205) vs. Mike Massenzio (201)
Aaron Rosa (261) vs. Joey Beltran (247)
Danny Acosta is the lead writer at FIGHT! Magazine. Follow him on twitter.com/acostaislegend