Although many considered UFC 131 to be a fairly lackluster card due to the debuts of three fighters on the main card, it still featured several big contender matchups in the Featherweight, Middleweight and Heavyweight divisions.
Chris Weidman, Sam Stout, Donald Cerrone, Dave Herman, Mark Munoz, Kenny Florian and Junior dos Santos all walked away with big wins on Saturday night. All of them significantly raised their stock, and a few of them may now be in line for title shots.
With his win via standing guillotine choke over Jesse Bongfeldt in yet another impressive short-notice performance, Chris Weidman is now 2-0 in the UFC.
In his two wins, one of them over veteran Alessio Sakara, Weidman has shown great wrestling, jiu-jitsu and decent striking. At 26 years old, the UFC has time to build him up slowly, which it should do, given his potential in the Middleweight division.
Tim Boetsch is being mentioned as a possible matchup in his next fight over at Bloody Elbow, but I think that's a bit too big of a jump in difficulty considering Boetsch's dismantling of Kendall Grove. Weidman has only had six professional fights total and needs more time against slightly lower-level opponents. Perhaps a fight with recent winner Ed Herman is in order.
Either way, Weidman has the potential for a long and fruitful MMA career and needs to be given the opportunity to progress a la Ryan Bader and Jon Jones.
With a big knockout win over MMA veteran Yves Edwards, Sam Stout is finally showing some consistency, going 4-1 in his last five bouts with his only loss coming via split decision to Jeremy Stephens.
Sam Stout is only 27, despite his 11 fights with the UFC, and may finally be showing signs of a step up in competition. Fortunately, there are several great lightweight matchups taking place at UFC 132 including Dennis Siver vs. Matt Wiman, Melvin Guillard vs. Shane Roller, George Sotiropoulos vs. Rafael dos Anjos and Anthony Njokuani vs. Andre Winner.
A fight with Siver, Winner or Guillard could make for a great striking war, although we'll have to see how difficult the UFC wishes to make Stout's next opponent. A fight with another constant Fight of the Night award winner in Donald Cerrone could also be highly entertaining.
As previously mentioned, a matchup between Donald Cerrone and Sam Stout would likely be incredibly fun to watch and a possible Fight of the Year candidate. While Cerrone looked very much in control in his win over Vagner Rocha, not finishing the fight may have hurt him, especially against a severely outclassed opponent.
Either way, Cerrone is in a similar boat to Stout, although his stock is slightly higher given that the only person he's lost to in his last eight fights is Ben Henderson.
Again, there are several great matchups to make following UFC 132, but personally, I like a bout with either George Sotiropoulos because it'd be an amazing grappling display or Melvin Guillard because it'd be a stand-up war. I'm happy with either one.
Dave Herman managed to finish Jon Olav Einemo, as both made their Octagon debuts at UFC 131. His second-round TKO was the culmination of eight minutes and 19 seconds worth of sloppy, if not fun, brawling.
Herman showed questionable conditioning against a questionable opponent in Einemo. There's not much that can be determined by his win, except that he is now 21-2 with his last loss coming via disqualification.
Herman is a 26-year-old Heavyweight, which is a commodity at this time. There aren't too many young Heavyweights with that much potential, and at 6'5" in with 233 pounds of pure muscle, he truly belongs in that weight class.
He'll probably need another win against a no-name opponent before jumping into the top 25 to face a Stefan Struve, Mike Russow or Gabriel Gonzaga. It's mildly depressing that Gonzaga, a former No. 1 contender, is listed as a potential opponent here.
Now begin the real winners of UFC 131. Mark Munoz's win over former No. 1 contender Demian Maia was a hard-fought, close decision but still propels the "Filipino Wrecking Machine" into the title picture.
With his only loss at Middleweight coming at the hands of perennial contender Yushin Okami, Munoz has slowly build his stock, going 6-1 in the division.
I'd like to see him fight the winner of Michael Bisping and Jason Miller, but that's going to be a long time in the future because of the next season of The Ultimate Fighter. More realistically, a matchup with Brian Stann would make sense.
The man with the greatest nickname in MMA, Kenny "Ken-Flo" Florian, won a hard-fought battle with up-and-coming Diego Nunes at UFC 131. Many picked Florian to pick apart the young Brazilian in his Featherweight debut, but losing the first round made many realize that "Ken-Flo" was in a fight.
Florian is pretty much guaranteed a title shot against Jose Aldo following his win, but I don't necessarily think his performance warrants it. Maybe it was because it was his first time dropping to 145, but it didn't look like the same "Ken-Flo" that took out Takanori Gomi, Clay Guida, Joe Stevenson, Joe Lauzon and Roger Huerta.
I know Florian isn't getting any younger and a title shot would make sense sooner rather than later, but a fight with Chad Mendes would build him as a more legitimate No. 1 contender.
The biggest win and most impressive performance of the night was at UFC 131 was by Junior dos Santos. The big Brazilian nearly finished Shane Carwin in the first round but instead battered him for 15 minutes.
His boxing, stamina, speed, clinch and wrestling were all on display, outstriking Carwin 104-22 and going 2-2 in his takedown attempts, according to FightMetric.
Next for Junior dos Santos is obviously a matchup with Heavyweight titleholder Cain Velasquez, set for UFC 136 on October 8, 2011. Due to his most recent fight, dos Santos is opening up as a slight favorite in the betting lines.
Picking a winner between the two seems pretty much impossible, seeing as how both have dominated every fight they've been in. The only thing that may have showed a slight chink the in the armor of Velasquez was his performance against Cheick Kongo, where he was dropped several times. However, he's evolved so much since then that it is hardly indicative of his current striking ability.