Chad Mendes (top) | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Six bouts -- four of them at lightweight or below -- fill out the dark portion of UFC 126 “Silva vs. Belfort” on Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
Perhaps it signals a sea change in which the promotion offers its slots and focuses its efforts on building stars at 135, 145 and 155 pounds. Among those included on the UFC 126 lineup are the world-ranked Michihiro Omigawa, Japanese superstar Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto and former World Extreme Cagefighting stalwarts Donald Cerrone, Chad Mendes and Demetrious Johnson.
Here is a closer look at the matches, previews and picks.
Michihiro Omigawa (No. 4 FW) vs. Chad Mendes
The matchup: If the UFC’s featherweight division were a corporation, it would be in “re-org” mode. While CEO/champion Jose Aldo remains the undisputed boss of the bunch, even as he recovers from a back injury, there is no clear distinction of who’s got next or a clear pecking order for contenders down the line.
This is where Mendes has a major opportunity to separate himself from the pack. With Josh Grispi losing at UFC 125 and Mike Thomas Brown falling twice in three weeks, Mendes and Mark Hominick are the remaining logical choices to challenge next. Hominick has already been penciled in to meet Aldo at UFC 129 in April. Mendes, with a victory here, could be next in line.
Mendes has made a steady progression from prospect to contender, passing successively difficult tests against Cub Swanson and Javier Vasquez. In both matches, he showed that will be extremely tough to beat against fighters who cannot keep it standing.
Omigawa, enjoying a renaissance at 145 pounds, has proven exceptionally durable and has a deceptive record, with many of his losses coming to high-caliber competition. His stand-up is not likely to give Mendes enough trouble to keep him vertical, which could lead to be his planted on the mat repeatedly.
The Pick: Mendes could boost his argument for a title shot considerably with a stoppage here. He is the choice by third-round technical knockout.
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