Kenny Florian (left) used a cerebral approach at UFC 131. | AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck
A gory mix of blood, sweat and pain, Shane Carwin’s wrecked face told the story. Junior dos Santos is one scary man.
The 26-year-old Brazilian throttled Carwin with superior speed and technique en route to a unanimous decision in the UFC 131 headliner on Saturday at the Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. A stinging left jab, lightning-quick lead left hooks to the head and well-placed body shots were the weapons of choice for Dos Santos, who remains undefeated in seven UFC starts. The victory cemented Dos Santos’ place as the top contender for the UFC heavyweight championship.
Carwin’s future seems less certain. His one-punch knockout power and undeniable toughness will always make him a draw, but Dos Santos made it readily apparent that he lives somewhere below the top-tier heavyweights. At 36, time is not on his side. Plus, the division faces another infusion of talent, with the eventual crossover of Strikeforce stars Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum, Josh Barnett and Antonio Silva. Carwin may have exhausted his UFC title dreams.
A closer look at the matches we want to see after UFC 131 “Dos Santos vs. Carwin” follows:
Junior dos Santos vs. Cain Velasquez: Consider it the no-brainer of no-brainers. Dos Santos made his play for the coveted top contender’s slot with his 7-0 mark inside the Octagon and his 15-minute dismantling of Shane Carwin at UFC 131. His standup skills, along with his ability to shut down takedowns and return to his feet, make him an intriguing foil for Velasquez. The American Kickboxing Academy standout will have to knock off the rust in a hurry, as he returns from a shoulder injury that made him a spectator for the first half of 2011. A five-round fight naturally favors Velasquez, whose supreme conditioning might be the most understated weapon in all of mixed martial arts. Still, Cheick Kongo showed Velasquez could be hit, and Dos Santos has proven himself a far more polished and lethal standup fighter than the Frenchman.
Shane Carwin vs. Travis Browne: After absorbing such a thorough beating, Carwin may need considerable time to recover. In limbo between the elite contenders and the heavyweight middle class, he will undoubtedly want to get back in the cage as soon as possible. Carwin exhibited a number of valuable traits in the defeat to Junior dos Santos, namely the ability to absorb punishment and a newfound willingness to pace himself. Browne broke down the doors to more significant fights at UFC 130, when he clocked the 6-foot-11 Stefan Struve in spectacular fashion. Does he have the chin and power needed to hang with someone like Carwin? A matchup between the two could reveal much.
Kenny Florian vs. Jose Aldo: Florian, a two-time title contender at 155 pounds, brings with him a wealth of big-fight experience and a cerebral approach in the cage. In his unanimous decision over the highly regarded Diego Nunes at UFC 131, he proved he couold make the cut to 145 pounds without any issues. Thanks to the underrated and underappreciated Mark Hominick, Aldo’s aura of invincibility took a significant hit in his unanimous decision victory at UFC 129. For once, he looked human. Pushed for five grueling rounds, Aldo ran out of gas in the fifth and was forced to weather a ground-and-pound onslaught from Hominick for much of the final five minutes. That, combined with an expected influx of former lightweights to 145 pounds, means his spot at the top may be far more tenuous than first thought. If the UFC wants another blockbuster featherweight battle, Aldo-Florian seems like the logical ticket.
Diego Nunes vs. Mark Hominick: Nunes now understands how far he has left to go to become a premier, title-contending competitor at 145 pounds. How he deals with such a sobering revelation will determine the level of his future success. The Nova Uniao representative enjoyed early success against Kenny Florian in the UFC 131 co-headliner but faded in the face of relentless pressure from an opponent who simply refused to buckle in the face of adversity. The experience of competing against a foe of Florian’s ilk will prove invaluable as Nunes enters his prime. Hominick went toe-to-toe with featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo at UFC 129, despite a grotesque hematoma on his forehead, and undoubtedly won over a legion of new supporters in the process. He does not pose the same kind of threat on the ground that Florian does, and an extended standup battle with the dynamic Nunes could turn to pure gold.
Mark Munoz vs. Brian Stann: Always on the periphery of contention at 185 pounds, Munoz finally moved into the discussion with his hotly contested decision victory over Demian Maia at UFC 131. Pairing his prodigious wrestling skills with power-packed punches, he can pose problems for virtually anyone in the middleweight division. There may be no hotter commodity in the middleweight division than Stann, a former WEC champion who has pieced together an impressive three-fight winning streak. Questions remain regarding the Marine’s wrestling chops, and Munoz would certainly test them.
Dave Herman vs. Joey Beltran: They were originally booked for a UFC 131 meeting, but Brock Lesnar’s withdrawal from the main event set off a game of heavyweight musical chairs. Herman moved into a main-card slot to face grappling guru John Olav-Einemo and hurled himself into the “Fight of the Night” in his UFC debut. Beltran stayed on the undercard and won a taxing battle of attrition against Strikeforce veteran Aaron Rosa.
A wildly talented heavyweight whose drive has been called into question in the past, Herman has dropped anchor at Team Quest in California, where top-notch training becomes readily available to him. The heavyweight division’s resident grinder, Beltran has worn down more than one foe with his resilience and in-your-face, terminator-style approach.
Donald Cerrone vs. Sam Stout: Cerrone put his considerable standup skills on display in Vancouver, as he lashed Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Vagner Rocha with Louisville Slugger leg kicks and captured a clear-cut decision from the judges. Minutes before, Stout waylaid respected American Top Team veteran Yves Edwards, knocking the Bahamian-born lightweight unconscious with a beautiful counter left hook. Edwards’ head struck the canvas with such force that he may remember little about the encounter. Cerrone humored “Razor” Rob McCullough with an epic slugfest at WEC 36 in 2008. He may dare to do the same in a matchup with Stout, a newer and more proficient version of the former WEC champion.
Chris Weidman vs. Ed Herman: Weidman was hailed as the sport’s top middleweight prospect when he entered the UFC in March. In two appearances since, he has done nothing to shake the tag. An accomplished collegiate wrestler who qualified for the 2009 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships, Weidman submitted Jesse Bongfeldt with a textbook standing guillotine choke at UFC 131. That came on the heels of his dominant three-round decision over Alessio Sakara in his promotional debut at UFC Live 3 three months ago. Weidman, a protégé of former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra, seems to be on the fast track to stardom. Herman returned from close to a two-year absence at “The Ultimate Fighter 13” Finale on June 4, as he stopped Tim Credeur on first-round strikes. A rugged and resilient ground fighter, perhaps he could pose the problems for Weidman that Sakara and Bongfeldt could not.