Junior dos Santos and Shane Carwin laid it all on the line. | AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck
Junior dos Santos proved without a doubt why he’s the next challenger for Cain Velasquez, hammering out a unanimous decision over a game but outmatched Shane Carwin.
Pitted against one another in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, at UFC 131, the heavyweight contenders made for an exciting three-round fight as Dos Santos’ punishing standup left Carwin battered but ultimately unbowed.
In the co-main event, Kenny Florian was efficient and effective in his first featherweight bout, decisioning a tough Diego Nunes.
Here’s a closer look at tonight’s performances:
Junior dos Santos: Now unbeaten in seven UFC bouts, Dos Santos’ precise striking was on display against Carwin with a barrage that nearly ended the bout in the opening period. A key factor and wild card in his skill set is takedown defense; something rarely seen since so few opponents can seem to get in position to attempt a high-percentage shot.
Carwin tried three takedowns, none of which were able to ultimately plant “Cigano” on the mat, as Dos Santos showed spry hips and excellent balance in denying each.
He also paced himself smartly in tonight’s fight, and took a couple good shots from Carwin without blinking. And in the third, he hit a pair of slick takedowns, perhaps merely to demonstrate his newly-acquired wrestling chops. Certainly, it’ll give Velasquez and anyone else facing him plenty to think about -- as though they didn’t have enough already.
This was a great showing tonight by Dos Santos, and his clash with Velasquez will be a showcase fight for the UFC’s flagship division.
Shane Carwin: After a rough first round where his nose was likely broken and he tasted a ton of leather, Carwin rallied through a frightful pounding to come back strong landing a few shots in the second frame, including a couple of strong low kicks.
Carwin, forever dogged by the stamina issues that cost him in his challenge of Brock Lesnar last summer for the heavyweight title, showed a ton of courage and resilience at UFC 131.
It’s pretty tough to muster up any kind of rally after the disastrous opening five minutes he had, yet Carwin was there, battling to the end, and he showed a big-time chin in the process. He’ll be a handful for any heavyweight he faces in the future -- and they can no longer assume he’ll run out of gas, either.
Kenny Florian: Clinical and precise, Florian adjusted after a tough opening round against Nunes, letting his experience and persistence carry the fight and ultimately winning the last two rounds cleanly on the cards to take a unanimous decision.
The weight cut to 145 was a tough one for Florian, who cited in his postfight interview with Joe Rogan that he’d started from 180 pounds after recovering from a knee injury. Chances are he’ll handle the weight cut better for his next bout, coming in lighter to begin with. A big problem for Florian at 155 was being outwrestled; the jury’s out on if that might still be a thorn against the best takedown artists at 145, but he only figures to get better in the division from here.
Mark Munoz: It looked like it was going all wrong for Munoz in the first, as Demian Maia’s improved standup was lighting him up. But to his credit -- and which was been a trend lately in Munoz’ wins -- he made subtle adjustments to find the ranges and positions he needed to be effective.
Munoz battled out of some tense spots with Maia seemingly threatening with a fight-ending crucifix on the ground, and won the second round going away. One thing about Munoz is that he’s going to smash anything he can connect on if he’s on top of his opponent, and that kind of intensity and activity definitely influences judges.
Dave Herman: “Pee Wee” had an exciting debut, scoring a KO of John Olav Einemo in a rollicking, back-and-forth heavyweight scrap. In the second stanza, just when it appeared Einemo was seizing the upper hand, Herman rallied with a series of good shots and a ground-and-pound assault to seize the win.
Noticeably leaner and more cut in this fight than previous bouts (he was 233 at Friday’s UFC 131 weigh-ins), Herman has some good athleticism and instinct for striking, particularly with knees in close.
He may be a bit of a ‘tweener for the heavyweights, though -- undersized for the behemoths but too big to effectively cut down to 205 -- but time will tell. He’ll have to sharpen up his striking as the level of competition progresses, as Einemo did catch him with several telegraphed power punches.
Donald Cerrone: “Cowboy” put on a standup clinic tonight, outpointing Vagner Rocha in a one-sided beating. Bring on Anthony Pettis, or perhaps the winner of Edson Barboza-Ross Pearson for the Greg Jackson-trained fighter. Fireworks are virtually guaranteed.
Diego Nunes: Nunes started strong against Florian, but unraveled as Ken-Flo’s takedowns and top pressure took him out of his groove. Nunes, now 16-2, is a very talented featherweight who had quite a learning experience tonight. To his credit, early on, he was effective and willing to trade with the wily veteran on the feet. Time and seasoning will round out his game, but UFC 131 showed the difference between a young gun and a truly crafty veteran in Florian.
Demian Maia: Maia has nothing to hang his head about tonight, as he waged a memorable battle with Munoz in dropping a unanimous decision (judge Nelson “Doc” Hamilton ought to be put in permanent MMA judging time-out for his 30-27 Munoz score, as Maia clearly won the first round).
Maia’s improved standup was much sharper than in previous outings, and his dangerous ground game and submissions even had the haymaker-hungry Munoz cautious at the prospect of unloading too much on him while Maia was on his back. It was a credible performance tonight by Maia in a tough match.
John Olav Einemo: A disappointing debut for Einemo, who at 261 pounds had gained serious size since earlier in his MMA career. Einemo, despite not fighting since 2006, looked good in spots, trading with Herman only to be caught and taken out in the second.
However, with his excellent grappling and submissions, and some fairly effective standup that he showed tonight, he should definitely be back soon for another chance to get in the win column.
Vagner Rocha: Rocha went the distance with Cerrone tonight, and most lightweights can’t stand effectively with the potent striker. Rocha certainly tried his best, even landing a few good right hands but he was outgunned here. Unable to hit takedowns, he was relegated to trying to pull guard unsuccessfully.
Jason Probst can be reached at Jason@jasonprobst.com or www.twitter.com/jasonprobst.