Miguel Torres will look to recapture the magic that made him WEC champion at UFC 139. | Photo: Sherdog.com
After back-to-back free TV cards, UFC 139 “Shogun vs. Hendo” marks the promotion’s return to pay-per-view, and the move is reflected in the bill’s density of talent.
Going down from the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., the main draw is filled by a light heavyweight blockbuster, a fantasy middleweight matchup, a pivotal bantamweight showdown and a serious “Fight of the Night” contender at middleweight. Oh, Stephan Bonnar and Kyle Kingsbury will probably beat the hell out of each other, as well.
With that said, the pay-per-view portion of the card could have a tough act to follow, as the prelims provide free access to a former champion, a pair of bright prospects and two fights with real roster implications. As the UFC descends upon the former longtime home of Strikeforce, here are five reasons to watch the UFC 139 prelims.
Mullet King Once More?
It does not seem that long ago that Miguel Torres was considered the best bantamweight on the planet. However, devastating losses to Brian Bowles and Joseph Benavidez not only knocked Torres off his perch atop World Extreme Cagefighting’s 135-pound ranks but also raised serious questions regarding his future as an elite bantamweight.
To Torres’ credit, he rebounded with consecutive victories, submitting Charlie Valencia before outpointing Antonio Banuelos in what appeared to be focused efforts to avoid any overzealousness that might cost him a win.
On the heels of the Banuelos fight -- one many might call boring -- Torres put forth a stellar performance against future title challenger Demetrious Johnson. Though “Mighty Mouse” scored multiple takedowns, it was Torres who appeared the aggressor, attacking with submissions and strikes from his guard. In the end, however, all three judges awarded the fight to Johnson, likely based on holding top position for much of the bout.
While he walked away with a loss at UFC 130, Torres looked more relaxed than he has in a long time. In front of him now stands Nick Pace, a hardworking Tiger Schulmann disciple looking to avoid back-to-back losses. Pace is skilled in his own right, but he lacks the seasoning and the tools of his more experienced opponent.
Torres needs to put on a vintage performance -- one that reminds fans of his finishes over Chase Beebe and Manny Tapia, as well as his wars with Yoshiro Maeda and Takeya Mizugaki. If that Torres shows up, fans are in for a treat.
Who cares if he rocks arguably the worst walkout music in the business? Michael McDonald is what you call a prospect.
Only 20 years old and holding lightning in both hands, McDonald is only a few steps away from becoming a serious player in the UFC’s bantamweight division. Though not even old enough to buy himself a drink, “Mayday” already has 14 fights to his credit, 10 of which he has finished in the first round. After an impressive debut in World Extreme Cagefighting, McDonald has shown heart in his two UFC appearances, battling Edwin Figueroa and Chris Cariaso for 15 minutes apiece before walking away with a pair of hard-fought decision victories.
Looking to stop McDonald’s rise is undefeated Team Hurricane Awesome export Alex Soto. An unbeaten southpaw who wings punches like he is hoping candy will fall out of his broken foes, Soto should prove a formidable dance partner for McDonald. Simply put, keep an eye on the man from Modesto, Calif. He might be ready for primetime sooner than you think.
The Chris Weidman hype train is still chugging, in case you had not noticed.
Undefeated through six professional fights, the two-time NCAA Div. I All-American grounded veteran Alessio Sakara in his UFC debut and muscled Jesse Bongfeldt into a guillotine choke to make it two Octagon wins in a row.
While the Sakara bout went predictably, as few felt the Italian could stop the American’s takedowns, Weidman’s clash with Bonfeldt at UFC 131 provided a clearer view into what type of middleweight the Hofstra University grad could be. Eating a head kick in the bout’s opening moments, Weidman survived the scare and dutifully went about his work, grinding on Bongfeldt from top position before burying the Canadian with a knee to the belly and a guillotine choke.
While impressive, these wins were stylistic dreams compared to the filthy foe Weidman faces in San Jose.
Tom Lawlor has developed a cult following, not only for his amusing pre-fight routines but also for his aggressive, wrestling-based attack in the cage. After all, this is a guy who took out C.B. Dollaway and gave Aaron Simpson all he wanted before running out of gas, all while practicing the ancient art of pre-fight partying.
Following back-to-back losses, Lawlor rededicated himself to training and amended some of his less constructive preparation rituals. This was evidenced in his most recent outing, which he dominated former title challenger Patrick Cote from bell to bell at UFC 121.
Perhaps Lawlor is too big a step for Weidman at this point in his career. Or maybe Weidman will plant “The Filthy Mauler” like a daisy and fast-track his way to the top. It is a tough one to call, which is why it should be a good one to watch.
Hardcores, this is your cue to let your buddies know how to pronounce the fighters’ names ahead of time. Two hard-swinging Brazilians looking to catapult over the fringe and into the lush land of lightweight contenders sounds enticing, does it not?
Rafael dos Anjos and Gleison Tibau seem to be two peas in a pod. Both have looked extremely impressive at times, and both have been handed setbacks that reminded observes why neither of them was ready for a shot at the big time. Both have fallen to tough competition during their Octagon careers, and both appear capable of more than they have accomplished thus far.
With both men riding a wave of momentum following consecutive wins and a pair of first-round finishes, two confident athletes should enter the cage with bad intentions. Science says this one could go “kaboom” relatively easily.
Bader vs. Brilz
From their mismatched aesthetics to their clashing career paths, Ryan Bader and Jason Brilz do not appear to have much in common, save for their background as collegiate grapplers.
However, one thing the two men do share is a two-fight losing skid. Rarely are UFC talents afforded the luxury of falling a third consecutive time. This means that their encounter is likely “win or go home” for both of these light heavyweights.
Despite the powerful-but-clunky state of Bader’s still-developing striking game, the younger fighter could easily try to keep this one standing if he feels he has the advantage, and neither man is shy about swinging for the fences when the time calls.
Though perhaps overmatched, Brilz is nothing if not game. Even if Bader brings the heat with that sledgehammer right hand, there is no guarantee it will put away Brilz, despite the Nebraskan’s recent bout of unconsciousness courtesy of journeyman Vladimir Matyushenko. Brilz should look to drag this one into the gutter, while Bader will likely prefer a more technical contest in order to utilize his athletic advantages.
On paper, Brilz should be out of there in short order. Still, it feels like the full-time firefighter and father of two may have a surprise or two in store for the young buck. With a third straight loss, Bader will have fallen from penthouse to outhouse in the span of 10 months; that is a scary thought, even for the Galactic Empire’s second-in-command.