The staff weighs in on UFC 130
Here are our picks for UFC 130:
Brian Stann versus Jorge Santiago
Jon Anik: Stann by TKO -- Brian Stann has adjusted well to life as a middleweight. The former 205-er told "MMA Live" the weight cut continues to get more manageable and confidence in his overall game has never been higher. Jorge Santiago has put together a nice run outside the UFC in Japan, highlighted by the 2010 fight-of-the-year triumph over Kazuo Misaki. Santiago is more well-rounded than when he left. Stann must be mindful of Santiago's instinctive submissions and opportunistic with openings on the feet. This space says the ever-improving Stann clips Santiago clean midway through and spoils Santiago's UFC return.
Chad Dundas: Stann by TKO -- I'm not sure anybody knows exactly what to expect out of these two guys. To his credit, Santiago has thoroughly reinvented himself after his first unsuccessful tour of duty in the Octagon back in 2006. Meanwhile, we're still not sure how good Stann can be at middleweight, though early evidence suggests he can be pretty dang good. When in doubt, pick against the guy who is big in Japan, but will essentially be making his UFC debut here.
Josh Gross: Santiago by decision -- Jorge Santiago is more accomplished, more skilled, more ring-tested. He's not a wrestler, though, which is good for Stann, who relies on his power to win fights. Santiago won't stand in front of Stann the way Chris Leben did. Well, he better not. The one major knock on Santiago has been his ability to take a punch, and Stann is well-equipped to test him there. Santiago would have to make a mistake for Stann to catch him, and I don't see that happening despite the Marine's best efforts.
Franklin McNeil: Stann by KO -- Dropping to middleweight has become a career-saver for Stann. This will be his third fight at 185 and the weight cut is proving to be much easier. The naturally larger and stronger Stann possesses more than enough punching power to seriously harm Santiago. Stann also takes a good strike -- just ask Chris Leben. While Santiago is comfortable standing, he must get this fight to the ground or his night will be a short one. Stann, the former WEC light heavyweight champion, is primed to make big noise in the middleweight division.
Chuck Mindenhall: Santiago by submission -- Jorge Santiago has gone 11-1 since being jettisoned from the UFC after losing to Alan Belcher in 2006, and he's done it a variety of ways (chokes, flying knees, sordid heel hooks). An improved, more patient, totally relentless fighter is anteing back up in the Octagon against former WEC light heavyweight champ Brian Stann. Yes, Stann finished forward-moving zombie Chris Leben in a brawl, but I think this fight goes more like Stann's tilt with Krzysztof Soszynski, when Stann got worked into a Kimura.
Brett Okamoto: Santiago by TKO -- I don't like picking against Stann because, admittedly, I was certain he had little shot to get past Chris Leben in his last fight -- and we all saw how that prediction went. Hesitantly, I'm going to chalk that up more to the inconsistencies of Leben than to Stann's readiness to emerge as a top contender. Santiago has more tools and more weapons everywhere this fight could go. I think Stann mounts an attack at some point, but ultimately succumbs to Santiago's offense.
Darius Ortiz: Stann by TKO -- I'm not one to diagnose people, but I think Santiago's chin might have been checked one too many times on his way back to the Octagon. If Stann can blast through Chris Leben, he should be able to hurt Jorge Santiago at some point. Unless Santiago can find a loose limb during a scramble, his chances against Stann are slim.
Thiago Alves versus Rick Story
Anik: Alves by decision -- Among the more underrated fighters on the UFC roster, Rick Story is an absolute bull and deserves this main-card showcase. He ably handled Johny Hendricks as an underdog his last time out and has earned the appreciable step up in competition. Alves' takedown defense will be a big key here because I expect he'll be the more effective striker. Story has won five straight since his UFC debut and is awfully tough to put away, but Alves has the edge in high-level experience and overall ability. Let the big dog eat. Alves holds serve as the favorite.
Dundas: Story by decision -- The American underdog can win this one so long as he doesn't let himself get sidetracked by his love for the stand-up game. The smart thing to do here is for Story to get in touch with his inner Jon Fitch, except with considerably more punching once he gets his opponent on the ground. If he succeeds in putting Alves on his back, I like his chances of grinding out a late stoppage or decision.Gross: Story by decision -- If this were a battle of nicknames, it's no contest. Rick "Horror" Story beats Thiago "Pitbull" Alves all day, every day. But it's not. In real life Alves is a debilitating striker with a tremendous double-leg sprawl. Still, I think Story, a hard-nosed wrestling type, can stay away from Alves' power, score on the feet, upset the Brazilian welterweight's rhythm, and mix in takedowns throughout.
McNeil: Alves by decision -- When Alves has little difficulty cutting weight, he wins; when he struggles take off the pounds, he loses. It's that simple. Alves has not had difficulty cutting weight for this fight. That's bad news for Story, who has gotten into a solid groove. Story is a good wrestler, and we know Alves has had issues with wrestlers named Georges St. Pierre or Jon Fitch. But Story isn't GSP or Fitch. Alves controls the stand-up battle for his second win in a row.
Mindenhall: Story by TKO -- This fight should have been on the main card all along. Alves is one of the welterweight division's perennial best and has found something like low-carb satori in Mike Dolce's dieting plan (if we go on evidence of Alves' beatdown of John Howard). But Rick Story is an unheralded menace with a wrestler's cage control and a mean left. How does this shake out? Poorly for Alves. I see "Horror" Story being the first and most unlikely guy to finish Alves via tenderizing strikes since the first and most unlikely guy who did it, Jon Fitch, several eons ago (2006).
Okamoto: Alves by TKO -- This is a fight to keep an eye on, and one in which Story has more than a decent shot. Will be interesting to see what his game plan is. I don't think Story will be afraid to exchange on occasion, but he'll likely turn to other tactics to score the majority of his points. Story has never been finished and I can see him grinding Alves down in an ugly win. But Alves needs this to get back into the title picture. If he's as good as we all once thought he could be, he'll get it done.
Ortiz: Alves by decision -- These days, Alves tends to thrive against anyone not named Georges St. Pierre or Jon Fitch. Alves gets the better of the exchanges in Rounds 1 and 2 and survives a hard-charging Story in Round 3 to earn the nod.
Stefan Struve versus Travis Browne
Anik: Struve by TKO -- What's not to like about Stefan Struve? He's 6-foot-11. He's been involved in several high-volume, back-and-forth affairs and has a pair of fight bonuses to show for it. Too often we talk about Struve's size and not his developing skill. At UFC 130, "Skyscraper" will be staring across the cage at the unbeaten Travis Browne. Browne was wronged by the judges in his last fight against Cheick Kongo and had to settle for a unanimous draw. Judges likely won't be needed this time around, but Browne won't leave the cage undefeated, either. The future is bright for the 23-year-old Struve, and he proves as much with a statement win this weekend.
Dundas: Struve by submission -- Have to admit I'm a little bit surprised some oddsmakers see the undefeated Browne as the slight favorite here. Personally, I find it hard to pick against the 23-year-old wunderkind, who seems to have found his stride with back-to-back wins during the latter half of 2010. I think Struve puts Browne in trouble on the feet and then finishes him with something choke-y in the first or second stanza.
Gross: Browne by knockout. Flip of the coin suggests the heavyweight that takes the first good knee-knocker on the chin loses. Browne appears to be better than Struve's previous victims, Sean McCorkle and Christian Morecraft. To what degree is unclear, though I'd hazard a guess and say the gap is considerable. These are both oversized heavyweights with decidedly different builds. At the very least, you should expect a finish before the final bell. Browne will need to negotiate reach and height disadvantages, and I think he will.
McNeil: Struve by KO -- His two most recent outings prove that everything is coming together for Struve, especially as a puncher. He utilizes his long reach better and is getting more leverage on his strikes. This has increased his power output. Browne possesses good boxing skills, but he is more slugger than elusive defender. He will be available for Struve to hit. Both guys have the power to end this fight early, but Struve's reach will be the difference. His punches and kicks will connect first and more often. Jiu-jitsu won't be much of a factor here. Browne goes to sleep in the second round.
Mindenhall: Struve by TKO -- Long and lanky doesn't do Struve's physical type justice; he's taller than Moses Malone and punches down like a stretchy, more boyish Nikolay Valuev. He's also very willing to mix it up and put on a good show, and that's where undefeated Travis Browne gets his kicks, as well. In other words, somebody's going to take one in the kisser here, and there's enough variation in Struve's gangly striking that makes me think he'll be the one delivering.
Okamoto: Struve by TKO -- Minus hiccups to Junior Dos Santos and Roy Nelson, two of the most elite fighters in the division, Struve has been a wrecking ball since joining the UFC two years ago. This should be a fun one to watch. Browne will land his share of punches but Struve has shown, for the most part, a solid chin. Both guys will probably donate a little blood to the canvas, but only Struve will go home with a W.
Ortiz: Struve by KO -- Struve reminds me of the late Diego Corrales -- naturally gifted but overzealous to exchange almost to the point that he's spiteful of his abilities. Struve does have time on his side -- he's still only 23 and is improving with every fight. Struve gets tagged a few times before he sends Browne packing late in Round 1.
Roy Nelson versus Frank Mir
Anik: Nelson by TKO -- Las Vegas has had a difficult time picking a favorite in this one, and it's the hardest fight on the main card for me to forecast. Frank Mir's performance in a KO victory over Mirko Filipovic at UFC 119 left a lot to be desired. Conversely, Nelson seems to have gained momentum despite losing to Junior Dos Santos his last time out. Nelson's toughness and fat chin will be on display once again here. He'll survive a handful of difficult situations and turn the tide for a late finish.
Dundas: Mir by submission -- Remember that awkward phase after UFC 100, when Mir decided that what he really needed to do to be successful in the UFC heavyweight division was turn himself into a muscle-bound power puncher? Let's hope he's fully over that sad little chapter in his life, because the last thing he wants to do is go Marquess of Queensberry on "Big Country." At this point, I think/hope Mir has come to his senses, puts this fight on the ground posthaste and ends it with some kind of wicked sub.
Gross: Nelson by decision -- Mir is better than Nelson. His career accomplishments tell us that. But heading into this weekend's marquee heavyweight clash, it feels like a nearly even fight. I can't see Mir submitting Nelson, though the ground exchanges between the two would be compelling. Standing up, anything can happen considering both have knockouts on their records and don't mind trading shots. It comes down to this: Can Nelson consistently wrestle with Mir and keep the former UFC heavyweight champion on his back? I'm saying he does.
McNeil: Mir by decision -- A few years ago, Mir didn't move his head and ate a lot of right hands. More recently, he's had trouble with massive fighters like Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin. Now that Mir knows how to box, he's no longer a sucker for right hands, and Nelson isn't a massive heavyweight. Nelson takes a very good punch, which will allow him to survive Mir's power, but he throws punches from too wide an angle. Mir will see Nelson's punches coming and avoid any fight-ending damage. These two friends will stand most of this fight, which slightly favors Mir.
Mindenhall: Mir by submission -- A win is a win, but Frank Mir's knockout of Mirko Filipovic at UFC 119 (unfashionably late knee) still feels like he owes us something. Reimbursement, maybe, for the pay-per-view dollars perhaps an enthusiastic expression at least. Something. At long last he returns against Roy Nelson, who is coming off a sound by gutsy beating at the hands of Junior Dos Santos in August. Nelson is no slouch on the ground (remember when he beat Mir at the Grappler's Quest in 2003?), but this fight will end up there and I see Mir sinking a rear naked choke.
Okamoto: Nelson by decision -- On a card full of tough fights to call, this is the toughest for me. My first thought was it's Mir's to lose. He's lighter on his feet, his boxing is better, his ground work is flashier. There's more to like about Nelson than originally meets the eye, though. Extremely tough to finish, intelligent fighter, ton of heart. At the end of the day, I don't expect Mir to stop him and I like Nelson's chances in a fight that goes the distance.
Ortiz: Nelson by KO -- For whatever reason, motivation seems to be in short supply these days for Mir. He stood in place like a wooden Indian for long stretches against Filipovic, never bothering to push the tempo to make something happen. That won't work against Roy Nelson, who will make things awkward for these friends going forward when he knocks Mir cold.
Quinton Jackson versus Matt Hamill
Anik: Jackson by decision -- All the pressure lies on one side, as former light heavyweight kingpin "Rampage" Jackson efforts to preserve his contender status. That'll be easier said than done against Hamill, who puts a five-fight winning streak on the line as a hearty underdog. Despite Hamill's recent success, his performances have been largely forgettable. Rampage is increasingly prone to the takedown at this stage of his career and can ill afford to have Hamill run clock by keeping Jackson planted on his back. Thankfully for Jackson, all three rounds begin standing up and Rampage will do enough damage to take the fight on points.
Dundas: Hamill by decision -- Could Jackson be any more obvious about mailing this one in? Granted, it is kind of a middling matchup for him, but that doesn't mean he needs to tell every reporter within earshot how unexcited he is about this fight, how he's already thinking longingly about retirement and that if he gets another quality movie role he'll drop MMA quicker than Dana pink-slipped Antonio McKee. I'm inclined to believe you can't be successful at the highest level of this sport without being totally committed. "Rampage" has proved me wrong before, but I'll take Hamill here, almost by default.
Gross: Jackson by decision -- It's tempting to pick Hamill in this spot. You know what you're getting: a big, strong wrestler whose motor doesn't stop. Yet you also know that Hamill is prone to being hit, which against someone with Jackson's power should be concerning. As with every "Rampage" fight in recent years, it's hard to say to where his head is at, what kind of shape he's in, or how interested he'll actually be in getting after it when it's time to do so. In a competitive matchup, Jackson does enough to eke out a decision.
McNeil: Jackson by decision -- Why wake a sleeping giant? Jackson has begun counting down the months to his eventual retirement from mixed martial arts. If all goes as planned, his future will be on the big screen. The last thing an opponent should do is take Jackson's mind off his post-MMA career. But that's exactly what Hamill did recently. Hamill vowed to break Jackson's will, now Jackson is eager to break his. Edge goes to Jackson. A more determined Jackson is a very dangerous man. Hamill's best chance is to get Jackson on his back, but that won't happen often Saturday night. Expect Jackson to keep this fight standing, where he will handle Hamill with ease.
Mindenhall: Hamill by decision -- His last three wins have been less than impressive (decisions over Tito Ortiz and Keith Jardine, a disqualification victory over Jon Jones where he getting beaten into molecules), but the underlying thing is that Matt Hamill finds a way. Against former UFC champion Quinton Jackson, Hamill owns the antidote to yesterday's most fearsome striker: a blue-collar brand of frustrating wrestling. The question has been and remains Hamill's cardio. For two solid rounds at least, Hamill will work for the takedown, get it, and win on points with ground-and-pound. In the third, he will survive. Prediction: the thing you fear, a humdrum decision.
Okamoto: Jackson by decision -- Basically, the way I see it is, for Hamill to win he needs to do his best Rashad Evans impersonation. He needs to bring Jackson's hands up and shoot hard for the takedown. He needs to bounce around on his feet and frustrate Jackson by making him miss. But Hamill isn't Evans. He's not quite as quick and explosive, in his takedowns or his hands. Jackson will dictate where the fight goes and take a decision not near as close as in his last fight with Lyoto Machida.
Ortiz: Jackson by decision -- I'm done picking against Jackson. Hamill has the ability to push the pace -- against lesser punchers. One or two counters will have Hamill fighting safe and Jackson going through the motions to a rather disappointing unanimous decision.
You've read what we have to say. Now it's your turn. Vote for the last men standing at UFC 130 here.
Jon Anik is the host of "MMA Live." Follow him on Twitter at Jon_Anik.
Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.
Franklin McNeil covers MMA and boxing for ESPN.com. He also appears regularly on "MMA Live," which airs on ESPN2. Follow him on Twitter at Franklin_McNeil.
Chuck Mindenhall covers MMA for ESPN.com and is a features writer at FIGHT! magazine. He can be followed on Twitter at @ChuckMindenhall.
Brett Okamoto covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at bokamotoESPN.
Darius Ortiz is the MMA editor for ESPN.com.