The staff weighs in on UFC 131
Here are our picks for UFC 131:
Anik: Munoz by decision. A fight with major implications in the middleweight division, the bout between contenders Demian Maia and Mark Munoz is the most difficult to predict on the UFC 131 main card. Both fighters have evolved appreciably in their UFC careers. Munoz has been on a tear since dropping down to 185 pounds, his lone setback a loss to current No. 1 contender Yushin Okami. Despite Maia's improved physique and stand-up game, Munoz has the boxing advantage. The Filipino Wrecking Machine's submission defense is also better than you think, and I don't see him being finished on the ground. A close decision goes to Munoz.
Dundas: Munoz by decision. An Internet video I watched earlier this week pretty much made it look as though working out at Munoz's Reign Training Center is one of the worst things that can happen to a person. Stuff looked hard. In light of that, I expect Munoz to be exquisitely prepared, and his wrestling skills will allow him to dictate where this one is contested. We know from experience that Maia will pull guard if he has to, but as long as Munoz can limit the time on the mat and/or steer clear of subs, he'll win this.Gross: Munoz by decision. This is terrific matchmaking by the UFC. Maia is the more accomplished fighter. Munoz is more physical and dangerous. Both men will be tested here, and I see Munoz's wrestling and power leading him to victory. Conventional wisdom says Munoz must avoid Maia's Brazilian jiu-jitsu game at all costs, but I think he's fine in the guard, where Maia can leave himself open to getting hit as he opens up for submissions or sweeps. Munoz is one of the best ground-and-pound fighters in MMA, and at some point I think he'll hurt the Brazilian. Once that happens, the fight will be his.
McNeil: Munoz by decision. Boxing is the discipline each fighter has turned to for improved stand-up, and it will play a huge part in deciding the outcome of this bout. Both have made progress with boxing, but Munoz is far ahead of Maia at this point. After figuring out that he is at a distinct disadvantage standing, Maia will be desperate to get Munoz to the ground in hopes of working his submission game. But Maia will find it difficult to get Munoz, a solid wrestler, off his feet. A decision is likely for Munoz, but he also has the power to end it early.
Mindenhall: Munoz by decision. Even after you've seen him do it multiple times, it feels lofty to presume that Maia can get guys to the ground where he's the slickest Brazilian jiu-jitsu player going. Against a strong wrestler like Munoz, who KO'd CB Dollaway and before that out-toiled Aaron Simpson, the proposition seems that much more far-flung. In a stand-up war with lots of arm-weaving clinch, this one favors the Filipino Wrecking Machine. Should Munoz make a mistake or slip? You'll see the whites of Maia's eyes all the way from Sao Paulo as he pounces.
Okamoto: Munoz by decision. If you watch Maia in his past couple of fights, there is evidence of improved wrestling. Still, his single-leg isn't taking Munoz down, and his stand-up hasn't improved enough to win it on the feet. That means, in my opinion, Maia is winning this fight only off his back or in the scramble. He's as dangerous as there is in those situations, but Munoz trains with some phenomenal grapplers and he's an intelligent fighter. Around even money, this seems like a crazy-good bet to me, too.
Ortiz:Maia by submission. Munoz has a knack for taking things to the ground -- exactly where Maia does his dirty work. I don't often go with the one-trick pony, but Maia's so awesomely gifted and Munoz's strengths play into said gifts in such a way that I can't possibly pick against the Brazilian.
Anik: Herman by TKO. Six-foot-6, 240-pound John Olav Einemo hasn't competed in mixed martial arts since 2006 and makes his UFC debut against fellow newcomer Dave Herman. Herman is a character, but there is no denying his potential in MMA. With finishes in 19 of his 20 victories, Herman is a worthy 3-1 favorite in this spot. Herman could stand to be more focused and driven when it comes to his MMA career. Perhaps that will click now that he's on the greatest proving ground in the sport. Herman has 22 pro fights, and all of them have come since Einemo was last in the cage. Would be somewhat surprised if any of the ESPN staffers backed Einemo here.
Dundas: Herman by TKO. Here's my mental flowchart for picking this fight between two UFC rookies: Have I heard of one of them before? Check, Herman. Does one have a considerable experience advantage in MMA? Check, Herman. Has one fought more recently than 2006? Check, Herman. Is one under 35 years old? Check, Herman. Was one guy not originally signed as a comeback opponent for Shane Carwin? Check, Herman. Does one guy have sweet neck tattoos? Check wait, that's Einemo. Anyway, signs point to Herman.
Gross: Herman by decision. What an odd fight. Einemo originally was slated to fight Shane Carwin, which was a tall task for the 35-year-old Norwegian, considering he hadn't fought MMA since 2006. He has a much better chance against mercurial Herman, who, at 26, has shown plenty of potential. Herman is a terrific athlete, and I suspect we'll see some of that Saturday. Herman has a way of getting into odd positions, and if he allows Einemo to work on the ground, he could be in trouble. Herman also has a tendency to fade late. Still, I like him to find a way to survive to the end and win on points.
McNeil: Herman by decision. Matchmaker Joe Silva could not have given Herman a better opponent for his UFC debut than Einemo. Each man will make his first Octagon appearance Saturday night, but Herman won't feel as if he's in a strange place. Although Herman has remained active, Einemo will be fighting for the first time since November 2006. Herman also will bring more skills into the bout; Einemo has only jiu-jitsu to rely on -- and one-dimensional fighters don't find much success in the cage these days.
Mindenhall: Herman by KO. Einemo presents a lot of man in a grappling game, and he's a limited edition 240-pound Norwegian Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. He was summoned to face Shane Carwin initially, but was granted a reprieve when Carwin was bumped up to higher billing. The consolation? Herman, who's been going about business in the smaller theaters (5-1 since mid-2009) biding his time for the UFC invite. Here says he makes the most of his chance.
Okamoto: Herman by TKO. Hard to know what to do with this one. In Olav, you have a strong grappler but one that's been missing from the pro MMA scene for years. In Herman, you have a high-ceiling 26-year-old who is still a work in progress and hasn't fought the best in competition. Not a fight that has a huge impact on the division either way. We'll go with Herman avoiding the submission game and coming away with a late finish.
Ortiz: Herman by KO. Einemo has pretty much everything going against him Saturday. A lot has changed since Olav has competed professionally -- which I'm sure he's aware of but am not quite sure he'll be able to deal. I'm going against the one-trick pony this time around and picking Herman to make a successful debut.
Anik: Florian by decision. Despite having as many finishes (eight) in the lightweight division as current UFC champion Frankie Edgar has wins, Kenny Florian has chosen to move down to 145 pounds, with the hopes of a quicker path to UFC championship glory. Although many in the industry disagreed with Florian's chosen path, a decisive victory over talented Diego Nunes could land KenFlo his third UFC title shot. For Florian, it's all about getting through weight cut week. If he isn't too sapped from cutting down to 145, it's his fight to lose. Nunes is fast, athletic and well-rounded but doesn't have nearly the high-level UFC experience Florian brings to the Octagon, nor is he as skilled. Nunes might prove too tough to put away, but Florian will rack up points in bunches to take his featherweight debut in style.
Dundas: Florian by decision. Kudos to UFC matchmakers for giving KenFlo a stiff test against Nunes instead of a gimme in his first appearance at his new weight. As long as he's not sacrificing too much cardio and/or strength to make the cut, I think Florian can be a force at 145. Beating Nunes will be a good first step. If he can become the first man to finish the 28-year-old Brazilian, well, that'll be impressive.
Gross: Nunes by decision. Very tough call here. Florian is as professional as professional gets in MMA. Nunes is fast and dangerous, and he competes at his natural weight. Until we see Florian make weight and get an idea of how drained he is at 145 pounds, I doubt anyone could make a pick in this fight without some hesitation. Florian will have length to play with and knows how to use his jab very well. On the floor, at worst, it's an even fight, though Nunes might just have an advantage. The biggest hurdle for Florian might be the difference in how fighters move at lightweight compared with at featherweight. Speed kills, and I think it will in this one.
McNeil: Florian by decision. Nunes has had an impressive run under the Zuffa banner, losing just once in five fights. But he has yet to face a fighter of Florian's caliber in live action. Florian can match Nunes' Muay Thai, is a better jiu-jitsu practitioner and tends to be more active in the stand-up. The key in this fight will be Florian's ability to take Nunes down. Florian has worked extra hard on his wrestling in this camp. If he can consistently put Nunes on his back, Florian will cruise to victory.
Mindenhall: Florian by decision. This fight has a tricky amount of variables, headlined by Florian's much-ballyhooed weight cut, but there's one thing he has heading into his featherweight debut, and it's this: big-game experience. He's been in enough spotlit fights to find and settle into his rhythm early, and I foresee the southpaw picking Nunes apart on the feet, winning scrambles and working to superior positions on the mat. Wash, rinse, repeat, for three rounds.
Okamoto: Florian by decision. To me, this is Florian versus the cut to featherweight. I have nothing bad to say about Nunes; he's a terrific talent. But I think Florian is slightly better in every aspect. The question is how much will the cut to 145 take out of him, a question even Florian can't 100 percent answer yet. If he is able to navigate the final stages of the cut well, I think he'll pace himself in the fight and take it on points.
Ortiz: Florian by decision. Betting on Florian is a tricky business, but he tends to win these types of fights. Nunes has a decent skill set, but he's taking a major leap up in competition. Florian should rack up points before the effects of his weight cut kick in for a unanimous decision.
Shane Carwin vs. Junior dos Santos
Anik: Carwin by TKO. Junior Dos Santos is certainly the safer play here and is the betting favorite. His layoff has been nearly as long as Shane Carwin's, but his inactivity hasn't been for health reasons. Carwin is the big variable in this spot after undergoing neck and back surgery. His cardio abandoned him in the fight with Brock Lesnar, but Carwin is said to have made great strides in that area since then. The real answer to that question comes Saturday night in Vancouver, British Columbia. Carwin would be wise to use his wrestling advantage and pursue the takedown. This space says Carwin eventually will land one of his lunchboxes on dos Santos' chin and emerge as the next challenger to UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez.
Dundas: Carwin by TKO. He's the bigger, stronger and assumably more complete fighter, and a glance at JDS' UFC résumé reveals that he has never fought anyone with even a glimmer of Carwin's wrestling skills. On the other hand, it worries me that the former NCAA Division II national champ has said he'll turn this bout into a coin flip by slugging it out with the slugger. Here's hoping that's just gamesmanship.
Gross: Dos Santos by TKO. Someone's going down, and my sense is it will be Carwin. First, the obvious. Neither guy lacks for power, so one well-placed shot and it's all over. So, why dos Santos? Speed. He's a better boxer. He has proved he can go later into a fight and not completely fold physically. And his one area of concern -- wrestling -- probably won't be tested by Carwin. I see dos Santos as the legit No. 2 heavyweight in the UFC, and he'll showcase why on Saturday.
McNeil: Dos Santos by TKO. This fight likely will be decided in the opening round. If Carwin gets dos Santos down and keeps him there, the fight's over. If dos Santos survives Carwin's early assault, he will be on his way toward a title shot. Carwin has one-punch knockout power, but dos Santos' speed will prove beneficial. The longer the fight lasts, the better it gets for dos Santos. And until Carwin proves otherwise, cardio will be his greatest handicap. If Carwin makes it into the third round, he will surely be gassed and a sitting duck for dos Santos' powerful uppercuts.
Mindenhall: Carwin by KO. They both are carrying sledgehammers into this big title eliminator, and we know the potential for a flash knockout is lively going in. But there's something about Carwin's trajectory that seems perfect for this setup. He has had a year to reflect on what could have been in the Lesnar title fight; he is returning from neck surgery; and he is getting an expedited chance to leave it all behind. Wouldn't be surprised if he takes it to the mat early and lets fly some earth-moving ground-and-pound on a very real hunch that JDS is no match for him there.
Okamoto: Dos Santos by TKO. Seems as though Carwin should absolutely turn to his wrestling in this fight, correct? Will he? I think so -- but either way Cigano gets the win here. Dos Santos is fighting with a lot of confidence right now, as he should be. I wouldn't be shocked if Carwin pulled it out, but hard to pick him in this one. Always take the younger, faster guy who isn't coming off back surgery and has a bigger gas tank.
Ortiz: Dos Santos by TKO. By decisioning Roy Nelson, dos Santos proved he can bounce haymakers off an opponents' head for three rounds (which kind of also proved he might be as hard a puncher as he was touted). Cigano has the game and the gas tank to take things into the second round, where I think he'll sink Carwin.
You've read what we have to say. Now, it's your turn. Vote for the last men standing at UFC 131 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.
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