Playtime is over, kids.
I hope you enjoyed this little breather during April and May because business – as Jim Ross might say – is about to pick up. The next six weeks will be a sprint, with either the UFC or Strikeforce presenting a show every weekend between now and the Fourth of July. Not enough for you? We’re going to sprinkle some Bellator in here and there, just for fun.
Things kick off this weekend from Vegas with UFC 130, a card that got scrambled a bit when Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard both pulled out of their lightweight rubber match due to injury. That leaves us with a sort of middling light heavyweight main event between Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Matt Hamill. It might not be the most anticipated matchup of the year, but could be interesting nonetheless, since both guys come in with something to prove. More on that in a moment.
The MMA Hot List tracks trending topics in the world of mixed martial arts. Here’s what we’re up against this week …
1. What does “Rampage” have to prove? After 12 years and headed into his 40th fight, it’s shocking to think that Jackson is still just 32 years old. It’s also hard to fathom there are so many doubts about how seriously he’s approached this bout, but that’s the reality of where we are this week. “Rampage” didn’t have a ton of encouraging things to say leading up to this fight and, simply put, he needs his performance this weekend to show us he’s still got the drive and determination to be a top dog at 205-pounds.
May 23, 2011: He'll need to "whoop" Hamill to prove it.
2. What does Hamill have to prove? Only that he belongs, which is another way of saying “everything.” Officially Hamill has been cruising, with five consecutive wins in the Octagon dating back to late 2008. One of those victories however was his disqualification over current champ Jon Jones and the beating he took in that fight could still be lingering in the minds of analysts and prognosticators. To legitimately be considered a contender, “The Hammer” needs to beat Jackson on Saturday night.
3. Friend fight alert! As Las Vegas-based fighters who have occasionally shared a training room, Frank Mir and Roy Nelson have been uncharacteristically kind to each other leading up to UFC 130. They’ve met before in a submission grappling match, but neither expect that to make a lick of difference in a mixed fight. Conventional wisdom says Nelson has a bit of an edge on the feet with Mir owning a slight advantage on the ground. That means this bout might well come down to where it’s contested.
4. Diaz vs. GSP announcement imminent. I mean … right? So far the only person talking is Diaz’s now former boxing promoter, Don Chargin. Chargin released a statement late last week saying Diaz was choosing to forego a proposed punching-only fight with former champ Jeff Lacy in order to pursue “the opportunity of a lifetime” in MMA. I’m not sure what else that could possibly be besides a high-dollar fight with Georges St. Pierre and a perhaps a stint coaching on “The Ultimate Fighter.”
5. My sleeper pick for FOTN. OK, maybe it’s not really a “sleeper” but Thiago Alves’ matchup with Rick Story this weekend has the potential for fireworks. Alves has long been considered one of the best strikers in the welterweight division and Story is a powerful wrestler with wicked ground and pound and a headhunter mentality on the feet. No matter who wins, there should be some serious leather thrown around.
6. Torres mired on the undercard. Former bantamweight champ Miguel Torres has now won two straight since dropping back-to-back fights in 2009-10, but his bout this weekend with Demetrious Johnson still didn’t make the pay-per-view cut. The 135-pound division has a hot feud on its hands right now between champ Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber, but I can’t help but think the weight class will be even more interesting once Torres works his way back into contention.
7. Aldo ailing. We hope not chronically. Took us awhile to get this straight, but now we know that for the second time in just three scheduled UFC appearances, featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo has had to pull out due to his injured neck. Kid is just 24 years old and has a chance to be nothing short of a revelatory figure for the lighter weight classes, but you have to be concerned about his long term future if his body continues to betray him. Let’s hope this neck issue is something he can put behind him.
8. UFC finds replacement fast. Almost too fast. With Aldo receiving a six-week medical suspension after his win at UFC 129 and his camp now saying doctors told him soon afterward that he’d need at least 6-to-8 more weeks of PT on his neck, the UFC must’ve known its alleged scheduling of Aldo vs. Chad Mendes for Aug. 6 in Philadelphia was aggressive, to say the least. Maybe that’s why the company was able to move so quickly to insert Rani Yahya against Mendes at UFC 133. Kind of makes you wonder who knew what, when.
9. Huerta poised to return. But where? Once a literal coverboy for the lightweight division, Roger Huerta has been out of action since his doctor’s stoppage loss to Eddie Alvarez in Bellator last October. Huerta’s now lost four of his last five fights and his future in MMA had been in doubt. He said this week he’ll make a comeback this summer, but now without even a Bellator contract it’s hard to tell if it’ll be anywhere that’s on our radar.
May 24, 2011: or will Santiago take contender status?
10. Somebody at middleweight is about to gain contender status. Either Brian Stann or Jorge Santiago. They fight this weekend and it’s clear to see the UFC could find a promotable storyline for either guy. Stann as the former military hero and WEC light heavyweight champ, Santiago as the former UFC jobber who transformed himself into a champion in Japan during the last few years. Those extenuating circumstances alone make their bout at UFC 130 worth watching.
UFC President Dana White (above) embarrassed after Gray Maynard beat Clay Guida by split decision to win a lightweight bout and the main event of the UFC card in Atlantic City.
Can anyone top the big three of Silva, Jones, and GSP as the best pound-for-pounder fighter?
UFC 130: Mir ready for tough Nelson
May 24, 2011: The former heavyweight champion on how he intends to stop Nelson.