This weekend the UFC is in San Jose for UFC on Fox 7, their latest outing on network television. Headlining the card is a UFC Lightweight title fight between current 155lbs kingpin Benson Henderson and debuting former Strikeforce Lightweight champ, Gilbert Melendez. The UFC vs. Strikeforce theme continues in the co-main event where former UFC Heavyweight champion Frank Mir takes on the first and last Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix champion, Daniel Cormier in his first bout with the promotion. The main card is rounded out with two more tussles that are sure to bring the action, as Nate Diaz battles Josh Thomson and Jordan Mein clashes with Matt Brown. Now ladies and gentlemen, the action does not start and end with the main card. Oh, no. UFC on Fox 7 just so happens to provide one of the healthiest undercards I have seen in a long while and here is my take on just a portion of the talent that you should be tuning in early for.
Chad “Money” Mendes (13-1-0) vs. Darren Elkins (16-2-0) –
Since failing in his pursuit of featherweight gold back at UFC 142 against José Aldo, Chad Mendes has bounced back in impressive fashion. The Team Alpha Male product has scored successive 1st round KO/TKO finishes of over-matched foes, Cody McKenzie and Yaotzin Meza, taking his current UFC record to 4-1. Originally scheduled to fight Clay Guida, this is now the third straight fight for Mendes that has been altered due to his initial opponent receiving an injury. Mendes will look to use his strong wrestling base to set up any form of attack and has a developing striking game that should cause Elkins problems. You may not be aware of this but with a win this weekend Darren Elkins will hold the record for the most victories in UFC featherweight history. Elkins has operated largely under the radar, compiling an enviable five fight winning run that puts him on the cusp of a top-ten ranking. Accepting this fight on short notice, only one month out from fight night, Elkins is taking a risk with the strides he has made in the division but a victory over Mendes, a former title challenger, will catapult him in to contender talk himself. Now, while Elkins has gone about quietly building momentum and an impressive win streak, I expect this run of victories to come to an end this Saturday. Elkin’s success has largely been built on his wrestling ability and in Mendes, Elkins will be facing a far more powerful and functional wrestler who should be able to shut his game down and impose his own.
Francis “Limitless” Carmont (20-7-0) vs. Lorenz “The Monsoon” Larkin (13-0-0-1 NC) -
Currently riding a 9-fight win streak, including a perfect 4-0 run in the Octagon so far, Canadian middleweight Francis Carmont is starting to make serious waves in the 185lbs ranks. Training out of the renowned Tristar Gym in Montreal, Carmont can take a big step in his development with a win over Larkin this Saturday. If the well-rounded Carmont can secure the W, you can expect to see a stiffer test to be thrown his way so we can begin to see if the burgeoning hype surrounding Carmont is justified. Larkin, a Strikeforce vet making his UFC debut, is another prospect to keep an eye on. After having a defeat at the hands of “King” Mo Lawal overturned to a No Contest as a result of a failed post-fight drug test from Lawal, Larkin is still credited as being undefeated in his MMA career so far and was last seen besting Robbie Lawler over three rounds this past July. A dangerous striker, Larkin will see this as an opportunity to take the momentum Carmont has built in the UFC in order to position himself for a higher-ranked opponent.
Joseph “Joe B-Wan Kenobi” Benavidez (17-3-0) vs. Darren “BC” Uyenoyama (8-3-0) -
The fact that Joseph Benavidez finds himself this far down a card as the best flyweight the sport has to offer not named Demetrious Johnson, is verging on insulting to his talent and division. It is understandable that the division is shallow and needs to be built along slowly on the prelim portion of attention-heavy events such as this, but Benavidez is not an also-ran of the flyweights and this is not a bout without significance. Like Mendes, Benavidez also hails from Team Alpha Male and with a win here, he is likely to be in line for a shot at Johnson’s title and to have such a pivotal fight in the 125lbs division hidden away on the undercard seems bizarre to me. Anyway, rant over. Look for Benavidez to try and impose his power game upon Uyenoyama, combining top-class wrestling with solid boxing that poses a very real risk of KO’ing his opponent, an ability seldom seen amongst the flyweights. Uyenoyama, who is currently 2-0 in his UFC career, will need to be at his very best to defeat the UFC’s #1 ranked flyweight. Uyenoyama has a mean submission game that can and has caught out many opponents; however this feels like a bit too much of a step up in competition for the Californian and I can only really see one outcome.
Tim “The Dirty Bird” Means (18-3-1) vs. Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal (23-7-0) –
Standing at 6’2″, imposing lightweight Tim Means has made a promising start to his UFC career. Since joining the promotion in early 2012, Means has gone 2-0 and extended his unbeaten streak to eleven. Means possesses cardio for days and has a solid boxing game that has been utilised to devastating effect with 13 of his 18 victories coming via KO/TKO. This is Means’ first fight since June 2012, as a previously arranged bout with Abel Trujillo at UFC on Fox 5 this past September was scrapped just days before it was due to take place after Means had managed to KO himself slipping in the sauna whilst attempting to cut weight. While Means has enjoyed regional success (capturing both the King of the Cage Junior Welterweight and Lightweight championships), this fight with Masvidal represents a big step up in opposition. Masvidal will have an experience advantage over Means, not just in fights fought, but also in terms of the calibre of fighters faced. Masvidal has battled the likes of Joe Lauzon, Paul Daley, KJ Noons and even one of this Saturday’s headliners, Gilbert Melendez; whereas Means in 22 fights has fought only a handful of mixed martial artists with a Wikipedia page. Masvidal is another Strikeforce import making his Octagon debut at UFC on Fox 7 and like Means he will look to keep this fight standing. The outcome of this bout may well come down to which competitor can enforce their striking game more effectively.
Anthony “The Assassin” Njokuani (15-7-0) vs. Roger “Relentless” Bowling (11-3-0) -
Njokuani has scored some devastating knockouts and been a part of some highly entertaining fights during his time with the WEC and the UFC, which has made him somewhat of a highlight-reel fighter. If you sat an impartial bystander down and pressed play on an Anthony Njokuani ‘Greatest Hits’ video, they would leave this viewing thankful that they should never have to find themselves locked in a cage with the “Assassin” and wondering how the UFC continues to find opponents for a fighter so ferocious. However, unfortunately for Njokuani, many of his recent fights would not have found themselves on any tribute videos. Njokuani is 3-5 over his last eight appearances and has been largely found out as just a striker, a high level striker to be clear but in one of MMA’s most competitive divisions, that doesn’t quite cut the mustard. If Njokuani was to lose this fight, that would be two straight losses for the Nigerian and would likely result in being cut despite his fan friendly style. A powerful finisher with a solid wrestling game, Bowling will be looking to impress on his lightweight and UFC debut against Njokuani. Bowling had built a reputation as an explosive fighter who possessed scary power but was prone to fading in fights when his initial attack was unable to get the job done. Now that Bowling has decided to make the move down in weight his previous conditioning issues may well be a thing of the past allowing “Relentless” to fully exploit his potential.