By Adam Martin
UFC Fight Night 30: Machida vs. Munoz is really flying under the radar as an overall card (thanks in no small part to the truly epic evening that was UFC 166), but if you take a closer look at it, there are actually quite a few intriguing matchups with important questions to answer.
I’ve combed the card up and down and I’ve come up with four hidden storylines that viewers should be aware of going into UFC Fight Night 30. Let me know what you think in the comments section, and be sure to come back to CagePotato on Saturday for our liveblog of the broadcast.
1) Can Lyoto Machida Make a Run at the Middleweight Title?
The most important question that UFC Fight Night 30 will answer, in my opinion, is whether or not Lyoto Machida is going to make a run for the UFC middleweight title. The former light heavyweight champion dropped down to 185 pounds after a controversial decision loss to Phil Davis at UFC 163 and now faces Mark Munoz in Saturday’s main event.
With a win over Munoz, one of the top 10 fighters in the division, Machida will instantly prove that he has what it takes to make a run for the belt at 185 pounds and become just the third fighter in UFC history to win titles in two separate weight classes (the other two fighters who have accomplished this feat being Randy Couture and BJ Penn).
Simply put, Munoz is an incredibly talented mixed martial artist who looked amazing against Tim Boetsch in his last fight, but he’s shown that he can be KO’d and if there’s anything Machida has it’s power. Power and accuracy. Power and accuracy and halitosis. Aside from having all that, Machida also uses his wrestling in reverse better than almost anyone on the planet. He was able to consistently stuff the takedowns of Rashad Evans and Phil Davis at 205 pounds, which leads me to believe that he should have no trouble stuffing Munoz’s, as well. Add in the fact that the fight is five rounds and its makes me lean towards a Machida finish even more, especially considering the result of his last fight.
This weekend, look for Machida to knock Munoz out and emerge as a legit threat to the middleweight championship. And if Chris Weidman beats Anderson Silva in their rematch at UFC 168, you better believe that Machida will be the next guy in line against “The All American” in a fight that could end up being one of the most anticipated of 2014.
2) Will Jimi Manuwa emerge as a dark horse contender at 205 pounds?
There aren’t many undefeated fighters in the UFC light heavyweight division, but one of them is Britain’s Jimi Manuwa, who puts his 13-0 record on the line against Canadian Ryan Jimmo in a main-card matchup at UFC Fight Night 30.
After emerging as a knockout artist on the British regional circuit, Manuwa has come into the UFC and absolutely brutalized Kyle Kingsbury and Cyrille Diabate to the point where both men could no longer fight in his first two fights. In fact, Manuwa iss the only fighter in UFC history to have two fights stopped in between rounds, which shows you just how much power this man is packing in his limbs.
Still, while Manuwa has owned everyone in his path so far, Jimmo does represent a significant step up in competition. It’ll be Manuwa’s toughest test to date, in my opinion, if only because of Jimmo’s ability to get fights to the ground and grind them out. And if Kingsbury was able to get Manuwa down, I think Jimmo can as well, although I’m sure Manuwa’s wrestling has improved a lot in the last year.
At the same time, if Manuwa can stop the takedowns and keep this fight on the feet and land shots on Jimmo, then he should be able to score his 14th career stoppage in his 14th career fight. If he can knock Jimmo out cold, I fully expect the UFC to start pushing him into top 10 territory — his fighting style is too marketable not to.
I believe that Manuwa will beat Jimmo this weekend and emerge as a dark horse contender at 205 pounds. I just wish he wasn’t 33 years old, but hey, this is MMA: Fighters in their 30′s can be called prospects. It happens all the time.
3) Alessio Sakara‘s Last Stand
This may come as a surprise to many of you, but middleweight Alessio Sakara is still on the UFC roster, and this Saturday night at UFC Fight Night 30 the Italian striker returns to the cage to face off against Sweden’s Nicholas Musoke in a main card bout that absolutely no one is talking about.
And it’s for good reason that no one is talking about it, as Sakara has lost his last three fights in the UFC and looks to be on the final legs of his career, while Musoke is a total unknown who took this fight on short notice. Yet for some reason the UFC put it on the main card while a good matchup like Andrew Craig vs. Luke Barnatt gets relegated to the prelims. (Who puts together these bout orders, anyways? I just don’t understand it.)
Sakara has been employed by the UFC since 2005, but he’s put up a mediocre 6-7, 1 NC record during that time and only one of those victories is over a current UFC fighter. That would be Thales Leites, who Sakara beat due to a bad judges’ decision at UFC 101. We just passed UFC 166. You get the point.
I think the only reason that Sakara is still in the UFC is because he has cool-looking tattoos and because he is the only Italian fighter on the entire roster. Because if you look at his last batch of fights, he just isn’t UFC caliber, and when the promotion goes and fires a guy like Yushin Okami and keeps Sakara on the roster, it really makes me scratch my head.
To be fair to Sakara, he is generally involved in exciting fights, but at some point winning has to become the priority, and if Sakara loses his fourth straight against Musoke this weekend, the UFC is going to hard a very hard time justifying his roster spot. And that’s why I believe it’s Sakara’s last stand at UFC Fight Night 30.
4) Why Did Jimy Hettes Fall so Far?
UFC 141 was nearly two years ago, but I still remember the night very clearly.
That was the Brock Lesnar vs. Alistair Overeem card, and while that match and the Nate Diaz vs. Donald Cerrone fight overshadowed almost everything else on that card, one other fight remains very vivid in my mind to this very day.
That was the performance of Jimy Hettes, who schooled Nam Phan on the ground for 15 minutes in the opening PPV fight of the night. It was the first time I had seen Hettes fight, and I remember being absolutely blown away by the performance of “The Kid” that night, as he displayed an absolutely brilliant BJJ game that left UFC commentator Joe Rogan at a loss for words.
After that incredible performance on one of the biggest cards of 2011, I was really excited for Hettes’ return to the Octagon, and at UFC 152 he came back to take on Marcus Brimage in an undercard fight that everyone expected him to dominate. Unfortunately for Hettes, he couldn’t take Brimage down and got exposed on the feet en route to a unanimous decision loss – the first defeat of his career.
It’s over a year later now, and Hettes finally returns to the cage and this weekend he takes on UFC newcomer Robert Whiteford on the Facebook prelims of UFC Fight Night 30, a huge fall from being in the opening fight of a Brock Lesnar card. It makes one wonder: Why did “The Kid” fall so far? It’s a fair question, but in my opinion, I think it was a combination of injuries, the short-term memory of MMA fans, and just how disappointed everyone was in his performance against Brimage.
This weekend, however, Hettes has a chance to bounce back and prove to everyone that he’s still a capable featherweight. If he can take out Whiteford in impressive fashion like I think he can, I expect a lot of people to get back aboard the Hettes bandwagon.