Diego Nunes has yet to find his stride in the UFC. | Photo: Gleidson Venga/Sherdog.com
With the Ultimate Fighting Championship nearing its 20th anniversary, the Las Vegas-based organization appears committed to making 2013 a memorable year for cable audiences and pay-per-view subscribers alike.
In addition to the head-turning headliners already booked for UFC 156, UFC 157 and UFC 158, the promotion’s free TV cards have also been shown some serious main event love. Translation: if you are not psyched to catch Demetrious Johnson-John Dodson, Renan Pegado-Michael McDonald and Wanderlei Silva-Brian Stann with no added strain placed on your pocketbook, then maybe you need to find a new fan gig.
The first stop on that free TV gravy train comes courtesy of UFC on FX 7 this Saturday at the Geraldo Jose de Almeida State Gymnasium in Sao Paulo, Brazil. It is headlined by a crucial middleweight showdown between well-rounded Brit Michael Bisping and hard-hitting veteran Vitor Belfort. Prior to the FX-broadcast main draw, however, the prelims air live on Fuel TV and Facebook.
Here are five reasons to catch the undercard:
Sherdog Fantasy MMA: UFC on FX 7 Free Fan Pick’Em
Diego Nunes is probably still flying under the radar for most UFC fans, but I think he nonetheless holds great potential as a future featherweight title challenger. This is a theory to which the Brazilian also subscribes, prompting him to leave the vaunted Nova Uniao camp -- home to current UFC 145-pound king Jose Aldo.
Will the decision prove a smart move for “The Gun” or will the change of scenery serve as a detriment to his routine and focus?
Despite his considerable talent, Nunes has struggled to find consistency against his peers in the featherweight Top 10, dropping bouts to Kenny Florian and Dennis Siver while picking up wins over Manny Gamburyan and Bart Palaszewski in his last four fights.
Nunes’ Oct. 5 win over “Bartimus” was particularly noteworthy, as the fighter displayed a rarely seen level of aggression. Normally a reserved and calculating striker, Nunes let it all hang out against Palaszewski, even appearing wild at times while swinging for the fences. Will the results of that approach push the Brazilian toward a permanent shift in philosophy or will he abandon the assault rifle in favor of his old revolver?
Year of ‘The Carny’
Regardless of which approach Nunes takes, he will have his hands full with Nik Lentz, who looked like a world-beater in his featherweight debut against Eiji Mitsuoka in August at UFC 150.
Once considered by some as one of the more boring prospects in the UFC’s lightweight division, “The Carny” has managed to sway the court of public opinion thanks to engaging performances against Waylon Lowe, Mark Bocek and Evan Dunham, despite finding himself overmatched in the latter two meetings.
That was not the case in his effort against Mitsuoka, against whom the American was in total control from start to finish, repeatedly slamming the veteran before taking his back and pounding out a dominant victory. Can Lentz keep his momentum rolling against Nunes and earn himself a spot in the featherweight Top 10?
Everyone responds to adversity differently. For example, when my high school basketball coach decided to cut me from the squad as a senior, I responded by avoiding anything round or orange for about the next five years. Yes, I obviously became horribly deficient in Vitamin C, but I also lost my will to compete. While I doubt Barboza has replicated my setback-induced diet of Pizza Bites, Dove ice cream bars and Ezra Brooks Sadness-Infused Whiskey, I have to imagine that overcoming a hurdle like the Varner loss must be a difficult task in its own right.
This is a huge moment in Barboza’s career. Still just 26, the Brazilian-born striker has plenty of gas left in his tank, but that will not matter if he steps into the cage thinking about how he ended up on the wrong end of Sherdog.com’s 2012 “Upset of the Year.” Barboza is saying the right things about putting the loss behind him leading up to his clash with Octagon newcomer Lucas Martins, but it is impossible to tell what those words actually mean until we see him back in the cage.
Trinaldo on Trial
Francisco Trinaldo may not be the first name that comes to mind when most fans think of the UFC’s lightweight division, but I think the Brazilian has it in him to make some real headway with the promotion in 2013.
The former Jungle Fight titlist introduced himself to UFC audiences as a member of “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil,” competing as a blown-up middleweight, a la Kenny Florian. “Massaranduba” capped his time on the series with a first-round technical knockout of castmate and International Fight League veteran Delson Heleno at the live season finale but then found himself on the losing end of a competitive 15 minutes against the highly regarded Gleison Tibau at UFC 153 in October. Still, even at 34 years old, Trinaldo has thus far impressed me with his explosiveness and power. If the Brazilian works to increase the size of his gas tank, I believe he could quickly move up the lightweight ladder.
Will Trinaldo put the Tibau loss behind him with a strong showing against C.J. Keith or find himself sinking in the deep and uncaring quicksand of the UFC’s 155-pound ranks?
Boy Don’t Beat Himself
Andrew Craig demanded attention the first time he stepped into the Octagon.
The former Legacy Fighting Championship middleweight king took a fight against Kyle Noke on six weeks’ notice, replacing an injured Jared Hamman in March at UFC on FX 2. Walking into hostile territory at the Allphones Arena in Sydney, Australia, Craig looked gunshy in the early going, and the Aussie appeared well on his way to sending the 26-year-old back to Texas with his head hung low.
Instead, Craig came out a different fighter in round two, dropping Noke in the frames waning seconds en route to grinding out a hard-fought unanimous verdict over his favored foe. While the result was surprising at the time, it would not serve as Craig’s lone come-from-behind performance, as the prospect turned a similar trick against Rafael Natal in July at UFC on Fuel TV 4, picking himself up off the deck to turn out the Brazilian’s lights with a head kick.
Make no mistake: Craig is neither the most technical nor athletic middleweight in the world. If he continues to succeed in the Octagon, it will almost certainly be not because of his skills but his heart. He was outgunned against both Noke and Natal, and I imagine the same will hold true against Ronny Markes.
Can Craig extend his career unbeaten streak and pick up a UFC hat trick in his third Octagon appearance?