In the world of mixed martial arts, we often talk about the progression of developing fighters and when the turning point in their ascension through the ranks will occur. For Jon Jones, a majority of fans watched him dismantle Brandon Vera and Vladimir Matyushenko, then proclaimed he would be the next UFC light heavyweight champion. Those proclamations came true seven months later as he defeated Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua in impressive fashion to win the coveted crown. Others have failed where Jones succeeded, some while on the trek through the proving grounds of UFC Fight Night, The Ultimate Fighter Finale, or UFC on Versus cards and others at the membrane separating the upper-echelon from the rest of the division.
It isn't surprising to see that UFC 130 hasn't received a lot of attention from fans. After a third bout between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard fell through due to injuries and the promotion of Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson vs. Matt Hamill to main event status, it left the rest of the main card lacking the drawing power to entice a large contingent of casual fans who watch the UFC. Those fans aren't clamoring to see Matt Hamill, Rick Story, Frank Mir, or Brian Stann. But maybe those fans should be as some of those aforementioned fighters may have their own break out moment on Saturday night.
Matt Hamill stands to gain the most on the card if he can defeat Jackson. While it's impossible to overlook the fact that his victory over Jon Jones was a technicality due to an archaic rule disallowing straight up-and-down elbows, Hamill will still be competing for the opportunity to break away from the pack and gain some level of prominence. His performances haven't garnered oohs and ahhs from fans that usually come with surging stars, but he's in a position now to potentially defeat one of the UFC's mightier powers in the pay-per-view business along with carving out a name for himself as a possible contender.
Furthermore, the timing couldn't be more perfect. If he were to defeat Jackson, his next fight could be promoted alongside the release of his movie, Hamill, which was bought for release and is anticipated to hit theaters this fall. The UFC will likely promote Matt alongside the movie regardless of the outcome this weekend, but it would surely help the UFC's bottom line if he's actually relevant in the UFC's light heavyweight division.
Thiago Alves vs. Rick Story and Brian Stann vs. Jorge Santiago are far more intriguing match-ups however. Alves is hoping to regain some footing in the welterweight title picture while Story aims to cross over into the upper reaches of the division. Both Stann and Santiago are in the same boat as Story, eying a chance to fight relevant competition atop the middleweight division.
Story's relentless drive along with his improving skills could be a combination that gives Alves major problems in this fight. Alves' tough weight cut could cause him to gas quicker than Story, and Story hasn't taken his foot off the pedal since his debut in the UFC back in June of '09. Story's blue-collar brand of fighting could open some eyes to otherwise unimpressed fans.
Stann has also improved by leaps and bounds since his days in the WEC. Wins over Chris Leben and Mike Massenzio after cutting down to 185 pounds have put a little steam behind a potential run into the depths of the division. Santiago's dominance of the Japanese ranks and his epic showdowns with Kazuo Misaki have put some emphasis on his second stint with the UFC among hardcore fans. The big question is whether fighting competition strictly overseas over the last three years means he'll falter like many of the overseas imports we've seen in the UFC. It shouldn't, but Santiago failed miserably in a three-fight stint with the UFC back in 2006.
Let's also not forget the bantamweight contest featuring Miguel Torres and Demetrious Johnson. Johnson, who could probably sit atop a throne in the non-existent flyweight division, has defeated three out of four opponents in the 135 pound weight class. He's been considered an underdog in most of those fights, using his speed and wrestling to dominate his opposition despite his tiny frame.
Torres is considered a slight favorite at the betting window, but many fans consider Torres a clear cut favorite due to his size and speed. Antonio Banuelos couldn't deal with Torres' reach or strikes. The Torres of old, however, had problems letting his hands go and keeping shorter opponents at bay once Brian Bowles proved he could be knocked out. Johnson's speed and elusiveness make one wonder if Torres can hit him enough to impede his progress to get inside.
I'm not sold on the idea that this card will be a drab mix of boring action and irrelevant match-ups. I won't kid myself though. I'm not going to believe that Matt Hamill is suddenly a legitimate contender to Jon Jones if he beats 'Rampage' Jackson. In my eyes, Alves vs. Story and Stann vs. Santiago have the potential to be great fights that highlight the UFC's ability to create exciting action. If you can't get behind that type of matchmaking, I suppose Tank Abbott vs. Kimbo Slice II will happen at some point in time, huh?