The Michihiro Omigawa vs. Darren Elkins bout was previewed separately and in more detail. The following is the four remaining preliminaries that will be streamed on Youtube and Facebook.
I feel bad for guys like Nick Ring and Leonard Garcia. They're forced to endure the wrath of angry fans for decisions they didn't make, usually in fights they were supposed to lose, just because they fought aggressively and competitively enough to win.
Regardless of your feeling on the outcome, Nick Ring's performance against reputable DEEP champion Riki Fukuda at UFC 127 was pretty amazing. He stuffed his share of takedowns, scored with a wide variety of strikes, and showed excellent composure for someone coming off a reality television show. Let's not forget he also defeated eventual TUF winner Court McGee but dropped out of the competition due to injury.
Ring is still undefeated after eleven fights. He has a thorough ground game -- winning the bronze at the 2008 and 2009 Fila World Grappling championships -- and an under-rated stand up arsenal, with a black belt in Muay Thai and a pile of kickboxing accolades. Ring has won almost half of his fights by submission, and his versatile showing over a high-caliber fighter like Fukuda leads me to believe he has very encouraging potential.
His opponent, UFC newcomer James Head, is also a promising prospect. After eight fights and only one loss to former TUF competitor Jesse Forbes, Head earned his shot by serving Gerald Harris with a shocking loss. Harris was released in controversial fashion after a lackluster bout against Maiquel Falcao at UFC 123, and everyone expected him to slap around lesser names in smaller shows to expedite his Octagon return.
James Head wasn't into that plan. He beat Harris by unanimous decision at "Xtreme Fight Night 2" in February, stealing the vacant seat that was purportedly being kept warm for Harris.
Head has a comprehensive mesh of grappling and striking as well. He started training under BJJ phenom Rafael Lovato Jr. in 2008, and won the silver at the 2010 World Championships as a blue belt. Complementing his startling advancement in submission grappling, Head has six years of boxing experience and won a regional championship as an amateur.
The only area that neither Ring nor Head really excel is wrestling. In fact, with strong striking and smooth submission-grappling as their best assets, they're actually quite similar. From what I've seen of James Head, his ground onslaught is highly technical, and while he might have the slight edge down on the canvas, Ring's kickboxing should be on a higher level.
James Head will probably not be your average, run-of-the-mill new guy. While I believe he'll impress in his debut, I don't think Ring gets enough respect for his skills, and will probably look average in a tight victory because of it.
My Prediction: Ring by decision
Dustin Poirier gained recognition for relieving Josh Grispi of his top contender status after he filled in for featherweight champion Jose Aldo, who was set to defend his title against Grispi at UFC 125.
Poirier was flawless in his first seven fights, all first or second round stoppages, before losing his WEC debut to Team Alpha Male's Danny Castillo by decision. He quickly rebounded with an emphatic first round trampling of Zachary Micklewright at WEC 52 before putting himself on the map versus Grispi.
Standing southpaw, Poirier has wicked low kicks and a laser-straight left. He stalks right from the get-go and pours on a steady stream of pressure.
I mean, really ... just soak in his scintillating aggression in the animation to the left. I count a twenty-four-strike combination after the sprawl at 1:41, concluding with the knee, and then Poirier still pursues with fists flying.
For whatever reason, I find these choice quotes from the Q&A on Poirier's UFC.com profile page relevant:
Do you have any heroes? Baby Jesus and the grown up one too
What is your favorite technique? Neck chops probably
Poirier was initially slated to face Rani Yahya, who was one of many to drop off the card due to injury. Filling in for Yahya is UFC first-timer Jason Young, a UK-based striker training alongside Brad Pickett with Team Titan.
It's pretty easy to look at an unknown replacement with an average record and arrive at the conclusion that rising phenom Dustin Poirier is going to trounce him, and -- though I couldn't be higher on Poirier -- that just might not be the case.
Grispi, who earned "The Fluke" as a moniker for his surprising submission dexterity, tasted only one minute of Poirier's avid stand-up and tried to pull guard to avoid it. Jason "Shotgun" Young will definitely not be pulling guard. Young is a pure striker with devastating kickboxing, and will be more than happy to stand and trade leather.
He is a former Cage Rage lightweight champion who will be making his featherweight debut UFC 131. All three of his career losses are via submission, the last being to undefeated UFC submission demon Paul Sass, but Young has won four of his last five.
This will be an interesting test for Poirier. His options are to bang with a proven striker -- which holds risk but also great reward if he beats him at his own game -- or to show he can construct and implement an intelligent strategy by exploiting his technical ground advantage.
One aspect of Young's striking is that, despite his skill, he relies more on a wide range of high output rather than pure power.
There is no way Dustin Poirier should be anything but the strong favorite to win after such a thrilling domination of top contender Grispi, as the betting lines reflect. Jason Young was an accomplished striker at 155, and could be a dark horse in this match if Poirier doesn't respect his stand-up.
My Prediction: Poirier by submission
With Igor Pokrajac becoming the latest victim of the UFC 131 injury epidemic, Krzysztof Soszynski will refocus for the third time on a new opponent, this time New Jersey grappling gorilla Mike Massenzio.
This has to be extremely trying for K-Sos, who has prepared for a smooth submission specialist in Anthony Perosh, then a completely different style of opponent in Pokrajac, and now a power-grappler who represents a dual pronged wrestling and submission threat.
"The Polish Experiment" was a member of TUF 8, where he was impressive in defeating Mike Stewart and Kyle Kingsbury before getting twisted in a Vinny Magalhaes submission. Soszynski continued to ascend after the reality show by treating both Shane Primm and Brian Stann to the jaws of his kimura hold, then clobbered Andre Gusmao in the first round. The momentum earned him an upgrade in competition. K-Sos took on Brandon Vera at UFC 102 and performed well despite the loss, giving Vera a handful in the clinch and a mouthful of leather throughout every round.
After it was determined his next TKO victory over Stephan Bonnar was due to an inadvertent but illegal clash of heads, in a situation where many have said they are looking forward instead of backward, Soszynski acknowledged the foul and agreed to an immediate rematch. My respect for Sosznski soared, as I thought it was an extremely honorable approach, and my heart went out to him when Bonnar finished him in the second.
K-Sos got back on track with a big win over Goran Reljic last time out, showing sharper stand-up and maintaining his untamed ferocity.
Soszynski is just a big, mean man. A southpaw, K-Sos used to fight at heavyweight and spent time training with Team Quest, and also has some Judo tricks up his sleeve.
Striking-wise, he's mostly an aggressive boxer with a vicious left hand and a skillful brawler's mentality. His strength is hard to match, and his clinch-game is punctuated by a blend of jagged dirty boxing, good underhooks and footwork, and the occasional attempt at an arm or neck submission.
Team Bombsquad's Mike Massenzio, whom Soszynski will have a matter of days to prepare for, is no stranger to the Octagon either.
Winning ten of his first twelve fights, Massenzio was first invited to the UFC in 2008 where he wrenched a first round kimura on Drew McFedries. Back-to-back losses followed, as he was finished by C.B. Dollaway and Brian Stann, the latter in a rousing Fight of the Night effort on the "Jones vs. Matyushenko" card in 2010.
Massenzio has since added a second stoppage via TKO to his record, with half of his other wins coming by way of submission. Massenzio was a champion in high school wrestling, junior college wrestling, and a N.A.G.A. World Champion in the Expert Division.
Once again, this is a very scary foe for Soszynski to tackle on short notice. The one spot where Soszynski is at his weakest is on his back with a very capable and technical submission whiz climbing all over him. Massenzio has that ability, and his wrestling could produce that exact scenario.
However, let's not forget that Krzysztof Soszynski is a voracious animal to take on in a mere two or three days notice as well. Polish-flavored punishment will come from each and every mistake Massenzio makes, and even though I give the crafty grappler a chance to surprise, I see him falling to a barrage of ground and pound when going for broke with takedowns.
Sensei Joe Silva deserves credit for repairing the card with fresh opponents that offer a very jeopardizing style, so this another match up where I'll pick the clear favorite, but also clearly issue a warning that the underdog has the potential to bite.
My Prediction: Soszynski by TKO
In the final iteration of UFC 131 musical chairs (at least, for this article): heavyweight Joey Beltran was supposed to welcome Dave Herman to the Octagon, but after Brock Lesnar was replaced by Carwin in the headliner and Herman was bumped to the main to face fellow newcomer Jon Olav Einemo, Aaron Rosa was brought in.
Putting myself in Beltran's shoes, I'd be a little upset Herman was elevated instead. As a fan, I think "Pee Wee" is pure excitement and a perfect main card addition, but if I'm Joey Beltran, that bothers me. "The Mexicutioner" has paid his dues and engaged in nothing but fiery and stimulating battles, win or lose.
Now, throw in the fact that his opponent, late replacement Aaron Rosa, is being favored to win on the betting lines, and methinks Joey Beltran will be headhunting with ruthless abandon.
The cool thing about Beltran is that he's a respectful guy and will never say a peep; just try to send a message about the UFC's decision in a demonstration of violence on the undercard.
While his style might not draw artful comparisons to fluent K-1 strikers, Beltran is a great example of just a tough, hard-nosed, bad ass that will throw and take punches all night.
Shellacking Houston Alexander by TKO in the second was enough for an Octagon opportunity, and Beltran quieted legions of sentimental fans when he unloaded on Rolles Gracie to steal the spotlight in both their UFC debuts.
I feel confident saying that Joey Beltran might have one of the toughest chins in the game. I had the pleasure of watching Mitrione bounce everything but the kitchen sink off his chin in person, and not only did Beltran stay conscious, he kept swinging. Every time I thought he was on the verge of collapsing, he would explode forward with a burst of waist-high hooks. His raw toughness is off the charts.
Aaron Rosa has been on the scene for a while, competing in Bellator, ShoXC, Strikefoce, Shark Fights, and Titan Fighting Championships. He kicked off his career with ten-straight and became the Renegades light-heavyweight champion, eventually climbing up a weight class and into the more notable promotions.
This will likely turn out just like Beltran vs. Gracie, with a formidable sprawl, strong clinch, and a deluge of stiff uppercuts delivered by Beltran.
The only time in his five losses Beltran was finished was via submission, but the short notice hurts Rosa much more, and Beltran should unsheathe his uppercut when Rosa looks to drop levels.
My Prediction: Beltran by TKO
All gifs from Zombie Prophet via IronForgesIron