There's a clear UFC vs. Strikeforce theme to tonight's UFC on Fox 7 card in San Jose. Ben Henderson defends his lightweight title against Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez in the main event. Former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir faces Strikeforce Grand Prix winner Daniel Cormier in the co-main event. The preliminary card continues the theme with matchups like Francis Carmont versus Lorenz Larkin and Tim Means against Jorge Masvidal.
Here's a look at the eight fight preliminary card, starting from the FX headliner between Darren Elkins and Chad Mendes all the way to the curtain raiser between middleweights Clifford Starks and Yoel Romero. The FX broadcast starts at 5 PM ET/2 PM PT, while the two Facebook fights air at 4 PM ET/1 PM PT.
Darren Elkins vs. Chad Mendes - Featherweights
There's only one fighter on the entire roster with a 5-0 UFC record at featherweight, and it's Darren Elkins. After a submission loss to Charles Oliveira at lightweight, Elkins moved to 145 where he's been on a tear. He's beaten Michihiro Omigawa, Zhang Tiequan, Diego Brandao, Steven Siler, and Antonio Carvalho in succession. While he's generally known as a "grinding wrestler", he pulled off a surprise TKO of Carvalho at UFC 158, and with Clay Guida injured, Elkins stepped up to the place to fight Mendes. A win for Elkins would not only be an upset, but would more than solidify his place as one of the best 145ers in the world.
Mendes has run into some bad luck since losing to champion Jose Aldo last January. He was given an easy opponent in Cody McKenzie at UFC 148, but the desire to fight even FW gatekeepers has been squashed because of injuries to the opposition. He's lost scheduled matchups against Hacran Dias, Manny Gamburyan, and now Clay Guida. Dias was replaced by the little known Yaotzin Meza, who Mendes stopped in round 1, Gamburyan never had a replacement at UFC 157 and Mendes was pulled from the card. Luckily for Mendes, Elkins is healthy enough and ready to face him in what should be an intriguing contest.
Francis Carmont vs. Lorenz Larkin - Middleweights
Carmont is still unbeaten in the UFC, although he probably was fortunate to earn a split decision against Tom Lawlor in his last outing. The Frenchman has submission wins over Magnus Cedenblad and Karlos Vemola, and finally a decision win in his promotional debut against Chris Camozzi to round out his 4-0 record. Carmont trains out of Tristar Gym in Quebec,home of welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre. Being brutally honest, the level of competition he defeated in Europe and even in the UFC is fairly nondescript, but a win over Larkin would be a solid addition to his list of triumphs.
Larkin is making his second appearance at middleweight following a decision win over Robbie Lawler in Strikeforce. The 26-year-old out of Riverside, CA previously earned his money at 205 lbs, where he amassed a 12-0 record heading into his fight with King Mo in Strikeforce. Mo won by brutal KO, but the result was overturned following a positive drug test for the King. That means Larkin is technically still undefeated, and his powerful striking could be a very welcome and exciting addition to the UFC middleweight roster.
Ramsey Nijem vs. Myles Jury - Lightweights
Nijem was viciously knocked out in the TUF 13 Finale against Tony Ferguson, but since the defeat he's been on an absolute tear. The Washington State native moved down to 155 lbs and has impressively beaten Danny Downes, C.J. Keith, and most recently Joe Proctor. He's got a solid wrestling game and improved (but not yet technically sound) striking, and could see his level of competition increase if he can get past Jury.
Jury competed on both TUF 13 and TUF 15. His TUF 13 run was cut short after a knee injury in the opening episode, but he was able to fight two seasons later. He earned Fight of the Season honors against Al Iaquinta in the round of 16, but lost by split decision. Jury still earned a spot on the season finale, where he defeated Chris Saunders by submission. His biggest win to date is a unanimous decision victory over Michael Johnson at UFC 155. Jury remains undefeated in his professional career, and will look to go 3-0 in the UFC tonight.
Joseph Benavidez vs. Darren Uyenoyama - Flyweights
Benavidez was a high level bantamweight in the WEC and UFC, but once the flyweight division opened up last year he wasted no time in entering the four man tournament. He lost a close decision to Demetrious Johnson in the title match, but rebounded nicely with a win over Ian McCall. Given his #2 ranking in the division it shouldn't take much for him to earn another title shot, whether that be against Demetrious Johnson or John Moraga.
Uyenoyama made a spectacular debut in the UFC in November 2011, easily dispatching Kid Yamamoto en route to a unanimous decision nod. The Japanese-American grappler dropped to flyweight, and after a brief injury delay he made his 125 lbs debut against Phil Harris last October, winning by submission. Benavidez is unquestionably his toughest challenge yet, and he's not expected to win, but nevertheless it's a good measuring stick for his promise in the division.
Tim Means vs. Jorge Masvidal - Lightweights
Means returns to the Octagon after a 9 month absence. He was due to face Abel Trujillo at UFC on Fox 5 in Seattle, but on the day of the weigh-ins he slipped and knocked himself out in the sauna ... I wish I was making that up. When he's not having sauna adventures, he's looked really sharp. He's used an accurate and aggressive striking attack to soundly defeat Bernardo Magalhaes and Justin Salas. Tonight's fight against Jorge Masvidal could very well be the leading pre-event candidate for FOTN.
Masvidal could very well be an instant fan favorite among UFC fans with his exciting striking background. The 28-year-old has fought in various promotions such as Bellator, Strikeforce, and Sengoku. One of his signature wins is a head kick KO of Yves Edwards in 2007 on a BodogFight event in New Jersey. Masvidal recorded a 3-1 record in Strikeforce, with his sole defeat coming to tonight's lightweight title challenger Gilbert Melendez. He's fought a who's who of UFC and Strikeforce veterans over his 10 year career, and while he hasn't really made a push towards the top 10, he is certainly a formidable opponent for just about anyone in the UFC's 155 lbs division.
Dillashaw is one of three fighters from UFC 158 in March 16th competing on tonight's show. This is the second time in a month he's replaced an injured fighter, this time he's filling in for Francisco Rivera. The Team Alpha Male product annihilated Walel Watson, and finished Vaughan Lee and Issei Tamura. He's already noted for his wrestling ability, something standard across the Team Alpha Male board, but his win over Tamura ended with a head kick and punches.
Viana lost in the semifinals of TUF Brazil at featherweight, then later defeated castmate John Teixeira by split decision. "Wolverine" had won all of his 6 pro fights by decision, but when he moved to 135 lbs to face Reuben Duran at the TUF 16 Finale, he knocked Duran around the cage and forced a first round KO stoppage. His opponent replacement certainly is a drastic change of styles, and he'll have to prepare for the wrestling of Dillashaw instead of the powerful hands of Rivera.
Anthony Njokuani vs. Roger Bowling - Lightweights
Njokuani was an exciting talent in the WEC, and the biggest moment for him came when he knocked out Chris Horodecki with a head kick as Horodecki foolishly turned his back on him. His UFC run though has not been impressive at just 2-3. All of his UFC bouts have gone the distance, and his last showing was a rather easy win for Rafael Dos Anjos. The Nigerian has good kickboxing, although not overly powerful, and while his main weakness is his wrestling, Roger Bowling is the type of fighter who loves a good brawl.
Bowling is perhaps best known for his Strikeforce trilogy with Bobby Voelker. Roger took the first one by technical decision, but lost the last two by TKO. Post-Voelker fights he knocked out Jerron Peoples and Brandon Saling before losing to Tarec Saffiedine by decision. The Ohioan is just 3-3 in his last 6 fights, and Njokuani could produce problems akin to his fight with Saffiedine. Bowling has big KO power though, and that could be the great equalizer against a technically sound striker like Njokuani.
Clifford Starks vs. Yoel Romero - Middleweights
It's been well over a year since Clifford Starks last fought in the UFC. He debuted at UFC 137 in October 2011 against Dustin Jacoby, taking the unanimous decision win to maintain his unbeaten record. Starks was given a considerable jump in competition at UFC 143, as he took on seasoned veteran Ed Herman. While Starks scored an early knockdown in round 1, Herman controlled him on the ground and secured a rear-naked choke victory in the 2nd round. Starks wrestled at Arizona State, a powerhouse school with familiar MMA names such as Cain Velasquez, Ryan Bader, and C.B. Dollaway.
Romero is an Olympic silver medalist (2000) in freestyle wrestling and a five-time medalist at the FILA World Championships. But it's only recently that the Cuban made the move to pro MMA. He started his career in 2009, winning his first four bouts (all by KO or TKO) before his Strikeforce debut against Rafael Cavalcante. Romero uncharacteristically showed virtually no offense in the fight, and was knocked out in the 2nd round by "Feijao" . This is Romero's first fight since the Feijao loss, during which time he underwent neck surgery, and the 35-year-old is hoping that a drop to middleweight will provide a return to success.