Former UFC lightweight contender Kenny Florian (14-5) will make his debut at 145 lbs. on Saturday night at he battles Nova Uniao product Diego Nunes (16-1) in one of the featured match-ups at UFC 131. The drop in weight will be Kenny's fourth since entering the UFC, debuting at The Ultimate Fighter Finale 1 against Diego Sanchez in a middleweight contest. He followed his debut with two victories in the welterweight division before making a prolonged stay in the lightweight division. Losses to B.J. Penn and Gray Maynard persuaded Florian to make a final cut down to the 145-pound weight limit, allowing Florian to have a significant size advantage over the competition.
Nunes is far from a fastball down the middle however. He's only lost one career fight, an unanimous decision to LC Davis at WEC 44 back in November of 2009. Since then, he's defeated veterans Tyler Toner and Raphael Assuncao while winning his UFC debut at UFC 125 in a split decision over former champion Mike Brown. A win on Saturday night will surely put Nunes into the title picture, and he has the chops to be a pest that Florian won't be able to squash.
The most convincing evidence of that is Nunes' performance against the muscular Mike Brown. Nunes wasn't able to avoid the power of Brown in the first round of action, but he did prove that he could stop Brown's takedown game and utilize his superior kickboxing game for the rest of the fight, battering the former champion and edging him on the scorecards. Nunes has neutralized most of the competition he's faced with a similar strategy.
The toll that the weight cut will take on Florian is the biggest concern among fans attempting to decipher how this fight will go down, but the size advantage that Florian will have over Nunes combined with his technical skills should be enough to edge Nunes on the scorecards. The clinch is a place where Nunes has had a tremendous amount of success, and Florian should be able to neutralize Nunes and punish him in that area of the fight.
Nunes' best shot is to use his small size to his advantage by circling constantly and using speed to frustrate Florian. Nunes has a more dynamic kickboxing game, but Florian will more than likely be looking to catch Nunes' kicks to bring the fight to the ground. Let's also not forget that Florian is an above average striker who can produce a lot of damage quickly along the fence. Nunes must be quick to evade throughout the fight.
Nunes is an enticing underdog pick due to his exotic brand of kickboxing. Unfortunately, I don't think it will be enough to defeat a well-rounded, larger fighter like Kenny Florian. Florian may have some problems early trying to corral Nunes, but if he brings the fight to the ground and gains the top position -- Nunes is in for a world of hurt. I don't forsee Florian holding Nunes down consistently, but I think he'll find himself in control enough on the ground and in the clinch to win rounds and edge Nunes via decision.