This Memorial Day weekend the UFC returns to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada for its latest effort with UFC 130: Rampage vs. Hamill. What was originally intended as the card’s main event, the highly anticipated rubber match between UFC Lightweight Champion “The Answer” Frankie Edgar (13-1-1) and wrestling powerhouse “The Bully” Gray Maynard (10-0-1) was put on hold when both fighters sustained injuries at the beginning of May. Taking its place as the main attraction is former 205lbs. champ “Rampage” Quinton Jackson (29-8) teeing off against the hard hitting wrestler “The Hammer” Matt Hamill (9-2). Supporting the light heavyweight duel is a match in the heavyweight division pitting submission specialist Frank Mir (14-5) against the big-bellied, wise cracking former IFL Heavyweight Champion “Big Country” Roy Neslon (15-5). “Hapa” Travis Browne (7-0) is looking to knock off and knock out the tallest man on the UFC roster in “Skyscraper” Stefan Struve (18-4), but Struve has plans of his own to add Browne to his growing list of fallen opponents. Welterweight rising star “The Horror” Rick Story (10-2) will be put to the test when he takes on a top contender in wrecking machine ”The Pitbull” Thiago Alves (17-7). One bout in particular that promises fireworks is a middleweight match-up between former WEC 205lbs. champ “All-American” Brian Stann (10-3) and former Sengoku and Strikeforce Middleweight Champion “Sandman” Jorge Santiago (22-8). Stann will bring the power and the iron drive that has made him a threat to all those who have stepped before him in the cage while the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Santiago will bring his well-rounded skill set to the Octagon in hopes of derailing the seemingly unstoppable “All-American” contender. This will likely be a battle of attrition that has all the makings of “Fight of the Night”.
At First Glance: Former Sengoku Champion Jorge Santiago is returning to the UFC after a five-year journey that has taken him around the world competing in an array of promotions including BodogFight and Strikeforce’s four-man middleweight tournament as well as his three-year reign in the Japanese Sengoku World Victory Road Ring. During his journey Santiago racked up an impressive 11-1 record, avenging his only loss in the process, and a “Fight of the Year” award with his second bout against Kazuo Misaki (23-11). The former Marine “All-American” Brian Stann made a big splash in the middleweight division with his first round knockout over iron-jawed brawler “The Crippler” Chris Leben (21-8) at UFC 125 and his Triangle Choke submission victory over Mike Massenzio (12-4) at UFC on Versus 2 last August. While both men have had nothing but good things to say about the other, they still have assured that the fans will see an explosive fight. There is a lot on the line for this main card match-up as the winner could see himself on the fast track toward UFC title contention.
In Depth: Santiago steps into the cage Saturday night with more experience and the more complete skill set: he has the ground game, the gas tank, and the striking to go anywhere the fight takes him. Stann has the strength, the power, the pinpoint striking, and the iron will to keep pressing on. Stann has been finished only twice in his career – once via submission and once via TKO, and seven of his total 10 victories have come by way of KO/TKO. Contrarily, five of Santiago’s eight losses resulted from knockouts while the majority of his 23 victories were earned with three-tap symphonies. Both men are on two-fight winning streaks with Stann having finished both opponents and Santiago going the almost the entire distance in both bouts. The two middleweights both are fans of stand-and-trade matches but Santiago will likely be more than willing to take the fight to the mat if he gets a taste of Stann’s punching power. Even should the fight hit the canvas all hope can not be lost on Stann, who himself has some wrestling experience and likely will fight to regain standing position. “Sandman” has been dropped in several of his previous bouts, though they were more like flash knockdowns where he was able to recover then gain the upper hand. Against a heavy hitter like Stann, those able to recover from one of his well-placed punches come few and far between. The fight could be a three-round chess match that goes from the feet, to the clinch, and on the mat, or it could end with a quick knockout or submission win for either man. Santiago will likely seek the takedown as soon as he sees Stann go for a power shot; he may be a game opponent to strike but he knows all it takes is that one punch from Stann to end his night. The Greg Jackson protege Stann will probably treat the fight as a kickboxing match and stuff Santiago’s takedowns, answering with hooks or uppercuts on the way out of the clinch, and avoiding the ground game of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt. The winner of this bout will be the one who carries out the best game plan in respect to his own greatest strengths. Stann’s powerful hands, fight IQ, and mental fortitude combined with the fact that he is fighting the weekend of a holiday meant to honor war heroes such as himself could make Santiago’s long awaited UFC return a little sour at the heavy hands of the “All-American”.
Wild Card: Stann may have the heavier hands and the athleticism to carry him through the rounds and the punches but the ground game is clearly his Achilles’ heel. Santiago is a BJJ black belt and has rolled with some of the best in the game during his time at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida. If the fight goes to the ground it will be Santiago’s key to gain a victory. There, he may opt to lock in a submission, do damage with his vicious ground-and-pound to gain a TKO stoppage, or control Stann to a judges’ decision. The longer the fight stays on the mat the better it will be for Santiago to walk away with his first UFC win since 2006.
The Verdict: A high profile fight between two accomplished, well-respected men that have a lot to prove is a difficult one to predict. Come Saturday night, the American hero Stann will take on the international star Santiago not only so that he may take another step closer to a shot at the coveted middleweight championship belt, but he will go to battle in honor of the brave servicemen and -women who gave their lives to protect the freedoms granted by the United States of America. Expect Stann to bring the fire and the bad intentions in his fists, as his sheer power and aggression will likely make a short night for “Sandman” once one of his fight-ending punches connect. Stann via TKO (Strikes), Round 2.