This upcoming Saturday night (May 28, 2011) at UFC 130: "Rampage vs. Hamill," two promising middleweights will duke it out in Las Vegas, Nevada, in a battle of potential 185-pound title contenders.
Brian Stann has gone 2-0 since making the drop to middleweight with two stoppages. "The All-American" is hoping to score the biggest win of his young career against an overseas champion on Memorial Day weekend, a three day span that means much more for the veteran marine officer than most.
Jorge Santiago is out to prove that he's a completely different fighter than the man who washed out of the UFC with a 1-2 record in 2006. The former American Top Team fighter found his calling in Japan where he left the promotion as the defending middleweight champion in 2010's "Fight of the Year."
Is Santiago capable of recreating the same magic in his UFC return as he did overseas? Can Stann continue his rise up the middleweight ladder?
Follow me after the jump to find out:
Record: 10-3 overall, 4-2 in the UFC
How he got here: If you really want the long (and highly entertaining version) check out Stann's book, Heart for the Fight, but for the condensed version, "The All-American" was a linebacker for the Navy, got interested in fighting while in the marines and would fight whenever he'd come home from Iraq, where he was a highly decorated officer.
Stann fought admirably in the WEC light heavyweight division, winning the title before Zuffa consolidated the division but he had trouble with the bigger stronger light heavyweights in the UFC, going 2-2 in the promotion. Stann then made a very important career decision, to drop to the middleweight division.
As a 185-pounder, he now had a size and strength advantage over his opponents that he didn't have at 205. The ex-marine was able to showcase his new well-rounded skills with a triangle victory over Mike Massenzio and then followed it up by cracking Chris Leben's granite chin at UFC 125 with a first round technical knockout victory. Stann called out Wanderlei Silva but will happily settle for the Sengoku middleweight champion.
How he gets it done: Brian has become a much more complete mixed martial artist ever since he switched over to Greg Jackson's camp. He's no longer the brawler who tries to overwhelm his opponent with his fists in the first two minutes, but that doesn't mean he's not capable of putting away an opponent early, just ask "The Crippler."
Stann's defensive wrestling has improved drastically and while he's becoming better every day on the ground, he will want to keep this fight standing. "The All-American" has two sledgehammers for fists and he knows how to use them. If he can connect with a left or right hook, it will be "nighty-night" for Santiago.
Look for Stann to keep this fight standing and pressure Santiago. He'll try to get inside to avoid Jorge's kicks and give him room to land his devastating power punches. Even if he's losing, the Jackson-trained fighter is always one punch away from victory.
Record: 23-8 overall, 1-2 in the UFC
Key Losses: Alan Belcher (UFC Fight Night 7), Chris Leben (UFC Fight Night 6)
How he got here: Jorge Santiago has been in the cage with some great fighters, even before he was in the UFC, like Manny Gamburyan and Diego Sanchez. He put on a show in his first UFC run, but his chin betrayed him after back-to-back losses to top middleweights Chris Leben and Alan Belcher.
Afterwards, Santiago would go on a spectacular run outside the promotion which included winning the one night Grand Prix for Strikeforce as well as capturing the Sengoku 2008 Middleweight Grandprix in Japan. The Brazilian would defeat Kazuo Misaki for the Sengoku middleweight title and would again be victorious over Misaki at Sengoku 14 in what many considered to be 2010's "Fight of the Year."
With Sengoku's financial troubles, many foreign fighters began bailing from the promotion and Santiago was released from his contract. The Imperial Athletics fighter is ready to make another run in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, this time, hopefully for good.
How he gets it done: "The Sandman" is a jack of all trades. Santiago ripped through the Strikeforce middleweight Grand Prix with kicks and knees. He submitted his way through much of his run in Sengoku with his spectacular Brazilian jiu-jitsu credentials and he showcased his sweeps and ground and pound in his comeback victory over Misaki this past August.
When the fight is standing, expect Santiago to keep his distance and look to work his excellent head and body kicks. If the fight gets inside, Jorge will either attempt to land some big knees in the clinch or work for a trip takedown of some sort.
The ground is where Santiago likely has the biggest strength. He's very slippery on the mats and he's capable of turning any perilous situation into an advantage. The Imperial Athletics fighter has beautiful sweeps and he's also capable of slithering onto his opponent's back like a python. Even if Stann is in top position, he's always going to be in danger. Expect Santiago to let Stann get comfortable standing and then attempt to slip a power punch and take "The All-American" down. If Santiago can put Stann on his back, he'll increase his odds of winning this fight by a very large margin.
Fight "X-Factor:" The "X-Factor" of this fight has to be Jorge Santiago's chin. The Brazilian has all the talents in the world, but none of that means anything if you can't take a clean punch. He's been cleanly knocked out three times in his career and he's been stopped due to strikes two other times. Hell, he was almost stopped against Misaki, a fighter who's not exactly known for his punching prowess.
Santiago absolutely must protect himself at all times. Even a grazing blow from Stann's heavy leather could put him to sleep so he's going to have to choose his shots wisely and avoid any unnecessary risk. Under all circumstances, he must not stay in the pocket and trade with Stann. Doing so would simply be asking for it.
Bottom line: This fight is a complete enigma. There are so many variables that make it one of the most difficult bouts to pick for on the entire card and that's what makes it so exciting. This match could take place at any position in any part of the cage at any time and a finish could come from anything. Expect everything from an all-out brawl to a technical masterpiece. One thing's for certain, make sure you've taken your bathroom breaks before hand because you don't want to miss it.
Who will come out on top at UFC 130? Let us know in the comments section below!