Two of the best rising bantamweights in the UFC will battle this Saturday night (July 7, 2012) as veteran Ivan Menjivar takes on "The Hulk" Mike Easton in the opening bout of the UFC 148 main card in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ivan Menjivar has been on fire, handling all three of his opponents since transferring over to the UFC. The veteran out of Tristar Gym missed out on a potential number one contender fight, but he's still getting showcased on the main card for the second consecutive fight. He'll be looking to draw some attention with an impressive performance.
Mike Easton has quietly gone 2-0 in the UFC bantamweight division, although he's yet to have that breakthrough win. He had a hard-fought battle against late replacement Jared Papazian in his last fight and the Alliance MMA fighter is hoping he can enter potential contender status if he can score that signature victory.
Will Menjivar have his way with Easton? Can Easton "Hulk" up and overwhelm the veteran's experience with pure power? What's the key to victory for both men on Saturday night?
Let's find out:Ivan Menjivar
Record: 24-8 overall, 3-1 in the UFC
Key Wins: John Albert (UFC on Fuel TV), Charlie Valencia (UFC 129), Joe Lauzon (APEX Undisputed)
Key Losses: Brad Pickett (WEC 53)
How he got here: Ivan Menjivar has had a long and arduous career in mixed martial arts, especially considering he hasn't even hit 30 years old yet. Originally hailing from El Salvador, his family left the country when war was breaking out as a child and he surprisingly grew up in Canada where he found a love for the martial arts.
By 2001, he was competing professionally and because of the lack of smaller weight classes, he was forced to fight men much bigger than him. In fact, he fought Georges St. Pierre in just his fourth pro bout. "The Pride of El Salvador" eventually worked his way to a shot in the UFC where be battled eventual champion Matt Serra, losing a decision
Menjivar fought all over the world, from Japan to Manitoba, going into a state of semi-retirement after losing to Bart Palaszewski in the IFL due to injuries and personal life. Four years later, he returned and was given a shot in the WEC where he had a Fight of the Year candidate against Brad Pickett get overshadowed by Anthony Pettis' "Showtime Kick."
The Tristar Gym product got another shot in the UFC and made the most of it, crushing Charlie Valencia with a brutal elbow at UFC 129 and then eeking out a close decision against Nick Pace at UFC 133. He faced a stern test early against John Albert but weathered the storm to earn a first round finish in one of 2012's most entertaining one-round scraps.
Menjivar was originally scheduled to square off against top contender Renan Barao but will instead take on bantamweight prospect Mike Easton this Saturday night.
How he gets it done: Menjivar is still improving with his technique, but he's very tough, can take a shot, keeps coming and pushes a tremendous pace. Having a good well-rounded skill-set will be a nice advantage against someone like Easton.
Menjivar is competent on the ground, holding his own against men significantly larger than him for years, but expect to see him try to keep this fight standing. "The Pride of El Salvador" will want to work some kicks before closing the distance and looking for either power punches on the inside or potentially an opportunity to land his brutal elbows. He throws his elbows with serious bad intentions.
In his last fight, Easton had issues when his opponent really pushed forward and made him fight defensively. Well, Menjivar is much more experienced and skilled than Easton's last opponent so if he utilizes a similar gameplan, he could really make Easton second-guess himself all night.
I'd be surprised if Menjivar initiates this fight going to the ground, but he might shoot if he's getting the worse of the stand-up portion. He's got the wrestling, the ground and pound and some respectable submissions skills to be a nuisance down there.
Record: 12-1 overall, 2-0 in the UFC
Key Wins: John Dodson (UWC 4), Jared Papazian (UFC 133), Josh Ferguson (UWC 6)
Key Losses: none
How he got here: Mike Easton began fighting professionally at just 20 years old but his schedule was extremely sporadic. He competed just four times during a three year span recently, winning all four bouts. His pace didn't truly pick up until he received his black belt in 2007 and began competing in the East coast's Ultimate Warrior Challenge promotion.
"The Hulk" won his first four fights in the UWC, including bouts with future Ultimate Fighter season 14 competitorJosh Ferguson and show winner John Dodson, which earned him a shot for the title against former WEC bantamweight champion Chase Beebe.
Easton would win a split decision over Beebe in one of the most controversial and heavily criticized decisions in MMA history. After the fight, Easton would suffer a series of injuries and setbacks which delayed his return for two full years. When he finally made his comeback, it was in the UFC against fellow newcomer Byron Bloodworth. Easton crushed Bloodworth to take a second round TKO victory in his promotional debut.
In his last fight, he took on late injury replacement Jared Papazian, who gave him a stern test and repeatedly pushed him in the stand-up department but would walk away with a slightly controversial decision victory. Now, he's the replacement, stepping in for Renan Barao against Ivan Menjivar this Saturday night.
How he gets it done: Easton utilized kicks extremely well in his last fight with Byron Bloodworth but went away from them a bit against Papazia. I'd like to see him go back to them and really try to turn Menjivar's lead leg into linguine.
Espect to see Easton try to stay on the edge of the pocket and fire off some big leg kicks. If he starts to gain confidence, then perhaps he'll step inside and work some hooks. He's very compact so he doesn't have much of a reach. Thus, if he wants to land more than kicks, footwork and positioning is absolutely vital.
Easton is very powerful and has been a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Lloyd Irvin for over four years now. If he can dump Menjivar on his back and work some punches or perhaps even a surprise submission attempt, I say go for it.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight is the huge step up in competition for Easton. He faced a very inexperienced Byron Bloodworth and then the now 0-2 UFC fighter Papazian in his first two bouts with the promotion. This time, he'll be taking on one of the most battle-tested bantamweights on the planet. I mean, Ivan Menjivar has faced George St. Pierre for Pete's sake!
Easton is going to need to bring everything he's got if he wants to earn a victory on Saturday night. Anything less, and he might be in some serious trouble.
Bottom Line: Ivan Menjivar has fun fights. There's no doubt about that. Every time he steps into the cage, there's potential for something really interesting to happen. He takes risks, lots of them and they usually work. When they don't, he can get rocked so there's a big shot that this fight is going to be very entertaining with a series of momentum shifts. Easton is still developing so he might be hesitant to engage but Menjivar is so aggressive that he'll likely force him to fight regardless of what Easton is gameplanning. This is a terrific selection for opening up the main card.
Who will come out on top at UFC 148? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!