As the bantamweight division is on something of a hiatus at the top with Dominick Cruz's knee injury, Ivan Menjivar vs. Mike Easton offers an interesting match-up with some contender implications.
In the mid-2000s, Menjivar, along with Kid Yamamoto, was regarded as one of the best fighters on the planet, largely because of his ability to compete with guys much bigger than him. Now that his long career has wended its way to the UFC with a proper weight class, he's displayed flashes of his old self. The powerhouse combination of punishing physical strength, overpowering takedowns and smothering top control are backed by a boatload of experience.
Easton, meanwhile, is a talented stick-and-move stylist with the better hands and technical striking, but not nearly as much power. Cast in the mold of Joseph Benavidez/Demetrious Johnson type, he's quick, crafty and has the solid ground game you'd expect from a Lloyd Irvin fighter.
However, with Menjivar's edge in takedown mojo and upper-body strength, the pace and ranges this fight takes place at will go a long way toward determining the winner. Lots of movement, in-and-out exchanges and standing stuff on the feet are what Easton wants. A grind-em-out battle of tie-ups, takedowns and ground work definitely trends in Menjivar's favor.
Follow me after the jump for a complete breakdown of the UFC 148 main card match-up pitting Ivan Menjivar vs. Mike Easton:
This is a big jump in competition for Easton, and sometimes that can push a guy in his position to the next level to bring out his "A" game, or expose the holes in it. Now 2-0 in the UFC, he's shown some definite ability and well-rounded style to his game, but it's hard to erase the gift decision he got from Chase Beebe from factoring into this fight. Like Menjivar, Beebe is a tough wrestler with strong takedowns, except that Menjivar is probably a level above. Ivan's also incredibly difficult to get into submission holds, much less submit, so if Easton is planted to the mat, he's going to have to get back to his feet to win the fight. He's not likely to win it by submission, and Menjivar's heavy ground and pound can soften up opponents in a hurry while taking their wheels away.
Menjivar has shown an amazing chin, strength and persistence in a career defined by giving us size and weight to people for much of the first half of it. At 135-pounds, he's exceptionally strong and has a lot of veteran tricks - witness the wicked elbow he slammed home on Charlie Valencia in close to end the affair, resembling something like a Tan Po move out of Kickboxer.
There's a window for Easton to win by decision, sticking and moving, flitting in and out, using his excellent foot speed and a keep-away gameplan, but it's hard to fight like that for three rounds without getting caught or taken down. When Menjivar does score the takedown, he needs to extract a price for the effort. Restarts, at least in Nevada, seem to be a bit more judiciously enacted then in the off-Broadway states the UFC visits, and that's a definite factor here, too - the refs understand the grappling element and will let a guy work. That and Menjivar's ability to slow the pace down, as well as land heavy counters, will be enough for him to wear down Easton and take a close but definitive decision.
Menjivar by unanimous decision
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Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst or email@example.com.