There are plenty of story lines to go around for the UFC's seventh foray in to national television. Gilbert Melendez's first fight inside the UFC after an impressive career in Strikeforce and overseas. Benson Henderson's continued trek to being considered the best light weight in UFC history. Nate Diaz's comeback fight after being mauled by the champ his last time out. They go on and on.
However, there are also a few that haven't been touched by many media outlets and they were the points I think require some attention.
Grappling history, and how it relates to an actual fight
There's an interesting dynamic at work when considering the two big light weight fights going down Saturday. Each combatant has a well rounded skill set that has seen them use jiu-jitsu and wrestling as a big part of their Arsenal. That in itself is nothing new, but the fact that each competitor has met his opponent already in competition is.
Gil, Ben, Nate, and Josh Thomson have all faced off before. Nate and Josh rolled to a close points win for Nate back in a 2006 Gracie open "super-fight". Ben and Gil went up against each other in the 2009-2010 time frame. Ben got the better of "El Nino", and took the decision.
Now, MMA grappling and pure BJJ are two completely different things. For instance, Ben had his way with Nate on the ground during their fight earlier this year. But if they met up in strictly submission wrestling Nate's chances would be far greater. However, it does provide a bit of a point of emphasis when breaking down the skills of all the fighters involved. Melendez has to get top position when going to the ground with Ben. Josh needs to "wrestle" with Nate, and not get into any jits playing.
Soft chins, and the first round blitzers that could take advantage
I've written in the comments section here for a little while that I believe Gil's best shot at winning is hurting Ben early, and then either finishing him or continuing to pressure that power advantage for five rounds. I'll go over that in a little more detail here.
Ben Henderson is a great all-around fighter with two major flaws: a penchant for putting himself in bad positions on the mat, and a tendency to leave his chin in the air during exchanges early in fights. Ben has been knocked down by Shane Roller, Jamie Varner, Donald Cerrone, Anthony Pettis, Frankie Edgar, and possibly more. His conditioning (and his huge frame for 155) usually gets him out of harms way, but that could be a problem against a guy like Melendez. Gil hasn't finished many people recently, but he does have deceiving power. He also has underrated boxing with incredibly quick hands. If he is able to hurt Ben early; his work rate, coupled with his accuracy, could give the UFC a new light weight champion.
Ben is not the only one with a susceptible chin. Frank Mir has been knocked out in all six of his career losses, and is especially susceptible early on in the fight. Daniel Cormier is obviously a wrestler first with his stellar Olympic background, but he's developed his hands in to some of the most potent weapons in mma's heavyweight division. Mir might have the striking advantage from a technical standpoint, but he'd be wise to hold off on most of the exchanging until at least 5 minutes is up. It will give him time to find his groove, but also a possibility of Daniel's brittle hands getting injured.
The UFC has all of the best talent, right?
Don't get me wrong here, the UFC has an overwhelming majority of the talent in fighting. Look at each weight class, and then compare it to any website's divisional rankings. Zuffa's flagship promotion probably has anywhere from 80-95% of that top tier talent, and has for the past two or three years (and nothing lower than 75% for five or six years before that). Its always been thought that any champion from an inferior promotion would get a rude awakening upon his (or her) arrival in the Octagon.
The problem is, the champion who is competing against the transplant on Saturday was once a newbie himself. Benson Henderson was the title holder in the WEC's final days before losing a spirited fight to Anthony Pettis. His arrival in the UFC was marked for excitement, but few thought he would go on to become the best fighter in one of the toughest divisions in under two years. Gilbert is in a similar position this weekend, but the UFC's strangle hold on perception is in an entirely different one.
If Josh Thomson and Gilbert Melendez best their counterparts this weekend (let alone if Mein and Cormier also win), it would set a monster example. Not only would it contain Strikeforce fighters coming in and destroying their perceived "big brothers", but it would also show that there is better fighters that still exist outside of the Zuffa fold. And it makes you want to see those fighters go up against the beasts of the UFC even more (Mike Chandler and Pat Curran).