It's hard to focus on anything at UFC 121 beyond Brock Lesnar vs. Cain Velasquez. Lesnar is the biggest star in the sport and the UFC has not been shy about playing up the "Cain Velasquez could be the first Mexican heavyweight champion in combat sports history" card despite Velasquez being American born.
But this heavy Lesnar/Velasquez focus overlooks what is a very interesting card.
- Jake Shields will be making his UFC debut in a bout with Martin Kampmann in the co-main event of the card. There has been some discussion around the MMA world about a possible injury to Shields in his training leading up to this bout. It was said by his camp that it was a back injury that happened 12 weeks ago, but there are some that have said it was much more recent and a large part of Jake's camp was missed due to the injury. Kampmann is a very big threat and has gone 8-2 in his ten UFC fights, only losing to Nate Marquardt and Paul Daley. It is a very real threat that Martin could outwork Shields over three rounds and take a decision. It all comes down to if Shields can get the takedown and work from top position or if his back will make executing his gameplan too difficult.
- Diego Sanchez will be looking to rebound from two straight losses when he steps in with Paulo Thiago. Thiago has found success against top flight welterweights like Josh Koscheck and Mike Swick but lost his last bout against Martin Kampmann. Sanchez is also in a down period in his career after losing when given a shot at the lightweight title against former champion B.J. Penn and then dropping a decision to John Hathaway in his return to the welterweight division. Diego's fast pace presents an opportunity for him to simply outwork Thiago with pure aggression. However, Thiago's very good submission game could give him the advantage on the ground, Sanchez's ground game is nothing to overlook either though. On the ground it's very likely the man on top is the man who will be at a significant advantage.
- UFC legend and former champion Tito Ortiz returns to action having not won a fight since October 2006, going 0-3-1 in that time. He faces the UFC's only deaf fighter Matt Hamill, who Ortiz coached on season three of The Ultimate Fighter. Ortiz caused a stir by saying:
"I've noticed he's deaf, so he has a soft head, you hit him with more and more shots. You people don't know this. Watch how Franklin knocked him out quick."
"You hit them with soft shots because their equilibrium, they don't have no equilibrium. And you hit them with shots and you hit them with small shots, I'm not looking' for big shots. I'm looking' for small shots. Little small shots and by the second, middle of the third round you're going to see someone going to sleep and I'll snuggle him."
He has since apologized for the comment but it no doubt adds some layer of intrigue to a bout between Hamill and a guy he considers a friend in Ortiz. Can Tito get back on track or will the wrestling and strength of Hamill simply be too much for a fighter that is no where near what he once was.
- Ultimate Fighter finalist Brendan Schaub has gone 2-0 since losing in the finale to Roy Nelson. He faces Gabriel Gonzaga in the first bout of the UFC 121 card. Gonzaga has been reduced to a gatekeeper role and beating him seems to move a fighter into the title picture for the UFC. Schaub will have to find a way to deal with the dangerous striking of the Brazilian as well as dealing with the size and power of Gonzaga.
It's a tremendous card with intriguing bouts all the way through and should be a great value for the well over one million households that pay for the event on pay-per-view this Saturday.