While mixed martial arts fans are granted a rare Saturday night off from the fights, there is more than enough action Sunday and Monday to make up for it. With Zuffa pumping out back-to-back cards -- WEC 46 on Sunday in Sacramento, Calif., and Ultimate Fight Night 20 in Faifax, Va., Monday -- here are five bouts more than worthy of your time:
For the southpaw Henderson, a former Varner sparring partner, the fight with Cerrone capped a strong 2009 which saw him go 3-0. He should be sharp heading into Sunday night, and may have an edge over Varner, a slow starter, in the early going. But that probably won't last; Varner, a notoriously hard worker in the gym, sparred a ton over the past three months in the hopes that ring rust won't play a factor in his return.
Against Cerrone, Henderson was successful scoring takedowns, which helped him rack up points to secure the decision. Facing Varner, who is without question a superior wrestler to Cerrone, Henderson's continued grappling dominance seems unlikely.
On the feet Varner appears to have an edge. While Henderson is capable, his footwork can get sloppy and the interim belt holder will find himself out of position from time to time. Varner, who was hailed by his trainer
Can Henderson, who fights and trains out of The Lab in Glendale, Ariz., outwrestle Varner?
For Assuncao, Faber represents a serious step up in competition. He's clearly ready for it, though it's difficult to tell how good he is at 145 pounds considering this is the first time he's face a truly world-class competitor. Most of Assuncao's success has come against "finesse" grapplers -- an antonym for any appropriate description of Sunday's challenge.
Is Assuncao good enough to handle Faber's speed, power, aggression and deep energy reserves? Probably not.
Both Jansen and Shalorus carry quality records into the cage, with the idea that the winner could be on the short list to get a crack at Varner or Henderson. Both can wrestle, though Shalorus -- an Iranian national now living in Austin, Texas -- has a much higher pedigree considering he represented the UK at the 2004 Olympics.
The winner here is someone to watch. Though it's tough to discount Jansen's experience -- both in the cage and at Team Quest in Gresham, Ore. --
The Maynard he faces Monday is a totally different threat. The lanky younger brother to enigmatic Strikeforce-signed contender Nick Diaz, Nate remains dangerous with submissions, and he brings a punches-in-bunches striking style. But he has been exposed against stronger wrestlers in two of his last three fights. That does not bode well against Maynard, who upgraded his submission and striking games significantly over the past three years to compliment a powerful wrestling base, and now appears ready to take a crack at the UFC lightweight title.
Rumors persist that regardless of Maynard's performance on Monday (9 p.m. ET/PT, Spike TV), the next shot against
The pace and look of the fight will be determined by Maynard. It's unlikely Diaz can take him down, so expect a mostly stand-up affair. Diaz, the fourth consecutive southpaw opponent for Maynard, could present problems on the feet with his length and unorthodox angles.
Escudero, winner of Season 8 of
Dunham, too, is worthy of praise. He prefers submissions, though the Oregonian, who trains with
Together, he and Escudero should make for a fun, competitive fight.