Following a historic trip to Toronto for UFC 129, the UFC returns to its home base of Las Vegas on May 28 for UFC 130.

While the event, which takes place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, pales in comparison to its predecessor, especially following the loss of a lightweight title headliner rematching champion Frankie Edgar against top contender Gray Maynard, UFC 130 still hosts a number of significant tussles from the top of the card all the way to the bottom.

Lightweights and middleweights might appear on the event’s preliminary card, but the true showcase here consists of the smallest fighters the UFC has to offer: The bantamweights. Six highly accomplished 135-pounders – former WEC champions Miguel Torres and Cole Escovedo and rising prospects Renan Barao, Demetrious Johnson, Chris Cariaso and Michael McDonald – will ply their trade in the evening’s early contests. Toss in a lightweight scrap between Gleison Tibau and late replacement Rafaello Oliveira and a middleweight showdown between Kendall Grove and Tim Boetsch, and you have a pretty impressive preliminary card lineup.

The UFC, never one to leave the fans at home out of the mix, will bring all of the action to those sitting in their living rooms via Facebook and Spike TV. The action kicks off with the first three fights of the night airing on the UFC’s live Facebook stream at 6:45 p.m. ET. The Spike TV broadcast, which begins at 8 p.m. ET, will feature the middleweight matchup of Grove and Boetsch, as well as the bantamweight bout between Torres and Johnson.

Here to break down the entire UFC 130 preliminary card is The MMA Corner’s inaugural Round Table panel. This week’s panel consists of staff writers Corey Adams, Rob Tatum and Richard Wilcoxon.

BW: Renan Barao (25-1) vs. Cole Escovedo (17-6)

Rob Tatum: This fight will match bantamweight submission specialists making their UFC debuts.

Barao, although not a household name, is the training partner of UFC featherweight champ Jose Aldo, and the Nova Uniao brown belt has submitted four of his last five opponents and 12 of his 25 victories overall have come via tapout.

Escovedo, the former WEC champion in the 145-pound division, was forced to overcome a severe staph infection that left him paralyzed and out of action for two years.  Now back to health, he will face a tough test in the Brazilian.

It’s certainly tough to pick against someone as resilient as Escovedo, but Barao is relentless and hasn’t tasted defeat in over six years.  Look for the Brazilian to secure a fight ending rear-naked choke early in this fight and spoil Escovedo’s promotional debut.

Richard Wilcoxon: I have to admit I am an Escovedo fan.  His recovery from paralysis was an inspirational story and I can’t help but continue to root for his success.  Unfortunately, I am not convinced this fight will go his way.  As Rob mentioned, Barao hasn’t tasted defeat in six years and in that time he has found success 25 straight times!  Barao is a monster on the ground.  Escovedo’s one big advantage in this fight will be the level of competition he has faced, but that won’t be enough.  Barao wins this fight.

Corey Adams: I agree with both Rob and Richard in this fight. It’s hard to pick against a guy that hasn’t lost since his debut in 2005, and has gone on to defeat each and every opponent that has been matched up against him. There isn’t anything more scary than a young, hungry Brazilian fighter. I see this fight being finished early by Barao via submission.

BW: Chris Cariaso (11-2) vs. Michael McDonald (12-1)

Wilcoxon: McDonald is looking to become one of the young guns in the UFC.  He is already a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and has shown good technical striking.  However, his biggest asset may be his quickness and athletic ability.  At an age of only 20, he has already competed against and finished former WEC champion Cole Escovedo and contender Manny Tapia.  While his sprawl has not been tested yet, he will not have to worry about it in this fight.  Cariaso is a striking-based fighter who is not known for his takedowns.  Cariaso, unfortunately, also has not shown KO power in his fights, winning most of his matches by decision.  McDonald may have the advantage striking and definitely has the advantage on the ground.  I look for McDonald to finish this fight early.

Adams: I happen to agree with Richard in many aspects. McDonald is the type of fighter that has a great future in the UFC for many years to come. Having a brown belt at only 20 years old is very impressive along with seven of his 12 victories coming by way of knockout. However, we can not count out his opponent, Cariaso. He had a good outing back in January, defeating a tough fighter in Will Campuzano, a fight in which I predicted Campuzano to win. Even with that said, I still believe McDonald is the safe pick in this matchup.

Tatum: Hard to argue with Richard’s or Corey’s assessments of this matchup.  For his age, McDonald brings an array of experience and talent unlike most fighters in MMA.  And although McDonald is a BJJ brown belt, I don’t believe he’ll need his submission skills against Cariaso, due to a significant reach advantage.  I like McDonald to end Cariaso’s Zuffa run with a highlight reel KO that will put the rest of the bantamweights on notice.

LW: Rafaello Oliveira (14-3) vs. Gleison Tibau (22-7)

Adams: “Tractor” Oliveira becomes a last-minute replacement for the injured Bart Palaszewski to take on Tibau. With the change, Tibau is faced with a far different match up. Palaszewski is more of a striker, while Oliveira is a black belt in BJJ. He was released by the UFC in March 2010, but has been resigned to fight Tibau.

In this Brazilian vs. Brazilian match up, Tibau will have to slightly adjust his game plan, but that shouldn’t be very difficult. As far as picking a winner, my heart says Oliveira because he fights out of Tennessee, my home state, but my mind says to go with Tibau. I am going to stick with my previous prediction and go with Tibau by unanimous decision.

Tatum: With the injury to Palaszewski, I believe things just got easier for Tibau.  While Oliveira is an accomplished grappler, he will face a significant strength and experience disadvantage against his fellow Brazilian.

Look for Tibau to dictate the pace and positioning throughout the fight and successfully fend off Oliveira’s submissions as he takes a unanimous decision victory.

Wilcoxon: I don’t have much to add to this one.  Oliveira is coming in with less than two weeks’ notice to face a bigger, stronger and more experienced fighter who happens to have a strength in the same area as Oliveira.  I have to go with Tibau riding out a fairly lopsided decision.

MW: Tim Boetsch (12-4) vs. Kendall Grove (12-8)

Wilcoxon: Grove is still probably best known for winning his weight class on the third season of “The Ultimate Fighter.”  Since then he has shown flashes at times, but has really settled in as more of a mid-card talent.  Grove is extremely tall with long limbs for the division, which gives him a reach advantage and causes havoc for his opponents on the ground.

Boetsch is a workman-like fighter who has repeatedly taken fights on short notice.  He is dropping down a weight class for this fight, so he should have the weight and strength advantage come fight time.  He has a strong wrestling background and likes to strike or use ground-and-pound to win his fights.  If the weight cut doesn’t drain him and he can figure out Grove’s length, I think he will walk away from this fight as the winner.

Tatum: When Grove fights you always have to guess which version will step into the cage.  Will it be the talented submission artist that finished Alan Belcher and Jake Rosholt and defeated former champ Evan Tanner? Or will it be the over-matched fighter that dropped fights to Demian Maia, Mark Munoz and Ricardo Almeida?

Boetsch, like Richard mentioned, isn’t going to wow anyone with his methodical, grind-it-out style.  But, at the same time, he is well-rounded and capable of defeating someone like Grove.

My gut tells me that Grove’s length and ability to finish off his back will be too much for Boetsch to handle in this fight.  Grove by armbar in the second round.

Adams: As Richard and Rob have different opinions in this matchup, I get to settle the score. I’m leaning more towards Rob’s pick of Grove. Looking back to his previous fights, he has struggled against BJJ fighters (Almeida, Munoz and Maia). His opponent, Boetsch, is not a Jiu-jitsu fighter, however. I think that Grove can use his Muay Thai to drag Boetsch to the ground and work for a submission.

BW: Miguel Torres (39-3) vs. Demetrious Johnson (8-1)

Adams: In a battle of bantamweights, former WEC champion Torres will take on Johnson. Torres is known for his 5-foot-10 height with a reach of 76 inches. He currently has two straight wins under his belt and is focused to get back in title contention.

“Mighty Mouse” Johnson was expected to fight Barao on the card, but has now been matched up with Torres. In his career, Johnson has faced many talented fighters, including Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto in his last fight in which he won by decision.

In my eyes, this is another typical fight for Torres. Most of the fighters he has faced have had the same height and skill set. Having both striking and Jiu-jitsu capabilities, he should be able to dictate where the fight goes. In the end, I see Torres’s hand being raised in a unanimous decision win.

Wilcoxon: Torres was once regarded as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in MMA.  Then he lost his title and seemed to fade from public consciousness.  The guy is still 39-3 and has all the tools to be one of the best.  Torres has taken steps to retool his training to get back to the belt.  Johnson looks to be a young fighter with a great future in the sport.  I just feel this is a big step up in competition for him.  I agree with Corey and see Torres taking the fight by decision.

Tatum: For this fight, I will have to be the voice of dissent.  For all of the accolades that Torres has, wrestling is not one of his strengths.  Johnson, on the other hand, has one of the best timed shots in the lighter weight classes.  He easily neutralized a far superior striker in Yamamoto by repeatedly putting him on his back.

Torres is most effective when he uses his length and jab to keep his opponent at a distance, much like he did recently against Charlie Valencia and Antonio Banuelos.  Where he has struggled is against faster fighters that have been able to get inside, such as Brian Bowles and Joseph Benavidez.  I think Johnson will use his speed and wrestling to control Torres from the opening bell en route to a unanimous decision victory.

 

Photo: Demetrious Johnson (Credit: Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)