UFC 130 sure has changed from its original incarnation. Gone is a lightweight championship rematch between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard. Also gone are Wanderlei Silva and Thiago Silva.

Instead of a title tilt at the top of the bill, fans now get a light heavyweight showdown between Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Matt Hamill, who replaced the embattled Thiago Silva after Silva withdrew amidst the scandal of drug test tampering. Instead of Brian Stann facing a legend in “The Axe Murderer,” the former Marine will welcome middleweight standout Jorge Santiago back to the Octagon.

The May 28 card, taking place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, has evolved through both injury and controversy, but it has managed to retain a number of interesting storylines and intriguing matchups. Stann still has a chance to add another impressive name to his resume of victories, while Santiago would like to make an immediate splash in the UFC. Roy Nelson has the opportunity to put his name in the hat for a heavyweight title shot should he be able to get past former champ Frank Mir, while Stefan Struve and Travis Browne also have a chance to make an impression among the big men. And welterweights Thiago Alves and Rick Story are out to prove that they are contenders at 170-pounds.

Finally, atop the card, there is the light heavyweight battle between former champion Jackson and TUF alum Hamill. In no way does it compare to the headliner it replaces. In fact, it might be the least important fight on the main card as far as title implications are concerned.

Pundits and fighters alike largely view this Rampage as the clear victor of this bout. Should he prove those predictions accurate, he will remain near the top of the 205-pound contender list. A loss, on the other hand, would hurt Jackson’s chances for another bid for the belt, while also creating an interesting situation for Hamill. The TUF alum holds a win over the current champion, Jon Jones, but that win came via disqualification in a fight where Hamill was all but defeated when the offending blows were delivered. Yet, counting his DQ victory over the phenom and a potential win over Rampage, Hamill would technically be on a six-fight win streak, making it hard to ignore him when considering the light heavyweight title picture.

Does The MMA Corner’s Round Table panel of writers – Corey Adams, Rob Tatum and Richard Wilcoxon – think Hamill has a chance against Rampage? Who do they think will emerge victorious in the other four contests taking place when UFC 130 hits the pay-per-view broadcast waves at 9 p.m. ET Saturday evening? Well, you will just have to read on to find out.

MW: Brian Stann (10-3) vs. Jorge Santiago (23-8)

Rob Tatum: In a middleweight collision, former Marine Stann looks to build on the momentum of his UFC 125 demolition of Chris Leben while former Sengoku champ Santiago makes his Octagon return.

While the Brazilian Santiago enters this contest as the more experienced fighter, with a more complete skill set, his chin has always been somewhat questionable.  Although he has only lost once in the three years since his last appearance in the Octagon, it is difficult to wipe away the memories of knockout losses to the aforementioned Leben and Alan Belcher.

Stann, meanwhile, has shown steady growth as a fighter since dropping from light heavyweight and making the move to Greg Jackson’s camp.  I believe that Santiago will give Stann quite the fight for a round or two, but I think Stann finishes the Brazilian late in the second or early in the third by TKO.

Corey Adams: I am a huge fan of Stann personally. Many people did not know who he was, but after his knockout of Chris Leben, the world soon realized that this guy is for real. But the former Marine will face a tough task in front of him as he faces Santiago. The cardio for Stann will not be a problem, but I do not see this one going the distance anyways. Both guys look to finish fights, Stann more by strikes and Santiago by submissions. I agree with Rob that Stann will get the stoppage midway through the fight.

Richard Wilcoxon: Santiago is an enigma to me.  He is an ultra-talented fighter who can win both by submission and by strikes.  He has defeated some of the biggest names in the world, but then he has also lost to some extremely one-dimensional fighters.  Unfortunately for Santiago, that one dimension is something Stann possesses: punching power.  Stann is a striker that has won all but three of his bouts by TKO.  Looking back at Stann’s losses to Steve Cantwell and Krzysztof Soszynski gives Santiago some hope, but playing the odds I would have to agree with Rob and Corey that Stann wins this one.

WW: Thiago Alves (18-7) vs. Rick Story (12-3)

Wilcoxon: Thiago Alves has been a monster in the welterweight division.  He challenged Georges St-Pierre for the title at UFC 100 and is currently ranked No. 4 in the division.  He is huge for the weight class and has been caught in some controversies for missing weight and using banned substances to assist in his weight loss. Beyond his size and strength advantage, Alves is a devastating striker, winning the majority of his fights via TKO.

Story is a much less heralded fighter.  He is currently ranked No. 23 in the weight class and this will be the biggest test of his young career.  Story has a wrestling background, but doesn’t just focus on one style and utilizes all his skills in the cage.

This is the toughest fight for me to pick on the card.  Alves hasn’t looked really impressive since before UFC 100, so I will go with Story finding a way to win, but this is really a toss up.

Adams: I agree with Richard that this is a very interesting and difficult fight to pick. Alves is a former top contender, but has had weight cutting issues in the past. As for his performances, however, I disagree that he has not looked impressive since UFC 100. “Pitbull” is coming off of a great performance, in my opinion, over John Howard at UFC 124.

As for Story, I believe he is one of the most underrated fighters in the UFC. He may only be ranked 23rd among welterweights, but this guy has great potential. He has also never been finished thus far in his career. I think that this will be an entertaining and close contest that will go the distance. Story by unanimous decision.

Tatum: Definitely one of the more difficult fights to pick on this card.  Story has been on a huge roll since dropping his UFC debut to John Hathaway at UFC 99.  Since then, the southpaw has used solid wrestling and a heavy left hand to defeat a number of rising welterweight prospects including Brian Foster and Johny Hendricks.

At the same time, Alves has faced a tough road.  After dropping his title quest to Georges St-Pierre at UFC 100, Alves was slated to rematch Jon Fitch, but a brain injury forced the lethal striker out of the scheduled bout at UFC 111.  When the two finally did meet at UFC 117, Alves suffered a brutal weight cut and showed visible cage rust in dropping yet another decision.  Shortly after that bout, Alves connected with diet guru (and fighter) Mike Dolce, easily made weight at UFC 124, and thoroughly outclassed John Howard.

Many pundits have been quick to claim that Alves struggles with wrestlers, but it should be noted that he holds wins over both Josh Koscheck and Matt Hughes.  While Story is a strong wrestler, his propensity to work from the clinch could spell disaster against Alves.  Story has not faced a fighter with the striking prowess of Alves and I believe that he will come out on the wrong side of a lopsided decision favoring the Brazilian.

HW: Stefan Struve (21-4) vs. Travis Browne (10-0-1)

Adams: In the first heavyweight fight of the main card, “Skyscraper” Struve will take on the undefeated Browne. Struve is coming into this fight with a load of momentum, coming back to defeat Christian Morecraft at UFC 117 and then stopping Sean McCorkle at UFC 124. Fourteen of his 21 wins have come by way of submission, but his last two were ended by knockout.

Browne made a statement by knocking out James McSweeney at The Ultimate Fighter 11 season finale in his debut on June 19, 2010, and went on to fight to a draw at UFC 120 against Cheick Kongo.

The key to this fight will be the quickness of Struve. He is a more elusive heavyweight, which certainly gives him an advantage over the slower Browne. If Struve can avoid the shots from Browne, he can take it to the ground if he chooses to do so, or use his length to end it on the feet. I believe he gets the finish early or midway through the fight.

Tatum: I’ve struggled to pick a victor in this fight, but I’m going to agree with Corey and pick Struve.  My concern with picking the lengthy Dutchman is his tendency to start fights slowly.  He tends to absorb a lot of punishment early in fights.  Having witnessed his bout with Morecraft in person, I believe he lost the first round 10-8, which makes his knockout comeback all the more impressive.  Struve faced similar adversity against Denis Stojnic at UFC 99, but recovered to win by submission.

Browne’s key to victory is fairly straightforward: start fast and hard.  He won’t break Struve’s will, but he can finish him with power shots, as exhibited by Junior Dos Santos and Roy Nelson.  As long as Browne can punish Struve on the feet, he can win this fight.

Ultimately, I think Struve will survive the early onslaught and get the fight to the ground.  Once on top, Struve will have a significant advantage.  I look for a fight-ending submission in the final round, putting the first blemish on Browne’s record.

Wilcoxon: I will make it unanimous.  I can find no reason to dissent from Corey’s and Rob’s opinion.  But this will not be a cakewalk.  Browne does have a chance to take this one, but I think ultimately it will go deep into the third round before Struve pulls it off.

HW: Frank Mir (14-5) vs. Roy Nelson (15-5)

Tatum: On paper, this heavyweight battle looks very even.  Both fighters have similar records, hail from Las Vegas, and are equally talented on the feet and the mat.

Despite Nelson defeating Mir in a 2003 Grappler’s Quest tournament, I don’t expect this fight to go to the ground.  Neither fighter is a strong wrestler and both have adequate standup skills.

Based on this, my gut tells me that this fight will come down to both heart and chins.  Anyone that watched Nelson’s three-round war against Junior Dos Santos at UFC 117 knows that he does not lack either of these.  Mir, on the other hand, has been finished in every one of his losses.  I expect that trend to continue as Nelson continues to climb the ladder toward a heavyweight title shot.

Wilcoxon: I agree with a lot Rob has said.  This fight does look even on paper.  I also do not expect this fight to go to the ground, but more because both fighter’s Brazilian Jiu-jitsu skills will cancel each other out.  That leaves this as a striking battle.  While Mir did manage a TKO victory over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, before that his last TKO victory was in 2004.  In that same time period, every fight Mir lost – a total of four bouts – was via TKO.  On the other hand, Nelson has shown me a stronger chin and more power in his punches.  I am going with Nelson winning this one.

Adams: Both Rob and Richard took the words out of my mouth. This is a fight of similar styles, but the fact that Mir has lost all of his fights by KO doesn’t encourage me to pick him in this match up. Nelson is a very tough fighter and showed that against Dos Santos. A win for him here puts him right at the top of the heavyweight division. I will also go with Nelson by late stoppage.

LHW: Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (31-8) vs. Matt Hamill (10-2)

Wilcoxon: I don’t plan on spending much time on this fight.  On one side, you have Jackson, a former UFC champion and a contender still ranked in the top five of the division.  He has a wrestling background, good striking and legendary slams.  On the other side, you have Hamill.  Hamill does have a decorated wrestling background, but he hasn’t finished a fight since 2009.  I think most people will agree this will be won by Rampage.

I think the bigger surprise is that I predict it will be via decision rather than a finish.  Hamill has only been finished once in his career.  Meanwhile, other than his KO of Wanderlei Silva, every one of Rampage’s fights has gone to a decision since September 2007.  Mix in Rampage’s comments about how he would rather be doing movies, his hatred for training, and his stated lack of excitement to fight Hamill and this thing looks like it is going the distance.

Tatum: When this fight was announced, I was surprised to see Hamill jump from fighting Tito Ortiz and his four-fight winless streak to someone like Rampage who has been generally considered in the title mix at 205.

Like Richard, I see this fight going the distance. Neither of these fighters has finished an opponent in over two years.  And while Hamill’s boxing has improved tremendously under the tutelage of Tim Green, he is not at the level of Jackson.  Hamill’s path to victory is his wrestling, but Jackson has beaten more accomplished wrestlers like Dan Henderson, Matt Lindland and Kevin Randleman in the past.  I could see Hamill winning a round in this fight, but as long as Jackson isn’t too distracted with his acting aspirations, he should cruise to a unanimous decision victory.

Adams: I also agree with both of my fellow panelists in this one. Not a very exciting match up for me, but I hope I’m wrong. Some may think Hamill will win by using his wrestling ability, but many forget that Rampage is a very solid wrestler in his own right. If this doesn’t go to the judges’ decision, I will be shocked! Rampage by unanimous decision.

 

Photo: Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (Credit: Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)