UFC 131 was supposed to be the conclusion of the chicken sh*t and chicken salad debate.  It was supposed to be the showdown between Brock Lesnar and Junior dos Santos.

However, with Lesnar’s ongoing battle with diverticulitis forcing the outspoken former champion out of the matchup, fans instead get what might perhaps be a more anticipated battle: dos Santos against Shane Carwin.

It’s a big test for The Ultimate Fighter coach, dos Santos, and the perfect opportunity for his new foe, Carwin, to jump right back into the title mix following a loss to Lesnar and a lengthy layoff due to surgery on his neck.

The battle between the top heavyweights headlines the pay-per-view portion of Saturday night’s UFC 131 card, which takes place at the Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  The card will also feature Kenny Florian’s featherweight debut against Diego Nunes, Jon Olav Einemo’s Octagon debut versus Dave Herman, a middleweight duel between Demian Maia and Mark Munoz and Donald Cerrone taking on Vagner Rocha in a clash of lightweights.

The MMA Corner’s Round Table panel of Josh Davis, Duncan Price and Richard Wilcoxon weighed in with their opinions on all five main card bouts.  Here’s who they see as the evening’s big winners:

LW: Donald Cerrone (14-3) vs. Vagner Rocha (6-1)

Davis: Cerrone is one of the most exciting fighters to come over from the WEC.  A former WEC title contender, Cerrone dominated Paul Kelly in his first UFC appearance.  Cerrone originally was slated to face Mac Danzig, but when Danzig was forced out of the fight Cerrone quickly turned his sights to Rocha.  Cerrone, a fan favorite, is looking for his fourth win in a row as he continues the climb back up the mountain towards title contention.

Rocha has a tough task in his UFC debut, but this will not be his first time on the big stage.  A former competitor of Strikeforce and Bellator, Rocha hopes that by defeating Cerrone he will prove to the world the he belongs fighting the best in the division.

Both fighters are skilled in BJJ, but Cerrone is going to be the bigger, taller fighter with better striking.  Cerrone wins by TKO in the third round.

Price: Cerrone is a guy people just love to watch. Skilled in all areas of MMA, he is very rarely in a boring fight. He possesses excellent jiu-jitsu and a technical striking style that enables him to be dangerous wherever the fight ends up. The one small hole in his game may be his wrestling, but that is not an area I believe Rocha will be able to exploit. I think Cerrone will look to overwhelm the UFC debutant in this bout and make a statement to the other fighters in the lightweight division that he is a legitimate contender.
Rocha is an excellent jiu-jitsu practitioner, and that is one area where he may equal Cerrone or even hold a small advantage. However, in his relatively short career he has not really shown much ability in other areas of the game, so it is going to be extremely difficult for him to finish Cerrone.

The fact that this fight came on short notice for Rocha, coupled with the fact that Cerrone is a lot more versatile and experienced, mean this could be a tough night for the Brazilian. I see Cerrone dominating this fight on his way to a TKO victory.

Wilcoxon: Cerrone was a fan favorite of the WEC and looks to continue to win fans and fights now that he is in the UFC.  He has a skill set that is fun to watch from his technical striking to his attacking submissions.  The former title contender is on a mission to get back to the top of the division and prove that the WEC fighters belong in the UFC.  Cerrone does need to work on his wrestling, especially in the wrestler-heavy lightweight division, but I do not believe that will come into play in this fight.

Rocha excels in the world of grappling and has won most of his fights via submission.  But he has not shown the dominating wrestler that could cause Cerrone problems.   I agree with Josh and Duncan that Cerrone will win this via TKO.

MW: Demian Maia (14-2) vs. Mark Munoz (10-2)

Price: Despite Maia being a world-renowned BJJ specialist and ADCC Champion, his last two victories have come via judges’ decision. This is actually a testament to his improving all-round MMA skills, particularly his striking ability. It shows that, even if Maia is not able to gain a submission, he is still able to control a fight and win at all costs. Munoz will be a tough test for the Brazilian however, as he possesses the knockout power that Maia lacks. Looking forward, Maia will surely face a middleweight contender in his next fight should he gain the victory in this one.

Munoz is in a similar position to Maia in the division: If he can get the win here, he will also be looking to face a title contender in his next fight. Munoz is bullishly strong and has excellent wrestling ability. He is by no means a technical striker, but if he hits you on the button, the lights are going out. I cannot see his superior wrestling being much of an advantage in this match-up though, as Maia is more comfortable on the ground and can pull a submission out of nowhere.

This is a difficult match to call as Maia could easily submit Munoz, much as Munoz could easily knock Maia out. Personally though, I just see Munoz being the stronger guy and imposing his will on Maia en route to a TKO victory late in the fight.

Wilcoxon: No one can argue about Maia’s BJJ prowess.  However, one could easily debate if his last two victories coming via decision indicate his improving overall game or that he struggles to find a way to finish opponents if his primary weapon is taken away.  Either way, Maia remains a dangerous opponent who can slap on a submission at any time.

Munoz’s background in wrestling is nearly as impressive as Maia’s is in BJJ.  Munoz is a two-time California State High School wrestling champion, a National High School wrestling champion, a two-time collegiate All-American, a two-time Big 12 Conference champion and a NCAA National wrestling champion.  His pedigree is wrestling, but he has earned a reputation for his strength and ever-improving striking.

Maia has the ability to finish anyone at any time, but I agree with Duncan and see Munoz winning with a TKO.

Davis: This fight has a lot at stake for both fighters.  If Maia wants to get back to title contention he needs to make sure that he continues to stay victories.  A loss here would certainly drop him down to the middle of the pack in the division.  In order for Munoz to make a run towards the top he must get past Maia and that will not be an easy task.

Maia has world-class jiu-jitsu and has shown improved striking over recent fights.  He has proved that he is one of the best in the division.  However, Maia won’t want to stand and trade with a powerful puncher like Munoz.  If Maia is going to win this fight, he will need to get this fight to the ground and work a submission.

Munoz is a former NCAA national champion and he has been able to compliment his wrestling with excellent striking.  Munoz has a world-class training camp with the likes of “Babalu” Sobral, and Jason “Mayhem” Miller, to name a few.  He hopes that he can use the skills that he has learned from them to stay away from Maia’s superior submissions.

This is another tough fight to call, but I think Maia goes back to his old ways.  I think he will quickly get this fight to the ground with a takedown or by pulling guard, and he will be able to work a submission.  I think Maia wins this fight by first-round submission.

HW: Jon Olav Einemo (6-1) vs. Dave Herman (20-2)

Wilcoxon: The is another classic striker versus grappler match-up.  On one hand, Einemo is a BJJ legend.  He won his weight class at the 2003 Abu Dhabi Combat Club tournament.  He is also the only man to beat Roger Gracie at an ADCC event.  On the other hand, Herman is a heavy striker who has won fourteen of his fights by TKO.

As always with these types of fights, it comes down to who can impose their will on the fight and dictate where the fight happens.  Einemo will need to get this fight to the ground to have a chance.  Unfortunately for him, Herman was a collegiate wrestler.  I think this gives Herman the advantage.  I see Herman keeping this fight standing and winning with a vicious strike that will make him contender for the KO of Night award.

Price: I see this fight going one of two ways, either Einemo comes out and defeats Herman easily and we wonder why he wasn’t in the UFC prior to now, or Herman makes him look like he never should have tried his hand in the UFC at all. Unfortunately, until the bout takes place it is difficult for me to say which is the more likely. The crucial question for me is, will Einemo become another victim of the infamous Octagon jitters?

Herman has long been considered one of the best heavyweight fighters outside of the Zuffa organization. He enjoys a scrap, to say the least, and has only fought to a decision once in his career. Unfortunately, this brings two issues into question. First, how good is his cardio, and second, is his high-risk style a help or a hindrance in this fight?

I think this bout has a lot of what-if’s hanging over it, but I am inclined to agree with Richard and go for Herman, but perhaps by TKO rather than an outright knockout.

Davis: This is a very interesting fight for many reasons.  There are many mainstream fans that don’t even know who these two guys are, but it is one of the fights that I am looking forward to the most.  I think if Einemo is going to win the fight, he needs to get it to the ground immediately.  If he is unable to do this, he will be in for a long night.  Even if he does get this fight on the ground, Herman is no slouch.

I think that Herman has too many ways that he can win this fight and he will get a TKO in the second round.

FW: Kenny Florian (13-5) vs. Diego Nunes (16-1)

Price: Florian will look to get back in the win column by moving divisions to meet UFC debutant Diego Nunes in a featherweight match-up. After several unsuccessful attempts to capture the 155-pound title, Florian decided his best move was to drop down to 145-pounds. He has already lobbied Dana White for a title shot should he win this fight, but is he therefore looking past the dangerous Nunes? Competent on the feet but excellent on the ground, Florian will surely be looking to get this fight to the mat where he will feel he can control the Brazilian and achieve the much-needed victory.

Nunes has only lost once in his career and many feel he is one of the most underrated fighters in the lower weight classes. Primarily a striker, Nunes incorporates jiu-jitsu elements into his game to compliment his skills on the feet. His skill set would seem to be the reverse of Florian’s, as he is excellent on the feet and competent on the ground.

I feel Florian’s experience at this level will enable him to get the victory, but I believe the bout will be closer than some people think. Nunes is a dangerous striker and it is possible that, if the fight stays on the feet, he could outpoint Florian.  I am going to go for a close fight with Florian getting the win by judges’ decision.

Davis: Florian will be the first fighter to fight in three different weight divisions for the UFC, as he drops down to featherweight to take on the very tough Nunes.  If Florian is ever going to be a champion, this is a must win fight for him.  Nunes, on the other hand, wants to let Florian know that it is not going to be an easy road.

This is a very even match up, as both fighters have good striking skills and good submission skills.  However, I think Florian’s height and reach will be the difference.  Florian will be able to stand on the outside and use his reach to get the upper hand in the striking department.  Florian wins this by second-round TKO.

Wilcoxon: I believe Nunes is being criminally overlooked in this match-up.  He has great striking abilities and solid grappling skills.  He started his career with 11 straight stoppage wins before going 5-1 in fights all determined via decision.

I think part of the reason Nunes is being overlooked is the hype that follows Florian.  The man with the dangerous elbows and the even more dangerous ground game has been heavily promoted by the UFC and at times pushed too hard, too soon by the UFC.  The word has come out that this weight cut has not been easy for Florian, as he continues to drop weight classes.

While a part of me really wants to pick Nunes, I just can’t.  Florian is a proven fighter, while the featherweight division is a revolving door that is still trying to sort itself out.  Due to the hard weight cut, I think this will go to decision with Florian coming out on top.

HW: Junior dos Santos (12-1) vs. Shane Carwin (12-1)

Davis: This is a fight that many fans have been asking for.  It is a fight that was rumored before the official announcement that Brock Lesnar and dos Santos would be coaching The Ultimate Fighter.  At the moment, these are two of the best heavyweights in the UFC and the winner of this fight will get a title shot.

Both Carwin and dos Santos are two of the hardest hitters in the sport and you can expect them both to go in there and swing for the fences.  Even though JDS has excellent submissions and Carwin has excellent wrestling, this fight will be a slugfest for the ages.

Dos Santos (r) vs. Roy Nelson (Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)

Looking at this matchup, both fighters are going to want to keep the fight standing and earn a knockout.  It is possible that Carwin or JDS attempt a takedown, but it is more likely that somebody gets dropped first.  I think the key to this fight will be whether or not Carwin can press JDS up against the cage and work his dirty boxing from the clinch.  Carwin is extremely dangerous when he can keep an opponent in the clinch pressed up against the fence where he can work his short powerful punches.  JDS is an excellent striker, but I think Carwin gets the better of him.  Carwin wins this fight by knockout in the first round.

Wilcoxon: I am much more excited for this fight than the originally scheduled Lesnar vs. dos Santos match-up.  However, that also makes this fight a more difficult bout to pick.

Dos Santos has shot up the UFC heavyweight ladder.  He has great technical striking, accuracy and power.  He also has a seldom-used submission game and solid takedown defense.

Carwin has big power in his strikes and a great wrestling pedigree.  However, in the past, Carwin has always been the biggest man in the cage.  After he gassed badly to Lesnar, he began a new training regimen to reduce the chances of that happening again.  The new regimen has also reduced Carwin’s overall size.

It will be really interesting to see how the size change and the improved cardio by Carwin effect this fight.  I think it is a big change to go from always being the biggest man to being much closer in size.  This will actually help dos Santos avoid being bullied around the cage by Carwin.  I think dos Santos takes this one with a TKO in the second round of a very entertaining fight.

Price: After Brock Lesnar withdrew from this bout due to illness, Carwin quickly accepted a move up the card to face dos Santos in the main event. In a fight many people would prefer to see over the originally-announced match-up, these two elite heavyweights now meet in what has effectively become a No. 1 contender elimination bout.

Carwin needs to re-establish himself at the top of the division with a win here. After his last outing against Lesnar, some people have questioned whether he has the ability to become the champion. The two keys for Carwin are his wrestling and his heavy hands. If he can get dos Santos to the mat, he should be able to control him and land strikes given the size advantage he holds. If the takedown isn’t working, he may do well to keep dos Santos pressed up against the cage and utilize some of the dirty boxing he had some success with against Frank Mir.

Dos Santos will surely get a shot at Cain Velasquez if he wins this fight, and that should be all the motivation he needs. Although known for his crisp, powerful strikes, he also possesses good takedown defense and solid jiu-jitsu. If he can keep this fight standing and take it into the second or third rounds, I feel that his cardio and more technical style will shine through and give him the overall edge. As the smaller man, he must stay off his back and try to stop Carwin getting a hold of him at any point, whether it be standing up or on the ground.

I actually see this bout going a similar way to the heavyweight title fight between Lesnar and Velasquez, in that I believe the quicker and more skillful striker in dos Santos will be able to avoid the takedowns and overall power of the wrestler in Carwin. You cannot count Carwin out by any means, and dos Santos is not as good a wrestler as Velasquez, but we should not forget that Carwin gassed horribly against Lesnar and was nearly knocked out by Gabriel Gonzaga.  All this leads me to believe that the result will be TKO victory for Junior dos Santos.

Photo: Shane Carwin (Sherdog)