How does a potential No. 1 contender land on the preliminary card?

Despite a 10-0 record and a spot near the top of the consensus featherweight rankings, Chad Mendes could ask that question as he heads to the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia for UFC 133 on Aug. 6.  With four wins in WEC and a successful UFC debut against Michihiro Omigawa, Mendes appears poised for a shot at divisional kingpin Jose Aldo.  But with popular lightweight contender Kenny Florian shifting to featherweight, Mendes instead finds himself fighting Rani Yahya on the prelims of UFC 133.  Perhaps it’s best, as Mendes will receive the exposure of fighting on Spike TV and a chance to further prove his worth as a challenger to Aldo.

Meanwhile, Alexander Gustafsson seeks to make a mark in the light heavyweight division in his fight with Matt Hamill.  Hamill is coming off a loss in the headliner of UFC 130, making him a high-profile name for the Spike broadcast.  Gustafsson has only lost once in his career and a win over Hamill would add a huge name to his resume.

Hamill is no slouch, however.  He has only lost three times in his 13-fight career, with those losses coming against the likes of Rich Franklin, Michael Bisping and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.  Even a potential loss that turned into a win for Hamill came against tough competition in the form of current UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.  Hamill is out to play gatekeeper in this fight, while also seeking to rebound from the loss against Jackson.  He’ll be out to prove himself in this encounter, making a win for Gustafsson all the more meaningful.

While Spike will begin airing its portion of the event at 8 p.m. ET, fans can head to Facebook at 5:45 p.m. ET for even more free action, as middleweight Paul Bradley finally gets his chance inside the Octagon against Rafael Natal, former WEC featherweight champion Mike Brown looks to right the ship against Nam Phan, welterweights Johny Hendricks and Mike Pierce collide and Ivan Menjivar meets Nick Pace in bantamweight action.

The MMA Corner’s round table panel of Corey Adams, Brian McKenna and Duncan Price gathered to break down the action in all six of the prelim bouts.

MW: Rafael Natal (12-3-1) vs. Paul Bradley (18-2)

McKenna: The first bout will be a middleweight clash between Natal and Bradley. Natal has two UFC fights under his belt, losing to Rich Attonito and fighting to a draw against Jesse Bongfeldt, both by decision. Prior to those two bouts, the Brazil native went 12-2 while kicking around in the minor leagues. He holds a black belt in jiu-jitsu which is backed up by the fact that he owns seven victories by submission and has never been tapped out. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that he doesn’t have any striking, as he holds three knockout victories as well.

Trying to keep track of who Natal would be fighting at UFC 133 was tricky, but I think we have finally landed on his opponent in Bradley. Hailing from Iowa, Bradley is coming into the UFC with 20 professional fights under his wing. While he is making his UFC debut this Saturday, this isn’t the first time he has ever entered the Octagon. Bradley was a participant on the seventh season of “The Ultimate Fighter” and won his fight that allowed him to enter the house, but was forced out of the house after it was discovered that he had a contagious skin condition. Who knows what could have been for the Minnesota Martial Arts product, but now he has a chance at redemption. “The Gentleman” is coming off of a victory only two short weeks ago against Eddie Larrea in a Minnesota promotion.

I look at this fight and I see two fighters put in situations where you don’t want to pick against either man. Natal is in a desperate situation after not holding a promotional victory in two tries, while Bradley was on his way to earning a UFC contract in 2008, but had the chance ripped from underneath his feet. Both fighters are hungry, but I believe that “The Gentleman” will quickly knock out the Brazilian.

Price: I agree with nearly everything Brian has said above. This is one of the classic style match-ups: Can the wrestler control the jiu-jitsu guy or does the jiu-jitsu practitioner have the ability to submit the wrestler?

Both men are incredibly skilled in their own particular areas, Bradley is a strong two-time NCAA All-American wrestler, and Natal is a high level Renzo Gracie-trained BJJ black belt. I do feel that Bradley is the more rounded competitor though, and that could tip the overall balance in his favor.

Natal has only been finished twice in sixteen bouts, so I personally don’t see a definitive end to this bout. I’m going to say Bradley controls Natal for the majority of the three rounds on his way to a judges’ decision victory.

Adams: I’m going to agree with my fellow panelists and go with Bradley to win his UFC debut.

I do remember Bradley from TUF 7, being forced out with a skin issue. While we haven’t seen much from him, he has done well in his career, by only losing twice. He has six wins by KO, six by submission and six by decision, so he is a well-rounded fighter.

If he keeps the Brazilian Natal from taking him to ground, Bradley will win this fight by decision.

FW: Mike Brown (24-8) vs. Nam Phan (16-8)

Price: Brown is a fomer WEC featherweight champion, but the fans of the UFC have yet to see the best of him. He has dropped his last two bouts in a row, although he did step in as a late replacement for an injured competitor in his most recent loss. Despite his recent poor run of form, Brown does hold victories over the likes of Urijah Faber and Yves Edwards, so he certainly cannot be taken lightly.

Phan also enters this bout off a loss, but an altogether more controversial one. Phan met Leonard Garcia at the TUF 12 Finale and the two produced one of the most exciting fights of the year. Many felt Phan had done enough to get the win, but the judges felt otherwise in yet another highly debatable decision.

Most people’s first proper glimpse of Phan would have been on TUF 12, but he has competed against the likes of Josh Thomson, Gesias Cavalcante and Michihiro Omigawa in the past, although he unfortunately came up short on each occasion. My point is that this is an experienced guy and, in the same way as Brown, he should not be discounted.

Both men hold victories by submission and KO and are skilled on the mat and feet, so I don’t see a definitive edge for either fighter. Phan perhaps has the wider skillset, but Brown has more experience under the Zuffa banner.

I just have a feeling for Brown in this match-up. Phan showed a weakness against the takedown in his TUF 12 loss to Michael Johnson and I think Brown will be happy just to get a win by any means necessary. Brown by unanimous decision.

Adams: This fight has all the makings for Fight of the Night, as Brown is in desperate need of a victory, while Phan is looking to bounce back after a controversial loss.

Brown is getting on up there in age, at 35, and needs a win here to stay in the UFC. The WEC veteran dropped his last two bouts against Diego Nunes and Rani Yahya, both by decisions. I agree with Duncan, he will try to get a win however he can, even if it means not picking up a check for KO or Submission of the Night.

In his fight with Leonard Garcia, Phan should have been awarded the split decision in the eyes of many fans, but it went to Garcia instead. This was obviously painful for Phan, but he should be rejuvenated after the stunning loss.

I’m going to agree with Duncan and take the more experienced Brown in the contest. Phan is very talented and has a greater skillset than does Brown, but the ATT fighter needs this win. A unanimous decision will be awarded to Brown.

McKenna: Brown felt almost unbeatable up until the middle of 2009 when he knocked off Urijah Faber for the second time. Since that fight, he has had somewhat of a rough go at it, losing not only the WEC featherweight title, but four of his next six fights. Despite the recent struggles, the Maine native is capable of returning back to the form he was in just two years ago at any time, and that is a very dangerous thing to have in your back pocket.

A semifinalist in season 12 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Phan was robbed in his loss against Garcia. Despite the loss, Phan had gone 4-5 in his nine previous fights, including a loss for the Strikeforce lightweight title. Prior to that skid, the Californian boasted a strong 12-2 record and was a hot prospect. Once the level of competition improved, his struggles began.

Sure, Phan should have won his last fight, but it was the furthest thing from a technically fought fight, as Garcia constantly swings for the fences. Brown will be victorious, fighting a technical fight and picking his opponent apart en route to a second-round TKO.

WW: Johny Hendricks (10-1) vs. Mike Pierce (12-3)

Adams: In the first welterweight contest of the night, four-time All American wrestler Hendricks looks to make a run in the division, but in his path is a fellow collegiate wrestler in Pierce.

Hendricks is a guy that hasn’t proved himself just yet in the sport, as far as being a top contender. The WEC veteran has only fallen once in his time with the UFC, compiling a record of 5-1 in the promotion. That one loss came at the hands of Rick Story, who was once considered to be the No. 1 contender to fight for the belt. Look for the member of Team Takedown to be highly explosive in this fight.

As for Pierce, he is in a similar situation to that of his opponent on Saturday. He hasn’t really fought any guys considered to be at the top of the division, with the exception of his fight against Jon Fitch in 2009, where he lost by decision. This fight will determine which of these men will have a successful career in the UFC. A win for either guy would move them up the ladder a bit, hoping to face a top contender in the future.

I’m going to go with Hendricks in this one, as I believe he is a more decorated wrestler and has also faced tougher competition in his career. Hendricks primarily wins by knockout, but I don’t believe he will be able to finish Pierce and will earn a decision win.

McKenna: One of the main reasons I am happy with the UFC providing free online streams for the preliminary bouts of their events is for fights like this. Here, you have two fighters who are on the cusp of greatness in a bout that may have only been seen by the fans attending.

The only fight that Pierce has lost while fighting in the UFC was when he squared off against Fitch at UFC 107. While Fitch has posed the toughest competition that he has faced, “Megatron” defeated everyone else that he has faced for the promotion despite the fact they may not have been the stiffest of competition, as laid out by Corey. This fight is a big step up in competition for him and would be huge if he could pull it out.

They say a fighter can learn more from a loss than they can from a win, and that could have been the case when Hendricks dropped the first fight of his career in December by getting outpointed by Story. The southpaw came out in a big way in his next fight as he knocked out T.J. Waldburger in less than two minutes. Up until the loss, he had not seen defeat while cruising to a perfect 9-0 record and winning his first four UFC fights. Whether the loss humbled him, motivated him, or anything else, he appears to be back and better than ever, which doesn’t bode well for his opponent.

These fighters both have six knockouts and one submission on their hands. The fact that three of Hendricks’ knockouts have been with the UFC, compared to only one of Pierce’s, leads me to believe that Hendricks has better striking and will stop his opponent with his fists early in the fight.

Price: Both these guys are skilled wrestlers, but I do agree with Corey that Hendricks is the more highly rated of the two.

Because of their backgrounds, I can actually see this fight remaining on the feet, which is an area where again I think Hendricks holds an advantage over Pierce.

Pierce has not beaten anyone in the upper half of the division, whereas Hendricks has in my opinion. Although Hendricks lost to Story, he has defeated the likes of Amir Sadollah and Charlie Brenneman, whereas Pierce’s most famous scalp is probably Brock Larson.

I see Hendricks stopping Pierce in the second by TKO.

BW: Ivan Menjivar (22-8) vs. Nick Pace (6-1)

Price: Ten-year MMA veteran Ivan Menjivar will be looking to solidify his place in the bantamweight division with a win here over talented youngster Nick Pace.

Menjivar trains out of Tristar Gym in Montreal with the likes of Georges St-Pierre, so you know his preparation and training camp will be of the highest quality. He is a solid all-round martial artist and poses a threat from any position. In his last bout against Charlie Valencia, Menjivar landed a vicious short elbow that not only broke Valencia’s nose, but left his opponent open to a barrage of strikes which forced the ref to stop the fight after just ninety seconds.

Although Pace could not make weight in his UFC debut, he did manage to get a victory, defeating Will Campuzano with the extremely rare pillory choke submission hold. Pace’s lone loss as a professional came to stand-out fellow bantamweight Demetrious Johnson, although he has only fought a total of seven times in his short career. Primarily a grappler, Pace will more than likely look to get this fight to the ground and lock in one of his more unusual submission attempts.

Menjivar is no slouch on the ground, but it is undeniable that he holds an advantage on the feet, so I think he will be looking to keep the fight standing for the most part. Pace would be sensible to neutralize the striking game of Menjivar and try to dominate position and perhaps target a submission if an opportunity presents itself.

Pace is a good prospect, but I’m going to go with the man with the most experience in this match-up. Personally, I don’t see an outright finish, so I will say Menjivar wins it by unanimous decision.

McKenna: As Duncan mentioned, this is definitely a match-up of a veteran versus a young buck with Menjivar coming in with 30 total fights and Pace entering with only seven. But while “The Pride of El Salvador” has more experience, he has not taken down anyone of real significance and he consistently loses to people who would be stepping stones in the right direction. He took some time off in between 2006 and 2010 after a loss to Bart Palaszewski in the IFL. Since then, he has gone 2-1, and is more on the rise than on the fall. The Tristar product still has a ways to go to gain significant relevance with the promotion and a victory this Saturday will get him back in the right direction.

Across the cage will be the 24-year-old Pace. A native of the Empire State, he won his first five career fights and captured the New Jersey-based Ring of Combat bantamweight title. He didn’t encounter his first career loss until he was decisioned by Demetrious Johnson while making his Zuffa debut at WEC 51. The next fight was his debut fight in the UFC and he didn’t impress anyone when he weighed in two pounds heavy, but he did impress when he landed the extremely rare pillory choke for the victory.

It is hard to tell if Pace is as well-rounded as it feels that he is at this point in time, but we do know that Menjivar can win by both knockout and submission. With that being said, I agree with Duncan on who will win, but I think Menjivar is capable of earning the knockout victory.

Adams: I’m actually going to disagree with my panelists in this fight and go with the young prospect Pace.

I may make a fool of myself for this pick, but I feel like taking the underdog. I was very impressed with his submission win over Campuzano and would like to see him bring a lot of energy against the veteran.

The experience factor does scare me, but I’m going to go with my gut. I’ll go with Pace to get the submission midway through the fight.

FW: Chad Mendes (10-0) vs. Rani Yahya (16-6)

McKenna: The first fight on the Spike TV portion of the card will feature one of the best featherweight prospects in the UFC, Chad Mendes. Holding strong wrestling credentials while at California Polytechnic State University, Mendes now trains at Team Alpha Male. “Money” came to the UFC during the WEC merger and won his first fight for the promotion at UFC 126 against Michihiro Omigawa by decision. Holding a perfect 10-0 record, Mendes has been in the recent 145-pound title talks. He would have likely been the next guy in line, if not for Kenny Florian. One likely reason for this is that the California native has only one stoppage while cutting checks from Zuffa. In this business, winning is important, but winning by stoppage earns you title shots.

Chad Mendes (Tracy Lee/Combat Lifestyle)

Yahya also came to the UFC during the recent WEC merger and defeated Mike Brown by decision at Fight for the Troops 2 in January. Once a top contender for the WEC, Yahya would like to reach that status again in the UFC. The Brazilian is a jiu-jitsu specialist, holding a second degree black belt and 14 submission victories. At one point, the 26-year-old landed three Submission of the Night bonuses in three fights for the WEC, further driving the point home on his submission specialties.

 

This fight has the making for an exciting ground battle, as wrestlers love being on top and holding others down while jiu-jitsu fighters are capable of landing submissions while fighting off of their back. Realizing how the Brazilian is virtually one-dimensional, “Money” will be trained and ready for any and all submissions that will be thrown at him as he wins by decision.

Adams: This is a fight I’m looking forward two as two featherweights go toe-to-toe for three rounds.

Like Brian said, Mendes was in the driver’s seat to get the next shot at Jose Aldo, but that opportunity now goes to Florian. Mendes needs to stay focused in this prelim fight and not overlook a very talented fighter in Yahya.

Rani Yahya (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

It wouldn’t surprise me if Yahya is able to take home a win against Mendes. Having a second degree black belt and 14 submission wins is impressive at only 26 years of age. It will be difficult to get the wrestler to the ground, but if he does so, it will be an ugly night for the undefeated Mendes.

I have been going back-and-forth in this fight on picking a victor, but in the end, I’m going to go with Mendes by decision. Yahya is a dangerous fighter, but I don’t believe he’ll be able to put Mendes on his back and transition for a submission.

Price: Mendes is a really skilled wrestler, gaining All-American honors in not one but two different weight classes. Wrestlers or fighters with a wrestling base are doing really well in the UFC right now and I see that trend continuing here.

I really respect the BJJ skills of Yahya, but like the other guys, I don’t think he will be able to submit Mendes, and in my opinion that’s the only area where Yahya holds a definitive advantage.

Yahya is a dangerous and underrated fighter, but Mendes gets the win here by outpointing him on the feet and then taking him down if and when he needs to.

LHW: Matt Hamill (10-3) vs. Alexander Gustafsson (11-1)

Adams: Hamill steps in for the injured Vladimir Matyushenko to take on the Swedish prospect Gustafsson.

After his loss to “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 130, Hamill gets the chance to step back into the Octagon to try and get on a winning streak once again. “The Hammer” was riding a five-fight streak until his setback against Rampage. Hamill will now regain his focus and look to work his way back to the top.

Alexander Gustafsson (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Gustafsson certainly isn’t a household name, but he does have a lot of potential in the sport. The 24-year-old made his UFC debut in November by knocking out Jared Hamman in just 41 seconds. He then took on a tough Phil Davis and lost via first-round submission. “The Mauler” has bounced back however, submitting his last two opponents. A win for Gustafsson here would be huge for his career and he is a bit of a sleeper pick for me.

I thought about going with the underdog Gustafsson in this contest, but I had to stop and realize the competition Hamill has faced in his time in the UFC. The experience of Hamill will be the deciding factor, as he will win by decision.

Price: I think Gustafsson is an excellent talent. He’s big, he’s strong, and he has good ground skills in addition to punching power. The one thing he lacks though is the one thing Hamill has plenty of, and that is experience against top level opposition.

I have to say that Gustafsson has been impressive in his last two victories, but they were against, in my opinion, mid-level opposition. The one time he did face a contender in Phil Davis, he came up short by a distance.

Hamill is one of the few elite-level wrestlers in the UFC and he has shown time and time again that he is able to control the majority of the fighters in the division, barring perhaps the top four or five guys. Hamill didn’t really improve his status within the UFC in his bout with Rampage and I believe he will come out looking to make a statement this time.

Hamill will look to get Gustafsson to the ground early and keep the pressure on, using his strength to retain control and land some ground and pound. I’m going to say Hamill stops Gustafsson in the third round by TKO.

McKenna: I mentioned earlier that the first loss in the career of a fighter can be the best thing that ever happened to them. This is a theory that could also be applied to Gustafsson after the lone loss of his career against Phil Davis. Prior to the defeat, seven of his victories came by way of knockout and only one fight ended by way of submission. Since the loss, he has two victories in two fights, both by submission. After “Mr. Wonderful” made the Swedish fighter tap, he may have realized it was time for him to work on his overall game and not just his hands.

Hamill is one of the more elite wrestlers in the light heavyweight division. With such a high level of ground game, you would imagine that he would have at least one submission victory, but he does not. A native of Ohio, Hamill was on his way to making some noise in the third season of “The Ultimate Fighter” until an injury on the show forced him out of the competition. The biggest speed bump in the life of “The Hammer” is that he was born deaf. While sign language and other such symbols can be seen from the cage to send messages to Hamill, it is an extreme disadvantage.

At this point and time, Hamill needs to avoid being a stepping stone. He has looked good, but never good enough to fully consider him for a shot at the title. A win will put him back in contention, while a loss will likely indeed make him a stepping stone for the rest of his career. Because of that, “The Hammer” will be on fire as he outpoints Gustafsson by decision.

Top Photo: Matt Hamill (Terry Goodlad/Sherdog)