The MMA community’s ambivalence over Renan Barao’s interim championship gave prospects Jimi Manuwa and Gunnar Nelson some rightful attention last weekend on the UFC on Fuel main card and they both looked ready for stiffer competition, taking apart Cyrille Diabate and Jorge Santiago respectively.

For a second time in a row we were denied a chance to see Jimi Manuwa work his endgame when Cyrille Diabate suffered a torn calf while being taken down at the end of the first round.  Manuwa outstruck Diabate for most of the frame and took him down multiple times but was confident enough by the end of the round to let Diabate right back up after catching a knee and throwing him to the mat.

Diabate is a serviceable gatekeeper at 205 but Manuwa looked every which way better and clearly needs a bump in competition.  While a fight with Shogun Rua would be a lot of fun, James Te Huna also won on the card and would make a pretty good matchup for a ground fighter like Nelson.  I’m personally hoping for the UFC to punish Thiago Silva for his blown drug test last November by throwing him in with Manuwa, but it would be extra nice if Jimi got to fight again before Thiago is cleared in May.

Earlier on the card, Gunnar Nelson outmatched Jorge Santiago but not without offering his fair share of confusion.  Easily up two rounds, Nelson chose to spend the last minute of the fight just standing in front of the reasonably heavy-handed Santiago and ate some heavy shots right at the final bell.  My only real complaint was with his gameplan, though – past that, Nelson’s striking looked sharp and he controlled Santiago on the ground in a way I’ve only seen Demian Maia do before.

Whether it’s fair to compare Nelson to Maia remains to be seen, but he definitely passed his first real test in the UFC and Tim Boetsch would be a stern test for him if they don’t decide to match Nelson against another prospect like Francis Carmont, Ronny Markes or Nick Ring.

Triangle ninja Paul Sass fought on the undercard but wasn’t able to do much from under Danny Castillo after the first round, which he began with a guard pull/flying triangle attempt that he was slammed out of.  He worked actively for heel hooks throughout the round but still lost the round on two of the three scorecards due to Castillo’s top control and ground and pound.

The fight said a lot more about Danny Castillo than it did Sass, so the major cause for alarm here is just the simple reality of Sass’ back-to-back losses which probably won’t earn him a better opponent than TUF Brazil winner Cezar Ferreira or maybe-just-maybe Riki Fukuda.