If you're a UFC lightweight with more losses than wins lately, you have to be looking over your shoulder and wondering how long you'll have a job now that there's suddenly a talent surplus in your division. If fighting in the UFC were like an office job, this is the point where you'd look up one morning and see a bunch of new hires standing around with cardboard boxes full of their stuff, sizing up your cubicle with their eyes.
Join me below as we take a look at the UFC 126 lineup and ask which fighters could find themselves out of work unless they can keep their place at the table with a victory on Saturday night.
Paul Kelly (11-3, 5-3 UFC)
Who he's fighting: Donald Cerrone
Why he's in danger: With a 2-2 record in his last four fights, Kelly has been consistently mediocre against mid-level UFC competition. Ordinarily his recent win over T.J. O'Brien might be enough to secure his spot, but 155 pounds is the wrong division to be an 'aiiiiight' kind of fighter in right now. With WEC imports flooding the roster, it's time to clean house in the UFC lightweight class to make room for the guys with a future in front of them. If Kelly can't stay relevant with a win here, he'll essentially be telling the UFC that he doesn't fit that description.
Odds of getting cut: 2-1. Cerrone is the favorite here, and if Kelly loses only the UFC's love of keeping British fighters around will save him.
Gabe Ruediger (17-6, 0-2 UFC)
Who he's fighting: Paul Taylor
Why he's in danger: The fact that Ruediger is still on the UFC roster seems more like a paperwork error than any endorsement of his skills. He got absolutely demolished by Joe Lauzon at UFC 118, washed out of 'The Ultimate Fighter' without ever stepping in the cage, and got beat up by Melvin Guillard in his only other UFC appearance. Yet somehow he's still here, while Gerald Harris got cut after going 3-1 in the Octagon. I guess no one ever said this business was fair. If it was, Ruediger would be on an MFC undercard right now and Harris would still have a job. But alas...
Odds of getting cut: Even. Taylor's not the toughest possible opponent here, but he's likely also fighting for his job (more on that in a moment). He's probably also just a tad better than Ruediger, who seems like he's taking up space in an increasingly crowded division.
Paul Taylor (10-6-1, 3-5 UFC)
Who he's fighting: Gabe Ruediger
Why he's in danger: Not only has he lost two in a row, he's lost three of his last four. Of the three people he has beaten in his unimpressive UFC tenure, not a one is still employed by the organization. Once again, if he were a heavyweight this might be no cause for concern. But in the lightweight division? With the former WEC guys breathing down your neck? You've either got to win some fights in a hurry or find a new place to work. Taylor is certainly a tough fighter, but tough isn't enough in this weight class anymore.
Odds of getting cut: 3-1. I like Taylor's chances to keep his job only because I think he should beat Ruediger without too much trouble. It's still not an easy fight, and Ruediger has displayed flashes of real talent (however inconsistently) in the past. But it's now or never for Taylor, and you have to think he knows it.
Anderson Silva (27-4, 12-0 UFC)
Who he's fighting: Vitor Belfort
Why he's in danger: Remember Dana White's vow to fire the champ if he goes out there and does the Abu Dhabi waltz again? Yeah, I don't buy it either, but imagine for a moment that Silva does slip back into open mockery mode as soon as he no longer has Chael Sonnen in his face to motivate him. Imagine he spends five rounds toying with Belfort, whipping the Vegas crowd into a fury on the eve of the most sacred American holiday – Super Bowl Sunday. What then?
Odds of getting cut: 40-1. White's heated and implausible threats aside, I don't even want to think about what Silva would have to do to really get himself released. If he refused to fight at all, then addressed the crowd in perfect English to tell them he no longer believes in violence or the pursuit of material wealth, all before ceremoniously burning the American flag in protest, then...maybe. Otherwise, he's safe. But who says we can't have some fun with the possibilities?