Who are they, and what are their prospects on Friday night in Vegas? For answers, we turn to the Cut List.
Ross Pearson (12-5, 4-2 UFC)
Who he's facing: Junior Assuncao
Why he's in danger: Okay, so maybe danger isn't the word. Pearson is an Ultimate Fighter winner and a nice guy to have on the roster for future U.K. events, so he's probably not going anywhere no matter what happens on Friday night. At the same time, he's lost two of his last three. Maybe his back isn't all the way against the wall yet, but it's getting there. The good news is, he has a couple things going for him here. His last loss came via a very close decision, and it was a Fight of the Night recipient, so obviously the UFC likes what it sees from him. He's also facing a much easier test this time around, at least according to the oddsmakers who have pegged him a 3-1 favorite over Assuncao. Of course, the downside to fighting a guy who you're supposed to beat is that you're supposed to beat him. A loss to Assuncao looks worse on the resume than a split decision against Edson Barboza. If Pearson wants to turn his career trajectory around, he might not get a better opportunity than this.
Outlook: Good. Barring any huge screw-ups, Pearson should get back in the win column here. Even if he doesn't, he'd have to look pretty awful to risk the axe right away.
Matt Riddle (5-3, 5-3 UFC)
Who he's facing: Luis Ramos
Why he's in danger: It's the same old story. Two losses in a row leaves him one bad night away from the dreaded three-fight skid. But how did it get to this point? Things were going so well for a time. He won his first three fights in the UFC -- which also happened to be his first three fights as a professional -- and after six he was a very respectable (and somewhat surprising) 5-1. And then the current tumble began. Riddle lost a decision to Sean Pierson at UFC 124, then another to Lance Benoist nine months later, and here we are. Is this a must-win scenario for Riddle? Probably, but the same might be true of Ramos. He's only lost one fight in the UFC, but then, he's only had one fight in the UFC. When two guys scrap with that sort of desperation hanging over them, things often get ugly. Or else one guy decides it's worth playing it safe and dull, if it nets him a job-saving win in the end.
Outlook: Cautiously optimistic. Riddle may be giving up a lot of experience against Ramos, but you don't stick around in the UFC this long if you don't have some skills.
Manny Gamburyan (11-6, 2-4 UFC)
Who he's facing: Diego Nunes
Why he's in danger: If you go back to his recent WEC stint (and it's all in the Zuffa family, so why not?), he's on a two-fight losing streak. You know what that means. Then again, his last loss in the WEC was to Jose Aldo, so he deserves a little slack. And his most recent UFC loss was a majority decision to Tyson Griffin, which, okay, doesn't look great in light of Griffin's recent stretch. The worst part is, against Nunes it would seem as though Gamburyan is really going to have his hands full. The Brazilian can be outwrestled, as we've seen, but is Gamburyan the guy to do it? Better yet, if he isn't, what will the UFC have to gain by keeping him around?
Outlook: Neutral. Gamburyan has the chops to make a fight out of it against just about any featherweight in the game, but opponents seem to be figuring him out more and more lately. If he can't beat Nunes -- who's a tough draw, no matter who you are -- he's in real trouble.
Efrain Escudero (18-3, 3-2 UFC)
Who he's facing: Jacob Volkmann
Why he's in danger: The former TUF winner is back in the big show, and he's got his work cut out for him. After being cut following a disastrous Fight Night appearance in which he failed to make weight and then got submitted by Charles Oliveira, he knocked around in the small shows and did well enough to merit a phone call when the UFC found itself in need of a quality lightweight. And Escudero is a quality lightweight. His record tells us that much. But is he an elite lightweight, and can he prove it before the UFC again loses its patience with him? Volkmann is exactly the kind of guy you don't want to face on short notice in your return to the UFC. He's methodical, patient (sometimes to the point of being boring), and can absolutely suffocate you if you don't shut him down early. In other words, he can make you look very, very bad in defeat, which is the last thing Escudero can afford right now.
Outlook: Mildly pessimistic. It'll be a significant upset if he can find a way to beat Volkmann, and I don't see it happening. He'll probably get one more chance to prove himself with due notice and a full camp, but then it'll be make-or-break time for sure.