Each of the fighters on tonight's fight card face different challenges, opportunities and realities. For some, it's the biggest moment in their careers. For others, it's a chance to make good money, beat a worthy adversary and take one more step in the career.
Either way, the stakes for each combatant in each contest are important. Let's take a closer look at what they are for UFC 153: Silva vs. Bonnar.
At stake: a chance to shine. 'Shine' in this case obviously has multiple meanings. For Bonnar, this is a last grasp at glory. His career has been remarkable in certain respects, but his most important fight is one he technically lost. Even at this advanced stage in his career he lacks a real signature win over a top ten opponent. Beating Silva, however unlikely, fulfills that long lost accomplishment.
Silva, by contrast, is looking for another opportunity to showcase his extraordinary skill while he still has it. And doing so in his home country in a relatively low-risk moment - all while doing the company a rather sizable favor - seems like a can't loss proposition. Should Silva win the way he typically does, he'll only add to his legacy of incredible achievement. Even if I'm overstating it, he'll likely still do enough to add to his already astonishing highlight reel.
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Dave Herman
At stake: relevancy. Nogueira is one of the greatest MMA heavyweights ever, but is clearly on the other side of his legendary career. Herman has been a top prospect, but hasn't really been able to do much within the UFC heavyweight division. There's admittedly more for Herman to gain than there is for Nogueira to lose, but the stakes are still considerable. If Nogueira wants to do more than just hang around the division, he has to put Herman away. On the other hand, if Herman wants to stay in the UFC at all and do something his with MMA career of note, beating Nogueira is borderline essential.
At stake: title shot fast track. I'm not suggesting the winner of this bout gets a title shot, although if Teixeira emerges the victor it is certainly possible. Maldonado is filling in last-minute, so I'm less convinced of a) his chances of success and b) his ability to move into top contender position should he win.
Still, Teixeira seems to have the eye of UFC brass. Now is not the time to falter. A win over Maldonado isn't as valuable as a win over Rampage (his original opponent), but a loss is positively unacceptable for him. For a fighter who has languished on the periphery of MMA and the UFC largely because of visa issues, he has to strike while the iron is hotter.
Jon Fitch vs. Erick Silva
At stake: a future. I don't want to overly dire about it all. A winning or losing effort is important, so is the complexion of the effort. Arguing Fitch must win isn't exactly correct. But it also can't hurt. Perhaps most intriguingly is how Fitch decides to fight and who he becomes in the process. He's stated openly he wants a fight bonus, but can a fighter who is unaccustomed to accepting the necessary risk to do so change himself this late in his career?
Silva is too young and has too much of a future to say his future entirely depends on this fight. I am by no means suggesting that. What I would say, however, is this is his biggest opportunity to rocket to the top. A win here, particularly a dominant one or a clean stoppage, is a game changer for him. He'll be fine if things go Fitch's way, but this is like having the chance to win the lottery with comparatively favorable odds (normal chances of winning them being utterly remote).
Phil Davis vs. Wagner Prado
At stake: a jump start. Davis and Prado are at two different points in their respective careers. Prado has only defeated Brazilian fighters in Brazilian shows. He needs to take a step up against a known commodity to prove to UFC brass what type of upside he has and showcase his ability. Davis is past that point, but is hitting the reset button after his loss to Rashad Evans. He's still blue chip talent, but he's got to prove he can expand both his offensive and defensive skill sets to take his game to the next level.
For Prado, this is a chance to rocket up the rising prospect list. For Davis, it's a chance to compete against a credible challenge while slowly implementing new and needed components to his game. The winner will get the jump start down the right path either of them needs.
Demian Maia vs. Rick Story
At stake: establishing consistency. This fight is noteworthy in the following sense: for as talented as Story and Maia are, they might be two of the UFC's most inconsistent fighters. But they're inconsistent in different ways.
Story goes from being a bulldozer over contenders to nearly inert and reactionary. Maia, by contrast, wins more often than he loses, but fights in ways that don't honor his considerable grappling pedigree.
Maia's changed weight classes to correct for some of these issues and has stated he's back to fighting along the same ways that got him in the UFC. Story, too, is back on track after getting past Brock Jardine.
Tonight's winner could likely emerge victorious because they chose to fight according to their strengths rather than some strange, aberrant game plan. Both as experienced and technically proficient enough to make the other do something to open the fight up. It's the perfect opportunity to showcase themselves while putting together win streaks.