The main event of UFC 148 promises to bring us some closure on one of the longest-running MMA rivalries in recent memory, but it might also bring a close to the glory days of a few fighters on the brink, if they aren’t careful. As we look down the card we see some who need to taste victory a little worse than others. Who are they, and what are their chances? For answers, we turn to the Cut List.
Cung Le (7-2, 0-1 UFC)
Who he’s facing: Patrick Cote
Why he’s in danger: Le is 40 years old and coming off his second TKO loss in three fights. He’s also averaging about one fight a year these days, and seems to see MMA as more of a sideline gig. As exciting as his style can be to watch, if you’re going to stick around in the big leagues you need to show that you’re serious. In his UFC debut against Wanderlei Silva, Le began to look his age for the first time. He started strong, then wilted under Silva’s attack, leaving us to wonder how much longer he really wants to get his nose smashed by the types of guys who treat this sport like it’s a matter of life or death. Against Cote, he faces another opponent who needs a win just to stay relevant (although, win or lose, Cote will probably get at least one more in the UFC, just to thank him for stepping up and taking this one). Is Le hungry enough to hang with younger UFC fighters? Does he really want to keep trying, even if there might be easier paychecks to be had, and ones that don’t necessitate a trip to the hospital? Let's face it, unless a plane crash wipes out half the UFC's middleweights, Le is not going to be a UFC champion. That leaves him as one of the exciting few who’s only there to entertain. And how much longer will he even want to do that? If he loses to Cote, how much longer will anyone want to see it?
Outlook: Pessimistic. Le is always good for a fun mix of crazy kicks and combos that look like something out of a video game, but at his age I don’t see him hanging around at this level for very much longer.
Demian Maia (15-4, 9-4 UFC)
Who he’s facing: Dong Hyun Kim
Why he’s in danger: After losing two of his last three, Maia’s trying to right the ship by dropping down to welterweight and wiping the slate clean. The change of weight classes is to a stalled MMA career as going away for a romantic weekend getaway is to a floundering relationship: sometimes you go home all smiles, and sometimes you just find out that the scenery around you was never the real problem. Maia’s getting a tough draw for his first fight at welterweight. Kim is one of the division’s most suffocatingly powerful grapplers, with a penchant for planting opponents on their backs and flailing away at them until the judges all agree that he won. But then, maybe that’s exactly what Maia needs. Lately he seems so intent on proving he can strike that he’s forgotten he used to be a submissions expert. The last time he heard the sweet sound of an opponent tap, tap, tapping for mercy was when he schooled Chael Sonnen back in 2009. Could it be that he needs someone who will take him down and beg to be triangle choked?
Outlook: Optimistic. Kim is the slight favorite in the fight, but I wouldn’t rule out Maia here. Even if he does get outwrestled for three full rounds, expect him to get at least one more go in his new division.
Melvin Guillard (29-10-2 1 NC, 10-6 UFC)
Who he’s facing: Fabricio Camoes
Why he’s in danger: Remember when "The Young Assassin" (who’s now pushing 30, which should serve as a warning against adopting a nickname that plays up one’s youth) was on a five-fight win streak and was a fixture in any conversation about potential title challengers? Yeah, well, that was yesterday. Today, Guillard is riding a two-fight losing skid and needs a win just to remind himself what victory feels like. The good news is, he ought to beat Camoes. The bad news is, that was also the prevailing wisdom heading into his bout with Joe Lauzon. His exciting style and outsized personality have made him a fan favorite, but the best way to go from rising star to plummeting meteor is to start losing the fights that, on paper, look almost designed to help you get back in the win column. Guillard clearly has the skills (when he's standing up, at least), but does he have the mental game?
Outlook: Optimistic. Though he still has some major holes in his game, his experience and finishing ability will likely prove too much for Camoes. After that, however, the level of difficulty will rise once again.
Shane Roller (10-6, 1-3 UFC)
Who he’s facing: John Alessio
Why he’s in danger: Life has not been so grand for Roller after the great migration of WEC fighters into the big show. He finished strong with a win over Jamie Varner in the WEC’s final event, then raised some eyebrows with a knockout of Thiago Tavares in his UFC debut. Since then, it’s been a trail of tears. He got KO’d by Guillard and submitted by T.J. Grant, then lost one he was heavily favored to win against Michael Johnson. That’s the sort of downward trajectory that could easily drop him right out of the UFC if he’s not careful. He’s a 2-1 favorite against Alessio, who’s coming off a decision loss in his return to the UFC, but this fight is closer than those odds suggest. Alessio may not be a superstar, but he can make you look bad if you aren’t firing on all cylinders. And with the way the last year has gone, Roller can’t afford to look any worse.
Outlook: Neutral. If he loses to Alessio, which is possible if not exactly probable, it’s hard to see why he’d be worth keeping around. But don’t rule out his chances to wrestle his way back from the brink on Saturday.
Rafaello Oliveira (14-5, 1-4 UFC)
Who he’s facing: Yoislandy Izquierdo
Why he’s in danger: You saw the part about him being 1-4 in the Octagon, right? Because that pretty much says it. The one win was over two years ago, and since taking a hiatus in the smaller shows and then returning to the big time he’s 0-2, having been submitted by Gleison Tibau and knocked out by Yves Edwards. This is about as must-win as they get for anyone who still dreams of UFC glory. He’s on the very bottom of the card, fighting a relative newcomer who just suffered the first loss of his career in the UFC’s Swedish debut, and he’s got no margin for error. From what we saw of Izquierdo in Stockholm, Oliveira probably needs to get this to the mat and end it there. Can he? It’s possible, but I wouldn’t get too attached to him just yet if I were you.
Outlook: Pessimistic. If I had to pick a winner in this fight, I’d go with Izquierdo. If Oliveira does lose his third straight, nothing less than a fight of the decade-type performance will save him.