This is the fourth UFC pay-per-view in the last seven weeks. It would be euphemistic to say there's fatigue at this point. That isn't to say, however, there aren't good fights. This isn't a stacked card by any stretch, but the main event could end up being the best fight of the year. The stakes and ingredients are there for an absolutely sensational fight.
But back to the context of how many events there have been that come with a hefty price tag. It's true the UFC books most of the dates of their events months in advance. They've got contracts in place for a certain amount of shows on the various FOX platforms as well as their pay-per-view shows. They can't back out now and they can't throw their hands in the air and give up when something like the Olympics comes around. Yet, the unmistakable truth is there's almost nothing worse in mixed martial arts than a great fight or fight card that goes unwatched. After asking for fans to pay as much as $240 in the last seven weeks, one wonders if that's too much of a tax for the average fan to pay. If it is, we may well arrive at a place where a good majority of fans (casual, mostly) miss what is MMA and UFC at it's finest.
Those are the stakes the UFC faces tonight. Let's pivot at bit and take a closer look at what's at stake for each of the fighters on tonight's main card.
At stake: defining a path. What path will Edgar and Henderson take in their careers? This bout will help define that answer. For Edgar, a loss certainly sends him to featherweight. He can't struggle like this in perpetual rematches with all of the top contenders and claim this is the ideal weight. A win gives him his belt back and buys him more time at lightweight and a fair bit of redemption from criticism he's faced after being rough up in three consecutive fights.
Henderson, by contrast, can firmly cement himself as the top lightweight in the sport. Fairly or not, there is some measure of controversy about his previous win and a strong follow-up performance erases most or even all doubt about his place.
At stake: moving on to the next thing. I'm not really sure what to make of this match. The truth is the winner gets a big scalp here. Cerrone could even get the fight against Anthony Pettis he wants. Guillard could claim huge bragging rights. But all they seem to be talking about is whatever is next for them after this bout. Guillard can barely bring himself to talk about this fight at all. I don't want to underplay the stakes. They're big, but more than anything this bout is about what is set up next. That seems to be all anyone can talk about, including Cerrone and Guillard.
At stake: cementing position. Shields is back at middleweight and at 33, doesn't have a ton of time left to make big things happen in his career. He'll be in big fights, of course, but I'm talking about a run at the top. Beating Ed Herman is a good first step in that direction, but losing would be a fairly monstrous setback in this new weight class. Herman is in the opposite position. He's got a second lease on his career and this is his chance to move forward in his career in a way no victory over any previous opponent could have. He's on a hot streak and he wants to prove he's part of a different class of fighter.
At stake: not letting mistakes happen. Neither fighter can make a mistake here, or at least a major mistake. For Okami, he was supposed to face Rousimar Palhares before Roberts filled in. He's coming off of the Boetsch loss, which came after the loss to Anderson Silva. Okami had never lost two in a row until his last bout. Against an opponent he ostensibly outmatches, he has to make sure he implements his style of offense to get back to winning ways.
For Roberts, his challenge is rise to the occasion. Beating Okami comes with huge rewards, but requires him to fire on all cylinders and even get a little lucky. He can't do much to engineer good fortune, but he can control how cleanly he fights.
At stake: move into contenders queue. These fighters are too early in their careers for these bouts to carry huge amounts of significance. For both fighters, getting a win over a prospect with a little bit of name and little bit of hype is the next career move to make to make the next challenge that awaits them in the UFC. Not much more, not much less.