With the UFC’s second return to Japan under Zuffa ownership less than a week away, the fight card is packed with intriguing matchups and exciting possibilities. However, with Dana White and company giving mass releases to fighters who lose many, or lose boringly, an added tension will be on the participants. Should they win, their careers will be propelled forward, certainly, but should they lose, employment is at stake. With that said, who has the most to gain with a victory on Saturday, and who stands the most to lose on Saturday? Let’s check out some key figures on the main card, and answer exactly that.
Brian Stann – Making a return to light heavyweight as a once off fight against Brazilian legend Wanderlei Silva, Stann is doing the UFC a solid. He’s giving them a marketable fight against a respected yet aging terror in Silva (which, as Luke Thomas pointed out, is exactly the sort of headline the FuelTV cards are needing). A win here doesn’t necessarily do much for him since he’s a middleweight, but it does keep him on the payroll and avoid a 2 fight skid. A loss here though is a worrisome thing. Should he lose, Stann will have dropped 3 of 4 fights, and lost to a man considered way past his prime. This is a very winnable fight, but if he loses, he might find himself on the end of the pay cuts en mass.
Wanderlei Silva – The Axe Murderer is in a couple of familiar positions. He’s headlining an event in Japan; he’s facing retirement or job loss (the aforementioned roster cuts and Dana White’s insistence that Silva retire); he’s facing a light-heavyweight former champion with knockout power. It’s nothing he hasn’t seen before. The worrisome part is that his chin is nowhere near where it was at his prime, that’s a given. And a loss to Stann would make him 3-8 dating back to 2006. Excitement may be something Dana White values, but when the losses and damage pile up, he knows when to pull the plug on a fighters career (for their own safety or otherwise). A win against Stann would be just another scalp to add to his vaunted collection. Silva will likely never compete for a title again, and his legacy is secure in the sports memory, so a win or a loss won’t really affect him either way.
Mark Hunt – Riding his first win streak since May, 2006, Hunt finds himself on the cusp of title shot contention. Not because he’s beaten anyone particularly impressive, but because in the shallow heavyweight division he’s pieced together 3 back to back wins and has the support of the fans behind him. If Hunt beats the surging Struve, he’ll have knocked another contender out of the way, and put himself closer to the surprisingly thin heavyweight contender’s picture. A loss would cripple the momentum he’s built up and likely keep him from ever seeming a viable contender. For an aging Super Samoan, the time to strike is now.
Hector Lombard – In a battle of fun nicknames, Lightning takes on Thunder, and both try to make that leap into the elite echelon of middleweight contenders. Okami has been there, and wants to get back. Lombard, meanwhile, has always been the subject of fan interest. After compiling an enormous unbeaten streak, he fell flat in a boring split decision loss in his UFC debut. However, he answered some questions by putting away leg lock savant Rousimar Palhares in his next fight. A win against a seasoned veteran in Okami will answer the questions as to his elite status, proving he deserves to be at the top of the pack. A loss however, would deflate his hype train for good, making him the man who was good enough to beat the who’s who of the regional circuit and past-their-prime veterans, but was never good enough to stand at the top of the heap among the elite.
Mizuto Hirota – The talented Japanese fighter makes his UFC debut on the heels of a decision loss, and his job is as precarious as they come. A former Sengoku champion and knockout artist, it is unfortunate that his most memorable moment came when Shinya Aoki created a new joint in his arm via hammerlock. A loss against a crafty veteran in Rani Yahya almost certainly puts him on the unemployed list. A win though starts him on the right foot in the featherweight division, and ensures he fights another day.
Siyar Bahadurzada – The Afghani fighter finds himself much in the same position as Hector Lombard, but for different reasons. Unlike the Cuban, Bahadurzada lived up to the hype and starched his opponent with a one punch knockout. Like Lombard, however, he had his hype train briefly derailed by an injury that kept him from the fight game for just about a year. A win against Dong Hyun Kim, particularly one not so affected by jet lag, would be a huge statement about his ground game. Bahadurzada’s last two losses came by way of submission, and if he can keep the judoka master from implementing that same form of attack, then he’s well on his way to the upper crust of the division. A loss here would derail his title aspirations for the foreseeable future.