There's not too, too much at stake tonight for the UFC. There's no title up for grabs. The UFC didn't book a controversial match whose outcome could drastically impact their bottom line or public perception. It's true they are in a much larger venue for this event than normal, so I'm sure they're feeling the pressure get gate receipts as best they can. But in the grand scheme of things, it's hardly a chief concern.
Instead, they're probably looking for the season to end with a bang. As I'll explain later, season 18 - the next one - is perhaps the most important in the show's history (since the first season). Season 17 was the reinvention, but a reinvention that still needs to pay off. The ratings are mostly in, but there's still tonight's event. They still need to deliver there.
More importantly, they need to prove this is still a platform for launching talent that matters. It's all good and well when ratings are still high and UFC could get away with promoting the Junie Browning's of the world. They don't have that luxury anymore. If this season was about anything, it was about discovering talent that matters, promoting them and using this experience as a jumping off point for further success in the UFC. Either the show is a pipeline or it isn't.
UFC is very close to that with Uriah Hall. The sensational striker put on one stellar performance after another during the season. He built his name during the season, in fact, in a way few have done in years. And he did it when the show's production was almost entirely reinvented. If he can assume the mantle of winner this evening and fulfill the linear path to greatness he appears to have been on, UFC can hold up his experience as proof the format is still very much viable.
At stake: probably title contention. Let's just be honest. There aren't a ton of obvious title contenders out there at bantamweight. Eddie Wineland and Renan Barao are set to do battle, so looking at who else is out there, Faber and Brad Pickett are the most obvious contenders. Pickett rebounded nicely against Mike Easton, but probably needs at least another win. Faber won in his most recent fight, but he's Faber: arguably the most popular fighter below lightweight. A win over a known commodity like Jorgensen can do a lot for title talk, particularly in a division thing enough for it.
Jorgensen, on the other hand, is 1-2 in his last three bouts, but rebounded in incredible fashion against John Albert. I don't think he can get to a title shot as quickly as Faber, but beating Faber is probably the best thing he could possibly do to move along in the division. Faber isn't just popular, he's still a very, very good fighter. In fact, it'd arguably be the best win of his career for Jorgensen.
UFC brass might put the winner of this bout against Pickett to see who is next for the winner of Barao vs. Wineland. A title shot is by no means automatic, but there are scarcely any achievements either can earn at this point that can match what's up for grabs tonight.
At stake: a great launching pad for a UFC career. I've stated previously Hall is a sensational talent, although some of the hype surrounding him is a bit ridiculous. In time, he stands a very good chance of competing with middleweight's best, but right now? Let's be serious. Nevertheless, he's a top prospect and a favorite of UFC President Dana White. Winning tonight and doing so in the way he's been winning will be one of the best moments of synergy between being hyped on the show and delivering in key moments in real competition when it matters.
Upside for Gastelum is huge, but still won't be able to match what Hall's already experienced. He can do wonders for himself by derailing Hall's hype train, but even then he can't match the level of celebrity and intrigue surrounding the Tiger Schulman product. Hall has benefited from intense lobbying from White, highlight reel KOs and a fan-friendly style. Gastelum is more the little engine that could. There's still lots to be gained from said position, but it just can't match all that's possible for Hall.
At stake: almost the kitchen sink. As long as Ronda Rousey is around, none of these ladies are going to get the lion's share of attention in this division of women's MMA. Still, there's something of a wild west phenomenon going on right now. Rousey is the star of the show, yes, but she needs rivals, foils and opponents. As a result, all kinds of opportunities are opening up for other women in the division.
This bout offers so much more than a noteworthy victory over a top competitor, although it offers that, too. It opens the door to huge exposure on next season of The Ultimate Fighter. And while others may not have noticed, there's been no official announcement of where TUF will end up. It's probably a long shot, but the move to include women on the show is one to broaden the appeal and draw in 'reality show' audiences, which in many ways are distinct from fight fans. That means they're very likely pushing to be on FOX. Without going into detail, one can imagine how all the promotion and hoopla around that, to say nothing of the build-up around a bout with Rousey, can literally change a fighter's career.
At stake: heavyweight space that matters. According to the UFC's official media rankings (take that for what it's worth), neither of these gentlemen are ranked in the top ten of the division. At one point, both were. Browne is trying to overcome a fairly disastrous performance against Antonio Silva. Gonzaga is doing well, having racked up three consecutive wins after once retiring from the sport.
A loss for Browne would be particularly devastating. He was building career momentum prior to the Silva loss and is believed to have the potential (by some) for upper echelon heavyweight status. Gonzaga, by contrast, is not expected to do much or go anywhere by most. He's on bonus time as it is. But a win for him puts him back in top ten contention, something almost unthinkable after once losing to Brendan Schaub almost three years ago.
At stake: potentially a UFC contract. That's really about it. I'm not going to fluff this column for the sake of fluffing it. There will be occasions when larger implications of significance don't take place in UFC bouts. This is one such case. I'm sure winning means quite a bit to McDaniel or Smith and it should. I don't mean to suggest making it into the UFC is some sort of obvious, expected reward in a fighter's life. But for our purposes of surveying the changing MMA landscape, it's not a particularly novel achievement.