There's nothing particularly risky for the UFC this evening. Some folks are (rightly) bellyaching the main event is lackluster, but the alternative wouldn't do much better business. That is, one can make a case Fabricio Werdum would make more sense as a title contender, but would that realistically result in a grander, more profitable event? Not really. And besides, whatever his chances, Bigfoot's story is something everyone seems to admire. Maybe he's out of his depth, but the win over Alistair Overeem is not insignificant. One can think of many other title challengers this year who've had far less impressive resumes.
That said, there are a few outcomes that will be more favorable to the UFC than others. Mark Hunt's story is sensational, but in terms of the pay-per-view business, a trilogy fight between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos is a bigger payday for all the parties involved.
It also goes without saying that having a Mexican heavyweight champion carries all sorts of benefits in the current climate of MMA that a Brazilian cannot match.
Other than that, however, there's nothing particularly risky about the UFC's event tonight. It's a very stacked card, commendably put together with important stakes for the fighters themselves, but not a particularly controversial or unusual event.
At stake: the heavyweight title. For a title fight, the stakes here are relatively low. They're not objectively low, but compared to Velasquez's last fight, this isn't even close. It goes without saying keeping the title carries huge importance no matter the opponent, but when we take the opponent into consideration, this doesn't do much for his legacy or career resume.
For Silva, this is obviously a much more significant opportunity. Bigfoot is a fighter who entered the game as an intriguing if flawed super heavyweight. He is now a top-ranked heavyweight and the victor in bouts with Alistair Overeem and Fedor Emelianenko. He has always been a moderately respected heavyweight, but his greatest achievements came in moments where he surprised observers by taking it to his opposition in ways few thought possible.
And that's precisely where he finds himself tonight. Not many give Bigfoot a chance here and not for unfair reasons. The match-up doesn't favor him generally and we've already seen how this movie ends. There's not a lot of reason to believe the sequel will look particularly different. Yet, that's where Silva has historically been a surprise. If he wants to solidify himself as more than a good heavyweight with key wins, he'll have to surprise everyone again tonight.
Junior dos Santos vs. Mark Hunt
At stake: being a heavyweight force. Of all the bouts with high stakes, this might be the top. The danger for dos Santos is high and the opportunity for Hunt arguably once in a lifetime.
Let's start with the former champion. His biggest goal is to get back where he was and by that I don't simply mean champion, but as a dominant force. After the sustained beating he took in his loss to Velasquez, that is anything but an automatic process. A loss like that - a shellacking that went on and on and caused (temporary) disfiguration - can often change a person. Fight sports is filled with competitors who became different people after similar defeats. I don't necessarily get the sense dos Santos is treading toward that territory, but it is essential he have a successful rebounding effort not merely for his ranking but psyche as well.
And there's Mark Hunt. Let's be honest and admit it's now or never for him. He was never supposed to be here in the first place. That he's arrived at this point is a testament to his ability and desire to persevere. Hunt is nothing if not a survivor. But he desires to be more than feel good story. If he is to ever contend for or earn a UFC title shot, he absolutely must win tonight. It's true heavyweight is thin enough that a few wins together can do wonders for someone's title aspirations, but at his age and with his wrestling-deficient skill set, he has no choice but to strike while the iron is hot.
His career has already been remarkable, but if he is to elevate into truly historic territory, tonight is a must-win situation.
At stake: keeping the dream alive. Both fighters will want title shots sooner rather than later. They arrive at this point in different positions, but on a similar linear path. Teixeira is just further ahead. He's fought better competition and is more widely regarded as a candidate for a title shot, but still has some exposure to benefit from as well as a little more proving to do inside the Octagon. Te Huna, on the other hand, has generated some interest as a developing prospect and shown grit, but needs to prove he can take a no-B.S. step up in competition. If he's ever going to be considered a title contender, the path starts here.
At stake: a chance at a title shot. Even with public pronouncements, no title shot is ever guaranteed. The winner of this bout has been promised a title shot, but I'd submit the complexion of tonight's victory matters. Winning is great, but winning in some sort of dominant fashion that gives the public faith and the promoter material to sell is the most important asset of them all.
For Maynard, one wonders how many chances he has left at 34 years of age to capture UFC gold. Perhaps he has many years left as a competitor, but his age makes the question at least relevant.
Grant is young enough to put together another campaign if things don't go his way tonight. But if they do, it's worth noting how he got here. Few fighters make a weight class change during their prime. Even fewer do it for the right reasons, namely, to maximize their physicality without an enormous struggle to make the weight loss happen. What Grant revealed in the class change, though, was not just that he was bigger and stronger at lightweight, but that his entire offense came to life when he calibrated his weight properly. To watch something like Grant's efforts go full circle is a rare moment in time all should be able to appreciate.
At stake: getting back on the horse. Both of these fighters enter this bout coming off of a losses. Noons has dropped two of his last three. Cerrone is trying to rebound from a particularly devastating stoppage loss to Anthony Pettis. A win here for either fighter would be hugely beneficial, particularly for Noons given that losing three in a row is a hard way to stay employed with Zuffa.
Beyond this, though, I'd add I'm getting a strange vibe from Cerrone. For a fighter who had a strong WEC tenure and an excellent beginning to his UFC campaign, the initial fire of competition appears to have given way to insouciance. There's no shame in a loss to Pettis, but Noons is a fighter he's more than capable of defeating. A loss for 'Cowboy' tonight could be the signal something deeper is not well with the Greg Jackson product.