UFC 161 fight card: What's at stake?

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

There's lots of bellyaching about this card. Much of it is deserved. Even by UFC pay-per-view standards, the level of fighter celebrity, stakes and consequential matchmaking is strikingly low. When Dana White (and some media) groans you can't judge a card before it's happened (actually you can), they falsely equate 'exciting fights' with 'fights fans care about or want to see'. This card could end up having the former, but it most certainly lacks the latter.


More Coverage: UFC 161 Results | UFC news
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Still, the UFC is breaking records in Winnipeg. For all events at the MTS Centre, UFC 161 has set the all-time highest gate record in their sell-out event. Obviously enthusiasm is high the first time the UFC goes to almost any market, but we can't discount that success here specifically or generally.

So, what is the UFC risking tonight? Virtually nothing. They've already won in the local market, although the next time they return, they'll have to turn in a better effort or risk fan revolt. But on the card, there isn't anything hugely significant.

Every UFC event carries some measure of import, but tonight's is fairly low. This one is mostly about the entertainment of it all.


More Coverage: UFC 161 Results | UFC news
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Star-divide

Rashad Evans vs. Dan Henderson

At stake: a competitive future. It's not true the loser of this bout has no 'competitive future', speaking broadly. They'll still be on big cards against (relatively) name opponents. But the winner will occupy a space that's at least aimed at a title shot. As Dana White said, it's statistically almost impossible for the loser of the bout to ever get a title shot again. And if they don't, what are they doing?

If it's Evans, he could conceivably drop to middleweight. If it's Henderson, he can ride out a few more fights until he's ready to call it quits. It's not as if the world collapses with a loss. Either way, though, the loser's career at light heavyweight is forever altered tonight. In that division, they will only be competing for the sake of competing, if they choose to keep fighting at all.

Roy Nelson vs. Stipe Miocic

At stake: having a say in where you end up. This bout has my curiosity piqued. Nelson is an odd character, but one in an interesting predicament. He's got a bit of a loyal fan following, he's good for a strong performance on any main card pay-per-view, but is continuously at odds with UFC management. He's also on the last fight of a contract that he's been on since The Ultimate Fighter, which means he's been unhappy with it for some time.

Win or lose, I suspect UFC will make Nelson an offer to stay. Despite his advanced age, Nelson has value as an everyman-heavyweight slugger. But if he wins, the world is a bit of his oyster. Bellator and their laissez-faire policy towards fighter identity and personality would likely suit him. UFC could do without him, but a win tonight greatly enhances his negotiating leverage for wherever he ends up.

For Miocic, it's a bit of a make or break fight. Ok, fair enough: you're never really out of it at heavyweight. Just ask Mark Hunt. But either he's going to be more than an intriguing prospect with flaws he's ironed out or he's not. Beating Nelson - and doing so by using his well-rounded skill set - would be proof he can make something of himself in this division and create a path that may elude him forever should he fail to demonstrate growth tonight.

Alexis Davis vs. Rosi Sexton

At stake: being a participant in the Ronda Rousey sweepstakes. It doesn't even matter for women to beat Ronda Rousey. If they can just be positioned next to her, they can reap huge rewards. Obviously beating her is the biggest prize of them all, but the trick is to first get next to her. That road begins tonight for Sexton and Davis. They won't move right into position immediately. Ronda has business to settle with Miesha Tate and eventually Cat Zingano. But Davis and Sexton need experience, anyway. Tonight is the first step on a road that eventually ends, even with a loss, with their profile being raised in fairly substantial fashion.

Pat Barry vs. Shawn Jordan

At stake: being more than a useful heavyweight. Barry is who he is. A very dangerous, very fun, very limited fighter. He's good for exciting wins. He's good for exciting losses. He knows that as much as the UFC does. So do the fans and they love him (rightfully) for it. Jordan, on the other hand, hasn't quite carved out his identity yet. Is he a Barry type where he wins as much as he loses, but curries fan favor the entire time? Or is he something more? Perhaps he's something less. We simply don't know. However, if he's going to be the latter, he needs to do something Barry isn't overly concerned with: winning consistently. The road to something more starts tonight.

Igor Pokrajac vs. Ryan Jimmo

At stake: being a useful light heavyweight. This is one of those bouts that without any question means quite a bit to each competitor, but very little in the grand scheme of things. Pokrajac is being used here as a test for the developing Jimmo. Jimmo is on the card because he's a semi-noteworthy prospect and Canadian. Obviously the bigger stakes here are for the younger Jimmo, but there's nothing overly consequential to pore over.

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