The UFC kicks back into gear on Saturday night with UFC on FOX 5. The event at Seattle's KeyArena boasts a loaded main card, headlined by Benson Henderson vs. Nate Diaz for the lightweight championship. Who stands to gain, who has a lot to lose, and what looks like the fight of the night? My esteemed colleague Dave Meltzer joins me to discuss that and more.
1. Who is under the most pressure?
Dave Meltzer: Everyone on the show is under more pressure than usual - both the pressure to perform and the pressure to win. With a network audience, there will be a lot of people watching who usually don't. Thus, more than usual, a lot of people will base their opinions on most fighters based on this show alone. The most pressure may be Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. He's only 31 and has been a star for nearly a decade, but if he can't find a way to beat Alexander Gustafsson, it's going to be tough for people to buy him as a championship contender.
Dave Doyle: Benson Henderson. As good as he is -- 15 wins in his past 16 fights speak for itself -- he's widely perceived as the beneficiary of a gift decision in his rematch against Frankie Edgar. Henderson needs to put the second Edgar fight behind him before he can develop into a true drawing card. He's going to have to deliver a decisive win on the big stage against one of the sport's hottest fighters. It's far from impossible, but it's a tall task for the guy who has to carry the card.
2. Besides Benson Henderson, who has the most to lose?
Meltzer: B.J. Penn has the most to lose, because he's fighting a battle for his legacy while giving up youth and size. At one point, it was a given Penn was a Hall of Fame fighter. With a loss, his record goes to 16-9-2. Even with his two championship reigns, it becomes a legacy that you have to give a lot of thought to evaluating.
Doyle: I'm going to hedge a bit here and say whoever loses Shogun vs. Gustafsson. This is a consequential fight in the light heavyweight division. If the Shogun who barely scraped by Brandon Vera in August shows up, he's not likely to get his hand raised in the end this time. And if that's the case, it's going to be hard to market Rua as a feature or co-feature fighter anymore. But what if Gustafsson falls flat? Should he lose to Rua, he'll be a guy whose two losses would have been to the biggest names on his resume, Rua and Phil Davis. That puts you more in the sphere of fighters who come up short in their biggest fights, not that of a can't-miss contender.
3. What is shaping up to be fight of the night?
Meltzer: There are legitimately a half-dozen fights on this card that you look at and think could be the best. But I'm going to go with the easy pick. Henderson and Diaz almost never have bad fights, and both often have great fights. While either could finish the other, at any time, it is more likely to go five rounds of constant action. It's also likely that neither will get tired. Diaz figures to have the edge whenever the fight is standing. Henderson is strong at takedowns. Both are slick on the ground, to the point it's unlikely one will submit the other. But it's also likely Diaz will constantly try if it's a ground game. When you look at the names on paper, a fight of the year wouldn't be any kind of a surprise, plus the added dynamic of the title at stake in a fight that figures to never slow down, and could be close, adds to its potential.
Doyle: What Dave M. said. Since Henderson vs. Diaz was announced, its been the fight I've most anticipated on the late 2012 calendar.
4. Most underrated fight?
Meltzer: Dennis Siver vs. Nam Phan. The stocky German powerhouse won eight of 10 in the ultra-competitive lightweight division. Moving to featherweight, which doesn't have nearly the depth, he came right out and beat Diego Nunes. Nunes is the division's measuring stick to see if someone belongs at the contender level. Siver is in with Nam Phan, a fighter who will likely strike with him, meaning we'll get to see him at his best.
Doyle: I'm going to go with Mike Swick vs. Matt Brown. With four wins in his past five fights, and finishes in two of his past three, Brown looks like he's finally building up a head of steam in the welterweight division. Swick made a memorable return at UFC on FOX 4 with his big knockout of DaMarques Johnson. Now that he's got the nerves of his first fight back with his health issues behind him, it will be interesting to see whether Swick can make another run at welterweight. These guys are almost a perfect match for one another for where they currently stand.
5. Who is on the chopping block?
Meltzer: This show up and down features fighters who are either top stars who aren't going to get cut, or lesser known fighters who almost come in with win streaks. Yves Edwards has the misfortune of being a lightweight, a division loaded with talent, which is likely to be adding even more solid names once all the details regarding the end of Strikeforce get worked out. He's the type of fighter they like having around, but a loss would make three of four and there is a numbers game in that division. Marcus LeVesseur, also a lightweight, may have been in the most jeopardy of anyone on the show had he lost to Michael Chiesa if the fight wasn't exciting. But with Chiesa's illness, that fight has been canceled.
Doyle: Since defeating Diego Sanchez three years to the weekend, B.J. Penn has won exactly one of his past five fights. That win was a flash knockout of Matt Hughes, who was already well into his career decline. I'm not in any way suggesting the UFC would actually cut the future Hall of Famer should he lose to Rory MacDonald. But Penn nearly retired after his loss to Nick Diaz, and if he doesn't look good against MacDonald, it might be time for Penn to make his curtain call.