Upon close inspection, it's rather remarkable just how many of the fighters on tonight's UFC on FOX 4 card are aiming for one more attempt at MMA glory after dealing with adversity, personal mismanagement and failure. We all know the story of Brandon Vera, who at age 34, is in a fight he dubiously earned yet has a real opportunity to undo career shortcomings.
Then there are the other light heavyweights vying for a title shot. None of them are irrelevant, of course, but after being thoroughly dismantled in title fights, they are already on the precipice of another title opportunity. That means a chance to right what went so drastically wrong.
Let's not forget about Mike Swick, a promising middleweight turned welterweight and TUF 1 veteran whose career was nearly ended because of a troubling esophageal ailment, He now has one another chance to get back into the swing of things and truly discover just how far he can take a contendership run.
Last, but certainly not least, there is the prodigal son in Jamie Varner. Once considered to be one of MMA's top rising lightweights, his career was derailed and nearly over before he salvaged it from complete ruin.
Tonight's event is a card about seizing new opportunities in the name career redemption, making up for lost time and correcting mistakes. It's a chance to actualize one's image of themselves as an athlete and competitor after setbacks large and small.
Let's take a closer look at tonight's main card to see what's at stake.
At stake: undoing failure. There's little need to rehash the story of Vera. We all know what we he promised in two titles in two weight classes and what he actually delivered. Speaking on pure merit, he doesn't deserve to be fighting in a number one contender's bout. But now that he has it, it is noteworthy what a win over Shogun would and could mean. Vera's suggested it could make up for all the previous mistakes. It's not that powerful a whitewash, but it does provide a serious measure of redemption.
For Rua, this is about ensuring his earned place and perhaps another title shot. He hasn't suffered through a career bottoming out in the fashion Vera has, but this is another chance to right what went wrong against either Dan Henderson or Jon Jones. It's also about not being a catalyst for another fighter's career resurgence.
Truthfully, mistakes cannot be undone. But if opportunity arrives, new success can often outweight old errors. And that's enough to be content.
At stake: staying on top. Bader and Machida are more closely aligned with Shogun than Vera. They've suffered setbacks, yes, but not monumental setbacks. They've simply lost big fights against credible or mostly credible opposition. It's true Machida was a title holder and ultimately lost that, too, but in MMA this is hardly anything to devalue a fighter or their career. Tonight is another chance to making a sprint for the top. The opportunity is coming a little early for both fighters, but these light heavyweights occupy the upper echelon of the division.
At stake: one more push into the breach. I'm not really sure this means much of anything for Johnson. Beating Swick on FOX isn't worthless, but I can't say with any confidence he has real long-term prospects or upside. Swick, too, I don't believe is a top welterweight contender, but he has an argument to be at least given a chance to try to become one. And he's a fighter trying to resume his career after it nearly ceased to exist. If Swick is going to make a push at welterweight, he needs to do it right now. A loss doesn't necessarily end all hope, but it dampens any real hope he can make something of his UFC dreams. By contrast, coming out of a layoff with a bang on a big platform is just the sort of moment that help catapult a fighter's return.
At stake: a chance to be what they believe they are. Despite setbacks, I'm willing to bet both Varner and Lauzon believe they are true contenders; they just need to keep the winning streak alive. And they need to do that by performing the way they believe they can. A win tonight doesn't necessarily get them there, however, we shouldn't discount what a victory psychically can mean. Lauzon can erase the sting of the Pettis defeat by capturing a scalp as worthy as Varner's. Varner can make good on the promise of his WEC days and prove he's truly bounced back from his career low-point just one year ago. For both, it's a return to the contendership queue. There's still a long road ahead, but that position is a pretty great place to be.