Now more than ever, fighters should start plotting their own career paths. And they should do so both publicly and privately. Say what you want. Demand what you want.
At worst, it's a good form of public relations. At best, it can actually help write the course of your career by changing the minds that matter. Last Saturday night's UFC on FOX 4 was just another example that the squeaky well gets the grease. Both Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Lyoto Machida scored knockout wins, but it was Machida who was given a title shot even though he fought for the belt more recently than Machida. Why? Well, let Dana White tell you.
"It really wasn't a hard decision," White said after the night's action was completed. "Lyoto wants it, man. Lyoto wants it more than Shogun does. [Shogun] didn't dispute it tonight, either. If that was the case, he would have come in here and said, 'This is f------ b-------. I won the fight. I'm the main event, I'm one of the top-rated guys in the world, I've been one of the best in the last 10 years [or] ever, and I don't get the shot? That's what a guy who really wanted it would have said tonight. He said, 'whatever's next.'"
Time and time again, we hear this from White. It's the only reason why Frankie Edgar is fighting Ben Henderson again this weekend. It's a big reason why Machida gets vaulted to fight for the light-heavyweight belt. So if you're a fighter, and you have a microphone shoved in your face, use it wisely.
On to the picks...
Mauricio "Shogun" Rua
Rua had to dig deep to outlast a surprisingly game Brandon Vera, but as noted, the win wasn't enough to convince White to put him into the championship bout. Machida's win certainly fit the "impressive" mold but Rua's was just as admirable for other reasons. While Machida put forth another masterful performance of mostly avoiding contact while landing at will, Rua was forced to strap on his war helmet and exchange thunder with Vera. It wasn't a one-sided bout, yet it reaffirmed plenty about his fighting spirit.
Prediction: Glover Teixeira and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson fight in October. If Teixeira wins, he draws Rua. If Jackson wins, he may be willing to re-sign for a chance to rematch Rua, a longtime rival.
It's been a long time since we've seen such a spirited performance from Vera, who seemed energized by the stakes and the spotlight. But just two months shy of his 35th birthday, time is now his greatest enemy. If Vera can build off of his Rua performance, perhaps he can cobble together a few wins and put himself back into the thick of the light-heavyweight division. But if he continues the inconsistent nature of his recent past, he'll be swiftly left behind. At any rate, at least he earned himself another chance, and a further opportunity at continued relevance.
Prediction: Vera gets his shot at redemption in a rematch with Thiago Silva
Machida always figured to be a tough stylistic matchup for Bader, whose forward-moving style plays right into Machida's counter-striking preference. That's exactly how things played out, as Bader got tired of waiting, rushing forward and into a fight-ending right hand. Bader certainly has the wrestling and power to beat anyone on his best day, but that's only if he minimizes his mistakes, something to work on in the near future.
Prediction: He faces Forrest Griffin
Have you caught your breath yet after Lauzon's scrap with Jamie Varner? What a thrill-ride. Lauzon always comes to fight like he's double-parked, setting a furious pace and rarely letting up. Even more amazing: he's only been to a decision once in his last 10 fights. Generally speaking, the lighter the weight class, the more likely statistically that bouts go to a decision. In that, Lauzon is an anomaly.
Prediction: Lauzon faces the unbeaten submission wizard Paul Sass
If ever a fighter that lost raised his stock, it's Varner in this bout. He took the fight on short notice, broke his hand early in the second round, and still fought Lauzon tooth and nail for nearly 13 minutes. Varner is going to need time to heal his injury, so it's going to be pretty difficult to project who he'll face given how the division could change in the time he's away. So I'm generally throwing an opponent caliber out there.
Prediction: He faces someone like Tony Ferguson or Jeremy Stephens
It's difficult to imagine all of the emotions Swick experienced on Saturday night from the moment he walked into the arena to the time he left. Anxiety, excitement, nervousness, fear, relief and euphoria are among the likely list. Now that he's got his return fight under his belt, it's time to start learning whether he has a true career revival in him at age 33. That's definitely a crossroads age for Swick, who might find his body has responded well to the reduced wear-and-tear of the last few years, or he might start suddenly feeling older than he actually is. At least the early returns are favorable.
Prediction: Many key welterweight fighters are already booked, so I think Swick fights someone like Mike Pyle or maybe gets a rematch with Dan Hardy if the Brit beats Amir Sadollah next month.
The debuting flyweight looked great in his first time in the octagon, stopping Ulysses Gomez in just 3:46. Moraga moved to 11-1 with the win, and to date, his only career loss has come to John Dodson before either of the two had moved on to the UFC. That's a potential rematch for down the line, but he certainly established himself as one to watch.
Prediction: He faces Chris Cariaso