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UFC on FOX 9 fight card: What's at stake?

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Two things should be evaluated following this show.

First, the ratings. Some suggest the MMA media obsesses over the minutiae of business, but ratings and gate receipts and the like are the only measurements we reliably have on the sport's health or an athlete's popularity. This FOX show is taking place during the NFL season, so one would expect the ratings for this to be as good if not better than Johnson's previous headlining effort. Yes, this card was damaged, but Johnson has been on a staple of UFC on FOX programming. At a minimum, ratings should hold steady.

The other element to watch is the success of Team Alpha Male. There's no questioning coach Duane Ludwig has improved the team's ability to compete, but the story is not over. On the one hand, the team has clearly demonstrated improved technique that's brought the full breadth of their offense to life. On the other hand, this is arguably the first time they're all truly taking a step up in competition. They're also largely competing on the same card. This is a chance to truly see just how much Team Alpha Male has improved and if ever one of them will hold a UFC title.

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Demetrious Johnson vs. Joseph Benavidez

At stake: not the entirety of their legacy, legacy just the same. Johnson is in the process of establishing his legacy as the top flyweight the sport has ever seen. Benavidez wants that to be his legacy, but until he defeats Johnson, he's establishing a legacy as a very good, but not top flyweight. This is the moment where Benavidez hopes to switch places. This is also the moment where Johnson hopes to make the case his closest rival is, well, nowhere close. Beating the man many consider to be Johnson's only real threat would go a long way towards demonstrating his superiority over the burgeoning division.

Urijah Faber vs. Michael McDonald

At stake: title contender status. This might be my favorite fight on the card. It has the feel of a freshman vs. a senior in high school. It's the rising kid with all the promise, but still wet behind the ears against the established veteran who is hoping there's still enough time and youth on his side to get another crack at the belt. What's interesting about this bout isn't so much the clash of styles but the challenge of status. One fighter is trying to hang on to what he has. The other is trying to push him out. The ultimate victor likely moves into a position where they are the short list for a title. No small stakes here.

Chad Mendes vs. Nik Lentz

At stake: being one of the elite. Lentz has made this surprisingly interesting. Since dropping to featherweight, he's been on a tear, which also coincides to some degree with a change in training camps. He believes he's grossly overlooked and is going to prove he's the true elite featherweight here, no matter what everyone thinks of Mendes. Mendes, by contrast, is looking to secure a second opportunity to face the current featherweight kingpin, Jose Aldo.

Mendes has already proven he's one of the elite of the division, but by falling prey to Lentz, he'd be moving the ATT product into the general space with him. This is more than a bragging rights issue, though. Mendes needs to prove he's the unequivocal next choice. He's the top dog outside of the top dog. Lentz can't take away Mendes' entire resume, but he can derail his efforts.

Joe Lauzon vs. Mac Danzig

At stake: a future with the company. This is an issue facing Danzig more than Lauzon, but J-Lau isn't necessarily too far away from this situation as well. That is, are you winning enough to justify a roster space? Danzig is 5-7 in the UFC, 1-2 in his last three fights and hasn't won since April of 2012. Lauzon is in a better position as he's 9-6 in the UFC, but he, too, is 1-2 in his last three. Lauzon has never lost three in a row, but that's precisely what he's up against with Danzig.

Lauzon's done enough to earn some space should he lose to not face the axe, but it's unlikely Danzig will be so lucky. If he loses, this will be his second three-fight losing streak he's suffered through inside in the UFC. Either way, though, Lauzon has to know looking across at Danzig is a lesson in his own Octagon mortality. He's a fan favorite and likely to be fine no matter the outcome, but has to know the employment reaper isn't far away. He's already on Danzig's doorstep.

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