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UFC 156 fight card: What's at stake?

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Let's just state this plainly: UFC 156 is utterly fantastic and the UFC deserves a ton of credit for putting it together. Let's also state it plainly: this event was promoted improperly. How do I know? We have what is arguably a superfight in the main event and yet, the UFC is having to spend time late this week convincing the public that's true. Ahem, superfights don't need lobbying to know they're superfights.

Whatever the benefits of the move to FOX (and they're considerable), the idea that having a third UFC in as many weeks is the optimal way to sell pay-per-view events is dubious. The proof of that claim is the fumbling in the presentation of the main event. UFC President Dana White correctly noted Aldo vs. Edgar is a fight between two top pound-for-pound fighters in their prime. What's not to love? I nor anyone else can argue with him. It's a sensational bout.

Yet, a real opportunity was missed here.

There was a Countdown show, but it aired to very few. There was no UFC Primetime. There were plenty of ads, but it made no real focus of the main event or explained why it's special. It was an event like every event is promoted by the UFC: a lot of shouting of fighters' names over a very short sizzle reel. We're supposed to believe that's the best way to promote a fight between two pound-for-pound greats in their primes?

I'm sure some will respond that the ads for this event plus the promotion it's gotten on FX and FOX over the past few weeks will help sell it. And that's partly true. There's no way they can't help. Plenty of eyeballs saw them and that is enough to convince some to take a peek. But the question is that the best way? Is that the optimal way? Is that the only real option the UFC had? With their intense schedule, maybe. They don't seem to have the time to manicure a product and let it build given their feverish pace. They've also resisted criticism their schedule in any way has a deleterious influence, so feel free to disregard what I am saying.

But they can't have it both ways. If fans grasp the magnitude of this bout, why is White publicly discussing claims from others that cast doubt on it? Something didn't connect with fans that should have. There should been a greater understanding of the stakes and why this bout is hugely important. It's a magnificent fight and could be one of the year's best. Are the power chords of 'Hey Man, Nice Shot' blasting on repeat the best way to promote something this extraordinary?

More Coverage: UFC 156 Results | UFC news
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Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar

At stake: legacy. Not the entirety of one's legacy, but a chief component of it. There's no way to have a super fight (or something like this, which is pretty close) and not walk away without defining one's place in the game at present and for the history books.

For Edgar, there's no arguing against it: this fight presents enormous redemptive opportunities. Let's first note he's trying to recover from two controversial, razor-thin decision losses. I don't believe he's psychologically damaged from the setbacks as a) one can credibly claim he won both and b) he's already in another title fight in a new weight class. However, losing three in a row would be crushing. Doing so in title fights would be even worse. Having it happen across two weight classes would be dispositive enough to frame Edgar's legacy as that of expert combatant whose hold on championship gold was tenuous even when changing weight classes as a correction.

On the other hand, a win over Aldo (particularly a convincing one) could be evidence that Edgar's greatness was there all along, he was simply competing on self-imposed unfair terms. From there, he'd have work to do in the division, but it'd at least be a path to the sort of greatness he was seeking after he took the title from B.J. Penn.

Aldo is in a different position, at least as far as losses are concerned. A defeat tonight at the hands of Edgar wouldn't be hugely damaging. He's not on any sort of losing streak, has been fighting in a division most believe he belongs in and would likely get a rematch or at least be positioned so that a rematch isn't far off. In other words, there isn't anything necessarily lasting about a single defeat this evening.

A win for Aldo creates an intriguing possibility. If the Brazilian can defeat the guy some believe to be the world's best lightweight, just how good is he? Aldo hasn't made any specific plans to jump up a weight division, but it's been hinted the move is probably inevitable. Could Aldo become the best lighter weight fighter not just currently in the UFC, but in the history of MMA? Beating Edgar doesn't necessarily make him so, but it at least opens to the door to that conversation.

Rashad Evans vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira

At stake: opportunity cost and signature wins. This is a very weird fight. If Evans wins, he'll likely get UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva (if he so chooses). He certainly isn't on a path for a Jon Jones rematch. If Nogueira wins, he...gets the best win of his career? It's a strange pairing and only really benefits one fighter, but not the light heavyweight division in which the fight is being contested. So, clearly Evans has quite a bit to lose, but Nogueira? What does a loss here do expect push the conversation about retirement closer to the forefront? I don't particularly care for this bout nor do I think the logic of the matchmaking is sound. It's weird and should be viewed as such.

Alistair Overeem vs. Antonio Silva

At stake: the immediate future of the heavyweight division. Let's put aside what winning and losing does tonight to Overeem's and Silva's legacies. That's an important story, but a different one. If Silva emerges victorious, it cripples the heavyweight division in the short-term. I'm sure the UFC will find some sort of way to move forward, but it ruins their stated plans for Overeem's title contendership. If that happens, what options are there? Daniel Cormier says he won't fight Velasquez. I suppose they could bring Junior dos Santos right back, but that's the wrong way to execute what should be a more protracted trilogy. Maybe Mark Hunt beats Stefan Struve, but let's just be serious about Hunt's chances against the current champion.

As for their personal legacies, Silva's is set in stone a bit more. He's a flawed fighter who'll likely never be champion, but is properly top 10 and has disrupted the set plans of promoters before. Overeem, on the other hand, has much higher expectations he's yet to fulfill. His entire run at heavyweight is supposed to be a correction for what went wrong at light heavyweight. Losing in a championship match would be disappointing enough. Dropping the ball of fate against Bigfoot would be exquisitely punishing.

Jon Fitch vs. Demian Maia

At stake: divisional relevance. Jon Fitch isn't necessarily now, but has long been regarded as the best welterweight other than Georges St-Pierre. He's fallen on hard times, but has rebounded nicely against Erick Silva. Now the trick is to keep things going back towards another possible title shot while the body is still holding up. He showed a new style against Silva, one that was still smothering and tough without being unduly risk averse. If he can keep that while still winning, a second shot at the champion is not out of the question. And even if he gets such a chance and loses, he'll still have solidified himself as a or even the top welterweight contender year over year in his UFC tenure. That is no small accomplishment.

For Maia, the push to welterweight is a bit of desperation. That isn't to say he's not competitive at 170 pounds, but he's down there because things were going nowhere at middleweight. The question he faces is whether he's really elite at welterweight or very good and very lucky. He rear naked torqued Rick Story and blew past an injured Dong Hyun Kim, but he hasn't fully proven how dangerous he is against the division's best. Is he a real possible contender at welterweight? Tonight could very well answer that question.

Joseph Benavidez vs. Ian McCall

At stake: not much, really. Benavidez and McCall are basically two of the three best guys not named Demetrious Johnson who compete at flyweight. The winner might get a title shot despite the fact both McCall and Benavidez are coming off of losses. The division is so thin and so new, a top contender like these two are never really far away. I'm sure a loss isn't helpful, especially two in a row. But it isn't the worst thing ever in a division where the best guys will likely fight one another more than they ever expected.

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