Conor McGregor seems to be getting an absurd amount of shine in the lead-up to this event, but this is really about featherweight champion Jose Aldo. He is the last remaining Brazilian champion. I would never go as far as suggesting the market collapses in that country without him, but I would underscore it could be more problematic than some recognize. Every country likes and needs to see their countrymen do well, but Brazil seems to place extra emphasis on it (I don't know if that's fair, but that's my read from afar). Retaining the title could be key to UFC's efforts to nurture what is one of their top three markets.
None of this is to undercut the realities on the ground. There are huge swathes of talent across all weight classes there. The TV deal with Globo is a godsend. But having champions - flagship fighters - is important for a country that turned around on MMA at a time when numerous Brazilians were huge stars or belt holders and could lead a new surge in interest.
At stake: a little bit of history. We know the obvious prizes are up for grabs: the title, bragging rights, future opportunities of financial gain and more. But there's a little bit more to the story.
For Mendes, this could conceivably be his last chance to earn a featherweight title. There are very few fighters who get three title opportunities in the same weight class. That's especially true if Aldo maintains his run as champion. Moreover, after T.J. Dillashaw brought home gold for Team Alpha Male, there is a palpable sense of momentum behind the group. Perhaps it's all imagination, but with rivals Nova Uniao on a downswing after losses by Renan Barao and Eduardo Dantas, there is a belief Team Alpha Male might have actually broken through. If there's a better window for Mendes to attain his ultimate career goals, I've never seen it.
As for Aldo, there is the weight of his country on his shoulders. He is the last Brazilian UFC champion. In other words, he is the last native champion in a country that seems to have a great need for its countrymen to succeed in public platforms. Losing wouldn't just be an end to the greatest run in featherweight history, but perhaps something more for the Brazilian market.
Glover Teixeira vs. Phil Davis
At stake: staying relevant at the top. Let's be candid. This fight is about holding one's spot among the elite after convincing losses against other top tier competition. Teixeira was a game opponent against Jon Jones, but ultimately had nothing for him. Davis, by contrast, was completely outclassed by Anthony Johnson. Both fighters' stocks took a hit, but the American's was damaged more. In any case, that's why this bout is so interesting. Despite suffering losses, both fighters still have values as names and as challenges. Teixeira is known as being well-rounded, but could make a big statement in stopping Davis' takedowns more than Machida could. Davis looked lost against Johnson. Overcoming a powerful striker like Teixeira could do wonders for his reputation. Most importantly, this is about remaining at the top of the light heavyweight division.
Fabio Maldonado vs. Hans Stringer
At stake: health. Let's not belabor the point. This fight, and Maldonado's career, is about the sacrifice of health at the expense of entertainment. The fact is Maldonado wouldn't have it any other way. He lives for it. Frankly, he thrives on it. There are no divisional implications here. This is about providing the kind of action on the more brutal end of the MMA spectrum.
Darren Elkins vs. Lucas Martins
At stake: breaking into the
top 15 top 10 of the rankings. There's no guarantee the winner here moves into the top 10, but I'd say that a) it's very possible and b) if they don't, they'll be about as close as one can get. Martins has shown himself to be a dynamite striker with a ferocious appetite for violence. Elkins is the opposite, but equally talented. He likes to control the match on his terms, crafting a slow and methodical way of finding an opponent's weakness. The key is both have accomplished enough in the division to rate a turn of the head, but it's still not enough. Martins needs better scalps. Elkins needs to get back to his winning ways. This bout says a lot about who could have a brighter future among the two featherweights.
Diego Ferriera vs. Beneil Dariush
At stake: expectations of an action-oriented opener. Want to be the curtain jerker on a UFC pay-per-view event? No problem. It's a great place to be for a fighter. Just know you'll likely be placed in a bout where you and your opponent are expected to have a highly-offensive contest. That isn't just a call to arms, but also a reflection of the kinds of fighters being selected. If you're known for offense, you're likely to get the nod here. This contest on this event is no different. It's about getting Ferreira and Dariush to give fans, both in attendance and watching on television, the kind of action to set the tone for the evening.