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UFC Fight Night 38 fight card: What's at stake?

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I've beaten the drum of over saturation and thinned out product almost ad nauseum. I have no intention of stopping, but I will put it on hold for just a moment. Obviously those issues are still in play, particularly for a card that can justifiably be labeled thin as this one can, but let's focus on something else that could be a net win for everyone, namely, events on Sundays.

I, for one, am a big fan of this idea. I wish the UFC would do it more. MMA is at a stage where there's so much product that's trying to be shipped in the exact same ways, it begs for something different. That's particularly true about calendar dates. Bellator has managed to make things mostly work on Fridays, but every other promoter is trying to cram as much as they can into Saturday nights. There's only 52 Saturday nights, which means the product overrun is becoming unpalatable. Hosting events on Sundays can be a great alternative.

'Can be', however, is the operative wording. On Sundays during NFL season, UFC won't be able to do this. Even today there's NCAA March Madness games. In Europe tonight, El Clasico is taking place, meaning a big portion of the UFC's audience could be drained. Sundays is a great day for sports and television viewing, but that also means more competition for the UFC. Sundays are different, yes, but the sledding is no easier.

I don't know whether UFC will pull the kind of ratings on television tonight to justify further Sunday ventures. I also know they're only doing this because of a previous commitment on Fox Sports 1's side to motor cross programing. This wasn't exactly a strategic push from the outset. But count me in as a guy all in favor of product differentiation. Anything that changes up routine or shakes up presentation is ok by me. UFC content has a history of doing well on Fox Sports 1 for any number of reasons, not least of which is the UFC's loyal fan base that follows them wherever they go. Let's hope they didn't cross off Sundays as a place they just can't follow.


Mauricio Rua vs. Dan Henderson

At stake: the rest of what's left of a career. I maintain neither fighter has really been the same since their first meeting. Henderson hasn't won since that day and Shogun has looked, at best, completely inconsistent. Both are also relatively long in the tooth, at least as far as miles are concerned (and outright age in Henderson's case). This is about defining what the rest of their career might look like and what sort of stage might be used during that time.

I hesitate to ever say any fight is the end of a fighter's career unless they say so themselves ahead of time. Yet, one cannot understate just how devastating it would be for Henderson to lose four in a row. He would still have options, including a weight class change, but the pressure to do something different stop competing would be overwhelming.

As for Shogun, he has options no matter what, although one wonders here if a loss means the inevitable push to middleweight. It's hard to imagine this ends it all for him, even in the case of a devastating knockout loss.

The key consideration for both is defining the next and perhaps last chapter of their career: the weight class, the belief in their remaining skills, their ability to headline and more. There are massive stakes for both hall of fame competitors.

Cezar Ferreira vs. C.B. Dollaway

At stake: playing the part. I stated this in my predictions column, but I'll re-purpose it here. Mutante looks the part of a MMA fighter, but often fails to live up to expectations. Dollaway has looked the part of an elite MMA fighter, but also fallen short of expectations. A win against a flawed opponent tonight doesn't do much in the way of changing that, but it does give the opportunity to have one more turn of the screw. In addition, Mutante is coming off of a win, which means another victory adds to the value of creating a UFC streak. Dollaway, by contrast, is looking to get back on the horse. In either case, this is about removing concerns of doubt. Mutante needs to shed the label he's more prone to defeat than his imposing physique and reputation would suggest. Dollaway needs to erase doubt about his flakiness and 'so close yet so far' levels of achievement.

Leonardo Santos vs. Norman Parke

At stake: developmental status and bragging rights. I don't want to over state things. Both are winners of international versions of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), which is a fine achievement, but nothing to hang your hat on too long. I suppose this bout was made as a measuring stick of progress. I suppose there's also the possibility that winning over another international TUF champion carries some value, but I'm not quite sure what. In any case, both are still so early in a run as a potential contender it'd be difficult to overstate a win or a loss here. This is one step in the march forward, which for each competitor is in its nascent stages.

Fabio Maldonado vs. Gian Villante

At stake: turning a corner. A win here does not turn either fighter into an immediate contender by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, it could be valuable as a means to underscoring not just their rightful placement as a light heavyweight, but their development. Neither fighter is particularly young, although not old either. They're in the position now where they should have developed enough skills, had enough experience and still have most if not all of their athletic ability to begin to build toward something more. Again, this isn't some do or die contest, but if they want to be more than show filler, they can push that process along with an emphatic victory tonight.

Michel Prazerus vs. Mairbek Taisumov

At stake: eh. Let's not exaggerate or belabor the point here either. This is a significant contest insofar as each competitor is concerned about their career. There are little to no larger stakes we can dissect in any informed way.

Rony Jason vs. Steven Siler

At stake: demonstrating the ability to break through. Both Jason and Siler have shown flashes of ability. Both have suffered defeat at the hands of the division's more established and ranked. Emerging victorious tonight is essential if they ever wish to get another crack at said elite to prove that's their rightful placement.