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Fortunes changed for five at UFC on FOX 12

One of the biggest questions Saturday night's UFC on FOX was to answer was, if you take a fight between legitimate top contenders that almost guarantees fireworks, but neither is a top-tier star, are there enough serious fans where it moves the ratings needle?

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
An important question was going to be answered for the UFC this past weekend.

It wasn't just who was going to challenge Johny Hendricks for the welterweight title, although that was the key question of the night.

It was: even if the names weren't long-time headliners or current champions, if UFC put on FOX a main event that every serious fan would know has a great shot at being a fantastic fight, would that be enough to move the needle?
Smart money was on the answer being, "No." Complete ratings information is not out yet, but based on the overnights being roughly the same as the prior show, and of the show last July, that looks to be the case.

Robbie Lawler vs. Matt Brown, for all the fireworks expected, and to a degree, delivered, appears to have done about the same as the UFC on FOX shows always do outside of football season. Once again, the answer on what moves ratings are not exciting fights, or even title fights, but big names. The problem is those names are usually saved for pay-per-view, so the FOX shows remain doing steady numbers, mostly hovering around the mid-two million viewer level.

Brown didn't turn himself into a significant ratings draw off the win over Erick Silva even though it was one of the year's best fights, because not enough people saw that fight to make him a top-tier star. He may have needed wins over bigger names. Lawler, who dates back to the very first MMA show on network TV, as an Elite XC middleweight champion in the CBS days, has been around for years. He has an exciting style. But his career resurgence didn't bring in fans past what a UFC show on Saturday night in the summer on FOX would be expected to do.

But both men likely helped their cause by being in the fight. Lawler earned his second shot at Hendricks and is the clear-cut top contender. Brown isn't, but also showed he can hang with the top tier guys after building a seven-fight winning streak against non-top-ten opponents.

Overall, the event won't go down as a great show. The nine decisions on one show was the third most in the 21-year- history of the promotion. Normally that stat would indicate a show that dragged and didn't have a lot of highlights. But in this case, the top four fights served their purpose, with Lawler, Anthony "Rumble" Johnson and Dennis Bermudez all cementing themselves as opponents who could today challenge for a title, even though in the latter two cases they are almost surely a fight or two away.

There was also a flip side when it came to the losers.

Antonio Rogerio Nogueira was brutally knocked out by Johnson. There are two ways of looking at this. At 38, and with constant injuries that limited this to being his second fight since the end of 2011, it may be the time to step out. But Nogueira is less than 18 months removed from a dominating win over Rashad Evans, and his only other losses in the past six years came when wrestlers Phil Davis and Ryan Bader were able to get decisions on him without seriously hurting him. He had one bad knockout loss in 2007, but this is not a fighter who has had his lights go out too quickly and easily on repeated occasions. It's not like his twin brother, who he's often confused with, who took several lifetimes worth of bad beatings. Yet, his inability to fight often also speaks for the idea that he's not escaped unscathed physically from his long career.

Kyle Kingsbury, six years younger, had an easier decision to walk away. He made the call two years ago that he would probably retire after a loss to Jimi Manuwa which resulted in an orbital fracture. He gave it one last try, but in being unable to do anything with top-level wrestler Patrick Cummins, felt he didn't want to hang around as a .500 fighter.

Clay Guida a few years back was one of UFC's most popular fighters, even though he had never been able to put together a winning streak long enough to challenge for the title. He was a favorite for his hair, his cardio, along with his wars with the likes of Diego Sanchez, Gilbert Melendez, Benson Henderson, Tyson Griffin and Roger Huerta. Unfortunately, he won none of those bouts.

But after his second loss at featherweight, in decisive fashion, and having a 31-15 record, is looks like there will be no title shot, or even fights with top contenders, in his near future.

Let's look at how Fortunes Changed for five of the stars on Saturday's show:

ROBBIE LAWLER - There may be some who question Lawler (24-10, 1 no contest) getting the first shot at welterweight champion Hendricks after Hendricks beat him on March 15 to get the vacant title in the first place. But his record established him as the most viable contender. He beat Rory MacDonald in late 2013. MacDonald beat Tyron Woodley on June 14. Hector Lombard is injured. Carlos Condit is injured. And the first fight was as close as they come. Had Lawler won the final round, he'd have left the cage as champion.

Dana White wouldn't comment on Saturday about a time frame for when Hendricks vs. Lawler would take place. Lawler didn't talk of any injuries. Hendricks has talked about returning in December or January after surgery for a torn biceps tendon. Given that the Dec. 6 UFC PPV already has two title matches, that may leave January as a target.

MATT BROWN - Dana White was trying to sell Brown's performance as being strong enough that he should rise in the rankings, even though he lost. He came in at No. 5, and there is wiggle room here. Brown looked better against Lawler, the top contender, than Tyron Woodley (No. 4), looked against MacDonald (No. 2). And Carlos Condit (No. 3) is out of action.

Brown has nothing to worry about, coming off a seven-fight winning streak and three best fight bonuses in his last four outings. There are plenty of viable opponents for him, in bouts that could be strong main card fights on pay-per-view or headline on television.

As far as next goes, he could face Jake Ellenberger (29-8), or the winner of one of two fights on Aug. 23, with Woodley vs Dong Hyun Kim or Demian Maia vs. Mike Pyle. A win in any of those situations, would get him right back to where he was.

ANTHONY JOHNSON - Johnson had a double dose of notoriety this week, with a 44-second knockout of Nogueira, and also having Dwayne Johnson call "Rumble," one of his favorite fighters and tabbing him as a guy to watch.

Johnson (18-4) made the latter point clear, with the win coming on the heels of dominating Phil Davis for three rounds. What we've seen of Johnson is that he's difficult to take down and has scary power. He is not the fastest man in the division, but if one wants to play the speed game standing, they have to risk getting tagged.
One would think that knockout opened up the world for him, but he's really got limited options. Champion Jon Jones is facing Daniel Cormier next, and the winner of that fight is virtually certain to face Alexander Gustafsson.

Johnson's most logical opponent would be Rashad Evans, but the two are training partners so that fight is unlikely. The only other top tier opponent would be Glover Teixeira (22-3). The problem with that fight is UFC hates to put a viable contender in a position to where, if the loses, a contender doesn't come out of the match. If Jones remains champion, the way Jones ran through Teixeira, it would be almost impossible to sell a rematch. But Johnson can't very well sit out the length of time it takes to go through two light heavyweight title matches, so Teixiera may be the only direction.

Johnson does appear to be only one win away from a title match, which is quite the story for a light heavyweight who never came close to a title match as either a welterweight or middleweight.

DENNIS BERMUDEZ - With his seventh straight win, Bermudez (14-3) ranks behind only Jon Jones (11) and Chris Weidman (8) among active UFC fighters for the longest still-existing winning streak. It's also tied for tenth on the all-time list.

Bermudez asked for a title shot, and seven in a row usually gets one there. But there is a log jam in the featherweight division with Frankie Edgar, Cub Swanson and Chad Mendes all having valid claims to get a title shot. Mendes has the shot in October, and Edgar or Swanson is likely to get the next one after that.

While there are other paths to take, if Bermudez wants to be in the spotlight, the direction would be to make noise for a fight with the winner of the Sept. 27 Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier fight, particularly if McGregor wins. No matter what the deserving rankings would be, that's going to get him a lot farther than any other contender he can face next.

JOSH THOMSON - It was only a few months ago that Thomson (20-7, 1 no contest) was slated to face Anthony Pettis for the lightweight title.

But it also wasn't long ago when Thomson was seriously talking about retirement.

After a split decision loss in a fight with Bobby Green, a fight Thomson was adamant that he thought he won, and realistically a decision that could have gone either way, his future is very much in question.

Thomson turns 36 in two months. Even before the fight, he said that he could have walked away after his split decision loss to Benson Henderson on Jan. 25, a fight that he broke his hand early in, and still, many thought he won.

He cited that even though he wasn't always ranked in the top ten, he feels that history has proven, based on the success he and Gilbert Melendez, who dominated the Strikeforce lightweight ranks, had when they came to UFC, that he's been a top-ten lightweight for more than a dozen years and was a Strikeforce champion.

But even if he had gotten the decision over Green, he did not appear to be at his best. He had admitted coming back too quickly from the broken hand in wanting to be on the show in his home city of San Jose, But Green took the fight on less than two weeks notice after an injury to Michael Johnson. Thomson also had opened up a new business, a cardio gym in San Jose, and had already started preparing for life after fighting.

There is frustration, losing three of his last four fights, one a Strikeforce lightweight title match with Melendez, and the UFC No. 1 contender match with Henderson, on split decisions that many thought he won. He very easily could be in line for the Pettis vs. Melendez winner.

If he opts to continue, there are a number of possibilities for him, including Donald Cerrone (24-6), who may be the biggest name and could "erase" those losses from fans' minds, as well as Johnson (15-8) or Jorge Masvidal (27-8), but beating either of them wouldn't put him in the forefront as strongly.

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