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UFC 175 fight card: What's at stake?

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It's nice to see the UFC back. Well, the UFC itself never left, I suppose, but a piece of it did. It's not gone forever (I hope), but it's certainly more infrequent. 'It' refers to the big show feel where an event is filled with top-ranked fighters and recognizable names in legitimate bouts of consequence.

There's not much praise to give The Ultimate Fighter 19 Finale card and UFC 175 isn't without it's problems, but it does have at least enough of the right ingredients to be worthy of compliment. And since the UFC grouped those two events along with a Fan Expo together, they should get credit for creating an atmosphere where wallflower content gives way to buzz and mild intrigue is taken over by curious, unrelenting enthusiasm.

More Coverage: UFC 175 Results | UFC news
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Whenever I write about this, there's always a noticeable groan from the fight fan whose appetite for fights, good and bad, is borderline insatiable. They push back, wondering what all the big deal is, questioning if over saturation is real or perhaps a good thing. And hey, if you look around on sites or message boards, many people seem to be happy with the state of over saturation. I always wonder what they get out of such an exercise, as if we can poll all the people who've stopped watching MMA (or at least heavily curtailed it) and aren't on message boards or comment sections to have their voice heard.

I bring them up because this event is a chance to see how many of them there are still are. It's easy to love the sport of MMA and be disinterested in it. UFC 175 is noteworthy because there's enough stuff to rope back in some of the flock who've wandered away. We aren't talking about an event that features Brock Lesnar-esque magnitude, but that's even better as an experiment. UFC 175 features just enough of the UFC's newer generation of stars (Machida being a clear exception) and promotional fire power to do well, but lacks any sort of outsized attraction that could distort the popularity picture.

It's an excellent event with legitimate stars in hugely important contests. That's not often the case with MMA events these days. On meritorious grounds, this should do very well. All indications are that it will. One hopes the most important rubric, pay-per-view buys, will tell us events are still something casual fans are interested in watching when it comes to mixed martial arts.

Chris Weidman vs. Lyoto Machida

At stake: identity. There's a pervasive belief Weidman is something of a imposter. He's not a fraud, at least not to most. Defeating Anderson Silva twice at least confirmed he's an elite middleweight. But to borrow from mathematics, no one is really sure what the upper bound is of his (skill) set. Knowing that it is 'high' is a vague and largely unhelpful generalization.

That's why a bout opposite fighter like Machida is a fact-finding mission. The Brazilian's unique talents have a way of telling us where a fighter does and doesn't excel, no matter the outcome. Defeating Machida, or even simply scoring against him in some measurable capacity, requires an opponent to thoroughly (and often meticulously) exact a game plan on the back of well-honed talents. Machida doesn't respond to his opponents, so his opponents are forced into a position to take away the Brazilian's game.

Either Weidman does exactly this in one form or another and reveals another wrinkle to his developing identity or the Silva fights serve as something as a cap to his abilities. If Machida is successful in deconstruction, he'll have earned two titles in two weight classes, showing himself to be worthy of the highest praise the game can offer. In this way, this bout will tell us about the true identity of both men. The winner has to cross a barrier that changes our perception of who they are and how far they've come.

Ronda Rousey vs. Alexis Davis

At stake: the same thing in seemingly all Rousey bouts. There's no need to belabor this point. If Davis wins, that's obviously a huge upset worthy of all the compliments we can heap on it. It's extremely unlikely such an outcome will happen, but we can all imagine the shock and reevaluation of things that would go into it. If Davis manages to use her jiu-jitsu skills to do it, thereby following the (simplistic) media script about Rousey's deficiencies, that'd heighten the intensity of things. But the truth is, Rousey is faced yet again with another talented if nameless face if we are evaluating what the majority of fight fans are watching. Hardcore fans object to the idea this matters or that we should care, which is something akin to complaining about the oppressive nature of gravity or unfair restrictions of mortality. It's not up to us to decide whether it's good or bad, it simply is.

For her resume, a win over Davis is as credible as they come, but it doesn't do much to heighten Rousey's popularity or expand her presence. Davis earned her shot and has a chance to grow awareness about herself if she emerges victorious. Rousey is looking only at a moment to stay in place.

Stefan Struve vs. Matt Mitrione, Uriah Hall vs. Thiago Santos

At stake: continued degree of relevance. The stakes for the two fights and four combatants isn't identical, but they're all sufficiently similar that we can group them. The long and short is this: the fighters are striving to achieve a degree of appreciation and visibility that maintains their relevance. They've all tasted it, perhaps with the exception of Santos, although he has the opportunity to earn it here. The problem is they've also all fallen short in some form or another. Struve's had his ups and downs and nearly lost his career. Mitrione is coming off of a win, but hasn't looked spectacular in his last few fights. Hall rebounded against Chris Leben, but was seemingly on the chopping block just prior to doing so.

Those fighters have fan appeal. UFC management also seems to like them. If they can continue winning, they can put themselves in comfortable sports on major fight cards or bigger bouts. But as much as critics like to crow about fighters with fan or management favoritism getting preferential treatment, the truth is winning remains the central glue to hold anyone's career together. That is most certainly the case with these bouts tonight.

Marcus Brimage vs. Russell Doane

At stake: not much, really. There actually are positives to over saturation. It's not actually true that the effect is all good or all bad. For example, elite fighters getting the opportunity to face respectable if limited challenges prior to bigger, more important bouts - e.g. Dustin Poirier vs. Akira Corassani - gives UFC talents the opportunity to get tune-up fights. On the other hand, over saturation decimates the quality of even the best UFC cards and this is no exception. This bout has relevancy for the fighters involved, but means very little in the larger scope of the UFC, featherweight division or much of anything else. It also has no business being on the main card of the biggest event of the year, but when the product is spread so thin, difficult choices have to be made.

Brimage and Doane were selected largely because they're reliable to deliver action, which is what UFC brass want out of the opening bout on pay-per-view. They'll probably deliver it, albeit in a diminished capacity relative to what their better peers can offer. Including them won't negatively affect the buy rate for this card either, which is why the UFC can, for now, elect to put them here. A more discerning eye, on the other hand, recognizes this not as 'bad' exactly, but as what it basically is: filler content.

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