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UFC on FOX 14 fight card: What's at stake?

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Let's face it. The UFC has had a very strong month in January of 2015. I've previously complained about the ungodly amount of filler on the cards being staged more recently, but the top fights they've produced, in aggregate, are impressively good. The box office returns, TV ratings and pay-per-views all speak to that fact.

In the case of UFC on FOX 14, all of the aforementioned dynamics are in play. The event is headlined by a fantastic, hugely relevant bout in an important weight class. There's still a fair amount of filler on the card, but that won't necessarily impact the ratings here or in Sweden, where the event is being hosted.

More to the point, the event exemplifies the classic Zuffa play. Sometimes they stretch themselves too far. They have a lot of masters to serve and it often results in too much noise, not enough signal in terms of the final consumer product. Weak cards with strong main events underscore that fact.

More Coverage: UFC on FOX 14 Results | UFC news
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But they're also trying to accomplish something bigger. This event is about keeping one marquee division moving while feeding the UFC on FOX contractual demands all while also massaging an emerging Swedish market.

Will this one event really be able to scratch all of those itches? I don't know, but it's not impossible. At a minimum, you can say the UFC has put themselves in a position to win on their terms. That guarantees nothing, but effort matters.

The real takeaway, though is this is how the UFC has historically been successful. They gamble, yes, but they make calculated risks. More importantly, the UFC has no problems betting on themselves. That's backfired a time or two, but has largely been the right call. After all, if you can't bet on your brand or product, you can't really be expected to do much.

We'll see what the business outcomes are of this event soon enough. Here's to seeing if this bet hits.

Star-divide

Alexander Gustafsson vs. Anthony Johnson

At stake: a chance at Jon Jones. This one is pretty straightforward, isn't it? The winner of this bout will receive a title shot against UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.

For Rumble, this would be the first UFC title opportunity of his professional career. That carries massive significance, but when you add in the redemptive arc of his turnabout, it's all the more impressive.

As for Gustafsson, well, this is revenge. Not on Rumble, whom he has never faced. The revenge is for Jones, a fighter he narrowly lost to in the toughest bout of the champion's career.

It's not certain that a loss here backtracks the loser to the point where a title shot never emerges again. It's true UFC title shots are rare in a fighter's career, but Gustafsson and Johnson are head and shoulders above the rest of the division (not including Cormier, Jones and potentially Evans). They're never too far away from a chance to change their career.

The key, though, is finishing what they started. Johnson's trying to make good on the turnaround of his career. Gustafsson wants to make sure if he gets his hands on Jones again, he doesn't let the title slip through his fingers. I'd consider these fairly highly stakes.

Dan Henderson vs. Gegard Mousasi

At stake: getting back on their feet. Both of these guys are still too good to lose to the kind of fighters who perpetually hover just outside of their weightclass' ranked competitors. The question is how good are they among the ranked. That answer isn't so clear.

Henderson still has a fair amount of potent offense, but is generally more languid now that he's in his forties. Mousasi isn't athletically old, but the miles on him are long. He simply looked ineffectual against Jacare as he tried to show surgeries didn't slow him down.

Both fighters are likely to remain on main cards against noteworthy opposition, whether that means ranked or respected fighters. Neither is likely to be dropped to a position that doesn't maximize use of their name. The win/lose question here isn't necessarily so relevant as it relates to business considerations (with the exception being the loser likely not headlining any time soon). The winner, though, can credibly lay claim to a nice rebound win that not only lengthens their stay in the UFC, but gives them a chance at future bouts of consequence.

Phil Davis vs. Ryan Bader

At stake: you might be surprised. It sounds crazy on the surface, but neither of these guys is too far away from a title shot. It's true. No, really, it's true. Bader is on a three-fight win streak. The scalps he's collected aren't enough to warrant a title shot, but getting past Davis would put him on the shortlist given what else is happening in the rest of the division (more on that in a minute). Davis may have stumbled against Johnson, but he rebounded nicely against Glover Teixeira.

When you consider Daniel Cormier's not going to get the next title shot, Gustafsson and Johnson are also spoken for, outside of Rashad Evans, the choices for who might be next begin to narrow. If I'm guessing, this win won't be enough to get the job done for a chance at the light heavyweight belt, but it might put the victor in a number-one contender's bout. If for no other reasons, the options in the division are limited.

Akira Corassani vs. Sam Sicilia

At stake: potentially UFC employment. It's not clear if either will be cut with a loss. Sicilia has had more ups and downs than Corassani in his comparative UFC run, but neither has necessarily stood out from success. Still, Corassani is helpful for the Swedish market while Sicilia has some visibility due to his exposure on The Ultimate Fighter. Neither of those factors shield them from a pink slip, but they might delay it. As for a win, it's hard to see how it propels either very far, but it would allow the victor to comfortably continue working within the Octagon.