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UFC 182 fight card: What's at stake?

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Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

There's been too much analysis of this fight and event (although much of it quite good), so I'll keep this brief. For all the talk of this bout, there's an underdiscussed element that deserves extra comment, namely, the UFC's first-rate job of promoting this contest.

I don't normally say as much because I don't normally believe it to be true, but it's simply above debate here.

The UFC has exhausted every resource imaginable, which is all one could reasonably ask. Rather than lean on traditional forms of programming for advertisements, they created entirely original material. Rather than reeling from or repudiating the brawl, they expertly used it to engage fan interest. When media asked for access to Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier, they UFC did everything possible to ensure exposure. In virtually every measurable way, when the iron was hot, they struck it.

When you consider UFC President Dana White's partial absence, that accomplishment becomes even more impressive. Arguably the UFC's biggest star and head of promotional efforts, White has been mostly quiet. Whether that's due to the class-action lawsuit against them is hard to know, but whatever the cause, his absence is felt. For the UFC to have this kind of success creating interest without its best asset is a testament to the strength of their promotional machine.

Jones and Cormier make the job of promoting their rivalry and fight all that much easier. Both are smart, good on camera and have a story to tell. Jones is reviled, but a figure of attraction. Cormier is not as well known, but an entirely sympathetic figure. It's true that promoting them is not as herculean a task as, say, a flyweight title bout.

Yet, effective promotion is as much about leading as following. It's knowing when to push and when to get out of the way, when to go heavy and when to let the current of interest do the heavy lifting. UFC expertly navigated those waters and did so handicapped.

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They don't always get it right, but when it counted the most, UFC handled the job with near-perfect treatment. That's not easy to do and entirely worth acknowledging.

Star-divide

Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier

At stake: everything. What else is left to say that hasn't already been said? Not much, so let's keep this basic.

For Jones, he has designs on being the best fighter ever. Given what he's done, his age and what we know he's capable of, that's not an unreasonable thing to want. The key, though, runs through Cormier. Some suggest Jones is going to make moderately easy work of the former Olympian and maybe that's true, but Jones does not get the record book entry he wants without this particular win. Cormier presents at least enough of a thorough, original and lethal challenge to Jones that finishing his career without facing him would have left stones unturned. Building a resume, generally, means you can miss the occasional individual challenge if the rest of the body of work is there. Cormier is not that kind. He's essential to the building blocks.

For Cormier, this is it. It's unequivocally the most important fight of his life. For a wrestler, athlete and fighter of his ability to not have the major combat sports title he's seeking means it's now or never. At 35, a loss here could mean any future opportunity to face Jones never materializes. This bout is a referendum on his fighting career. To some extent, it's a referendum on his entire athletic experience. To be the guy who achieved, but never won the big one every time they had a chance is the reputation he's trying to change. A win here either confirms or denies it.

This is the big one. Everything counts here. These two fighters have what only the destruction of the other man can bring. And not simply any destruction, but only the kind that comes from their hands. No one can else do it for them. Everything they need and want to be is a function of their ability to put away the other. It doesn't get any bigger than this.

Donald Cerrone vs. Myles Jury

At stake: title shot contender short-list placement. Jury says with a win, he's asking for a title shot. Cerrone isn't saying exactly that, but he isn't saying no to the idea either. Personally, though, I'm not sure this gets them there. It might, but the performance has to be unequivocal. Rafael dos Anjos is next for Anthony Pettis, but after that it could very well be Khabib Nurmagomedov. To jump that queue takes something special.

Also, a quick note on Jury. He lacks something this bout offers: a signature win over a top-ranked lightweight in their prime (or something close to it). A win for Cerrone over Jury adds a measure of credibility and even inevitability to his recent run, but isn't noteworthy beyond that.

Brad Tavares vs. Nate Marquardt

At stake: climbing back up. Both middleweights have fallen on hard times. It's true Marquardt had a dominating win over James Te Huna, but he's not exactly out of the hot seat yet. Tavares could see himself bounced from the organization with a loss here as it'd be his third in a row. This is about hanging onto what they have. Why are they on the main card? It's a gamble by UFC, but the thought is likely that the stakes themselves are high enough plus Marquardt's offensive pressure could create great action. And hey, both fighters are known to large swathes of the UFC audience.

Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Louis Gaudinot

At stake: flyweight visibility. This is similar to the Lombard-Burkman vibe in that one fighter is ranked and looking for bigger opportunities while the other is not, but could greatly benefit from an upset victory. The difference, though, is while ranked, Horiguchi is still only a hardcore delight. He's also still looking for more in-Octagon experience. The winner here is guaranteed at least some measure of additional exposure, but beyond that, there's not much to this.

Hector Lombard vs. Josh Burkman

At stake: a shot up the welterweight queue...sort of. This is a fun fight and carries some meaning, but is also a bit weird. Why? Because Lombard and Burkman are in entirely different places in their career. Lombard is pining for a title shot since he's actually close to getting one. Burkman is making his return to the UFC...after suffering a loss in his second* to last WSOF bout. Lombard is ranked while Burkman is not. Still, all is not lost for Lombard. A dominating win almost forces the UFC's hand to give him a ranked opponent. Burkman, by contrast, can catapult himself to the front of the line if he bests the Cuban. That's unlikely, but a loss isn't damaging for him. Lombard, on the other hand, would lose almost everything he's worked for if Burkman gets his way.

Oh, and never forget, these two open the pay-per-view portion of the card. That means they're likely to deliver an action-packed contest (that's why they were placed in this spot). Given Lombard's penchant for early starts and Burkman's willingness to fight on someone else's terms, there's reason to believe this bout will deliver on expectations.

*Record corrected thank to the readers.