The biggest stakes involved here aren't those in the Octagon, but outside of it. The UFC is determined to take their product global even though a compelling argument can be made one brand can't consistently deliver product at that kind of scale. The talent, globally speaking, simply isn't there. That means UFC shows aren't just inconsistent, but, at times, wildly so across all tiers. Fight Pass events can be incredible while pay-per-views turn out uninspired.
The point is this: as the UFC takes their product to all the far reaches of the planet, the Canadian market has suffered. Perhaps some of that is coincidental, e.g., injuries affecting what otherwise would have been good cards. But much of it is because there simply aren't the resources available. That's true not just because of injury, but by the sweeping vision the UFC holds for itself in its ambitions.
There are benefits to going global in the way the UFC is attempting. They can help expedite the sport's growth in key markets, diversify revenue streams and showcase their brand in a way few sporting organizations can.
But there are costs, too. Among many others, it's that you can't service all markets at all times, even at the relative levels each needs. The once roaring Canadian market isn't so much in decline as it is unattended. Georges St-Pierre's absence doesn't help matters much, but neither do a string of shows that, for reasons accidental and self-imposed, fail to deliver upon fan expectations or market realities.
This isn't a SOS message, but one wonders how much longer it will be before a concerted effort to bring a top tier show to Canada takes place. Only UFC knows the answer to that question, but consumer loyalty for any brand in any market has limits. Canadians are thirsting for a grand UFC show. How willing to drink it in will they be by the time it arrives? Even if the answer is a lot (and it may well be), will there be another protracted period before another show like it arrives? There is uncertainty up north.
At stake: not much, insofar as UFC title fights are concerned. I'm not going to diminish the title fight by saying there's not much at stake. There obviously is, however, relative to other UFC title fights, it's not a lot. I'm sure Johnson doesn't feel that way. He's trying to carve out a legacy, and a win here helps in doing that. That's important and should count, but it's not particularly unique as far as champions looking to defend their belts.
As for Horiguchi, the odds are stacked fairly heavily against him. That aside, there's quite a bit for him here. A loss probably won't be too damaging (although one never knows for sure), but a win would be massive. For a Japanese fighter to hold a UFC title in this era is a massive statement, both for the fighter and what it could potentially do for mixed martial arts in that country. This outcome would also be a major shake up of the division and to Johnson's ultimate legacy.
Getting back to Johnson, though, it just feels like the nature of the fight - a rushed contender because the champion needs opponents to fight - makes it hard to say things are weighty in ways beyond what any title fight in the UFC already offers. That's not fair to Johnson, but it's the situation we find ourselves in, nonetheless.
Quinton Jackson vs. Fabio Maldonado
At stake: a lot more than you think. Let's game this one out a bit. If Maldonado loses, as most expect him to, does he really lose that much in the process? Aside from whatever he trades in health and future quality of life, he's not expected to win this and intentionally competes in such a way that trades strategy for showmanship.
But, what about Rampage? This is where it gets much more interesting. For starters, this would be something of a devastating loss for Rampage, personally. It's not that there haven't been understandable if entirely noticeable signs of decline as he ages. There have, of course. This, however, would represent something of a high water mark in that regard. In addition, what would this say about Bellatoir's light heavyweights? The truth is maybe Rampage didn't train hard for this bout or the legal uncertainty made the training camp bad. Or maybe it just shows how feeble Bellator's light heavyweight division is. Any of those conclusions would be possible.
Worse, if Rampage loses, would Bellator even want him back? It's one thing to lose to wrestlers. It's quite another to surrender a bout to someone who is willing to accommodate your fighting style. And if Bellator doesn't want him back, does that mean the damages they're seeking against him increase tenfold? After all, his participation at UFC 186, if he loses, potentially ruins him as a promotional entity for Bellator.
At stake: relevancy. Losing this bout does not immediately render the loser 'irrelevant' in some grand sense, but it is damaging. These are two fighters who've hit some respectable highs, but plenty of crushing lows as well. Neither is exactly young anymore either. Forget title shots. This is about staying visible. That means main card fights or headlining roles. That means facing opposition who fans know or otherwise care about. That means being a part of the larger conversation about what matters in today's UFC.
John Makdessi vs. Shane Campbell
At stake: a chance to stunt. Look, every fight in the UFC is important. Every fight in a professional's career is important. Wins and losses carry all sorts of challenges or opportunities. They matter in terms of how you're remembered. If we take that as a given, there's not much else to this fight. The bout pits two strikers, both of whom are Canadian, against one another. This is a moment for the victor to look good in front of their home country against a fighter who competes, relatively speaking, like they do. That's a style that also happens to be the fan friendliest.
Yves Jabouin vs. Thomas Almeida
At stake: Almeida's future. Jabouin is a successful MMA fighter, but we know his upper bound limits. This is about figuring out where Almeida's are. He's looked good so far, but seems a bit too hittable, too. Against a credentialed, experienced striker, can he demonstrate continued development? Does he have what it takes to mature into a real contender? This bout will, in a small way, help answer those questions.