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UFC 188 fight card: What's at stake?

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It should be pretty clear at this point Mexico is not the new Brazil. It could never be, despite some public proclamations to the contrary. It has a history of combative athletics as far as boxing is concerned, but in practical training terms, that's not particularly helpful. Brazil also has the benefit of a long vale tudo tradition that has produced elite fighters in all weight classes across both genders. What they lack in terms of natural resources, they've picked up or imported in terms of best practices. Brazil's UFC television deal isn't just categorically better, it's that Mexico's (absent airing of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America) doesn't touch anyone on television.

Between the long history and economic boom that took place a few years ago, Brazil was as ready-made a territory as any country will ever be. There will never be another Brazil.

But what Mexico lacks in world-class training, wide television exposure and deep mixed martial arts traditions, it makes up for in early and important commercial enthusiasm. Mexico isn't now a talent powerhouse, but despite television shortcomings, is something of a commercial hotspot. The airing of TUF: LA has helped the UFC's profile in the country dramatically. Cain Velasquez's reign at the top has been hugely beneficial, too. Mexico also has modern infrastructure and geographic proximity to make staging successful live events a realistic possibility. The average Mexican has much improved purchasing power, some exposure to fighters on national television and a local venue to attend where the UFC can easily stage a show. That's a big deal and precisely why the UFC is back in seven months. Expect a steady presence as the UFC traverses the country in venues small and large.

More Coverage: UFC 188 Results | UFC news

More importantly, what Mexico provides isn't just the promise of tomorrow, but a staging ground for Latin America as well. This is a long game. It's not yet clear to anyone, including UFC, how to best explore and develop the brand or sport in Spanish-speaking South America. Mexico allows the UFC to plant a flag, survey what's working, where and why, and make a series of decisions accordingly. TUF: LA has already shown the UFC might be more successful beyond the confines of Mexico in South America (Paraguay, it turns out, responded favorably to the show).

Mexico is not Brazil and never could be. They two should never have been clumsily compared. The good news is Mexico doesn't need to be to still be hugely valuable to the UFC's efforts and the sport's long-term growth.


Cain Velasquez vs. Fabrício Werdum

At stake: a little, maybe even a lot of history. This is a very interesting clash. Obviously, it's important given the heavyweight title is up for grabs. But it also partly feels like we're getting closer to the truth of who is the greatest heavyweight of all time.

Consider Werdum's resume. Sure, he has some losses, but a submission win over the first (and arguably reigning) best heavyweight, Fedor Emelianenko. If he beats Velasquez, he'll have beaten both heavyweights who either wore the crown or appeared to be the heir apparent. Add in any number of his other wins for good measure.

For Velasquez, he doesn't have the same length of service, but he's got all the dominance. More importantly, he's got it in a more modern area. Heavyweight is always a little thin, but there's no denying the jump in talent from Emeliananeko's prime to now.

Still, though, we may not quite there for either competitor. Velasquez has been too inactive to fully assume the throne and Werdum's had punishing losses amidst his incredible wins. What will happen for the winner, though, is they'll begin to establish themselves in what will be the growing debate about who is the best heavyweight of all time.

Gilbert Melendez vs. Eddie Alvarez

At stake: perhaps a final turn of the screw. Both fighters have had remarkable and memorable careers. They both also have just enough youth and talent left to hang around conversations about where they are headed and who is next rather than where they are or why they're still here. That means hanging around the top of the division for the winner, less so for the loser. However, both fighters aren't in retirement tour career mode, but aren't too far away either. That means they can take fights for bragging rights or flashes of ability or simply fan sentiment. This fight exists in this space and the one for legitimate ranking. A win here gives the victor license to advance efforts in both realms.

Kelvin Gastelum vs. Nate Marquardt

At stake: getting on the right track. These two approach this fight from very different positions. Gastelum, if he can do the right things, has his career in front of him. Marquardt, even if he does the right things, has little time left. What they have in common is both need to do the right thing now. For Gastelum, that means either winning here or at least looking good enough to get the kind of reprieve he needs to return to welterweight. For Marquardt, it flat out means winning. Even a loss where the contest is close is still a loss. Gastelum isn't a middleweight. Marquardt has fought at welterweight, but more naturally fits in this weight class. He's clearly bigger than Gastelum. To not be able to get past a fighter who is only here as a matter of probation signals his time in the UFC could be coming to a close.

Yair Rodríguez vs. Charles Rosa

At stake: giving a different look. Rodriguez is one of the Mexican fighters who can, well, arguably fight at this level. We'll see if he can keep it up, but I don't mind grading on a curve for international fighters if they come with the abilities and potentialities of Rodriguez. A win over Rosa, who comes from a top camp and wrestle, proves quite a bit. Rodriguez relocated his camp to the United States to get what he was missing. That, itself, isn't enough for every fighter. But for the right ones, it's the first step toward becoming a divisional threat. As for Rosa, the pressure is on here. He has built-in advantages that should make this fight against a gritty competitor the test of wills a rising talent needs to turn the corner. If he fails here, however, his stock is noticeably damaged.

Tecia Torres vs. Angela Hill

At stake: movin' on up. This fight has surprisingly interesting stakes. Well, it might, anyway. It is possible to envision a scenario where the winner doesn't appreciably gain much. It is also possible, and perhaps even probable, that they do. In the case of Torres, she's a known commodity with a lot of upside in a new division. That means title shots and number-one contender fights are never too far away. For Hill, who shows a developing skill set but a maturing ability, a win over someone as talented in the division of Torres changes the balance of power immediately. It wouldn't get her a title shot, but it would rocket her into a space where she's seriously considered a top strawweight talent.

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