UFC 145 brings a welcome end to the pay-per-view famine with a big time title fight between light heavyweight champ Jon Jones and challenger Rashad Evans, but they aren’t the only ones with plenty on the line in Atlanta.
For a look at which fighters need a win in the worst way -- along with a few wild guesses regarding their chances of getting it -- we turn to the Cut List.
Ben Rothwell (31-8, 1-2 UFC)
Who he’s facing: Brendan Schaub
Why he’s in danger: Sandwiching a lackluster win between two defeats is a good way to find yourself in a bad spot with the UFC. Then again, Rothwell’s two losses come against very respectable opposition. He was stopped by Cain Velasquez in his debut (shortly before Velasquez became heavyweight champ), and then decisioned Gilbert Yvel on an injured knee before losing a messy one to Mark Hunt upon his return last September. Given the recent career revival that helped spawn the #RallyForMarkHunt movement, you’d think a loss to that man wouldn’t look so bad on the resume. But Rothwell didn’t just lose. He lost and looked bad doing it. He also did so at a time when the UFC was about to get an infusion of heavyweight talent. With all the big boys coming over from Strikeforce, the UFC doesn’t need just any heavyweight who can fill out a fight card anymore. It needs quality heavyweights, and Rothwell still needs to prove to the UFC that he is one.
Outlook: Cautiously optimistic. Rothwell is about a 2-1 underdog against the smaller, quicker Schaub, and he’s probably not as good of an all-around athlete. At the same time, Rothwell has power, and Schaub has been KO’d twice. If Rothwell can stay in this and stay out of desperation mode, he’s got a decent chance. If he can even just look sharp in defeat, it might earn him one more shot to prove he belongs here.
Mark Hominick (20-10, 3-2 UFC)
Who he’s facing: Eddie Yagin
Why he’s in danger: Hominick has now lost two in a row in the UFC, which automatically puts him on the hot seat. But before we do all the usual hand-wringing about the dreaded three-fight skid, let’s admit that both those losses come with asterisks next to them, making this situation not quite as dire as it looks on paper. For starters, there’s the loss to UFC featherweight champ Jose Aldo. He ended that title fight with a head that looked like it was trying to hatch a baby condor, but he also ended on a high note. He showed a lot of heart in defeat, and he showed he could help draw a crowd in Canada. His subsequent loss to Chan Sung Jung (also in Canada) was, if not a straight-up fluke, then at least somewhat fluke-ish. He left himself open and it cost him immediately, but it’s hard not to feel like that was just one dumb mistake rather than the sign of a more serious decline in skills. That brings us to this fight with Yagin, which oddsmakers have pegged Hominick a 6-1 favorite to win. Good news, right? Except that, if he somehow loses this fight, then it might really be time to worry. That’s the problem with losing two straight and then getting an opponent who seems almost made for you to beat up on. If you screw that one up, it looks way worse than losing a decision to the champ.
Outlook: Bright. I don’t see Hominick losing to Yagin, who has never beat anyone on this level before. Even if he does, I don’t see the UFC freaking out over it. I see the UFC giving him at least one more fight, then freaking out if he loses that one.
Matt Brown (13-11, 6-5 UFC)
Who he’s facing: Stephen Thompson
Why he’s in danger: It just wouldn’t be an installment of The Cut List without Brown, now would it? "The Immortal" has spent the last two years hanging on by his fingernails in the UFC. He lost three straight, then won one right when he needed it most. Then he lost again and got a gimme match-up with Chris Cope, who he polished off inside of two rounds. You might think that would put some distance between Brown and the chopping block, but I’m not so sure. We’re still talking about a guy who is 2-4 in his last six fights. Can he really afford to get beat up by the Karate Kid here and drop to 2-5? Does the UFC like "guys who war" quite that much? Granted, Brown tends to be a fairly exciting fighter. He’s hard-nosed and aggressive -- often he aggresses his way right into submissions, in fact -- and you can see why the UFC likes having him around. At the same time, the UFC does not want to be in the business of mediocrity. If Brown can’t prove that he’s anything more than the Johnny Lawrence to Thompson’s Daniel LaRusso, what else is the UFC supposed to do with him at this point?
Outlook: Grim. My money’s on Thompson to win this fight and knock Brown down a few more pegs. Granted, I’ve predicted the demise of Brown’s UFC career before and he’s still hanging around. But there are fighters with better than .500 records who’ve been cut from the UFC for one ill-timed loss. Brown’s a survivor, but you can only cling to the edge of the cliff for so long before someone comes along and stomps on your fingers.
Mac Danzig (20-9-1, 4-5 UFC) and Efrain Escudero (18-4, 3-3 UFC)
Who they’re facing: each other
Why they’re in danger: This feels like one of those fights where the UFC pairs up two guys who are both on the bubble and asks them to decide among themselves who’s worth paying attention to. Both are Ultimate Fighter winners who did not live up to their initial promise, and both are coming off losses that put them in precarious positions. Danzig got a brief resurgence after knocking out Joe Stevenson in between two losses to Matt Wiman. The first of those defeats was a result of referee error; the second was a result of Wiman being just a little bit better in their Fight of the Night battle. For all Danzig’s experience and potential, he never seemed to make the leap to the next level, which has to be disappointing to both Danzig and the UFC. We could say a lot of the same things about Escudero, who’s already been cut once and who lost a snoozer of a decision to Jakob Volkmann in his first fight back. The snoozer part wasn’t his fault (we are talking about Volkmann, after all) but a loss is a loss. You think the UFC would re-hire a guy, watch as he loses two in a row upon his return, then offer him up a third? Maybe, but he’d have to make a major impression even in defeat.
Outlook: Sadly pessimistic, and that goes for both men. With Danzig and Escudero, it seems like there must be some reason they didn’t become the fighters they were supposed to be. Did we overestimate their potential? Does winning TUF just not mean very much at all once it’s over? I don’t know. While I’d love to see both these guys put a solid winning streak together, someone’s got to lose here. Whoever it is will be facing a bleak future afterward, while the winner will have earned himself only a temporary stay.