The UFC’s breakneck stretch of four events in four weeks ends this Saturday in Houston, with arguably the promotion’s best card since it invaded Toronto’s Rogers Centre in March, wowing a record 55,000 fans.
Instead of limping to the finish line, the UFC boasts a show that features two title fights, a true No. 1 contender fight, and a possible No. 1 lightweight contender in the making.
Last time the UFC came to Houston -- back in 2007 -- it marked something of a cultural turning point for the organization, which saw one of its fighters featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated for the first time. Now, they return with a network TV deal in their back pocket, ready to launch into the mainstream for good.
UFC Lightweight Championship
Frankie Edgar (13-1-1) vs. Gray Maynard (10-0-1)
UFC Featherweight Championship
Jose Aldo (19-1) vs. Kenny Florian (15-5)
Toyota Center, Houston - October 8
Frankie Edgar’s record against everyone not named Gray Maynard: 13-0. But against Maynard: 0-1-1. He’s been a puzzle Edgar has not been able to solve. In their last fight, Edgar was nearly knocked out in the first round but battled back to salvage a draw. Edgar took the positives of the last four rounds as a learning experience, and hopes tightened defense along with speedy footwork will keep him from a similar predicament this time around. In the back of his mind, Edgar knows that he took Maynard’s biggest shots and survived, and that has to be a confidence booster.
Gray Maynard hasn’t finished a fight in four years, since a nine-second knockout of Joe Veres in September 2007. Since then, he’s gone to the scorecards eight straight times. Maynard has yet to lose any of them, combining his strong boxing and powerful takedown game to sway judges.
By Saturday, Jose Aldo will have held the featherweight belt for 690 days, making him the third longest-reigning champion under the Zuffa banner.
Last Chance for Florian?
Two years ago, Kenny Florian had his quest for UFC gold stopped cold by BJ Penn in a lightweight title fight. After regrouping in the division, Florian suffered another setback, losing to Gray Maynard. That caused him to try his hand at featherweight, and an opportunity to challenge for gold came quickly, as Florian needed just one win to get a shot at Aldo. Florian didn’t look great in his first time out at 145, struggling at times against Diego Nunes. Aldo is a sharper striker with better takedown than Nunes, so Florian will have his hands full. If he loses, the 35-year-old Florian may have exhausted his last opportunity at a UFC belt.
The Return of The Mouth
Last we saw Chael Sonnen in the octagon, he was getting his heart broken by Anderson Silva at UFC 117 in August 2010. Afterward, he served a California state athletic commission suspension for a failed drug test he attributed to testosterone replacement therapy and pled guilty to a federal money laundering charge stemming from his days as a realtor. He returns in a No. 1 contenders fight against the surging Brian Stann, who has finished each of his last three opponents. Stann has never been a great wrestler, so he seems a tailor-made opponent for Sonnen, but you have to wonder if Sonnen’s mind is truly focused on what’s directly in front of him, rather than what’s just behind.
For a time, Melvin Guillard was an enigmatic talent, brilliant in one fight, unfocused in the next. Those uneven performances seem to be a thing of the past, however. Guillard has captured five straight fights, including knockouts in three of his last five. Most of his troubles in the past, though, have come against grapplers, making his Saturday night opponent a good test at this stage of his career. Joe Lauzon has 16 of his 20 career wins by submission. A win will have Guillard right in the thick of the title hunt, with the longest-win streak of any lightweight not named Frankie Edgar or Gray Maynard.
What Might Have Been...
If things had worked out a bit differently, Anthony “Showtime” Pettis might have been headlining UFC 136. Instead, he’s on the prelims against the dangerous Jeremy Stephens. Pettis is still a highly regarded young talent, but the power striker Stephens is a dangerous opponent. The lightweight division is long on talent, so Pettis has to win or risk being left behind.
It’s rare that there aren’t more than two or three fighters debuting in the UFC in any given event, but on Saturday, there will be just one newcomer, unbeaten heavyweight Stipe Miocic. The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder is considered an exciting talent, with a background in college wrestling at the Division I level as well as Golden Gloves boxing. So far in his career, Miocic is 6-0 with five knockouts. His first task on Saturday is durable heavyweight Joey Beltran.
This event marks the the first time in UFC history that the organization has run four shows in four weeks, but it won’t take them long to match the feat, as they’ve scheduled the same exhausting run starting on October 29.
UFC President Dana White (above) embarrassed after Gray Maynard beat Clay Guida by split decision to win a lightweight bout and the main event of the UFC card in Atlantic City.
Can anyone top the big three of Silva, Jones, and GSP as the best pound-for-pounder fighter?
Cruz vs. Johnson in pictures
Images from UFC Live 6 as Dominick Cruz secures his Bantamweight title with a victory over Demetrious Johnson at UFC Live 6.