Photo Credit: Tracy Lee/Yahoo! Sports
Competing on Super Bowl weekend offers UFC fighters a little extra motivation.
The card is typically stacked from top-to-bottom, and this year is no exception, as UFC 156 is expected to set the table for the rest of the year.
Featuring a UFC featherweight championship match between Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar, along with the likes of Rashad Evans, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem, Antonio Silva, Jon Fitch, Demian Maia and others, Saturday’s bouts will help shape where several fighters go in 2013.
The following is a look at what exactly is at stake for the main card fighters at UFC 156, along with a quick look at the prelim competitors, as well:
Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar
Not much at stake in this match, you know, other than the UFC featherweight championship.
Aldo and Edgar are two of the biggest names in the lighter weight classes, with Aldo currently holding serve as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
Edgar was in that discussion before a pair of 2012 defeats to Benson Henderson.
Aldo has future plans to switch weight divisions, as his body is not cooperating as much with the cut to 145. But, the Brazilian does not want to leave the weight class he has dominated for so many years on a loss and possibly forcing him to seek a rematch for his belt.
Edgar, meanwhile, knows a third straight defeat could really knock him down the rankings. He earned the title shot by accepting a short notice bout with Aldo, but his name and reputation helped put him in this position. A win places Edgar into the same category as Randy Couture and BJ Penn as the only fighters with UFC titles in multiple divisions, while a loss could mean a long road back to the top.
Photo credit: Tracy Lee/Yahoo! Sports
Rashad Evans vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
Nothing has been confirmed, but it sounds as if Evans could be on his way to the ranks of the middleweights with a victory over Nogueira.
After failing to defeat Jon Jones last year in his quest to win back the UFC light heavyweight title, Evans isn’t really sitting on the doorsteps to a rematch with Jones should he defeat Nogueira. Instead, a potential colossal encounter with Anderson Silva may await him.
A loss, though, and those “rumors” of meeting “The Spider” get caught up with the trash and thrown out, along with Evans’ standing in the 205-pound division.
For Nogueira, this is an opportunity to finally test himself against a highly-rated fighter. While the Brazilian owns a victory over Tito Ortiz, that doesn’t carry with it the same weight as one over Evans.
No, Nogueira doesn’t move directly into title contention with a victory, but he could place himself in a future match that could decide the No. 1 contender to the belt.
Alistair Overeem vs. Antonio Silva
UFC president Dana White has hinted at the next No. 1 contender in the heavyweight division emerging from the Overeem-Silva contest, and that makes perfect sense – providing Overeem wins.
Overeem, who was expected to fight for the title last year, is returning from his nine-month suspension for a failed drug test. He earned his shot after entering the UFC as the Strikeforce heavyweight champion, along with a first round finish of Brock Lesnar in 2011.
Silva, though, was defeated by current UFC champ Cain Velasquez last year, as Velasquez bloodied his face into a crimson mask with vicious ground-and-pound. Silva rebounded to defeat Travis Browne, but can a win over Overeem really vault him into title contention?
If Overeem wins, regardless of the finish, he earns the next title shot. Silva, though, likely needs a marquee finish to do the same.
Photo credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog
Jon Fitch vs. Demian Maia
Fitch showed that he isn’t ready to ride off into the sunset just yet, dominating rising prospect Erick Silva last year.
The former No. 1 contender is behind a host of others in the welterweight division, but he’s shown before that through his grinding style, Fitch can make it to the top. A win over Maia would position him for a potential meeting with one of the elite in the division, while a loss would push him back to the middle of the pack.
Maia, also a former UFC title contender, has made an impact since dropping down from middleweight to welterweight. In 2012, he finished both Dong Hyun Kim and Rick Story, putting himself in the exact same situation as Fitch.
Maia is still behind the likes of Johny Hendricks, Rory MacDonald, Carlos, Condit, Jake Ellenberger and others at 170, but a finish of Fitch would do wonders for his career.
Joseph Benavidez vs. Ian McCall
Both Benavidez and McCall suffered losses to current UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson last year. But, with the division still growing, neither fell that far from title contention.
McCall did take Johnson to a majority draw earlier in the year before dropping a decision to him, as an error in adding up the scorecards forced the rematch.
Benavidez was defeated in the finals of the UFC flyweight tournament by Johnson, who competed last month and successfully defended his belt.
A few other names remain out there at 125 in Jussier Formiga and John Moraga, but both Benavidez and McCall provide a strong name to MMA fans. The winner will likely earn the next shot at the belt, while the loser is thrown back to the pack.
The Prelims: Strikeforce Imports
Tyron Woodley, Bobby Green and Isaac Vallie-Flagg are all Strikeforce imports who will be seeking statement-making wins Saturday night.
Woodley, a former title contender in Strikeforce, faces Jay Hieron, who is seeking a UFC victory in the worse way possible.
Green battles Jacob Volkmann, while Vallie-Flagg draws Yves Edwards.
Being a cross-over from Strikeforce, there will be a little added pressure on the shoulders of all three men, as they want to prove to fight fans that they are worthy of competing inside the Octagon.
And, at the same time, Hieron, Volkmann and Edwards want to show that UFC fighters are on another level and desire the high praise they receive.