For its big broadcast on the first day in the life of the new Fox Sports 1, the UFC has enhanced its UFC Fight Night card with more star power than fans are likely to see on a non-pay-per-view show going forward. But for main eventers Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Chael Sonnen, their name recognition only goes so far in hiding some of the questions about their respective careers.
Is Shogun (21-7, 5-5 in the UFC) firmly on the downside of his illustrious career, or does he have one more run in him? Since losing the Light Heavyweight Championship to Jon Jones at UFC 128, Rua has alternated wins and losses, including his most recent defeat at the hands of top contender Alexander Gustafsson. He's 31, which isn't old for a fighter, but his battles in PRIDE probably make him older in "cage years" than other guys his age.
For the ever quotable Sonnen (27-13-1, 6-6 UFC) , the question is whether he has been exposed as a very good fighter who just isn't quite talented enough to hang with the very best. There's no shame in losing two title fights in two different weight classes when the losses came to Jones and Anderson Silva, but the fact that Sonnen was stopped in both of them can't sit very well with him. A victory over Rua would be the biggest name on his resume of wins.
Tactically, the bout is one where both men appear to have clear cut advantages in certain areas. Shogun should look to keep the fight standing, where Sonnen simply can't match his arsenal of punches, kicks and knees. In fact Sonnen has never won by KO or TKO in his UFC career, so if something dramatic happens in the stand-up exchanges, it's almost guaranteed to be coming from Rua.
That means it will be Sonnen's bread and butter, his wrestling, that will be his most logical path to victory. He'll still have to be wary of Shogun's ground game if he can score takedowns, but putting Rua on his back will mean points scored and possibly open the door for him to look for a submission. One thing Sonnen never lacks is conditioning, so if he can take the fight to the last round, chances are he'll be in good shape.
The oddsmakers made Sonnen a relatively small favorite, and the lines have come down even closer as the fight draws near. That reflects the uncertainty around both fighters and the sense that only a Sonnen KO or a Shogun decision would qualify as surprising outcomes.
Five other fights are on the main card, and four preliminary bouts will also be aired on Fox Sports 1 to make it a full night of MMA action. Here's a look at the rest of the main card:
Alistair Overeem (36-12, 1-1 UFC) vs. Travis Browne (14-1-1, 5-1-1 UFC) – Heavyweight
Overeem appeared to be on the fast track to a UFC Heavyweight Title shot when he beat Brock Lesnar in his UFC debut, but his momentum came to a screeching halt when he was knocked out by Antonio Silva the next time out. If anyone can relate, it's Browne — his lone career loss came courtesy of a Silva TKO in October 2012.
This fight could very easily turn into a stand-up war, but one wonders if either fighter will have ideas about taking the action to the ground. Overeem has a surprising number of submission wins for someone who came from a kickboxing background, yet Browne has a more well-rounded set of mat skills.
Another thing to watch will be if Overeem gasses early, as he's not used to going the distance — 14 of his last 17 bouts ended in Round 1.
Urijah Faber (28-6, 4-2 UFC) vs. Yuri Alcantara (28-4, 3-1 UFC) – Bantamweight
This has to be an unfamiliar spot for Faber, as the "California Kid" hasn't appeared in anything but a main event or co-feature in ages. His popularity means he's unlikely to be fighting for his job any time soon, yet he desperately needs an impressive win if he wants to be in the title picture in 2014.
He shouldn't have an easy time of it with Alcantara, who can probably hang with Faber when it comes to trading strikes. Alcantara has a submission game as well, but the guess here is that the Kid's wrestling will keep him off balance and prove why he's a fairly heavy Vegas favorite.
Matt Brown (17-11, 10-5 UFC) vs. Mike Pyle (25-8-1, 8-3 UFC) – Weltwerweight
Don't look now, but Brown is on something of a roll, having won five in a row with four stoppages heading into Saturday's show. He's dangerous with his fists, elbows, and knees but has a definite weakness on the ground, tapping out nine times in his pro career.
To take advantage of that, Pyle may have to revert to his earlier days when he really earned his "Quicksand" nickname. Pyle owns 16 submission victories but none in the last three years, and while he's a capable striker, he may not want to go that route against Brown.
Uriah Hall (7-3, 0-1 UFC) vs. John Howard (20-8, 4-3 UFC) – Middleweight
In the search for possible Knockout of the Night candidates, this fight is certainly worth some consideration. Hall definitely has it in him, introducing himself to the MMA world at large with two spectacular knockouts while on "The Ultimate Fighter," though things haven't gone according to plan since then.
Howard's claim to fame is breaking the nose of one of the Boston bombers in sparring once upon a time. He's back for his second UFC tour of duty, and he could use a stoppage of Hall to help make sure he sticks around.
Joe Lauzon (22-8, 9-5 UFC) vs. Michael Johnson (12-8, 4-4 UFC) – Lightweight
Lauzon is one of those guys who seems like he's been around forever, competing in the UFC since 2006. If there's anything close to guaranteed excitement in MMA, Lauzon is it, competing in the Fight of the Night five times and racking up a number of Submission of the Night awards as well.
If he's able to add another of the latter bonuses to his bank account on Saturday, it could be costly for Johnson. A loss would be his third in a row and drop his UFC record below .500, both numbers that make Dana White start think about showing you the door.
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