In just a few hours, the lights will dim in the Goiania Arena as Vitor Belfort and Dan Henderson make their way to the Octagon at UFC Fight Night 32: "Belfort vs. Henderson". The bout is being contested in the Ultimate Fighting Championship's (UFC) light heavyweight division and is a rematch from a 2006 meeting at PRIDE 32.
In their first meeting, Henderson thoroughly dominated Belfort on the feet and on the ground, so much so that one judge scored the fight 30-24. Henderson went on to beat Wanderlei Silva for the PRIDE Middleweight (Light Heavyweight) title, while Belfort was suspended for testing positive for 4-hydroxytestosterone.
Heading into tonight's (Nov. 9, 2013) fight, there have been several story lines involving the fighters. The first is that both Belfort and Henderson will be using testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). Incidentally this also means that for the first time in a long time, not a lot of people are talking about Belfort's therapeutic usage.
However, more importantly and perhaps the least discussed story is that the fight will affect both fighters in the long-term.
Following UFC Fight for the Troops 3, UFC President Dana White stated that should Belfort lose to Henderson at light heavyweight, he'll also lose his shot at the UFC middleweight title. With a lack of contenders in the division, Belfort can't afford to lose to Henderson.
On the flip side, tonight is the last fight on Dan Henderson's UFC contract. The 43 year old veteran stated that he wants to keep fighting for at least another two years before he considers retiring from mixed martial arts (MMA) competition.
If he plans to renegotiate with the UFC, he'll have a much stronger position coming off a win over Belfort than a three fight losing streak. And while I doubt that Zuffa would be willing to let Henderson walk and test the market with Bellator and World Series of Fighting (WSOF), they won't be offering a big money deal.
So with so much on the line, the question is: who has more to lose?
At 36 years old, Belfort likes to describe himself as a "young dinosaur" as he's one of the last fighters from the earliest era of MMA. However, despite his old age, he's found a way to reinvent himself and stay competitive in what should be a "young man's" game.
His wins over Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold have put him in line for an eventual title shot and a win over Henderson would all but secure it. But his unwillingness to fight in the middleweight division unless it's for the title and his controversial usage of TRT have made it impossible for the UFC to work with him.
And being an aging fighter, his window to win a belt is constantly shrinking every day. Couple that with the fact that Henderson already embarrassed him in their first encounter and tonight could be the last time that Vitor Belfort is relevant in the UFC.
On the other hand, Henderson is taking a huge risk by not signing a new deal before he takes the center of the Octagon. As stated above, it's unlikely that a loss would mean he'd get the boot, but it would definitely end up costing him a lot of money when negotiating with the UFC.
His two fight losing streak is against top fighters and the argument could be made that he didn't really lose either fight as both losses are considered to be "controversial" decisions. But a three fight losing streak, no matter the circumstance, is still a three fight losing streak.
Come tonight, there will be an insane amount of pressure on both fighters. For a non-title fight, the stakes have never been higher for both fighters. One is fighting for glory while the other fights for both relevancy and a paycheck. Let's hope that they don't take the "safe" route.