This weekend will answer a lot of questions that we have with Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) moving forward and whether or not it gets off to a bright start with its grand plans for world (expletive) domination.
UFC Fight Night 34: "Saffedine vs. Lim," takes place this Saturday (Jan. 4, 2013) at Marina Bay Sands in Marina Bay, Singapore, featuring a main event bout between the last man to raise the Strikeforce Welterweight belt, Tarec Saffiedine, against Hyun Gyu Lim.
The co-main event includes the much anticipated debut of Tatsuya Kawajiri, who has found success competing in his native land of Japan over the years. He meets another UFC debutant, undefeated 24-year old Sean Soriano.
This also marks the first event to be shown on UFC Fight Pass, the promotion's new online digital network that is strictly available to North America, Australia and New Zealand, and the only place to legally watch this international event.
Here are "Five Burning Questions" heading into Singapore this weekend:
5. How will the first event of the UFC Digital Network era play out?
UFC "Fight Pass" is free (for a limited time), and coincidentally, the only place you can watch this event. Ratings may not matter since this is essentially an Internet-only affair; however, it also needs to be a successful one and reach a global audience. Not to mention, it is enduring it's free trial period until March 1, 2014.
This is should not be viewed as a huge risk for UFC, but more so an achievement moving forward. At least, that is how the owners look at it.
It is not a bad set up, and there are enough hours of footage gathered over the years to keep fight fans entertained. The live event portion is the real question and if it will turn out to be a success.
With that being said, we know it has been said that the upcoming fight cards on the network may not suit everyone. Yet, should fans suit themselves when dedicated to a sport, or should the promotion take responsibility for ensuring their events are always easily accessible?
4. Will UFC Fight Night 34 have any sort of impact on North American fans?
This question is not even posed toward online piracy, but more so the eagerness to tune in on the wee hours of Saturday morning (6:30 a.m. ET) to watch several fights that contain relatively unknown names.
Yes, true fans will watch anything -- we get it. But, will those same fans wake up for the "Prelims," setting their alarm clocks on an assumed day off for most instead of watching the highlights on sites like this one or streaming them online later elsewhere?
They may just skip it altogether.
European fans will find it easier to tune in since it hits them in the afternoon and in Asia, there is no question it can be accessible to fans.
Even if the fight cards are not designed for American audiences, they may not reach them altogether -- and if the quality of billing on the cards stay the same, the average North American fan won't care either.
3. Can Tatsuya Kawajiri be a force in the UFC?
It has been a long time coming, and now another Japanese legend makes his Octagon debut.
Tatsuya Kawajiri has almost fought everywhere but the UFC in his nearly 14-year career, including Shooto, Pride FC, Dream, Strikeforce, One FC and even K-1. Still, the "Crusher" has only won one championship in his career, being the Shooto Welterweight title. He lost in the semi-finals of both the 2005 Pride Lightweight Grand Prix and the 2008 Dream Lightweight Grand Prix.
That does not mean Kawajiri is not seen as one of the best fighters to come out of Japan. He is currently on a five fight winning streak, coming off a win over Michihiro Omigawa at Dream 18 last year, and has only lost three times out of 13 fights in the past five years, finding difficulties with the upper echelon of lightweights including Gilbert Melendez, Eddie Alvarez and Shinya Aoki.
Age and level of competition now play a factor with Kawajiri moving forward, and we have all seen how Japanese fighters can look vastly different when competing oversees. Although, he is on the right path at featherweight if he beats undefeated prospect in Sean Soriano.
2. Do we have another star in the making under our noses with Hyun Gyu Lim?
The only way we can know for sure is if he ends up victorious in Singapore on Saturday.
If he beats someone like a young and accomplished Tarec Saffiedine, there is no doubt that he is. Saffiedine is the biggest test thus far in Lim's career, and it will not be easy for the South Korean star.
Lim was successful in his debut against Marcelo Guimares at UFC on Fuel TV 8, and then scored a sensational knockout over Pascal Krauss at UFC 164. He has not lost since 2009, and currently rides a seven-fight winning streak.
Stepping up to the plate after Jake Ellenberger had to withdraw from injury, Lim should respond well to the main event jitters, however the pressure is on for him to perform well and jump a few spots on the welterweight ladder.
He has looked good in the Octagon thus far, and if he dazzles this weekend, we may have another top Welterweight entering the fold sooner rather than later.
1. How will Tarec Saffiedine do in his long awaited first UFC fight?
Matching Tarec Saffiedine up with Georges St. Pierre in a champion versus champion bout would have been more than just audacious given not only the welterweight picture in the UFC, but the deservingness and level of competition, too.
That does not mean "Sponge" has had it easy en route to a major championship, however his past wins include winning the belt from Nate Marquardt, then Roger Bowling, Scott Smith and Brock Larsen -- all either gone from the UFC or on losing streaks.
Saffiedine was set to face Robbie Lawler at UFC on FOX 8 this past summer, but the latter suffered an injury. There was then rummages in September about a fight with Carlos Condit. That did not happen. Targeted for December, it looked like Saffiedine was set to meet the rising Matt Brown. That was not the case, and instead, Condit was matched up with Brown. It has been a long time coming.
Will this year-long layoff play into the 27-year old's game on Saturday? Will it even matter? More importantly, can he impressively show that he is coming off a championship victory in his last contest?
MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 34 card on Saturday morning (Jan. 4, 2013) right here, starting with the Prelims at 6:30 a.m. ET, right on through the digitally-streamed main card action on the Fight Pass network, which is slated to begin at 9 a.m. ET.