Photo by Esther Lin via MMA Fighting
Every time UFC stages an MMA event, speculation, questions and theories emerge about which fighters will perform ... or underperform. Will new contenders emerge? Will established ones fall? Where will the winners go? Which losers will still have jobs on Monday? Who is healthy? Who is fighting injured? The list goes on and on. Anytime the UFC athletes are set to enter the Octagon, questions swirl.
This Saturday night (March 2, 2013) -- or Sunday morning if you live overseas -- the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Octagon touches down in one of the birthplaces of mixed martial arts (MMA) as UFC on FUEL TV 8: "Silva vs. Stann" goes down at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
In the main event, a legend of the sport, Wanderlei Silva, returns to the country where he became a worldwide combat sports sensation for the first time since 2006, colliding with Brian Stann in a five-round light heavyweight contest. Also scheduled to compete on the card are notable names such as Stefan Struve, Mark Hunt, Diego Sanchez, Hector Lombard, Dong Hyun Kim and more.
There are several interesting storylines to follow going into and coming out of the event, but only four can make the "burning" list.
Accordingly, here are four burning questions going into UFC on FUEL TV 8: "Silva vs. Stann" this weekend:
4. How Will Asian Fighters Fare Close To Home?
UFC on FUEL TV 8 features nine fighters of Asian decent, five of which have fought in the Octagon before. Recognizable names such as Yushin Okami, Takanori Gomi, Dong Hyun Kim, Mizuto Hirota and Takeya Mizugaki fill the card with plenty others competing, too.
There is a long-running meme in MMA that Asian fighters fail when they come over to America -- and the record shows Asian imports do struggle when fighting in the UFC stateside, but how will they perform on their home stage when they don't have to travel around the world to fight?
Granted, some of these fighters would lose -- travel or no travel -- because their opponents are better, but at least this time the UFC's top Asian talent will get a chance to put on a show in front of their home country and prove the continent produces some of the best fighters in the sport today.
3. Can Mark Hunt Continue His Hot Streak?
The "Super Samoan" Mark Hunt has revitalized his career in the his last three fights, picking up consecutive victories in the heavyweight division against Chris Tuchscherer, Ben Rothwell and Cheick Kongo after a five-year winless drought.
Confidence is a powerful thing in mixed martial arts (MMA), and Hunt has a lot of it right now.
Unfortunately, the momentum of his last three wins was staggered in the second half of 2012 when Hunt was forced to go under the knife for surgery and sit out most of the year to recover.
Finally healthy, the 38-year-old will attempt to win four-straight fights for the first time since 2006 when he takes on gigantic Dutch submission specialist, Stefan Struve.
The fight against "Skyscraper" at UFC on FUEL TV 8 will be a homecoming of sorts for Hunt, as he fought for many years in the K-1 Kickboxing organization while also fighting MMA in Pride, two organizations primarily based out of Japan.
With tremendous knockout power and a rapidly improving ground game, Hunt has a lot going for him right now. The question is, will it be enough to score a win over a talented young stud like Struve?
2. What Happens When "Thunder" Meets "Lightning"?
Two of the middleweight division's top contenders will face off in Japan as former 185-pound title challenger Yushin Okami will take on former Bellator world champion Hector Lombard in a featured contest that will have lasting implications on the weight class.
Both fighters are coming off dominant victories in December 2012 -- Okami earning a decision win over Alan Belcher at UFC 155 and Lombard defeating Rousimar Palhares by knockout at UFC on FX 6 -- and with a win are looking to get their names included in the 185-pound title mix.
Okami defeated Belcher for the second time in his career at UFC 155, proving he is still the superior fighter six years after the first meeting. The win was Okami's second in a row and moved the Japanese fighter back into a contender's role after a two-fight slump left many wondering if his tank was running on empty. The 31-year-old is 12-4 under the UFC banner and has won 13 of his 28 fights by decision.
Lombard picked up his first UFC victory by taking out Palhares in a violent manner in Australia. After an underwhelming effort against Tim Boetsch in his Octagon debut last July, the 34-year-old finally delivered what fans were hoping for with the highlight reel finish of "Toquinho." The Cuban joined the UFC ranks to fight for the middleweight championship, and should he get by Okami, it would be hard to argue he doesn't deserve an opportunity to fight for the gold.
The battle between "Thunder" and "Lightning" should be very telling of where both men are at in their career. If Okami can overcome Lombard's punching power and control the fight to the ground against the talented judoka, it would be a huge statement. On the other hand, if Lombard is able to thwart Okami's grappling abilities and pick up another highlight reel knockout win, it would be hard to deny him a shot at the belt.
Saturday's bout is key for the rapidly evolving middleweight division and if either man wants a sniff of the title they must come out on top.
1. Will Wanderlei Silva Fight For The Last Time?
It has been a well-known fact for some time that Wanderlei Silva is at the tail end of his historic 16-year and 48-fight career. The former Pride FC champion and MMA legend is not the same fighter he used to be after a career that has featured countless battles.
And if he wants to continue to fight, Silva must prove he's got more to give by defeating Brian Stann in the UFC on FUEL TV 8 main event.
UFC President Dana White has publicly stated in the lead-up to Silva's last few fights that if he is on the wrong side of a devastating fight results, "The Axe Murderer" will likely be sat down and "talked" (forced) into retirement; much like Chuck Liddell.
In his most recent bout at UFC 147 last June, the Brazilian was outpointed to a decision by Rich Franklin, marking the seventh loss in his past 10 fights, four of which have come by knockout or technical knockout. At UFC on FUEL TV 8, Silva will fight in Japan for the first time since 2006 against former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) light heavyweight champion Stann in a very risky fight.
Stann possesses some of the heaviest hands in the sport and if Silva's not careful, he could end up face down on the canvas once again. Put simply, if Silva cannot defeat the 32-year-old "All-American" -- who has lost two of his last three fights -- maybe it truly is time for one of the most exciting fighters in the history of the sport to call it a career.
On a more positive note, it wouldn't be a farfetched idea for Silva to walk away from the sport on Saturday on the heels of win. The Brazilian saw his career explode on the Japanese MMA scene and it would be a storybook ending if Silva were to knock Stann out then call it a career in Japan. Not many fighters have the chance to bring their career full circle, but Silva has that opportunity on Saturday night.
Regardless of the fight result, Silva is and always will be recognized as one of the greatest to ever step foot in a ring or cage.
Can Silva add another win to his historic resume? Or will Stann end Silva's career in the same place where it flourished years ago?
Be sure to tune into UFC on FUEL TV 8: "Silva vs. Stann" this Saturday night at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on FUEL TV to find out all the answers to these questions and more. And remember to stop in to our live results thread on fight night right here.