This Saturday night (April 20, 2013) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to primetime network television for the seventh time with UFC on Fox 7: "Henderson vs. Melendez," which goes down from HP Pavilion in San Jose, California.
Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson returns to the Octagon for his second consecutive FOX headliner to put his title on the line for the third time against the final 155-pound champion from the now-defunct Strikeforce organization, Gilbert Melendez, in the main event of the evening.
Along with the headlining bout of Ben Henderson vs. Gilbert Melendez, Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Champion Daniel Cormier makes his long awaited UFC debut against former UFC Heavyweight Champion Frank Mir.
There are several interesting storylines to follow going into and coming out of the event, but only four can make the "burning" list. That being said, here are four burning questions going into UFC on FOX 7 this weekend:
4. How Will Darren Elkins Handle A Step Up In Competition?
Darren Elkins may be 5-0 since dropping to the UFC Featherweight, but the American hasn't exactly fought the cream of the crop thus far at 145-pounds.
Michihiro Omigawa, Tiequan Zhang, Diego Brandao, Steven Siler and Antonio Carvalho are the five men Elkins holds UFC wins over; however, none of those men have proven to be the most consistent of competitors at the UFC level, which makes you question if the Indiana native is indeed ready to face Chad Mendes, the No. 1 ranked 145-pound contender, according to the official UFC rankings.
At UFC on FOX 7 this Saturday, Elkins brings his five-fight win-streak back to the Octagon to face off with Mendes, a perennial top featherweight and former UFC title challenger in a bout that will determine exactly where Elkins stands in the division.
The 28-year-old goes from fighting middle-of-the-pack featherweight to Mendes, a man whose only career defeat comes at the hands of sensational 145-pound champion Jose Aldo. Facing "Money" is a stern leap in competition for Elkins, but given his current win-streak, is one that he has without question earned and is seemingly ready for.
Appearing ready is one thing -- performing on the night of the fight is an entirely different animal. Some have pegged Elkins as a future title challenger, and at UFC on FOX 7 we will find out if that is the case.
3. Will Daniel Cormier Live Up To Expectations In His UFC Debut?
Daniel Cormier has only been fighting professional MMA for less than four years, but he is already one of the best fighters in the world and according to the official UFC rankings, is considered to be the third best heavyweight alive.
The former Olympic wrestler has finished eight of his 11 opponents inside the distance and with each bout is rapidly developing his striking to the point where it is just as dangerous as his world-class wrestling abilities.
Being so green in the sport, Cormier is always a new and improved version of himself every time he competes. After his dominant victory over Dion Staring last January at the final Strikeforce event, it was confirmed that "DC" would be making the transition over to the UFC and would be facing former champion Frank Mir in his debut with the organization.
Cormier has already defeated a former UFC champion in Josh Barnett; however, Mir has been fighting at a much higher level than "The Warmaster" in recent years and will be Cormier's toughest test to date.
The 34-year-old has high expectation coming in to his UFC debut and is a viable title contender in the heavyweight and Light Heavyweight divisions. While right now he says that he won't fight good friend and training partner Cain Velasquez, things can always change. Cormier also has the option of dropping down to 205-pounds and challenging for the goal there, as he already has a budding rivalry with champion Jon Jones.
While a title shot at 205-pounds or heavyweight is likely in Cormier's future, nothing will become a reality unless the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) product gets past Mir.
2. Is Gilbert Melendez The World's No. 1 Lightweight?
For years now, MMA fans have argued who the top lightweight in the world was. Was it one of the men who have held the UFC's 155-pound belt in the past four years (B.J. Penn, Frankie Edgar and Benson Henderson)? Or was it longtime Strikeforce 155-pound king Gilbert Melendez?
The argument has gone on and on and while each side was able to make a valid claim to the title, there was no way to prove the answer either way.
That is until now.
When the UFC purchased Strikeforce in 2011, fans knew it was just a matter of time until "El Nino" would make the jump over to the UFC roster and finally compete against the elite in his weight class.
The 31-year-old has claimed to be the world's top lightweight for years and has been waiting a very, very long time to finally step inside the Octagon and prove it.
In the past there was no way to determine was the best, but fortunately, after all the waiting, the answer will be revealed.
1. Can Strikeforce Fighters Continue To Upstage UFC Fighters?
One of the top stories to follow so far in 2013 has been the tremendous success of former Strikeforce fighters transitioning into the UFC. Numerous athletes who had their last bout under the Strikeforce banner that crossed over when the organization closed its door in Jan. 2013 have done exceptionally well inside the Octagon.
At UFC on FOX 7, it feels like the "UFC vs. Strikeforce" showdown will come to a head.
All four main card bouts --and four preliminary bouts-- feature one fighter who has been a UFC mainstay for years against an opponent who made a majority of his career fame in Strikeforce.
Melendez challenges Henderson in headliner, Cormier meets Mir in the co-main event, Josh Thomson and Jordan Mein battle Nate Diaz and Matt Brown to round out the main card, while on the prelims Lorenz Larkin debuts against Francis Carmont, Jorge Masvidal crosses paths with Tim Means, Roger Bowling fights Anthony Njokuani and finally, Yoel Romero takes on Clifford Starks.
Fight statistics guru FightNomics wrote a tremendous breakdown about the success of Strikeforce fighters that can be read here; but in short, the breakdown reveals Strikeforce crossovers have won 60% of their bouts against UFC-bred opponents.
Maybe it's the matchmaking, perhaps the former Strikeforce fighters just want it a little bit more as UFC President Dana White has suggested -- it's impossible to tell. Whatever is encouraging these competitors to do so well inside the Octagon has made each fight interesting to follow.
With UFC on FOX 7 going down in Strikeforce's former home base of the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., the eight men who spent time in Strikeforce over the past few years will certainly try to represent and upstage their opponents once again. The question is -- will they be able to pull it off?
Tune in to UFC on FOX 7 this Saturday at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT, to find out all the answers to these questions and more. In addition, be sure to check out live coverage of UFC on FOX 7 from MMAmania.com on fight night right here.