This Saturday night (April 27, 2013) the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to pay-per-view (PPV) for the fourth time this year as UFC 159: "Jones vs. Sonnen" goes down from the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones returns to the Octagon for yet another title defense as he puts his title on the line for the fifth time against former two-time UFC title challenger Chael Sonnen.
Along with the headlining bout of Jones vs. Sonnen, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 3 winner Michael Bisping tries to get back on track when he takes on Alan Belcher in a grudge match between two top middleweight contenders.
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 159 this weekend:
4. Is Vinny Magalhaes A Top Light Heavyweight?
In the biggest fight of his 16-bout mixed martial arts (MMA) career, Brazilian born light heavyweight Vinny Magalhaes will face his toughest challenge to date when he takes on the No. 8 ranked 205-pound fighter in the world, Phil Davis.
"Mr. Wonderful" is one of the better light heavyweights on the UFC roster, as he has shared the cage with the best the sport has to offer and is a huge step up in competition for Magalhaes.
The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 8 runner-up campaigned hard for the fight with Davis, actively calling out the former all-American wrestler in interviews and on social media websites. Despite being ranked far lower than Davis, the 28-year-old managed to get the fight and has a huge opportunity to prove he is right up there with Davis in the elite of the weight class.
Since losing to Ryan Bader in the TUF 8 finals and being cut from the UFC shortly thereafter, Magalhaes has won eight of nine fights (all by stoppage) and is improving rapidly with each showing. The light heavyweight division is short on jiu-jitsu specialists and that's exactly the kind of style Magalhaes brings to the table.
After a successful first-round submission of Igor Pokrajac in his return to the UFC in Sept. 2012, Magalhaes is looking to move into the top-10 of the division and a victory over an opponent like Davis will get him there.
3. How Much Does Cheick Kongo Have Left In The Tank?
Even though he holds a seemingly impressive 5-1-1 record in his past seven UFC bouts, Cheick Kongo's career is clearly on the downslide and his performances are showing it.
Kongo's last fight was a victory over Shawn Jordan at UFC 149 in what was one of the most lackluster fights of 2012. Prior to that, Kongo was stopped by strikes for the first time in eight years when he suffered a first-round (technical) knockout defeat to Mark Hunt. Before the knockout loss to Hunt, the Frenchman faced off with Matt Mitrione in a horribly underwhelming affair at UFC 137.
Take it back one fight further, and Pat Barry was blasting Kongo around the cage before one miraculous shot earned him the comeback victory. The list could go on, but the point is Kongo has not put on a performance where he delivered from start to finish in roughly four or five years. Moreover, the injuries are starting to pile up for him as well.
As the second longest tenured heavyweight on the UFC roster behind Frank Mir as well as holding the record for second most UFC fights in heavyweight history at 18, there is no shame in Kongo being past his prime, especially at 37 years of age.
At this point there is no denying Kongo is a gatekeeper and at UFC 159 he will meet heavy-handed TUF 10 winner Roy Nelson in a fight that, on paper, looks like it could be a bad night for the European fighter.
Given his track record in recent fights, Kongo does find a way to win more often than not, but lately it has been extremely unpleasant to watch. While the UFC will likely keep Kongo around for as long as he wants to stay, his performances are becoming increasingly less entertaining and if he loses a one-sided fight to "Big Country" then perhaps retirement will be in the Frenchman's near future.
2. Which Middleweight Will Take Another Hit To Their Title Aspirations?
Two of the world's top Middleweights collide in the co-main event of UFC 159 as The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 3 winner Michael Bisping gets back in the Octagon against versatile striker Alan Belcher in a high stakes 185-pound contest.
Both fighters are in the thick of the middleweight title picture and are in desperate need of a victory after underwhelming performances in their outings.
Vitor Belfort stopped Bisping by second-round technical knockout due to a highlight reel head kick at UFC on FX 7 last January. "The Count" claimed the fight was an early stoppage but unfortunately for Bisping, a loss is a loss and he must do everything in his power to avoid the first two-fight losing streak of his 28-fight career.
As for Belcher, he was utterly dominated for the second time by Yushin Okami at UFC 155 last December for his first MMA defeat in nearly four years. "The Talent" was extremely confident he would be able to counter the stifling skillset of the Japanese fighter; however, it didn't go his way and he must also earn a win to avoid dropping back-to-back fights for the first time in his UFC tenure.
With their backs against the wall, both Bisping and Belcher are in must-win situations. Not just because of the fact another loss would be crushing to the title aspirations of either, but also because a tremendous amount of trash talk has been exchanged and only one guy will be able to back it up.
1. Does Chael Sonnen Have A Chance Against Jon Jones?
There has already been a lot of upsets in the world of MMA this year, but should he win on Saturday night, Chael Sonnen defeating Jon Jones to take the UFC light heavyweight strap would top the list as not just the greatest upset of 2013, but perhaps the greatest upset since Matt Serra's sensational upset of Georges St. Pierre at UFC 69 in 2007.
UFC President Dana White liked Sonnen's attitude and willingness to fight a top pound-for-pound fighter on short notice and rewarded the 35-year-old with a coaching spot opposite Jones on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) reality series as well as a shot at the champion's belt.
Despite not having competed in the light heavyweight division since Oct. 2005 and coming off a stoppage loss to middleweight champion Anderson Silva, Sonnen was granted the opportunity and it's guaranteed he will make the best of it.
Sonnen holds victories over a number of elite fighters; however, the one thing missing from his resume is a world championship in a major organization.
The Oregon native has stated that for everything he has accomplished in his 35-year life, he would give it all up to be champion for just one night. He was so, so close to defeating "The Spider" in their championship bouts, but could not carry his success from the opening bell to the final one.
While Jones is an entirely different animal than Silva, it only takes a good strategy and a sharp night from the challenger to make things extremely interesting and potentially turn the MMA world on its head.
While Sonnen's chances seem miniscule, if he can put it all together inside the cage, there could be a new light heavyweight champion on Sunday morning.
Stranger things have certainly happened.
Tune in to UFC 159 this Saturday night at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT, only on PPV to find out all the answers to these questions and more.