A former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight champion, a K-1 Grand Prix winner, three former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) champions, hometown heroes, blue-chip mixed martial arts (MMA) prospects, Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) finalists and a gangster from the mean streets West Linn, Oregon.
The first UFC event on FOX Sports 1, which takes place from TD Garden in Boston, Mass., on Aug. 17, 2013, could be the greatest free MMA card of all-time.
UFC has a busy August ahead of it, promoting four events – two pay-per-view (PPV) shows and two others (for free) on network television. UFC Fight Night 26: "Shogun vs. Sonnen" will be the first UFC event broadcasted on FOX Sports 1, capping off a string of three consecutive events each week on the broadcast.
The world's leading MMA promotion has put on dozens of free cards in its existence, including cards on FOX, FX, FUEL TV, Spike TV and Versus that featured countless TUF Finales, as well as Ultimate Fight Night cards. Some of them were memorable, while more were likely forgetful. The same could be said for its PPV offerings, but when a fan dishes out more than $50 for nearly three hours of action, the company knows it must deliver.
UFC gave away two numbered events for free, UFC 120 and UFC 122, both taking place in Europe and were somewhat lackluster. Free cards are a treat for the fans and they also attract new fans, as well as the casual ones, catching their interests by showcasing the best fighters on the planet.
To date, UFC has had a good relationship with FOX, staging some exciting cards on the network. Its first event on FOX was back on Nov. 12, 2011, when Junior dos Santos captured the Heavyweight title from Cain Velasquez in little more than on minute by way of knockout.
The company took criticism from observers who felt more than one fight should have been on the hour-long broadcast. UFC President Dana White went on a tirade in the last half-hour on how Velasquez should have fought instead of showing the then-pivotal co-main event scrap between Ben Henderson vs. Clay Guida.
UFC on Fox 2 featured household names such as Rashad Evans, Michael Bisping, Chael Sonnen and current Middleweight throne-holder Chris Weidman, but it failed to captivate audiences because of the slow pace of the fights. Its fourth installment on FOX was the strongest yet – Mauricio Rua came out on top in a war with Brandon Vera, while Lyoto Machida brutally knocked out Ryan Bader. The Fighters Only "Fight of The Year" award for the year’s best fight was also on that card – Joe Lauzon vs. Jamie Varner -- who put on one hell of a show in a back-and-forth brawl that covered all aspects of the sport.
Two men who have been in many headlining slots over the years, as well as the FOX cards previously mentioned, take the stage for the main event: The UFC’s favorite gangster and best trash talker in the business, Chael Sonnen, who battles former Pride FC 2005 Middleweight Grand Prix Champion Shogun Rua. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira was expected to clash with "Shogun" in a rematch of their epic Pride FC: "Critical Countdown 2005" showdown, but he had to withdraw because of an injury.
Sonnen, the slight favorite in this fight according to the oddsmakers, possesses an advantage based on his wrestling and relentless takedowns; however, Rua’s submission attempts are deadly. If there is any obvious hole in Sonnen’s game, it’s his submission defense -- Sonnen has lost eight bouts out of 13 via submission.
Sonnen utilizes his power well with his strikes; however, Rua’s decorated Muay Thai striking allows him to create better combinations than his opponents. Both men have faced incredibly tough tests in the past and this fight is no different for each of them.
It would not be surprising if the betting lines change to even as the fight approaches.
The co-main event slot features a Heavyweight contest between Alistair Overeem and Travis Browne. Ironically, both men tasted their last defeat at the hands of Antonio Silva and will look to rebound right back into title contention. With a thin crop of contenders in the division, an impressive performance by either man could see a title shot come to fruition.
"The California Kid" Urijah Faber returns after his dominant performance against Scott Jorgensen to meet Yuri Alcantara, a dangerous Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under the guidance of the Marajo Brothers. Faber’s submission game will really be put to the test against the former Jungle Fight Lightweight Champion. Alcantara will want to erase frustrating performances against both Hacran Dias and Pedro Nobre, while Faber looks to close in on his third title shot in the UFC.
John Howard got what he wanted -- a slot on the card in his hometown of Boston. He meets the most feared man to ever compete on TUF, Uriah Hall. Howard returns to the Octagon after a two-year absence, where he captured the CES Middleweight Championship in his time on the regional MMA circuit. Hall returns to the eight-walled cage for a second time after losing to Kelvin Gastelum in TUF 17 Finale.
This fight alone is expected to be one hell of a barnburner.
Other fights on the card include hometown hero Joe Lauzon, who returns to Boston to face TUF alumni Michael Johnson, who is on a two-fight losing streak. Last time Lauzon competed in his home state, he demolished rival Gabe Ruediger in a breathtaking performance.
Brad Pickett, who has earned six additional bonuses for his fights under the UFC and WEC, finds himself pitted against the top Bantamweight prospect in the world, Michael McDonald. Matt Brown’s comeback could be the most inspiring one besides Cub Swanson’s rejuvenation. And with a win over the "gritty" Mike Pyle, he should at least be considered in the mix for the Welterweight strap. Pyle is also on a four-fight win streak, and while his opponent boasts one more victory than him at five, he wouldn’t be a bad choice to include in contender talks either.
The Facebook under card "Prelims" are worthy of a television slot itself, as Cole Miller -- who has three "Submission of the Night" honors to his name in the UFC, looks to reignite the flame that made him so deadly early on in his UFC career when he takes on veteran Manny Gamburyan. "The Anvil" is in dire need of a solid performance, as he is 1-3 in his last four bouts.
Cody Donovan, who has fought for nine different promotions in his 10-fight professional career, is back in the Octagon for the second time when he collides with Ovince St. Preux, who made his mark in the sport by fighting for Strikeforce seven times. Opening up the action on that night will be an intriguing bout between TUF 16 finalist Ramsey Nijem and former TUF contestant James Vick.
Also on the card are three fantastic Featherweight match ups -- WEC veteran Mike Brown takes on Steven Siler, Diego Brandao looks to continue his winning ways against Daniel Pineda and, of course, the gregarious Conor McGregor meets Max Holloway in a pivotal bout sure to produce fireworks.
Indeed, from bottom-to-top -- at least one paper -- UFC Fight Night 26: "Shogun vs. Sonnen" could be the greatest free MMA card of all-time.