Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to TD Bank Garden in Boston, Mass., tomorrow night (Sat., Aug. 17, 2013) for the first time since 2010, featuring a highly anticipated mixed martial arts (MMA) match up between two Light Heavyweight standouts with their respective careers hanging in the balance.
Mauricio Rua will take on Chael Sonnen in the UFC Fight Night 26 main event, which is sure to give us a better standing of where they are both heading in their fighting futures. Both men hold only two victories in their past five outings and will look to bounce back in a huge way. Sonnen is coming off two straight defeats in title fights to Anderson Silva and Jon Jones, while Rua was humbled by Alexander Gustafsson in Dec. 2012 and has not competed since.
A colossal Heavyweight match up is featured in the co-main event as former DREAM and Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem looks to get back into title contention against the resurgent Travis Browne.
With the majority of this card's excitement focused on these two bouts, let us look into the near future and map out what a victory on Saturday night might mean for these four combat sports stars.
Here we go:
In simplest form, Sonnen needs a win to convince the fandom he is still relevant in the sport. Is that a harsh assessment? Perhaps, but Sonnen's last two defeats saw him lose in two straight title bouts (the last which he barely earned) in two different divisions, has lost three out of his past five fights and is an aging fighter with no real distinction of where his career is headed after "Shogun" on Saturday night.
Sonnen has said he's always looking past opponents -- hence his verbal jabs aimed at Wanderlei Silva who he is giving more attention to rather than his opponent. Although Sonnen has trashed just about everyone on the scale from bantamweights to heavyweights in the past, his focus on "The Axe Murderer" raises an interesting question:
If Sonnen loses at UFC Fight Night 26, is he already marketing himself to stay important by building up a fight with Silva and covering his tracks at the same time?
His mouthing off should always be taken with a grain of salt, but a win over the former Pride FC Middleweight Grand Prix winner and former UFC 205-pound champion would be a satisfactory effort to keep the career of the West Linn, Ore., "gangster" intact.
Sonnen could capitalize on Rua's lack of takedown defense and look more impressive that anyone would give him credit for by utilizing the same gameplan over and over again during the course of his time in the UFC. If he beats Rua, he's already booked a match with "The Axe Murderer" in his mind, but that match would eventually happen if he is on the receiving end of a loss as well. Who knows? If he wins, maybe Sonnen's deal would "expire" (like it did with Anderson Silva after UFC 136) and move onto greener pastures (perhaps Vitor Belfort), giving a potential, but for the moment unconvincing, title run one more go.
However, he really needs the victory over Rua for many in the sport to continue to take him seriously.
Mauricio "Shogun" Rua:
Rua's inconsistency as of late has not tarnished his reputation since he is still regarded as one of the better light heavyweights in MMA today. His track record speaks for itself: Lyoto Machida, Chuck Liddell, Alistair Overeem and Quinton Jackson (twice) have all succumbed to the former Chute Boxe great; however, there's a slight chance his time as a legitimate threat to the title may be winding down. In his last outing, he was outmatched by a younger, faster and at times more powerful Gustafsson.
And it forces us to think the changing of the guard in MMA is more true than not.
Although the name "Shogun" is synonymous with intrigue popularity for the average combat sports fan, he still has the widespread appeal to gain attraction in just about any fight he places himself into. His last five wins were a combined mixture of flat knockouts and technical knockouts so he still has the power to finish a fight and get the people talking about him afterward. Being an exciting fighter pays dividends and luckily for "Shogun," he's always been known for his entertaining performances and brutally violent fight style.
A victory over the always-gritty and durable Sonnen would be quite impressive. The Brazilian is marked as the underdog in this fight and would hold a victory over a legitimate opponent who could cause him a lot of trouble on the ground. A win over Sonnen would guarantee "Shogun" another big fight against a credible opponent who may be a Light Heavyweight title challenger, tool. That's the beauty about being Rua -- he only needs one win to turn it around and insert his name on the contenders list.
That being said, if he loses he will need to do a bit of soul searching since he would be 2-4 in his last six bouts and find himself further away from the coveted prize and closer to divisional irrelevance.
Overeem is a combat sports legend, period. Whether he needs to legitimize his legacy with a UFC belt, his past accomplishments should not be overlooked. However, Overeem is in the biggest fight of his life on Saturday night even though he has more than likely had tougher fights and/or more profiled ones, the bold statement is accurate. A modest version of Overeem has arisen leading up to his pre-fight promotion as he "details overcoming past failures by not being depressed and by bettering himself in the future."
That is a positively strong outlook, but Overeem knows the time is ticking for expectations to be met.
Overeem is simply missing a UFC title for him to be the most accomplished Heavyweight in the history of the sport. And a win over Browne would not only favor him to be next in line for a title shot, but would also keep the dream -- and his career -- alive. Although Fabricio Werdum could realistically be the next challenger for the winner of Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos at UFC 166, Overeem can steal the spotlight if he puts on a commendable performance and defeats Browne in emphatic fashion.
His bad blood with dos Santos and a super fight-sized bout with Velasquez could have him leapfrog at the top of the contenders and if Overeem inserts a little bit of trash-talk in his post-fight dialogues, the promotion will not shy away from making the business fight instead of the deserving one.
Hell, we've seen that happen too many times.
A win -- no matter how it comes -- is imperative for Overeem on Saturday night. He needs to continue to ride the hype he had entering the UFC, which had many believing he was the best Heavyweight on the planet until he paid a hefty fine for his arrogance against Antonio Silva and lost via knockout, which also cost him an immediate title shot besides humiliation. His status, not to mention his aura as well, is extremely marketable and the UFC should be content that Overeem has an immense following and still remains a popular bruiser, "gaining much attention with his show, The Reem," as well as his juggernaut frame.
But, Overeem needs to prove to the world that his buildup has not been overzealous these past few years by capitalizing on his latest big UFC chance.
It would be farfetched to assume Travis Browne would get an immediate title shot with his win over Alistair Overeem but depending on how he would dethrone the Dutchman - he would be more than just "in the mix" (as UFC President Dana White likes to say). If Browne could impressively defeat one of the premiere strikers in all of mixed martial arts, his performance would put the division on notice with a close watch.
Browne's record stands at 14-1-1 (including a draw with Cheick Kongo) and the only man he has lost to was the last man to earn a shot at the heavyweight title - Antonio Silva. Keep in mind he had a freak knee injury during the fight, which always needs to be considered as a determining factor since the outcome could have been different. His last performance saw him demolish a seasoned veteran in Gabriel Gonzaga in just over a minute and although there was controversy due to his blows in the back of Gonzaga's head while the Brazilian was crouched down in a world of hurt, the victory stands untouched.
Training in Albuquerque, N,M., with the famed Greg Jackson will led us to believe that Browne will implement a gameplan for Overeem, as most fighters in that camp create gameplans that are accustomed to the specific opponent they are facing. A win over Overeem would be huge since the former K-1 Grand Prix winner is touted as one of the best heavyweights around, but if title talks are set for Browne, it stems a bit of a problem for the UFC.
Company president White has been vocal about Roy Nelson's title aspirations because he says that despite "Old Country" being convinced the UFC will never give him a title shot, White counters by saying he has not beat anyone in the Top 10. Ironically, this is the same scenario for Browne. You would think a win over Stefan Struve or Gabriel Gonzaga would be good enough for recognition, but those men are missing from the official UFC heavyweight rankings as well.
However if Browne beats Overeem, does that earn him a title shot in itself?
Remember that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 26 card this weekend, starring with the Facebook "Prelims," which are scheduled to being at 4 p.m. ET, right on through the FOX Sports-1 televised under card bouts at 6 p.m. ET and then the main card action, which is slated to begin at 8 p.m. ET.
See you tomorrow!