UFC 164 preview: Five Burning Questions going into 'Henderson vs Pettis 2' in Milwaukee

Esther Lin for MMA Fighting

Before every fight card, mixed martial arts (MMA) fans toggle between possible scenarios and what to expect days before it all unfolds in front of their eyes. Probable outcomes, distinguishable facts and head-scratching theories are all apart of the mystique that surrounds the fights on any given night. We ask ourselves the same questions … and try to come out with different answers.

UFC 164 takes place this Saturday night (Aug. 31, 2013) when Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) visits BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisc., with its latest pay-per-view (PPV) offering that features another highly anticipated rematch in the main event.

The second meeting between Ben Henderson and Anthony Pettis for the Lightweight championship was made official when T.J. Grant had to drop out because of injury. The pair met at World Extreme Cagefighting's swan song, WEC 53, in a fight for the ages with Pettis edging the current champion for the WEC 155-pound strap.

And he also hit that famous "Showtime Kick" heard around the world.

Also on this card is a co-main event with trash-talk living up to the billing, as two former Heavyweight champions square off to determine who can make one last title run in their respective careers. Frank Mir, now training under Greg Jackson, will welcome back "The Warmaster" Josh Barnett as he makes his first Octagon appearance in more than 11 years.

Also on the PPV main card is another Heavyweight fight between Brandon Vera and Ben Rothwell, alongside two Featherweight bouts as Chad Mendes takes on Clay Guida and Erik Koch battles Dustin Poirier.

Several interesting storylines, including another title fight rematch, second-generation fighters and heavyweights with uncertain futures are all on the radar, as we take a look at "Five Burning Questions" heading into UFC 164 this Saturday night in Milwaukee.

Drum roll please ...

5. Can Ryan Couture step out of his father's shadow?

Ryan Couture was built up correctly on the Strikeforce: "Challengers" cards as an up-and -coming Lightweight with a famous last name. Being the son of former UFC Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight champion Randy Couture, that position alone helped him get recognition across the sport. And once he transferred into the bigger picture in Strikeforce, he compiled four-straight with wins over K.J. Noons, Joe Duarte and Conor Heun.

Ross Pearson, who scored a second-round technical knockout victory against Couture, beat him in his Octagon debut in Sweden earlier this spring, and the 30-year-old Xtreme Couture product needs to show that he belongs in the top organization with a win on Saturday night.

Although company president Dana White has no problems with Ryan, he felt betrayed by Randy and will not allow him to corner his son in the UFC. How much does that hurt Ryan, who has had his father in his corner for his past fights and could get something more out of having a family member giving him advice? Although we have experienced and lived through Randy's storied career, we have not yet seen the full potential of his son. A win over Noons is always positive for your record, but that win was not convincing and many felt that could have gone either way ... if not gearing more toward Noons than Couture.

Couture must put on a solid performance against Al Iaquinta, (who replaces original opponent Quinn Mulhern) proving that a strong showing has his future is place with the UFC. If Couture loses, he would have two straight Octagon losses and would be 6-3; however, depending on how he goes out, the UFC could find it in its best interest to cut ties with the Washington native, hence making the possibilities of joining his father at Bellator even greater.

4. Could another Featherweight contender emerge after Saturday?

The 145-pound division is extremely enjoyable to watch from the outside looking in, with countless contenders waiting for a chance at the unstoppable Jose Aldo. Thoroughly deserving Ricardo Lamas keeps on making a strong case for the next shot and continues to get skipped; Cub Swanson's inspiring rejuvenation has him riding a five-fight win streak and he would definitely like a rematch with Aldo; Frankie Edgar gave "Scarface" the toughest test of his championship reign and is always going to have his name attached to the contender's list as long as he keeps winning; and finally, Conor McGregor proved just over a week ago that he may not be ready for a championship fight, but he is posed for a breakout.

There is also Chad Mendes, who despite losing to Aldo at UFC 142, has become one of the best Featherweights in the world over the past few years. Since suffering his only loss of his career to the champion in early 2012, he has three-consecutive stoppages due to strikes with a combined amount of cage time clocking in at less than three minutes. His sheer power displayed in both his wrestling and his stand up makes the young Alpha Male-trained product's style reminiscent of a miniature Matt Hughes.

And he is only getting stronger.

With a win on Saturday night, it is possible that Mendes could receive another crack at Aldo. In his way is another possible contender, Clay Guida. "The Carpenter" only has one win in the division, and it was an ugly one against Hatsu Hioki. It is almost a guarantee that he will not get a title shot even if he beats Mendes, but it would increase his chances of being noticed and if he books a fight with someone like Lamas or Swanson afterward, there is a good chance the promotion gives him his first title shot if he continues to win.

There will also be another Featherweight bout rounding up the event, with two budding prospects opening up the main card portion on PPV. "New Breed" and "Diamond" will both look to shake off the cobwebs, each coming off a loss. Koch was destined to fight for the title, but Lamas sent him packing with a brutal finish, leapfrogging him in the standings. Poirier had his chance to fight for the title as well, but ultimately came up short against "The Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung.

3. Will Brandon Vera drift off into obscurity with a loss?

Vera was supposed to be a dual-weight class champion, winning both the Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight titles as a virtually unstoppable "Next Big Thing." That is, according to Vera himself. Although he has not come close to any of those estimations, and with all due respect to "The Truth," he's looked more like the exact opposite since he made those outrageous remarks a few years ago.

Since his win over Frank Mir at UFC 65 back in 2006, Vera has lost every big fight he has had, and if there was any way to make a statement by stamping it with a victory over the likes of Tim Sylvia, Fabricio Werdum, Keith Jardine and Randy Couture, that was his chance. His lopsided loss to Jon Jones proved costly for the possibility of regaining his confidence, but his release from the UFC was overturned when Thiago Silva's win was reversed to a "No Contest" after a failed drug test. His last performance was a gusty one against Mauricio Rua, but he was stopped in the fourth round.

That fight was more than one year ago. Will a year-long layoff hurt "The Truth?" If Vera cannot pull it together on Saturday night, he may be forgotten about sooner than expected. Vera never was able to convince anyone that he would be the next big thing in mixed martial arts (MMA), perhaps not even himself.

Vera returns to the Heavyweight division to face Ben Rothwell. And if Vera cannot find a way to win on Saturday night, his career may not be over, but his status as a world-class mixed martial artist may lose significant ground. Vera should anticipate a new beginning, but he needs to be realistic about his chances and approach this fight -- and every other fight that follows -- one step at a time.

2. Will we see a former Heavyweight champion's time run out?

Frank Mir and Josh Barnett are at the exact same place in their careers right now. Regardless if Mir has been competing at a higher level and had more success doing so, both veterans are at a point where age may be catching up to them and the changing of the guard may prove their time could be winding down. Both Mir and Barnett are extremely skilled veterans, but they need to show the world they still belong in the upper echelon of the Heavyweight division.

Mir has provided us with bone-chilling assessments of himself, and he has been very honest on his position. He has the abilities to contend for the title again, but his last loss against the rising Daniel Cormier showed us a more fatigued and outworked Mir, who needs to search deeply for something inside that could help him overcome those issues.

Barnett's free agency hoopla was met with expectations that he was going to sign with the UFC and the fact that the company chased him means it still values "The Warmaster" as a worthy competitor to have on the roster. It was also Cormier who out-muscled him under the Strikeforce banner in his latest and despite winning eight fights before that, the opposition was not exactly UFC caliber (with the exception of maybe Sergei Kharitonov).

Keep in mind Barnett was supposed to be arguably the best Heavyweight who would ever live had he not been stripped of his title after he beat Couture at UFC 36 more than 10 years ago. Although Barnett feels he may have never lost that title, he has lost a bit of his vitality over the years.

Both men absolutely need a victory if they ever want to challenge for the UFC's Heavyweight championship again. It's not that the fans do not want to see them fight for the title, but if they already lost to shaper and more agile opposition not too long ago, a defeat for one of these athletes may signal the end of better times.

The question is which fighter will it be?


1. Can Ben Henderson avenge his last loss to Anthony Pettis?

Ben Henderson is the best Lightweight on the planet, and although he usually finds himself in close fights, he earned that tag because of his consistent performances and his ability to win time after time. Besides the close calls the judges did (or did not) make, Henderson should still be considered the man to beat and he deserves every bit of praise for being the champion and defending the title three times in less than one year.

However, there is something that keeps "Bendo" up at night. Since his inclusion in WEC to his recent time in the UFC, Henderson has lost one fight out of 13. At WEC 53 in late Dec. 2010, Henderson had the chance to be its last 155-pound champion in history, but Anthony Pettis took that away from him. Not only did Pettis win that fight, he landed something nobody has ever seen before in the history of the sport:

"The Showtime Kick."

Pettis did more to "Bendo" in that fight that just jump off the fence of the cage with one leg and clock Henderson flush on the chin with the other -- he caught Henderson off-guard was an abundance of strikes and survived a rear-naked choke that seemed destined to finish the fight. Pettis was able to drop Henderson and take him down -- two things we have not seen many people do to the champion. The fact that Pettis already has a win over the champion is more than just a psychological edge. Pettis has stopped Donald Cerrone and Joe Lauzon in his last two, which are fighters who are pretty difficult to finish.

Henderson would want nothing more than to erase that loss from his memory. It is his only defeat besides one he suffered to Rocky Johnson in his third professional fight more than six years ago. And if he could wipe that stain off his record, Henderson would establish himself as one of the best fighters on the planet. He would be almost untouchable and if he were to welcome new opposition after a win over Pettis, they would have to be intensely sharp and provide something great to dethrone the champion.

Even if the Edgar and Gilbert Melendez decisions were close, "Bendo" still came out of those fights as the champion and deserves the respect. However, Pettis has figured out the champion before and although "Bendo" could be a different kind of animal these days, Pettis knows what it takes and he could find it within himself to do it again. It makes it that much harder for Henderson since Pettis will have the home-crowd advantage, with this fight taking place in Pettis' hometown of Milwaukee.

If Pettis can get the victory and crown himself as the new champion on Saturday night, will the Lightweight division get yet another immediate rematch, setting up a trilogy fight between these two?

That's another "Burning" question for a different day ... maybe.

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