Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) takes over the United Center in Chicago, Illinois, for UFC on FOX 10: "Henderson vs. Thomson," which takes place this Saturday night (Jan. 25, 2014) on free television.
Watch the UFC on FOX 10 "Road to the Octagon" preview here.
After his title fight against Anthony Pettis did not materialize, Josh Thomson now meets Ben Henderson in the main event. With plenty riding on the line for both, the winner seems destined for another crack at the gold with an impressive showing.
The co-main event features a barnburner between former UFC title challenger Gabriel Gonzaga and top heavyweight up-and-comer Stipe Miocic, who is 10-1 in his professional mixed martial arts (MMA) career.
The event will also be the first FOX broadcast of 2014, minus the FOX Sports 1 (FS1) card which took place a week ago in Georgia.
Here are five burning questions heading into the "Windy City" extravaganza:
5. Will the ratings for UFC on FOX ameliorate this year?
The UFC has a seven-year deal with the broadcast juggernaut, and the plans were for this sport to take over the mainstream one event at a time.
So far, that may not be the case, since the core MMA fans are likely the ones frequently tuning in.
The last event to take place on the channel, UFC on FOX 9: "Johnson vs. Benavidez," drew a rating of around 2.8 million viewers. Not a bad number, but it was the lowest rating drawn for an event that took place during the American football season.
That particular event suffered in terms of numbers compared to both UFC on FOX 6 and UFC on FOX 8, and besides Demetrious Johnson being the face of the network as we speak, the promotion may want to consider adding more star power (household names that appeal to the casual fan) to the cards -- especially with all the complaints about foreign cards and oversaturation when it comes to the "Fight Night" events.
Either way, it's a fresh year, and with that comes a fresh new outlook. The seven-year deal is nowhere near a failure, but it may prove alarming to the UFC brass if the numbers do not improve.
4. Will "Cowboy" ditch a move to featherweight if he is victorious?
Donald Cerrone has been at it for a while now, and despite his exciting fighting style, there is something missing in the display shelf back at the ranch. Namely, a championship belt from both UFC and WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting).
Cerrone may be the favorite to beat Adriano Martins this upcoming weekend; however, as we have seen before in his scraps with Nate Diaz and Rafael dos Anjos, betting lines mean nothing once the competitors step inside the Octagon.
"Cowboy" has expressed his desire to move down to the featherweight division, citing weight cut as the primary reason for his relocation. Sometimes, though, it is better for a fighter to stay in his proper division if he can rack up a few wins.
And his boss isn't exactly on board.
Cerrone only has two wins out of his last four, but as a whole, his UFC record is 8-3, so "Cowboy" is always someone that could be considered "in the mix" when he shows up.
We have seen fighters hop from division to division before, although if Cerrone outlasts Martins at UFC on FOX 10, he may want to stick around the 155-pound division for a while to see how things materialize. It's a pretty stacked house, though, and maybe that could be an underlying reason as to why "Cowboy" wants to try his luck at 145 pounds.
3. Can Gabriel Gonzaga work his way back up to a second UFC title shot in 2014?
Observers seem to find it odd (and also comforting) that someone like Robbie Lawler, a slugger who was dazzling crowds when the sport was just getting off its feet, has worked his way back to being considered one of the top welterweights in the world by earning himself a title shot.
It would be even more puzzling to think someone like Gabriel Gonzaga could do the same thing. However, truth be told, if "Napao" overcomes Stipe Miocic this upcoming weekend, we may see a similar treatment further down the line.
Still, Gonzaga would have more work to do in a heavyweight division that is a little short of contenders right now. Especially with the top two seeds in the division -- Travis Browne and Fabricio Werdum -- battling in a few months to cancel the other one out.
Maybe some feel Gonzaga needs to prove more, having only won two straight bouts since his loss to Browne at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 17 Finale a year ago. Examining Gonzaga's track record, the Brazilian has never gone to a decision when winning a fight, and has four stoppages since being invited back to the UFC two years ago.
If Gonzaga can stop Miocic, not only does he acquire his seventeenth career win, he also makes a case for a top-five ranking in the division, almost seven years after his championship title loss to Randy Couture at UFC 74.
2. How costly will a loss be for "The Punk?"
Speaking about rejuvenation, Josh Thomson is having one as well.
"The Punk" has fought for notable promotions such as Strikeforce, K-1, and PRIDE FC over his 13-year career, and the most important fight of his life is this weekend against Henderson.
With Thomson lined up to face Anthony Pettis at UFC on FOX 9 as a replacement for TJ Grant, "The Punk" decided to fight Ben Henderson instead of waiting on the sidelines after Pettis' withdrawal, and that is a bold move. It is also one that puts him in the good graces of his employer; however, it could shatter any hopes of another title shot if Thomson falls short against "Smooth."
To begin with, Thomson's recent record of 2-2 over the course of two years is a little worrisome, in terms of him earning a title shot. Although, stopping Nate Diaz at UFC on FOX 7 could have gotten him the ticket since the Stockton fighter had never been finished by strikes before in his career.
We have seen title shots slip away for eager combatants who opt for a fight after being declared the next challenger. However, if Thomson can beat Henderson on Saturday night, there is no doubt that he is the next challenger to Pettis' belt, no matter how long it takes for the fight to materialize.
1. How far away from a title shot is Ben Henderson with a win over Thomson?
When Ben Henderson held the lightweight title for roughly one and a half years, his pound-for-pound ranking was inevitable. He was the prime example of the new breed of mixed martial artist; a wrestler who has black belts in both jiu-jitsu and taekwondo, not to mention stand-up skills that are some of the best at 155 pounds.
A common argument is that Henderson did not dominate his opponents in all of his championship bouts.
Apart from the drubbing he delivered to Nate Diaz at UFC on FOX 5, his championship victory over Frankie Edgar at UFC 144 in Japan was questionable, and even more questionable was his second win over "The Answer" at UFC 150. To make matters worse, his fight against Gilbert Melendez at UFC on FOX 7 was so close, that fans broke down the dynamics of the fight, round by round, and chose sides as to who deserved the win.
Apart from those victories, there is no denying Henderson is one of the best fighters in the world, having suffered close calls or not. With that being said, will a win over Josh Thomson earn Henderson an immediate title shot, especially with the history he has against Anthony Pettis?
Thomson was supposed to get the next crack at Pettis; however, when the champion suffered an injury, Thomson opted to face a former titleholder to prove his worth. Can "Bendo" steal Thomson's thunder and put himself at the front of the line, or is there another battle he must conquer before stepping up to the plate?
Time will tell.
For the finalized UFC on FOX 10: "Henderson vs. Thomson" fight card click here.