It's almost time for Ultimate Fighting Championship's (UFC) annual Super Bowl card ... and it packed the pay-per-view (PPV) main card with two title fights well worth talking about.
UFC 169: "Barao vs. Faber 2," which takes place at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., this Saturday night (Feb. 1, 2014), will showcase UFC Bantamweight Champion Renan Barao, who was awarded the tag after his original opponent, Dominick Cruz, was forced off the card because of another injury in training. Barao now defends his title against a familiar foe, former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) featherweight champion Urijah Faber.
In the co-main event, "Scarface" makes his return to action in search of his sixth successful title defense. Jose Aldo will look to make the case that he is the best fighter on the planet when he takes on Ricardo Lamas, who has waited quite a while for a shot he thinks he has deserved long ago.
With the majority of this card's excitement focused on these two bouts (alongside an important heavyweight tilt) let us look into deeper into the chances of these four fighters and figure out what a victory -- or a loss -- might mean for them in Newark this upcoming weekend.
Looking for his third successful title defense on Saturday, Barao could also win his 32nd straight MMA fight against Faber, a feat that is absolutely mind-blowing.
Having not lost since his professional debut in 2005, to have Barao jump someone like Jon Jones or his Brazilian counterpart, Jose Aldo, in the pound-for-pound rankings, could be a little premature.
However, he would not be far off, either.
Barao is now the official UFC Bantamweight champion, washing away the interim tag because Cruz can't seem to saty healthy. And a second win over Faber -- who is most likely more difficult to handle since their initial meeting at UFC 149 -- would speak volumes.
This is Barao's chance to break into top pound-for-pound debate. Indeed, iif he finishes Faber on Saturday, we may be looking at a champion who could be enduring a period of invincibility for the near future.
The head honcho of Team Alpha Male (alongside coach Duane Ludwig) has been in these types of situations before -- title shots are definitely nothing new to "The California Kid."
With that being said, the situation is a little different this time around. The pressure is on for Faber, who has not won a title in UFC yet, and taking this fight on just a few weeks notice against an opponent who beat him decisively not too long ago could be costly for the fan favorite.
Faber gets a lot of heat for getting multiple title shots, but the truth is, he batters everyone else in the division en route to his constant shots. In fact, the five losses on his Zuffa resume are all unsuccessful claims at winning gold, while not losing one fight that did not have a title on the line.
Winner of four straight in 2013, Faber's place is deserving against Barao. But, on the flip side, if he fails to capture the gold this weekend, what is left for Faber to accomplish? At 34 years old, does he continue to beat up everyone else in the division and make the claim for a fourth title shot down the line?
It appears to be a "do-or-die," Rich Franklin-esque kind of situation.
With the absences of Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre, Aldo has a chance to emerge as one of the promotion's most marketable stars in 2014 and beyond.
"Scarface" has looked great in UFC, and despite slowing down in the later rounds of a few fights, he has beaten the best in his division. In fact, he has more or less cleaned it out, compelling UFC President Dana White to float the "super fight" scenario with Lightweight champion Anthony Pettis.
This is Aldo's eighth championship fight since beating Mike Brown in the WEC in 2009. And to say he's looked flawless since then would be wrong; however, he has pretty much climbed all the obstacles needed to be a dominant champion.
With a win, Aldo most likely sets a 155-pound course, having defeated all top contenders and looking to join the short list of luminaries who have won titles in multiple divisions (B.J. Penn, Randy Couture). Perhaps a rematch with Chad Mendes and/or Cub Swanson would ultimately surface next, but UFC learned it's lesson about waiting too long to pull the trigger on rare "super fights."
For starters, this would be a massive upset. Some feel that the co-main event is a pick ‘em fight, but Lamas is a significant underdog to "Scarface," despite having the tools to make this a competitive fight.
"The Bully" has four straight UFC wins over quality opponents such as Cub Swanson, Hatsu Hioki and Erik Koch, and he has three finishes in those four contests. Besides his setbacks in WEC, Lamas has improved greatly, and he's got power in his fists, and not to mention, a dangerous ground game, too.
If Lamas beats Aldo, there could be an immediate rematch on the near future (as we saw with Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva), no matter how the fight should end. Aldo has been tearing through his opposition, and a rematch would be too easy to book somewhere in Brazil or even in next year's annual trip to Chicago -- the town where Lamas is from.
With that being said, not only would it be the biggest victory of Lamas' career, but it would also be one of the biggest upsets in the company's history.
For more on the upcoming UFC 169: "Barao vs. Faber 2" event be sure to check out our complete event archive right here.