Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to South America with UFC Fight Night 36: "Machida vs. Mousasi" this Saturday night (Feb. 15, 2014), invading Arena Jaragua in Santa Catarina, Brazil.
The main- and co-main events will both be contested in the Middleweight division, with each of the four athletes involved looking to make a statement in terms of title contention.
The main event features both "The Dragon" and "The Dreamcatcher," as Lyoto Machida looks to make it 2-0 at 185 pounds when he takes on Gegard Mousasi, who has not competed inside the Octagon since April 2013.
Another interesting tilt takes place in the co-main event, as Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza will try his best to stay undefeated in UFC against Francis "Limitless" Carmont, who has six wins in the promotion and hasn't tasted defeat since 2008.
Apart from there being a handful of other notable fights worth checking out, there are several interesting story lines heading into Santa Catarina.
Check out "Five Burning Questions" heading into these fights in Brazil this weekend:
5) Is it the last chance for both Erick Silva and Charles Oliveira to prove their worth as prospects?
Brazilian fighters Erick Silva and Charles Oliveira began their respective UFC careers outstandingly, both needing only 40 or so seconds to dismantle their opponents.
It seemed as if we were looking at the future players of the sport excel so quickly, and we assumed that they would be major forces in their respective divisions.
A few years after their arrivals, both Silva and Oliveira are slumping, with Silva only notching two fights out of his past five and Oliveira trying to shake off a two-fight losing streak (including missing weight for one of those losses).
Both Brazilians are very young and the chance for both to redeem themselves in their native land will be a huge opportunity. Silva will need to look good against promotional newcomer Takenori Sato to find a place in a crowded Welterweight division, while Oliveira needs a win badly against Andy Ogle to shake off the cobwebs.
If either of these combatants fails to win on Saturday night, can they still be deemed as prospects or just young fighters with a lot to learn?
4) Would these specific "Fight Night: Brazil" events be better if they were promoted differently?
The running joke that stems from these Brazilian "Fight Night" cards is that they are more or less a nuisance to have to keep up with, from both the media that covers the sport and the fans who dedicate roughly six hours of their time to watch the entire show.
What if these cards were promoted differently?
Remember those Strikeforce events that were labeled as "Challengers" series, where we would have several up-and-coming fighters on the bill, backed up by a main event with rising superstars and familiar names?
What's the difference here, exactly?
Whether UFC wants to admit it or not, it is turning into a development league, with fighters such as Jesse Ronson, Ivan Jorge, Douglas Silva de Andrade and Albert Tumenov on this particular billing.
It's just a thought -- or more so a recommendation -- to fix the problem we have to deal with these days. It's not so much oversaturation, but the willingness to keep ourselves engaged in these fights, and figure out the reason anything other then the main- or co-main events matter if we are bombarded with so many meaningless scraps in such little time.
3) If "Jacare" defeats Carmont, then what happens?
This will be the third fight for "Jacare" in UFC, and if this one looks anything close to his previous two outings, we may have a true No. 1 contender in the Middleweight division after Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort settle their score.
However, this may be problematic considering Machida's proposed title shot if he wins in the main event (more on that below).
"Jacare" has not lost since 2011, forfeiting his Strikeforce Middleweight championship to Luke Rockhold almost three years ago. To say he's a different fighter would be an understatement. And if he keeps on looking lethal inside the Octagon, a title shot should be warranted.
It all depends on how "Jacare" defeats Carmont (that is, if he defeats him, obviously). If the bout materializes as slow, uneventful or closely contested, this discussion would be worthless.
However, if Souza storms out like a man possessed and impresses the observers, will the boss change his tune?
2) How good will Mousasi look in his true debut?
"The Dreamcatcher" that we are familiar with was doing most of his damage over in Japan (fighting for DREAM, PRIDE FC and K-1) and Strikeforce years ago, where he captured Light Heavyweight and Middleweight championships.
We didn't get to know Mousasi that well outside of fighting since he isn't one who trades verbal jabs or speaks loudly about his accomplishments. He simply punches in the card when he shows up for work ... and punches out when he's done.
Mousasi's future with the promotion would have looked much clearer if Alexander Gustafsson didn't suffer a cut in training, prohibiting both competitors to lock horns at UFC on Fuel TV 9 last year. A win over replacement opponent Ilir Latifi was more or less guaranteed, and we still need to ask ourselves where Mousasi fits in UFC and what he is capable of.
Both Mousasi and his opponent, Machida, have made moves down to Middleweight, and we'll finally get to see Mousasi make his true debut. Not because the fight with Latifi didn't count, but because Mousasi deserved a huge fight the moment he signed on the dotted line because of his track record. The only problem for him is that it's been a while since he's competed in the Octagon.
And that could be a factor.
Although, if he wins (and depending on how he would do so), will it be enough to convince his bosses he is ready for a title shot, even after they ruled out his chance?
1) Will an immediate title shot justifiable for Machida if he wins?
You could say "The Dragon" is never far away from "The Faber Situation," where he's always one win away from a title shot and gets them more often then not, but Machida is very different when it comes to sizing him up against his divisional counterparts.
He's looked great in his lone Middleweight bout, dismantling his friend Mark Munoz a few months back, but it's not like "The Dragon" is tearing through the opposition at ease anymore. He's even (4-4) in his last eight bouts since losing the Light Heavyweight title to Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 113 in 2010.
And say what you will about some of those losses (more specifically, Phil Davis at UFC 163), but a loss is a loss. So, what gives?
If Machida completely demolishes Mousasi this weekend, his title shot would be understandable. However, what if he doesn't look spectacular, but decent? What if "Jacare" brings forth a superb performance?
Hell, what if Carmont breezes past Souza? There are many options in this suddenly blooming Middleweight division; therefore, Machida needs to look more than just impressive.
It just won't be enough if he bores us with a familiar counter striking performance en route to a decision win.
Or, will it?
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