The stage is set for Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) as it returns to Brazil for UFC Fight Night 36: "Machida vs. Mousasi."
The event takes place this Saturday night (Feb. 15, 2014) from Arena Jaragua in Jaragua do Sol, Santa Catarina, Brazil, and both the main and co-main event features two Brazilian fighters on the cusp of their prime, itching for title shots if each of them is able to leave the Octagon victorious.
Former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida (20-4) takes on Gegard Mousasi (34-3-2) in a pivotal main event showdown contested in the middleweight division. It will be Machida's second bout in his new weight class, after dismantling Mark Munoz at UFC Fight Night 30 a few months back in Manchester, England.
Mousasi also makes the drop down from light heavyweight, looking to establish himself as a top contender at 185 pounds.
The co-main event will also take place in that very same division, as Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza (19-3-(1)) dukes it out against Francis "Limitless" Carmont (22-7) in a bout where the winner could also make a claim at earning a title shot if he performs impressively.
With the majority of this card's excitement focused on these two contests, let us look into the near future and map out what a victory on Saturday night might mean for these four athletes.
Here we go:
We've listened to Joe Rogan call Lyoto Machida "elusive" for a few years now, and at first glance, Machida seemed unbeatable.
After we learned "The Dragon" wasn't invincible and could be beat, a lot of observers eluded to his "boring" Karate style, consisting of patient counterstriking instead of making the fight a war. He still remains one of the top fighters on the roster, however, and many casual fans recall his rise to the heap of the light heavyweight division.
All that's missing is consistency.
He's 4-4 in his last eight bouts, including a few decisions that should (or shouldn't) have gone his way, depending on who you're asking. A win over his opponent in the main event all but guarantees a shot at either Chris Weidman or Vitor Belfort toward the end of the year, and it would help his case if he's able to secure a finish.
That would make it a perfect 2-0 at middleweight for "The Dragon," including two brutal finishes.
UFC could likely do a big box office with a championship fight in Brazil, featuring two Brazilians against one another, and Machida could be the perfect draw since one of his dear friends, the injured Anderson Silva, won't be included in those plans at the moment.
This is Mousasi's chance to prove he can hack it in UFC against the toughest competition they have to offer.
Had it been three or four years ago, Mousasi could have been a UFC champion, watching him impressively tear through the opposition in Japan and Strikeforce. It's not too late for the Armenian to achieve that goal because he's a young fighter who is still developing and may have his best years ahead of him.
It's important for Mousasi to defeat Machida in order for him to establish his presence at middleweight. "The Dreamcatcher" doesn't have the same amount of marketability invested in him compared to his opponent, and he wasn't a former UFC champion, either. Maybe that's why Mousasi isn't guaranteed a title shot with a win, unlike his main event partner.
However, a win over "The Dragon" would speak volumes and further help his chances at reaching the top of the division.
A win does guarantee a better ranking for Mousasi, based on philosophy instead of a numbered system. His victory over Ilir Latifi last year at UFC on FUEL TV 9 didn't tell us much about his capabilities inside the Octagon, and now he has a chance to show us what he's got.
We've witnessed superb performances in the past from "The Armenian Assassin," and he needs one in Brazil for us to believe he has what it takes to make waves on the grandest stage of them all.
"Jacare" has been on a mean streak as of late, quickly whooping Yushin Okami and Chris Camozzi in his two UFC bouts.
At 34 years old, Souza has faced some stiff competition over the years, but with the majority of his fights taking place in Brazil and Japan, the competition hasn't been on par with what you're going to get in UFC.
His fights in Strikeforce definitely helped introduce him to North American audiences, and wins against Matt Lindland, Tim Kennedy and Robbie Lawler were enough to award him the Strikeforce middleweight championship.
Fast forward three years later, and "Jacare" has amassed an impressive five stoppage wins since losing his title to Luke Rockhold; and he's never had the same amount of hype behind him as he does now.
A win over Carmont should lead to a title shot, depending on how he gets the job done. A boring contest won't help his chances, but a lopsided one certainly would. If "Jacare" storms through Carmont, the bosses will have to sit down and see if Souza gets the title fight over Machida.
It may not be the most popular option among casual fans, yet it could be the right decision based on recent form.
If "Jacare" finishes another opponent, he deserves to be next in line.
Having not lost since 2008 and racking up 11 wins in the process, this is Carmont's toughest fight to date and by the same token, the most important one of his career.
His UFC wins against Tom Lawlor and Lorenz Larkin were a little controversial, and decisions such as those can't happen this weekend if Carmont has his hand raised. If he wants to make a statement, it needs to be clean... and exciting, too.
Relishing the role as the underdog, Carmont doesn't have too much on the line if he can't get the win in Brazil. Despite being 32 years old, he still has a few years of fighting left in him, and a couple of wins should get him back on track. It's not like the promotion is handing him a title shot on a silver platter with a win.
With that being said, it's the perfect opportunity for Carmont to take out a worthy title contender in Souza, and steal his spotlight in the division.
As his nickname suggests, Carmont's opportunities would be limitless.
There you have it.
MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 36 fight card on fight night (Feb. 15, 2014), starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" at 7 p.m. ET, right on through the FOX Sports 1-televised main card bouts at 10:30 p.m. ET.
For the latest UFC Fight Night 36: "Machida vs. Mousasi" be sure to check out our preview stream here.