UFC Fight Night 39 preview: Five burning questions going into 'Nogueira vs Nelson' in Abu Dhabi


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 part of the mystique that surrounds the fights on any given night. We ask ourselves the same questions … and try to uncover different answers.

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to Abu Dhabi with a colossal heavyweight main event, alongside a main card that has its ups and downs.

UFC Fight Night 39: "Nogueira vs. Nelson" takes place this Friday (April 11, 2014) at Du Arena on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, invading the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with an early afternoon of mixed martial arts (MMA) action. It's the second time the promotion visits the capital, returning for the first time since UFC 112.

In the main event, Brazilian legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira tries to find some consistency against the fan favorite Roy Nelson, in a heavyweight bout sure to entertain the masses.

"Minotauro" is 5-4 in the promotion and has only won two-straight inside the Octagon when he debuted in 2007. His opponent is currently on a two-fight losing streak, but has yet to be finished in UFC.

The co-main event should be a featherweight cracker, pitting Clay Guida against Tatsuya Kawajiri. Guida tries to shake off his last loss to Chad Mendes at UFC 164, while his Japanese counterpart aims for a sixth consecutive victory.

Check out our "Five Burning Questions" heading into the fights in Abu Dhabi:

5. Why did UFC shy away from stacking the card in a return trip to Abu Dhabi?

There's no proof an event is going to suck before it even happens. We've already seen mediocre cards on paper become highly entertaining once the competitors enter the cage and treat us with performances to remember.

Not including the main and co-main events, the main card is a bit ho-hum, featuring John Howard against Ryan LaFlare, alongside Ramsey Nijem against Beneil Dariush -- the type of fight you'd expect opening a "prelims" broadcast at 5:30 p.m. ET in the afternoon.

After the main event atrocity back in 2010 at UFC 112, where Anderson Silva hinted at being borderline unsound, Abu Dhabi is one of those places you visit once in a blue moon. So why not stack up the card with barnburners and modern day warfare?

You'd think the people of the capital deserve it, but it's just not the case here.

4. Would UFC ever cut Clay Guida?

The UFC model is a tricky one to understand, as its fans (and owners) are hellbent on excitement. Sadly, this "sport" is anything but, when you think about the world-class athletes that have been cut after one or two losses.

UFC head honcho Dana White has been vocal in the past about never cutting Guida, because the UFC's resident caveman brings it every time he steps inside the cage and that he would always have a job with the promotion because of the way he fights.

Yet, does excitement overweigh the true nature of how competition works?

"The Carpenter" has won just once in his past four contests -- similar to the worst stretch of his career in 2007. He's coming off a knockout loss against Mendes and his win over Hatsu Hioki was the wrong decision. Combine those two fights with his atrocious display of stick-and-poke against Gray Maynard, you'd think if he loses this one, he's going to be told to pack up his personal belongings.

But, we're in an age when the promotion would rather see you take brutal head shots your entire career than muster up a winning streak in boring fashion.

You be the judge.

3. What's in store for Tatsuya Kawajiri if he wins?

Seeing Kawajiri in UFC is still a bit surreal for some diehard fans. After competing for ONE FC and DREAM in 2012, he got the call up he definitely deserved, but it felt long overdue -- and slightly dubious.

We received an indication of his skills against Sean Soriano, as he submitted the young fighter in his debut and treated the audience to a post-fight interview which reaffirmed he could be one to watch as time moves forward.

At 35 years old, it's tough to assess what could be in store for "Crusher" if he beats Guida this Friday. While it's too soon to call for title shots or title eliminator bouts, there's a possibility he racks up his seventh-straight victory, moving to 2-0 inside the Octagon with something to prove.

It's wishful thinking, however, if "The Bodybox" finishes a durable opponent such as "The Carpenter," it would be time for Kawajiri to pick up the phone, call matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby, and tell them he's ready for the top guys in the featherweight division -- the type of guys who could lead him to challenging for gold.

2. Does Roy Nelson need to win every one of his fights to stay employed?

If you don't know by now, Nelson is a 37-year-old, shaggy but robust heavyweight whose cult following is one of the most powerful in all of the sport. He's got a granite chin, dynamite in his fists, and a stomach you don't obtain by eating broccoli for the majority of the year.

Although, "Big Country" is definitely trying to play the game, trimming down in weight and also doing his best to acquire sponsors. That being said, he's never been one of White's most favorite fighters to talk about -- and the boss may have crossed the line in some of his assessments.

He's now on a two-fight losing streak courtesy of Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier -- two fighters on the rise who looked nowhere near troubled against the portly slugger.

To say someone needs to win because his job on the line is one thing, but to think Nelson's job is always on the line could be possible, too.

1. Is this Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira's last stand?

I can't stress enough how important "Big Nog" has been to the sport, including his superhero status in Japan and his God-like stature in his native Brazil. He's held major championships in UFC, PRIDE, and pretty much cemented his status as one of the most devastating jiu-jitsu practitioners in the world (not to mention leading a world class fight team).

Having said that, his loss against Fabricio Werdum in Brazil at UFC on Fuel TV 10 last summer was an indication Nogueira could be bested in his own game, even if it was at the hands of someone who could be the best ground fighter in the world.

"Minotauro" hasn't won two fights back-to-back in roughly six years, besides winning the UFC heavyweight belt in 2008. His last three victories were over Dave Herman, Brendan Schaub and Randy Couture. Despite those victories being memorable for the incomparable fighter, he's been brutally finished in his last four.

Frank Mir broke his arm, his head was nearly sent into the ninth row by Cain Velasquez, and he lost a chess match to Werdum.

When will the chapter close on Nogueira's career?

If he beats Nelson, the story can continue, although the crusade will be unclear for our protagonist. If Nelson beats Nogueira handily, what else is left for the heavyweight to do in the sport? Will he walk away, continue against lesser opponents, or be forced to take some time off?

We will soon find out.

Check out the finalized UFC Fight Night 39: "Nogueira vs. Nelson" fight card right here.

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