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UFC 136: Gray Maynard, Kenny Florian, and Chael Sonnen are in 'do or die' situations

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Photo via <a href="http://blog.chron.com/fighting/files/legacy/ufcbelt.jpg">Houston Chronicle</a>
Photo via Houston Chronicle

Bruce Buffer announced the third judge's score as 47-47. 10 months later, UFC President Dana White said that regardless of the outcome of the UFC 136 main event, a fourth bout between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard would not be considered.

The 155-pound division was cut down the middle twice by The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 1 runner-up Kenny Florian but he came up short when he stepped inside the Octagon opposite Sean Sherk. The announcement of the three judges' scores echoed in "KenFlo's" three taps when B.J. Penn wrapped his arm around the challenger's neck. Two opportunities to become a champion, two times Florian left the Octagon empty-handed.

Having spent 22 minutes brutalizing and dominating middleweight champ Anderson Silva, Chael Sonnen found himself on the verge of accomplishing what many thought would never happen. A triangle choke led to the end of the bout and a loss while a highly suspect testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) regimen led to a suspension for the Republican wrestler.

These three men -- Maynard, Florian, and Sonnen -- all took different routes to get to tomorrow's (Oct. 8) event, but a loss for any of them amounts to the same fate. 

Each faces the same ultimatum: win or risk never getting a title shot again.

"The Bully" spent over three years toiling away and had to earn eight wins before getting a title shot against a man he had already beaten. This was likely because his dominant, stifling style likely didn't earn him fans in the UFC office. While Maynard's rival Edgar wasn't known as a finishing machine himself, the New Jersey-native still managed to thrill fans when he stepped inside the Octagon.

A lot of those fans labeled Maynard a stereotypical wrestler and at worst, a blanket. He became the Jon Fitch of the 155-pound division: no one seemed able to stop him but despite continuing to win, a swelling of fan support never came.

Florian --having spent his season on TUF as a middleweight -- quickly dropped to 170-pounds and then finally settled at lightweight. Well-spoken, well-known, and well-trained, he was the perfect candidate to challenge for the long-vacant 155-pound title. The belt hadn't been worn since Jens Pulver left the promotion the first time and a four-man tournament in which the finals ended in a draw effectively killed the division for a couple of years.

But another recent drop down to lightweight stood in his way. Sean Sherk -- who was built like a human tank -- had taken Matt Hughes to the limit at 170-pounds and at 15 pounds lighter, it seemed like he would be unstoppable. Florian was able to use one of his patented elbows to slice his opponent open early but "The Muscle Shark" would not be denied.

It took "KenFlo" six more wins to get back to a title shot. This time around, it was Penn -- who had finally fulfilled his destiny in becoming the lightweight king we all knew him to be -- who smashed the TUF veteran's dreams of wearing championship gold.

Florian would have gotten a third opportunity if he had beaten Maynard at UFC 118. 

Sonnen went from a wrestler who couldn't defend a submission to save his life to somehow working his way to a shot at Anderson Silva's middleweight title. He surprisingly beat Yushin Okami and then even more surprisingly bested Nate Marquardt. But perhaps the most shocking of all Sonnen's accomplishments was the over 20-minute beatdown he handed "The Spider" in August of last year.

It was in the build up to the UFC 117 main event that polarized Sonnen amongst MMA fans. He was either a racially insensitive hate monger or a modern day carnival barker, saying whatever it took to get you to buy a ticket to his show. In the end, over half a million people did and they were treated to quite a fight.

The Team Quest member fought as perfectly as he could have hope to and came within minutes of winning but came up short. Even some of his most ardent critics felt a rematch should be in order. Those who still vilified him were justified in doing so when a shady TRT treatment earned Sonnen a year-long suspension and a heavy fine. Money laundering charges from a real estate scheme was icing on the cake.

It seems tomorrow all three men have reached the end of their ropes. A loss for any man would be devastating and would likely ensure their remaining days would be spent as name talent a newcomer could get a win over. 

Maynard's style kept him from a title shot for years already. There's no indication it won't again. Florian would be zero for three in title fights and would solidify his reputation as being good but not great. Sonnen would be shrugged off as a loudmouth who had his moment in the sun but needed some medical help and a Silva rib injury to get there.

None of these men are getting any younger. "The Bully" celebrated his 32nd birthday this year while Florian and Sonnen are 35 and 34-years old respectively. Time is not on their side.

And with a loss tomorrow, time will have run out.