After experimenting with both sexes on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 18, Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, will play host to another Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) "Finale" event this weekend (Sat., Nov. 30, 2013), headlined by a duo who know each other all too well.
Lightweight standouts Gray Maynard and Nate Diaz -- who first met in on set at TUF 5, with "The Bully" looking good in the opening round until the Stockton native was able to turn it around in his favor and submit him with a guillotine choke to move onto the finals -- will collide once again in the main event of the evening.
At UFC Fight Night 20 in Jan. 2010, Maynard squeaked out a razor-thin split decision with over the younger Diaz brother, which was met with controversy and questions because of the damage that Diaz inflicted throughout the 155-pound rematch.
Technically, these two will meet for the third time, but it is being billed as the second "official" fight between the two in the world-famous Octagon.
Nonetheless, check out "Five Burning Questions" heading into TUF 18 Finale:
5. Is Maximo Blanco the last great hope to prove Japan is a way different territory?
Names like Mauricio Rua, Mirko Filipovic, Wanderlei Silva, Takanori Gomi, Norifumi Yamamoto and Michihiro Omigawa come to mind when dissecting what has gone wrong for fighters who had umpteen amounts of success in Japan, but have looked like a shadow of themselves on American soil.
Maximo Blanco is out to buck that trend.
The Lightweight King of Pancrase amassed six straight wins in the now-defunct Sengoku promotion; however, he ran into roadblocks with Pat Healy in Strikeforce and Marcus Brimage in his Octagon debut. If Blanco fails to get the win against a former TUF alumni in Akira Corassani on Saturday night, it does not mean that the entire philosophy falls onto his shoulders.
But, it would go a long way toward bolstering the naysayer narrative that Japan was far less superior than North American mixed martial arts (MMA) competition.
4. Can Jared Rosholt find success on the grandest stage of them all?
The winningest Heavyweight in Oklahoma State University, Jared Rosholt's transition from a wrestler to full-time MMA fighter has gone well so far. Having competed at the NCAA Wrestling Championships and earning at least top five finish in 2008, 2009 and 2010, Rosholt has arguably the most important style of fighting in today's sport down pat.
His older brother, Jake Rosholt, had a mediocre UFC run with a promotional record of 1-2; however, all eyes are in his younger brother to surpass the success he had and make his run a little more meaningful when it comes to longevity and productivity inside the Octagon.
Jared's career has been affluent thus far, with a career record of 8-1, stringing together four-straight wins since his knockout loss at the hands of Derrick Lewis at Legacy 13 in 2012. There is definitely praise going around for the young Heavyweight, but can he continue winning when he enters the toughest cage in the world against fellow newcomer Walter Harris?
3. Will Julianna Pena impress her observers and earn their respect?
Whether or not Julianna Pena's dislike in the household of TUF 18 is warranted, she has been on the radar for entirely the whole season, making herself susceptible to controversies and arguments among her contemporaries.
Pena, a former training partner of Miesha Tate before the show's filming, defeated heavy favorite Shayna Baszler in the elimination round and avenged her first-career loss to Sarah Moras in the semifinals. Many of the competitors in the house felt Pena was an underdog in both these fights and has not gained everyone's respect despite going all the way. Pena will challenge the winner of Wednesday's showdown between Raquel Pennington and Jessica Rakoczy to become the first-ever women's TUF Bantamweight champion.
Although Pena defeated two solid opponents to get to the finals, she may not be the most well rounded fighter to come into the limelight this season. She may not care about the little details if she wins the tournament; however, if she plans to become champion one day, they will help her go a long way.
2. Does having losing contestants fighting on TUF cards make any sense?
Recently, it was revealed that Jessamyn Duke and Peggy Morgan will fight on TUF 18 Finale FOX Sports 1 televised main card after losing their bouts in the house to advance in the tournament. Does it make sense for losing contestants to get a chance to fight on the card?
This happens almost every season.
The fighters who are eliminated will not get nearly the same contract as the tournament winners,. And maybe they should get a chance to shine to prove that they are worthy of a fight inside the promotion. However, is the point of TUF to prove that these fighters are UFC caliber? How else are they going to gain exposure, you ask? Is that not the point of making sure they take care of that during their time in the household?
Yes, TUF 1 produced several fighters who were employed by the organization, some of whom still fight to this day. With that being said, it was crucial for them to get exposure and they got that chance. However, with the oversaturation and hundreds of fighters who are lining up for their chances at stardom, it is a different era today.
1. Can either Nate Diaz or Gray Maynard rise to title contention again in UFC?
Maynard was on the brink of winning the Lightweight championship twice over Frankie Edgar. In their third meeting at UFC 136, however, Maynard suffered his first career loss due to knockout at the hands of "The Answer." Maynard has gone even (1-1) since then and his latest outing was another knockout loss courtesy of T.J. Grant.
Diaz fought Ben Henderson in late 2012 at UFC on FOX 5. And despite Diaz's gritty efforts, he came up short in a one-sided fight. It was Diaz's first title bout, and it is looking like it could be his last after suffering his first stoppage loss because of strikes courtesy of Josh Thomson (who was lined up to fight Anthony Pettis for the title and now fights "Bendo"). It marked Diaz's second consecutive loss.
Both of these lightweights now have a mountain to climb if they want to see themselves compete for the title again.
With contenders lining up to get their eventual shots, Maynard and Diaz will have to string together some emphatic performances over top tier competition to deserve another crack at the gold. Their recent Octagon struggles could indicate slowing down or that they are showing signs of inconsistency.
Regardless, one thing is for sure: The winner of this fight will be in much better standing than his foe heading into 2014. And that is the most important aspect of this fight on Saturday night with division champion, Anthony Pettis, likely on the sidelines for months.
The time to shine is now ... or possibly never again.
For complete TUF 18 Finale coverage and news check out our complete event archive right here.