Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to TD Bank Garden in Boston, Mass., this Saturday night (Aug. 17, 2013) with UFC Fight Night 26: "Shogun vs. Sonnen," which marks the debut mixed martial arts (MMA) event for the promotion on FOX Sports 1 network.
The event features some familiar faces in the sport alongside some prospects who remain unproven thus far, too.
Former UFC Light Heavyweight champion Mauricio Rua faces the ruthless Chael Sonnen in the main event that is undoubtedly a toss-up for many observers. A pivotal Heavyweight clash between Alistair Overeem and Travis Browne is featured in the co-main event, as both men need a solid performance if they want to emerge as title contenders.
Several interesting storylines, including title pictures, the future of certain legacies and constant title shots, are all on the radar as we take a look at "Five Burning Questions" heading into UFC Fight Night 26 this Saturday night.
Drum roll please ...
5. What happens to Uriah Hall if he loses?
Hall was apparently the most feared man in The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) history. His highlight-reel knockouts were spine-chilling and it was evident he was headed to the finals a heavy favorite to win the tournament. Hell, Coach Sonnen said he wasn't just a contender to win the show, but a Middleweight title contender!
After dropping a decision to Kevin Gastelum, who was picked last by Sonnen as his seventh pick, many thought it was a minor slip or just part of the learning process. It was crystal clear: Hall has the stand up to be a force at 185 pounds, but he needs to improve his ground game and more specifically, his wrestling.
Fast-forward to this Saturday in Boston and Hall meets hometown underdog John Howard, his third opponent after Nick Ring and Josh Samman were both forced to drop out because of their injuries.
Hall is a promising talent, but can the company keep him if he drops two straight? It certainly can, but it may be reluctant to hold onto a guy who lost in the finals of TUF and lost his next fight as well (they've done it before with Kris McCray who went 0-3 before he got cut).
"Doomsday" is notorious for engaging his opponent into a brawl, which will probably happen in front of his home crowd of Boston that he is eager to impress. This fight is just as important for Howard, who was invited back to the UFC after going 6-1 in his time away from the promotion, dating back to 2011. This is plainly a must win fight for both fighters, but after investing all that praise into Hall, would it keep him around if he drops his second in a row? Most likely, but rest assured he'd be relegated to "Prelims" billing.
4. Will Urijah Faber insert himself in the Bantamweight title picture again?
If "The California Kid" gets the win against Yuri Alcantara on the main card Saturday evening, he could be looking at his third title shot in the UFC in little more than two years.
Since 2008, Faber's past five losses were in title fights against champions (twice against Mike Brown and Jose Aldo in the WEC, Dominick Cruz and Renan Barao, respectively) and apart from those four individuals, Faber has steamrolled through the opposition in the UFC with three submission victories under his belt in his last three meetings. Faber also beat Eddie Wineland, the man who was supposed to face Renan Barao at UFC 161 had the champion not pulled out because of injury.
Maybe Faber and Barao had a snoozer in Calgary back at UFC 149 last summer, but Faber usually redeems himself when it comes to lackluster performances. There's a good chance both fighters would approach the bout differently, which more often than not provides a change in the action.
Faber's continuous title shots may come off as comical to diehard fans because he always finds himself getting one; however, the truth is there's nothing funny about it -- he's the best fighter in the division apart from Barao and Cruz. If UFC follows its 135-pound rankings, Faber has beaten four of the 10 men listed (the number four, six, seven and nine seeds) and if he wins on Saturday night, must he prove himself again versus weaker opposition? Although Faber's next fight could be against the winner of Brad Pickett and Michael McDonald, which is on the "Prelims" on the same night. But, the championship picture looks a little bleak right now with both Barao and Cruz on injured reserve. Expect Faber to speak up in a meeting with the brass if he can outlast Alcantara.
3. Will Alistair Overeem finally impress in the UFC?
Overeem has accomplished just about everything a freelancing prizefighter can, but his trophy case is missing the big one. He won the K-1 World Grand Prix in 2010 and was also the last man to hold both Heavyweight championships in DREAM and Strikeforce. His hit list includes victories over notable kickboxing superstars Peter Aerts, Badr Hari, Gokhan Saki and Tyrone Spong, not to mention victories over MMA bigwigs Vitor Belfort, Fabricio Werdum and Igor Vovchanchyn. However, some pundits say that Overeem had an easy road to his titles and accomplishments (in his MMA career, of course). The Light Heavyweight that was stopped by Chuck Liddell, Rua and Ricardo Arona had difficulties in Pride FC, but after beefing up immensely, he started to be successful as a prominent Heavyweight in the sport.
His striking display was somewhat impressive over an unmotivated Brock Lesnar at UFC 141 in late 2011 after stopping him in little more than two minutes, but we must still question how much of a fight his opponent was willing to give him.
Either way, it was supposed to be a sign of good things to come -- Overeem was destined to take the division by storm. But after UFC 156 earlier this year, he paid a hefty price for his nonchalant, cocky attitude against Antonio Silva, as his knockout loss cost him a title shot and some respect in the ultimate proving ground for heavyweights. Overeem is one hell of a talented fighter, but the "Bigfoot" loss had many questioning if he was really a brute force or just another overhyped combatant outside of the UFC.
Overeem will have a chance to prove his worth and redeem himself on Saturday night. Luckily for him, a win over the gritty Browne may be enough to face the winner of Cain Velasquez vs. Junior Dos Santos at UFC 166. However, there is also a possible rubber match with Fabricio Werdum -- perhaps the number one contender at this point -- that may be hard for the promoters to resist. But, for the spectators to take Overeem as a serious threat, he needs to put forth a performance so nasty that it virtually scares us. If the Dutchman loses, his hype train could be finally derailed.
2. Which Shogun will show up?
Shogun's former manager, Eduardo Alonso, used to get irritated when people told him that the "old Shogun was back" when referring to a breathtaking performance from the former Pride FC standout and used to counter by saying "the old Shogun never went away." Sadly, the 2005 version of "Shogun" may be long gone, but that doesn't mean "Shogun" is going away anytime soon. It also does not mean that Rua is incapable of another solid title run, but he needs to get through Sonnen before looking ahead to greener pastures in the division.
Rua has struggled with wrestlers before and Sonnen has the perfect pedigree to make it a nightmare for the Brazilian this weekend. "Shogun" desperately needs the win to convince that he belongs in the talk of elite 205-pound conversation and simply because he needs to get back to his winning form. His win-one, lose-one record in his last eight fights needs improvement. And it looked like the veteran finally slowed down against Alexander Gustafsson in late 2012, showing tremendous heart, but was outclassed at the same time.
Rua has had his fair share of glory in the Octagon, knocking out the likes of Liddell, Forrest Griffin and Lyoto Machida to capture the division title three years ago, but has been inconsistent since then (he did not defend the championship either, as Jon Jones got the best of him in his first title defense). That does not mean Rua, who isn't that old at 31, has no chance of reaching the Light Heavyweight mountaintop once again. He's also been in his fair share of wars (Dan Henderson comes to mind) that can take a toll on a career.
It becomes a sincere and valid question altogether: Which "Shogun" will we see against Chael Sonnen, the savage beast who was feared by nearly everyone or the slower, declining athlete who may be past his prime?
1. Will Chael Sonnen be able to resurrect his career?
After a slight scare that Sonnen would not be licensed to compete in Boston this weekend, it seems like the man from the mean streets of West Linn, Ore., will indeed be competing in the main event against "Shogun." Like his opponent, who has also lost three of his past five fights, Sonnen may be hungrier for the taste of victory. Apart from his brash and slightly offensive persona, Sonnen stirred up some controversy by talking his way into two consecutive title fights, but remains a draw for the company as well. Depending on whom you ask, Sonnen was granted a second title fight at Light Heavyweight against Jones at UFC 159 because he was the only guy to step up on short notice at UFC 151; however, that is more of a business decision than one that protects the integrity of the sport and the worthy contenders in the division.
Who knows where Sonnen is at in his head, but as he approaches his late thirties along with the fact that he was unsuccessful in three championship bouts (two with Anderson Silva, one with Jon Jones), we must question the motivation to continue his fighting career ... or will he take a few big fights here and there to stay active? Both Silva and Jones battered him in his last two outings and although the "American Gangster" is courageous for stepping into the Octagon with whoever comes his way, the drive to continue without title aspirations is rather troublesome for a 16-year-veteran of the sport.
After signing a new contact and proclaiming that he will move back down to Middleweight after this fight, it doesn't mean Sonnen needs to call it quits if he isn't victorious. Fights with Belfort, Wanderlei Silva and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira have been widely rumored and that could keep him busy for a while, but it depends on his outing Saturday night.
If he looks bad, some will be eager to close the chapter on the Sonnen era in the UFC.
For the fandom to take him seriously (even though his mouth may prove that will never happen), he needs to win against "Shogun" and in a dominant way. What else can Sonnen do in the sport if he drops his third consecutive fight? He's a great analyst, alongside fellow fighters like Brian Stann and Kenny Florian, and that seems like it could follow his fighting career.