Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to "The Great White North" this Saturday night (June 14, 2014) for UFC 174: "Johnson vs. Bagautinov," taking place at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
The main event features Demetrious Johnson defending his flyweight title for the first time on pay-per-view (PPV) against the power-punching Ali Bagautinov. "Mighty Mouse" is coming off a knockout victory against Joseph Benavidez at UFC on FOX 9 last December.
In the co-main event, Rory MacDonald returns home to face Tyron Woodley in a match up of two welterweight contenders itching for a title shot. "Ares" is currently 7-2 in the organization, while Woodley recorded three stoppage victories in UFC to date.
Also on the main card, Ryan Bader battles Rafael Cavalcante at light heavyweight, Andrei Arlovksi returns to the Octagon against Brendan Schaub in a heavyweight affair, and Canada's own Ryan Jimmo faces Ovince St-Preux to kick off the main card.
With several interesting storylines emerging from this card, check out our "Five Burning Questions" heading into these fights in Vancouver:
5. Are ticket sales hurting the promotion for this event?
While we don't know for sure how many tickets were sold for this event inside Rogers Arena, the feeling is the turnout won't be something to boast about.
Out of the past five Canadian events, four of them took place in the larger markets (being Montreal and Toronto), and attendance figures were pretty good for those fight cards (UFC 152, UFC 154, UFC 158 and UFC 165). It should be mentioned both Jon Jones and Georges St-Pierre took their turns at headlining those events.
Fast-forward to The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Nations" Finale, and UFC couldn't even sell 6,000 tickets in Colisee Pepsi, which normally fits over 15,000 attendees for hockey games. The organization cut ticket prices for the Vancouver card (as per the pre-fight presser), yet it still hasn't given fans a reason to pack the house.
It's tough to say what exactly is hurting the sales, since this specific main card is a solid offering, complete with a championship bout. UFC 115 in Vancouver is tied for the fastest sellout in promotional history (maybe not for long), and that card had Chuck Liddell vs. Rich Franklin as the main attraction.
Are the times changing, or does UFC need to swallow its pride and admit MMA isn't the biggest sport in the world?
4. Can Ryan Bader ever be a light heavyweight contender again?
After "Darth" knocked out Vinny Magalhaes to win TUF 8, he went on a four-fight winning streak, which included impressive victories over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Keith Jardine. The NCAA Division-1 All-American was touted as one of the hottest light heavyweight prospects in the division.
Then, he met "Bones" at UFC 126.
Since that loss, Bader has had difficulty overcoming contenders in general, losing brutally to the likes of Glover Teixeira, Lyoto Machida, and even Tito Ortiz. He's 4-2 since his defeat to the current Bellator fighter, yet his last two victories were over sub-par opposition in Anthony Perosh and Vladimir Matyushenko.
He's got his hands full against Cavalcante this weekend; however, a win over the Brazilian would be a step in the right direction. That said, Bader has to get going because if we haven't seen his potential after 13 fights, it may not even be there at all.
3. Does Andrei Arlovski still have the goods to compete in UFC?
When Arlovski left UFC in 2008, promotion president Dana White admitted he was the only fighter he wishes he could have held onto.
Maybe his feelings changed after seeing the Belarusian go 2-4 in his next six bouts, including a winless tenure in Strikeforce.
But the former UFC heavyweight champion isn't doing so bad for himself lately, mustering up a 4-1 record in his past five fights, which includes a unanimous decision loss against Anthony Johnson.
"Pitbull" can still draw, and diehard fans will always tune in to see him fight, but he's not the killer we were introduced to in the early 2000s. If Arlovski fails to get past Brendan Schaub, what happens then?
Do they feed the 35-year-old slugger to the Jack May's and Viktor Pesta's of the division?
Something tells me this scrap will be a battle of chins ... therefore, we'll only know once someone hits the mat.
2. Will the winner of Rory MacDonald vs. Tyron Woodley earn a title shot?
Apparently, both "Ares" and "Chosen One" need finishes in order to acquire a title shot against Johny Hendricks once the champion is all healed up.
That's mainly because the second best welterweight on the planet, Robbie Lawler, will square off against welterweight assassin Matt Brown at UFC on FOX 12, with their duel being a little more enticing in the title eliminator bout department.
Nonetheless, MacDonald or Woodley could steal someone's thunder Saturday night if one of these fighters destroys the other emphatically. A three-round domination may not do the trick, yet if either the Canadian or the former Strikeforce title challenger finishes their opponent, the bosses may need to consider reshuffling the deck.
It's probable the decision won't be made until after July 26, when "Ruthless" dukes it out against "Immortal," yet both MacDonald and Woodley have to be feeling the pressure to perform greatly if each of them believe they're worthy for a shot at the strap.
1. Can "Mighty Mouse" become a major player on PPV?
For some reason, there are still doubters when it comes to the lower weight classes (at least those below the 155-pound division).
Featherweights, bantamweights, flyweights, and even women's bantamweights deal with the haters on a consistent basis, mainly because several know-it-alls feel the marquee fighters of those respective divisions aren't great sellers when it comes to PPV buys and excitement in general. Not everyone is a St. Pierre, Anderson Silva, or Brock Lesnar, and quite frankly, those days are behind us.
The organization must not only birth their stars from the ground up, they need to build them as well by making them appeal to their loyal fan bases across the globe.
Johnson is a revered champion, defending his flyweight belt for the fourth time this upcoming weekend. Out of his nine UFC contests, he's only been on PPV three times, and to top it all off, he was on the undercard twice (which basically means you didn't have to pay to see him fight on Facebook and Spike TV).
He wasn't exactly championship material at the time, but all that changed when Johnson became the first flyweight titleholder at UFC 152, and then defended his belt three times including two stoppage victories over John Moraga and Joseph Benavidez.
Putting "Mighty Mouse" on FOX was a good move, since the casuals got to witness a champion defend his belt and familiarize themselves with him. Now, it's up to Johnson to continue his successful run, surpassing his work in the cage by becoming a major player in the game.
All this is irrelevant if he fails to beat Ali Bagautinov, but if the Washington native crushes his foe like he did in his last performance, we're off to a good start.
That's a wrap.
Check out the finalized fight card for UFC 174: "Johnson vs. Bagautinov," including bout order and start times, right here.