After an exciting event in Colorado this past weekend, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to Brazil for a heavyweight showdown between two mixed martial arts (MMA) legends.
Former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir returns to the Octagon this Sunday night (Feb. 22, 2015) following a year-long layoff in hopes of snapping a four-fight losing streak when he takes on native Brazilian Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva in the main event of UFC Fight Night 61, live on FOX Sports 1 from the Gigantinho Gymnasium in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
The co-main event features an absolute barnburner of a lightweight clash, pitting the always-exciting striking artist Edson Barboza against the returning No. 12 ranked Michael Johnson. With a win potentially earning either man a crack at the division's top five, a lot is on the line in Porto Alegre.
With a fight card chock full of UFC debuts, returns, and a handful of high-profile bouts, MMAmania.com pondered "Five Burning Questions" heading into Sunday night.
5. Can Frankie Saenz become a real factor in the bantamweight division?
There is likely a good number of you who have absolutely no idea who Frankie Saenz is, and that is completely understandable considering the 34-year-old fighter has only competed once inside the Octagon, defeating Kings MMA product Nolan Ticman via unanimous decision last August.
Saenz is 9-2 in his MMA career, earning five finishes in the process, but to date, has yet to fight anyone of worth. That will change drastically this Sunday night, as he takes on the ever-tough and dangerous No. 8 ranked bantamweight Iuri Alcantara in enemy territory.
The Brazilian has won three straight fights and boasts an impressive 31-5 record. Alcantara is quickly ascending up the bantamweight rankings, and yet UFC matchmakers opted to serve the Brazilian the relatively unknown (and unranked) Saenz this weekend.
While it could simply be a matter of making the Brazilian a heavy favorite in front of the hometown crowd, it sure seems like the Phoenix native is getting thrown to the wolves in only his second UFC outing.
With a five-fight winning streak in his own right, Saenz has a huge opportunity to beat a top-10 opponent on Sunday night, but will it be an impossible task?
4. Will Sean Strickland continue his undefeated streak en route to a top 15 fight next?
UFC's welterweight division is arguably littered with the most talented top six or seven fighters in any division throughout MMA, so often times fans and pundits overlook the handful of prospects hoping to become legitimate contenders over the next couple of years.
One such prospect is Sean Strickland, who takes his undefeated (15-0) record to Brazil this weekend to face off against hometown favorite Santiago Ponzinibbio. The American is making his welterweight debut this weekend following two straight victories in the UFC's middleweight division, though his split-decision victory over Luke Barnatt was highly questionable.
If Strickland wants to prove he is a force to be reckoned with in the welterweight division, split decisions won't cut it. If he wants to fight the likes of Matt Brown, Tarec Saffiedine, or even championship-level fighters in Carlos Condit, Johny Hendricks, or Rory MacDonald, the California native needs to finish fights impressively.
Ponzinibbio is no slouch in his own right, currently holding a 19-2 record, including a devastating knockout over Wendell Oliveira last September. If Strickland runs through his Brazilian counterpart, we may have yet another contender rising in the welterweight division.
3. Can Marion Reneau prove doubters wrong again and earn her second straight Octagon victory in as many months?
While most female MMA fighters in UFC are desperately trying to get fights from UFC matchmakers, Marion Reneau is gearing up for her second Octagon bout in less than two months.
In her UFC debut -- at the UFC 182 pay-per-view (PPV) last month -- the 37-year old mother beat down Alexis Dufresne en route to a dominant unanimous decision victory that put the women's bantamweight division on notice.
While UFC champ Ronda Rousey probably wasn't shaking in her boots, the rest of the contenders in the 135-pound division definitely took notice of "The Bruiser's" impressive performance.
The victory pushed the California native's record to 5-1, but she has a stiff test in front of her this weekend in Porto Alegre, as streaking veteran Jessica Andrade looks to win her fourth straight UFC bout, this time in front of her hometown fans.
If Reneau can slow down Andrade's impressive run, there is no question that high-profile fights will be on the horizon for one of UFC's most dangerous mothers.
2. Will Michael Johnson's layoff affect his performance on Sunday night, or will it help catapult him into the top 10 of the stacked lightweight division?
After being re-instated by UFC brass following an investigation into a "domestic dispute," former Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 12 runner-up Michael Johnson returns to the Octagon in Brazil in hopes of earning a top-10 ranking.
Following three impressive victories over Joe Lauzon, Gleison Tibau, and Melvin Guillard, Johnson was one of the hottest fighters in the lightweight division before being temporarily barred from UFC competition. With a layoff that spanned nearly a year, one must wonder whether his performance will be affected come fight night.
Ring rust is the term coined for fighters who have difficulty getting into a groove inside the cage following an extended sabbatical, but some elite fighters have proven that not everyone is affected negatively by a lengthy layoff.
In fact, sometimes we see a fighter put on a career-defining performance in their return, as the layoff allowed them to recover and heal nagging injuries that have otherwise stunted their full potential.
If that is the case this Sunday for Johnson, and he is able to defeat hometown favorite Edson Barboza, there is no question he will be among the top-10 155-pound fighters come Monday, and he could potentially be lined up to take on former UFC lightweight champ Benson Henderson.
I am of the opinion that Frank Mir should have retired long ago, but ultimately, I do not make the decisions for the former UFC heavyweight champion and sure-fire UFC Hall of Famer.
Believe it or not, Mir has not won a single fight since his highlight-reel submission victory over "Minotauro" Nogueira way back at UFC 140 in 2011, a grisly finish which could be argued as the most impressive submission in the history of the sport.
Since then, Mir has dropped four straight fights, losing two via (technical) knockout, along with being dominated in decision losses to Daniel Cormier and Alistair Overeem.
To his credit, the legendary heavyweight has been fighting only the cream of the crop in UFC's heavyweight division, as the last time he did not fight a well-known "name" was likely Antoni Hardonk way back in 2007. Even then, some would have considered the rising Hardonk to be a "name" opponent.
Simply put, Mir's last few performances have proven his glory days are long behind him, and considering he likely has no interest in fighting the bottom half of UFC's heavyweight division, the American is taking one last crack at No. 8 ranked Bigfoot Silva.
In a fight where his chin will most definitely be tested, can Mir withstand an early onslaught en route to a rousing submission victory to close out his career in style? Or will fans be forced to witness Mir lose consciousness once more before he finally decides to hang his gloves up?
Either way, Mir has been an unbelievable advocate for MMA, and it has been an absolute pleasure to watch him perform and grow under UFC's banner. Now let's see if he can pull off one more victory on Sunday night.
For more information on UFC Fight Night 61, including the full fight card, results, news, and more, click here.