UFC 156 is headlined by a featherweight title clash between longtime 145-pound champion Jose Aldo and former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, but a welterweight bout earlier in the evening is primed to steal the show.
Perennial welterweight contender Jon Fitch will take on Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist Demian Maia in a bout that will undoubtedly affect the 170-pound title picture moving forward.
Fitch, who was throughout his career known as a boring, "lay-and-pray" fighter, is coming off his most exciting and rousing UFC performance to date at UFC 153. The 34-year-old took on rising welterweight stud Erick Silva and emerged with a unanimous decision victory after three action-packed rounds that saw him brutalize the young Brazilian.
Maia, on the other hand, saunters into this bout with intrigue for a different reason. A former middleweight title challenger, Maia has since dropped to welterweight, and he has looked absolutely phenomenal in his new weight class.
Most recently, he submitted Rick Story with a neck crank that caused blood to gush from Story's nose like a ruptured faucet.
It was nasty.
At 170, Maia seems reinvented. He was always a force on the ground at middleweight, but his blend of size, power and technicality seems unstoppable in his new environment.
Against Fitch—a wrestle-first, put-you-on-your-back fighter—Maia will probably find himself on the ground at some point, and that is a dangerous situation for his opponent.
This all makes for one hell of a matchup, and one fighter will make significant strides toward a welterweight title shot.
Who, then, has more to lose with a loss on Saturday night at UFC 156?
The answer is clearly Demian Maia.
First off, Jon Fitch already fought for the welterweight crown at UFC 87, and that did not work out too well for him.
Champion Georges St-Pierre is the perfect fighter to nullify Fitch's strengths, and GSP has Fitch's number.
Granted, Fitch has improved since, but so has GSP—and a rematch is of little interest.
Maia, though, is a scary prospect. It is no secret that GSP likes to take his opponents down and fight from top position, but that could prove fatal against Maia.
Maia possesses the most refined ground skills of any 170-pound fighter, and GSP would severely endanger himself should he choose to engage Maia on the canvas.
Furthermore, if GSP chooses to keep the fight standing and work his quick jab and rangy kicks, Maia could be the first man equipped to take the champion down and force him to fight from his back for once.
Maia's size and grappling skills have proven lethal at welterweight thus far, and his offensive wrestling may in fact be the difference against GSP. If he can secure a takedown and work from top position, we could be in for a changing of the guard in the 170-pound division.
As a result, Maia could very well earn a title shot with a win, while I do not think the same can be said for Fitch.
With the momentum he accumulated going into this bout, one more big win could vault Maia straight into title contention, and that is every fighter's ultimate goal.
If Maia loses, he will tumble to the back of the line and have a rocky road back to title contention. He is not the most interesting personality, and he is not hugely marketable, so he has to earn his keep even more than some other fighters.
The same can be said for Fitch. However, even with a win, the UFC will probably not rush to put Fitch in a title matchup. A win over Maia will certainly set him up with a high-profile fight, but I do not see it being a championship fight.
That is the difference here, and Maia has everything to lose because of that fact.
A loss would devastate Maia's title aspirations. At 35 years of age, he cannot afford another setback if he wishes to hoist UFC gold.