The UFC returns to Japan for the second time in a year on Saturday night (Sunday morning in Japan) with a card featuring a light heavyweight main event bout between Wanderlei Silva and Brian Stann.
This is a stacked card for a free television event. In addition to the main event, we'll also see an intriguing heavyweight bout between Stefan Struve and Mark Hunt, Diego Sanchez's return to lightweight against Takanori Gomi and other interesting fights.
So, what should you watch for? That's what I'm here for: In the following slides, I'll tell you exactly what you need to pay attention to as you sit down on your comfortable couch with a cold brew and tune your television to Fuel for a fun night of fights.
Wanderlei Silva is just 36 years old.
That isn't very old. I'm 35, after all, and I don't feel like I'm advancing into my golden years just yet, despite what others around me might say.
But there's a very real difference between my 35 years and Silva's 36; mostly, it's because I didn't spend the majority of my life going through endless wars in Japan's ruthless PRIDE and in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Silva is one of the more popular fighters in the history of mixed martial arts. He's a legend, and for very good reason. He was once the most terrifying man on the planet, especially when he stood across from his opponents, rolled his wrists around and gave them the most menacing glare this side of 1980s-era Mike Tyson.
But those days are gone. Today, Silva is but a remnant of the past, a warrior winding down his career and perhaps sticking around the game longer than he should. I'm not calling him a shell of his former self, because it's clear that he still has some of the same ferocity and power that terrified his opponents back in the PRIDE days. But he's no longer the fighter he once was.
Going back to Japan for UFC on Fuel 8 presents Silva with the perfect opportunity to put a bow on his storied career. He'll be back in front of the same rabid fans that made him a superstar in his heyday. And while I don't think he's going to beat Brian Stann, the fight does give him the opportunity to either win and wrap up his career in fairytale fashion or go out on his shield like the true warrior he is.
I hope this is the last time we see "The Axe Murderer" in the cage, for his sake and ours. I don't want to see him deteriorate or take any more damage than he already has; I'd rather see him walk away while he can still function at a decent level.
Diego Sanchez has lost just one lightweight fight in his career. That came at the hands of B.J. Penn, back in 2009 when Penn was at the height of his destructive powers as lightweight champion.
It makes me wonder: If Sanchez is that good at lightweight—and make no mistake about it, because he is very good—why has he consistently dallied with fights at welterweight, where he's just 4-5 in his career?
It doesn't make sense. Which means it's a good thing that Sanchez is once again shedding the extra weight and dropping back to 155 pounds to face Takanori Gomi. I can't imagine many scenarios where Gomi can beat Sanchez, especially if Sanchez fights smart and eschews a stand-up battle where Gomi is at his most dangerous.
I don't know if Sanchez will be a lightweight contender again. Those days may be long gone. But it's good to see him back in the weight class where he belongs, because that's where he's at his best. And we always want to see fighters at their best.
I never thought I'd type these words, but here we go: With a win over Stefan Struve, Mark Hunt can elevate himself into the UFC heavyweight elite.
It's true. Hunt won't get a title shot with a win, unless some kind of catastrophic injury bug strikes down Antonio Silva, Alistair Overeem or Junior dos Santos prior to their respective UFC 160 bouts. But a win over Struve, and especially a knockout win, would put Hunt within shouting distance of a title shot. It would be his fourth win in a row.
But the same goes for Struve. The towering young heavyweight has steadily progressed over his UFC career, and he's 9-3 and ranked No. 9 heading into the bout with Hunt. He's been in the UFC since 2009 and is still just 25 years old, which means we're going to see him hovering around the top of the division for years to come. A win over Hunt would likely give Struve the opportunity to face one of the division's top names in his next bout.
This fight has more importance than any other fight on the Fuel 8 card.
The UFC signed former Bellator middleweight champion Hector Lombard to a massive contract because they believed he could be a challenger for Anderson Silva.
That hope was derailed by Tim Boetsch in Lombard's debut fight, where "Lightning" looked flat on his feet and generally listless. As it turned out, Lombard was hampered by a lingering injury.
But he came out for his second fight against Rousimar Palhares looking a lot more like the guy the UFC thought they were originally getting. And now, as he prepares to face perennial gatekeeper Yushin Okami, Lombard has a chance to justify the huge signing bonus and $300,000 per fight that the UFC gives him.
Let's take a step back and look at that number from a larger perspective. Former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos makes $400,000 per fight under the terms of his new deal. Anderson Silva makes $200,000. Georges St-Pierre makes $200,000 to show and $200,000 to win.
Put simply, Lombard is one of the UFC's highest-paid fighters. And he must deliver by defeating Okami and getting back to the top of the division, or else he's simply not worth what he's being paid.
Siyar Bahadurzada sports a career record of 21-4-1. His UFC debut was a smashing success, as Bahadurzada crushed Paulo Thiago in just 42 seconds.
He's got all of the tools to be a real contender in the division. And not just a contender, but a scary one, at that. He mixes brutal knockout-power striking with very good submission skills, and those two traits make him a danger to anyone in the division.
But before we can start speaking of Bahadurzada as a threat to the welterweight title, he'll need to get past Dong Hyun Kim. That's a task easier said than done. Kim is a powerful wrestler with the ability to nullify offense by turning fights into a grinding, Fitch-esque grappling game. They aren't fun to watch, but they aren't supposed to be.
Bahadurzada can become a contender. He's already considered by many to be a top 10 welterweight. A win over Kim would go a long way towards advancing his career.