On Saturday night, the MGM Grand will be the proving grounds for several UFC fighters.
With so many promising youngsters and serious contenders on the UFC 160 card, we're bound to see a few men take huge steps toward a title shot.
Some are closer than others, but even the fighters who are two or three fights away have an opportunity to further build their case.
Junior "Cigano" dos Santos is On the Cusp
The scenario is quite simple for dos Santos; defeat Mark "The Super Samoan" Hunt and earn a chance to regain his UFC heavyweight championship.
While the terms are easy to understand, completing the task won't come without difficulty.
Hunt has a great chin and explosive power. The combination of the two makes him a very tough matchup for Cigano. Against most opponents, dos Santos would prefer to stand and blast away.
Following that strategy against Hunt would simply be playing into the opposition's hands. While it is possible dos Santos could win a stand-up brawl, he would be smart to use his jiu-jitsu to control Hunt on the ground.
Because of how important gaining an opportunity to regain his title is, dos Santos won't let his pride put him in danger.
He'll defeat Hunt by late stoppage via ground and pound, or by decision.
T.J. Grant Won't Be Denied
If I were making a list of the fighters who have shown the most significant improvement over the past three years, Grant's name would definitely be on it.
He's been fighting in the UFC since 2009; but quite honestly, he didn't appear to be anything special until late 2011.
What has most impressed me about Grant lately is his ability to strike. He stopped Matt Wiman at UFC on Fox 6 on the ground, but he has held his own in stand-up, too. Grant didn't appear to have this ability earlier in his career.
Of his 20 wins, 13 have come by submission; so that will always be his bread and butter. However, the improved striking has balanced out his submission game.
Grant has won four straight bouts and his quality of opposition has ascended in each. He has taken out Shane Roller, Carlo Prater, Evan Dunham and Wiman in the last 19 months.
The level of competition will continue to increase on Saturday night when he faces Gray Maynard.
The man they call "The Bully" is as tough as nails. Though he rarely stops his opponents with power shots, his cardio is excellent and his heart is huge.
Grant has been in bloody fights the last two times out; he best be prepared for a third.
While Maynard will make it a great fight, Grant's well-rounded attack will earn him the decision in what I predict will be the Fight of the Night.
Another strong win should put Grant just one or two fights away from a title shot.
Khabib "The Eagle" Nurmagomedov Will Prove He is the Real Deal
Soon the MMA world will respect Khabib Nurmagomedov's undefeated record. Heading into UFC 160, The Eagle is 19-0, but he hasn't faced a ton of notable opposition.
He did defeat Gleison Tibau at UFC 148 and Thiago Tavares at UFC on FX 7; still he probably needs three more wins before he can challenge for the lightweight title.
The explosive and athletic Abel Trujillo will provide a significant test for the 24-year-old Russian on Saturday night.
Trujillo's strength and viciousness will push Nurmagomedov. Sometimes we don't see just how good a fighter can be until a formidable opponent forces him to rise to the occasion.
I like Trujillo and I believe he has a bright future, but Nurmagomedov's ability to strike, wrestle and submit his opponents will prove to be the difference.
Watch for Nurmagomedov to use Trujillo's aggressiveness against him. A fantastic triangle choke could be the deciding maneuver.
This is my pick for Submission of the Night.
Follow me, because Royce Gracie started me on this MMA path, and now I'm out of control.
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