The Octagon will return to Seattle this weekend for UFC on Fox 8 and there are some heavy stakes on the line for several major players involved.
In the main event, inaugural flyweight champion Demetrius Johnson will look to make his second successful defense of the 125-pound strap when he squares off with No. 1 contender John Moraga. As one of the UFC's newest weight classes, the flyweight division is looking to gain some serious traction in the minds of the MMA fanbase, and the pressure will be on Johnson and Moraga to put on an exciting and memorable tilt.
Lined up in the co-main event slot, a pair of surging welterweights who are eager to battle their way onto the title radar will mix it up when Jake Ellenberger and Rory MacDonald step under the bright lights in the Key Arena to trade leather. The race for title contention at 170 pounds has never been more electric and neither fighter can afford to take a step back if they hope to keep their title dreams alive.
In addition to the action atop the card, there are several matchups taking place in Seattle which have the potential to carry major implications for the fighters involved.
Let's take a look at what is on the line for the major players at UFC on Fox 8.
For the past seven years, the welterweight division has been one of the flagship weight classes under the UFC banner. From the early days of Matt Hughes' championship reign to the current dominance of 170-pound king Georges St-Pierre, the welterweight division has consistently proved to be one of the most talent-rich and competitive collections in the UFC. And there are no signs of this action slowing down anytime soon.
With GSP and No. 1 contender Johny Hendricks officially slated to square off in November at UFC 167, the battle to earn the next title shot has shifted into overdrive. There are a handful of potential contenders stepping into action in the coming months, but none more important on the current landscape than the upcoming matchup between Ellenberger and MacDonald.
"The Juggernaut" has been a wrecking machine in the welterweight division since joining the UFC roster in 2009. After being edged out by former title challenger Carlos Condit in his promotional debut, the 28-year-old Team Reign staple has gone on to find victory in eight of his last nine showings. The only setback Ellenberger suffered in that run was to Martin Kampmann, but bounced back strong to collect wins over veterans Jay Hieron and Nate Marquardt, respectively.
In the fight with MacDonald, the Omaha native has the opportunity to take a strong step towards title contention. With Hendricks finally earning his championship bid, the lane is wide open for the former Marine to position himself as next in line for a title opportunity. Defeating MacDonald will be no easy task, but if Ellenberger can put his heavy hands on the talented, young Canadian's chin, a huge victory in Seattle could certainly be accomplished.
While the stakes are equally high on MacDonald's side of the table, the circumstances involved look a bit different. "Ares" has been a nightmare for welterweights on the UFC roster as he's steamrolled the majority of the competition he's faced inside the Octagon. The 24-year-old Tri-Star product's only setback in his professional career came at the hands of Condit back at UFC 115 in June of 2010.
The loss to "The Natural Born Killer" was a turning point in MacDonald's young career and he has looked like an absolute monster in the aftermath. The Montreal transplant has collected four consecutive lopsided victories with his most recent coming in the form of a three-round drubbing of legend and former two-division champion B.J. Penn at UFC on Fox 5 during the UFC's last visit to the Emerald City.
In the fight with Ellenberger, MacDonald will face perhaps his toughest task to date. Where Penn was on the downturn of his career, Ellenberger is coming into his prime as a mixed martial artist. If MacDonald can defeat Ellenberger, and do so in impressive fashion, his hovering label as "the future of the welterweight division" will take on a different perspective.
Then again, a victory over Ellenberger this weekend in Seattle will put MacDonald one step closer to his training partner and mentor St-Pierre, which will undoubtedly make things a bit more uncomfortable around the Tri-Star gym in the coming months.
Flyweight Division Fighting for Respect
When Demetrius Johnson defeated Joseph Benavidez to become the first flyweight champion in UFC history, in addition to a shiny new belt, "Mighty Mouse" also inherited the task of being the leading man in one of the promotion's newest weight classes.
Building a division from the ground up is a dubious challenge, but thus far in his short reign, the 26-year-old Washington native has been up for the challenge. The AMC-trained fighter put on an exciting performance when he defeated TUF winner John Dodson in his first title defense at UFC on Fox 6 back in January, and the pressure will once again fall on his shoulders this weekend when he faces John Moraga at UFC on Fox 8 in Seattle.
The bout with Moraga will be the second consecutive showing where Johnson is slotted in the main event and those positions do not come without scrutiny. Where stepping into the cage with a capable fighter the likes of Moraga will be a challenge in itself, putting on an exciting performance that will resonate with a critical fanbase is another issue.
Throughout his time competing as a bantamweight in the WEC and then a flyweight under the UFC roster, Johnson has consistently shown the ability to put on high-paced, action-packed affairs, and on the caliber of stage Fox presents, he will have to add another exciting chapter to his career to keep flyweights on the radar.
As for Moraga, the bout with Johnson carries a tremendous amount of upside and very little where the downside is concerned. The MMA Lab product has been carving his way through the 125-pound ranks and used outstanding performances against Ulysses Gomez and Chris Cariaso to springboard himself into a championship opportunity against Johnson.
While the champion may carry the more established name in the pairing, Moraga will have the opportunity to make a thundering introduction to a larger chunk of the UFC's fanbase in Seattle. The 29-year-old Arizona-based fighter is going from the opening bout on the Facebook prelims for UFC 155 in his last bout to the main event of a major Fox card in his next. That is huge ground to cover between fights where bout placement is concerned and Moraga will have the opportunity to take his career to the next level if he can defeat Johnson this weekend.
By defeating Johnson at UFC on Fox 8, Moraga will not only become a champion but also solidify his profile with UFC fans in the process.
Other Fighters Rolling the Dice in Seattle
With the two biggest fights on the card receiving the lion's share of attention for UFC on Fox 8, there are a handful of matchups that are flying somewhat under the radar heading into action this weekend in Seattle.
Heavy-handed veteran Robbie Lawler earned one of the biggest victories of his career when he earned a first-round knockout over perennial contender Josh Koscheck at UFC 157 back in February. The win over Koscheck immediately launched "Ruthless" into the mix in the 170-pound division and made his next challenge all the more important for his future title hopes.
While he was originally slated to face the last man to hold the Strikeforce welterweight title in Tarec Saffiedine, the former champion suffered an injury and Siyar Bahadurzada stepped in to fill the void. Unfortunately for the Blackzilians fighter, the "injury bug" would also bite him, and the UFC tapped scrappy veteran Bobby Voelker to take the fight in Seattle.
Where Voelker will not carry the same amount of clout as a bout with Saffiedine would, that doesn't change the stakes for Lawler at UFC on Fox 8. If he hopes to keep his footing in a competitive title race in the welterweight division, the former Elite XC champion cannot afford a back step.
Two other fights where the stakes are considerably high—albeit for different reasons—will come when former women's bantamweight title challenger Liz Carmouche faces Jessica Andrade and former lightweight title contender Melvin Guillard mixes it up with Mac Danzig.
The "Girl-Rilla" is coming fresh off her title shot against Ronda Rousey and will need a victory over Andrade to remain in the mix for another shot at the 135-pound strap. With a handful of potential title contenders stepping into action in the coming months, Carmouche will need a strong showing at UFC on Fox 8 to keep stride with the pack.
While the Team Hurricane Awesome staple suffered a setback against Rousey at UFC 157, she had shinning moments throughout the fight and the loss to "Rowdy" didn't hurt her stock in the bigger picture. Should Carmouche pick up the victory over Andrade this weekend, she will position herself as a solid option for the next shot at the women's 135-pound title.
Where Carmouche is battling for title contention, Danzig and Guillard are fighting to remain relevant in the lightweight division. The 155-pound weight class is one of the most competitive divisions under the UFC banner and there are no signs of this changing anywhere in the near future. With a shark tank in the upper tier of the division and a batch of up-and-coming fighters making huge strides towards the top 10, the bout between Danzig and Guillard couldn't come at a more crucial time for both fighters.
Less than two years ago, the "Young Assassin" was poised to earn a championship opportunity before being derailed by Joe Lauzon at UFC 136 in Houston. Guillard then went on to drop three of his next four showings including back-to-back losses to Donald Cerrone and Jamie Varner, respectively. Another loss for Guillard could very well serve to not only push him out of relevancy in the lightweight fold, but cost him his job with the UFC. Those circumstances make the bout with Danzig a pressure-filled affair and it will be interesting to see how the 30-year-old veteran handles the challenge.
Many of the same things apply for Danzig. The TUF winner has been battling to gain footing under the UFC banner for the past few years and has been locked in a "win one, lose one" cycle every step of the way. The 33-year-old California transplant appeared to be breaking that trend when he earned a solid victory over Efrain Escudero at UFC 145 in April of 2012, but then was edged out via split decision to former Pride champion Takanori Gomi at UFC on Fuel TV 6.
In order to keep his place in the UFC lightweight ranks, Danzig will need a strong showing against Guillard this weekend in Seattle. With a new focus and keeping his training camp contained to one location in Los Angeles, and a reignited passion for the sport, Danzig is fully aware of everything that will be on the line at UFC on Fox 8.