UFC Fight Night 26: Who's on the Hot Seat?
The pressure of performing on the inaugural Fox Sports 1 card will drive each of the 26 competitors on the UFC Fight Night 26 roster Saturday to fight with urgency.
But for a select group, and for reasons that have nothing to do with the card being Fox Sports 1's inaugural show, UFC Fight Night 26 signifies either a desperate scenario or a priceless opportunity.
Just as a clan of competitors will put their jobs on the line, another crew of fighters will step into the Octagon with hopes of radically advancing position in their respective divisions.
Here are seven fighters on the hot seat at UFC Fight Night 26.
Back-to-back smudges on his record didn't deter the UFC from awarding Michael Johnson with the most promising opportunity of his career in a bout with Joe Lauzon.
In his last two outings, Johnson lost a decision to Myles Jury at UFC 155 and then got submitted by Reza Madadi at UFC on Fuel TV 9. Regardless of his recent woes, The Ultimate Fighter Season 12 runner-up will get the chance to square off with lightweight staple "J-Lau" in the first fight on the main card.
A win over a post-fight bonus machine like Lauzon would not only improve Johnson's career mark to 5-4 in the UFC, it would also give the Blackzillians product some breathing room in the company's stacked 155-pound division.
A loss, however, could mean a trip back to the regional circuit for Johnson, a place he hasn't been since 2010.
Although Matt Brown has beaten some dangerous opponents in his UFC career, "The Immortal" has yet to defeat a foe as polished and established as Mike Pyle.
Riding a five-fight UFC winning streak that includes knockout wins over Jordan Mein and Mike Swick, Brown can continue to build on his rising stock in the company's 170-pound division with a win over Pyle in the third fight on the main card.
If Brown can get past Pyle, who's on an impressive four-fight winning streak, then The Immortal will certainly crack the top 10 in the welterweight rankings for the first time. A win would also land Brown a more meaningful fight, most likely against a top-10 opponent, in his next outing.
A loss wouldn't threaten Brown's status with the UFC, but in the same vein, it wouldn't help the 32-year-old shake his seemingly fitting gatekeeper moniker.
Extraordinary knockout power made Uriah Hall arguably the most hyped competitor to ever graduate from The Ultimate Fighter.
But after a lackluster performance in The Ultimate Fighter Season 17 finale against Kelvin Gastelum, critics rightfully began to question Hall's potential.
A venomous kickboxer with a knack for leaving opponents unconscious with unorthodox strikes, Hall looked like a one-dimensional fighter with a limited gas tank fighting a superior grappler in Gastelum.
The Jamaican-born Hall will get his shot at redemption when he locks horns with replacement fighter and former welterweight John Howard, a loser of three straight fights in the UFC's 170-pound division between 2010 and 2011.
If Hall fails to get past Howard, then the Team Tiger Schulmann product will soon be relegated to preliminary-card bouts against less prominent competition.
Akin to his opponent, Matt Brown, 11-fight UFC veteran Mike Pyle has tasted success in the welterweight division. But also akin to Brown, the 37-year-old "Quicksand" has yet to fully realize his potential in the Octagon.
On a four-fight UFC winning streak that includes three straight KO's and a razor-thin decision win over Rick Story, Pyle finally has a shot at taking a substantial step up the 170-pound ladder with a convincing win over Brown.
With each fighter on the bubble of the top-10 rankings, Pyle and Brown will be equally hungry for a win. A loss means continuing to carry the label of gatekeeper, a branding both Pyle and Brown have resisted since joining the UFC.
Alistair Overeem hasn't sported many grins since pummeling Brock Lesnar into retirement in his promotional debut at UFC 141 back in 2011.
Since then, Overeem has endured some pitfalls, first failing a pre-fight drug test to squander a title fight with then-heavyweight champ Junior dos Santos before their scheduled bout at UFC 146. "The Demolition Man" then mistakenly underestimated Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva in their co-main event tilt at UFC 156, a miscue that cost him his first KO loss since 2007.
After dominating the first two rounds, the hulking Dutchman ran out of fuel in the third, succumbing to a barrage of vicious strikes from Silva just 25 seconds into the round.
In the night's co-main event, the fifth-ranked Overeem will get a crack at vindication against another gargantuan opponent and another KO victim of Bigfoot in Travis Browne.
A loss to Browne, ranked eighth in the UFC's heavyweight division, could send Overeem, who hasn't dropped two straight fights since losing to Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Ricardo Arona, out of the top 10.
A win over the 6'7" Browne, on the contrary, could help The Demolition Man regain his footing and get back in a short line for a heavyweight title shot.
Mauricio "Shogun" Rua
In his heyday in Japan's Pride Fighting Championships, few would dare to refer to Mauricio "Shogun" Rua as a mediocre mixed martial artist.
But since joining the UFC in 2007, Shogun's been a model of mediocrity, mustering a 5-5 mark that includes a submission loss to Forrest Griffin and a TKO loss to Jon Jones.
Even with his recent struggles, Rua sits at No. 8 in the UFC's light heavyweight rankings. A win over three-time UFC title challenger Chael Sonnen in the night's main event will surely put Shogun back on track.
At 31, Rua's not too weathered to make another run at Jones. However, he certainly can't afford to get worn out and taken down repeatedly by Sonnen.
Another boring decision loss like the one he suffered to Alexander Gustafsson would likely result in Rua getting bumped from the top-10 rankings.
A winner of five of six bouts in the UFC between May 2009 and January 2012, Chael Sonnen suddenly finds himself on the brink of his second career three-fight losing skid.
Albeit, Sonnen's back-to-back setbacks came in title fights against Anderson Silva (middleweight) and Jon Jones (light heavyweight). But the 36-year-old sits at No. 9 in the UFC's middleweight rankings and would assumingly drop into obscurity with another loss, especially a knockout or submission setback.
To make matters more risky for the Oregonian, his opponent in the night's main event, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, is not only Brazilian, he's also a Brazilian desperate for a highlight-reel win.
In his career, Sonnen holds a 1-5 record against Brazilian-born fighters, losing four of those bouts via submission.
The aging Sonnen has seen significant risks pay off in the past. If he can somehow duplicate those feats and grind out a win over Shogun, the five-fight deal he signed in July will carry much more significance.