UFC 164: Who's on the Hot Seat?
With such a stacked card on tap in Milwaukee, UFC 164 is sure to generate extraordinary pressure for a cluster of fighters, several of them company staples.
Lightweight champ Benson Henderson will get his crack at revenge against Anthony Pettis in the main event, plus former UFC heavyweight linchpins Frank Mir and Josh Barnett will scrap in the co-main event.
Twenty other warriors will join Henderson, Pettis, Mir and Barnett on the UFC 164 card.
Some of these men will have their backs up against the wall, while others will try to capitalize on once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
Here are the fighters sitting on the hot seat at UFC 164.
Jared Hamman has clearly reached a crossroads in his UFC career, and heading into his seventh fight with the promotion, the Californian is in a must-win situation against Magnus Cedenblad.
Hamman has lost two fights in a row by brutal knockout, dropping his UFC record to 2-4.
If he falls to Cedenblad in the first fight on Facebook, Hamman will seal his fate as the latest UFC castoff.
A win, conversely, will give Hamman some much-needed breathing room.
Vera found himself on the verge of a heavyweight title shot after reeling off wins over his first four opponents in the UFC.
But after falling to Tim Sylvia at UFC 77, Vera has gone 4-5-1 in the promotion. In his last outing, he suffered a vicious TKO from a weathered Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in the main event at UFC on Fox 4.
Vera will try his hand at heavyweight for the first time in roughly five years when he faces the bigger, stronger and more durable Ben Rothwell at UFC 164.
While a win over Rothwell may help Vera land a more high-profile opponent in his next bout, it won't help the Alliance MMA product wiggle his way into the heavyweight title picture. A loss, on the other hand, leaves Vera with few future options against UFC heavyweights.
Losing two of three fights didn't result in a demotion from main-card fights for Dustin Poirier. A loss to Erik Koch at UFC 164, however, may relegate "The Diamond" to preliminary card bouts down the road.
Poirier, the UFC's sixth-ranked featherweight, should treat his bout with the 10th-ranked Koch as a title fight, at least if he intends to get back on another lengthy winning streak.
Poirier won his first four bouts in the UFC before getting choked out by "The Korean Zombie," Chan Sung-Jung, in the main event of UFC on Fuel TV 3.
Poirier bounced back in his next scrap at The Ultimate Fighter 16 Finale when he submitted Ultimate Fighter Season 12 winner Jonathan Brookins with the same choke that The Korean Zombie finished him with [d'arce choke].
Cub Swanson took away any momentum Poirier gained from his win over Brookins by handing him a unanimous decision loss at UFC on Fuel TV 7.
A win over Koch would represent the most significant in Poirier's career, but beating the Roufusport stalwart will be a demanding task. After all, prior to his loss to Ricardo Lamas at UFC on Fox 6, Koch had won four straight and was tabbed to challenge Jose Aldo before getting injured in training camp.
A fixture in the UFC's heavyweight division since 2001, the 34-year-old Mir recently suffered back-to-back losses for the first time in his career.
Granted, Mir's first loss came in a title fight against now top-ranked Junior dos Santos, and his second setback came against second-ranked Daniel Cormier. But the former champ has no plans of losing his third straight fight, especially against a man with similar skills in Josh Barnett.
A win could give Mir a glimmer of hope to get back in the heavyweight title picture, while a loss would have to make the Las Vegas native question his future in the sport.
For the first time since TKO'ing Randy Couture to capture the heavyweight belt at UFC 32 in 2002, 35-year-old submission-ace Josh Barnett will grace the UFC's Octagon.
Barnett won't, however, get a warm-up fight in his curtain call with the UFC. Instead the 10th-ranked "War Master" will lock horns with the sixth-ranked Frank Mir, a surprising 1.45-to-1 (+145) underdog, according to Bovada.com.
Because Barnett and Mir have signified two of the best heavyweight submission artists in MMA for the last 10 years, this fight could produce some epic grappling exchanges.
Barnett doesn't necessarily have to win to share "Fight of the Night" honors with Mir. In other words, a captivating performance, particularly in the grappling department, is just as pertinent as a win for Barnett in his homecoming.
Things didn't go precisely as planned for Anthony Pettis this summer. Regardless, the Roufusport standout has finally landed a UFC title fight, and he knows it's a precious opportunity.
Seemingly at the top of the ladder in the deep 155-pound division in the UFC, Pettis, the WEC's last champ, can take the last step toward MMA immortality by dethroning reigning champ Benson Henderson in the main event.
Pettis landed the notorious "Showtime Kick" to seal Henderson's fate in the champ's last loss in an epic battle at WEC 53. Since then, Henderson has reeled in seven straight wins in the UFC, including four in lightweight title fights.
The fight's expected to be so competitive that the oddsmakers were torn in deeming a favorite. Aggregate betting website Bovada.com has tabbed Henderson (-125) a slight favorite to top Pettis (-105).
Akin to their first meeting, Pettis will enter this bout on an impressive three-fight winning streak with his confidence soaring. And while a second win over Henderson obviously puts "Showtime" at the top of the mountain, a loss puts Pettis back in the fire in the cutthroat 155-pound division.