On Saturday, Sept. 21, the mixed martial arts world will turn its focus to UFC 165, where Jon Jones will face Alexander Gustafsson for the Light Heavyweight championship. While everyone will focus on Jones, the biggest draw in MMA, there is reason to look at the under card.
The question is, which fighters will earn momentous victories that will alter the trajectory of their respective careers?
Opponent: Eddie Wineland
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Renan Barao is the reigning interim UFC Bantamweight champion. Eddie Wineland is a veteran fighter who has won consecutive fights and is performing at the highest level of his career.
When two powerful forces clash, expect Barao to pick up a major statement win here.
Barao lost his first career professional mixed martial arts fight in April of 2005 and has since gone 30-0-1. During the course of his UFC career, Barao is 5-0 and has won the UFC Interim Bantamweight Championship, defending it once.
His unanimous decision victory over Urijah Faber effectively answered all questions about whether or not he could go the distance.
The key for Barao is the fact that he's one of the most masterful submission artists in the bantamweight division. Fourteen of his 30 victories have come via tapout, establishing the fact that he's one of the most dangerous finishers on the rise.
Furthermore, four of Wineland's eight losses have come by submission.
Should Barao survive this fight and move forward, it'd likely set up a fight with Dominick Cruz. Cruz is currently recovering from a torn ACL injury, and as a result, Barao will end up in a fight to eliminate the "interim" tag.
Few fighters can benefit as much as Barao.
Opponent: Brendan Schaub
Weight Class: Heavyweight
Matt Mitrione started his UFC career at 5-0, earning a reputation as one of the most dangerous fighters with consistent knockout victories. Since then, Mitrione has gone 1-2 with losses to Cheick Kongo and Roy Nelson.
An April victory over Phil De Fries helped to right the ship, but Mitrione needs to defeat Brendan Schaub to remain in the heavyweight title picture.
Schaub is 9-3, having lost two of his past three fights and remaining in the same boat as Mitrione. While the knockout threat remains on Schaub's behalf, he's been inconsistent and has been punished for his risk-taking tactics with first-round losses.
Regardless of who wins this fight, don't expect it to go the distance with two heavy-handed foes.
Mitrione has an uphill battle, as Schaub is younger and has a more diverse skill set, but the veteran will prevail. He has too much riding on this fight to face defeat, as his two losses have come against the most notable opponents on his resume.
Sometimes, desperation is the best motivational force.
Opponent: Pat Healy
Weight Class: Lightweight
Khabib Nurmagomedov is one of the fastest rising stars in mixed martial arts, earning a record of 20-0 with seven knockouts and seven submissions. Since coming to UFC, Nurmagomedov has won four consecutive fights, with two decisions, one knockout and one submission.
At UFC 165, Nurmagomedov will have the opportunity to face Pat Healy and take the next step toward elite.
Healy, 30, has won five of his past six fights, with his submission against Jim Miller being overturned due to a positive test for marijuana, per Sherdog. In just his third UFC fight since 2006, Healy will have the tough task of ending Nurmagomedov's undefeated streak.
Unfortunately for Healy, you should expect a submission win for the 24-year-old.
Healy has lost six fights via submission, and Nurmagomedov has won seven via tapout. The Eagle is a monster on the mat and does an excellent job of gaining position and finding the angles, which is exactly what he'll do against Healy.
In turn, he'll move into the lightweight title picture.
Anthony Pettis isn't quite in reach for Nurmagomedov just yet, but with a win here and a follow-up victory, we could be reading a different story. The 24-year-old has every skill necessary to become a star in UFC, and thus far, he's done an excellent job of approaching that potential.
A convincing win over Healy will simply push Nurmagomedov one step closer to a title match.