The UFC is starting off 2014 with a bang, as UFC 169 features two fighters who are among the best ever in their respective weight divisions.
Renan Barao could go down as the best bantamweight ever, and beating Urijah Faber would do nothing to hurt that cause. Meanwhile, Jose Aldo has already made his case as the greatest featherweight in MMA history.
Saturday's pay-per-view will be a great showcase for two men at the top of their game.
But it's not all about those two.
Throughout the main card, plenty of fighters will try to use UFC 169 to kick-start their careers again and try to make the climb back up the rankings. For some, this event could be the end of the line. For others, it represents the jumping-off point for greater things to come.
The three fighters listed below are heading into UFC 169 most in need of a win.
When: Saturday, Feb. 1, at 10 p.m. ET
Where: Prudential Center, Newark, N.J.
TV Info: Pay-per-view
Live Stream: UFC Fight Pass
|Bantamweight||Renan Barao (c) vs. Urijah Faber||Barao, Decision|
|Featherweight||Jose Aldo (c) vs. Ricardo Lamas||Aldo, Decision|
|Heavyweight||Frank Mir vs. Alistair Overeem||Overeem, TKO|
|Flyweight||John Lineker vs. Ali Bagautinov||Bagautinov, TKO|
|Lightweight||Jamie Varner vs. Abel Trujillo||Trujillo, KO|
Fighters Who Need Win Most
Remember when Alistair Overeem was riding high after that TKO of Brock Lesnar? It feels like a lifetime ago.
One failed drug test and two losses later, Overeem's stock has fallen precipitously. He's gone from a top contender in the heavyweight division to an afterthought whose UFC career is hanging in the balance.
Bleacher Report's Chad Dundas made the stakes clear for both Overeem and Frank Mir at the PPV:
Despite the fact the UFC hasn’t been quite so quick to send fighters packing recently—lest it gets a sliver of Viacom’s $4 billion in cash!—this is still a must-win fight for both Mir and Overeem. Even if it doesn’t result in a dismissal, a loss here probably dooms either man’s chance of once again ascending into the heavyweight elite.
Of course, Mir needs a win as well, but it's Overeem who arguably has the higher ceiling from here on out. Mir had his time in the spotlight, and it appears he's now slowing down.
With a win, the Demolition Man can climb his way back up the heavyweight ladder—as long as he can stay clean.
Jamie Varner enters UFC 169 having lost two of his last three fights. His chance of ever competing for the lightweight title has probably already gone out the window. He's basically a journeyman.
But there is still much at stake for Varner.
Speaking with MMAJunkie.com Radio, per MMAJunkie.com's Steven Marrocco, Varner said he's planning on retiring at 32, which would be three years from now:
I only got one fight in 2013, and I see my window closing as far as being an athlete and competing at this high level. ... I’ve been fighting as a professional since I was 18; I’ve got 11 years in the sport.
I started at the UFC in 2006, so that’s a long time, man. Plus, I started boxing when I was 11 years old and wrestling when I was 14. It’s a long time to be taking beatings. I want to make the most of it. I want to get three or four fights this year and three or four next year, and I’m going to retire when I’m 32.
Between now and then, Varner could get a couple of PPV fights and add a little more to his bank account.
Beating somebody like Abel Trujillo wouldn't make Varner a top contender overnight, but it would help get him turned around in the right direction again. Maybe he could string a few more wins together and go out on a high note.
Ali Bagautinov is unbeaten in his two UFC fights, knocking out Marcos Vinicius in his debut and following that up with a unanimous-decision victory over Timothy Elliott.
Now, the 28-year-old has another top flyweight opponent in John Lineker.
Bagautinov's two wins in UFC are impressive, but they're merely the starting point when it comes to getting to the top of the flyweight rankings. He needs to beat more top competition to get a match against Demetrious Johnson or whomever the flyweight champion is at the time.
According to Marc Raimondi of FoxSports.com, Dana White intimated that this could be a fight to determine the No. 1 contender:
Dana White: Lineker-Bagautinov possible #1 contender fight.— Marc Raimondi (@marc_raimondi) January 30, 2014
Should Bagautinov win, you have to believe he would be one more fight away, at most, from getting a title shot.