Like most free cards, UFC Fight Night 36 isn't stacked with marquee fighters and title shots. Plenty of the participants could suffer more damage than a cracked orbital socket, however.
In particular, two fighters need to perform well to preserve their reputations and championship chases, while two others need to perform well to stay in the game at all.
Lyoto Machida has a chance to clean up a sticky career at UFC Fight Night 36. He dropped from light heavyweight to middleweight with an authoritative head-kick knockout of Mark Munoz at UFC Fight Night 30. This will be far from his last chance to re-energize his career, but losing now would destroy good momentum and an exploitable power vacuum.
Machida's career has a long string of almosts and not quites due in part to his sometimes-exciting, sometimes-boring counter-offensive style. UFC president Dana White denied the Brazilian a rematch against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, who won a controversial split decision against "The Dragon" at UFC 123. White also skipped over Machida as a title contender after his impressive KO of Randy Couture at UFC 129.
He dropped out of a potential UFC 151 rematch against Jon Jones after Dan Henderson got injured, which resulted in one more title-shot denial. A matchup against Phil Davis at UFC 163 gave Machida another hotly contested decision loss.
Now a middleweight, he has busted out of a tough 205-pound division into one that is littered with opportunity. Machida has enough clout, history, style and personality to make a powerful champion; now he can make a title run without the history of awkward decisions and unexciting performances. We can see him as the precision knockout artist—the Bruce Lee-esque assassin we thought he was in 2009.
Or he can lose and fall into the same cycle of inconsistency and boredom—but in a lighter class.
After Georges St-Pierre's departure, it's doubtful UFC fans will flock to a cautious fighter. Francis Carmont, a Tristar Gym pupil, exemplifies that style in the middleweight division and faces a borderline lose-lose situation.
To beat Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, a fearsome striker and Brazilian jiu-jitsu artist, Carmont needs to fight carefully. The Frenchman has yet to demonstrate the kind of power or resilience that would carry him through a UFC-level brawl.
If he fails, he will lose to a more exciting fighter in a stacked division, hurting his chances at succession as well as damaging his skillful reputation. If he wins, he'll probably do it with another boring wrestling show or split decision, taking casual fans back to St-Pierre's biannual insults.
Before losses to Jon Fitch and Dong Hyun Kim, Erick Silva gave us plenty to chat about in the welterweight division. Now he's 3-3 in the UFC.
The UFC is bringing in King of Pancrase welterweight champion Takenori Sato to replace an injured, recently re-signed Nate Loughran. Housekeeping matches bode ill for at least one of the fighters involved—in this case Silva.
The UFC isn't bringing in the Japanese welterweight to make a debut loss to a former prospect; he's here to shake up the leaderless welterweight division. If Silva can beat Sato, he'll prove he still belongs in the division. If not, he'll end up with a losing record and probably a pink slip.
Similarly, Charles Oliveira's 4-4 UFC record puts him one loss away from being a bad investment. Like Silva, Oliveira is coming off two consecutive losses—a KO from Cub Swanson and a unanimous decision to Frankie Edgar.
He looked sharp against Edgar, but his losses to contenders Jim Miller and Donald Cerrone say a lot about UFC Fight Night 36. He's fighting Andy Ogle for the right to stick around and ascend to the inner circle of the featherweight division. Only a decisive win will convince the promotion that he's worth keeping around.
We might not get to see the next king being crowned on Saturday, but we might see some careers fizzle out. The flip side of the fight coin is important too.