When it comes to UFC 172 on Saturday night, there's a perfectly good reason why all of the focus is on UFC light heavyweight champion Jon "Bones" Jones.
First off, he's one of the two most polarizing figures in MMA right now. Simply put, fans love to see him perform or see someone bring the fight to him. Second, he is coming off a contentious unanimous-decision win over Alexander Gustafsson and defending his belt against Glover Teixeira, who told Sherdog.com's Greg Savage that he will knock Jones out to win the title.
With a win, Jones can look forward to a rematch with Gustafsson, as well as facing a slew of contenders including (but not limited to) Daniel Cormier and Phil Davis. A host of others who are chomping at the bit to get their shot at gold might reveal themselves as the months progress and the light heavyweight scene unfolds.
Still, while a great deal of significance deserves to be placed on the main event, we must not forget about the first fight on the main card, which pits two rising featherweights against each other.
In that featherweight bout, Andre Fili sees action against Max Holloway, who opened up 2014 with a win over Will Chope in Singapore. On paper, this bout looks like just about any other scrap on a main card, right?
After all, Fili's UFC 166 win over Jeremy Larsen was just his first UFC win, and Holloway just rebounded from a two-fight skid, so what makes this fight particularly special, besides the fact that it's a featherweight fight?
First, consider the two styles at hand. In addition to the power he showed in Houston, "Touchy" Fili can work well enough on the ground to where he can find and secure a submission. Because of his knack for finishing fights (he has 10 finishes in 13 wins), he rarely ever goes the distance.
Against Holloway, though, Fili faces a strong striker in his own right, one who owns his share of finishes inside the Octagon. In contrast to Fili, though, Holloway does not mind taking a fight the full 15 minutes.
Holloway's style of striking, while also punishing, serves as more of a volume-striking arsenal. In other words, even if he doesn't immediately rock someone with a blow, he can pile on the onslaught until it overwhelms his opponent.
Second, this will be Fili's chance to show what he can accomplish with a full camp and ample time to make 145 pounds. He fought Larsen at a catchweight of 148.5 pounds but made 145 for this bout with Holloway. Of course, Fili gets a mulligan for missing weight against Larsen since he replaced Charles Oliveira on two weeks' notice. And in fairness to Fili, he was originally planning on fighting for another promotion at welterweight.
Nevertheless, he fights Holloway at featherweight on Saturday night, which can make things interesting in the long run. As it stands right now, Chad Mendes and Cub Swanson are the only two featherweights with clear cases for a shot at UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo. Mendes seems likely to get the next shot, and with a win over Jeremy Stephens in San Antonio later this year, Swanson would appear likely to follow suit.
Until we see what unfolds with Dustin Poirier, Conor McGregor and the other top 145ers, who else can Aldo expect to face next?
That's where the third point of interest in this fight comes in. The winner of Fili vs. Holloway likely will not be far off from fighting a Top 10 guy, either in his next fight or soon afterward. If the winner fights and defeats that caliber of competition in his next bout, he can work his way up to becoming a fringe contender, thus putting him closer to the elite of the division.
Do Fili and Holloway have a chance to defeat Aldo at this point? It's highly unlikely, but don't sell either man short. Both fighters have paid attention to Aldo's most recent performances and know that he must slow down sometime. Someone will work his way up to being "the one," and both men want to be that guy.
Saturday night will go a long way in not only cementing both men's respective standings in the sport but also serving notice to the MMA world that no one should sleep on them. If the winner doesn't prove to be "the one" after this weekend, he will aim to do so soon enough.
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