Michael Chandler and Alexander Shlemenko can grab the Bellator MMA torch and carry it into the future at Bellator 120 this month. Or they can tumble all the way back down the pyramid, bringing the promotion with them.
Bellator will host its first-ever pay-per-view on May 17, with Chandler taking on Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight title and Shlemenko meeting former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz.
If the pressure of facing two well-rounded fighters wasn't enough, they are also the building blocks and stars to what Bjorn Rebney, Bellator and Spike TV have planned going forward.
Alvarez is the champion, and the more known of the two fighters in the main event, but he has an interesting contract worked out. Most feel he will leave Bellator after this fight, as arranged by his deal, so putting that giant logo on his back makes no sense. If Chandler fails to win the belt from him, it doesn't look good for Rebney to lose his champ.
Ortiz is on the opposite end of the spectrum from all three fighters mentioned, as he is closer to retirement than building himself back into a contender. However, he could severely cripple Shlemenko's status by stunning the 50-win fighter.
Again, plenty of pressure on both Chandler and Shlemenko to deliver in the spotlight.
While all of that is taken into consideration, there are plenty of reasons to believe each man will come out with their respective hand raised on that May night.
Chandler has dealt with adversity his entire life, entering the University of Missouri wrestling room as a walk-on and leaving years later with four NCAA qualifier marks and 100 wins. He was a two-time runner-up in the Big 12 and a fifth-place finisher at nationals.
After preparing himself for a career in MMA at Xtreme Couture, Chandler debuted in 2009 with a second-round TKO. A year later, he made his Bellator debut and finished Scott Stapp in the first round. Two more first-round finishes led Chandler to a tournament quarterfinal with Marcin Held that he won via first-round arm triangle choke when he left Held unconscious.
Back-to-back decisions provided Chandler with a tourney title and shot at Alvarez. At 9-0, and just a few years into his career, he submitted Alvarez in the fourth round in a bout widely considered the "Fight of the Year" in 2011.
Chandler followed that up with three straight finishes over Akihiro Gono, Rick Hawn and David Rickels to defend his title before dropping a split decision to Alvarez last year.
To say he has shown why some consider him a top lightweight is easy. In 13 career bouts, he has finished 10 of his opponents, and done so equally with five knockouts and five submissions.
The second meeting with Alvarez was a back-and-forth 25-minute grind that Chandler easily could have been declared the winner in. He converted on 10 takedowns, while stuffing all three attempts by Alvarez, held a plus-15 advantage in power strikes and was more successful on his ground strikes.
In falling, though, he set up this important and critical third meeting with Alvarez, and that only helps his stock. By coming back and scoring the win, he'll have avenged the loss and proven to the world that he is elite.
Shlemenko will turn 30 just days after the event, but he already has 57 fights on his resume; he's won 50 of them. Twenty-nine of those 50 victories have come via knockout, with another eight from various forms of submissions.
If you haven't seen some of "Storm's" impressive finishes, check out his latest victory over Brennan Ward and you'll be a fan.
In Ortiz, the Russian will be giving up several pounds, maybe 30-plus come fight night, but he'll have an incredible advantage in speed, strength and skill. At 39 years old and coming off of another neck surgery, the Ortiz of old isn't going to show up inside the Bellator cage.
Bellator's tournament-style ways of pairing fights has led some people to shy away from watching, but Chandler and Shlemenko are two reasons to make sure you catch the pay-per-view offering.