10 Burning Questions for a Busy Week in the UFC
Fresh off an action-packed August that saw numerous outstanding events and the twist and turns of the Fedor Emelianenko saga, there is no rest for the wicked as the UFC rolls out a week filled with activity to kick off their fall schedule.
Leading off is Fight Night 19 which marks the return of the UFC to Oklahoma for the first time in 15 years. Immediately following the contests from the Cox Convention Center is the debut of the tenth season of The Ultimate Fighter.
The highly-anticipated heavyweight season featuring former IFL heavyweight champ Roy Nelson, a number of NFL alums and one well-known Internet sensation should certainly be the best season in some time.
Saturday night rounds out the festivities as UFC 103 invades Dallas, Texas, headlined by former middleweight champ Rich "Ace" Franklin meeting former light heavyweight title holder Vitor Belfort at a catchweight of 195 pounds in "The Phenom's" return to the organization.
Time to tackle the 10 Burning Questions fight fans hope to have answered during this entertaining week of exciting fights.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR NATHAN DIAZ?
First off, he prefers to be called Nathan, not Nate. G'head, ask him.
More importantly, the winner of Season 5 of The Ultimate Fighter is at a crossroad in his young career, entering his headlining fight against "The Young Assassin" Melvin Guillard with back-to-back losses.
Once viewed as a future lightweight champion, Nick's younger brother has spent too much time on defense in his last two outings and needs to find a way to assert his offense.
While the UFC would surely think twice about cutting a household name like Diaz even if he suffers a third consecutive defeat, his once bright future has become cloudy and a return to form is in order.
IS ROLLING THE DICE WITH ROGER HUERTA FACING GRAY MAYNARD A SMART MOVE?
The first fighter to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated has made his future plans clear; a career on the silver screen is his first priority, but the UFC wouldn't let him leave without fulfilling his contractual obligations.
So for his final fight, they've matched up "El Matador" with the rising star of the lightweight division, Xtreme Couture's Gray Maynard, in what is the unofficial main event of the evening.
But with Huerta sure to leave for the bright lights of Hollywood following this fight, is putting the undefeated Maynard on the opposite side of the cage a smart move?
The former Michigan State Spartan possess the strong wrestling skills to frustrate Huerta on the ground as Clay Guida did during their extremely exciting fight from December 2007.
However, Huerta was still able to emerge victorious in that bout, and a win this time around not only sends him into free agency on a high, but undercuts all of Maynard's momentum.
WHEN WILL BROCK LARSON GET SOME RECOGNITION?
All the 32-year-old Minnesota native has done is amass a 27-2 record and a five fight winning streak since failing to dethrone Carlos Condit for the welterweight crown back at WEC 29.
The only other loss of his career came way back in 2005 against consensus #1 welterweight contender Jon Fitch.
Yet while fighters like Josh Koscheck, Frank Trigg and the aforementioned Condit all fight this week to solidify their footing on the welterweight ladder, Larson languishes in relative anonymity despite his sterling credentials.
One of these days, the UFC is going to have to give him a step up in competition. Just don't be surprised when the talented veteran pulls off an upset and forces his way into the title picture.
WHAT WILL KIMBO DO?
While former IFL champion Roy Nelson is the early favorite heading into Season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter, all eyes will be on the man born Kevin Ferguson.
Thrust into the mainstream through a series of YouTube brawls and ridiculous hype courtesy of EliteXC, Kimbo Slice became a household name and one of the most recognizable fighters in the business before he was ever a mixed martial artist.
Now, the former street fighter whose 14 second knockout loss to Seth Petruzelli served as the nail in the coffin for EliteXC has been given an opportunity to continue his education in the sport and earn himself a chance to fight in the UFC.
Though some would argue he is not deserving of a place in the cast, one thing is certain: countless people will be tuning in every Wednesday night to see what Kimbo will do.
HYPE VS. EXPERIENCE VS. YOUTH - WHO WILL WIN?
Obviously, Kimbo is the king of the hype category, while veterans like Nelson and Wes Sims bring the experience to the table.
The youth component is made up of both young fighters like 24-year-old Darrill Schoonover (10-0) and 21-year-old Justin Wren (6-1), as well as a group of fighters who are babes in the sport such as former NFL'ers Marcus Jones (4-1) and Matt Mitrione (0-0).
Outside of the overwhelming interest in Kimbo, seeing who emerges successful out of these three categories will certainly make for some interesting television on those cold winter Wednesdays.
WILL SEASON 10 BE THE END OF THE LINE FOR THE ULTIMATE FIGHTER?
Before the unveiling of this season's theme and cast, many felt that The Ultimate Fighter was on a drastic decline from the impressive early seasons that yielded two champions, several Top 10 contenders and a number of fan favorites.
Over the last few seasons, winners have struggled to find their footing once they've entered the Octagon under the bright lights and pressure of their six-figure contracts and the talent pool has clearly dwindled.
With all the attention focused on this season - from the legitimate heat between coaches Rashad Evans and Quinton Jackson, to the inclusion of Kimbo Slice - following this season would be like coming on stage after The Beatles.
While there is no denying the incredible impact the show had in helping bring the sport of Mixed Martial Arts to the it's current place on the cusp of the mainstream, perhaps the UFC needs to allow the show to go out on the high of what is the most anticipated season in years.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR THE UFC 103 HEADLINERS?
Regardless of the outcome, will Rich Franklin finally find a weightclass to call home following this fight?
Does a win propel the former middleweight champion into title talk at 205 pounds?
Where will "Ace" land if he comes out on the wrong side of the scorecards?
There are an equal number of questions surrounding the returning Vitor Belfort heading into this headlining fight.
Will one win be enough to earn him a title shot against Anderson Silva?
Is Belfort in fact back to being "The Phenom" of old or were him impressive Affliction appearance equal parts renewed enthuasism and overmatched opponents?
In the muddied middleweight waters, where would a loss leave the much-publicized returning former light heavyweight champion?
With all these questions within a question, Saturday can't get here fast enough to provide some answers.
WILL WE SEE THE "CRO COP" OF OLD?
There was a time when Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic was the most feared striker on the planet.
While Anderson Silva currently holds that title, many fans of the former Pride superstar are hoping for a return to the good old days for the Croatian sensation. Standing in his way Saturday night is up-and-coming heavyweight prospect Junior dos Santos.
"Cigano" presents a quantum leap in competition for Filipovic, who defeated Mostapha Al-Turk at UFC 99 in Germany following an accidental and surprisingly unseen poke in the eye rendered the London Shootfighters product almost completely defenseless.
All dos Santos has done since debuting with the UFC seven months ago is send Fabricio Werdum out of the company courtesy of a vicious uppercut and build on that impressive performance by demolishing Stefan Struve in under a minute.
It might take the return of the "Cro Cop" of old for the 35-year-old to emerge victorious.
WHO'S ON FIRST IN THE WELTERWEIGHT DIVISION?
By the time the weekend is over, the UFC welterweight division could become a Mixed Martial Arts version of the classic Abbott and Costello bit.
Martin Kampmann and Mike Swick were supposed to be battling for the opportunity to be beaten by Georges St-Pierre early next year, but a concussion forced Swick to step aside.
Now Kampmann faces recently signed Paul Daley and the welterweight title picture just got awful fuzzy.
In addition to Kampmann and Daley, Josh Koscheck and Frank Trigg will do battle in Dallas with some believing a win for Koscheck could earn him the first title shot of his career.
Before these four event set foot in the cage, Carlos Condit and Brock Larson could both have earned wins in Oklahoma, thereby tossing their names in the hat.
Adding the injured Swick, as well as Jon Fitch, Thiago Alves and Paulo Thiago to the above six fighters and you have ten legitimate contenders vying for positioning in the welterweight division.
Can you hear Lou Costello getting mad yet?
WILL PRELIMINARY CARD FIGHTS ON SPIKE TV BECOME A REGULAR EVENT?
For the first time ever, the UFC will broadcast the preliminary card fights free on Spike TV, hoping that the excitement of the opening bouts of the evening motivates viewers to order call their cable service provider and order the pay-per-view portion of the card.
While the idea has floated around the online MMA community as a suggestion for some time, the UFC has picked a good time for their maiden voyage, as there are a number of interesting fights to showcase.
On paper, the best of the bunch is the debut of the lightweight winner from Season 8 of The Ultimate Fighter Efrain Escudero against talented submission specialist Cole Miller.
Although Escudero impressed in his victory over Phillipe Nover back in December, the American Top Team product Miller already disposed of one Season 8 alum, stopping Junie Browning back in April before the clock reached the two minute mark.
Hopefully, this experiement will yield the results the UFC is looking for and events like this will become a Spike TV staple, because honestly, who doesn't like watching free fights?
Come back Sunday when all these questions will be answered in customary The 10 Things I Learned Last Night series that follows each UFC event.
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