Saturday's UFC 125 will be headlined by a rematch between lightweight champion Frankie Edgar (13-1) and Gray Maynard (11-0).
Edgar's only loss came to Maynard in 2008, but he bounced back with three wins, followed by a shocking upset of champion B.J. Penn at UFC 112 in April. They fought again in August, and Edgar won the rematch. Now Edgar has a chance to avenge the loss to Maynard, and gain respect as one of the sport's best fighters.
"I just think it takes time," Edgar said. "BJ's been around for such a long time. He's been the dominant force at lightweight, so it's the process it takes for guys to welcome somebody new. I'm seeing (respect) more and more, but that's not what it's about. If I keep winning fights, the respect will come eventually."
There are a multitude of storylines to watch Saturday, besides those involving Edgar and Maynard. Here are 10 to watch at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas.
Go with the 170-pound bout between Daniel Roberts (11-1) and Greg Soto (8-1). Roberts (pictured) used an anaconda choke to win a first round submission over Mike Guymon at UFC 121 in October, and will face Soto, who is fighting in the UFC for just the second time.
Absolutely. Vera (11-5) is 2-3 in his last five fights, and his window of opportunity could shut for good if he doesn't beat Thiago Silva (14-2). Give Vera credit, because he certainly hasn't ducked anyone and faced the likes of fellow heavyweights Randy Couture, Tim Sylvia, Frank Mir and Fabricio Werdum.
The clock is ticking, though. And it's time for Vera to string together some victories if he wants to reach contender status.
Depends on what you're looking for. If it's talent, you could say Edgar. But if it's size, then you have to go with Maynard, who doesn't know what to expect.
"It’s hard to tell [if Edgar will be able to defend my takedowns this time], it has to play out first of course,” Maynard told Bleacher Report. “You know, we both have evolved and it’s a new fight so again I am prepared if we [decide to throw] hands or if it goes to the ground or wherever it goes.”
After the WEC recently merged with the UFC, two WEC fighters will face off in a 145-pound bout as Mike Brown (24-6) faces Diego Nunes (15-1). Brown won his first four fights in the WEC, including a win over Urijah Faber, but then lost to current champ Jose Aldo. Nunes went 4-1 in the WEC, winning each fight by decision while losing by decision to L.C. Davis last year.
Josh Grispi was supposed to face champion Jose Aldo, but he got injured, and now Poirier became a late replacement. Poirier (8-1) has only been a pro for 18 months, and isn't overwhelmed by the opportunity.
“I'm a hard worker, and I knew it would happen, but not this soon. I believe that everything happens for a reason," he told Sherdog.com. "These kind of opportunities don't come to people waiting on them; they come to people doing the right things, not only in the gym but [in] the way [they] live. This isn't by chance. This is my destiny, and history will remember me."
He is a classic underdog, and would pull off a huge upset if he beats Grispi.
Diaz (13-5) faces Dong Hyung Kim (13-0-1, one no-contest) in a 170-pound bout, but he may not stay as a welterweight for long. After winning four straight fights as a lightweight, Diaz went 1-3, losing to fighters like Clay Guida and Gray Maynard. Cesar Gracie, Diaz's trainer and manager, told MMAJunkie.com he could see his fighter remaining at 170.
But it makes sense to drop back down in weight, too.
"I think it's just with him, he feels like he has unfinished business there," Gracie told the website. "But I thought it would be a good break for his body to go to 170 and fight some of these tough guys there."
Nice to have options, but fans certainly won't pass up the chance to catch more entertaining fights.
On paper, Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard don't look like they'll be getting in a brawl. This has all the makings of a chess match, and one where both fighters will keep aiming to find that one opening or weakness to expose. It's hard to imagine this ending early, but don't be surprised if it's a razor-thin decision either.
Lightweight Clay Guida (27-8) has bounced back with two wins following his loss to Kenny Florian in 2009 at UFC 107. Now he faces another huge test on Saturday when he fights Takanori Gomi (32-6, one no-contest), but Guida's coach told Yahoo Sports that planning has made all the difference.
“Everybody is different in how you work with them, but with Clay, we work on the plan over and over and over until he doesn’t have a choice and that all he can think about is the plan,” Greg Jackson said. “Some guys, you can give them a sense of what they should be thinking about and they can work it in during sparring. With Clay, we’re constantly talking to him about what he needs to do to win the fight. We give him a heavy dose of planning.”
Leben (21-6) faces Brian Stann (9-3), and it definitely will be a contrast in personalities. Just call it the Wild Child (Leben) against the All-American Poster Boy (Stann). It could be close early, and Stann has more of a stand-up game, but Leben should overwhelm him as the fight progresses and get a solid win. In this fight, he clearly is the one with more talent.
Frankie Edgar has already garnered tons of respect for beating BJ Penn twice last year, and it will definitely help if he avenges his only career loss. You can definitely have that discussion if he is victorious, but keep in mind that the lightweight division is deep on talent, and just gained even more with the addition of the WEC. Edgar is the king, but he could gain even more notoriety if he cleans out the division in the next two years.