The embarrassment of riches that is the UFC 194 fight week only truly reveals itself when you consider Friday night’s main event between Frankie Edgar and Chad Mendes.
A marquee attraction any other week of the year, Edgar vs. Mendes has the potential to be one of the best fights of 2015 at any weight class when it goes down at The Ultimate Fighter season 22 live finale. Yet this week, it barely registers.
So all consuming is the prospect of seeing Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor finally settle their rivalry Saturday on pay-per-view, nearly everything else happening during the UFC’s three-night tripleheader is being relegated to second-fiddle status.
Or in the case of Edgar and Mendes, third or fourth fiddle—behind a middleweight title fight and a potential 185-pound title eliminator we’ve also been waiting on for months.
It’s going to be a crowded week of MMA action, and that could cut any number of ways for the two near-peerless featherweight veterans.
It’s possible that Edgar and Mendes hitching their wagon to the spectacle of Aldo-McGregor will be good for them. It might actually garner them more eyeballs, more attention and a greater piece of the zeitgeist than they may have gotten as a standalone main event on Fox Sports 1.
Or they might get totally lost in the shuffle.
After all, nothing is assured for either guy here. We suspect this bout could turn out to be a de facto No. 1 contender fight at 145 pounds. It’s possible the winner could be next up for whoever leaves UFC 194 as the featherweight champ.
Perhaps the Edgar-Mendes victor will get a nice rub. Perhaps he’ll wind up cageside on Saturday night, his mug on the big screen in the arena for a knowing smile and a fist pose, the words, “No. 1 contender” under his name. Maybe the powers that be will even let him in the cage to challenge the Aldo-McGregor winner.
But probably not.
Truth is, the man who emerges victorious from Aldo vs. McGregor will have a lot of other options—many of them arguably more intriguing than fighting either Edgar or Mendes.
UFC president Dana White stated on the NRL Footy Show (h/t Fox Sports) that the UFC is already eyeing a stadium show in Ireland during the first half of 2016. That could mean that a rematch will be in the works between the Brazilian champion and Irish interim champ no matter what happens this weekend. It would also mean that Edgar and Mendes will need to fight again before either gets a shot at the gold.
Both Aldo and McGregor have additionally talked about bolting for lightweight. McGregor already has built-in feuds waiting for him with lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos and current No. 1 contender Donald Cerrone.
Dos Anjos and Cerrone will fight for the 155-pound title on Dec. 19. The winner likely fancies himself a date with the Notorious One, who has long said the lightweight division is in his plans.
"In my mind, I'm thinking, I'm going to unify the belts,” McGregor said at a recent media lunch, per MMA Fighting.com’s Dave Doyle. “I'm going to destroy the [featherweight] division, and then I'm going to take the lightweight division as well. That's where I'm headed right now."
Aldo too might see greener pastures at a higher weight class. He was previously linked to a fight with Anthony Pettis, back when Pettis was champion. Having already defeated both Edgar and Mendes (twice), if Aldo gets past McGregor, it won’t be difficult to make the case he’s accomplished all he can at featherweight.
Recent reports also suggest that Aldo may well feel he’s accomplished all he can period. Aldo's training partner, Andy Souwer, told MMAPlus TV (h/t MMAFighting.com) that the only featherweight champion the Octagon has ever known might be eyeing retirement.
If the Edgar-Mendes winner ends up getting passed over by any of the above scenarios, it’ll be a bitter pill to swallow. This fight shapes up as a must-win for two great athletes, even with the somewhat nebulous stakes.
Mendes comes in just 1-2 in his last three. Granted, his losses occurred in a fight-of-the-year candidate brawl against Aldo at UFC 179 in October 2014 and a short-notice tussle with McGregor at UFC 189, but he can’t afford to drop another.
A defeat at the hands of Edgar would put Mendes at 1-3 dating back to the end of 2013. It could conceivably lock him out of the title picture until all other contenders have gotten their shots. That’s not a place the California native particularly wants to be at 30 years old and 20 fights into his professional career.
Likewise, Edgar may not have time to dig himself out of the hole of another loss. He’s 34 years old and has won four fights in a row at 145 pounds since an 0-3 stretch from February 2012 to February 2013, but time is clearly not on his side.
He rushed to cageside following McGregor’s victory over Mendes at UFC 189, trying to cut the line between McGregor and Aldo. He was duly rebuffed and now has been remanded back to this contender fight against Mendes.
Edgar is currently going off as a slight favorite, according to Odds Shark, and his speed and overall MMA game may give him the edge. But Mendes’ punching power and sheer physical strength may be the wild card in this fight. If Edgar can’t seamlessly transition between his pesky striking combinations and his lightning-quick takedowns, Mendes could potentially make it a long (or frightfully short) night for him.
In any case, the two won’t just be fighting each other. They’ll be fighting for a piece of the spotlight during a week that will also include Aldo vs. McGregor as the crown jewel of the UFC’s 2015 PPV slate.
Young stars like Paige VanZant and Sage Northcutt will be in action the night before, and the night after, middleweight champion Chris Weidman puts his title on the line against Luke Rockhold in the UFC 194 co-main event.
This is to say nothing of the slightly lower profile but surefire crowd-pleasers like Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza vs. Yoel Romero, Demian Maia vs. Gunnar Nelson, Edson Barboza vs. Tony Ferguson, Joe Lauzon vs. Evan Dunham or Jim Miller vs. Michael Chiesa.
There will be a lot of action competing for our attention. A bout like Edgar vs. Mendes has a chance to steal the show when it goes down at the exact midpoint of the UFC’s 72-hour rock 'n' roll festival.
Or it could be forgotten by the time—to quote UFC commentator Mike Goldberg—it is all over.