There’s a great deal of intrigue heading into Saturday’s UFC 91 event featuring Randy Couture returning after nearly a year and a half layoff from competitive fighting to defend his UFC heavyweight title vs. Brock Lesnar.
In addition to the suspense that has been manifesting in regard to the main event, there are many other additional storylines worth monitoring as it pertains to the event’s undercard.
Below are the ten UFC 91 storylines we’ll be watching this weekend.
11. Can Ryan Thomas, Jorge Gurgel, Aaron Riley, Alvin Robinson, Mark Bocek, and Jeremy Stephens afford to lose – The UFC apparently has over 180 fighters under contract yet again. If any of the aforementioned fighters lose, will they be given a pink slip or given another shot at redemption?
10. Will a victory over Tamdan McCory be enough to allow Dustin Hazelett to break into the UFC’s welterweight inner-circle – According to my unofficial count, the UFC’s “welterweight inner-circle” consists of Georges St. Pierre, Matt Hughes, Jon Fitch, Thiago Alves, Karo Parisyan, Josh Koscheck, Matt Serra, and Diego Sanchez. Just below the inner-circle is a second tier of welterweights that includes Yoshiyuki Yoshida, Anthony Johnson, Marcus Davis, Mike Swick, and Hazelett. The 22-year old Hazelett is a real talent and is 4-1 in his last five bouts contested in the Octagon. If the young jiu-jitsu black belt is able to beat McCrory, will that be enough to allow him to break through the glass ceiling?
9. Will Hazelett vs. McCrory challenge for fight of the night honors – I definitely wanted to see Amir Sadollah vs. Nick Catone but I have to admit, Hazelett vs. McCrory is a big upgrade. It’s a matchup of two highly-technical ground fighters who aren’t afraid to scrap a little on their feet. If Couture vs. Lesnar is a quick fight, might Hazelett vs. McCrory be able to supplant it for “Fight of the Night” honors?
8. Whether Demian Maia’s views on the standup game will come back to haunt him – Maia has been quoted as saying that he doesn’t particularly enjoy the standup aspect of fighting. He isn’t big on pummeling his opponents into oblivion and would prefer to get the fight to the floor as soon as possible, where he can utilize his world class jiu-jitsu and force his opponents to tap without absorbing them tremendous amounts of damage. Maia is a true gentleman but does he have the proper frame of mind needed for longevity in the Octagon? Will this middleweight matchup end with Maia having earned “Submission of he Night” honors, or Quarry garnering the bonus for “Knockout of the Night” if Maia doesn’t get the fight to the floor?
7. Whether Kenny Florian can retain his lightweight title shot – After losing to Sean Sherk at UFC 64 for the then-vacant UFC lightweight title, Florian has won five consecutive fights. Following his most recent win – a unanimous decision victory over Roger Huerta at UFC 87 – Florian appeared to be first in line for a shot at B.J. Penn’s UFC lightweight title. However, plans changed after Penn was given a shot at Georges St. Pierre. Rather than sit around and wait, Florian has decided to stay active. But instead of taking a layup fight, he’s set to square off against one of the best lightweights in the world in Joe Stevenson. Will the gamble pay off?
6. What would a win mean for Joe Stevenson – The brand new black belt competed for the vacant UFC lightweight title at UFC 80 this past January but lost to Penn via second round submission. Despite fighting with heart, Stevenson didn’t show enough to warrant a rematch anytime soon. However, Florian is the number one contender for the title and it raises the question of what’s next for Stevenson should he upset Florian?
5. If Brock Lesnar wins, where will he be ranked in the top ten – If Lesnar wins Saturday night, his record will improve to 3-1. While that won’t be a bad record, it’s hardly one becoming of top ten status. However, a win on Saturday gives him the UFC heavyweight title and a quality victory over a top-five caliber heavyweight. A win over Couture definitely moves Lesnar into the top ten, but will it warrant a move into the top five considering the lack of depth at heavyweight in the current world rankings?
4. Is the UFC 91 undercard good enough to compensate in the event that Couture vs. Lesnar ends quickly – A lot of people are complaining that UFC 91 is built around the main event and isn’t offering much else of interest to the consumer. I beg to differ, as I believe that Florian vs. Stevenson and Hazelett vs. McCrory have a chance to be great. However, what happens if Couture finishes Lesnar in two minutes or vice versa? Will the undercard be good enough to allow everyone to walk away feeling satisfied?
3. Will this be the last time we see Randy Couture fight - As a part of Couture’s settlement with the UFC, he has a new three-fight contract. However, ever since returning against Tim Sylvia in 2007, Couture has said he will take things fight-by-fight. Considering that Couture is now 45, it’s certainly appropriate to ask whether he will keep fighting in the event he loses to Lesnar.
2. Will Couture vs. Lesnar live up to the hype – Whether or not Couture vs. Lesnar is the biggest match in UFC history is open to debate. However, you cannot make a logical argument against the claim that it is one of the five biggest fights in the history of the UFC. I’m not real interested in the criticism that Lesnar shouldn’t be getting a title shot so soon and that Couture should be fighting Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Couture vs. Lesnar is a fun fight that the masses want to see. The time for the fight is now and understandably, the UFC has been hyping this dream fight with great enthusiasm. But there’s always a risk when you build a fight card around one matchup because if the fight doesn’t live up to the hype, the entire quality of the overall show can buckle under its pressure. With the way this fight has been promoted, it seems as though anything less than two full rounds could be considered a disappointment. When two titans fight, people want to see a spirited fight as opposed to a one-sided squash match. Quite simply, will this fight live up to the hype.
1. Can UFC 91 reach 1,000,000 buys – It’s believed that UFC officials initially projected that UFC 91 would surpass 1,000,000 buys on pay-per-view. However, the promotional budget for Couture vs. Lesnar hasn’t been as big as previous “superfights” and reports are coming in that this week’s airing of the UFC 91 Countdown show on Spike TV was down from previous preview shows. Has the UFC done enough to push UFC 91 over the seven-figure mark for PPV buys?