There are five main card bouts set for UFC 174 and each one of them is important in its own way.
The card, which takes place this Saturday at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, is headlined by UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson putting his belt on the line against Ali Bagautinov. In the co-main event, B.C.’s own Rory MacDonald looks to stamp his name as the top contender at 170 pounds with a win over Tyron Woodley. Plus, a heavyweight bout between Brendan Schaub and former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski will help propel one up the shallow ladder in that division.
In addition to those three fights, the UFC 174 main card also features two intriguing 205-pound contests. The first pits former TUF winner Ryan Bader against former Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante, while the other features emerging talent Ovince St. Preux against Canadian Ryan “The Big Deal” Jimmo. All four of these light-heavyweights are coming off victories and getting a win on a huge stage like UFC 174 would certainly help move the victors of each bout up the ladder.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Watch UFC 174 preliminary fights Saturday on Sportsnet 360 starting at 8 p.m. EST
Right now, the light-heavyweight division is in a state of change. At the top of the division, champion Jon Jones will next face Alexander Gustafsson for the strap with the winner of that fight likely facing Daniel Cormier early next year. But after that, the division is completely wide open.
Dan Henderson has lost four of his last five fights and appears to be nearing the end. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua had his nose broken by Henderson in his last fight and at this point is nothing more than a shell of his former self. Former champ Rashad Evans is injured. Chael Sonnen just announced his retirement from MMA, while Vitor Belfort is juggling between 205 and 185 pounds. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira is always hurt. Phil Davis can’t win the big fight. Glover Teixeira just lost to the champ and will be out a while due to injuries suffered in his title fight.
There’s only one fighter who is moving up the ranks at a rapid pace and that’s Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, who could emerge as a challenger for the belt with a win over “Little Nog” this summer. But that’s it. There really aren’t any other contenders coming up the ranks. Until this weekend, that is.
With a win this weekend, “Feijao” could emerge as a possible contender. The former Stirkeforce champ looked extremely dominant against Igor Pokrajac in his last fight and if he continues with the violence against Bader, he could jump into the Top 10. Same with Bader. Although flawed, he is a good fighter and a win over Cavalcante would help him land another top opponent in his next fight.
As for Jimmo, of the four light-heavyweights fighting this weekend, he’s the guy who needs an impressive win the most. He’s not the most exciting fighter in the world, so fans need a reason to watch him fight. Finishing OSP would be huge for him.
And speaking of OSP, he’s the guy that has the biggest opportunity to emerge as a light heavyweight contender. Although he is no spring chicken at 31 years of age, he seems to be improving at a rapid clip and his athleticism presents an intriguing challenge for anyone in the top 10. With a four-fight winning streak at the moment and coming off a “Performance of the Night” victory over Nikita Krylov at UFC 171, a win over Jimmo would certainly fast-track OSP right up the 205-pound ladder and land him a big fight.
The winners of these bouts won’t be fighting for the title anytime soon, but a victory puts them closer to the Top 10, especially OSP. That puts the victors closer to a tilt with one of the aforementioned fighters, who have already had their chance at glory. That is how you build contenders — by having them face fading veterans and having the torch passed. I think the UFC is planning that route for the winners of the Cavalcante vs Bader and Jimmo vs OSP fights. Both of these light-heavyweight bouts set for UFC 174 have been flying under the radar, but make no mistake about it, both should be quite entertaining and will help clear up the 205-pound picture.