(Cain Velasquez shoots in on teammate Daniel Cormier at yesterday’s open workouts in Houston. / Photo via MMAFighting)
By Adam Martin
With UFC 166 being a 13-fight card, it wouldn’t be hard for some of this weekend’s storylines to fly under the radar. In fact, this card is so deep that I honestly think I could find 20 hidden storylines in it if I really wanted to. But instead I’ll just run down what I think are the top four hidden storylines to be aware of while watching the fights. Let me know what you think in the comments section, and be sure to come back to CagePotato on Saturday night for our liveblog of the pay-per-view broadcast.
There has never been a four- or five-fight series in UFC history, but it’s entirely possible that Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos will meet once or twice more after this weekend’s rubber-match at UFC 166, particularly if dos Santos wins the title back.
Let’s face it, the heavyweight talent pool in MMA is very shallow, and Velasquez and dos Santos are the cream of the crop. They are truly the only two heavyweights in the UFC without any discernable weaknesses, and with their ability to consistently produce exciting matches (particularly against one another), the UFC would have no problem having these guys fight again in the future. The fact that both fighters have broad appeal in two huge markets (Velasquez in Mexico, dos Santos in Brazil) certainly helps as well. A four-fight series would make history, and you’d better believe the UFC would hammer home that point in promoting it.
But it really comes down to how the third fight goes. If it’s a blowout for either guy, a fourth fight won’t be as intriguing, and would be unlikely to happen. But if it’s a competitive war that makes the fans go nuts, we can all look forward to Velasquez vs. Dos Santos IV. And soon.
2) Did Daniel Cormier Make a Mistake by Prematurely Announcing a Drop to 205?
Despite being 34 years old, Daniel Cormier is considered the top heavyweight prospect on the planet and this weekend puts his undefeated 12-0 record on the line against veteran Roy Nelson in the co-main event of UFC 166.
Although Nelson is coming off a loss to Stipe Miocic, he’s still regarded as one of the top-10 heavyweights in the world by many, and a win over the popular “Big Country” — especially a knockout — would be huge for Cormier in the eyes of the fans, giving him the big win he needs to get a UFC title shot.
However, despite the fact Cormier would be the de facto No. 1 heavyweight contender with a decisive win over Nelson, he’s already announced that win, lose, or draw, he will be making the move to light heavyweight for his next matchup, and gun for an immediate crack at Jon Jones’s belt.
The problem is, there are two fighters blocking Cormier’s path to an immediate light heavyweight title shot against Jones: Glover Teixeira and Alexander Gustafsson. Teixeira has already been confirmed as Jones’ next challenger – the two will fight in early 2014 – while Gustafsson has been told he will get a rematch with Jones next summer if he wins his next fight.
That means that Cormier would have to wait at least a year to get a crack at the 205-pound belt, and it means he would have to fight other top fighters like Phil Davis and Rashad Evans in the meantime; a loss, of course, would eliminate him from title contention.
I understand that Cormier is Cain Velasquez’s friend and main training partner, but there’s no guarantee that Velasquez will defend the UFC heavyweight championship against Junior dos Santos. If Velasquez loses and dos Santos becomes the champ, then a fight between JDS and Cormier would be the most marketable option, and there would be no one potentially blocking Cormier’s path to an immediate heavyweight title shot (other than Fabricio Werdum, who dos Santos has already KO’d).
At the very least, Cormier should have waited until UFC 166 was over before announcing his move down to 205.
One of the top preliminary fights on the UFC 166 card is a welterweight matchup between former top-10 middleweights Nate Marquardt and Hector Lombard. Yes, that’s right, this is a preliminary fight despite the fact both of these fighters were champions of other organizations in the last two years — Marquardt with Strikeforce and Lombard with Bellator — which says a lot to me about where both these guys stand in the eyes of Dana White, Joe Silva & Co.
In fact, I think both guys have been matched up against one another because the UFC wants to cut their losses with the loser. After all, both guys might be awesome fighters but they cost a lot — Marquardt at over 40k to show/40k to win, and Lombard gobbling up a 300k base salary. And, despite both being exciting fighters, let’s be honest, neither is a huge draw at the gate.
Therefore the return on investment isn’t there, and that’s why I think the UFC will part ways with whoever loses this match. And the fact that neither have been winning much as of late — with Marquardt on a two-fight losing streak and Lombard 1-2 in his last three — certainly doesn’t help the loser’s chances of sticking around.
4) Will Andre Fili Be the Next Great Team Alpha Male Fighter in the UFC?
In one of the Facebook prelims, featherweight prospect Andre Fili makes his UFC debut when he takes on Jeremy Larsen. Fili took the fight on only 12 days’ notice after Charles Oliveira pulled out of the Larsen matchup with an injury, but knowing the conditioning that the Team Alpha Male fighters put themselves through, I think he’ll be in good shape for this fight.
I mention his camp because one of the storylines the UFC has been selling as of late has been the recent success of the Sacramento-based Team Alpha Male. With fighters like Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez, Chad Mendes, and TJ Dillashaw having tremendous success in the Octagon — especially ever since Duane Ludwig took over as head coach — I’m super excited any time of their better prospects is put in the spotlight, and Fili is a guy who has been highly touted for a long time.
Only 23 and already carrying a 12-1 pro MMA record under his belt (the only loss coming via injury TKO), not to mention having one of the best nicknames in the sport (“Touchy”), Fili has a very bright future in this sport and it says a lot to me about how matchmaker Sean Shelby views him that the UFC signed him before they did his more famous and decorated teammate Lance Palmer. So definitely check this fight out if you get a chance to watch the Facebook prelims.