Frankie Edgar beats B.J. Penn twice, yet everyone still doubts his dominance in the division. Will beating Gray Maynard actually change that? (Photo Source: MMA Mania)
As the first mixed martial arts event of the new year, UFC 125 will do a lot more than determine our new UFC Lightweight Champion. No matter which fight you're most excited for, there's intrigue and future match-making ramifications that go from the top to the bottom of this decidedly stacked card. Here's a look at the five major questions that will be answered by each bout tonight, with a personal prediction on my part.
5: Is Antonio McKee Saying Goodbye to "Safe" Fighting?
Antonio McKee has the microphone skills of a stand-up comedian, a physique that's uncommon for 40-year-olds (well, anyone not named Randy Couture), and a newfound "professional" attitude that he hopes will endear him to the Zuffa and UFC brass. What McKee doesn't have, however, is a win over a decent opponent in the lightweight division, something he hopes to change tonight. General consensus among the MMA community is that McKee's wrestling will be enough to smother Jacob Volkmann, and honestly, it's McKee's fight to lose.
Overall, the key is for "Mandingo" to do what he does best – use his superior conditioning to grind down his opponent and exhaust 'em. Volkmann could make this interesting with his submission game, but it's hard to root for a guy who based his nickname off the "Dumb and Dumber" movie. Also, if McKee starts going for knock-outs and kicks, an upset isn't out of the question – and he might try something like that to generate an Internet-worthy highlight.
MBN's Pick: McKee by Decision.
4: Should Takanori Gomi Retire?
Takanori Gomi is still considered by some to be the greatest lightweight fighter of all time, and his recent first round knockout of Tyson Griffin showed that the "Fireball Kid" can still compete at 32 years old. However, an opponent like Clay Guida is a good indication of where you are in your career as a fighter. Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez went on to high profile fights after beating "The Carpenter," while fighters like Mac Danzig and Nate Diaz were left to find new direction in mid-card bouts. Guida's pace and energy will make for an entertaining fight as long as it lasts, but he shouldn't have the tools to win this, outside of an upset victory. Losing to Clay Guida is no death knell for any upcoming fighter, but that's exactly what Gomi isn't – if he can't get past this gatekeeper at this point in his post-PRIDE years, Gomi should be looking at a retirement fight next.
MBN's Pick: Gomi by TKO.
3: Was Brandon Vera Overrated All Along?
As much as Vera wants to believe he was worthy of title contention in the heavyweight division, that fact remains that he's now fighting to keep his job at a lower weight class. While it's fair to say that he was robbed at UFC 105, Couture's crushing clinch game was actually the right strategy to counter Vera's striking. What makes the difference now is that Vera's going to be desperate to win, and hopefully that brings out his best weapons.
More than anything, Thiago Silva's position in the LHW division is what's most at risk, as Vera stands a good chance at shooting up the rankings with a decisive win. Although both fighters are coming off almost year-long layoffs, each one needs to look their sharpest in victory or defeat. If Vera loses – and if it's quick or boring – expect to see him fighting Keith Jardine on the small circuit by this summer.
MBN's Pick: Silva by TKO.
2: Is Chris Leben Doomed To Co-Main Event Status?
Leben is 100 percent correct when he says that he should be a main event fighter. In the last year, "The Crippler" has labored through tough odds in a time span that anyone in their right mind would decline. Furthermore, Leben is right outside the "Top 10" of MMA's middleweight division, and with a win tonight, he definitely should be worthy of fighting names like Bisping, Shields, and Okami.
What worries me is that Leben seems to be looking far past Brian Stann, and that never bodes well for any fighter. That, coupled with Leben's historic taste for self-destruction outside of the Octagon, keeps the betting lines for this bout a huge question mark up until the last minute. If Leben loses here, he loses all the steam he built up in 2009, and that should worry him more than how high his name is printed on a UFC poster.
MBN's Pick: Leben by Zombification TKO.
1. Does the UFC Really Have The #1 Lightweight Fighter in the World?
Dana White, as much as he says rankings are stupid, loves the idea that the UFC largely dominates the charts on every MMA division. However, B.J. Penn's two-loss streak is everyone's gain, and with the already deep lightweight waters muddled even more by the UFC/WEC merger, it's going to be harder for the UFC to claim that the holder of their lightweight belt is the world's best. If Frankie Edgar wins, it should finally put the solid credibility behind that claim that B.J. Penn's consecutive losses didn't.
However, if Gray Maynard grounds Edgar and takes the title, it opens up a wide range of discussion about which promotion really has the "best" lightweight. Gilbert Melendez and Eddie Alvarez both loom over the MMA lightweight division as much as the rest of the "Top 10" do, and when a title changes hands, the silhouettes get that much bigger. Dana White and UFC brass did everything they could to keep Gray Maynard from getting a title shot, and you can bet that they'll be secretly hoping that the man who beat B.J. Penn will make his ranking indisputable with a solid win.
MBN's Pick: Maynard by Law of Physics.
[McKinley Noble is an MMA fan who got into the sport during the first season of Ultimate Fighter. When not watching MMA, he's usually playing weird video games like Kingdom Hearts and Harvest Moon. McKinley can be easily stalked on Google, but most people can talk to him over at his Twitter profile.]