With the home stretch of the 2012 calendar year upon us, Saturday's UFC 152 is the first of 10 events over the next three-and-a-half months, culminating with one of the deepest cards of the year on New Year's Eve weekend.
One of the few benefits of UFC 151 being canceled and fighter injuries was the reassignment of some key names throughout these 10 events. In looking over the cards, there's finally tons of compelling stories on the undercards. Emerging talents are ready to take big steps, veterans needs wins to stay relevant or employed and the match-ups are extremely intriguing. It's like the old days...of 2009!
I realize that everyone is interested in different things when it comes to fighters, but here's 10 particular stories (one for each remaining event) that I'm looking forward to, provided the guys don't get injured between now and then.
UFC 152: Vinny Magalhaes
In December 2008, Magalhaes was ready to be on top of the MMA world as a finalist on the eighth season of The Ultimate Fighter. Ryan Bader ended that dream quickly with a first round TKO win and one loss to Eliot Marshall several months later, he was released. (These days, he would have been kept around but it was a much different time in late-2008, wasn't it?)
More than three years, seven wins and a bizarre relationship breakup with M-1 Global later, Magalhaes has another shot in the UFC and will be featured in prime position on Saturday's FX undercard against Igor Pokrajac. The 28-year-old has finishes in all seven of his wins since his UFC cut, has talked a ton about wanting to get back in the big leagues and could do well to stand out in a weak 205-pound division. Can he back up his talk?
UFC on Fuel 5: Paul Sass
On a quietly solid UFC on Fuel card, the undefeated Sass (13-0) has an opportunity to win his fourth UFC bout and put himself in the conversation for a Top 5 opponent. You might not be familiar with the 24-year-old, but if you're a fan of submissions, you'll love that 12 of his 13 wins have come via tapout and just two of his fights have got out of the second round. He's a Dana White dreamboat, I tells ya.
With two Submission Of The Night bonuses already, Sass returns to his home country against Matt Wiman, an underrated TUF veteran who has wins in four of his last five but has never been submitted. Rising star or just lucky against the right type of opponent?
For the rest of the list -- including three veterans who are in must-win situations -- keep reading after the jump. I promise it's good.
UFC on FX: Jussier Formiga
The former Jussier da Silva gets his big opportunity after runs in Taachi Palace Fights and several Brazilian organizations brought him to prominence as one of the top flyweights in the world. The 14-1 Formiga will have a tough entry in his debut: recent TUF champ John Dodson, winner of four straight.
But the 27-year-old Formiga has won his last five with submission victories in his last four and like Magalhaes, he has an opportunity to stand out in a thin division that needs talent. Coincidentally, the man to give him his only career defeat? Current UFC flyweight Ian McCall. I worry here about "Octagon shock" and Dodson's experience, but at 125 pounds, a few notable wins can get you a title shot. Formiga is closer than you think.
To hear Fitch's recent tale of financial hardship and a banged-up body make you feel for a guy that has been cast aside by many because of his fighting style. Regardless of his mental state against Johny Hendricks, Fitch (23-4-1-1) still was dropped in 12 seconds and didn't win a fight in a calendar year for the first time since he turned pro in 2003.
For his latest bout, he wasn't given a gimme opponent in Erick Silva, the fast-rising welterweight who has crushed all three of his UFC foes thus far. At 34, Fitch is up against the clock and Silva would like nothing more than to punch that clock out. Which Fitch will fans see in Brazil on October 13th: the grinder or the guy who last was seen looking up at the lights?
UFC on Fuel 6: Stanislav Nedkov
The undefeated Bulgarian made his UFC debut in August 2011 but hasn't fought since then due to visa issues. He faces another man familiar with long layoffs in Thiago Silva, who has won just once in his last five fights. At 30, Nedkov (12-0) still has time to make a name for himself at 205 pounds and it can start in November with an impressive win over Silva.
April 30, 2011, was a career highlight for Hominick, co-main eventing in his home country against Jose Aldo. While he lost in a decision, the lasting image from that fight is the large hematoma (Hominick-atoma?) that protruded from his forehead. Since then, Hominick has yet to win, dropping a seven second loss to Chan Sung Jung (coincidentally in Toronto) and a split decision to the unknown Eddie Yagin in April.
While he's gone through a lot in losing his best friend and trainer Sean Tompkins, the name of the game is wins and losses. Hominick (20-11) faces Pablo Garza in the Octagon's return to Montreal, another fighter who is struggling with two straight losses after two quick first round victories. The UFC can't afford to be sentimental with the amount of talent they have and a fourth defeat could prompt Hominick's exit.
The feel-good story of the spring '12 season of TUF, Chiesa begins his post-TUF odyssey in his home state of Washington on a search to do something that many recent TUF winners haven't lately: be impressive. At just 24, Chiesa (8-0) has plenty of time to make his way through the deep lightweight division.
Like many on this list, he picked up a tough draw in Rafaello Oliveira: a six-fight UFC vet that wants to spoil the homecoming party. It's too bad there isn't more of a real minor league system to allow Chiesa to compete against fighters at more of his level, but that's life in the UFC.
UFC on FX: Hector Lombard
There were few fighters to make their 2012 UFC debuts that came under as much scrutiny for their performance as the former Bellator 185-pound champ. People like myself were disappointed in what we we saw in his loss to Tim Boetsch, a far cry from some of the dregs he was competing against a year prior.
He blamed his performance on injury, which may be legit. Regardless, he has a chance at redemption in December at the TUF UK vs. Australia finals, albeit against the leglock machine known as Rousimar Palhares. A classic striker vs. grappler match-up, Lombard has his shot to shut all of us up. If he doesn't, he becomes just another guy that everyone says, "Hey, he should drop to 170 pounds."
TUF 16 Finale: Shane Carwin
I have a slight affinity for Carwin as we share the same day of birth, but that doesn't change that he's nearing 38 years old, has been out of competition for over a year and has questions about his stamina and health at this late stage of his career.
In a trend you may have picked up on throughout this entire piece, there are very few easy fights in the UFC. In mid-December, Carwin (12-2) is scheduled to fight double-tough Roy Nelson in what promises to be a first round KO or a three round grapplefest with two tired big dudes. Carwin still has a name, but can't afford what would be his third straight loss.
I'm impressed at how loaded a card that UFC 155 has become, mostly because of the glut of spring/summer injuries that made a lot of top names available to fight. One of those names is Belcher, a 185'er that should be getting more props for his abilities but finds himself mainly discussing his Johnny Cash tattoo instead.
I interviewed Belcher last year for FIGHT! Magazine and came away impressed. He owns a highly successful martial arts gym and at 28, understands the business of fighting. In a recent interview with Ariel Helwani, he explained why Anderson Silva is looking for big fights and why guys like himself and Chris Weidman aren't at the star level yet.
Belcher has won two straight after returning from injury, including a first round TKO of the aforementioned Palhares. His planned fight with Vitor Belfort got scrapped due to a back fracture and he now will look across the cage at Yushin Okami in Las Vegas instead. A win puts him in line for a crack at a top name and hopefully garners him a little more respect as well.
Do what I did and take a look at the upcoming slate of fights. Outside the top bouts, what are you most looking forward to? What diamonds in the rough do you see?