With bouts equal parts showcase and hyper-competitive, Saturday's UFC 181 offers up a little something for everyone. Given that the card is largely composed of developing newcomers and fighters who are nearly institutions unto themselves, there's a relative minimum of potential cuts this weekend...
Likely Cut with a Loss
Clay Collard (13-5-1NC, 0-1 UFC) - Collard was finished in his debut, albeit against the increasingly strong Max Holloway. If Collard finds himself rescued by the referee again, he could very well slip from the bottom of the undercard back onto the regionals.
Possibly Cut with a Loss
Raquel Pennington (4-4, 1-1 UFC) - a spotty record, both in and out of the UFC, makes Pennington's place in the organization uncertain, but her strength of opposition has been decent and she makes, for now, a tough, lower-level gatekeeper for a still-developing division.
Brendan Schaub (10-4, 6-4 UFC) - a loss Saturday would make him 2-4 in the last three years, which wouldn't be the worst thing at heavyweight, where he's served as a solid gatekeeper. However, except in his submission win over Matt Mitrione, Schaub's either been blown out of the water or he's put audiences to sleep. A similar, losing performance might have the UFC wondering if he's worth keeping around.
Likely Safe Regardless of Outcome
Ashlee Evans-Smith (3-0-0), Justin Jones (3-0-0) - debuting fighters. Jones handed John Hackleman Jr. (son of The Pit's iconic trainer) his first professional loss. Meanwhile, a TKO from Evans-Smith stands as the only blemish on Fallon Fox's record.
Alex White (10-1, 1-1 UFC), Matt Hobar (9-2, 1-1 UFC), Sergio Pettis (11-1, 2-1 UFC) - White is the only one coming off a loss, but he's an aggressive finisher and I'm pretty sure they'd keep him around for another undercard spot.
Corey Anderson (4-0, 1-0 UFC), Eddie Gordon (7-1, 1-0 UFC), Josh Samman (10-2, 1-0 UFC) - favorite part of TUF 19: watching B.J. Penn practically climb on top of Mark Coleman while shouting instructions to his fighters. I could've done with roughly 5000% more Penn/Coleman on that show. Also, cheers to TUF 17 alum Josh Samman on his return to the cage.
Francisco Rivera (10-3-1NC, 3-1-1NC UFC), Anthony Hamilton (13-3, 1-1 UFC) - a pair of heavy underdogs fighting in high-profile bouts this Saturday. Hamilton's match-up with Todd Duffee makes some sense given a sort of "unknown quantity" vibe surrounding Duffee following his lengthy layoff. Rivera's match-up against Urijah Faber, following "Cisco's" loss to another top tenner in Takeya Mizugaki, is a bit more of a head-scratcher.
Tony Ferguson (16-3, 6-1 UFC), Abel Trujillo (12-5-1NC, 3-1-1NC UFC) - Ferguson has rather quietly put together an excellent lightweight record, and a main-card win over Trujillo could position him for a leap into the Top 10.
Travis Browne (16-2-1, 7-2-1 UFC), Todd Duffee (8-2, 2-1 UFC) - a pair of much-hyped heavyweights who haven't really delivered, so far anyway. A collision between the two seems like a good idea, if each comes away with a win.
Urijah Faber (31-7, 7-3 UFC), Anthony Pettis (17-2, 4-1 UFC), Gilbert Melendez (22-3, 1-1 UFC), Robbie Lawler (24-10, 9-4 UFC), Johny Hendricks (16-2, 11-2 UFC) - in a way, Georges St. Pierre's hiatus from the sport has been great for the welterweight division. GSP's near-flawless track record had a way of diminishing contenders, whereas now the top of the division seems in the best way volatile.
Most high-risk fight: Browne vs. Schaub. Neither is terribly at risk of release, but how they perform this weekend will say a lot about their futures in the division. If Browne loses, he's pretty much closed off from even an opportunistic title shot. Schaub, meanwhile, will need to put in a strong showing, even in defeat, if he's to shake off the specter of vulnerability and mediocrity that's dogged him of late.
Best nickname: UFC 181 yields up a treasure-trove of great monikers. Clay Collard's "Cassius" let's us know that Collard intends to call Muhammad Ali by the name his mother gave him, thank you very much, and Corey Anderson's "Beastin' 25-8" is just too far ahead of its time for most of us poor slobs to understand. However, for achieving great incomprehensibility with maximum succinctness, Brendan "Big Brown" Schaub takes the cake.