On paper and aside from an admittedly compelling main event, UFC 133 doesn’t figure to be one of the fight promotion’s more stacked efforts of 2011. When the UFC treks to Philadelphia on Saturday, it will be with a lineup beset by numerous injuries and more recognizable names on the shelf than on the finalized card.
That doesn’t mean there’s not a lot on the line, however. In fact, there is so much at stake for some of this weekend’s competitors that it was difficult just to narrow the lists of who has the “most to gain” and “most to lose” down to a trio of fighters each. Apologies to guys like Vitor Belfort, Jorge Rivera, Matt Hamill and Nam Phan, all of whom are facing considerable risk/reward situations at this show, but who didn’t make the cut.
Who did? Whose seat is the hottest this weekend at UFC 133? Who stands to improve his standing in the company the most with a win? And who might be looking for work come Monday if he doesn’t? Here’s a look
Most to gain:
1. Tito Ortiz: On the brink of the glue factory just a couple of months back, Ortiz has a chance to become No. 1 contender for the light heavyweight title and author one of the most surprising career turnarounds in UFC history if he can defeat Rashad Evans. It doesn’t get much bigger than that. In terms of slightly more tangible gains, after saying the $450k he officially earned to fight Ryan Bader in July constituted a “big pay-cut” for him, how much do you think Ortiz is making to step in on short notice for the injured Phil Davis here? Dude, way more.
2. Tie: Dennis Hallman and Mike Pyle: Both guys have been fighting since the '90s, both turn 36 later this year and both are probably more respected by other fighters than by the average fan. For whatever reason, neither has ever been able to put together a sustained run in the UFC welterweight division until now and it’s pretty much last-chance-at-greatness time for both. Pyle goes in search of his fourth straight win in the Octagon when he takes on Rory MacDonald on Saturday and Hallman is looking for his third consecutive UFC victory against Brian Ebersole. It's doubtful either will ever be the champ, but one more W and people might actually take notice of what they're are up to at 170 pounds.
3. Alexander Gustafsson: The 6-foot-5, 24-year-old Swede has all the physical tools to go a long way in the 205-pound division. Already 4-1 in the Octagon, he just needs a signature win to get him on his way. Meanwhile, Hamill’s star may have faded some since his ugly loss to Quinton Jackson at UFC 130, but a win over him would be a good way for Gustafsson to jump-start his own march to contender status.
Most to lose:
1. Rashad Evans: Evans desperately needs something to show for his trouble after sitting out a year waiting for a title shot that didn’t happen and then losing his home gym when he fell out with Jon Jones and Greg Jackson. Just a month and a half before he turns 32, he’s no spring chicken anymore and anything other than a dominating win over heavy underdog Ortiz could be seen as a sign his career is moving in the wrong direction.
2. Chad Mendes: Officially the featherweight division’s “No. 1” contender, Mendes opted to risk that status by taking a fight against Rani Yahya at UFC 133 upon learning champ Jose Aldo was out with a bum neck. Now, it turns out Aldo will be good to go against Kenny Florian at UFC 136 in October. So, yeah, kind of a raw deal for the Team Alpha Male fighter. It’ll get even more raw if he slips up against Yahya, who is just 1-2 since 2009.
3. Mike Brown: After beginning his career 22-4, the former featherweight champion has lost four of his past six. Oddly enough, so has Phan, who will be Brown’s last-chance opponent at UFC 133. More accurately, Phan is just 4-6 in his past 10 fights and losing to him would not only end Brown’s tenure in Zuffa, but would further dig him into a hole that would be mighty hard to pull out of with the limited time he has left.
Honorable mention: Yoshihiro Akiyama. The sexy one would be a shoo-in for this list if there weren’t so many other guys on the card with so much to lose. Since coming to the UFC in 2009, he’s slumped to a 1-2 career mark in the Octagon and some might even argue his lone win -- a unanimous decision over Alan Belcher at UFC 100 -- was a bit of a gift. If he loses to Vitor Belfort this weekend and hangs onto his job, it’ll only be because the UFC has designs on a show in Japan come February.