The UFC returns to FOX and Chicago for its first major event of 2014, and the next contender in the lightweight division could be crowned.
Unlike the promotion’s most recent trip to the Windy City, UFC on FOX 6, which marked its third annual trip in the frigid month of January, flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson isn’t a headliner. Instead, he gets an increasingly rare night off from network-broadcast events.
The scheduled headliner, a bout between former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson and ex-Strikeforce titleholder Josh Thomson, carries the weight of the fight card. Henderson, of course, is coming off a loss to Anthony Pettis that forced him to give up the UFC belt (after also giving up the WEC belt to the dynamic striker four years ago). Thomson is gambling a recent title opportunity to keep his name in the headlines.
The co-main event, however also promises a big advance for the winner of a heavyweight bout between Stipe Miocic and Gabriel Gonzaga, and even more so if Miocic wins. Gonzaga boasts knockout wins in his past two fights, and Miocic got back on the title radar by recently upsetting Roy Nelson.
UFC on FOX 10 takes place Saturday at United Center. The event’s main card airs live on FOX (8 p.m. ET) following prelims on FOX Sports 1 (5 p.m. ET) and UFC Fight Pass (4:30 p.m. ET).
1. Rolling the dice at lightweightJosh ThomsonÂ (20-5 MMA, 3-1 UFC) was an injury replacement when he stepped in for now-former No. 1 contender T.J. Grant in a bout against Anthony Pettis, so it probably wouldn’t have been a smart career move to dig in his heels to wait and keep his position when Pettis was benched with a knee injury. Still, his fight against former champÂ Benson HendersonÂ (19-3 MMA, 7-1 UFC) is one of those situations where he really has everything to lose. Fall back in line, and the 35-year-old fighter might never be able to get back to the top of the division. Of course, an impressive win would guarantee him a title shot, and UFC President Dana White confirmed he’s next with a win. But it’s one of those risks that seems both unavoidable and a little bit lousy for a former champ who’s consistently underrated as a lightweight.
2. Show up on game daySo maybe Thomson was being honest when he called his training camp for Henderson one of the worst of his career. Maybe he performs better that way, as he suggested in a recent interview with MMAjunkie Radio. Maybe he’s just engaging in a little misdirection. In the end, it might not even matter what his intentions are, as MMAjunkie’s Ben Fowlkes recently wrote.
His words could mean nothing if he’s not able to show up on fight night, and he won’t know whether that’s going to happen until he gets in the cage. Still, after all the hoopla surrounding his candid admission, it’s impossible not to be curious what the answer is.Â
3. Right the ship
While it’s pretty clear that Pettis has Henderson’s number, the ex-champ cut a wide swath through the lightweight division on his rise and subsequent reign as champion.
Although he spent much of his formative years fighting in promotions other than the UFC, Thomson represents a stiff challenge for Henderson’s return. We’ll find out whether his first-round submission loss to Pettis this past August is merely the product of another meeting with his career foil, or whether he is stumbling against the world’s best.
4. Heavy stakesGabriel GonzagaÂ (16-7 MMA, 11-6 UFC) already has been up the mountain in the heavyweight division, but he’s often fallen short against top-tier competition. Although he’s incredibly dangerous on the ground and possesses big power in his kicks, he frequently gets concussed by superior punchers. That’s perhaps what Stipe MiocicÂ (10-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC) could be. While Gonzaga’s attack will undoubtedly be more varied than Miocic’s last victim â€“Â the hard-swinging Roy Nelson â€“Â he could be susceptible to the type of straight shots and solid boxing technique that won Miocic acclaim. Combine that with solid wrestling, and it could be a tough night for Gonzaga.
Miocic is younger and has more promotional upside, so it’s likely he benefits far more from a win than his Brazilian foe. It could be that another two or three wins would give Miocic the No. 1 contender spot.Â
5. Singing for your supperWe’ll see if former UFC champ Pat Miletich’s axiom is true when it comes to lightweight Donald CerroneÂ (21-6 MMA, 8-3 UFC). If it’s true that the two-time WEC title challenger is truly flat broke, as reported in the buildup to the fight, he should fight with an urgency not previously seen. Cerrone has looked listless in previous outings and admitted as much. Now that he’s the guy fighting for his dinner, he is the most dangerous, according to Miletich. And in any event, a fight against Adriano Martins Adriano MartinsÂ (25-6 MMA, 1-0 UFC) looks like it could be an easy payday unless Cerrone’s money isn’t on his mind.
6. Featherweight scrapFeatherweight Darren Elkins‘ personality hasn’t won him much notice, but he’s slowly built momentum with a scrappy fighting style. A win over Hatsu Hioki boosted his stock, and now, he faces another dogged opponent in Jeremy StephensÂ (22-9 MMA, 9-8 UFC), whose multiple highlight-reel victories offset losses to top-tier competition.
Stephens likely will try to force a standup fight while Elkins (17-3 MMA, 7-2 UFC) will try to keep him off-balance with wrestling and kickboxing. While neither man is particularly close to a belt, this should be a good one.Â
7. Younger Pettis on the riseTwenty-year-old bantamweight Sergio PettisÂ (10-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) didn’t exactly look like the future of the bantamweight division when he made his UFC debut against Will Campuzano at UFC 167.
In fact, the younger brother of Anthony Pettis narrowly won the fight. But now that he’s settled into the octagon, fans will get a better idea of whether he has the potential to follow in his older brother’s footsteps as a UFC champ. Alex CaceresÂ (9-5 MMA, 4-3 UFC) is just the kind of opponent to test him on Pettis on his feet and perhaps open some doors to showing off different skill sets. At 10-0, Pettis could provide some badly needed vitality to the division.Â