Friday, Jan. 24, 2014 | 3 p.m.
For the first time in a year and a half, a UFC on Fox event will not feature a championship fight.
That doesn’t mean UFC on Fox 10 will lack for intrigue. The first major UFC card of the year, which airs live on network television at 5 Saturday evening after a preliminary card on Fox Sports 1 from frigid Chicago, is full of compelling angles.
Read four that the Sun has decided to highlight as a guide to UFC on Fox 10 below.
Continued 2004 redux
It’s generally accepted that the UFC entered a new era in 2005. With the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter”, the promotion thwarted near-bankruptcy and began to break into the mainstream.
In 2014, it’s unofficially celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the ending of the preceding age. Prevalent fighters from that period are making an unexpected second surge.
Welterweight Robbie Lawler and light heavyweight Vitor Belfort are already slated to fight for UFC titles within the first half of the year. Lightweight Josh Thomson could join them with a victory over Benson Henderson in the evening’s main event.
UFC President Dana White has promised Thomson a title shot with a victory, one he was slated to cash in last month before an injury to champion Anthony Pettis halted the plans.
Before Thomson rejoined the UFC, his last fight in the octagon came at UFC 49 on Aug. 21, 2004, when he lost via TKO to Yves Edwards. That was the same night Belfort lost by TKO to Randy Couture.
Lawler fought on the next card, getting submitted by Evan Tanner at UFC 50. Combined in 2004, the three fighters who could become champions in 2014 went 2-4. A new era indeed.
Make that “former champion”
The only two UFC lightweight champions to ever lose their belt in a fight — Jens Pulvers lost his to a contract dispute and Sean Sherk to a failed drug test — came back to get defeated again in their next bout.
While Benson Henderson’s situation is vastly different than both Frankie Edgar’s and B.J. Penn’s, who were both ushered into immediate rematches, the larger point remains: It’s extremely difficult to come back from losing the title. Everything’s changed.
Fighters like Henderson worked their entire career on becoming the best, and haven’t rationalized what it would be like when that’s taken away. Henderson was specifically outspoken on his lofty goals of turning into the greatest UFC champion of all-time and snapping Anderson Silva’s record of 10 title defenses.
He only reached three, and now has an obstacle-filled path ahead of him to ever get the opportunity of UFC gold again. Henderson is adamant the disappointment won’t slow him down, but he’ll need to show that in the octagon.
Hearing “former champion” in announcer Bruce Buffer’s introduction feels a lot different than “champion.”
The 135-pound division gets an extreme makeover in the next seven days.
For the first time in the history of the promotion, Dominick Cruz will not hold the championship after next Saturday’s UFC 169 in Newark, N.J. Either interim champion Renan Barao or mainstay Urijah Faber will claim the vacated belt from Cruz, who’s been out of action with injuries for nearly two and a half years.
That will take care of the top part of the division a week after the middle is sorted out in Chicago. UFC on Fox 10 features four straight bantamweight bouts leading into the main card.
The highest-billed bout features a fighter many expect to turn into a future champion in Sergio Pettis. The 20-year-old younger brother of lightweight champion Anthony Pettis is a perfect 10-0 in his young career but gets his most experienced opponent yet in Alex “Bruce Leeroy” Caceres.
The placement of the fight shows how much the UFC expects out of Pettis. He enters the octagon right after the No. 4 ranked bantamweight in the world, Eddie Wineland, looks to bounce back from an interim-championship loss against Renan Barao. Wineland gets fellow veteran Yves Jabouin, who’s won four of his last five.
Promising up-and-comers in the first two bantamweight tilts include Chico Camus, who faces Yaotzin Meza, and Hugo Viana, who meets Junior Hernandez.
The pick’em fight
It’s a sign of a great fight when even the oddsmakers are indecisive on who should win.
Sports book directors have thrown up their hands in confusion when it comes to the UFC on Fox 10 main-card opener between Jeremy Stephens and Darren Elkins. The featherweight bout between two former lightweights has settled as a pick’em in shops around Las Vegas.
Stephens won both of his fights last year upon dropping to the 145-pound division, knocking out Rony Jason after dismantling Estevan Payan in a unanimous decision. Those performances might be fresher in fans’ minds, but Elkins has made an impression ever since arriving at featherweight three years ago.
He’s 5-1 in the division, with the only loss coming against top-ranked Chad Mendes. Elkins looks to smother his opponent with his top-heavy wrestling, but that might not be as easy against Stephens.
The “Lil Heathen” counts takedown defense among his strengths, as he’ll look to stay upright and out strike Elkins.