Tuesday, June 3, 2014 | 2 a.m.
The next welterweight champion may emerge from UFC 174.
Two of the top three ranked 170-pound contenders in the world, Rory MacDonald (16-2 MMA, 7-2 UFC) and Tyron Woodley (13-2 MMA, 3-1 UFC), meet in the co-main event of the UFC’s next pay-per-view on June 14 in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Either of them could present unique challenges to champion Johny Hendricks down the road.
“We both want the belt,” Woodley emphasized in a video on UFC.com before recounting a conversation with UFC President Dana White. “Dana has told me, in his office, in my face that whoever fights Rory, that winner of that bout will fight for the world title.”
Those plans may have already changed. White now says Hendricks’ first title defense will come against the winner of a UFC on Fox 12 bout between Robbie Lawler and Matt Brown.
But Hendricks has already beaten Lawler, though it was close, and oddsmakers would have Brown as a significant underdog. Hendricks’ greatest threat, the fighter most likely to dethrone him, might lurk at Rogers Arena in two weeks.
Woodley is the rare fighter who could come close to matching Hendricks’ wrestling credentials as a former standout at the University of Missouri. Many observers, including mentor Georges St. Pierre, have regarded MacDonald as a future champion.
“I got my mindset back,” MacDonald said after the unanimous-decision victory. “I felt like I didn’t overthink everything like in my last couple fights. I just went in there and let the training show. I just shut my mind off and fought.”
The other possibility is that Hendricks proves to be on another level and turns into a dominant champion. He’d be chasing the path of flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson in that scenario.
Johnson (19-2-1 MMA, 7-1-1 UFC) remains the only champion in the history of the UFC’s 125-pound division and looks to defend his title for the fourth time against Ali Bagautinov (13-2 MMA, 3-0 UFC) in the UFC 174 main event. Bagautinov, one of several Russians currently climbing the UFC ranks, hasn’t lost in three years and could use his precision striking to push Johnson.
MacDonald and Woodley openly envy Bagautinov’s position. They’re working their way toward earning the same chance.
Look below for a rundown of the rest of the fights at UFC 174.
Light heavyweight bout: Ryan Bader (16-4 MMA, 9-4 UFC) vs. Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante (12-4 MMA, 1-1 UFC) The two fringe-top 10 veterans were once regarded as potential future champions, but now look more like journeymen with a combined 3-3 record over the last two years.
Heavyweight bout: Andrei Arlovski (21-10 MMA, 10-4 UFC) vs. Brendan Schaub (10-3 MMA, 6-3 UFC) The 35-year-old worked his way back to the UFC, where he first became a star by capturing the heavyweight championship in 2005, for the first time in more than six years by winning four of his last five fights.
Light heavyweight bout: Ryan Jimmo (19-3 MMA, 3-2 UFC) vs. Ovince Saint Preux (15-5 MMA, 3-0 UFC) Saint Preux, a former linebacker for the University of Tennessee, is gaining steam after finishing two straight fights with first-round stoppages — one submission and one knockout.
Middleweight bout: Daniel Sarafian (8-4 MMA, 1-2 UFC) vs. Kiichi Kunimoto (16-5 MMA, 1-0 UFC) Kunimoto, who’s been signed to the UFC for less than six months, was a professional skater until he decided to transition to mixed martial arts.
Women’s bantamweight bout: Valerie Letourneau (5-3 MMA, 0-0 UFC) vs. Milana Dudieva (10-3 MMA, 0-0 UFC) It’s Russia (Dudieva) versus Canada (Letourneau) in this tough-to-predict matchup between newcomers who don’t have as much as a single fight in a major promotion between the two of them.
Bantamweight bout: Yves Jabouin (19-9 MMA, 4-2 UFC) vs. Mike Easton (13-4 MMA, 3-3 UFC) Jabouin has fallen from contention with losses in two of his last three, a streak that’s not quite as damning as Easton’s three straight losses.
Lightweight bout: Kajan Johnson (19-10 MMA, 0-0 UFC) vs. Tae Hyun Bang (16-8 MMA, 0-1 UFC) Johnson makes his first appearance since rallying to the semifinals in “The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada vs. Australia” last summer before getting knocked out.
Bantamweight bout: Roland Delorme (9-2 MMA, 3-1 UFC) vs. Michinori Tanaka (9-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) With both fighters carrying a black belt in judo, look for some high-level grappling exchanges.
Lightweight bout: Jason Saggo (9-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) vs. Josh Shockley (11-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) Having fought in Bellator on four occasions, Shockley is the more well known of the two newcomers in the first bout of the night.