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Take Five: What to watch for beyond the headliners at UFC 157

Fighters pressured by UFC’s roster purge


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Jon Fitch locks his toes on the fence during his fight with Demian Maia at UFC 156 Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

While the UFC grows with mainstream attention this week, it’s also shrinking in terms of roster size.

The UFC took some of the focus off the media blitz — which President Dana White calls the most overwhelming in UFC history — it's experiencing ahead of the first-ever women’s fight at Saturday’s UFC 157 with a late February firing frenzy.

White and his team released 16 fighters from their contracts on Wednesday. After a UFC 157 press conference Thursday in Anaheim, Calif., White told reporters as many as 100 more could go.

The UFC employs about 500 fighters, which White said was simply too many. Some of the cuts, including locals Jay Hieron and Ulysses Gomez, were expected as the fighters were in the middle of losing streaks.

Others — most notably Jon Fitch, the No. 9 welterweight in the UFC rankings who had a 14-3-1 record in the octagon — stunned and angered the whole mixed martial arts community.

It makes for a cloud that will linger over Saturday night's historic event at the Honda Center. Aside from the event’s headliners, none of the fighters can feel an overwhelming sense of job security.

The difficulty comes in quantifying how this will affect UFC 157. Nervous fighters could decide to play it safe, dialing up their level of caution in order to grab a much-needed win however possible. Or the opposite may occur. They could come out looking to brawl wildly in hopes of an entertaining fight that boosts their value to the company.

Either way, it’s an important theme and leads the Sun’s list of five things to watch at UFC 157 outside of the much-publicized battles between Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche in the main event and Lyoto Machida and Dan Henderson in the co-main event.

Click through below for the other four.

    • The return of Robbie Lawler

      Robbie Lawler is not the type of the guy who spends time reminiscing on his career.

      Thus a reporter caught the 30-year-old veteran, who most recently fought in Strikeforce and Elite XC, off guard by asking how it felt to be back with the UFC after nine years away.

      “I didn’t realize it was that long,” Lawler said during Thursday’s press conference. “It makes me feel old. I’m excited to fight.”

      “Lawless” went a decent 4-3 during his first stint with the UFC but won’t get any favors in his first bout back. He takes on one of the best welterweights in promotional history, Josh Koscheck, in the first fight on the pay-per-view card.

      “He’s a big, strong wrestler with strong stand-up,” Lawler said. “It’s going to be a war and I’m ready to go.”

      Despite a mediocre 3-5 stint in Strikeforce, Lawler says he’s in a position to make a run in the UFC. He’s dropping from middleweight to welterweight for the first time in his career.

      But the changes in his mentality give him more confidence than anything physically. Lawler didn’t cherish the opportunity to fight the first time around. He won’t make the same mistake again.

      “This is the big show,” Lawler said.

      “I knew I was going to come back to the UFC.”

    • Heavyweight ultimatum

      As far as which specific, notable fighters are most likely to wind up on the chopping block after UFC 157, look toward the headlining heavyweight bout on the FX-aired preliminary card.

      Another loss could doom either Lavar Johnson or Brendan Schaub. Johnson won Knockout of the Night bonuses in each of his first two UFC bouts, but his complete lack of a ground or grappling game cost him the last time out.

      Stefan Struve submitted Johnson in just over a minute at UFC 146 last Memorial Day weekend. Johnson’s obvious weakness could make him expendable.

      Schaub, a former professional football player, rose to fame as the runner-up on the 10th season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” But he tends to get knocked down as often as a plastic sign in the wind when punched cleanly.

      Schaub has endured two straight first-round knockout losses. He asked for this fight, a curious choice given Johnson’s powerful punching.

      If Schaub winds up unconscious again, the UFC would probably have seen him take enough abuse.

    • “The California Kid” back at it again

      Urijah Faber could probably feel most comfortable about his place in the UFC outside of the top four fighters on the card.

      Despite a 2-2 record in the octagon, Faber remains the biggest draw out of everyone in the lighter weight classes. He’s also a heavy favorite over Ivan “The Pride of El Salvador” Menjivar in the third-highest billed bout.

      Faber’s only losses in the UFC are to champion Dominick Cruz and interim champion Renan Barao. He knocked out seventh-ranked Brian Bowles and won a clear decision over fourth-ranked Eddie Wineland, meaning Faber is still an easy No. 2 in the UFC bantamweight rankings.

      Faber wants a third title shot, and the road starts with Menjivar in Anaheim.

    • Strikeforce cage

      Another batch of Strikeforce imports

      Three fighters crossed over to the UFC from the newly defunct Strikeforce on the last pay-per-view card.

      All three — Tyron Woodley, Bobby Green and Isaac Vallie-Flagg — emerged victorious. In addition to Rousey and Lawler on the main card, three Strikeforce veterans make their octagon debut during the preliminaries.

      Two of them, welterweights Nah-shon Burrell and Yuri Villefort, fight each other to open the night. Lightweight Caros Fodor is booked for what looks like the most even undercard match of UFC 157.

      Fodor takes on Sam Stout, who’s gone 7-7 in seven years with the UFC, in the first fight on FX.

    Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

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