This weekend is one of the biggest of the year. Friday night is one of the few nights out of the year where it is socially acceptable to get publicly shitfaced and wake up in a pile of your own diarrhea/excrement. Saturday is a day for sleeping away your hangover and later prying yourself off the couch to watch the UFC’s New Year’s weekend offering.
While the card isn’t as strong on paper as some of the UFC’s recent New Year’s events (79 and 92, featuring fights like Liddell v. Wand, Forrest v. Rashad, Wand v. Rampage, and GSP v. Hughes), it still features a championship fight between the number one and number two lightweights in the world. This weekend’s card also features potentially exciting bouts like Gomi v. Guida and Leben v. Stann that will produce legitimate contenders. In the interest of making a list, here are five questions that will be answered this Saturday night.
1. Is Frankie Edgar the heir apparent to the lightweight throne?
Even before he had the UFC lightweight belt strapped around his waist, BJ Penn was considered the best lightweight in the sport. Early victories at 155 pounds over fighters like Matt Serra, Caol Uno, and Takanori Gomi coupled with successful trips at higher weights against men like Matt Hughes and Renzo Gracie established BJ as one of the pound-for-pound best in the sport. His recent run with the belt and victories over tough guys like Kenny Florian, Sean Sherk, and Diego Sanchez only confirmed what everyone had previously assumed — that Penn was unstoppable at lightweight. Then came a kid from Jersey named Frankie Edgar.
Even with his two wins over Penn in mind, Edgar still enters his fight with Gray Maynard this weekend as an underdog mostly because he’s already lost to the Xtreme Couture fighter, and also because many still believe his wins over Penn were due in large part to a favorable stylistic match-up and not the fact that he is in fact the best fighter in the world at 155. If Edgar can pull out the win, and especially if he can do so in impressive fashion, there will be no doubt that he is the best 155 pounder in the world.
2. Is Chris Leben ready to break through to the next level?
Chris Leben’s recent win streak has many observers, including UFC president Dana White, calling him the fighter of the year for 2010. Praise is mot definitely warranted for his accomplishments, which include winning two bouts in two weeks while simultaneously earning two fight night bonuses and finishing a fighter who was ranked in the top 10 at the time. At the same time, questions remain whether Leben was lucky or whether he is truly ready to become one of the elite fighters at 185 pounds. His fight with the unheralded Jay Silva went the distance, his stoppage over mid-level fighter Aaron Simpson occured after a fairly close contest, and he was thoroughly dominated by Yoshiro Akiyama for three rounds before sinking in a triangle with 20 seconds left.
With all of this in mind, a dominant victory on Saturday night over Brian Stann will silence the doubters and set Leben up for a very big fight with one of the top middleweights in the world, possibly with a title shot on the line.
More questions after the jump.
3. Can Clay Guida finally win the big one?
Despite his status as one of the UFC’s most popular and consistently exciting fighters, Clay Guida can never seem to win the fights that truly matter.
After earning a split decision over then-relevant Marcus Aurelio, Guida was awarded with a fight in a Spike main event against Roger Huerta that would produce a lightweight contender. After dominating Huerta for the majority of the bout, Guida succumbed to a rear naked choke. Then, after putting together a three-fight win streak and besting TUF winners Mac Danzig and Nate Diaz, Guida dropped two in a row to top contenders Diego Sanchez and Kenny Florian.
“The Carpenter” is once again in a fight with one of the best at 155 that could send him to the next level. History has shown that Guida can’t seem to get it done when he scraps against the division’s best, but Saturday is his night to finally break that streak. The question is whether he can do so against a man once considered the very best in the world.
4. Does Phil Baroni have any gas left in the tank?
Phil Baroni was knocking people around the Octagon out back before the UFC was getting clips shown on ESPN and selling 1 million plus buys on pay-per-view. After an up-and-down yet exciting career outside of the company, Baroni returned only to drop a decision to welterweight prospect Amir Sadollah. Now fighting at middleweight once again, Baroni faces a simple yet high pressure situation: win and continue fighting on the world’s biggest stage, lose and find a new place to punch people in the face for money. Can he pull out the win with everything on the line?
5. Is Josh Grispi ready for Jose Aldo?
Josh Grispi was all set to challenge featherweight champion Jose Aldo on this card, but an injury to the champ scratched that bout and likely impacted Grispi’s bank account. Dana White has come out and said that a victory on Saturday against prospect Dustin Poirier does not necessary mean Grispi will challenge for the belt in his next outing. But if he is able to finosh Poirier in the first round the same way he has 13 of his 15 previous oponents, there will be no doubt that Grispi is the most worthy challenger to Aldo’s belt currently under the Zuffa umbrella.