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UFC 91: Top Storylines to Watch

There’s a great deal of intrigue heading into Saturday’s UFC 91 event featuring Randy Couture returning after nearly a year and a half layoff from competitive fighting to defend his UFC heavyweight title vs. Brock Lesnar.

In addition to the suspense that has been manifesting in regard to the main event, there are many other additional storylines worth monitoring as it pertains to the event’s undercard.

Below are the ten UFC 91 storylines we’ll be watching this weekend.

11. Can Ryan Thomas, Jorge Gurgel, Aaron Riley, Alvin Robinson, Mark Bocek, and Jeremy Stephens afford to lose – The UFC apparently has over 180 fighters under contract yet again. If any of the aforementioned fighters lose, will they be given a pink slip or given another shot at redemption?

10. Will a victory over Tamdan McCory be enough to allow Dustin Hazelett to break into the UFC’s welterweight inner-circle – According to my unofficial count, the UFC’s “welterweight inner-circle” consists of Georges St. Pierre, Matt Hughes, Jon Fitch, Thiago Alves, Karo Parisyan, Josh Koscheck, Matt Serra, and Diego Sanchez. Just below the inner-circle is a second tier of welterweights that includes Yoshiyuki Yoshida, Anthony Johnson, Marcus Davis, Mike Swick, and Hazelett. The 22-year old Hazelett is a real talent and is 4-1 in his last five bouts contested in the Octagon. If the young jiu-jitsu black belt is able to beat McCrory, will that be enough to allow him to break through the glass ceiling?

9. Will Hazelett vs. McCrory challenge for fight of the night honors – I definitely wanted to see Amir Sadollah vs. Nick Catone but I have to admit, Hazelett vs. McCrory is a big upgrade. It’s a matchup of two highly-technical ground fighters who aren’t afraid to scrap a little on their feet. If Couture vs. Lesnar is a quick fight, might Hazelett vs. McCrory be able to supplant it for “Fight of the Night” honors?

8. Whether Demian Maia’s views on the standup game will come back to haunt him – Maia has been quoted as saying that he doesn’t particularly enjoy the standup aspect of fighting. He isn’t big on pummeling his opponents into oblivion and would prefer to get the fight to the floor as soon as possible, where he can utilize his world class jiu-jitsu and force his opponents to tap without absorbing them tremendous amounts of damage. Maia is a true gentleman but does he have the proper frame of mind needed for longevity in the Octagon? Will this middleweight matchup end with Maia having earned “Submission of he Night” honors, or Quarry garnering the bonus for “Knockout of the Night” if Maia doesn’t get the fight to the floor?

7. Whether Kenny Florian can retain his lightweight title shot – After losing to Sean Sherk at UFC 64 for the then-vacant UFC lightweight title, Florian has won five consecutive fights. Following his most recent win – a unanimous decision victory over Roger Huerta at UFC 87 – Florian appeared to be first in line for a shot at B.J. Penn’s UFC lightweight title. However, plans changed after Penn was given a shot at Georges St. Pierre. Rather than sit around and wait, Florian has decided to stay active. But instead of taking a layup fight, he’s set to square off against one of the best lightweights in the world in Joe Stevenson. Will the gamble pay off?

6. What would a win mean for Joe Stevenson – The brand new black belt competed for the vacant UFC lightweight title at UFC 80 this past January but lost to Penn via second round submission. Despite fighting with heart, Stevenson didn’t show enough to warrant a rematch anytime soon. However, Florian is the number one contender for the title and it raises the question of what’s next for Stevenson should he upset Florian?

5. If Brock Lesnar wins, where will he be ranked in the top ten – If Lesnar wins Saturday night, his record will improve to 3-1. While that won’t be a bad record, it’s hardly one becoming of top ten status. However, a win on Saturday gives him the UFC heavyweight title and a quality victory over a top-five caliber heavyweight. A win over Couture definitely moves Lesnar into the top ten, but will it warrant a move into the top five considering the lack of depth at heavyweight in the current world rankings?

4. Is the UFC 91 undercard good enough to compensate in the event that Couture vs. Lesnar ends quickly – A lot of people are complaining that UFC 91 is built around the main event and isn’t offering much else of interest to the consumer. I beg to differ, as I believe that Florian vs. Stevenson and Hazelett vs. McCrory have a chance to be great. However, what happens if Couture finishes Lesnar in two minutes or vice versa? Will the undercard be good enough to allow everyone to walk away feeling satisfied?

3. Will this be the last time we see Randy Couture fight – As a part of Couture’s settlement with the UFC, he has a new three-fight contract. However, ever since returning against Tim Sylvia in 2007, Couture has said he will take things fight-by-fight. Considering that Couture is now 45, it’s certainly appropriate to ask whether he will keep fighting in the event he loses to Lesnar.

2. Will Couture vs. Lesnar live up to the hype – Whether or not Couture vs. Lesnar is the biggest match in UFC history is open to debate. However, you cannot make a logical argument against the claim that it is one of the five biggest fights in the history of the UFC. I’m not real interested in the criticism that Lesnar shouldn’t be getting a title shot so soon and that Couture should be fighting Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Couture vs. Lesnar is a fun fight that the masses want to see. The time for the fight is now and understandably, the UFC has been hyping this dream fight with great enthusiasm. But there’s always a risk when you build a fight card around one matchup because if the fight doesn’t live up to the hype, the entire quality of the overall show can buckle under its pressure. With the way this fight has been promoted, it seems as though anything less than two full rounds could be considered a disappointment. When two titans fight, people want to see a spirited fight as opposed to a one-sided squash match. Quite simply, will this fight live up to the hype.

1. Can UFC 91 reach 1,000,000 buys – It’s believed that UFC officials initially projected that UFC 91 would surpass 1,000,000 buys on pay-per-view. However, the promotional budget for Couture vs. Lesnar hasn’t been as big as previous “superfights” and reports are coming in that this week’s airing of the UFC 91 Countdown show on Spike TV was down from previous preview shows. Has the UFC done enough to push UFC 91 over the seven-figure mark for PPV buys?

21 COMMENTS
  • David Andrest says:

    Nope, the promo for this event has been weak!!!!!! I’ll be amazed if they do 750K

  • AG Silver says:

    Didn’t Dana White claim they’re expecting 1.2 million buys on his ESPN First Take appearance? It’s hard for me to figure out if this is based on a strong belief in word-of-mouth promotion or just simply being blinded by the “Return of the Natural”.

  • rbk says:

    Gurgel won’t get cut – win or lose. He so happens to be best buds with Dana’s pet, Franklin.

  • Stan the Caddy says:

    From what I’ve seen( I live in eastern Canada), the promotion for UFC 91 has been insane. I’ve seen commercials for it quite regularly on the 3 major Canadian sports channels as well a couple of the American ones. Joe Ferraro on Sportsnet has been having coverage of it every night on the primetime telecasts. There has also been a few articles in the local newspaper.

  • detroit_fan says:

    Why such a lack of promo?

  • David Andrest says:

    Stan I live in Florida, work in the industry and we’re getting NOTHING here as far as promo and I’m looking for it. Maybe the push in Canada is due to your economy being in better shape than ours??

    It’s odd to hear that it’s night and day like that.

  • JOe K. says:

    I thought the card looked a bit weak with the exception of the main co-main and hazlet fights. I was intrigued for the Sadollah match but not expecting a ton.

    I hope the undercard delivers UFC 90 was a total bust. The UFC better show as many fights as they can and leave the fight hype to before the event.

    If they use up another 30 to 45 minutes of PPV time for hype before the first fights even start I may only buy 1 or two cards a year as opposed to every one of them.

  • HexRei says:

    im not sure if karo is in the circle anymore.

  • ihateemo says:

    I’m surprised Serra was mentioned in the “inner circle”, too (and I say this as a fan of Serra’s).

  • Yao Ming says:

    Countdown did so poorly because it was moved to Monday night instead of being on the Thursday night before the fight. If there isn’t enough promo’s to inform the Countdown show is being moved then the UFC is to blame for the poor planning. I don’t think anyone should put too much stock into the poor ratings for the Countdown show.

  • Michael says:

    heres the thing with the ppv buys. all of my buddies and i will be going to the local sports bar to catch ufc 91. due to the slack undercard (and yes, it is slack) no one of us wanted to purchase it, and we instead decided that someone would order the sick december card. i think a lot of fans feel the same way. why order a $50 ppv for one bout that may or may not deliver? For that reason alone, I cannot see ufc 91 cracking a million buys. though the bars should do very well. not to mention the bootleg sites.

  • ihateemo says:

    “why order a $50 ppv for one bout that may or may not deliver?”

    I dunno man, I find that I spend less money when I invite a group of friends over and we all chip in for PPV + beer than when I go out to watch fights. :)

  • Michael says:

    ihateeemo-lol, your friends are probably less stingy with money. i cant get any of my buddies to shell out a dime unless its for beer being tapped by a skank with big tits at the bar. so i guess its almost trickery in a way, but we do what we have to.

  • CMT says:

    I agree with JOe K and Michael on this. I used to shell out $50 for every event, but I am so tired of watching trash talking instead of seeing more fights. I am going to sit this one out and catch the play by play here. I am saving for UFC 92. Maybe we can ask for a bailout if the show sucks. Lots of great comments.

  • romano says:

    so brock’s 3-1 record wouldn’t be top ten material but sokoudju’s 4-2 record was?

  • HexRei says:

    Well at the time sokoudjou’s 4-2 included wins against lil nog and Arona. One of his losses was to Machida who was and is top 10. Meanwhile Brock’s best win is Heath Herring and while Mir is a good BJJ fighter, let’s face it, Mir was not a top10 HW.

    And he was only baaaaarely top10 even before losing to Cane imho. Brock will be top10- if he beats Randy but you can’t have top ten status with a win over Heath herring and a japanese can.

  • Pat says:

    all i’m hoping is that you [Caplan] come with a full on ‘answer’ to this article after the event is over… cuz now all of these storylines have me intrigued!

  • Stan the Caddy says:

    “I dunno man, I find that I spend less money when I invite a group of friends over and we all chip in for PPV + beer than when I go out to watch fights.”

    This is what my friends and I do for every MMA event, regardless of the promotion or who is fighting. Just one big social gathering. The fights are just a good reason to hang out and get drunk, eat some good food and get merry on a Saturday night.

  • GassedOut says:

    I’m with Stan the Caddy here. We’ve got almost 3 ads per hour on the sports channel, Spike TV, of course is advertising the heck out it, and even the Fight Network has mentioned it more than in passing. Twice this week I flipped to the Fight Network randomly and they were talking up the card (in Fight Network fashion). Incidentally, I also live in Eastern Canada.

  • MMApinions.com says:

    not enough promotion for this event to top 1 mil

  • JOe K. says:

    CMT –

    You can download them by the next day after the event. Often times the pre-lims will be available too.

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